Delivering Great Customer Service
It was Sunday, my day off. One of only 2 days to decompress and get all of my personal things done. The phone rang. It was an attorney from my firm calling because she couldn’t log on to our network from her home. I couldn’t see her screen to see what she was doing, so I tried the usual troubleshooting techniques to solve the problem, but they didn’t work. I couldn’t be sure if it was what she was doing or a true technical problem.
I knew her well enough to know that she wasn’t a whiz with computers. Finally, she told me that when her husband got home she’d have him call me since he was more familiar with computers.
A minute after we hung up, my phone rang again. It was her again. She started telling me how frustrated she was because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was so stunned I didn’t say anything. I realized that she didn’t know she was talking to ME. She thought she had called another attorney to complain. Finally, I asked her if she knew who she was talking to. She paused, realizing what she’d done. Then she started apologizing.
After we hung up the second time, I thought about how to act at work the next day. Her office was right across from mine, so I couldn’t avoid her. It upset me that someone who I thought liked me both professionally and personally would talk about me like that.
I decided that all I could do was accept her apology, tell her that I realized that she was frustrated, and that I knew these things happened. I made a mental note not to tell her anything too personal in the future. Then I let it go.
I did this for several reasons. First, what else could I really do? Make a big deal of it and be uncomfortable at work every day?
Second, since part of my job was technical support for our office, it was my job to help everyone with any technical problems. Therefore my coworkers were also my clients.
No matter what kind of business you’re in, there is always a client/customer. Whatever you call them, making sure they’re satisfied should be one of your top priorities. This may seem obvious, but I’ve been surprised by the managers I’ve had who didn’t place a priority on this. Ego gets in the way of good customer service. “They don’t know what they’re talking about”, “he’s a jerk”, “they just need to do what we tell them”.
The statements above may all be true, but if you want to keep your clients satisfied, they don’t matter. We all know that the customer isn’t always right, but if you do customer service well, they’ll feel that their problems matter, and that makes most people happy.
I’ve had a variety of jobs and I’ve managed to get most clients to like me, or at least to think that I did a good job. Here are a few things I’ve picked up over the years.
Listen To People
Don’t be that person who just waits for a break in the conversation so they can talk. Don’t ignore what clients are telling you because you think you already know what they need.
I assume that you can’t read minds, so this is your best way to find out what you need to know to make your clients and yourself happy.
One of the most important skills to have is reading people.
Is the person someone who likes to chat, or are they transactional? If they’re friendly and like small talk, showing an interest in them and their life goes a long way toward getting them to like you. If they’re transactional, they may find that annoying. They want their problem solved and that’s all. Very often what kind of person they are will change depending on how much pressure they’re under.
When I worked at law firms people were more often transactional. Lawyers are often trying to meet a quota for billable hours, they have to get documents in by a court deadline, or they have to respond to opposing counsel. In a service setting like when I waited tables, people can be either, but many are more social. My regular customers liked to tell me a little about themselves, the movie they just saw, where they worked, and so on.
What Is Most Important To Them?
A lot of companies lump all their customers together, assuming that they all have the same priorities because they want the same product. It’s okay to have a general sense of what your group of customers wants or needs, but if you can get to know them as individuals you can meet individual needs.
Some of my clients had no patience for “lengthy” troubleshooting. If you couldn’t fix a problem in 2–3 minutes, they would get irritated (or worse).
If they were trying to meet a deadline, I did whatever I could to fix their problem fast, even if it wasn’t perfect. Sometimes that meant I’d print their document or make formatting changes so they could get it out the door. I’d explain that I needed to do a few more things to fix their computer and that I’d be glad to do it when they were at lunch or had left for the day.
This allowed me to do my job without someone pressuring me, and they got their problem fixed without spending precious non-billable time waiting for me. Some tech people would think editing a document was “below” them. I think that attitude is a mistake. If it only takes a minute of your time, why not do it to make your client happy?
Figure Out If They Have Pet Peeves Or Quirks
This was one of the best things I’ve ever learned to do. Every workplace has employees that are “difficult”. No one likes dealing with them. Since I’m a perfectionist and a people pleaser, this type of person used to scare the crap out of me. I couldn’t avoid them forever, though, so I tried to figure out why they were difficult.
One partner would send us long emails telling us what his problem was in detail. He knew more about technology than the average attorney, so you couldn’t bullshit him. He told us how much he charged per hour, and that he shouldn’t be wasting his valuable time troubleshooting software. This type of behavior normally gets eye rolls in IT departments. Since we develop, install, and support software, we can get defensive when people criticize it. But that mentality didn’t help me or him.
I changed my approach to him by addressing each thing he told us, because these things were obviously important to him. I told him that I knew he was busy, so I’d make it quick. I knew that he resented the firm telling him that he had to have a standard software setup on his personal laptop, so I didn’t change things on his laptop any more than I had to.
Also, when the firm was voting on which office suite to buy, he wanted Word Perfect. The committee went with Microsoft Office. He didn’t like it, so he pointed out every problem he had with Microsoft products.
So when we talked I’d tell him that yes, he had indeed found yet another problem with Word. I’d insinuate that it frustrated me, too. I never, ever tried to fool him by lying about the cause of his problem or anything. I knew that he knew bullshit when he heard it. After a while, he started sending his emails directly to me. Years later when I put in my two week’s notice, he called me to ask why I was leaving, and if I’d reconsider.
There are very few people who don’t like flattery. Listen to your clients & figure out what they take pride in. Find that thing and find a way to mention it. For the “technical gurus” who told me they knew a lot about computers, I would acknowledge their knowledge. I’d say something along the lines of “I know that you’re better with Windows than most, this is a bug that we just found out about and we need to get it fixed. Do you want me to give you instructions or just fix it for you?”
This acknowledged that they knew their stuff, it gave them “inside” information, and it gave them a choice of how to resolve their problem.
Think Of How You Would Feel If You Were In Their Position
We’ve all had times when something went wrong & we’ve had to ask for help. We’ve also all probably dealt with rude or apathetic customer service people. How did you feel? How would you feel if you were in your customer’s place, having the knowledge that they have?
Being empathic goes a long way toward having a good relationship with a client. I’ve had bosses who couldn’t remember what it was like when they didn’t know a lot about a product. They gave instructions to people with the assumption that those people were on the same knowledge level as them.
Whenever possible, imagine being in your client’s place. They have to deal with you. Make that as seamless and pleasant as possible.
Some clients would tell me “I’m not a computer person”. I could tell most felt slightly embarrassed or frustrated that they couldn’t fix their problem themselves. My reply was “that’s not your job, it’s mine. You’ve got more important things to do”.
Pick Your Battles
When I taught software classes, some people didn’t want to be there. Their company wanted them to learn more about a software package, so they paid for training and required all employees to go. I could usually tell who these students were because they didn’t look at me. They were busy playing games on their computer.
In this case, THEY were my customer. They were the ones who filled out my evaluation at the end of class. I decided that if they wanted to play games, that was their choice. As long as they didn’t disrupt my class by asking questions because they hadn’t been paying attention, I left them alone. If I had continually stopped teaching to comment on their lack of attention, it would distract the rest of the class.
Stand Up For Yourself When You Have To
Some people are simply rude, stupid, careless, or irritating. None of us should have to deal with abuse by customers or co-workers. The important thing is knowing what crosses the line from annoying to abusive. Some things are obvious (sexual harrassment, physical abuse, personal insults). For others it’s a matter of personality and perspective. Cover your ass if you can. Before you say something that will result in a client problem, talk to your boss or Human Resources.
At one of my jobs there was a paralegal who just didn’t like me. I tried everything I could think of, but none of it made her like me.
One night she got angry and told me that I didn’t know how to do my job (after four years). She went on and on with insults. It was after-hours and my boss had left for the day. I told her that I realized that she didn’t like me, and I was sorry that we were having a problem. I admitted my part in the problem and offered to do what I could to help. That was it. Someone else was in her office so I had a witness.
The next day I went to my boss and told her what happened. I told her what I said. She told me that she knew this person could be difficult, and she had no problem with what I said. By being direct with my boss I’d avoided a day of worry about what might be said about me.
We all get angry, hurt, and frustrated. We might be tired or having a bad day. It would be nice if all of our clients thought of these things, but they don’t.
If we put the effort in to meet their needs, we’ve done our part. Hopefully your boss will hear what a great experience the clients had with you, or your clients will tell other potential clients. If nothing else, you’ll know that when it comes to this part of your job, you’ve done your best. Your pride in a job well done should be worth the effort.