Customer service: It's how we respond to the query

It seems like everybody's angry about something these days: mild-mannered clerks can fall prey to road rage whenever the freeways clog up; flight attendants are increasingly the victims of abuse at the hands of stressed-out passengers; and, according to telephone operators, many a caller goes berserk when trapped in the chasm of eternal touch-tone damnation.

Faced, then, with this rising tide of customer rage, what steps can a company take to ensure its staff are able to cope well with whatever the public throws at them? While there is little you can do about the underlying social causes of so much pent-up aggression, there is much to be done to ensure that personnel respond correctly to anger. More importantly that they don't supply the spark that ignites short fuses.

Right vs. wrong

Let's take a look at two examples to highlight the right and wrong approach to customer service. The first concerns a major airline with a poor customer service reputation. While the staff are efficient in all airline matters, they tend to exude an attitude of indifference when it comes to service. I recently witnessed an anxious passenger approach the desk for assurance about a flight. When the clerk portrayed consistent disinterest to what were probably groundless worries, the man became outraged, shouting at the top of his voice. With a little more courtesy and genuine interest, this scene could have been avoided.

At the other extreme, I arrived at the Hampton Inn in downtown Cleveland a few months ago and was struck by the superb service offered by bell captain Perry Smith. No matter the request -- mail delivery, last-minute tickets to an Indians game or even dinner in your room (the hotel has no restaurant, bar or room service) -- he took care of anything. I'd never consider staying anywhere else in town with Perry there.

"When I punch in, I'm there for them," he says. "I'm not just getting a paycheck. I treat people the way I would want to be treated." Perry understands that most arriving guests have had a long day's travel, often fraught with mishaps. He sees it as his place to make their day finish well, no matter what occurred earlier. As a result, few, if any, guests ever have to get mad.

Despite the public relations hoopla that surrounds customer service today, such exemplary service is the exception not the rule. There is a disconnect between the slick ad campaigns and corporate mission statements on the one hand, and the realities of everyday customer experiences on the other. How to bridge the gap? The answer is interest, attitude and energy.

The missing ingredient

Motivational speakers tour the country advocating many approaches to business and personal success. Some stress interest -- if you are interested in the client, all will be well. Others highlight attitude -- a positive and courteous attitude will open many doors. Then there is the high-energy school -- if you fulfill your duties with high-energy, prosperity comes almost as a matter of course.

While many of these concepts are extremely useful, the statistics speak for themselves. Only a small number of seminar attendees ever achieve a lasting change in their level of production. For most, after a few days or weeks of faking high interest or a positive attitude they sink back into business as usual.

So what goes wrong?

There is a key missing ingredient that is blocking the road to customer service success and wrecking the well-meaning efforts of most companies. By adding it, major change can be introduced into the service levels of any organization. This missing element is customer service training.

Few customer service campaigns provide personnel with genuinely workable people-handling skills. Perhaps they are shown a few examples of how to do it or given a few tips that some have found useful. While this will assist a few, unless an actual training method exists, most training of this type will fail to accomplish long-term gain. What's missing is a proven way to interact with clients, whether in sales, customer relations or delivery.

Fortunately, the seven steps of "World Class Selling: The Complete Selling Process" make up an exact process which, if followed, will guide any individual through the demanding business of dealing with people. How do you approach people properly and discover their exact needs? How can you stay interested after hours at a help desk? How to address angry people in no mood for reconciliation?

The step-by-step process of "World Class Selling: The Complete Selling Process" brings superb customer service within the reach of all companies, provided they train their staff well on its methods. The good news is individuals can begin to apply its basics after only a couple of days.

Service readiness

In this day and age, there is no escaping the coming customer service revolution. Magazine articles hammer home that customer satisfaction must become the number one driver of corporate policy making. Television ads extol the service-minded virtues of every single member of company staffs. Brochures show smiling personnel, eager to take care of your every need. The public now expects spectacular service almost as a matter of course.

There is no tolerance for sloppy service and an attitude of indifference. Only those businesses that effectively translate their mission statements and ad campaigns into indisputable fact will emerge as market leaders in the early years of the new millennium. The solution, therefore, is to arm staff with the techniques of a proven customer service system, thereby helping them to grease the cogs of interaction and remain proactive with customers.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.