Recently, Ghana celebrated Customer Service week which brought to me memories, some good, some bad and some abysmally unacceptable! After serving customers for the past 10 years or so, I can confidently say I have made some of the worst customer service mistakes possible! Some are so gross they make me cringe!
Some bad ones
In August 2006, I had an opportunity to work as an Insurance Underwriting Customer Adviser for a top insurance firm in England. Here I was, this ‘too known’ Ghanaian girl who thought when it came to handling customers, I knew it all. My team mainly dealt with insurance brokers from Wales and there was this particular broker I had become quite familiar with over the phone. One day, he called and as soon as I responded, he said “Sorry Ama, I’ll call you back in a bit”. I said no problem. Some few hours later, he called again and as soon as I responded, he said, “so sorry, I’ll call you again shortly”.
These were the unbelievable words that came out of my mouth after the second call: “This is the second time you’ve done that? Why are you doing that to me?” I tell you, my team leader almost passed out when he heard me say those words!!! He gave me quite a lecture on professionalism that day that I’m sure I’ll never forget!
How about this one too? I was a support services clerk for the social care Services of my County Council and dealt with lots of families on welfare. One day, this lady came to the reception where I was stationed and asked to see her social worker.She seemed very agitated and as she was going on and on about her problem, yours truly was smiling, well I was more like grinning!
This absolutely infuriated her. Had it not been the protective glass that was between her and me, she would have beaten the annoying grin off my face! Whew, she didn’t minced words in telling me off right before she stormed off! That day, I learnt that there is more to customer service than smiling.
Looking back, I realise that the more mistakes I made, the more my understanding of customer service deepened. It’s sad but true; my mistakes have taught me a thing or two about how to handle customers. Some of my best lessons were after customers had complained about my services. And I am forever grateful to customers who told me my faults; because of these remarks, I am better than I used to be.
Here are some lessons I have learnt from a little over 10 years of serving customers.
Choose a positive attitude
No matter what happens at home before you get to work, you must “ choose” your attitude when dealing with your customers. There are days when things just don’t go right; there is an unexpected traffic which makes you late, you have an argument with your partner early in the morning, your boyfriend breaks up with you via text message, your colleague accuses you yet again of something you didn’t do, your shoes are too tight and are cutting off your blood circulation…many things can spoil your mood but as long as there are customers in front of you, you have to listen to them, be cheerful, helpful and professional.
Listen to your customers, not yourself!
Sometimes in our bid to please our customers, we refuse to listen to their needs and instead give them what we think they would like. I have seen this happen too many times and it leaves customers dissatisfied. Sadly, many of these customers who are dissatisfied will not say so; they will simply not return to you.
Be reliable, smiling is not enough!
Customers demand reliability; if you say ‘I will…’, you better make it happen. There are a number of times I have been commended for satisfying customers and when I analysed my actions, it was simply because I said I would do something and I did it. Period! Nothing spectacular and yet I will get so much praise. Customers want action and they want it delivered promptly; no excuses. Isn’t it annoying when you need something done quickly but some so called customer service agent keeps telling you with a smile ‘don’t worry madam, it will be ready soon’ after you’ve waited forever with no result?
Respond promptly and positively
No matter how prepared you are to serve your customers, once in a while something will go wrong with your service but it is how you respond to these problems that get you a loyal customer.When there is a complaint from a customer, apologise positively and fix the issue promptly.
Always follow up on customer requests
Sometimes, a customer requests for something from you which you must pass on to another person to handle. In spite of that, as long as you are the first point of contact, you must ensure that the customer has gotten his/her request and is satisfied. Your job is not done until the customer is satisfied.
Work as a team
For customer service to flow, all employees in the organisation must work together as a team. No matter how on point your front line staff are, they depend on the back office to get things done for customers. If there is no team work among them, the party pulling their weight will always be frustrated and this will show in the service customers get.
Management by walking around gets results
I heard somewhere that ‘employees do inspected work, not expected work’, how true this statement is for a lot of employees! If you want results, keep visiting your employees instead of sitting in your office expecting that everything is fine thinking‘everyone knows their job’.
Customers are not your ‘besties’, they are your customers and must be taken seriously. Imagine this: GH¢1,000 is mistakenly debited from your account by your insurance company and after waiting for a whole month to get it refunded, an employee of your insurance company (who by the way is not your friend!) tells you ‘sweetheart, don’t worry wai. Just leave it to me I will handle it for you’!!! Excuse me? I have been calling you (this same employee) for over a month and I am still not getting any results!!!And besides, when exactly did I become your sweetheart? The impudence of a dying cockroach!!!
Invest in your employees
Give them applicable training and follow up with supervision to ensure that they are doing things right consistently. We cannot expect our employees to be the best if we don’t invest in making them the best.
Take care of your employees (very important)
Finally, if you want your employees to take care of your customers, take care of them (your employees) first. Now by taking care of your employees, I don’t only mean pay them well, treat them well too and watch them take care of your customers.
The writer is a Corporate Trainer and CEO of Corporate Training Solutions.
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