Unfortunately, that line in the movie Field of Dreams, when Kevin Costner says “Build it and they will come,” isn’t the case for businesses. Wouldn’t that be nice! You can have the best product or store in the world, but if it’s not stacked with employees dishing out good, or at least decent customer service skills, it’s not hitting any home runs.
There’s an ice cream shop by my house that has decent ice cream, but my first thought usually is, “aw man, I have to deal with the ice cream scoopers.” They aren’t mean, but they have this thing going on, like they have somewhere else to be. Then again, they are sort of punked out. We go there anyway because it’s really the closest local ice cream shop around (I keep trying to convince my wife, a former New York City pastry chef and ice cream maker, that we need to open one up . . . then we’ll have ice cream for life!)
On the other hand, Denver is home to Illegal Pete’s, a burrito chain; it’s sort of a punked-out or hardcore Chipotle. The employees are often skater/punk types, with beards so bushy you think they’re nearly dunking in the guacamole bucket (they aren’t though!), they’re walking tattoos and some sport massive gauged ears. The design is sort of rustic grungy, with stickers and worn metal covering the walls. The employees, not unlike their ears, are engaging. They’re also helpful and great to talk with. Customer service skills matter!
Build your business on a foundation of providing an exceptional customer experience by way of even better customer service skills. In the book, The Everything Store, by Brad Stone, he reports that Amazon leaves one chair empty at every board meeting. It represents the customer and acts as a reminder to executives at the top that they are in the business of customer service.
Anyone can learn customer service skills, however, not everyone can really work them well right off the bat. Some people just belong in the back corner of the lab, humming and hawing over research, while others were born to be on the floor, all smiles and jokes.
One of the most important aspects of customer service is consistency: deliver greatness every time. Think the Ritz-Carlton experience—employees are expected to make every interaction with a customer memorable. They can go as far as to remember a special request of a regular customer, like putting a scented candle in their room because it calms them after a day of traveling. It can be as simple as that. In many cases, people are willing to pay more for exceptional service. So why not give it to them and regularly? Again, we’re not talking investing tons of resources into this venture. It can be as simple as a smile or a scented candle, but make sure it’s done with every customer every time.
One great customer service skill is understanding a customer’s mood. Don’t go pushing jokes on a customer that isn’t having it after one or two. But if you see them lightening up from them, go for it. On the other side of the coin, if the customer is dishing out puns, and the employee is stonewalling them, well that’s no fun. They’ll be talking about that tough crowd for days to come. Employees can sort of morph to the customer, to a degree. There should be a regular standard of pleasant customer service. At the same time, they can morph that to the mood of each customer, potentially making a bad day better, or a good day the best, depending on their interaction. But to do this takes measuring the customer’s mood.
When I was waiting tables in New York City, I was used to being really chatty with my tables, since Coloradans are fairly chatty everywhere. I quickly realized New Yorkers did not require the conversation and shtick I may have laid on in Colorado. But they did want prompt, efficient, and quality service. Needless to say, I cut the schtick.
That leads me to my next customer service skill: know when a customer is not happy. If employees are immune to this, they won’t be able to fix a problem before the customer leaves and gripes about their experience to friends, family, and maybe even on online review platforms (yikes!). Some of that anger is more subtle than others, but an employee with a solid set of customer service skills will be able to recognize the mousy anger and the lioness roar. Catch it as fast as you can! It may happen in a face-to-face transaction, or after the fact in a customer satisfaction survey, or even an online review. Where ever it is, strike while the iron is hot by tamping out the flames before they turn into a raging problem.
And deal with it with a genuine and honest response. It’s important to acknowledge that they’ve had a crummy experience with your brand. Apologize and offer a solution. Empathize with them and tell them you are listening, taking their qualms to heart and that they will address the issue. Oh! And if you end up making any business decisions or changes based off of the complaint let them know, then ask them to come back, even offering them a little discount or personal guarantee of quality service from a manager or employee. Remember, most customers just want someone to listen to them!
And at all times, good customer service skills include leaving all lines of communication open and available for use between customer and company. Open up that dialogue. Ask them questions. What went wrong? What can we do? Why don’t you come back? We miss yyooouuuu! Too strong? Maybe. Just don’t go wrapping on the door of a disgruntled customer at 10pm looking for redemption. That’s definitely too far and not a good line of communication.
Patience is a major one in the list of customer service skills. Without patience, an employee can’t do any of the above. Patience helps in the necessary swallowing of pride and letting the customer be right, usually even when they aren’t right. In rare cases, they aren’t right, like when they post reviews about a business that goes against the platform’s terms and conditions. In that case, fight back.
Customer service skills go beyond the transaction and are often required well after the interaction, like when a customer provides feedback in the form of responding to a survey, in an online review, or just general follow-up. Those skills are required at every step of the client journey, start to finish. And while they can be taught to an employee, often it’s the employees who were born to work with people that naturally just carry these traits around with them. It’s something they don’t have to work at, but something that just happens.
Don’t let that discourage you as a business owner, because customer service skills can be taught and reinforced. As you are with customers, be patient with employees, especially the young and less experienced ones as they find their footing in the customer experience world. Provide them with consistent and constructive feedback to build them up. And of course, being a role model always helps.
A successful business rarely makes it with just a good product. Leave that single chair empty to represent the customer, because every great business is backed by a great customer experience and customer service skills. Always keep the customer in mind.
Matthew Van Deventer is a content creator for WebPunch. As a dealer of words he dabbles in journalism and loves a good story, whatever the medium. Matthew lives outside of Denver, CO with his wife, daughter, and pup, Chewy.