Had to get my car serviced this morning, and on the way, I stopped at 1-2-3-4 different places where I encountered 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14-15-16-17 different “customer service people.” Here’s the result of my very informal, random survey: Customer service is aimlessly lost. I sure couldn’t find it, hard as I looked. I baited (gave my service people easy scenarios to excel at), I smiled a lot, and I tried to be very understanding of their dilemmas, with a voice in my head chanting “kill ‘em with kindness, they’ll respond, have faith.” No luck. The “service” I got was either MIA or mired in auto-pilot and mediocrity.
I’m not going to belabor the horror stories: let’s imua and go forward. All you managers out there, help! We’ve got to turn this around! Some quick thoughts to get you started:
1. First of all, hire people who enjoy being service providers. How’s that for a revelation? Yes, I know that we are now “enjoying” the lowest unemployment levels ever, and that means its slim pickings out there, but look at my numbers above again: 2 of my 4 stops were truly over-staffed. You’ve got to hire right, or you’re starting by talking four steps backwards and everything else will just be too hard.
2. If an employee doesn’t demonstrate that they actually like other people, for goodness sake, don’t subject them to your customers! By the way, that means don’t ask them to answer the phone either.
3. Realize that even normally great mea ho‘okipa (service providers filled with ho‘okipa, the hospitality of complete giving) need a break sometimes. Learn to read the signs when their cup doesn’t runneth over anymore and they need a refill.
4. This one is part of your training 101: teach your staff to always deal with people first, and computers/ paper/ other staff second, no matter how backlogged they are. That non-human stuff isn’t going anywhere, whereas that ignored, impatient, and disgruntled customer is a bad word-of-mouth black plague brewing. The longer they wait for attention, the more toxic that plague will be.
5. Even when they are focusing on the customer first, good employees can get flustered and overwhelmed when it’s busy and Murphy’s Law comes to visit. Don’t waste time training fancy new skills like cutting-edge software programs, until the basics are second nature: multi-tasking is an important job skill, keeping cool-headed in a pressure cooker is an important job skill, listening well is an important job skill: these are the ones that are critical to satisfying your customers.
That’s my quick “do” list in contrast to all the “don’ts” I saw this morning. Everyone reading this wears the shoes of the customer: what are the other qualifications and job skills you feel are vital for good service providers?
To end my story, after my car was done I went to Subway to pick up a sandwich for lunch, and my sandwich artist Arie was terrific. It was busy, and he was jamming. Yet he smiled at every customer, talked to them as if they were the most important person in his world, and infected his co-workers on the sandwich line with his enthusiasm and energy. There is hope, and there are great examples everywhere. Thanks Arie for giving me my smile back. The sandwich was great too.