When you experience great customer service, you naturally want to return to that business for more. A great service experience is a big factor in creating loyal customers.
Customer experience is not only an entry-level issue. It’s impacted at all levels of business. It’s impacted in the line at the ticket counter all the way up to interactions with departments at the executive level.
We’ve all experienced poor customer service, though, haven’t we? What are the impacts of poor service?
DID YOU KNOW?
- FACT #1: 33% of Americans say they’ll consider switching companies after just a single instance of poor service.
- FACT #2: Americans tell an average of 15 people about a poor service experience, versus the 11 people they’ll tell about a good experience.
SOURCE: Help Scout
That’s an enormously negative impact that poor service can have on a business!
The difference that great service makes, however, is evident to the customer in the feelings they are left with. It’s also measurable in the number of times they will come back for more of your product!
Today, we’re going to talk through 6 Simple Habits you can create in your customer service interactions that will propel you into the realm of consistently great service – and widespread customer loyalty.
Let’s dig in!
Habit #1: The 5/10 Rule
Have you ever walked up to an information desk or service counter and stood there awkwardly until the employee finally acknowledged your existence? It’s pretty awkward, right? Maybe it’s even rude or offensive.
When there’s work to be done, it’s easy to get caught up in tasks that seem urgent. However, you should never prioritize the “urgent” task at hand above of the important customer in front of you. After all, it’s all about the customer, right?
During my time in customer service, there was a rule that my company always held firm to. It was called “The 5/10 Rule.”
The basic concept behind the rule is that when a customer is approaching you or even just walking by you, the customer must be acknowledged appropriately based on how far away from you they are when they’re headed in your direction.
Here’s the general rule:
- At 10 feet away, visually acknowledge the person. This includes, first and foremost, eye contact. Look up from whatever you’re doing and look at the person. Then, SMILE!
- At 5 feet away, verbally acknowledge the person with a greeting (see next section regarding your greetings). Then, ask how you can be of assistance.
Let the customer know you’ve been waiting to serve them and they are not just another task or, worse yet, an interruption in your day.
When we’re working in customer service, the day might get busy or things might get hectic, but we must remember the 5/10 Rule, even when we’re hard at work and busy with an urgent task.
A customer will remember how we made them feel. A smile and a greeting can go a long way. Remember what we’re doing here and why we’re doing it.
People are the priority!
Habit #2: Service Oriented Greetings
I was in a drive-through line recently and I was shocked by the establishment’s customer service (or lack thereof). It really came down to their greeting habits.
- When I pulled up to the speaker, a voice said, “Go ahead with your order when you’re ready.”
- When I pulled up to the window to pay, the worker said, “$5.79.”
These were their greetings. I felt completely unappreciated.
When I worked at the Front Desk of a high-end hotel, a motto that management regularly recited was: “‘Next’ is not a greeting.” The idea behind this motto is that your customer is not a number or a task on your list of “to-dos” – they are a person. A very important person!
For general review, here are some other things that are NOT greetings:
- Instructions are not a greeting (ie. “Order when you’re ready,”)
- Your name is not a greeting (ie. a phone greeting of “John Smith speaking”)
- The name of your company/department is not a greeting (ie. “Accounting” as a phone greeting)
- A dollar amount is not a greeting (ie. “$5.79” or even “Your total is $5.79”)
- A question is not a greeting (ie. “Can I help you?” or “How can I assist you?”)
Only a greeting is actually a greeting.
When you’re in customer service, your job can be overwhelming. Lines get long, phone queues get packed, volume gets loud, and customers get impatient. However, it’s important to create good habits when it comes to service-oriented greetings.
Be sure to kick off that customer interaction right by creating the simple habit of ALWAYS using a service-oriented greeting.
Take a look at some of these Greeting suggestions:
- “Good [Morning/Afternoon/Evening]!”
- “Hello, [Sir/Ma’am}!”
- “Welcome to [business name]!”
Habit #3: Say Their Name
It’s a known fact that people love to hear their own name. Using a customer’s name in the interaction creates a personal connection that customers remember. It also makes the customer feel important. What a simple way to create a positive feeling in your customer!
It’s easy to get the customer’s name right away. In fact, it’s as easy as introducing yourself by name:
“Hello, welcome to ___! I’m [Your name].”
When you say your name, it’s natural for a person to respond with theirs.
You can also ask the customer their name straight-out. When I managed a call center, we trained our agents to say this greeting when answering any call:
“Good [morning/afternoon/evening], thank you for calling ___, my name is [Your name], may I have your name please?”
Getting the customer name right off the bat gives you a great advantage and allows you to customize the rest of the conversation. When they give you their name, you can now respond by saying, “Thank you [Customer name], how may I assist you today?”
Then, throughout the conversation, you can appropriately address the customer by name. At the end of the interaction, you can also personalize your farewell. “Thank you for calling today, [Customer name], we look forward to your next visit!”
Be careful not to overdo it, though. Over-using the customer’s name can often give off an in-genuine, too-familiar, or “slick service” feel.
“Well, John, let me tell you what we have available. John, it looks like we have __ available. Would that interest you today, John?”
Too-familiar interactions cross the line into creepy. Just keep it natural!
Habit #4: Avoid Negative Language
Negative language greatly impacts the customer’s experience and leaves them feeling like the interaction was poor or unsuccessful.
“No,” “We can’t do that,” “I’m sorry,” and “Unfortunately,” are all terms that should be avoided in customer service at all costs.
You’ll be happy to know, though, that it’s actually pretty simple to put a positive spin on your language when you encounter situations where you would normally use the above “negative” words or phrases.
Instead of using the above “negative” words or phrases, simply speak naturally with the customer.
Here are some alternate options:
- Instead of saying “No” when a customer asks you a yes or no question, try explaining the answer instead. For example, a customer asks, “Do you offer ___ services?” and you don’t offer that service. You can avoid negative language by saying something like, “We actually don’t offer that service, but we do offer ___. Would you be interested in that service?”
- Instead of saying “We can’t/don’t do that,” when a customer has an impossible request, try redirecting. For example, a customer asks for a refund on a non-refundable product. You can avoid negative language by responding with something like, “While we’re not able to offer a refund, we can exchange the product for something that is more useful to you. Is there possibly another product you’re interested in?”
- If you think about it, saying “I’m sorry” is not actually an apology and it can often seem in-genuine, even if you are truly apologizing. If you’re in a service situation where you are trying to recover the customer from poor service or bad news, try being a bit more genuine. “I apologize for the experience you had. Is there anything I can do to make it right? May I offer you ___?”
- “Unfortunately” may seem like a polite and proper word to use in a customer service interaction, but this is the kind of word that customers get angry at. “Unfortunately” is always followed by bad news. Every time. In customer service, you want to avoid the idea that you are delivering bad news. Instead, put a positive spin on bad news. For example, if a customer is calling to book for a sold out event, instead of saying, “Unfortunately, we are sold out for that event” try saying something like “It does appear that this event is sold out at the moment, but we really would love to see you for a visit. Can I put you on our waitlist or are there any other events you’re interested in that I can check availability for?”
You may notice that all of the above examples of “positive” alternatives to negative language end with an alternate offer or a question. This is not a coincidence!
In customer service, not only do we want to avoid giving the impression that we CAN’T HELP THE CUSTOMER, this technique also avoids awkwardness by keeping the conversation going.
We will touch on this topic a bit more in the next section!
Habit #5: Avoid Awkward Silences
There’s nothing like awkwardness and discomfort that will put a bad taste in a customer’s mouth.
In customer service, our job is to enhance the customer’s experience. Whether you’re on the phone with the customer or serving them face-to-face, FILL THAT SILENCE!
TECHNIQUE #1: Talk while you work!
Now, I understand that it may seem difficult to talk while typing, for example, but it is a habit that you can easily create. Even if you’re just saying what you’re doing.
A customer walks up to your hotel desk and wants to check in. While you’re searching for their name in your system, you can say:
- “I’m looking up your reservation now, it will just be a moment.”
Or you can ask them about their day as you search for their name.
- “How is your day going?”
- “How’s the weather out there?”
- “Where are you visiting from today?”
- “How was the flight in?”
TECHNIQUE #2: End each response with a question
A customer service interaction is just like playing tennis. Ending your response with a question hits the ball back to the customer and keeps the action alive.
A customer wants to buy a certain product but none are available, it’s awkward to just say “It looks like we are out of that product at the moment” and then STOP speaking completely. That’s a good way to lead the conversation right into an awkward silence.
Keep the interaction comfortable by keeping the conversation going. Try, instead, saying:
- “It looks like we are out of that product at the moment. Can I put in a back order for you and let you know when we have more in stock?”
Even if there’s nothing you can offer, you can still end with a question to keep the conversation going.
- “It looks like we are out of that product at the moment, are there any other items I can look into for you?”
Avoid silence and awkwardness by volleying that ball right back to the customer! You don’t want the interaction to fall flat – that’s a point you’ll lose!
Habit #6: THANK them!
Always remember what we’re doing here! This customer chose to spend their money with your company instead of another one. Be sure you tell them how much you appreciate that by THANKING them.
Don’t just thank them at the end of the interaction, either. You can thank them when they give you their name, when they give you their credit card, or any time they give you information.
Always being polite is a simple but effective habit that leads to a positive experience for the customer.
Remember: You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!
The Root of it All
Creating habits is actually the SECOND step in providing consistently excellent customer service. The first step is your attitude!
When we examine the attitude behind any of the above habits, we see that the root of great service is self sacrifice. Putting the customer first in your mind naturally lends to the creation of these habits.
When you’re working in a service setting, you need to be ON at all times! Remember, you’re on the clock, so your time is not your own.
Whether the lines are long, the phone queues are full, or the workload is enormous, the customer’s experience is the most important factor to your service-based business.
In customer service, always remember: People are the priority!