How to get better customer service

Still doing the disclaimer reminder thing, since this gets close to work: The following opinions are mine, not my employer's.

Yesterday I offered some advice as a hiring manager in the customer service field on how to give better customer service. But let's remember there are some things you, as a customer, can do to get better customer service.

Let's go in with a couple of givens here. One, you're seeking a good (or great) customer service experience. You'd think this goes without saying, but sometimes people want to come out of a transaction feeling superior to the person they're dealing with, or at the very least they want the satisfaction of being able to yell at someone who probably does not deserve it (remember that the person at the business undertaking the customer service transaction is, by and large, several steps removed from the person who implemented pricing or policies). For another, you either want or need the product or service you're buying (flat screen TV = want; auto insurance = need); these tips are not going to help you if you're in a place you're getting cold called or bullied into a sale.

What can you do to increase your likelihood of getting good customer service?

Level the playing field. Typically, if you walk into a store or restaurant, the person helping you will either introduce themselves ("Hi, I'm Josh, and I'll be your server tonight"), or will be wearing a name tag. Respond with your name and at least pretend you're as happy to see that person as they pretend to be to see you. "Hi, Josh, I'm Bill. How are you tonight?" Seriously, have you ever done that to a server? Now you know each other's names. We're cool, and dammit, Bill, I'm gonna make sure that even if your beer is flat, your burger is overcooked and the manager sat on your dessert, everything within my power to make your dinner awesome is gonna happen. The trick is to not be condescending. Don't call the server "buddy," "pal," or anything that might seem like this guy's your pet. Your server already knows he's serving you. No need to rub it in.

Have an idea of what you want. When some of us went into a local restaurant and ordered an appetizer sampler, the server asked how we wanted the wings. One of our party said, "delicious." OK, fair enough. There are six sauces, any would be acceptable. No problem. But don't walk into Best Buy and ask for something electronic. If you want a toaster, ask for a toaster, and then get recommendations.

Communicate your needs. I'm allergic to mangoes. I can't walk into a restaurant and ask someone to surprise me with an appetizer. Nobody is going to ask if I'm allergic to mangoes. That's something I have to express. Side note: I recently found out I have this allergy, and I just this second realized I can no longer have a mango lassi at an Indian restaurant. I just got really sad for a minute. If you need a new refrigerator, make sure the salesperson knows you're looking for a little dorm fridge to send your kid off to college with, not a $1200 super-fridge that julienne-cuts ice. You're just going to get more and more frustrated.

Remember that the customer is not always right. This must go back to the 1950s or 1960s, when the U.S. really started to be a service economy. The premise is "I'm spending money with you, so I'm going to get it my way." It just doesn't really work that way. If you walk into a pizza shop and order a pizza and a salad, you'll probably get a pizza, and a salad. But if you then empty your salad bowl onto the pizza and return the empty salad bowl, you're probably not going to get out of there paying for only a pizza. "But the salad is a single topping. It's called 'salad'!" Similarly, you might be able to negotiate a little bit here and there, but you're probably not going to be able to bully a business into becoming a different business. For example, a hat shop that measures your head and hand-stitches a hat to fit you is going to charge you a lot more than if you bought a similar style hat at a department store. Don't expect Artisan A to compete on price with Department Store B, but don't expect Department Store B to match the quality of Artisan A.

So those are some really easy things you can do to get better customer service with every transaction. Do you have other ideas?


1 Comment

  • My husband and I frequent the CopperTop on Rt. 11 (so often it’s perhaps criminal). On a number of occasions we’ve been lucky to sit in Bobby’s section. He is, by far, our favorite waiter ever. My husband was a waiter/bartender for a long time so when he has nothing about which to complain, you know the server is good. Bobby is on top of everything – drink refills, food, checking up on us. And the thing that gets us the most? Whenever he comes by the table, say to drop of waters and we say, “Thank you,” he says, “You’re welcome.” Every. Single. Time.

    We went to CopperTop last night because of the power outage. We didn’t sit in Bobby’s section, yet he managed to wait on us because our server was “on her break”. In and out in less than an hour, waters always filled to the brim, and plenty of “You’re welcomes”.

    Plus, it doesn’t hurt that because of this, we tip him like a rockstar. He doesn’t even need to introduce himself to us anymore.
    Beth recently posted..It’s that time of year

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