How to give great customer service

Again, since I'm a hiring manager in customer service, a reminder that opinions here are mine and not my employer's.

It always surprises me when I have a poor enough customer service experience that I need to remark on it. And it seems to be happening more and more often. Companies are starting to get really good at creating great experiences to make up for bad ones, but why not just give great customer service in the first place?

Let's first understand that every business has two types of customers: internal and external. External customers are the people you serve; those who buy something from your business. Internal customers are the people you work with. These are people you aren't making financial transactions with, but with whom you create good or ill will with by the way you interact in the workplace. Give poor internal customer service, and you're likely to feel alienated at work.

I think giving good customer service is taxing, but easy. I find it taxing because I'm an introvert and would rather be buried behind a computer screen than talking to strangers all day, but I find it easy because I genuinely find people interesting and I like speaking one-on-one. I also think the products and services my company sells are useful and I use them myself (if you can't say this about the stuff your company sells, go work for someone else where you can – seriously, it's hard enough slugging out a 40-hour workweek; if you can't do it with a good conscience, just don't do it).

Here are a few tips to give great customer service the first time. There will be no stories of recovery here. I have some of those I'd be willing to share, but I'd so much rather tell you how to avoid the need for them.

Your personal stuff stays at home. Everybody has bad days. Don't take them out on your customers. If you want to warn your internal customers that you've got some personal stuff going on and that you'd appreciate some space and/or extra help that day, cool. Hopefully you've done right enough by them that it's not an issue. But your external customers should never be aware of it. I work in an industry in which I see the same people every day. They can tell by my energy levels if I'm having an off-day (I've seen them three to five days a week at the same time for almost two years now), but they also know they can rely on me for what they need to make their experience with the company a positive one. They don't need to know why I'm having an off-day, and it doesn't need to come through in our interaction.

Smile. If you smile before you speak to someone (and I'm going to say this like you're a 7-year old), your insides will follow what your outsides are doing. If you're putting on a genuine smile, your voice and your energy will appear to your customer that you are honestly happy to see and help them.

Listen, and ask questions. This is the single most important thing you can do to make sure you're helping someone efficiently and effectively. You'll get your customer what they want, and you won't waste their time. And sometimes, the customer doesn't want anything from you – only for you to listen. Sometimes you have to ask a couple of questions to get clarification on what your customer wants, but you should be able to get there pretty easily. Let me tell you a story about when I spent more money at a place because the less expensive place I went gave me poor customer service. All I wanted was for the rep to listen to me.

I was planning a weekend trip that would cover about 600 miles. Not a huge distance, but I had a car of questionable reliability, so I decided to rent a car. I made reservations, I got an agreement in the mail (I made the reservation a month in advance), and I got reminder emails. I decided to take my lunch hour to pick up the car instead of waiting until after work. When I got there, I discovered that if I was paying cash I had to put down an extra couple of hundred dollars. This wouldn't have been a problem, but I wasn't aware of it. I started to say something to the rep, and she cut me off, saying that it was on page 17 of my rental agreement, and she could get me a copy if I like. I then said, and four and a half years later I can recite this almost verbatim:

Actually, I was going to say that you sent me three reminder emails that said, in big letters, that I can't take my rental SUV into Canada because of some vehicle restriction law. I'm renting a sub-compact. If you'd included the cash note once instead of the SUV one, we wouldn't be having this conversation. I really just wanted to offer that as a suggestion, but now I'm going to spend more money to rent the same car somewhere else.

Seriously. How stupid is that of a way to lose a customer? All I needed from her was to listen, and she decided she wasn't interested in that. She wound up having to listen to me anyway, and she lost me as a customer for her company.

Give a damn. Here's a phrase that comes from one of my customers: "You can't train giving a damn." And she's right. If you don't give a damn about your company, your company's products, or your customers, it comes through. And if one of those things is true, you shouldn't be wasting your time working for them, and your company shouldn't be wasting their money paying you. There are always internal politics and you may be unhappy at the moment, but if at the end of the day you don't give a damn about what you do, it's time for you to find something else.

That's really it. Four things you can do to create a good customer experience. Add yours in comments below. Next up, some tips for getting better customer service.



  • Good stuff, and absolutely on point. I’m big on customer service, and when I was an every day manager, I worked on it with my employees often, just to make sure they got it. But like you, I’ve had to experience some horrible service in many places.
    Mitch Mitchell recently posted..Blogging Tips – Editing And Grammar

    • Mitch,

      I happen to be in the fortunate position to have personally interviewed almost everybody on my service desk (there’s one person who pre-dates me, and members LOVE her — when I cover a shift for her, there’s actual disdain that they’re not coming in to see her at 5:30 in the morning). It means that most of my day-to-day communications with the staff is operations-related, and much of the service-related stuff is nuance (point with an arm gesture, not a finger).

      I just don’t think customer service is that difficult; it’s a matter of caring a little. And so. many. people. just don’t care.

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