‘Waiter, I’d Like to Order the Customer Service Please’

Posted on June 1, 2004 by Sara Eastwood - Also by this author

Sorry, ma’am, we’re cutting back and have taken that off the menu’

A few months ago a mirrored nightstand displayed in a fine furniture store window caught my eye. I went back several weeks later to take a closer look and the sales manager told me that it had been sent to their clearance center but that I was in luck. It was still there and on sale! The facility was about an hour away so I looked up the piece in the store catalog, said yep that was it and I bought it right there. It was delivered a week later … broken in seven places.

I phoned the sales manager and was told, “Sorry. All clearance items on sale are final.” Good old fine print. I replied, “Listen, no one ever mentioned the word damaged in this sales process and I want my money back.” The fight ensued for two weeks until I threatened to take this matter to small claims court, at which time a very indignant owner contacted me to schedule a pick-up of the table.

So first I was misled, then harangued and finally treated like I was a swindler. I’m still unsure how the tables got turned. The owner actually told me I was no longer invited back to his store! I am, however, clear on one thing. Good customer service is a rare and endangered species today. Our industry is no exception.

There is huge opportunity for operators who follow the principles of good customer service. The fact that this is still a very price-sensitive market creates even a greater advantage if your service levels are high, because so many businesses have diluted service by reducing staffs. Consumers almost always crave it and are willing to pay for it.

Here are a few suggestions to follow so your quality of service is the best in your marketplace:

1. Establish core service values: What is expected in the way of phone manners (i.e. number of acceptable rings before being answered, your standard greeting, voicemail messages, etc.); trip timeliness; cleanliness of the vehicle; chauffeur appearance/etiquette; and customer follow up.

2. Communicate those values to your entire company as the opening to every staff meeting. Make your core values your company mantra. Have them posted in all workstations as reminders.

On dealing with upset customers, the following tips will help diffuse even the most irate client and will likely save the business relationship.

1. Remain calm. Take a deep breath and tell yourself that you can handle the transaction.

2. Remember: It's not personal. Your customer may make it personal by name-calling, making comments about your lack of competence or your physical appearance, etc. But in most cases, the customer is just lashing out because the situation is frustrating. You just happen to be the closest target.

3. Listen. Some angry customers just need to vent. They need to have someone hear their frustration. Once they've vented, though, they're ready to take care of whatever they came to you for in the first place.

4. Agree or empathize. When your customer makes a valid point, agree with him or her. You don't have to take the blame for anything, but often acknowledging a customer's point of view or valid comment helps the client calm down. Never argue with a client!

5. Focus on the positive. Say what you CAN do, not what you can't do. Give options to your customer.

And most of all, folks, don’t have “fine print.” Be honest and always, always under promise and over deliver.

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