5 Essential Tips for Improving Customer Service

By Bernadette Vadurro

cfc4-web1) Communicate with your employees in an assertive manner.  I am constantly amazed by the number of managers and supervisors who use passive, passive-aggressive or downright aggressive communication with their employees.  What employers fail to realize is that how a manager or employer communicates with his employees is how they will in turn tend to communicate with your customers.  For example saying to an employee in a non-judgmental tone of voice, “Have I done something to offend you?  I noticed you rolling your eyes during the staff meeting today?” A statement of this nature may nip a potential behavioral problem in the bud.  The tendency however is for the manager to either act passively by simply avoiding the employee or the manager acts aggressively telling the employee “You sure have an attitude problem today” or the manager acts out passive-aggressively complaining to other managers and subordinates about the employee but not directly addressing the employee.  Learning to communicate assertively in all our communication takes understanding and practice.  It’s not always easy, but the payoff is huge!

2) Keep facial expressions, eye contact, gestures and tone of voice congruent.  Some employees think because their word choices are “user friendly” they are coming across as customer service oriented.  For instance if a bank teller shouts out “Next, how may I help you”, but never makes eye contact, smiles or acknowledges the customer, the message sent by the bank teller is a desire to herd the customer through as quickly as possible with little concern for any personalized attention.  Companies who want their employees to be customer service oriented need to start with the first impression.  It takes only a micro-second to make eye contact, smile and nod your head, but the impact on customer service is phenomenal.  Another example is the one of a patient who finds herself in the presences of a poor communicating health care provider.  According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of New York Times Best Seller “Blink”, people don’t sue doctors they like”. It often boils down to the tone of voice the doctor uses and the most caustic tone of voice a doctor can use is condescending.  Patients listen to more than the words; they evaluate facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice, then the patient makes a quality care judgment. 

3) Learn to deliver negative feedback in a positive way. Being customer service sensitive doesn’t mean employees never say no to a customer or that employees are rugs to be walked all over.  It’s how to say no and how to deliver negative feedback that counts.  If the first words out of an employees’ mouth is “No we don’t offer that service,” then the communication between the customer and the employee becomes strained. Employees must learn how to: 1) listen attentively; 2) not personal the problem;  3) provide options and alternatives in a positive and polite manner; 4) and show customer appreciation throughout the entire transaction with empathy and understanding.  When employees are skilled at providing feedback, customer complaints diminish.

4) Becoming Change Skilled and Adaptable.  Some employees fear change and are deeply committed to doing it the old way because it has always worked for them in the past.  It’s important to get employee buy-in and allow the employees to discover through a specified process why the old way will not sustain the organization in the long run.  Employers who simply mandate changes without giving the employees the opportunity to participate in the changes and get buy-in are doomed as the organizational changes are frequently sabotaged by the employees; who may later claim, the customers didn’t like the changes.  This requires an understanding that most people are creatures of habit and are somewhat change resistant.  We don’t like our work disrupted by new fangled ways of doing things, especially challenging technologies.  To better serve customers, organizations must be adaptable to change or a competing organization will steal their customers away.  We live in an era where your competitor is only one computer click away.

5) Improving Business Etiquette Many employers struggle with business etiquette issues, such as employees coming to work wearing clothes that are better suited for the pool or gym, with exposed cleavage, tattoos, unusual pierced body parts or radical hair styles that can make guests or customers feel uncomfortable.  Managers or supervisors may not know how to tell their employees their appearance is inappropriate for the work environment.  Having specific dress code policies and making sure everyone follows them including the manager helps.  Finally knowing how to immediately and tactfully address these problems can eliminate them.

Bernadette offers programs entitled Customer Service is Everyone’s Business and Leadership Strategies in Customer Service.  For more information call 505-983-8986 or visit the website at www.speakerslive.com.

Bernadette Vadurro is a native Santa Fean; co-author of two books on customer service and has trained many Fortune 500 company employees.