I’m a massive believer in the power of personal service. When a staff member interacts with a customer, that’s where the action is. When we’re relating as people, it’s a chance for me to really understand your needs as a customer and to help you on a person-to-person basis. In order to deliver the best personal service, I also need to understand how you like to be served. This is where EQ comes in — emotional intelligence.
The best customer service professionals have great people skills; they can quickly understand what kind of a person someone is, and how to relate to them.
Here are some of the character types you might encounter:
- The No-Nonsense Customer. This person knows exactly what they want and they simply want you to help them get it. Ascertain their needs and deliver, quickly and efficiently.
- The Browser. This person has a vague idea what they want, but they’re interested in finding out what you offer. They want advice and are keen to discuss their options. Understand what they’re looking for and then advise.
- The People Person. This customer simply has to socialise with everyone they meet. They will smile, greet, enquire after someone’s health and generally have a pleasant chat before getting around to discussing what kind of help they require. Here there’s no rush. Just chill and chat, until your customer remembers, “Oh, ja! Here’s what you can help me with!”
- The Shrinking Violet. Someone with almost no social skills, and incredibly shy to boot. This customer would rather not have to deal with people, but out of necessity they are forced to. You might have to draw them out a little, but just put them at ease and make the process as painless as possible for them.
Related: Does Your Customer Service Care?
Recognising your customer’s personality type and needs is just the beginning though. You now need to speak to them in their language.
Phatic language is the linguistic term for words used to facilitate the flow of conversation. In themselves they are quite meaningless. They’re just social lubrication to help an interaction along.
Phatic language is useful, but it is not real conversation. That happens around it. If you’re going to make a real, person-to-person connection with your customer, you need to get past the phatic conversation as quickly as possible. You need to really connect.
When we connect, we form a human bond that is deeper than a brief encounter, or even a business transaction. So use language that encourages this. Don’t just say, “Need any help?” That’s phatic language. The answer will be a reflexive, “No, thanks, just browsing.” And you haven’t made any connection at all.
Try to ask questions that reveal the customer’s real needs and explain more about why they find themselves dealing with you. “How can I help you?” is a start. But why not think of an opening question more closely related to your business. Let’s say you run the Party City party supplies store. How about opening the conversation with, “What kind of party are we having?” That will propel you right into your customer’s world. They’ll explain how they’re throwing a farewell party for their boss, who’s retiring and they were thinking perhaps something with a New Orleans theme, as he’s a big fan of jazz music.
Pretty soon, you’ll be discussing what kind of guy he is, how many guests there’ll be and throwing around ideas about what kind of an event they’re going to be having. You’ll be connecting.
Get the big picture and sell more
This speaks directly to another golden rule linking customer service to sales: If you get the big picture, you’ll be able to sell more.
Let’s say you run a PostNet branch. It’s a media business. A client comes in asking about the cost of couriering a document to Cape Town from Centurion. You could look up the rate in your book and say ‘98 bucks for counter-to-counter.’ Then go back to your smartphone.
But you won’t do that, because you’re delivering exceptional service. You’re going to ask, “Do you mind if I ask what you need our courier services for?”
The young lady might say that she’s applying for a design job, so she wants to courier her portfolio to Cape Town for a job application. Now that you know her requirements, you can better serve her needs.
You might be able to help her print out her design portfolio on a high-quality printer, bind the pages professionally into an attractive book, and then courier the package safely to her prospective employer in
This is a type of cross-selling — you are selling the customer extra services. But you’re doing it to help realise her goals. You’re delivering exceptional service, by supplying exactly what she needs.
You can also do a bit of up-selling (selling add-ons or more valuable services) by encouraging her to use overnight door-to-door courier service. That way, her documents will be at the front desk of her next employer by the time they get into work.
You’ll have sold more, but you’ve also added value to your customer, and delivered a superior service.
Own the project
We’re trying to deliver exceptional customer service, to satisfy the customer’s needs. The best way to do that is to personally take ownership of a project.
When we make contact with a customer, we should methodically work through their project, becoming their representative in the process of fulfilling their requirements.
That would work something like this:
- Make a connection. Smile, greet them, enquire after their health. Welcome them to your company.
- If the customer is uncertain how best to meet their own needs, give them the benefit of your knowledge. Recommend a dish, explain your product offering, describe how the system works.
- Agree on a plan of attack. Once the customer knows their options and has chosen one on your advice, agree on what you’re going to do.
- Establish their needs. What is the project they are engaged in?
- That means you ensure that the job is done. Even if you hand them over to another department, you still monitor the project and ensure it is carried out to the best of your company’s ability. This could mean delivering a hi-fi, taking out an insurance policy or financing a C-class Mercedes.
- Follow up, follow through. Check that the customer is happy. Liaise with colleagues on the project. Take up and personally resolve any problems. Check whether things could have been done better.
These are all ways of taking ownership of a customer’s project, whether it’s finding a dress for their three-year-old’s birthday party, a 32G SD card or working out how many Vitality points they have.
Dull Service in Dullstroom
Just recently I gave a talk to a group of franchisees at a venue in Dullstroom. I took my wife Ann along because we wanted to stay an extra night. This was the procedure we encountered at the hotel. It was anything but effortless.
I talk about anticipating your customers’ needs. This establishment showed none of that anticipation. It was like they wanted to make it as hard as possible for a guest to extend their stay.
I phoned the hotel but they couldn’t take the booking directly for the extra night as ‘it had to go through head office’.
So I phoned head office and they said that it’s fine, they can accommodate us but only if I could tell them my room number. I didn’t have my room number as I’d not yet checked in. I asked if there was not a way that they could get hold of reception at the hotel and find out the room number for us. No, the lady at head office told me I had to phone the hotel back (this would have been the third call) and then phone her back at head office (fourth call) mentioning the room number and then she could confirm the booking.
Can you believe it? Again, all but effortless service and quite frankly, Ann and I decided not to stay the extra night because if that was our first contact, imagine the rest.
Suffice to say, the rest was not up to standard. When we arrived at reception, there was no one there, not even a bell to ring for service. I had to walk around the hotel to try and find someone. Somebody eventually came along to help, but the damage had been done.
We went from a potentially loyal customer who would recommend this hotel to our friends and colleagues, to unsatisfied customers who would do the exact opposite.