In the Workplace: How to Be an Exceptionally Effective Customer Service Employee

customer service focus

The Makeup of a Customer Service Minded Person

I believe that success as a customer service employee stems from a person’s honest desire to help others. That said, first and foremost, I must ask, “Are you (or your CSRs) motivated by a desire to help and serve others, to meet needs, to solve problems?” These are some of the motivations most prevalent among customer service-oriented employees. Other characteristics of strong customer service-minded individuals include a pleasant personality and disposition, an “I can do it” sort of determination, and a mindset that extends outward rather than inward.

If Shiu Singh is correct, and the “purpose of a business is to create a customer who creates customers,” then businesses need to hire people who will provide awesome service experiences for their customers – to the point that those current customers can’t help but share their wonderful experience with others.

happy customer service employee

Here’s one example . . .

Happy employees are invariably linked to good customer service. Show me a happy person, and that joy, that smile, and that contentment will spill over into every aspect of customer service in the workplace.

I’m reminded of a teen girl who recently started working at a nearby grocery store. I work for Brannon Professionals, a staffing firm, and every time this young lady waits on me, I think about asking her if she would like our help in finding a better paying customer service job. But she’s a student, and not available for full-time work just yet.

Why am I so impressed with her? It’s her smile, her cheerful attitude and friendly demeanor, her exceptional communication skills, her sincerity and confidence, her pace. . . you name it, she’s got it when it comes to customer service. She’s probably making around $8 per hour. If she has the computer skills most millennials have these days, we could easily place her in a position paying at least double that. The problem is . . . what she possesses is far too rare these days. But wouldn’t you like your customers to feel this positive about your employees and their customer service experiences?

What she possesses is natural customer service skill. Positive words. Helpful actions. Friendly expressions. Professional manner.

What she possesses is natural customer service skill. Positive words. Helpful actions. Friendly expressions. Professional manner.

Every communication and encounter we have with another person is either positive or negative. We will either drain others of energy or make them feel better, even energized. We might be so helpful and inspiring that people have a difficult time hanging up or walking away from us. Or the customer may try to find a way to speak with us every time they call. People are almost desperate for decent customer service experiences. Then when they have one especially significant, you can be sure they will share that experience with others.

“A brand is defined by the customer’s experience. The experience is delivered by the employees.” – Shep Hyken

Think about your daily encounters for a few minutes:

happy & smiling customer service worker

A) What FACIAL EXPRESSIONS and EMOTIONS do you portray to your customers?

Looks of anger, annoyance, arrogance, boredom, concentration, contempt, curiosity, disgust, fear, frustration, joy, peace, sadness, surprise and weariness WILL affect your customers one way or the other.

Smile & Personality - “Your smile is your logo, your personality is your business card, how you leave others feeling after having an experience with you becomes your trademark.” – Jay Danzie

Face to Face & Active Listening - “Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers.” - Ross Perot

B) What types of WORDS are coming out of your mouth daily as you serve others?

excellent customer service question - how can we help you?

Words of hope, confidence, apology or appreciation, offers related to convenience, curious and questioning words, positive and encouraging expressions, truth expressed in helpful, empathetic and thoughtful ways, words that convey trust and respect. Negative words and phrases may include complaints, threats, whining, cursing, reprimands, and even directives if not sprinkled with a little kindness.

Confidence - “Customers will want to talk to you if they believe you can solve their problems.” – Jeffery Gitomer

Attitude Trumps Words - “People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.” – John Maxwell

Words That Make Others Feel Important - “I have learned to imagine an invisible sign around each person’s neck that says, ‘Make me feel important!’” – Mary Kay Ash

“Customer satisfaction is worthless. Customer loyalty is priceless.” - Jeffrey Gitomer

“Customer satisfaction is worthless. Customer loyalty is priceless.” - Jeffrey Gitomer

C) What are your ACTIONS toward customers like?

Kind, determined, mean-spirited, generous, resentful, service-oriented, careless, nit-picky, (un)friendly, stubborn, professional, enjoyable, unforgiving, or truly helpful - as in going the extra mile - above and beyond what the customer ever expected?

"A lot of people have fancy things to say about customer service, but it’s just a day-in, day-out, ongoing, never-ending, persevering, compassionate kind of activity." – Christopher McCormick

“Well done is better than well said.” – Benjamin Franklin

D) What ATTITUDES are conveyed to your customers?

Does your attitude reflect a caring, sincere, thoughtful and obliging disposition as well as a willingness to go beyond the call of duty? Or is your attitude more pessimistic, assuming the worst - even rude, rushed, and completely annoyed?

smiling customer service team in circle leaning down for picture

Serving with Sincerity and Integrity - “To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money. That is sincerity and integrity.” – Douglas Adams

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – Dr. Seuss

“When you assume negative intent, you're angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed." - Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsico

“When you assume negative intent, you're angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed." - Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsico

Serving without Negative Assumption

I like the quote from Ms. Nooyi because it rings true in so many areas of life. Here’s another real-life case scenario:

Suppose you have a customer who has failed to pay their bill on time. Rather than trusting that the customer actually wants to pay their bill, you assume that the customer is "one of those" who is always late due to lack of funds and uses every excuse in the book to get out of paying their bill. So the progression of problems begins:

The first month, the problem is that the company fails to mail a paper invoice, so the bill doesn't get paid. The customer calls to request a bill.

The second month, the bill is mailed, but not in time to make an on-time payment. However, the customer pays (for 2 months) by phone although she is charged a late fee.

customer service agent in headset

The third month, the customer calls in to make a payment by phone since the payment will be late again if it is mailed. This is because the bill was received only 4-5 days before the due date. However, the customer isn’t allowed to pay by phone because the last payment apparently didn’t go through properly. The company is convinced she intentionally gave the wrong account information; however, she is certain she did not as it is a very simple account number. She argues that the CSR must have entered the information incorrectly but to no avail. This infuriates the customer, but she mails in a payment (for all 3 bills) anyway.

The fourth time the customer calls, it is to request that the bill be mailed earlier or that the due date be changed. She is still not allowed to pay by phone, and there isn’t enough time to pay the bill by the due date, so there is another late fee. The company will not oblige her with a change in due date. The company also refuses to reimburse her any late fees. The customer has a meltdown over the phone and says that all she has ever wanted to do is to pay her bill – like she ALWAYS has until this change in ownership and billing procedures. The CSR says nothing, just waits on her to calm down. The customer decides to talk with a supervisor. She talks to supervisors until there are no more supervisors available. None of them will budge on the late fee or the taking of a payment by phone. Such is life. They're just following the script they've been given from management.

Then, the customer calls again later regarding a different matter, and the customer service is awesome. Kindness and understanding are the rule of the day. They notice that all fees and payments have been made, if not timely, then without exception. Paid in full. The CSR announces that the most recent late fee(s) will be removed. The bills begin to be received in a more timely manner and paid on time. All is well.

Finally, consider this analogy . . . 

excellent customer service is like a beautiful flower bloom

A business is like a flowering plant. Its roots are ALL the employees and their inherent desires to make a positive impact, to serve others, and to grow professionally. Customer service is the stem which is there for all to witness as the plant develops leaves and begins to bud. The petals inside these buds are individual successes - company wide - which eventually blossom into something utterly beautiful - a happy customer. Yet a faded bloom or one missing even a single petal can lessen the beauty. It doesn’t necessarily equate to utter failure, but the constant goal is the formation of a perfect blossom - a perfectly satisfied and LOYAL customer - with preferably MANY more in the making.

Here's to serving your customers well and building that loyalty factor . . . All the best!