Wednesday, 13 February 2013



There are three levels of customer service being delivered today:
§ Rude
§ indifferent
§ Exceptional

GOAL: This material is aimed at improving your customer service skills.
Provide exceptional customer service by paying attention to the details.

INTRODUCTION: Providing exceptional customer service is in the details. When you do the basic well,
the customer feels served and not processed. Many times, the service I receive doesn’t want me to be a
repeat customer. I am being processed, not served.

Your challenge is to give your customer exception service by paying attention to the details and doing
the basics well.

Excellent customer service can turn a one-time customer into a life-time customer; rude or indifferent
customer service can turn a life-time customer running to your competitions.

Research done by Lymbery & Colleagues of Texas identify the criteria how customer define quality
customer service. So with their research which I have expounded upon with my own experience, let’s
look at the five (5) qualities of what customers expect.

1. Reliability
2. Responsiveness
3. Feel Valued
4. Empathy
5. Competence

Let’s look at each of those characteristics and see how focusing on details can improve customer service.

Quality #1: Reliability: Reliability is at the core of the products and services that we provide. If we are
not reliable little else matters. For years I use an old concept I called the Grandmother Rule, it has three
(3) components to it.
The Grandmother Rule
§ Do what you say you’re going to do
§ Do it when you say you’re going to do it
§ Do it right the first time
That’s the Grandmother Rule. Most of us weren’t raise with that kind of values. Follow the Grandmother
Rule and you’ll improve your reliability. Are doing what you say you’d do? Are you doing it when you say
you will do it? Are you doing it right the first time? We will have many more happy customers if we all
honor the Grandmother Rule.

Guidelines for Recovering Customer Loyalty: There are times, however, when we do not get it right the
first time. When this happen, we must have guide lines for recovering customer loyalty. There are four
(4) guidelines for recovering customer loyalty.

Apologize Sincerely: “Sincerely” is the key word. Most apologies are not sincere. Say, “I am
very sorry this has happened, I apologize for the inconvenience”. Apologize sincerely.

Fix the Problem Quickly: When you fix the problem, don’t fix the blame. Too often, we
talk about what happened, who did what, or who to blame rather than focusing on the real
problem. The customer does not care who is to blame, they want you to fix the problem

Do Something Extra: Now, some people say, “hey, wait a minute, if I have apologized and
then fix the problem, why do I have to do something extra?” Here is why. Your customer has
been hassled; in their mind it should have been done right the first time. If it was not done
right the first time, you must do something to regain their confidence and loyalty. Make it
right, and then do something extra

For example, a firm specializing in temporary personnel placement will unfortunately
occasionally send an individual on a job, which is not well suited for that position. In those
situations, the typical remedy is that the

Follow-Up: It might be a quick phone call; it may be a letter; it could be a visit just to check
how the customer is doing. Whatever it is, you must make certain that your recovery effort
has paid off, and the customer will continue doing business with you.

A simple guideline to keep in mind so that you don’t have to be recovering often is -

Do the right thing the first time
It sounds basic, but it’s something most of us spend too little time doing. If we recover
too often it will reveal short comings to our customers. After a second or third recovery
experience, they certainly will take their business elsewhere and who can blame them.

Review: Quality #1: That sums up the first point – Reliability (follow the Grandmother Rule).

Quality #2: Responsiveness:

Speedy Service: Speed is the best way to define this. Today’s customer wants something faster than
they ever wanted them before; whether it’s a brief hold on the phone or a short time in line or an
immediate email; customers have a desire for speedy service.

A good friend and I were talking about customers becoming more sophisticated, educated, and
demanding, and he said, “Lisa, listen, you are just the same. How many times have you stood in front of
a microwave wishing the microwave would finish faster”. I laughed. That’s exactly what our customers
are like and we are expected to serve them. So, when you are working with customers be sure to keep
timeliness and considerations. Ask yourself, “What would I expect if I were in the customer’s shoes?”

Let’s move on to the second characteristics of quality service –

Take Ownership & Follow Through: Another part of being responsive means taking ownership.
Ownership means owning the customers’ issues or questions. You do this by following through on
promises, and if possible, be the only person who speaks with the customer. I know this is not always
realistic, but try to apply the one voice concept. One firm calls it “First touch, last touch”; whoever first
touches the customer with their voice will be the individual who last touches the customer; that’s the
only person who speaks with that customer. You know the reason for this. How many times have you
had a caller transferred to you, and you hear the caller say, “You are the third person I’ve talked to”. No
one likes being bounced around.

So, we must take the customer problem, concern, or issue and see it through; that’s responsiveness
from the customer’s view.

Customer’s Perception: Speaking of customer’s view, how many of us really evaluate how good we are
from the customer’s eyes? You probably heard the old phrase, I think Tom Peter said first, “Perception
is all there is”. The customer’s perception is reality. If the customer thinks we are great, we are great; if
the customer thinks we stink, we stink. If the customer thinks someone was rude, someone was rude.
The interesting thing about perception is that it’s rarely neutral; perception is usually on the upside of
positive or the downside of negative. For example, I was being seated in a hotel restaurant and the host
took me to a table, pulled out the chair; when he pulled out the chair I could see the floor underneath
the table; I saw a lot of crumbs, and empty cracker packages, it was dirty. Now I want to ask you, when
I saw that floor, what else did I see? You’re right. The kitchen and quality of service. Just because their
floor was dirty, I perceived and expected that my service would be bad; the kitchen was dirty, and the
food would not be worth the money I would pay for it. And I want you to guess, was I right? Definitely!
Perception is all there is.

Now, that’s a negative perception. Let me give you a positive one. I always take my car to a place to
get it repaired, and when I picked it up, they’ve always washed it. So, when I pick up my car, I see if it’s
clean, and guess what I think. It’s fixed! You might be laughing, but as long as they take of the outside, I
assume they take care of the inside. That’s the power of perception.

Coffee Stains: There is an interesting line that came from an airline executive many years ago. He
said this, “when passengers get on the airplane, and pulled down the tray table, and see coffee stains
on the tray table, they also see poor engine maintenance”. My question to you is, “what are your
coffee stains?” What are the things that your customers have to see or deal with that could taint their

Many years ago in a seminar, a woman who managed a doctor’s office told me this: “I am standing here
picturing our reception room, and I’m seeing the close-to-death plants, and I wandered if our patient
seating there looking at our close-to-death plants are saying, ‘if they could kill these, what could happen
to me?’” It’s a great point.

What things do you need to improve? What are your coffee stains? Remember we must see our
responsiveness from the customer’s view.

Review: Quality #2: Let’s review our second quality service characteristics – Responsiveness:

1. Solve Their Problems Quickly
2. Take Ownership

3. Follow Through
4. Ask yourself, “What are your coffee stains?”

Quality #3: Make the Customer Feel Valued: Customers want to feel valued, respected, and important.
I was checking into a motel one night in South Carolina, and since the motel has been booked for me
I was not sure what to expect. Inside the front desk is protected by a glass shield with a small cut-out
hole where I could speak to the person behind the desk. Inside the glass is a sign that if I commit armed
robber I would be imprison for a minimum of 7 years. At that moment, waiting to check into that motel,
I did not feel valued.

Customers expect high quality in the respect and the service that we give them. Unfortunately, this does
not always happen.

Tone of Voice: Customers expect a certain tone of voice, a warm, friendly upbeat tone. Too often when I
am being served, I am greeted by someone that said, “may a elp you!” Have you notice that “May I help
you?” has become “may a elp you!” That’s not upbeat or friendly. I recommend recording your voice
while talking with the customer so that you can hear how you come across. Evaluate your own tone of

Body Language: And additionally, ask yourself what your body is saying. Now, many of us spend time
on the phone with customers, remember, body language makes a difference on the phone also. If you
are slump in your chair, your energy level is affected and that can be heard over the phone. If we are
face-to-face, we certainly need to pay attention to body language. Do we make eye contact; we answer
our phone, while a customer is waiting face-to-face, and roll our eyes about what the caller is discussing.
The waiting customer can observe that, and that does not help your customer feel valued.

So two (2) things you could do to make your customer feel valued are:
1. Make sure you use the appropriate tone of voice, and
2. proper body language

Simple Manners: Another thing that helps our customers feel valued is simply paying attention to our
manners. It’s as simple as saying, “Thank you, we appreciate your business”. Too often people hand us
an item or hang up the phone and say “bye” without a word of thanks.

Using Customer’s Name: Do you pay attention to the details like using the customer’s name? Always
use the customer’s name when you can. Do not over do it. In a brief conversation, use the customer’s
name 2 or 3 times; go formal using Mr., Mrs., Dr., unless your customer ask you to use their first name.
Now, let’s talk about a difficult situation, what do you do if you can’t pronounce their first name? It’s
simple. If the customer’s name is difficult to pronounce, politely ask for help in pronouncing it. Then
make sure you store the pronunciation in your records so you can get it right the next time. Customers
appreciate the fact that you take the time to get their names right.

Using the Right Word: There are few other details that can help your customers feel valued.

1. The words we use: Use certain words but avoid others.
Here is an example:
Use the word “Can,” Not “Can’t”. Customers do not want to know what you
can’t do; they simply want to know what you can do for them.


Also, customers don’t like to hear the word “Transfer”. They fear they will
never show up or reach another living person again. Instead use words like,
“Let me connect you,” “Let me put in touch with” or “Let me let you talk with”.
Use “Thank You,” not “I’m Sorry”. Hang on, I know that there are appropriate
times to say I am sorry such when we’ve been at fault and we need to
recover. However, let’s say I have a caller who has been on hold and I am
returning to them, instead of saying, “I’m sorry you had to hold,” say, “Thanks
for holding”, “Thanks for waiting”. That comes across much more positively.
If you had an unhappy customer waiting, and you come back with “I’m sorry
you had to wait,” that might cause them to come back with, “You should be
sorry. Every time I come in here I have to wait.” Try “Thank You” instead.
Another word customers do not like to hear is “policy”. Many times you must
quote your company policy, but don’t call it policy, instead say, “Here is how
we handle this”, or “Here is what we can do on this”. If you do not use the
word policy, the customer may be more accepting of your explanation.



Review: Quality #3: Help Customers Feel Valued By Thinking About:
• Your Tone of Voice
• Your Body Language
• Simple Manners
• Using the Customer’s Name
• The Words You Use

Quality #4:- Being Empathetic

Understand the customer’s Problem: The customers want to know that you really understand their
situation. Too often when the customers have a problem they feel that you are working against and not
trying to help them solve it.

Partner with the Customer: You need to get into a partnership with the customer where the problem is
the enemy, not you. You can do this through an empathy statement. Empathy can create the bridge to
you moving onto solving the customer’s problem. Empathy helps you ask the right questions that would
then help you solve the customer’s problem.

Active Listening: Our customers simply want to know they been heard. To help our customers know
they been heard, remind yourself to listen, truly listen. We all know what listening is. Let me review the
four key steps to active listening.

Four Keys to Active Listening:
1. Attentive Silence: this means your body posture is alert. You’ve got eye
contact and you are focus on what the customer is saying.
2. Attentive Words: If you are on the phone and you only use attentive
silence, what would the customer say? “Are you there? Hello” Exactly.
So, we must follow through with words like “Aha!”, “Yes” “I see” “Really”
Simply use attentive words to let the customer know that you are with
them. Certainly do that face-face also.
3. Ask Door Opener Questions: These are the questions that begin with who,
what, where, when, and how. They invite the customer to continue talking,

to open up. In many cases, we not quite clear what is it the customer need
or want, or what situation are they speaking of, or what they’ve been
promised. We need them to talk so we can clearly understand what they

Door opener questions help the customer tell you what they want and help
clearly understand what their needs.

4. Restate: Notice that it is called restating not repeating. No one likes having
their exact words repeated. With restating, you check to ensure that you
are on track before you continue with the customer.

Please keep this mind - there is a difference between listening and waiting
for your turn to talk. Too often we wait for our turn to talk, especially if we
are experience in dealing with customers; customers don’t say that many
new things. They put a word out, you pretty know what the next 56 words
would be, so you tune out and prepare your own response. We aren’t really
listening; we’re simply waiting for our turn talk. Listening is the key skill that
will help you provide empathy to your customer.

Review: Quality #4
Empathy: 1. Understand the customer’s Problem; 2. Form a Partnership with the Customer (using an
empathy statement); 3. Make the Problem the Enemy

Remind yourself to really listen to the customer. The four keys to active listening are:
1. Attentive Silence
2. Attentive Words
3. Ask Door Opener Questions
4. Restate

Quality #5: Be Competent: This means when you are knowledgeable and the customer is confident you
can help them, the customer becomes less demanding. Now, we face a lot of incompetence today.

Asking Questions to grow: Customers want us to be competent. They don’t want to deal with two or
three people to get what they need. In other to be competent, you have to continue to learn and grow.
To do this, start by asking questions of your co-workers, your managers; learn about all aspect of your
job so you can be as confident as possible when facing your customers.

Building Rapport with the Customer: There is another way to show how confident you are,
and that’s simply by building rapport with your customers. When you think about it, when you
have rapport with someone, you have a connection; customers always want that connection.
Here is a way to connect with your customer. Match your customer style. This means when
to Learn &
you are facing your customer and they talking really fast and they have a sense of urgency,
they would want you to speed up also and match their urgency. If you have a customer who is
speaking a little slower and showing some concern, you match that rate of speech and show
concern. If you are dealing with someone who is extremely friendly, you would match them by
being friendly back. It’s a simple technique but it helps us to start off on the part of showing how
confidence we are, and therefore giving the customer the confidence that you are the one who can help

Review: Quality #5: Ask questions of your co-workers and managers, and build rapport with your
customers by matching the customer style.

1. Reliability – Follow the Grandmother Rule
2. Responsiveness –Solve Your Customer’s Problem as Quickly as Possible
3. Feel Valued – Be aware your tone of voice, body language and the words you use. Pay attention
to simple manners
4. Empathy – Understand the customer’s problem, form a partnership with the customer and
make the problem the enemy; really listen to the customer
5. Competence

By delivering those five qualities, you can turn a one-time customer to a life-time customer and
remember the difference between merely good service and exceptional service is in the details.

Dealing with Angry Customers:

Angry customers often attack or blame, and if we are not careful we catch that attitude
from them and start attacking back. That’s when we need to remember the five (5)
don’ts in customer service.

1. Don’t argue: When you beginning to argue, you move the goal of the dialogue
from solving the real problem to winning the argument.
2. Don’t attack: attacking the other person changes the dynamics of the dialogue,
and focuses the conversation on the negative size of the situation.
3. Don’t blame: remember the motto “the customer is always right”, we will talk about that later
but now you must understand that your job is to solve their problem, not push it back on them.
4. Don’t tell the customer to calm down: it’s the worst thing you could do. This is a type of
blaming, saying in effect, “what you feel is wrong”.
5. Don’t ask for understanding: If you ask for understanding, you put yourself in a weak position.
For example, if you were to say, “Please understand our own position. We’ve had 3 people
calling sick today” What customer would have any confidence in your organization now? Is it
their fault that these people called in sick? Your goal in dealing with an angry customer is accept
and work with the customer to defuse their anger and solve their problems.

Responses to Angry Customers: You have three (3) choices when responding to angry customers:
1. Get Upset: You can get upset. It’s easy to do but it’s not professional.
2. Become Indifferent: You can become indifferent; you see employees that develop that thick
skin, they are cold and distant.
3. Accept the challenge: to deal with the situation in caring and respectful, professional manner.
Professional customer service representatives choose this third option and look to it as an opportunity
to make things right and retain their customers. After all, what if they did not bring us their anger but
just took their business elsewhere? We need to hear what is going wrong, even if it’s just the customers’
perception so we can take action.

Here is the good news. If you take the right action, and the customers’ complains are resolved quickly,
95% of them will remain loyal; that means keeping your business strong, and maintains a good public

So, here is your challenge. Can you open to their anger? It shows in your words, tune of voice, and body

Steps to Handling Angry Customers
1. Listen
2. Summarize
3. Mutually Determine the Solution
4. Follow Through
Be sure to use them in that order. Don’t summarize before the customer is through venting, and don’t
give a solution before the customer is ready to hear it. You have got to first handle their emotions and
then begin to work on their real problems.

So, why do you listen first? It’s because this is the heart of the defusing process. Have you ever notice
how people just need to tell their story? And you need to give them a chance to say what is on their
minds to let off steam in order to calm down. That’s actually how calming down works. You cannot calm
a customer down, they calm themselves down, but they need a listener for the process to work.

By listening, you open a communication channel, which you can use later for problem solving. Asking
questions lets you listen. Be sure to listen not only to words but to body language as well. In fact, you
can spot hidden anger in non-verbal signals such as the clinched jaw, closed arms, or foot tapping
impatiently. When you see these non-verbal signals you should respond by asking questions to draw out
the anger and allow verbalization.

Let’s take a moment and talk about asking questions. Its one of the most important customer service
skills you can use. When you ask questions appropriately here is what you will accomplish:
• You let the customer vent
• You gain a better understanding of the real problem
• You begin building rapport

I am sure you have heard of open-ended questions versus closed-ended questions. Open-ended
questions cannot be answered with a simple yes or no answer. They usually begin with who, what,
when, where, why or how. In dealing with the customer service situation that is difficult, these types of
questions are used to gather general facts about the problem such as:
• What problem are you having with the product?
• Why do you feel there was an error?

Once you understand exactly what the problem is, you can then use close-ended questions to work
towards a solution and gain the customer’s agreement. You might ask:
• When did you purchase the item?
• Whom did you speak to last?

By asking open-ended and then closed-ended questions, you not only get the facts you need, but you
also help your customers gather their thoughts.

Let look at the first step in dealing with an angry customer:

#1 Step: Listen: You start by accepting the anger and opening up to what the customer has to say. It
would be the same on the phone as in face-to-face meeting, use open-ended questions and gradually
move in to close-ended questions for fact-finding. Now you are ready for step # 2.

#2 Step: Summarize: The purpose of this step is to check your understanding of the real problem;
but its more than just facts. When you clarify your understanding reflecting what you’ve heard, your
customer knows that he has been taken seriously; that you cared enough to listen.

And in a way this step is just a confirmation of the first one – Listening. By summarizing, you have
established that its you and the customer against the problem, you against the customer. And you can
also make a smooth transition from this step to the next step.

#3 Step: Mutually Determine a Solution: In this solution step, involve the customer in arriving at an
agreeable solution. That’s how to turn a situation that started out negative and antagonistic into a
positive situation. Remember to keep your language positive, emphasizing what you can do and not
what you cannot.

Here are some common negative words translated into positive ones:
• Negative: We couldn’t possible have that by Monday.
• Positive: We can have that on Tuesday
• Negative: You will have to give us your social security number.
• Positive: Please give us your social security number
• Negative: I’ll have to ask the main office.
• Positive: I’ll be glad to call the main office.

You will find that customers really warm up to these helpful words, especially when you get into the
sticky situation of having to say “no” to a customer.

Saying “no” is one of the most difficult situations you will ever face in customer service. The professional
way to say “no” is to avoid actually saying the word “no”. Instead, make “can do” the heart of your
§ If a customer wants a delivery by 2:00pm and you can not make it, say something like “We can
have that delivery at your office by 3:30.”
§ If the customer wants an item in the color beach, you respond as close as possible “ We can get
that for you in either ivory or soft brown”

Be sure to keep your voice and face optimistic because that attitude often carries right over to the

You may face the most frustrating “no” of all, when it’s too late to fix the situation. In this case your “can
do” statement is about the future. For example you could say,
§ “Next time, if you give us two days’ notice, we can include that information.”
§ Next time, if you have your receipt, we can make an exchange immediately.”

Everything about you needs to say “I truly care about you as a customer and I am on your side” We
never want the customer to think of you as the organization setting up obstacles.

#4 Step: Follow Through: Follow through with the solution you mutually determined. As a customer
there is nothing worse than determining a solution and then not having follow through. Do what you
say you are going to do. What about if you talking to a customer on the phone? The system is the same.
The only difference on the phone is that we cannot see each other body language. So listen between the
lines for subtleties that reveal hidden anger such as a very insistence tone.

Other clues of growing anger may be:
§ A change in the pitch of the voice, either higher or lower
§ Unusual pauses
§ Sentences coming in short emotional burst

“Sorting”: Some customers however are more open with their anger on the phone. The distance from
you helps them feel anonymous, so they will really let loose. When you hear excessive language, here
is a tip – practice the skill called “sorting”. Sort out the negative words and tone of voice so you can
concentrate on the real problem. Place a higher priority on the part of the message that conveys what
the real problem is. Sorting helps you stay focus. It can be used face-to-face as well as on the phone.

For telephone situations here are three (3) special tips:
• Verbal Attends: Use verbal attends to let the customer know you are listening; use phrases like:
• “Ok” or
• “I see” or
• “go ahead”

On the phone your customer might assume you are not really listening; silence might be interpreted as

• Internal Summaries: Use internal summaries to show the customer that you are listening and
understanding. Make your responses short and on-going. For example you might say, “If I understand
you correctly, you just found out that the item was on back order.” These internal summaries keep the
two of you connected even though you cannot actually see each other. It shows the customer that you
truly care about helping them.

• Describe what you are doing: Remember that you silence may come across as negative. The customer
feels neglected unless you explain.

What do you do when the customer is wrong?
Let’s consider one finally sticky situation.

I know that the very idea contradicts our famous motor, “the customer is always right” Well customer
believe they are right. It’s just that sometimes they have faulty information; in some instances they may
have just misunderstood the situation. However, there are some people who on purpose, misrepresent
the situation. A customer may say she bought merchandise from your store whereas she bought it from
somewhere else. Or the customers may say they were told one thing when they were not. What do you

Customer Service: Essentials

Never make the customer wrong: Be sure you never make the customer wrong by saying “you are
wrong” or “that’s not true” You don’t want a head-to-head battle.

• Keep things neutral: keep things neutral by stating the fact.
• Show or tell the customer where you are getting your information – this will lend credibility to your
• Don’t let things get personally threatening: by saying the customer did not read the contract properly
or he did not pay attention.

So, here is the new motto, “Customers may not always be right, but they are our customers” Even the
unpleasant ones deserve our attention and consideration. Your customer is looking for action, looking
for someone to help with their problems.

One final tip: Do something extra for the customer. It may not cost you much, but it will repay

Here is what it all comes down to. What story do you want your customer to tell? Do you want them
telling others that you argue with them, got defensive, and made excuses? Or do you want them to tell
about a professional who listened respectfully, remained patient, and help them solve their problem?

One thing is certain. They will tell the story, and you could be the villain or the hero. It’s your choice.

6 Rules for Effective Listening
1. Develop the desire to listen
2. Let the other person do most of the talking
3. Ask lots of open-ended questions
4. Be Objective
5. Listen actively
6. Listen to body language

The Purpose of a Business: To create and keep a customer.

Profit: The result of fulfilling this purpose in a cost effective way.

Every time your customers comes in
touch with any part of your business
is a moment of truth.