Who signs your paycheck?

I recently asked this question to attendees at our "Telephone Imagery" program for the customer service representatives of a Fortune 500 company. When I acknowledged the eager-to-respond, hand-held-high participant in the middle of the classroom, he answered, "I don't have a signature on my paycheck. I’ve got Electronic Funds Transfer!” The next person enthusiastically yelled, "Yeah! I’ve got it, too!" So did all the other respondents.

These people all believed that their livelihood is dependent on some mystical individual who puts money in their bank account at regularly scheduled intervals. They didn't know the customer signs their paycheck. They had never considered that their own livelihood and well-being are dependent upon the customers they serve.

Ever thought about the dichotomy between being the customer and being the service provider?

Many of us have lowered our expectations about the level of service we receive from service providers. We have succumbed to the reality of dealing with impatient, uninformed, rude, inconsiderate, robotic or disinterested people -- especially over the telephone.

You don’t need to be a retail clerk to know how you want to be treated when making a purchase at your local department store or supermarket. You don’t need to be a sales professional to know how you want to be treated when buying an automobile or acquiring a new home. And you don’t need to be a customer service expert to know how you want to be treated when calling for information about a product, complaining about an incorrect bill or inquiring about city services.

Consumers pay for services and take their business elsewhere if they feel dissatisfied or disrespected. Employers pay workers to offer service, and a superficial willingness to do so results in lost business. Many people take on the role of consumer/customer today, yet go to work tomorrow with a they-don’t-pay-me-enough-to-put-up-with-this customer service attitude. They conveniently forget what it’s like to be the customer when they arrive at work.

When I ask audiences, “Whatever happened to common courtesy in business relationships?” people generally shake their heads from side to side, grunt, "I dunno," or shrug their shoulders at the disappearance of a characteristic we once valued. So I point out, "If that’s how you feel when you’re the customer, how do you think your customers would answer the same question about the level of service you provide?"

Many companies have implemented quick response surveys to measure their quality of customer service. Order a product online and you sometimes get a follow-up survey via email soliciting feedback. Our experiences of dining out, overnight lodging, automobile repairs and even carpet cleaning can result in phone calls soliciting quick responses about customer satisfaction. Suggestion boxes and comment cards are offered in many businesses. They’re gathering input about their customers’ service experience in different ways.

Until recently, few telephone customer service measurements solicit an instant response. Seldom, if ever has a service provider ended their phone call with, "Well, Ms. Davis, how did I do?” Or "What do you think about my telephone communication skills?" Sure, zillions of phone calls are "monitored for training purposes or accuracy" on a daily basis. And workers end up unemployed because of their lack of knowledge, professionalism or social skills or their indifference to customers once the monitored tapes are reviewed.

Unless we consistently work toward improving our phone skills, we may be treating some of our customers the same way we don’t like being treated. Keep in mind that customer service excellence is measured through the perception of the customer -- not yours.

Steps to excellent phone service
1. Treat your customers with respect. Give them more than they expect and have their experience of dealing with you and your company be as pleasant as possible.
2. Brush up on your telephone etiquette skills.
3. Place a small mirror beside the telephone on your desk as a friendly reminder that people hear your smile through the telephone.
4. Promptly answer and return calls. Set aside time for returning calls—even if it’s after hours.
5. When transferring calls, give the caller the name, department, phone number or extension of the person receiving their call.
6. Present a positive image on your voice mail message. Put a smile in your voice, speak slowly and clearly, ask for specific information from callers, change recordings when necessary, provide a live-person option and keep the message simple.
7. Use positive words and phrases. Instead of telling the customer what you’re going to “try” to do—just do it. Instead of letting the customer know what you “can’t do,” let them know you’re “unable” to do ABC and offer other alternatives.

Author's Bio: 

Jeannie Davis, president of Now Hear This, Inc., is a professional speaker, trainer, consultant and the award-winning author of Beyond “Hello: A Practical Guide for Excellent Telephone Communication and Quality Customer Service. She is a contributing author in Real World Customer Service Strategies That Work. Ms. Davis, whose seminars and workshops teach individuals nationwide how to best present themselves over the telephone, says telephone conversations limit effective communication about 60%. For over 18 years she has helped businesses solve their telephone communication problems through professional telephone skills training. She can be reached by phone at (303) 337-1991 and by email at jeannie@phoneskills.com. To learn more about Jeannie go to www.phoneskills.com.