Last week, at a train station in London which will remain nameless, I watched an encounter between an employee of the train company and a passenger which fascinated me. Several trains were cancelled in rapid succession, resulting in confusion for everyone, including the station inspector, who was obviously stressed.
When she was approached by a passenger wanting to know how long the next train to his destination would be, her reply left me speechless. “How long is a piece of string? How am I supposed to know? I’ve got trains coming in from everywhere!” She was practically shouting and gesticulated at the amazed man who was nonplussed and walked away muttering and swearing under his breath. It was simply stunning to watch, not least because it was the stuff of comedy shows. I was glued to the scene as a platform change was announced and another passenger dashed onto our platform to watch his train depart, merely seconds after it had been announced. He was not happy.
By this time, the inspector had calmed down a little and although she was curt with him, she did attempt to look at her computer screen in the platform office in order to help. As our train pulled out, I do hope she was trying to find him an alternative. As it was by then 11.15pm, I was not optimistic. Twice more that weekend I witnessed public displays of employees behaving in ways that astounded me, from arguing with each other to reacting rudely when a customer pointed out a till mistake.
Dealing with public can be stressful, that’s for sure. Ultimately however, our businesses depend on other people, so it’s a skill we need to get right. As a business owner, what do you do to make sure that both you and your staff have all the skills they need to cope in the face of a crisis or a complaint? You need to present the best public face of your company, and deal with issues in a way that leaves your customers and clients feeling listened to and happy…and coming back for more?
Based on my observations that night here are…
7 tips for practicing excellent customer care
1. Understand where and what the stressors are likely to be
Pinpointing exactly what could go wrong, why your customers might get angry or irritated and knowing what they really want when they complain can help you to be prepared. When you know what to expect, you can mentally ‘arm’ yourself and understand that their anger is not directed at you as a person, but rather at what you represent.
2. Ensure you know what to do when things go wrong
Making sure there are routines and procedures in place can give you a structure to fall back on and help you to cope. Is the situation one you can deal with, or is there someone that you can contact to help? Would you know who to contact, and at what point?
3. Acknowledge mistakes….
Accept that they will happen! A simple apology to customers can go a long way; do you or your staff do this, or do they get defensive? Often people simply want to be listened to, so it’s worth investing in some communications training so that your listening skills are fabulous. If a customer feels that they have been heard, it can take the wind out of their sails. Make sure you avoid ‘clever’ or sarcastic answers. If something goes wrong, you will be expected expected to know how to sort it out, it’s what business is all about. And of course your reaction when things go wrong will dictate how comfortable others feel about admitting mistakes…
4. Are you helpful?
Do you ask questions to find out what a customer wants to happen and how you can help? Do you go ‘the extra mile’ and do as much as you can do for them within the parameters of your business? How are your empathy levels? Can you put yourself in your customer’s shoes? How would you feel in their position?
5. Do you acknowledge people?
Or do you leave them standing while you fiddle with paperwork, or use the phone or talk to others? A simple acknowledgement will make others feel significant and valued.
6. Have you identified a carefully formulated response to issues
Rather than having a knee-jerk reaction, identifying potential stressors means that it is much easier to plan a strategy for dealing with them. Teach yourself and your staff some coping techniques – breathe deeply, assess the situation as calmly as you can, understand what’s in your control and what isn’t. Just because someone is getting angry or frustrated doesn’t mean you have to react in the same way. Don’t take things personally. As the public face of an organisation, that is what people will see, not you as a person.
7. It’s not about you
Your spotlight needs to be shining on the client or customer, not on yourself. How can you make the client feel better? You should be motivated by a genuine desire to help, to right a wrong and make amends. Making that person the real focus of your attention, even for a few minutes, will work wonders.
Of course, all of this needs to start with you. Are you a fabulous role model for customer care? If not, as Ghandi once said…
“Be the change you want to see…”
Let me know your tips for providing great customer service when things go wrong, in the comments below!