Especially during the busy holiday season, customers wait on hold for an eternity. Complaints go unanswered. Salespeople and customer service providers seem more like Scrooge than Santa’s helpers. If you think customer service has taken a nosedive, you’re right, says Ron Kaufman—but there’s a lot you can do to change that. Read on for his tips for being a better customer.
Fueled by caffeine and desperation, you brave the holiday crowds to buy this season’s “it” toy for your child. After waiting 15 minutes for a parking space and racing through the aisles, you grab the last one on the shelf. Then, you wait another 20 minutes in the checkout line. As you hand the toy to the cashier, you notice she doesn’t smile at you, and then she just hands you the bag and receipt. Why didn’t she ask if I wanted paper or plastic, or thank me for my purchase? you wonder irritably. As you head for the decoration-festooned exit, you think Well, she was unfriendly…when did customer service get so terrible?
It’s true, says Ron Kaufman: As the way our society does business has changed, customer service in general has fallen into crisis mode. But in the case of the rude cashier, ask yourself this: Did you look her in the eye? Did you say “good morning”? Did you say “please” or “thank you”? In short, how much of the bad service experience do you have to own?
“Often, we get poor service because we’re poor customers—and that’s especially likely to happen during the hectic, stressful holiday shopping season,” says Kaufman, author of the New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet. “When we’re rude or impersonal to service providers, we get rude and impersonal treatment back. This creates low expectations on both sides, which affects our next service interactions.”
In other words, bad customer behavior breeds bad customer service, which breeds bad customer behavior…and so on. To break the cycle and do your part to create uplifting service, be what Kaufman calls a “service champion”—someone who takes responsibility for uplifting other people’s experience, even when those other people are serving you.
Be appreciative and polite. Remember, there is a fellow human being on the other end of your phone call, the receiving side of your email, or just across the counter. “Begin each interaction with a quick, ‘Hi. Happy holidays. Thank you for helping me. I really appreciate it.’” advises Kaufman. “This takes about two seconds and can dramatically improve the mood of a service provider.”
Get your service provider’s name and use it. You can make this short and friendly by first offering your name and then asking, “Who am I speaking with, please?” Or if you are face-to-face, simply ask, “May I know your name?” “Once you know it, repeat it with a smile in your voice,” says Kaufman. “This creates a personal connection and makes it much harder for a service provider to treat you like an anonymous account holder or policy number.”
Be upbeat. Many service providers face an endless onslaught of customers during the holiday shopping rush. The routine can become tiresome. “When an energetic and smiling customer appears, that person often enjoys special care and treatment in return,” notes Kaufman. “What you send out does come back. Attitudes—positive and negative—really are contagious.”
Provide information just the way they want it. Many service providers need your data in a sequence that fits their forms, screens, and procedures. “Have all your information ready to go, but give it in the order they prefer,” advises Kaufman. “Saying, ‘I have all my information ready. Which would you like first?’ lets the provider know you are prepared and will be easy to work with. The time you take getting everything in order will save time in the service conversation, too.”
Confirm next actions. Repeat what your service provider promises to do. Confirm dates, times, amounts, responsibilities, and commitments. “This helps you move together through the service process, catching any misunderstanding and correcting it along the way,” says Kaufman. “Be sure you both understand what will happen next: what they will do, what you will do, and what both parties have agreed to going forward.”
When appropriate, commiserate. Sometimes service providers let their frustration show. A slow computer, a previous customer, high call volume, pressure from a manager, or some unwelcome personal event may have upset them. “When you hear an upset tone, be the one to soothe it,” suggests Kaufman. “You might say, ‘I’m sure this time of year is crazy for you. I really appreciate your help.’ This brief moment of empathy can be an oasis in their world.”
Show your appreciation. A sincere “thank you” is always appropriate. “If your service provider deserves more, give more,” says Kaufman. “A nicely written compliment can make a huge difference in someone else’s day, or even career. And who knows? The person you praise today may serve you again tomorrow.”
Spread the word. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in uplifting service that’s certainly true. The next time you receive uplifting service at your favorite coffee shop, at the hardware store, at the post office, wherever you are, ask the service provider if you can take their picture and then ask for their manager’s name and contact information. “Send the picture to the service provider’s manager with a message that reads, ‘This person’s service makes me admire and appreciate your organization.’” says Kaufman. “Expressing your satisfaction to their manager in this way will speak volumes to the service provider and will inspire not only the service you receive in the future, but the service they provide to all of their customers.”
“Keep in mind that while this advice will help you get better service from service providers, much of it can also be used to experience more joy and satisfaction from your relationships with your colleagues, friends, and other loved ones,” notes Kaufman. “Keep that in mind as you make the rounds of cocktail parties and potlucks. What goes around really does come around.
“When you treat someone well, whether it’s your spouse, a vendor at work, or the person you meet at the coffee shop in the morning, he or she is more likely to step up and treat you well, too,” he adds. “We all live and work in a whole world of relationships based on service. As you uplift and upgrade the service you provide, the world will uplift you.”