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Across the counter in customer service: the View from the Other Side

Barely a week goes by without something coming across our desks about improving customer service. Like most businesses we like to think we provide great customer service, but on occasion, I’m sure we fall short, so certainly these many articles and tidbits of good advice are of interest to us.

What is interesting however is that we rarely see anything about how to be a great customer! Whether in our personal or professional lives we are all customers, just as we all at some level also server others.

Are you a great customer? Here are six situations and tips for becoming a better customer, and achieving a better outcome for you.

  1. Do we treat the person waiting on us at a fast food restaurant, checking us out at a grocery store, or a professional vendor with respect? Or, are we short, perhaps rude when things don’t go quite our way? Taking a moment to collect our composure, smile, and be friendly takes no more effort than being rude or demanding, and the results are almost always much more positive.

  2. Do we understand or make an attempt to understand the process that goes into receiving our finished product or service? If it is something we know nothing about, do we seek to understand or do we assume we already know? Take the process of building a home for example. There are many factors and processes that go into this, not always in the control of the homebuilder such as: delivery of materials, subcontracted services, or inspections just to name a few. But, if the home isn’t built as quickly as we would like, do we take the time to understand why? Approaching a vendor with the phrase, “help me understand _________” goes a long way in building the relationship and achieves a better outcome in the long run.

  3. Do we understand how to lodge a complaint, or challenge a policy or price? Are we talking to the right person, or someone in authority who can actually help us? Picking on the little guy, or someone who has no authority to make a change or help us, is an exercise in futility and really only makes the situation worse by increasing our frustration, and makes the person resentful. What is a better solution? I’ve always found it effective to use the person’s name on the phone, or in front of you, and ask if they can help you solve a problem. For example, the phrase, “Hi Sara, I have a problem and I’m hoping you can help me with it" is so much more effective than complaining, or being hostile.

  4. If a mistake is made, are we forgiving? I have found my forgiveness for some shortcomings in business to be much more forthcoming once I owned my own business. Before losing your cool, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are not perfect either, and if the mistake was not intentional or malicious, be forgiving. In the long run it is much better for your own mental health.

  5. Do we show sincere appreciation for a completed sale, a clerk's attentiveness, or a sales represntative's willingness to go the extra mile? A warm and sincere "Thank you" is often the nicest thing you could possible say to someone in a service industry.

  6. Do we pay our bills on time? In most retail situations, we don’t have a choice but to pay for services immediately. But in the professional services world, it is common to receive a service, and then an invoice follows. How long do we take to pay that invoice? If we are habitually late in our payments, how willing is our vendor to help us out in a crunch, go the extra mile, or provide consistent quality service to us? Not paying bills in a timely manner is counter productive to a customer vendor relationship in the long run. A better option is to either not incur the expense, or to have a frank discussion on the front end about when the vendor can expect payment.

In this world of commerce, we are all suppliers, and we are all customers. We run the risk of being very short sighted if we demand superior customer service in a rude or hostile manner, only to have that very same person show up in our own place of business as a customer. When it comes to customer service, think about both sides of the counter for the best results.