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How To Pivot Your Customer Service Skills To Excel In Extraordinary Times

Leslie Ciborowski
President Of TrainSmart, Inc.
How To Pivot Your Customer Service Skills To Excel In Extraordinary Times

Customer Service has long been the lynchpin for achieving customer loyalty. What many organizations are finding is that what worked pre-pandemic is not quite as successful during the pandemic. The reason? Consumer needs have changed. They want different things from customer service.

It’s as simple and complex as this: customers want to know that you will take care of them.

Be Accessible. Really Listen. Be Kind.

Implementing these three principles of customer service- accessibility, listening, and kindness – will provide 98% of customers what they want most – to be taken care of.

The package from Amazon was a replacement order. When I opened the box, I discovered Amazon had sent the same wrong product they had sent the previous week.

Until the pandemic, I can’t remember Amazon ever sending me the wrong product.  Now, let’s say this is not the first time.  And yet, as a customer, these mistakes are mild nuisances, not deal-breakers.

While this kind of repeat offense would typically cause me to stomp around, write mean tweets, and curse that I will never do business with them again, I didn’t do any of that. I just picked up the phone.

Amazon apologized for the mistake, refunded the original charge, gave me a $15 credit, and told me to keep the wrong product or donate it. They made a repeat mistake, but they took care of me.

Invest in Accessibility

From the consumers’ point of view, the pandemic should not be a reason to be inaccessible. Companies that once provided human voice support now informs callers that either “Due to Covid, you will experience longer than usual hold times “or “Please leave a message, and a customer service rep will return your call within 24 hours.”

That’s a problem. Consumers expect a response within 60 minutes. When you go longer, you are not taking care of them.

Accessibility means providing consumers options for communication channels: live chat, email, and phone.  Recently, I purchased some equipment that has about eight attachments. I was unclear what one of the attachments was supposed to do. I went to their website and discovered that this company offered video customer service calls in addition to the standard communication channels. On the video call, it took the customer service rep 30 seconds to confirm what part I was describing. It took another 30 seconds to demonstrate how it’s used.  I felt taken care of.

Consumers are needier

A few weeks earlier, I received a quart of chalk paint that had leaked in the packaging. There was still plenty of paint in the container, but it was a mess.  I asked the customer service rep if they would like to see a picture of the damaged product. They told me it wasn’t necessary.  They refunded all my money, didn’t require any proof of damage, and shared I should use my best judgment of what to do with the remaining paint.  I salvaged what remained.

Realistically, it may not always be good business for a company to take a customer’s word without proof that they received a damaged product. However, any business can offer the essential ingredients of exceptional customer service in these exceptional times: Take care of the customer by being accessible, listen well, and do it with kindness.

It’s amazing how many companies get it wrong.

Consumers during a pandemic are needier. Recently I purchased a two-overlay stencil that came with instructions I did not understand. I called the phone number for customer service and discovered that during Covid, they were no longer taking calls, and all communication would have to occur via email. I didn’t think the email was the best communication channel to answer my questions.

Eight hours after my query, the customer service rep sent me a marked-up picture, which they said should answer my questions.  It didn’t. It just confused me further.  In my response back, I asked if she could take a quick video on her smartphone so I could see how to do it.

That request was ignored. When the customer service rep responded to the follow-up email, they didn’t even mention my request for a video demo. Bottom Line: They didn’t take care of me.

Listen Well

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen
twice as much as we speak.

Epictetus, Greek Philosopher,55-c.135 A.D.

From Improv activities to listening challenges, participants in customer service training workshops have an opportunity to assess the level of their listening skills. Too often, that’s where it ends. The participants leave the training knowing that they are good listeners or they’re not.

What they usually don’t learn is how to improve. And that’s because the traditional approach to listening skills is hard to learn. But what if we changed the definition of active listening? Instead of focusing on hearing what the person is saying, flip the focus to embrace the situation from the customer’s perspective. Almost anyone can learn how to do that.

We may disagree with the customer, but the act of trying to see the situation from the customer’s point-of-view enables customer service reps to achieve the second element of successful customer service: Be kind. It’s almost impossible not to be kind when you look at the situation from the other person’s vantage point. It softens the edges, and while you may not be able to do exactly what the customer is asking, you can be kind about it. Kindness goes a long way.

An act of kindness did not occur when Amazon refunded the charges for my damaged paint. The act of kindness happened when they didn’t demand or ask to see a picture of the mess. They trusted me. There are few acts of kindness more fundamental in business than having someone trust your word. It’s platinum. It solidifies the customer-business relationship and cements loyalty.

When you combine listening with kindness, you are 90% on your way to achieving your goal of taking care of the customer. If the customer service rep from the stencil company had listened to me, they would have heard a frustrated, confused customer who needed just a little more handholding to use their product. But they didn’t listen, and they weren’t kind.

In response to my email saying I was confused, they responded by saying,

“All you have to do with this is line the marks on this second piece to the previously painted portion already on the wall from the first piece.”

They ended their email with a standard phrase. They said they hoped they answered my question and not to hesitate to reach out with other questions.  In reading their email, I focused on the word “other.” I interpreted it as far as they were concerned,  the current conversation was over, time to move on.  I did not feel taken care of. I was still unsure about how to use their product.

If that customer service rep was steeped in the philosophy that their job was to listen, be kind and take care of me, how might they have responded?

Please share your recommendations.

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Leslie Ciborowski
Leslie has over 25 years experience in the training industry. Her responsibilities have included sales, hands on management and software training, curriculum development, needs analysis, usability testing, and project management. Her strong training background, organizational skills, and exceptional development expertise, augment her extensive sales and marketing abilities.