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Tips for Curing Bad Customer Service

Bad customer service is everywhere these days - unmanned front desks, surly servers, clueless staff, employees talking on the phone, and managers who refuse to acknowledge a customer. It's no longer an exception ... poor service has become the norm.

In an all-too-typical scene, a customer walks into a retail store with a question about where to find a product. The employee, who is busy and doesn't want to be bothered, gives the customer a curt answer and continues what she is doing without even looking the customer in the eye. The customer persists, so, with obvious annoyance, the employee begrudgingly turns around and points the customer in the general direction of the product's location. Instead of buying the product, the customer leaves the store, frustrated, vowing to never return.

Most business owners and employees recognize this as a classic example of bad customer service. And yet, this scene is repeated endlessly in modern society. Negativity breeds negativity, and eventually, nobody is happy.

"Never, never, never ignore a customer," says Art Waller, Regional Department Head for Utah State University. Waller provides tips on how to improve customer relations, a vital segment of any business.

"It's important to be accessible," Waller said. "Everything is an interruption. A phone rings, someone comes into an office, that's an interruption. But if a customer is right there, do that first. That's why you're there.

One of the single most important aspects of a successful business is good customer service. Waller cited recent findings in customer service. A typical business only hears from 4 percent of its dissatisfied customers. The other 96 percent quietly go away. Of this 96 percent, 68 percent never reveal their dissatisfaction because they perceive an attitude of indifference in the owner, manager or employee.

Waller said this statistic is particularly dangerous for businesses because if a dissatisfied customer can't express their complaints to a business, they'll express them through other outlets such as friends, neighbors and family. A typical dissatisfied customer will tell eight to ten people about their problem. One in five will tell 20.

"It takes 12 positive service incidents to make up for one negative incident," Waller said. "Seven out of ten complaining customers will do business with you again if you resolve the complaint in their favor. If you resolve it on the spot, 95 percent will do business with you again."

Waller said these statistics speak to the importance of taking action. Often an employee perceives dissatisfaction in a customer, but chooses to ignore it and hopes that the problem will go away. However, if the customer then goes away with the problem, the customer will likely never return to the business. This trend is what hurts businesses more than anything.

"We don't have the ability to keep people that are already happy with our product," Waller said. "The average business spends six times more to attract new customers than it does to keep old ones. Yet customer loyalty is in most cases worth 10 times the price of a single purchase."

The first step is recognizing tendencies toward bad customer service. But how do businesses improve their overall customer service? Waller offered some basic tips:

Like what you do

"If you don't love what you do, get the heck out," Waller said. "If you love what you do, it will be evident and people will know it."

People who have a bad attitude about what they do will reflect their attitude onto everyone around them, including customers. Like most everything in life, good customer service always comes back to attitude.

"If you believe your customers are a pain in the butt, guess what - you're right," he said. "What you say, what you do, and what you think are the same thing."

Learn to adjust your perception

Because good customer service depends on a good attitude, a bad attitude will surely diminish any facade of friendliness. Waller recommends that employees analyze what is causing their negative outlook and make a conscious effort to change, rather than cover it up with a false smile.

"How do you change a belief of certainty?" Waller asked. "You take out references and change it. Over time, it changes that belief system."

Establish Rapport

Customers will do business with people they like. Employees gain this approval by establishing rapport, or a positive connection, with a customer. Rapport can be established by simple gestures such as calling a customer by their name, recognizing mutual interests, asking questions, and making eye contact. The customer instantly recognizes the employee as someone who cares about their well-being, and is more likely to do business with the company,

"Won't you spend more money to go to a car dealership where you've been treated well?" Waller asked. "Develop a genuine interest in and admiration for your customers."

So what happens when an employee doesn't establish rapport? The customer automatically meets that employee with more suspicion, which leads to distrust, which leads to potential conflict.

Avoid a standoff

Many times businesses find themselves locked in an argument with a complaining customer that becomes impossible to resolve. Waller said the way to prevent this is to avoid the argument in the first place. His advice is to step back, analyze where the customer is coming from, and form a solution from their standpoint, not yours.

"I never fought with them," Waller said. "In fact, I went into a dance with them. You've got to dance with them. You have the empathize, and get into their world."

Be reliable, be responsive and be credible

Local cable and utility companies are a prime example businesses that do not possess these qualities, Waller said. When a customer calls up in need of service, they give vague ideas of when they'll be there ("sometime between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m."), sometimes don't show up at all, and are generally indifferent to customers' concerns. Because of this behavior, they have lost nearly all credibility in the public eye.

On the other hand, businesses such as Mercedes-Benz, Ritz Carlton Hotels, and Disneyland have all gained reputations for immaculate customer service, where employees are always nearby to cater to customers' every need at any time. These businesses gained this reputation with years of training their employees to put the customer first.

"The customer's perception is everything," Waller said. "People pay for peace of mind. They want security, integrity, and the assurance that if there is a problem, it will be promptly handled."

All of these tips come down to the platinum rule, or to "treat people like they want to be treated." This rule takes the Golden Rule a step higher, forcing the employee to assess exactly what the customer wants and act accordingly, not just act as they would want to act in the same situation.

"You can't reach everyone the same way," he said. "You don't deal with reality. Nobody does. We deal with our perception of reality."

Waller said any attitude in good customer service fits in the "as if" clause. Always act "as if" you are the only personal contact that the customer has with the business, and behave "as if" the entire reputation of the business depends on you.

"The 'as if' clause puts you where you need to be," Waller said. "The bottom line comes down to relationships and how you treat others."

About The Author

Jill Homer is a freelance writer who is happy to provide articles and ad copy for business and financing specialties. For more information, contact her at jill@biketoshine.com.

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