Every field of study has fundamentals, or basics. For a basketball player, it’s dribbling, proper shooting form and correct defensive stance. For a marketer it’s knowing your target market, building out personas and crafting messaging around those personas. But what about customer service? What are the fundamentals you use with customers when everything seems to be falling apart? We’re going back to basics (way back), to show how the fundamental social skills you learned in kindergarten help you build a solid foundation to improve customer service.
Learning through hands-on experience
As children, we learned through physical play. We touched a wooden block and crossed the metal monkey-bars. We were incredibly hands-on.
As adults in today’s technological world, we’ve become separated from that hands-on learning experience. We call customer service lines that leave us talking to a robot, we text instead of talking face-to-face. On a more personal note, my dad sometimes calls my mom on her phone from another room because he doesn’t feel like getting up! We’ve become so impersonal. This is why learning about customer issues in a personal way is so important. It will also differentiate your business.
What does this mean for you? If you’re a SaaS company, it could mean getting into your software tool in front of a customer, finding bugs and other problems and understanding what would make the product easier to use. If you’re a woodworker who makes furniture, this could mean physically sitting at each table or on each chair to see if it’s uneven. Obviously these are specific examples, but the idea is not to back away from issues, but to become even more present when dealing with them. Doing this will help you learn about issues faster and, hopefully, provide quick solutions.
Working together gets things done
When we’re young, we learn to take turns, share and cooperate with others toward a common goal. My kindergarten teacher did this with a parachute exercise. She had us all circle around the parachute and hold its edges, then made us each individually try to move it. Of course we couldn’t do it alone, we had to work together to make the parachute move.
To improve customer service, you need to understand that you and your customers are on the same team; you have to work together or nothing will get done. When a client or customer complains about an issue, don’t become defensive. Don’t think about problems as us versus them. Think about how you can collaborate to find a solution that fits their needs together.
Listening is a learned skill
As children, though we may not have realized it, we were being taught the skill of listening. I remember learning to listen to others when they spoke about a project, or seeing the teacher reprimand a classmate for speaking when they weren’t supposed to. Listening is truly a skill.
You’ve probably heard the cliche “listen more than you talk”, but does anyone actually listen to that advice? As adults, we need to remember to fine-tune the fundamentals we learned when we were young. Like a muscle, our listening “muscle” will atrophy over time if we don’t use it, and listening to the concerns of our clients and customers to understand them is crucial to solving problems together. There’s nothing worse than a customer who doesn’t feel heard.
What can we do to improve your listening skills? Practice! Don’t let your mind wander. Hear what someone says and repeat it back to them to show that you’re fully engaged. Sometimes it’s not enjoyable to listen to customer issues, but for some clients, simply venting their concerns will help build trust.
There’s a great psychological study about delayed gratification and self-control in children (and an adorable video to go along with it). First tested by Stanford in the late 60s, the Marshmallow test put a marshmallow or treat in front of children ages 4-6. The child could eat the marshmallow right away, or wait 15 minutes for a second marshmallow. Most children ate the marshmallow immediately, but those children who used self-control to get the second marshmallow were older, generally the age of a kindergartener (5 or 6).
Though we learned self-control at a young age, we don’t always practice it. Have you ever had to deal with a customer who was so rude that you couldn’t help but be rude back to them? It happens! It’s difficult to deal with someone who is irate, won’t be satisfied no matter what you do or who is actually attacking you personally.
So what can you do? As hard as this can be, practice self-control:
- Understand that they aren’t mad at you personally (even if they make rude comments directed at you), they are mad at the situation.
- Use positive language. Try to say yes, or if you have to say, no, offer another solution.
- Be firm, but don’t lose your cool. I lost my temper with a very rude customer once, when he was attacking me personally. I felt good about it for 30 seconds after the call, but was then terrified to ever receive a call from him again. Dishing negativity back at someone helps no one, and isn’t good for business. After that call, I learned my lesson. When I receive calls from rude, unhappy customers, I was firm but helpful. You should expect respect; steer the conversation away from negative comments and toward a solution.
Recognize the feelings of others
As children we learn to control our emotions and begin to recognize the emotions of others. We start to recognize when others are happy, sad or angry by observing body language, and not just listening to words.
Understanding how others feel is crucial, especially as we sit behind computer monitors or with cell phones always at our fingertips. We’ve become less personal and gotten worse at understanding how others feel. Customers may not tell you there is a problem until it’s too late—then they end up yelling at you or working with someone else (or both). It’s important to understand how customers feel about your product or service so you can provide solutions as you work together.
How can you do this?
- Set up weekly, bi-weekly or monthly meetings with them to ensure you have consistent times to communicate.
- Ask them open-ended questions that require more than yes or no answers about your relationship, the product or service, etc.
- When meeting with them, listen to verbal cues or body language cues (if you meet in person) that signal dissatisfaction. For example, if you’re offering a solution to an issue and someone crosses their arms, they may not like or agree with your words. Ask them questions to learn their thoughts on the matter.
Servicing customers can be difficult. By using the fundamentals we learned at a young age, we can make the servicing process easier, create stronger relationships and build an even larger customer base.