In this year’s Thankfulness Survey I asked a couple questions. The first had a customer service slant to it:
“What’s one bit of customer service advice you’ve received over the course of your life/career that you’re incredibly thankful for?
And the second was a bit more generic but a cool window into the lives of my colleagues:
If you had to pick just one thing, what are you most thankful for?
It’s not totally fair to force folks to pick just one thing because we have so much to be thankful for, but I appreciate their effort. Here’s what they came up with.
Customer service advice we’re thankful for
For those of us that have worked in customer service or with people in general for any amount of time, I think it’s safe to say that there are days where it’s difficult to find something to be thankful for. In my own career, I can remember where I was when my frustration after getting yelled at by a customer boiled over. I can also remember when I was introduced and who introduced me to concepts like emotional intelligence and how it dramatically improved the way I serve customers. Am I perfect? No — and I never will be — but I’m getting better.
It’s those pivotal moments in our careers where someone offers us advice that helps us do our job better for years to come. As I read the responses to this question, that’s what struck me the most. The fingerprints of managers, supervisors, trainers, and peers who cared enough to share wisdom and speak into the life of another are so evident.
The top five pieces of customer service advice we’re thankful for are:
1. Don’t take it personally
We all have 86,400 seconds in a day. Don’t let someone’s negative 10 seconds ruin the remaining 86,390 seconds of your day. Don’t sweat the small stuff, life is bigger than that. ~Kathleen in Great Falls
This sounds easy but it’s incredibly difficult when you speak with customers all day every day. The nature of this work is that customers have a problem and their recourse to solve the problem is to contact customer service — and some of them are going to be upset. So it makes sense that 24% of responses shared advice along these lines. If you’re looking for a practical exercise, when you feel yourself getting defensive, offended, or frustrated, 4% recommended pausing and taking a deep breath. That might either be done between or during those heated customer interactions.
Smile! It makes all the difference in not only your mood, but the moods of those around you. ~Meriah in Independence
Have you ever worked in an environment where people had a mirror at their desk to hold themselves accountable to smile when answering the phone? I know it sounds super cheesy but making a conscious effort to smile when working with customers can make a big difference.. 14% of responses recommended smiling before, during, and after the interaction with a customer. If we’re smiling, we’re more likely to use positive, upbeat, and helpful language when speaking with customers and that impacts tone both in spoken and written communication.
3. Seek to understand
Remember the times you needed customer service in your life and listen as you would want to be listened to, respond as you would want to be responded to. ~Daniel in Independence
Listen, empathize, put yourself in the customer’s shoes, and remember that the customer is a human being are all concepts under this heading of seeking to truly understand the customer. This accounted for 14% of responses. Similar to not taking things personally, it’s important to work to understand where the customer might be coming from and what events in their lives might be triggering their response. Once we understand that, it’s easier to provide a compassionate response and move forward with a solution.
4. Treat the customer as you would treat yourself
Treat each person the way you would like to be treated. Even if you believe the other person is wrong. You never know what kind of day the other person has had, or what they are going through, and you have to be willing to put yourself in their shoes. We are all human and a little compassion can go a long way toward making someone’s day a little better. ~Christine in Roseburg
8% shared some variation of the Golden Rule. I was most entertained by the couple folks who said something to the effect of, “Treat the customer as you’d treat your grandma.” This most certainly involves remembering what it’s like to be a customer ourselves and can help us better understand and anticipate what customers need and how they feel.
5. Put the customer first
This (and every) interaction is a “moment that matters”. Customers don’t call to say things are working perfectly. They need help… your help, and will be grateful to not feel like a number in a transaction or that they should have leveraged the website before calling. ~Dan in Eugene
Sometimes we have to be reminded of the main thing when it comes to customer service. We can become preoccupied with a variety of activities, policies, and distractions and forget that our job is to take care of customers and solve their problems. It’s easy to look up at the call queue and start thinking about our next call but we’re most effective when we’re present with the current customer. 5% of the responses echoed this sentiment.
We are thankful for…
Enough work talk. It’s a holiday and while work is critical on so many levels it’s not always the most important thing. Before I get into how the majority responded to this question, I’m grateful to those folks with one-off responses like chocolate, boots, carpool karaoke, a drumset, and the dinosaurs (Yes, the extinct ones). All very important things for sure.
In past years I’ve shown a pie chart for this question but I’m not sure it’s necessary this year. The reality is that it’s the people in our lives that really matter. I think of my colleague Kathryn in Grants Pass whose sister lost her house in the recent California wildfires. There was fear and uncertainty when she couldn’t reach her sister for some period of time only to find out later that she was alright. We’re so grateful for some good news amid a tragedy that has been in so many of our thoughts and prayers.
While most of us have been fortunate not to face such difficult circumstances, it’s clear that we’re grateful for the precious gift that is great friends, family, colleagues, significant others, children, and grandkids. 64% said they were thankful for one or more of these groups — 67% if you count fur babies (AKA pets) — which I’m totally willing to allow.
Maybe that’s the best way to end this article. This Thanksgiving let’s take the time to remember and be grateful for the people in our lives both past and present. Things can often be replaced but people can’t. Think of those during the course of your customer service career that cared enough to help you grow and develop and then think of those who’ve stuck with you for better or for worse. Happy Thanksgiving!