Having recently returned from a month in the USA I am now seeing Australia’s customer service in a new light. The tipping culture in the states has bred enthusiastic, helpful and efficient customer service in all it’s various forms. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in: retail, hospitality or business to business sales, the American energetic desire to help clients and customers shines through.

It’s true that in lowly paid positions tips are essential for employees to earn a decent living. But the quality customer service culture permeates all the way to the upper echelons of high priced business to business sales as well.

Australians are known around the world for their friendly, welcoming and accepting nature. So why is our customer service so poor? Why do so many retail salespeople only offer to help you when they feel like it? Why do bar staff have such a too cool attitude and serve you, without a smile, whenever they are good and ready? I don’t understand why someone trying to sell you their goods or services can ever feel like they are doing you a favour.

I feel I speak with a little authority on the subject having now worked in a wide variety of sales and customer service roles for over 20 years here and overseas.  I’ve sold mobile phones, music, electrical equipment, toys, real estate, financial products, websites and now digital marketing services. I worked out that I’ve interacted with over 40,000 customers from all walks of life, wanting different things and understand that great customer service comes down to one fundamental thing: Respect.

The customer is not always right but they always deserve respect.

Your boss doesn’t pay your salary – your customers do. Without the money from your clients and customers, there would be no salary. Customers are the most important people you work with.

With this in mind here are my top 4 tips for outstanding customer service.

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How to Improve Your Customer Service

  1. Respect the customer – They are your boss. They are the most important people you work with. They sometimes can be wrong and in these instances they need to be politely and diplomatically guided to a conclusion that will benefit them the most. But in all your interactions with a customer or client, remember to be respectful.
  1. Treat them how you would like to be treated – Put yourself in their shoes.  You know how your business works, what your products can and can’t do. Your customer may have no idea and it might be their first time buying your particular widget or engaging your specialty service. Be friendly and understanding when they ask you the same question for the 3rd time.
  1. Communicate clearly and quickly – This is so simple, but it is so often the cause of a bad experience. Bar tenders, waiters and retail staff are often guilty of serving one person and ignoring other waiting customers. It takes 3 seconds to make eye contact and smile at the person next in line and tell them you will be with them soon. That 3 second interaction can make all the difference. Don’t do it and you can end up with a frustrated customer who feels they have been ignored.In the office it’s a quick email a couple of days into your quoting process advising the client that the “quote is being worked on and will be ready soon.” The email communicates nothing apart from the fact that you are thinking about them. It’s important. If you are out for a few hours put an auto-responder on. Silence is toxic. The worst communication is no communication. It tells a customer they are not important and you don’t care.
  1. Be helpful – Your customers and clients need your help – so help them. Recommend products and services that are in their best interest, not what will get you the most commission. You’ll find the sales process a lot easier when you think about helping customers rather than selling to them. You might make less commission per sale but you’ll make more sales. Your interactions will also be positive, in turn making work more enjoyable.

Bonus Tip: These recommendations also work for successful interactions between team members in the office. Just swap out customer/client for co-worker and these tips will keep morale high.

What about when the customer is being rude and difficult?

Well, if you have treated the customer with respect, communicated clearly, been as helpful as possible and they are still being unreasonable, it is time to move on. Resist the urge to put them in their place. I can speak from experience that when dealing with an unreasonable, illogical customer that you gain little satisfaction telling them how they are wrong and making them feel small. It does not matter if you are right and they are wrong – when you argue with a client, you lose. If an argument is inevitable, it’s best to cut your losses and, as politely as possible, end the communication. But if you follow these 4 tips you should be keeping these negative interactions to a minimum and enjoying the successes of happy customers.

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