Struggling with finding the words to define customer service? It's one thing to look at a dictionary definition of customer service, but another matter entirely to describe the behaviors that contribute to a truly exceptional customer service experience.
Understanding What Customers Expect
When people seek to do business with companies or individuals, it's because they have specific product or service needs. A person who is hungry will seek to purchase food from a restaurant, snack vendor, or supermarket. Someone who needs a website designed for his or her small business will seek assistance from a website designer or developer, or perhaps from a full-service marketing firm. Specific product and service needs drive customers to particular types of service providers.
Separate from specific product and service needs, however, customers all have basic expectations for how they should be treated. In order to effectively define customer service, it's important to be aware of the actions and behaviors that customers consider important when they interact with service providers. Companies with a reputation for delivering the best customer experience focus on meeting or exceeding customer expectations at all times.
Basic Customer Needs and Expectations
Personal recognition: Customers want to be treated as valued individuals. No one wants to be treated like they're "just a number".
Courteous treatment: Treating customers courteously is something that should be a given without question. There's no excuse for being rude, particularly to someone who is considering doing business with you.
Respect: While it's a fact that customers are not always right, it is also true that there is no situation in which it is acceptable to treat your customers with a lack of respect.
Empathy: Customers appreciate it when you take the time to try to look at the situation from their perspective. If you really want to define customer service in a manner that's specific to your business, step back and look at your business processes through your customers' eyes.
Understanding: Customers need to be understood. The best way for you to demonstrate understanding to your customers is to listen to them. Don't interrupt when they are trying to explain their needs to you. Demonstrate respect by listening and trying to understand.
Patience: Being patient with customers is a great way to demonstrate respect. Stay on task, but don't rush them. When a customer is in front of you, he or she deserves your full attention.
Professionalism: No matter what kind of day you might be having, your personal issues are not the concern of your customers. Remain positive and professional in all customer interactions. The way you act when you're with your customers will have an impact on how they judge the professional tone of your company as a whole.
Language and Customer Service
Customer interactions are often defined as positive or negative based on the tone of the communication that takes place between the service provider and the consumer. The language of customer service should be positive and polite, and should above all demonstrate respect for customers.
Many commonly used phrases sound negative, and contribute to less than positive customer service experiences. It's important to avoid using trigger phrases that are likely to make customers angry and defensive. You don't have to be dishonest to communicate in a positive manner. Simply use customer oriented phrasing to get your point across rather than trigger phrases that might lead to a negative interaction.
Examples of Negative Trigger Phrases to Avoid
What do you want?
I'll get to you in a minute.
Why did you do that?
The only thing you can do is (fill in the blank).
That's not what you said.
I can't do what you want.
Examples of Customer Oriented Phrases
How can I help?
I'll be right with you.
The best option in this situation is (fill in the blank).
There must have been a miscommunication.
What I can do is (fill in the blank).
Nonverbal Communication and Customer Service
It's also important to remember that nonverbal communication plays an important role in the quality of customer interactions. It's important to keep in mind that communication doesn't have to be intentional. Your body language might be sending messages that customers interpret in a negative manner, whether or not that's how you intend them to be taken. It's a fact that actions tend to speak much louder than words. That's why it's important to evaluate nonverbal messages you might be sending. If your words and actions contradict each other, it's likely that customers will interpret your intentions based on your actions rather than by the words you speak.
Nonverbal Factors that Impact Customer Service Perception
Tone of voice
Sincerity of message
Volume of speaking
Speed of speech
Evidence of positive or negative attitude
Physical appearance and condition of the place of business
Professional appearance of service provider
Finding a Way to Define Customer Service
If you want to come up with a definition of customer service, it's important to spend some time reflecting over your past experiences as a customer. Throughout your lifetime, it's likely that you've experienced exceptional, terrible, and average customer service. One of the best ways to figure out what customer service means to you is to think about examples of customer service experiences that have had an impact on you, positive and negative. You can learn a great deal about what to do and say, as well as what behaviors to avoid, from your prior experiences. After all, providing exceptional service is about understanding what it is that real-life customers need and want, and making sure that the service you provide meets or exceeds their expectations.