Through My Experience
What is Customer Service?
As Wikipedia defines it, “Customer service is the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase. The perception of success of such interactions is dependent on employees “who can adjust themselves to the personality of the guest”.[
A customer service representative or associate or advisor or some would call them customer care officer is the person who renders customer service. Among their functions is to process a request, handle complaints and satisfy the customer’s needs. But nowadays, the function of a customer service representative evolves. Some companies do not only limit their function to after-sales transactions, but they are also carrying out the task of a SALES officer. They are the first point of contact with a company. The soldiers on the battlefield.
My first job was as a Customer Care Officer (CCO). This opened my doors to the corporate world. When I applied, I did not know exactly what it does, but anyways, I was sure that they would train me. Back then, my job as a CCO takes and process after-sales transaction and handle customer complaints. Yes, complaints from IRATE customers. Truthfully, that was when I heard the word “IRATE”…and since then, I heard it almost every day!
A few months after I was hired, I thought I knew my job that well…until one day, I handled a complaint (though not the first time). For the purposes of reference, let’s call him Mr. A.
I joined the company when fraudulent activities were rampant. It was the worst but hope was there because the company transitioned its system to a new technology. We received several complaints in the office and Mr. A was one of them. He was calm in airing out his complaint. Yes, CALM because unlike other customers, he had a toned-down voice. He was not mad. He did not make a scene just like other customers. However, he said the most hurtful words a new CCO can take. I felt it in my bones, so to speak. I felt insulted, embarrassed, incompetent and while we had lunch…I cried (oh, don’t feel sorry… I deserved it).
What Went Wrong?
- When Mr. A narrated his complaint, I did not give him my FULL ATTENTION. I was doing something else looking at the desktop. RUDE, I must say.
- My BODY GESTURES was neither responsive nor proactive. “I can still remember I was crossing my arms”. I have not shown my willingness to help him.
- NO URGENCY was given to his complaint. I just took it easy and NO IMPORTANCE at all. That was his 2nd visit.
- NO ACTION to show any helpfulness from my end. Neither did I took notes nor probe his complaint.
- Mr. A’s complaint was about the company product and its service. But he felt worse because of how I handled his transaction.
BANG! I just CREATED an IRATE CUSTOMER. I FAILED.
What Could Have I Done? I should have acted F.A.S.T.!
Focused on providing undivided attention. I should have dropped everything else. This would have made Mr. A feel more important and valued as a customer. Customers are the lifeblood of every business. If there is no customer, there is no business. Hence, we need to take care of our customers. They, therefore, deserved our full attention. We are all customers. Even the person who holds the topmost position in the company is a customer.
Acknowledged his problem. I should have got the facts, asked for more details. Showing body gestures like nodding, leaning forward and maintaining eye contact would mean that I’m listening. These are non-verbal communications that would create a great impact on how to handle complaints. This would imply that I’m here to help him out.
Smile. As the saying goes, “A smile can brighten the darkest day”. Your customer might be on his worst day. He might have problems at work, maybe stuck in bad traffic, perhaps he just argued with his wife or missed his flight or missed a very important call. Your frown is the least that he needs.
Take action and offer a solution. Probe. By asking questions, I should have understood the cause of Mr. A’s complaint. Taking action would also mean escalating concerns when needed. Some concerns are beyond the control and approval parameters of a customer service representative. Hence, immediate escalation to the concern department must be done. And DO NOT FORGET to PROVIDE FEEDBACK. Be proactive in giving feedback. Don’t wait for the customer to visit you again. RESOLVED OR UNRESOLVED, PROVIDE FEEDBACK. Always provide options to your customers. By all means, RETAIN the customer. Remember, retaining customers is cheaper than acquiring new ones.
As the famous American poet Maya Angelou said:
…and yes, that was 20 years ago! Up until now, I can still remember how I felt that day….and perhaps the feeling is mutual. Mr. A too will never forget how I made him feel: ignored, neglected, unimportant and whatever he may have felt. That incident motivated me to handle customers beyond expectations. It inspires me to learn more about customer handling, customer retention, handling rejections…I strived hard to offer the best experience my customer could have. The company I worked before, launched a customer service campaign, “Service Beyond Smile”, it’s providing customer service by exceeding customer expectations. I attended seminars and symposiums on customer service. I continually improved myself in this area. Seven years after that incident, I was promoted to handle bigger responsibility and higher accountability, I ensure to share this story to my staff and supervisors. If by any chance, I will meet Mr. A again, I will thank him for those painful words. I will thank him for his honesty and being straightforward in correcting me. I have learned my lessons early on. God made him an instrument on how to become better at my job.
Now as an entrepreneur, I have practiced what I have learned in my corporate years. True enough, we still have a long way to go in improving our products and services, but we strive hard not to create Mr. A’s amongst our customers.