Recently while teaching a customer service training session, things took an interesting and unexpected turn.
I was working with a room of about 60 people and going through Customer Service best practices with the “best-of-the-best.” They were selected for the special honor of additional customer service training because they already showed initiative.
We started the presentation… basics about greeting every customer, making them feel welcome. Letting each person know that they have been seen and are being heard. Taking the time to really listen to the customer’s needs and show compassion and care with their experience.
Pause for a moment and picture yourself as the customer… doesn’t this sound like what you wish for yourself? You walk into a beautiful brightly lit recreation center to buy your child a pool pass, or to attend gymnastics class and the staff greets you warmly…
Now, pretend you are the Recreation Director and you walk through the building and watch these wonderful interactions taking place with satisfied happy customers.
Ah… THIS is what customer service is all about.
(INSERT screeching halt sound)
Back to reality, in the middle of my beautiful presentation about customer service a young woman raises her hand and says “What if we don’t care?”
The earth stood still while I pondered this question. Me (stunned and not articulate): “Um… you don’t care?”
“Yeah! These customers come in, they are loud and rude and they never get off their phones. They demand all kinds of special treatment that is not part of what we can offer, let their kids climb all over and then yell at US when we enforce the rules.”
And from there, the flood gates opened and filled the room with the descriptions of the terrible actions, the rude treatment and downright utter disrespect these customer service recreation staff members have to deal with on a daily basis.
Now, as supervisors, we know this. We all deal with difficult customers, we groan when someone pushes their way through and demands extra perks, we wrestle with ourselves when we give in to the squeaky wheel. We vow to support our staff and take their side, but sometimes sides are complicated.
We all know about burn out. We have all experienced it. And one way to deal with burn out is to support each other and give the staff the tools they need to really handle customers in a savvy way.
But this particular day, I found myself wondering, how do we train the customers? Can we somehow train our customers to treat our staff better, after years of training our staff to treat customers better? As customers ourselves, do we need some additional training?
This is a deeply complex issue… we are all customers, and if you’re reading this it’s likely that you also serve customers in your job, recreation or otherwise. And you may also supervise staff.
So what now?
I’m not writing this blog post because I have all the answers… actually, I’ll share two of the ideas I’ve come up with, but as an industry we need to address this further.
#1-Provide our staff with scripts to guide and influence the behavior of the customers. Many of the transactions we complete each day are the same, so your staff has an intuition about when that interaction is getting ready to veer off into murky territory. So, lets train on that. When your brain says “Uh-oh, here we go, Mrs. Smith is getting ready to ask for special perks that are not part of the package she is buying” then we know to insert in our next sentence information with details about the packages and options. Sometimes you have to say “I do understand, Mrs. Smith, and you can have those extra perks in this other package but there are additional costs as well.”
#2- Civility standards: one of my favorite topics to teach and talk about is Civility. We create civility standards and protocol policies for our staff so they work more smoothly together, but we often neglect the step of inviting our customers to be part of that culture. Can your code of ethics be shared and extended to include customers? Yes… Let’s make it part of the conversation. Can you ask an unruly customer to leave the building, lower their voice, or refrain from profane language? Yes, and it’s even better if you’re doing it with the User Behavior Policy behind you.
Let’s introduce customers to the idea that the service experience goes both ways. Its bold new territory…