I have been in customer service for nine years so far. I am ultimately a customer myself. So, it’s perfectly fitting that I have the right to tell you both sides of the story. My article today is reflected upon first hand aging experience and analysis from throughout the years. By giving real life examples, I hope to show all shades of good and bad customer service… and customers. Like they say, it takes two to tango and that’s the case in the customer service industry also. As the one with the name tag, you want to feel appreciated, at the same time feel you did all you could to help. As the customer, you want to walk away knowing that you have been treated fairly and you’ve been well looked after. Customer’s involvement is vital to the whole experience too. In saying all that, I have come to the realisation that there is actually only one simple, yet effective feature needed for a win-win situation. I can sit here and list all aspects that are necessary, but above all pieces required to ensure the best experience overall, the main thing on the top of the customer service food chain, is personality.

So much can stem off the personality family tree.

If you do not have a personality and you’re as dull as a plain piece of bread, do not get into retail, hospitality, etc. Small talk topics are boring, but it makes people feel acknowledged. A smile could go a long way too. The person on the other side of the counter doesn’t care that you’re miserable. You don’t have to talk about it, but your service reflects just that. A smile is a welcoming gesture. Positive vibes are attracted and people can forget their own drama, even for that one moment. All of this, from just that one piece of body language that makes a difference. But Customers, your body language also reflects how the sale is going to go down. At the end of the day, these employees are trained to ensure they bring in the business using these small gestures. They’re getting paid, but it’s also your job to work at getting a good deal. Everybody wants to walk away satisfied. Short and cold answers to small talk questions, and the lack of politeness ruin any opportunity you had to be treated nicely. You give what you take, and take what you give.

Let me break this down for you all a little further.

Communication is vital. It avoids all types of awkwardness and really shows how much you care for the customer’s needs. If you’re serving, make comments or even ask about the product the customer is buying. For example, if you work in the fashion industry, and you are about to ring through a glamorous dress for the customer, ask them, ‘so, do you have an exciting event coming up?’ Anything along the lines of that, avoids an awkward and silent moment. It also shows how much you care about your job, and ultimately care about the person you are serving. No, you do not know this person personally, but don’t treat them like a number. Don’t be afraid to add a personal touch. The other day, I walked into my favourite women’s sports shop. I was carrying quite a few garments that I wanted to take into the change room with me. Behind the counter, stood a tall, brunette, folding clothes, who firstly asked, ‘Hey, how you going?’ That’s the first box ticked. She goes on to suggest, ‘do you want me to take these into the change room for you so you can keep looking?’ This makes me want to stay in the shop and actually want to buy. I understand these are all manipulative ways of getting the sale, but I rather these welcome signs, than not being acknowledged at all. Finally, I was ready to try on my potential purchases, and this young lady walked me to the correct room. She asked for my name and after said, ‘I’m Jen. Let me know if you need anything.’ The introduction personalises this experience and makes it so much more comfortable. I walked out with two new pair of gym leggings.

Each person that walks through that door deserves to be treated equally and needs to be taken care of. Even if they are just looking, say hello, ask if they need any help and let them know you are there. Have you heard of secret shoppers? Their judging begins the minute they walk into your shop. There is also no way of knowing that they are a secret shopper. If you are nowhere to be seen, or don’t say hello, that negative critic goes straight into your records and you’re in all sorts of trouble.

As the customer, you’re expected to say hello back. Take my time at a big name electronics store’s counter for instance. It got to a point that it happened so often, that I started tallying up the amount of customers who did not say hello, did not respond to ‘how are you?’ and did not say ‘thank you’ at the end. Plain and simple, this is rude. If you’re expecting a decent deal, this attitude and lack of personality is not getting you anything. In fact, your negativity means my customer service goes up a notch. Meaning, no ‘thank you’? Okay, you still get a ‘you’re welcome,’ but with a hint of sarcasm. Oh, how I loved their reaction. At the end of the day, everybody deserves respect. Small gestures from either party, insinuate that you are worth the time. One bad customer ruins an entire shift and your belief in humanity. One bad experience as a customer, ruins any chance of you going back to that place.

Now, you do not have to love your job, especially if it’s something just to get you by for now while you look for your true purpose. But care regardless. If you love it, that is the bonus. For example, I’ve started laser hair removal. I heard it hurts and the whole thing just seemed scary. Olivia was the first lady to treat me. Before we started, though it is procedure, she ran through the whole process and showed me pictures of how it all works. She was knowledgeable and so passionate about laser hair removal. Her presentation both in speech and physically put my mind at ease. Furthermore, the fact that she said things such as, ‘and by the end, you’ll see the result, and for sure, I’ll be more excited than you… I love my job,’ she won me over completely. Passion and knowledge go a long way. And, if the customer is asking a question you do not know, find the answer. Effort and initiative is added to your list of techniques, and people are impressed by that.

The next common phrase I’d like to use, that does plays a part in this discussion is, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’ As a kid growing up and getting into the work force, this means most likely getting a job at a fast-food place. Yes, that was me too. I may be 15 years old, but that does not give you the right to think I know anything less about the world. Places like McDonald’s have an incredible training program. So, that kid you’re treating like a kid, this is where their faith in humanity begins to fade. Kids are getting jobs to begin the possibility of one day having their own life. They may have the job in the means of helping out their parents financially. Or simply, they have the job because their parents are teaching them how to fend for themselves. I respect that a lot. So, next time you walk into one of these places, treat the 15 year olds like adults. Their managers do not baby them. There is no need for you to treat them as an inferior force either. Plus, you have no idea what people go through in the background of their life. Certain hardships happen to kids too. So, their maturity level may excel quicker than other teenagers. I was like that. So, when a little old lady walks in explaining something to me that involves responsibility or a complaint, I do not appreciate being told, ‘you’re too young, you won’t understand.’

But kids, you’re not getting away with anything entirely. Yes, the latest generation do somehow have a bit more attitude than the past. Older generations have noticed an x amount of kids that do have attitude, is a result of being a little more spoiled and self-absorbed than usual. Great customer service needs maturity. If you’re going to act like a 15 year old, you will be treated like a 15 year old. If they are treating you like crap, be the bigger person. That customer may not respect you, but you will then find that those who witnessed the bad customer’s attitude and your handling of the situation, will. One person can ruin your day, but with that positive approach, one person lost is more people gained. If you let them all get to you, this negative personality trait will affect you for the rest of your customer service life.

Adults are not getting away with it either. We’ve seen numerous stories in the past where someone that looks like they have no money, walks into a fancy store and does not get acknowledged because the sales clerk thinks they won’t buy anything, therefore their time is not worth it. Newsflash! Miners make a heap load. Most of them look like hobos. Have some manners, have some respect, and treat them like you would the up-tight lady in her heels and fur coat. Customer’s face the same dilemma too. Tattoos and piercings for example, do not make a person any less good at their job than the one without them. Again, if you’re nice, you’ll be treated nicely.

I went to a very well-known restaurant on the famous Lygon Street (Melbourne, Aus) strip the other week. Attitude was a big deal on that day. We were served by a girl in a bun and big skirt, who at first we all thought she was a mute. She walked up with her pen and pad and looked at us. So we assume what we do, and begin to order. I get a pizza, and she asks using only hand gestures, what size I wanted. I said I wanted small and we carried on. The next person ordered a chicken meal, and here is when we realised, she does have a voice. She asks, ‘and what sauce did you want on top.’ This is the moment I realised we were receiving bad customer service. Finally, one of my friends asked that he just have water for a drink. So, the waitress begins to read over what we ordered and ended with the order of the water. My partner asks, ‘can we just have water for the table that would be great.’ With her insulting attitude, she remarks, ‘ahh, yeah, that’s what I said.’ I could not do much more, but stare at her with so much disgust, jaw open and then putting my head into my palm out of embarrassment for her. We honestly, should have walked away there and then, because the customer service didn’t improve when the food came out. She just slammed the plates on the table and walked away. Mind you, that water for the table she was so sure she knew all about, we had to ask for again, three times. If you’re in the food industry, customer care is vital. There are all sorts of health and safety stuff involved. Waiters, food and store presentation and manner, make the food industry one of the hardest. You need to be 100% in all aspects. And just some advice, I shouldn’t have to ask for water. That should be on the table within the minute your customer sits down.

If something stuffs up, an immediate reaction is required. Once at a famous burger place, I got fewer chips than the person next to me. Not a big deal, but it’s the principle. I asked for a fair go. So, not only did they put more chips in my plate, they also walked out with an extra bowl of chips. This is a good save for that business.
I also received a pretty average massage once from a therapist at a high-class spa. You pay a pretty hefty price for these treatments and service, and they have a really high quality reputation. It was a full body massage, that felt like I only got a three quarters massage. I asked for firm, I got weak. So, I made a complaint, not expecting what I received. The manager gave me a call. We spoke further about the experience and she apologised sincerely. She wanted to offer me a voucher for over $200. I kept saying no, and that my complaint was only feedback, but she insisted. She said, ‘I could tell in your letter that you weren’t looking for a freebie. I want to give it to you because I want you to give us a second chance.’ Sometimes, you need to spend money, to make money.

I want to now point out some even smaller gestures that make a big impact. For example, if in a busy drive through at a fast-food place, have your money ready to be taken. You’re usually told your total price before you get to the window, plus the stoppages before you get there. There is time to get into your wallet and take out the cash. Usually a timing system is involved and your help will speed up the service. But you, in the drive through window, if you want to get customers in and out as quick as possible, and change is involved, hand over the coins, then the notes. Especially in the drive through situation, the customer is most likely going to lose the coins because they were put on top of the note. I find this really frustrating. When I get given the coins first, I get excited. Handling money in certain ways, means a lot to the person serving you. Do not throw the money over, and do not hand it to them scrunched up. That’s not how it goes into the till, and I will waste your time straightening it up.

The Lollipop lady/man is one of the happiest people around. There are two at my nephew’s school that are adorable. I feel comfortable knowing every kid crosses the road safely thanks to these two gentlemen. One jokes around with the kids, telling them they can’t press the pedestrian button, and asks them how their day was at school. The other puts himself in front the traffic, after giving the whistle two quick blows, and extends his arms out as a further indication to the red light for cars not to continue driving. Be thoughtful like the Lollipop-lady/man!

Good eye contact is a fantastic personality trait to have in customer service, if you know how to do it without looking like a creep. I have found myself in situations where the counter girl is giving me my change back, but her attention is to her colleague nearby. This is rude. Your focus is on the customer. When you’re serving, every customer deserves your attention. Any conversation regarding your weekend can wait until the customer leaves. But Customers, if you want attention you also have to give it. Again, going back to my time with the electronic store, I was faced with the predicament of whether to; a) rudely interrupt a customer’s personal conversation on the phone and demand attention, b) give them no customer service and just the silent treatment, while they chat away, or c) still give customer service, with a hint of not caring whether you’re on the phone and still ask questions I need answers for, such as ‘do you need a bag?’ and loudly tell you ‘have a nice day.’ Oh, the customers that were on the phone infuriated me. They are the firm example of people that do not deserve good customer service.

Personality and its traits, equal a good customer service experience. Small gestures, passion regardless of love and attention comes together in one nice, big, fuzzy ball of positive attitudes we all need to give and receive in great customer service. I honestly could go on with so many more examples and so much more advice. But, I think I have made my point. If you’re a piece of toast, get some butter, jam or Nutella on. If you’re a blank canvas, add some colour to brighten up your environment.