The Top 3 Principles for Great Customer Service

Imagine you purchase something in your local hardware store, where you have shopped for years. The product doesn’t work well, and you bring it back to the store, planning to demand a full refund of your money.

Customer Service Scenario 1

As you describe your problem with the product, the store’s customer service clerk doesn’t make eye contact with you, directing his attention to the product. He doesn’t say anything when you finish your explanation, and then leaves the customer service desk. He returns moments later with the manager, who punches a few keys on the clerk’s computer.  A credit receipt prints out, which the clerk asks you to sign, giving you an explanation of the store’s return policies.You receive a full refund. He says, “Thank you for shopping with us.”

Customer Service Scenario 2

When you approach the customer service desk, the store’s customer service clerk gives you a warm hello, acknowledging that he recognizes you. “Welcome back. Good to see you,” he says.  As you describe your problem with the product, he asks you questions about what you wanted to use it for.  You tell him about the project you’re working on, and he shows genuine interest in hearing about it, engaging you in a discussion about what you’re trying to accomplish. “This product really isn’t right for your project. Let me see what I can do.”  He leaves the customer service desk and returns a few minutes later. “My manager says I can take back the product and give you a full store credit. Let’s go over to Aisle 3, and we can look for something that will work better for you.”

Which scenario would make you happier?

I’m convinced that 99 out of 100 people would be happier with Scenario 2, even though they didn’t get their money back.

The phrase “good customer service” usually makes us think of words like “friendly,” “efficient” and “courteous.”  But those words are just the lowest common denominator for good customer service.  Good conversation creates good customer service, and great conversation creates great customer service.

In my last article, Conversations That Matter, I described how one-on-one human conversations do much more to influence customers’ opinions of you than your marketing communications ever could. Today, let’s focus on conversations that matter as the key to great customer service.

Although the first customer service clerk described above was efficient, he made three mistakes that prevented him from creating a conversation that matters with you.

  1. He didn’t direct his attention to you, instead focusing on the transaction.  Contrast this with the second customer service clerk, who immediately acknowledges you, and gives you his full attention.
  2. He didn’t engage in conversation.  He let you describe the product and didn’t say anything in return, walking away to get his manager. At the end, he gave you an explanation of store policies. The second clerk turned your explanation into a conversation.
  3. He talked about the product, not about your needs.  The second clerk didn’t spend much time talking about the product, instead focusing the conversation on you, your project, and what you’re trying to accomplish with the product.

These three mistakes help illustrate three principles that your company can use to deliver great customer service through conversations that matter:

  1. Show the customer that they have your full attention, and that you are genuinely interested in their situation
  2. Focus on two-way conversation, not one-way explanations
  3. Make the conversation about the customer, not about the product

Every one of us knows how to create conversations that matter — we do it every day with our friends, family and colleagues.  Imagine if every person in your company was able to create conversations that matter each time they spoke with a customer.

Like the store in Scenario 2, you would end up with happier customers. And like this store, you would probably end up giving fewer full refunds.  The reason is simple: good conversation matters to customers.

1 Comment

  • David Most
    Nov 19, 2014 - 13:13 pm

    Hi Steve,
    In this disrupted retail world in which we live, retailers often think about the Service and what moving parts they have to solve a problem and this is exactly the wrong thing to focus on. CUSTOMER Service. fulfilling the customers needs are critical and that is exactly where the focus should be. Thank you for sharing this great example.

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