Developing Skills for Face-to-Face Customer Service

“Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers.” – Ross Perot

We have been discussing regularly about the importance and critical nature of customer service for a business in creating, and building relationships with customers. Customers are the lifeline of any business, and without them, there really would not be any business. In most cases, the first interaction that customers have with a company is through the base line customer service staff and very often this interaction is direct. From the company’s perspective then, it must ensure that each person in the company is equipped with skills for face-to-face customer service, such that these experiences are memorable and happy for the customers. We know that the balance of power has shifted to customers – customer is now king / queen, and any business owner would tell you that customers certainly do not expect any less treatment. Customers are no longer an interruption to a business rather it is the customer, who is the reason for the existence of a business.

However, the fact is that every customer is different, and has unique requirements and expectations. Since a company can never know all these different aspects at any given time, the next best thing would be to stay prepared and proactively ready to meet the expectations of customers, and it all starts with the service representatives. It is the responsibility of a company to provide means and methods for developing skills for face-to-face customer service, and improving the communication skills – both verbal and written – of their service staff. When dealing with customers directly, a lot more than just words is in play. The body language, demeanour, attire, and overall personality of the service representatives have a major impact on the customer’s perception of the company. Therefore in addition to developing skills for face-to-face customer service, a company must also focus on overall grooming, etiquette, mannerism, and ‘polish’ of their customer service employees and anyone in the company responsible for dealing with customers directly.

When we talk about skills for face-to-face customer service, we do not mean only technical skills and product knowledge. These skills include soft skills, the overall attitude and persona, and the innate characteristics of the frontline employees that would either enable them to help customers with a spirit of service, or completely damage the reputation of the company. The most important attribute we believe is attitude – a positive and helpful one. With a positive attitude, the service staff would be able to convey care and empathy, without even trying – it would come naturally. Customers are quick to perceive genuine interest and would be more amenable to working with a company that truly understands them, and cares about what matters to them. We have discussed previously, that automated interactions cannot form the kind of bonds and relationships that make companies successful in today’s business world. These relationships can only be formed through direct human interactions, which make the skills for face-to-face customer service even more crucial.

We also know that a company could believe that it is offering the best service, while customers could have a diametrically opposite opinion of the service. This is because customer service is a highly subjective topic, given that each customer would have her or his own ideas and expectations of it. To get very good at providing service excellence, the safest bet for any company would be to ensure that all employees have the skills for face-to-face customer service – since personalized service is fast becoming one of the top demands of customers. Companies have a number of tools and methods now at their disposal that make it simpler for them to provide the kind of service that customers expect. Automation coupled with proper skills and attitude towards service excellence would give a company unprecedented success and a reputation that would be envied by others.

Customer service is the corner stone of any company now – we cannot say this often enough, and yet many companies and their representatives lack the skills for face-to-face customer service, resulting in irate customers, leading to high rates of customer churn. Enthusiastic employees are a basic requirement for providing top class service, and this would happen if a company were to care for their employees and give them the right kind of work environment, opportunities for growth, adequate compensation, and multiple occasions for rewards and recognition. Happy employees would give their best to ensure that the company were successful, and would be more willing to learn more, communicate better, and pick up skills for face-to-face customer service. Such employees would be less stressed and would be able to manage conflicts a lot better, ensuring that the overall environment in the company were positive and energized – which in turn would reflect on the way that the company’s customers were treated.

Given that digitization has taken over a large part of our business and personal lives, personal and interactions are unlikely to ever go out of use. This is why developing the skills for face-to-face customer service and continually using them has become indispensable to the success of a company. Most of these skills are ‘soft skills’ – that is those skills that have to do with attitude, characteristics, and overall behaviour to manage relationships. For example – knowing what to do if a computer system fails would be a technical skill, while communicating the solution would be the soft skill. Among the most important skills for face-to-face customer service, there are some without which no company can claim to be providing top class service. Some of these skills are – top class oral communication, interpersonal interactions, problem solving ability, positive attitude, empathy, and others. While these skills may not be measurable, their effects can be easily felt and seen. Since customer service is a highly demanding job, all these skills would help the service staff interact with customers, especially face-to-face, in a more effective and efficient manner, thereby reducing friction and stressful situations with customers.

The mistake a number of companies make is in believing that since most transactions happen online now, developing the skills for face-to-face customer service would not be as important. However, for customers everything matters – right from the words they use, to the body language, tone, the smile, and even the kind of eye contact the service staff make, all can either make or break the impression customers would have of a company. Effectively communicating with customers begins with first ‘listening’ to what customers say, the moods and emotions they may be displaying. Paying close attention to all these factors and interpreting them correctly does not just happen, but requires consistent effort to develop and maintain. Even if a service staff may have a service frame of mind, if they do not communicate that through their demeanour and attitude, it could ‘tick off’ the customer enough to leave.

The way that customers feel when interacting with the service representatives, especially for the first time, could be the impression they carry about the company for a long time. In order to ensure that a company presents a positive and helpful image, developing the soft skills for face-to-face customer service is critical and could prove to be the difference between success and failure for a company. If customers get a poor impression of the company, it is unlikely that they would give the company a second chance to make things right. The success of a company really does depend on the small, yet kind gestures it makes at the start of the relationship, and the kind of service it gives its customers throughout the association.

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