Getting it Right – Customer Service Etiquette

<i>“Good manners have much to do with the emotions. To make them ring true, one must feel them, not merely exhibit them.” – Amy Vanderbilt</i>

The digital age dictates everything – our technology, food, business and almost every realm of our life. Customers seek out companies that are fast, can provide service on the go, make it convenient for the customers to do business and respond to everything they ask for almost instantly. However, despite all this that is expected customers also expect a high level of customer service etiquette – without empathy and courtesy none of the other advantages could even begin to get noticed by customers.

The face of customers has changed and naturally so has customer service. It has become more demanding and pressing on companies to please customers since their needs and expectations are in a constant state of flux. With technology providing access to so much more information, the emerging of new companies and current competition constantly looking for ways to ‘steal’ customers, there is far too much at stake for companies. Companies are also faced with another major challenge – of finding the best talent in the market that will interface with the customers and understand the importance of customer service etiquette and the culture and values of the company they are to represent.

If we look at the quote above, it is so appropriate for customer service etiquette. It is hard to feign courtesy and etiquette in a sustained manner if they are not truly imbibed and inculcated by the people responsible for dealing with customers. Sooner than later, customers will be able to see through the farce. For a company to be able to exhibit customer service etiquette, it must be part of the culture and a culture that is followed and believed in by the front-end staff. Such heartfelt customer service etiquette will be unfeigned even when they are faced with angry and difficult customers. The good part is however that customer service etiquette can be taught and learned and with constant training and motivation can be reinforced over time, enough to raise the standards of customer service to a high level. Let’s take a look at what in our opinion are some time-tested ways to bolster and exhibit customer service etiquette.

  • There is no doubt that customer service is a demanding job and one that requires each person within a company to remain alert and professional at all times when dealing with customers. It is an essential part of customer service to remain calm and composed even when the customer may seem unreasonable and irate – in fact remaining professional at all times is the hallmark of customer service etiquette. Customer service staff must never use jargon, slang and cuss words – customers never forgive or forget this behaviour.
  • When customer service agents truly believe in the tenets of customer service etiquette, they will remain cheerful and pleasant. A cheery greeting delivered with a smile shines through even over the telephone. Even a customer who maybe irritated while calling is able to relax a bit on being greeted pleasantly. It must be remembered however, that greeting a customer must be genuine – a smirk or sarcasm is easily discernible and customers can give your company a very hard time if they do detect either.
  • Customers are a smart lot. Don’t try fooling them with inaccurate information or half-truths. Customer service etiquette demands that the company and its representatives remain completely honest, truthful and transparent with customers constantly. Let them know upfront what your company can and cannot do. If you as the person handling the customer query is unable to help them or is unauthorized to make a decision, let them know. Put them on to the person who can or arrange for the person to get back to the customer within a stipulated time-frame. If at any stage the customer is told a lie or not provided with the truth, it is more than likely that the lie will blow out of proportion and cause great damage to your company both by way of dented reputation and loss of business.
  • Ensure that even if you need to pass the customer on to another agent to deal with the query, remain responsible by making sure that the customer is dealt with satisfactorily. Also take ownership of any error or lapse that may occur and let the customer know. Customers are more likely to forgive and let it genuine lapses pass than if they feel that they were purposefully lied to or there was an attempt to cheat them.
  • Customers need to know and feel that their issues and problems are being understood. The customer service agents must let the customers know that they are willing to work out a solution to help the customer and also that their issues are important to the company. Being empathetic is one of the building blocks of customer service etiquette. It’s a simple behaviour but the rewards are rich and long standing.
  • Building a rapport with customers is about remaining pleasant and professional and does not warrant long or digressed conversations with them. Keep the conversation focused on the customer not on how you have similar or other problems too. Customers are not interested and neither do they have the time to hear what assails you and your company. Customer service is about serving the customer by listening to them and their issues.
  • One of the major faux pas in customer service is when customer service agents use ‘customer time’ to engage in conversations of a personal nature either with other agents or with someone else not present. Customers are not interested to know what you ate for breakfast or the problems you are having with an appliance at home. It is considered contrary to customer service etiquette to speak loudly or engage in conversations that would be considered private while the customer can hear you.
  • For customer service representatives whose job requires that they face the customers in person, it is imperative and a must in customer service etiquette to dress appropriately. A neat and clean appearance would include clean clothes and shoes, properly combed hair, a well-kept face – all together will give the customer the impression of professionalism. While most companies have rules about what should or should not be worn, think about what the customer would like by putting yourself in their place. Would you like to interact with someone who looks dirty, smells bad and is overall unkempt?
  • Customers need to know that they are dealing with a fair and specialized company. Speaking badly about your company while the customer can hear you or discussing problems you are having with your manager reflects extremely poorly on the company and you. If you do not observe customer service etiquette, the customer is extremely unlikely to continue doing business with your company and would also speak badly of your company to others. Resolve your differences internally – don’t force customers to be a part of them.
  • Are you enjoying a conversation on your cell phone or a humorous exchange via text messages? Well, if your customer is waiting or is right there when you are engaging in this behaviour, you can be sure that you are going against the norms of customer service etiquette.
  • Never underestimate the power of please and thank you. Ensure that the conversation with the customer always ends on a positive note – they will remember this last bit more than any other part of the conversation. Part of customer service etiquette is being genuinely thankful for the customer and their business.

Your business is there because you have customers and therefore it is your responsibility to cater to your customer’s expectations and needs and always display customer service etiquette. Happy customers make for a profitable and successful business.

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