I started working within the service industry at the tender age of 16, getting a job within the UK’s biggest furniture retailer. Apart from the training that staff members received, it was an automatic reaction for me to offer the best level of service that I could to any customer that I dealt with – that’s just what I thought was right.
Now I’m happy to admit that everyone has their off-days. A big night out on a Friday, waking up on the wrong side of the bed or just getting sick of being spoken to like a second-class citizen from someone who was frustrated that their £5 colonial stool had broken over Christmas – all these things can be the cause of service fatigue where your usually high standards can slip below par.
But if you choose to work within a service-related industry, surely good customer service skills are a pre-requisite of the role? If you don’t like dealing with people, or you get frustrated at the slightest whiff of an issue arising, you really should opt for a job that doesn’t require interaction with other human beings.
Although it’s been many years since I last worked in retail and therefore directly in the firing line, I would like to share two tales with you:
1) A recent experience I had as a customer service provider
2) A recent experience I had as a consumer
So, to my first experience!
I have, on occasions, provided customer service support to an online business. This company supply furniture related items to the general public and provide service support by telephone, email, social media and live chat. It’s a very fast paced situation with constant interactions with customers by all methods of communication. The team is small, the team members are young and the customers are many. The queries that come through are a mixture of product enquiries, questions regarding delivery, competitor queries, and of course, complaints. One of the customer service agents, a young lady, (let’s call her Molly) had worked at the company for less than a year and yet I was automatically impressed by the way she dealt with customers.
Having spent many years working within the tough end of retail, I had probably become hardened to anything that anyone could throw at me so I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy watching Molly interact with customers. She was always polite and courteous, (even in the face of adversity!), she took her time with each customer, asking questions and providing answers and she always finished the interaction with a friendly ending, wishing the customer a lovely evening, a pleasant day or a wonderful weekend. What a breath of fresh air! Even customers who had chewed her ear off because of a late delivery or a change of promotion, were spoken to in the same friendly and professional manner. When the level of service within the UK has fallen dramatically over the years, I was so happy for this young lady to restore my faith that good service is still out there.
On to my second experience – keeping in mind the first and how easy it is to deal with people nicely simply by choosing the right words.
I purchased an item for my partner for Christmas from an online business based in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, although the item was perfect, it was too small and needed to be exchanged for a larger size. I went on to the website to see how I should go about changing the item. There didn’t appear to be a facility for exchanging – I would have to return the item to them and re-order another in a larger size. There was a note on the website stating that their customer service department was closed until the following day so I didn’t have the option to speak to anyone. Instead, I completed their online form informing them of my intentions, getting an auto response back saying that they would be in touch within two days.
After hearing nothing from them in nearly a week and having seen that the returned item had been signed for four days previously, I contacted them again to confirm that the item had been safely received and that my refund was being processed. Another two days later I got a very snotty response back, flabbergasted that I hadn’t realised that Christmas was an extremely busy time for them and that they would process the refund when they could. All it would have taken was a few more carefully selected words and I would have been happy – happy in the knowledge that my enquiry was being dealt with and happy that the refund would be processed soon. The big difference being, that their rude (and unnecessary) response would mean that I will not purchase from their website again.
It saddens me that service just isn’t what it used to be in the UK anymore – if only there were more people like Molly…