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How may I help you?

Customer serviceI was taught never to say ‘can I help you?’ as the answer could, conceivably, be ‘No’, but instead to say ‘How may I help you?’  As a wordsmith I understand the rationale behind the language, but it only works if you say it in the right way.  Muttering ”ow can I ‘elp yer?’ in a grumpy tone doesn’t quite have the same effect as a warm tone of voice and accompanied by a genuine smile.

Service and all the surrounding paraphernalia is one of my soapboxes.  I’ve never really understood why people:

a.  Choose to work in customer facing roles if they resent serving people

b.  Prefer to have a crap day, as being grumpy and offhand with people is bound to have repercussions sooner or later.  If you don’t treat people well, someone will probably be rude to you eventually.

c.  Get away with consistently poor (or lack of) service as people do tend to vote with their feet and go elsewhere if they’re not treated well and that has a direct impact on the company’s bottom line.  If staff are actively eroding the profits they’re shooting themselves in the foot.

I know people in the UK (with our good old stiff upper lip and aversion to putting our emotions on display) think that the Americans are a bit over the top with their’ Have a nice day!’ and ‘Missing you already!’  Nauseating as it may sound, the staff are trained to deliver these thoughts with conviction so it doesn’t sound tacky.  In the UK most service staff can’t bring themselves to utter anything of the kind and sound like they mean it.  While I don’t want to hear service staff aping their American cousins, it would be nice to hear some kind of genuine comment from the people who I’m handing over money to, even if it’s just a friendly smile and ‘Come back soon’.

Providing good service is actually EASIER than giving poor service.  Once you get started you get on a roll and it’s very rewarding as the customers generally respond in kind, with smiles, thanks and appreciation.  You wouldn’t believe that in some places – I want to tell some service staff ‘SMILE, it doesn’t hurt’ and others ‘Hello, pay attention, I’m the customer that pays your salary’.

Having trained many people in customer service, both face-to-face and on the phone, I’ve heard some cracking excuses:

‘I can’t be nice to people on the phone until I’ve had a cup of coffee.’

‘The last customer was angry and so I can’t be helpful to the next one.’

‘The customer doesn’t care about me, so why should I treat them well?’

‘My boyfriend broke up with me last night.’

The excuses aren’t new – they’ve all been brought out, polished up and presented many times.  But they’re excuses!  Being professional means that every customer gets the same good service, regardless of what’s going on in your life or around you.  It’s not the next customer’s fault that you’re feeling bad after an angry customer has had a go, why should they suffer?  It’s certainly up to you to get a coffee down your neck BEFORE you get to work if that’s what it takes for you to be pleasant to people.

The customer doesn’t know you – and why should they care?  But they will if you treat them well, they’ll come back and ask for you.  They might even give a testimonial to your boss.  Besides it’s your job to treat them well – so they keep spending their money and enjoy the experience enough to want to repeat it.

Every one of us has personal issues and, if they’re preventing you from doing your job then it’s better to stay home.  Otherwise leave them outside the front door and be professional.

Just recently I’ve heard again and again ‘recruit for attitude, train in skills’, that goes double for customer facing staff.  You can teach the right words, but not the tone of voice and the genuine willingness to help.  Why should we put up with poor service?  What can we do to revolutionise our high streets, help lines and customer service staff?


Lesley Morrissey

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