Eight Ways to Receive Better Customer Service
Anybody who has ever been involved with running a business knows the important relationship between customer service and customer loyalty. If you want to stay in business successfully, you have to make your customers and clients feel appreciated and respected.
But even for the most established business experts, there is sometimes a disconnect when the service roles are reversed. We've all experienced bad service before, but have we stopped to think about our role in the interaction?
According to Ron Kaufman, a New York Times bestselling author who has built service cultures within a variety of mega-organizations and founded his own management consultanty firm, customer service has fallen into a crisis mode and we, as customers, sometimes have to take responsibility for our bad service experiences.
“Often, we get poor service because we’re poor customers,” says Kaufman. “It’s a two-way street. When we’re rude or impersonal to service providers, we get rude and impersonal treatment back. This creates low expectations on both sides, which affects our next service interactions.”
So, if bad customer behavior breeds bad customer service and bad customer service, in turn, breeds bad customer behavior, the cycle of inconsideration and negativity can easily become ingrained in our culture.
Kaufman believes that the chain can be broken if we all commit to becoming "service champions," or people who take responsibility for uplifting others' experiences whether they are serving someone else or being served.
"When you are an appreciative and considerate customer, service providers will often go the extra mile to serve you better," says Kaufman. "But if you rant and pound the table, people may serve you grudgingly, if at all."
While Kaufman's philosophy sounds ideal, it can definitely be filed under life's "easier said than done" label. But maybe a perfect balance of service and appreciation can be achieved with a little practice. Check out Kaufman's recommended steps for becoming a better customer and receiving superior service:
Be appreciative and polite. Remember, there is a fellow human being on the other end of your phone call, the receiving side of your email, or just across the counter. “Begin each interaction with a quick, ‘Hi. Thank you for helping me. I really appreciate it,’” advises Kaufman. “This takes about two seconds and can dramatically improve the mood of a service provider.”
Get your service provider’s name and use it. You can make this short and friendly by first offering your name and then asking, “Who am I speaking with, please?” Or if you are face-to-face, simply ask, “May I know your name?” “Once you know it, repeat it with a smile in your voice,” says Kaufman. “This creates a personal connection and makes it much harder for a service provider to treat you like an anonymous account holder or policy number.”
Be upbeat. Many service providers face customer after customer all day long. The routine can become tiresome. “When an energetic and smiling customer appears, that person often enjoys special care and treatment in return,” notes Kaufman. “What you send out does come back. Attitudes—positive and negative—really are contagious.”
Provide information just the way they want it. Many service providers need your data in a sequence that fits their forms, screens, and procedures. “Have all your information ready to go, but give it in the order they prefer,” advises Kaufman. “Saying, ‘I have all my information ready. Which would you like first?’ lets the provider know you are prepared and will be easy to work with. The time you take getting everything in order will save time in the service conversation, too.”
Confirm next actions. Repeat what your service provider promises to do. Confirm dates, times, amounts, responsibilities, and commitments. “This helps you move together through the service process, catching any misunderstanding and correcting it along the way,” says Kaufman. “Be sure you both understand what will happen next: what they will do, what you will do, and what both parties have agreed to going forward.”
When appropriate, commiserate. Sometimes service providers let their frustration show. A slow computer, a previous customer, high call volume, pressure from a manager, or some unwelcome personal event may have upset them. “When you hear an upset tone, be the one to soothe it,” suggests Kaufman. “You might say, ‘It sounds like things are tough right now. I really appreciate your help.’ This brief moment of empathy can be an oasis in their world.”
Show your appreciation. A sincere “thank you” is always appropriate. “If your service provider deserves more, give more,” says Kaufman. “A nicely written compliment can make a huge difference in someone else’s day, or even career. And who knows? The person you praise today may serve you again tomorrow.
If you want to take showing your appreciation a step further, ask the service provider how they’d like to be recognized. For example, a realtor might prefer a testimonial for her Web site over having you send a complimentary note to her manager. A younger service provider might love it if you Tweet about them while an older generation service provider mind find more value in a completed comment card. Show your appreciation in the way your service providers want to be appreciated; after all, they served you the way you wanted to be served!”
Spread the word. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in uplifting service that’s certainly true. The next time you receive uplifting service at your favorite coffee shop, at the hardware store, at the post office, wherever you are, ask the service provider if you can take their picture and then ask for their manager’s name and contact information. “Send the picture to the service provider’s manager with a message that reads, ‘This person’s service makes me admire and appreciate your organization.’” says Kaufman. “Expressing your satisfaction to their manager in this way will speak volumes to the service provider and will inspire not only the service you receive in the future, but the service they provide to all of their customers.”
“Keep in mind that while this advice will help you get better service from service providers, much of it can also be used to experience more joy and satisfaction from your relationships with your colleagues, friends, and other loved ones,” notes Kaufman. “What goes around really does come around. When you treat someone well, whether it’s your spouse, a vendor at work, or the person you meet at the coffee shop in the morning, he or she is more likely to step up and treat you well, too,” he adds. “We all live and work in a whole world of relationships based on service. As you uplift and upgrade the service you provide, the world will uplift you.”
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.