I love watching reruns of the sitcom "Frasier," particularly the witty banter between psychiatrist Frasier Crane and his family, including brother Niles, father Marty, physical therapist Daphne, and radio show program manager Roz - not to mention Marty's dog Eddie.
One of the signature phrases on Frasier's Seattle-based radio show is "I'm listening." As a psychiatrist, listening to other people's problems and providing them with a diagnosis, this makes perfect sense. If he doesn't hear about the problem in its entirety, how can a psychiatrist give a patient the strategies for them to follow to feel better? Listening is at the heart of the profession.
I believe the same phrase should be used in customer service. "I'm listening." Isn't that what your customers want anyway? Isn't that why they contacted you in the first place; to offer an open ear to hear their challenges and then provide relevant solutions?
This phrase "I'm listening" is stuck in my head recently after reading a story posted by Denise Gosnell, CEO of , an online resource for business growth information.
Gosnell's home was struck by lightning and destroyed in 2011. While dealing with the aftermath, she says she learned some valuable lessons about customer service.
One related to the task of getting utilities turned off at her old home and transferred to her new home. She would call utility companies and tell them the following: "Hi, my name is Denise Gosnell. I need to transfer service. My home was just destroyed by fire, but luckily my family and I escaped alive. So I need to turn off service at that old house and get it turned on at the house we're leasing now."
Every single response she received from phone, cable, gas and electric companies was the same: "OK, I'll help you with your transfer." As Gosnell describes it, they were "like total robots."
While Gosnell didn't expect what she calls a "pity party," she did expect these customer service representatives to be human. Maybe a response that started with the following would have been more in line with how Gosnell was feeling at the time: "I'm so sorry to hear what happened. I'm glad you and your family are OK. I'd be happy to help you transfer your service."
Stop for a minute and think about every customer service experience you go through in a typical day or week. Robotic messages left by loan or credit card companies in which you can't respond to or interact with. Repetitive phrases uttered by sales associates who stare smileless and zombie-eyed at random points in the air while scanning your groceries.
Gosnell brings up another example: Credit card companies that call, but put you on hold and then ask you what the call is about when they are live on the line. "They called me, remember?" she says.
These service experiences seem to have become the norm. "Poor customer service is killing business growth worldwide," Gosnell explains. "No wonder businesses are struggling; they are forgetting about listening to the people who keep them in business to begin with."
As you start your 2013 service season, ask yourself if you're truly listening to your customers or just robotically taking orders.
Gosnell offers some advice.
1. Listen. In customer interactions, listen to what customers are saying. "Provide empathy and acknowledge what the customer is going through," Gosnell advises. "Listen to them and seek to understand them. That is all most people want anyway." Not only will you ease customer concerns by listening, but you'll also more accurately address their needs.
2. Inform. Keep customers informed. "Follow up with customers periodically while work is underway," Gosnell says. "Keep them updated so they don't keep wondering about the status of your progress."
3. Ask for Feedback. Ask your customers for feedback in person or through surveys. Ask questions that can help you improve your services, and then act on the feedback you gather.
4. Be Extraordinary. Don't settle for great service; surprise customers throughout the entire service experience so they want to refer your business, says Gosnell. After the sale, send gifts or hand-written thank-you notes, Gosnell suggests.
Ask for Referrals. Your customers are busy; you need to ask them for referrals, Gosnell says, adding, "If you are extraordinary, then your customers will be glad to send you referrals."
Ultimately, providing good customer service isn't really rocket science. It's simple. It's listening. Next time you're dealing with a customer, remember: Don't be a robot; be real, be a person.
Nicole Wisniewski is a 15-year green industry veteran and award-winning journalism and marketing professional. She's a senior project manager in The Davey Tree Expert Co.'s marketing/corporate communications department. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mybiggreenpen, visit her blog at www.mybiggreenpen.com, or email her at email@example.com.