Tough Customers

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How can you support your customer service employees so they don't feel beleaguered by customer demands? If you answer no to any of the following questions, it may be time to reassess your customer service program and how it affects your employees' morale:

1. Are employees empowered to solve problems? Give your entry-level employees the ability to offer concrete solutions. Telling them exactly what to do boosts their confidence and morale.

2. Do you let service employees vent their frustrations? Grandey says you need to show employees you understand the challenges of working with the public. There are a few ways to do this. One is by holding a weekly meeting where service employees can talk openly about their most difficult customer interaction that week. Along the way, not only will you show support for their tough jobs on the front lines of the company, but employees will also learn from each other how to deal with customer problems that would otherwise leave them flustered. Another strategy: Give a short break to the employee who's just handled a particularly tough customer. He or she may need it to regroup.

3. Are you on the front lines? Employees will take notice when there's a lack of involvement from company leaders in dealing with customer complaints. Communicate and be involved. "Leaders want customer service complaints to disappear," Csordos says. "But don't leave employees holding the bag." That means spending time on the floor or on the phones to get a feel for their jobs. They'll appreciate it and feel more connected to the company. You'll also get a better feel for your customers.

"Take care of your employees," Ward says. "If they're happy, they'll take care of your customers."

www.customerservicetraining.com: This site offers tutorials, articles and other information to help you train employees in customer service.
www.consultant-center.com: This site includes articles on customer service topics.
www.eps-i.com: This is the homepage of consultant firm Employee Performance Strategies Inc. in Chantilly, Virginia. It offers contact information for consultants on various workplace issues, including customer service strategies.
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Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the May 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Tough Customers.

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