This is the Worst Possible Way You Can Make A Customer Feel (and How To Avoid It) The most cringeworthy customer service mistake you're probably making and the customer service training tips for making it stop.
- Don't make your customer feel like an interruption.
- Improving your company's reputation and bottom line will be well worth the effort.
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If only I could share with you the variety of cringe-worthy customer service moments I uncover as a customer service consultant and turnaround expert! But, of course, I need to tread cautiously here as I don't want to risk violating client confidentiality.
Let's just say there are many different ways companies alienate their customers, often without any idea that they've done anything wrong — or that the customer in question will likely never return.
Happily, it's my job to provide customer service training and build inviolable behavioral standards to prevent such errors from repeating — if they're realistically likely to recur. I say this because some are unlikely to repeat; some of these customer-alienating missteps are truly novel, and the moment I think I've seen it all, I'll find out, quite to my shock, that I haven't. Some are rare enough that they fall in the category of flukes, which will hopefully be one-of-a-kind with a minimal risk of recurrence.
But some types of alienating treatment that customers receive are absolutely endemic. I'll witness it with quite some regularity at all kinds of companies in all types of industries. One of these, that I train against to the best of my abilities, is the problem — the sin, I could argue — of making a customer feel like an interruption.
"Sorry to intrude, but can I get some customer service over here?"
Customers hate when they're made to feel like an interruption, or when it's clear that they're not welcome to talk with an employee they see right in front of them until that employee wraps up a conversation with their teammate; likewise, when an employee who answers their phone call is clearly not focused on them.
You could call this providing anti-recognition, I suppose, and it can undercut all of your other efforts to build a positive relationship with customers.
There aren't many companies out there that will flat-out and endlessly ignore a customer standing right in front of them. Eventually (perhaps very eventually), every customer will receive service or some semblance thereof.
But does that service happen after the nearest employee puts down their cell phone with a tiny accompanying grimace? After an employee finishes the file note they're writing? After the employee finishes laughing with a coworker about the lopsided score in Sunday's game?
Or does service commence immediately, with direct eye contact (if the exchange is in person) and a smile (whether on the phone or in person), as if the customer's presence is appreciated?
The difference here may be only a matter of seconds or milliseconds.
But what happens within that brief period can make all the difference in how a customer feels treated by your company.
Employees need to be trained to avoid making a customer feel even briefly ignored because that employee is finishing up a conversation with a coworker, shuffling through papers from a preceding project or putting the final touches on an email.
Yes, there are exceptions. If interrupting your work could lead to dire consequences, say, if you are a pharmacist in the middle of counting out medication, please put safety first. But barring that, the masterful approach is to use your peripheral vision and hearing to be aware that a customer is approaching. Then, stop what you're doing a few seconds before the customer makes visual contact. Cut off that conversation with your colleague abruptly — mid-sentence, even — you and your coworker can finish it later! This way, you're fully ready for the customer when they're ready for you.
Here's one tricky scenario and how to handle it without making anyone feel like an interruption or otherwise neglected. What if you're a sales clerk on the phone with a customer, taking their order, when another customer walks up to the counter, ready to pay for their merchandise?
In this scenario, it's generally best to politely ask (yes, ask, don't demand!) the customer on the phone to hold on for a moment, then tell the person who has just walked up that you're taking care of a customer on the phone and that you'll serve them as soon as you finish up. The principle is that the person in front of you needs to be acknowledged, not ignored, even if you can't fully serve them in that moment. (Sometimes, you can accomplish this with an apologetic look and a hand gesture rather than making anyone hold.)
Customers want to be seen, and they want to receive recognition. Being made to feel like an interruption is the polar opposite of being recognized. Search out this behavior and do everything you can to eliminate it. Specifically, teach and have as your mantra that "the customer is always at the center of their own universe, and you need to make them feel they're at the center of yours as well."
Improving your company's reputation and bottom line will be well worth the effort.