Be the Best of the Best

By Nancy Friedman, Telephone Doctor

Customer service is a hot topic. Pick up any ad for any industry, including healthcare, and there’s probably a line of type or two of how well you’ll be treated. Usually the advertisement reads, “We’re the best,” or “Service is our middle name,” or something like that. The phone book advertisements are loaded with commercials about being customer service minded.

Why, then, do we hear so many horror stories about how people were treated? The Telephone Doctor recently surveyed several companies to seek out the traits of those that have the service mentality. Clearly, not everyone places the same value on customer service. The good news is that you can learn the skills of the best.  Here are the results.

Empathy: This trait won hands down as the most important characteristic when serving callers. In so many cases you get apathy, the exact opposite of empathy. Simply put, empathy is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. How would you feel if what happened to them, happened to you? Empathy is the number one ingredient for a service mentality.

Enthusiasm: Appropriate enthusiasm cannot be replaced. It’s a sign of giving service that is above and beyond. Generating enthusiasm with a caller is perceived as their having made the right decision. It’s a confirmation that they’ve done the right thing, a feeling everyone likes. When a caller feels that you are enthusiastic for them, they just fall right into the palm of your hand.

Responsibility: Being responsible is so important; it is living up to a previously agreed commitment. It can be a large responsibility or a small one. For example, I was speaking at a corporate meeting last spring and when asked my needs, I told them all I needed was a handheld wireless microphone. “No problem,” I was told by my contact. She said she had told “Bob” to have the handheld wireless microphone ready for me when I was supposed to speak.

When I got to the meeting room, there was only a lavaliere microphone, the kind that you clip onto your garment. Not the one I requested, but nonetheless it would have worked. However, my contact was terribly disappointed. She told me, “You know, I gave Bob the responsibility to get you the handheld, and he let me down, which in turn let you down.” She continued, “I gave Bob the responsibility of getting you the microphone you needed, and he didn’t do it.”  When you agree to do something for a caller, it’s key to be responsible and keep your commitment.

Resiliency: How fast can you pop back into a good mood after a bad call?  Do you pout and fret about it and linger and wallow in it?  The ability to bounce back from any adversity is an important service mentality.

We all get hit with problems during the day, things that weren’t what we planned. As my mother used to say, “It’s not the problem, Nancy; it’s how you handle it.” As usual, my mother was right. The handling of any situation is what makes the situation good or bad. If you’ve been hit with a disappointment or something that you weren’t planning on, it’s up to you to bounce back and be resilient. Callers should never know you are in a bad mood. Resiliency is needed to have the service mentality.

Balance: Just like the scales of justice that need to be kept in balance, so it is with your workload and your callers. There’s a fine line between pleasing the customer and losing money for your organization. When a caller needs something,  this can be easily balanced. If, however, we go over the line, it becomes unbalanced and not fair to either party. Balance keeps everything in check.

Ownership: This is my favorite because I see it so much as I call around. It runs rampant throughout the business world. This is the proverbial, “It’s not my job,” or “Not my department,” or “I wasn’t here that day,” or “I don’t know anything about that.”

Callers don’t care if you were on vacation when something happened; they need help. They don’t care if it’s not your department. You answered the phone; they’re depending on you. If you answered the call, you own the call. Take ownership of the situation. It’s not that you are required do everything, but take ownership. Making sure that the caller knows that you will find out the answers for them is the key! It should never take two people to give good customer service.

Adaptability: The service mentality of adaptability might need some practice, but it is another important ingredient, characteristic, or trait of the service mentality. Think about the number of people who you help every day on the phone. They’re all different, aren’t they? Their differences are not only in culture, color, or accent, but in mood and personality. We need to be able to adapt to all kinds of personalities. Having difficulty understanding someone? Learn to adapt to their particular problem. Ask them if they could please slow down so you can understand what they need. Are they talking slowly?  Adapting to them is important, too, mostly because slow talkers don’t like to be rushed. Rushing a slow talker through a conversation will only make matters worse. You’ll need to adapt to those that are slow talkers.

Think of the chameleon, that little lizard-like animal that takes on the color of whatever it lands on. They adapt to the color—and usually they’re difficult to see. We need to adapt to the situation so that every transaction is a seamless one. Possessing these traits will garner you happier callers and a happier boss.

Nancy Friedman is president of Telephone Doctor, an international customer service training company, based in St. Louis, MO. Nancy is the author of four best-selling books. For more information, call 314-291-1012.

[From the December 2007/January 2008 issue of AnswerStat magazine]