Letters to the Editor:

Sharpening Your Customer Service

Rick Pardee

Upstate Granite Solutions

The October 2020 edition of the Slippery Rock Gazette featured Sharon Koehler’s article “Check Your Customer Service” in which she gave several examples of poor customer service that she and others she knows have experienced. She also provided some suggestions for better customer service. As a designer dealing with customer service daily, I thought a deeper examination of the “how” of customer service might enhance Sharon’s observations.

I risk stating the obvious, but “customer service” means serving the customer. Every interaction I have with a customer results from the customer’s sense of need, perceived or real. My role is to show the customer that I genuinely care about their need and then do my best to meet that need. Our company exists to meet the needs of the customers who seek our products or services. This means that the “how” of customer service involves standing alongside the customer so that they can have confidence the need will be resolved, whether that involves a purchase or a resolution to an issue. Here are some points that I have found are basic to successful customer service.

1. Engage. When a customer walks through your doors, calls on the phone, or sends an email, they should be engaged as quickly and warmly as possible. I walked into a local furniture store looking for a black nightstand. At least three employees looked my way from the service desk. No one acknowledged me. I passed another employee as I weaved my way through their displays, but he was busy taking inventory or something. After about 10 minutes of unsuccessfully hunting, I left the store without any form of engagement. I certainly do not have a great motivation to return. In order to serve the customer, you must engage.

2. Listen. I mean truly listen. We each know what it is like to speak to someone who is hearing but not listening to us. To provide the highest level of customer service I must not only hear what the customer is saying, but I must hear what he or she means. The lady may say she is looking for “granite,” when she means she wants some type of stone countertop. The man may sound like he wants the vanity with the wrong size sink replaced when all he really wants is a discount. Listening means getting past the emotion when a customer is upset. The frustration often arises from the anticipation that he or she is not really going to be heard. When the customer senses you are really listening, he or she will also have the sense of being served.

3. Assume. First, assume the customer is right, because in his mind, he is. This is not to say that you instantly acquiesce to every accusation and demand the customer makes. It also does not mean you make promises you cannot keep simply because it seems to be what the customer wants. However, you must start from where the customer is, and then lead him to an accurate understanding of the real situation and your ability to meet the needs expressed. Also, assume you can meet the need in an equitable way. Sometimes those of us in the people business get confronted by a disappointed or irate customer and right away assume that we cannot reach a win-win situation. Only in the rarest cases do a customer’s unreasonable demands or our limited abilities prevent us from finding a satisfactory middle ground. Serve your customer from the assumption that you can both win.

4. Question. Personally, my first instinct is to respond with a statement, but statements set up walls that box in a conversation. Too often my statement misses the point of the customer’s need. Questions open the door to clarification. Questions roll out the red carpet for the customer’s input and explanation. 

More importantly ask the right questions. The right leading questions get past the superficial circumstances to the real need. Questions also ease tension when potential conflict looms because they bring the customer back to the realization that you are willing to listen instead of defending your territory. “What can we do to resolve this for you?” goes a long way toward demonstrating genuine concern for the customer rather than self-defense. Of course, the tone with which a question is asked is crucial to legitimately serving the customer.

5. Pause. Pause to consult. No single individual has all the solutions to life’s problems. Running difficult situations past a more experienced co-worker or your manager allows you to consider other angles you may not have examined. One of these alternatives might well be the key to meeting your customer’s need. Likewise, pause to plan. Before engaging the customer with a proposed solution, plan your strategy so that your attitude and approach demonstrate your desire to meet the need, not just win your case or sell the job.

6. Suggest. Particularly when attempting to remedy a customer’s dissatisfaction or objection, suggest at least two alternatives. This allows the customer to have the feeling that he/she genuinely accomplished what was sought. You might even end your suggestions with, “Or what would help you to feel we satisfied your expectations?” When put on the spot, most customers will back down some so that they are not perceived as greedy or overbearing.

7. Settle. Do not leave the customer without a satisfactory ending. Restate the details of the solution and ask, “Is this agreeable to you?” or “Is this what you were looking for?” A follow-up email interchange can allow you to have a paper trail as a record that both parties agreed to the terms.

Customer service is certainly an art, but even art often depends on strategy. Having principles that steer your service to customers keeps you from wandering, stumbling, and failing. In the end, service that meets customers’ needs with genuine interest will be service that satisfies customers. Having satisfied customers means you will never lack for people coming through your doors. 

Rick Pardee is a design consultant at Upstate Granite Solutions in Greenville, South Carolina. Upstate Granite Solutions received the 2019 Better Business Bureau “Integrity in Business Award for Outstanding Customer Service”. UGS maintains a 4.9 Google Review rating with over 120 reviews. In 2020, Upstate Granite Solutions received
SC Biz Magazine’s Roaring 20s Award as the 4th fastest growing small business in South Carolina.