Successful entrepreneurs have (and teach!) great customer service skills
80% of companies THINK they provide good customer service, but only 8% of their customers would agree.
This statistic is provided by customer service author, expert and consultant Kirt Manecke, who adds that great customer service is really stunningly simple. “Treat people how you would want to be treated,” he says. “Follow the Golden Rule.”
Great customer service, though, is also incredibly complicated. “It’s hard to teach empathy,” Kirt says. “If someone wasn’t brought up believing that he or she should treat others well and empathize with them, it’s tough to teach that concept.”
Why this matters to you
If you own a business where your staff interacts with customers, quality customer service is crucial to your bottom line. So, that’s why we talked to Kirt Manecke, author of Smile: Sell More with Amazing Customer Service, the handbook that luxury department store Neiman Marcus, financial holding company BancorpSouth and others use to train their staff.
Here’s what one newspaper review had to say about his expertise: “Manecke reminds us that these simple manners are essential to any company’s bottom line and shows how to implement them in a purposeful, effective way. Star rating: 5 out of 5.”
Customer service rule #1
“It’s been said before,” Kirt concedes,” but it’s worth repeating. You need to hire right, hiring for attitude, and then train for skill.”
This really came to light for Kirt when he taught windsurfing lessons in college. He got multiple students who had already taken lessons from someone else but didn’t do well in them. Even though the other teachers were most likely highly skilled, they weren’t able to empathize with the beginning status of the students – and therefore couldn’t effectively teach them.
Can customer service skills be taught?
The intuitive answer is “no” and, without an open attitude, that’s a fair assessment. Kirt does, however, point out an exception to the rule. “People who seem rude,” he says, “may simply not have confidence.”
As an example, let’s say that you got a job as a salesperson in a plumbing warehouse – and you don’t know the first thing about hot water tanks. What would be your natural response if a plumber starts asking technical questions about tanks? You’d hope he’d go away! If you had the right attitude and were well trained on products and services, though, your customer service skills would likely skyrocket.
Avoid the self-fulfilling prophesy
Kirt hired a 16-year-old named Brad for his windsurfing retail store. He liked Brad’s attitude and he guided him through a six-week training program that included role playing. One day, though, Brad wasn’t smiling at customers, so Kirt asked him what was wrong. His answer, Kirt says, was eye opening.
Brad: They all hate me. The kids AND the moms. They all hate me.
Kirt tried to reassure him that wasn’t so.
Brad: They hate me. They all hate me. I just know it.
Kirt: Do me a favor, then. Smile at them and say hello. Then tell me what happens, okay?
Shortly afterwards . . .
Brad: They like me!
“Once you feel comfortable and knowledgeable,” Kirt says, “then you are ready to delight the customer. You’re prepared to help someone make the right choice, then the person buys and goes away happy.”
Don’t make assumptions
Once you’re knowledgeable about products and/or services, though, it’s important that you not assume the other person knows all you do. “I went to visit someone in a hospital,” Kirt says, “and asked a nurse where I could find the room. She simply pointed down the hall, but I still couldn’t find the room. When I returned to the nurse to ask for more help, she just pointed down the same hall. So, I said to her, “You know this hospital, but I don’t. You may need to walk people down this hall to show them.”
Bottom line: don’t make assumptions. Once you know too much, it’s hard to return to the beginning. If you’re very knowledgeable, it’s harder to know what someone else might not know, so treat the other person like a guest who is visiting your home for the first time, being friendly, helpful and caring.
Kirt also agrees with the philosophy of asking another person, “Is what I’m telling you too basic? Too advanced? If either is true, you’re helping me – actually doing me a favor – by saying so.”
Never forget the basics
Too often, salespeople want to skip the smile and the greeting and get right down to the sale. But, if you don’t get the basics right – being engaging and welcoming – then the rest doesn’t matter. And, while a training program is important, a written process is meaningless without “people” skills, the ability to develop genuine human connections.
Smile: Sell More with Amazing Customer Service
“I’d had so many bad customer service experiences,” Kirt says “that I created a handbook and kept rewriting it until it was so straightforward that employees said it made sense. I’ve since then turned the training manual into a book, first having customers read the manuscript and telling me where text was too long, and share any other problems they encountered.”
He shares one uplifting story about the book, when a woman in Detroit bought a copy. She liked it so well that she came back and bought three more, to give them to three waitresses that her husband planned to fire for their poor customer service skills. They read the book and, yep. You guessed it. They kept their jobs, with one getting her first hug from a customer as well as the biggest tip to date.
The story makes you . . . smile . . . doesn’t it?
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