Submitted by Patrick Doman.
Many people consider customer service to relate to a restaurant or retail job. It’s built into many different facets of events around each of our lives. All of us, every day, interact with someone that is in a customer service job.
Starting at a young age I was in the customer service industry. My parents had rentals as I was growing up. I remember many of the homes that we had to go over to after the renters moved out. At that time, I didn’t think of it as customer service but that’s what it was. We would go clean out whatever was left behind after the renters were out. We’d clean, paint, pull carpet up, put carpeting or other flooring back down, clean the appliances and bathrooms, wash windows, paint trim, mow and edge the yard and even in some cases spread some bark. The bark was normally left for the homes that they had decided to sell instead of renting again. We were making sure that whatever needed to be done for the next renters was done and ready. This is where I learned customer service and it applied to any other job I had.
My next few customer service jobs included working at the Western Washington or Puyallup Fair and then three restaurants. From being a busboy and making sure everything was clean and ready for the next guests, to being a pizza delivery driver by making sure the pie got to the customer still hot and steaming. Then I moved up to a shift lead shift manager, and then store manager.
Even as a manager you’re told to work by the motto of the customer is always right. But it’s not really this philosophy that we work by. The right way was always to make sure the customer was happy. This meant listening to their needs and complaints and making sure they were taken care of. Not always giving into them 100% but instead making sure they felt like they were listened to and their needs and complaints were addressed. This sometimes meant they got some free food that they didn’t deserve but it always to made them feel like they got a just resolution.
While managing the third restaurant I worked at, we always had the state wrestling tournament come into town at the same time every year. We had two different conference rooms, one that held 65 people and one that would hold 30 people. With this there were a lot of the teams that stayed out by our store. We would always get a good flood of patrons coming in for dinner. Most times on Friday and Saturday night they wouldn’t get there until 10 minutes until we closed. We always made sure that we let them know earlier in the day that we would stay open for them after the tournament. This always meant a late Friday and Saturday night but it was well worth it to get the extra business. Every day we would always make sure we had pizza crusts ready with sauce and cheese before the rush would come in. That way we could always get a pizza out in under 8 minutes total from the time it was ordered.
I remember while I still lived at my parent’s house there was a popular pizza restaurant that delivered. I ordered and they made my pizza incorrectly from what I ordered. Now the big problem was it had already taken an hour and half to get the first order delivered. Then when I called in and let them know the error, they reluctantly made another one and sent it out. So, it took another hour and half to get the next delivery. By this time it had already been three hours since I ordered, but this time they burned the heck out of it. So I called and complained again. This time instead of resolving the issues they put a note in their books to not deliver to our address anymore because they send back deliveries. This was not the way to give good customer service. Now I won’t say what restaurant that is but it is still my favorite pizza place to this day although I don’t live in their delivery area any more. And yes they finally did deliver to my parents’ address again.
While my next adventure was not directly retail or restaurants it was still customer service. I started as a Computer Aided Drafter after graduating college. Now you may not think this is customer service but making sure the drawings got out in time to get sent out for permitting or to get marked up and changed for the 300th time, this was still customer service and the Project Managers and the clients are the customers I was working with.
The next step in building my customer service role was moving into the IT Support position. During this role it was treating all of our employees as my customers. Making sure that people were always working with at least 99% uptime was a challenge at times. At this job if people weren’t billing a particular job, then it went against corporate job number. So 30 minutes of downtime was 30 minutes not being billed to a customer, which always meant lost revenue coming into the business.
After 23 plus years in the IT side of things I still try and keep that same mentality. I also try to instill that same thought process in the all the people I have trained. Keeping our employees working and generating income is always better than having them sitting around for hours not working while waiting to get something fixed. I have always felt that if I see an issue is going to take more than an hour to get resolved it is better to just swap out the PC with a new one. I prefer to keep several HOT Spares for desktops in stock and ready to go. In most cases the issues can be resolved quickly but there are still instances where that is not the case.
I think one of the most important things in the IT field, just like in retail, is communication. As long as you let someone know you are working on their issue they will be much more receptive. There is nothing worse than getting an email or a ticket for an issue and not getting back to the customer until the next day. It’s even worse when I assign that task to someone and I get an email the next day from the user asking if someone is going to look at their issue. This is one item that really bugs me when my techs are not responding to people to tell them that they’re working on the issue. There are issues that we have to work on in the background and not particularly on the user PC but this is where it’s even more necessary to communicate with them that you are taking their concerns seriously and working on it.
While there are many different phases of customer service, it mainly boils down to effective communication. In a recent request for local comment about outstanding customer service in the Lakewood area, there were roughly three dozen suggestions, but the overwhelming recommendations for great customer service were Lakewood Hardware and H & L Produce. Both businesses have been around for years. Both offer their customers either “in person” and/or communication device response. They respond to questions and issues. Customer service remains the connection that brings back current customers and develops new ones.
I don’t always have the immediate answer to an issue but it’s all about how you find the answer to the problem and how you communicate that to the customer. Breaking down the answer to something they will understand and making sure that they are happy with the outcome brings a good resolution in the end. Be it a free pizza, the right electric drill to purchase, how to prepare butternut squash, or a swapped-out computer it all comes down to making sure the customer is happy and that they understand the solution. Leaving them confused is never a good outcome for you, your department, or especially your customer.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.