Customer Service, it’s not personal

As I stood in line and listened to a customer and manager discuss a recent problem, I considered the importance of customer service.

I always forget that I have a bit of an odd resume in terms of serving customers. I got my first job (where I paid taxes) when I was 14. It was too young by legal standards but no one seemed to notice. So at a relatively young age I started learning the difference between features and benefits and that some customers just can’t be pleased.

I worked for McDonald’s and The Bay among other jobs. Both had some form of customer service training and these trainings sunk in at an impressionable age. I learned that when serving the customer you don’t get to have a bad day — you put on your game face and go out there and smile and serve.

The customer doesn’t care if your grandma is sick, your dog got hit by a car or your boyfriend prefers blondes (and you happen to be brunette). The customer just wants you to help them and to get on with their day. The cheerier and happier you can make the transaction the easier it will be for you. Oh, and the customer will be happier too. So cheer up buttercup and make those people smile!

I also learned if you are consistently pleasant and polite people can’t really complain about you. They can call your manager over but what can they complain about regarding your service, “She was very polite and nice to me? She said ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ and called me ‘sir.’”

I forget that having a retail game face isn’t natural. It isn’t something everyone has. It takes a lot of practice to sound sincere and concerned while refusing to return a pair of jeans that were obviously used to repair a tractor at some point.

Sometimes I just want to tattoo on every service person’s hand, “It’s not personal.” In the end it is about the customer and their experience.

I think about few times I’ve lost my temper with service people. Like the car rental folks 300 kilometres from Prince Albert where I went through THREE Pontiac Sunfires with mechanical issues in five days. If that wasn’t bad enough, we were there to decide whether to take my grandmother off life support and say goodbye. Not a rockstar moment in my history of dealing with strangers.

So I wasn’t myself in that interaction and all I wanted was for someone to fix my problem. It wasn’t a personal conflict between me and the lady on the other end (who changed from a bit aggressive to very sweet when I started bawling on the phone). It was about a problem with an inanimate object. And this problem needed to be fixed. And it was. They made it so right, I won’t even call them out on it!

Sometimes customers do try to make the problem personal. They try to blame you for the situation which is usually a problem with a thing and not YOU. I learned to just smile and try to make it better. I remind myself that this person is not my spouse (thank god) or my parent (double thanks) or even a nutty uncle you visit at weddings and funerals (whew!). This is a stranger who needs to get some satisfaction and get on with their crazy day. Their grandma might be dying; they might have just got fired; their daughter may have just trashed their car; you don’t know. So get over yourself and get on with it!