SI Review: October 2012


Expert’s Corner

How Can I Help You?

What customer service really means

By Leslie Austin

First impressions matter. And that’s especially true when you are in customer service. Today’s customer service specialists perform a variety of functions. They are both ambassadors and troubleshooters. They not only establish a company’s reputation but can bring in new customers and retain disgruntled ones.

Whether you are in the staffing industry or working at Nordstrom, customer service should be your first priority. The old adage is true: an unhappy customer will spread the word, but few happy customers go to the same extent. To complicate issues, technology has changed the way we handle and think of customer service. This has garnered a ton of media attention — and not all positive.

But bad press notwithstanding, the basics of customer service have not changed.

Having worked in this space for the last 20 years, I have received my share of complaints and compliments. Here are some basic pointers that will help you understand what customer service means irrespective of the tech tools you use or the industry you are in. And you don’t have to be in “customer service” to reap the benefits of my advice.

  1. When leaving a message, speak slowly and clearly, and always give your name and phone number at the beginning of the message and at the end so the recipient won’t have to listen to your message more than once.
  2. If you say you are going to follow up, follow up. Nothing is more annoying for a customer than an unfulfilled promise.
  3. It’s OK if you don’t know the answer, but take it a step further and find the answer. Customers are willing to wait for the answer, especially if you are going to give them good information. Further, the fact that you have tried goes a long way.
  4. Email is not always the best way to contact a customer. Sometimes, especially if your customer is angry, it is better to pick up the phone and see if you can smooth things over.
  5. Always smile when you are talking to someone on the phone. Believe it or not, your voice sounds happier and friendlier when you have a smile on your face!
  6. If you or your company has done something in error, admit it, but then fix it. Sometimes it may mean that you have to give a little something away, but a happy customer is better than an unhappy one. This can help with retention too. Hopefully the concession you make will ensure that they return.
  7. Remember who your customers are. They are not just your clients, but your co-workers too. Your internal stakeholders should also be treated with the same respect as you would treat your clients.
  8. When answering the phone, always identify yourself and your company. Adding “How can I help you?” helps set the stage for the customer to make a request. It’s all about making them feel comfortable.
  9. Make sure that each of your customers feels special. Just because they are not your favorite or best customer doesn’t mean that they should be treated shoddily.
  10. Always ask if it is OK to put your customer on hold and wait for an answer. If the customer does not want to be put on hold, then don’t.
  11. If you are having trouble taking an order or your system is down, ask the customer if they would like you to call them back; sometimes they have other things to do than wait for you on the phone (even if they called you). And then you are not so panicked or rushed.
  12. When you take a call, listen for the customer to say their name and write it down. Ask for a name if one is not provided. Customers appreciate being called by their name when you are talking to them.
  13. Give the customer your full attention. Being distracted when you are on the phone is not fair to the customer.

As a customer service representative, your job is to be friendly, cooperative and pleasant. If you are having a bad day, make sure that you step away from your desk for lunch or take a break so you can rejuvenate. You don’t want to ruin that great first impression with a bad attitude.

Leslie Austin is a senior customer service specialist at Staffing Industry Analysts. She can be reached at


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