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spike bullet October 2013 ~ Keys to Great Customer Service

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color bulletOctober 2013 ~ Keys to Great Customer Service

This month, we want to share some tips for good customer support.  We recently had some bad experiences and got to thinking about what makes the good companies good.  What would it take for those who are not good at customer support to get better?

1. Listen to the customer

Assume the customer really is having the problem they describe to you.  Repeat back what you understand and verify that you are hearing it correctly.

2. Know that the customer is coming to you for help

If the customer knew everything, they wouldnít need to contact you.  They are stuck and need your expert assistance.  They expect that you are competent to help them resolve whatever issue they are having.

3. Be respectful of the customerís time

The customer is taking time out of their busy life to ask for help with a problem that they canít solve and that needs your help.  If you can walk them through simple problem diagnosis, do that.  Check the basics and verify that they have done the basics.  

If this is a computer problem, verify whether the computer is plugged in, turned on and operating properly.  What operating system are they using?  How expert are they in understanding the language of computers?  Adjust your conversation to match their level of technical understanding so that you can communicate with them.  Again, listen to what they are describing as the problem until you really "get it" then, find a solution that really works for them.  

4. You only have one customer

Your only customer is the one you are working with at the time.  Each person is unique and each problem is unique, even if you think you have heard everything, each situation has something just a little bit different from the last customer.  Take the time to listen to this customer and get their problem resolved.

5. Provide self-help materials

Some customers would rather do their own problem-solving.  You can provide tips, Frequently Asked Questions, self-help guides and articles on your companyís website that allow customers to work through issues themselves.  Once these are developed, a fair number of customers will use them instead of calling your support organization.

6. Be honest

If you donít know the answer to a question, tell the customer you don't know.  Let them know that you will find out the answer and get back to them as soon as possible.  And, do it as quickly as possible.

7. Donít promise more than you can deliver

Make sure your marketing and sales materials are realistic and honest about what your product or service does or doesnít do.  Donít set up false expectations for customers who buy your product then find out that it doesnít do what is promised or that it fails to perform as promised.

8. Ask for feedback and use it

Ask for feedback on your support contacts with customers.  Do regular surveys.  Ask customers about your product or service, what is working well and what you can do better.  Take time to review those results regularly with staff and make changes in ways requested by customers.

Example: I managed an IT technical support group for a number of years.  One of the things that customers asked for in a survey was a note that an IT person had stopped by their desk while they were gone.  That was a simple request to implement.  We created a little postcard that could be left if the customer was not at their desk.  The customer then knew that someone had been there, and who to call to get help.  Over the years, we could see how the overall IT support ratings improved as we made changes that customers asked for in annual surveys.  We eventually implemented a method whereby each customer could make comments about each support service call.  Those also provided good feedback.

9. Hire good people and train them well

I once heard a consultant say that he believed some people are born with good customer service skills and some are not.  I have come to agree with that.  When hiring people for any job that deals directly with customers, it is critical that they have a good customer attitude.  If they donít already have it, you probably canít train them to get it.  Donít bother.  Hire people who really want to help other people. 

Example: One IT person who wanted to come into our organization had already gone through the first round of interviews and when he got to me, the first question I asked was, "Why do you want this job?"  He lit up with a big smile.  "I want to help people," he said.  That was the only question I needed to ask.  He made an excellent technician, moved from trainee into a regular position very quickly and his customers loved him.  

Even good people need training to meet the changing demands of an industry, especially fast-paced technology industries.  Make sure you have a good training program and give your good people the chance to be even better.

10. Set a good example

Leadership is about setting a good example.  Give good service to your customers, to your peers, to your employees and to your management.  Show your staff the benefits of good customer service and encourage them to teach you new techniques as they discover them.  Spend time in staff meetings talking about what works and what new methods can be shared.  Share success stories and share failures so that all can learn from them.

An example of less than good customer service: is an online service that helps people to build and document their family trees.  Their service offers both paid subscription services at several levels and a free account with limited services.  The online service itself is excellent in my opinion.  Their customer support organization, however, is far below what I would call "good."  Based on my own experiences, when responding to customer queries, the support staff often fail to understand the problem and offer standard answers that do not address the customerís issue.  To be fair, there are some good people who do try to understand and resolve issues.  They are not the norm in the support department.  Of the many contacts I have had myself with Ancestry's support organization, I have to say that 90% of the time, I have been more frustrated by their answer than I was by the original problem.  In recent months, they have had regular and ongoing periods where the online service is failing or not available.  Many apologies have been offered publicly on their Message Boards and Facebook page for the continuing performance issues.  Sometimes, they put a banner across the top of a web page saying that the service is experiencing issues.  This is an improvement since previously, there was no acknowledgement when the site was having problems, and the support staff denied it or told customers that it was the customer's computer at fault.  Many customers have noticed and loudly vocalized that when Ancestry offers a special "free weekend" ó where lots of people get services for free that are usually only available by paid subscription ó the entire site becomes so overloaded that it fails for paying customers, leading to more frustration.  Bottom Line: has a great product and needs some serious attention to better customer service.  Some specific suggestions how could improve.  

Some examples of great customer service:

Verizon Wireless:  About 10 years ago, I had moved into a new house.  Since my other cell phone service did not work within a mile radius of my new house, I decided it was time for a change.  When I went to the nearby mall one weekend to see who had cell phone services in my area, the only crowded kiosk was the Verizon one.  I went back during the week when it was less busy and was able to talk with one of the sales reps.  I asked what they offered that others did not.  He explained it in ways that I understood and didnít push me to make a decision right then.  I talked with their customer service people.  Every person since then that I have talked with at Verizon has been helpful and resolved whatever issue or question that I had.  I have always had good experiences with them.

Microcenter Computers & ElectronicsWhen it was time to buy a new computer, I visited several local retailers.  The closest Microcenter store was about 20 miles away from me, so they were not my first stop.  When I went there, I interviewed their technical support folks first.  I asked about their installation policies and return policies, and asked about their customer service processes.  Once I was satisfied, I talked to a salesman.  I had previously looked at several possible computer models that might fit my needs, as I had done with the closer local retailers I visited.  The Microcenter salesman took the time to ask how I planned to use my computer, what about those possible models I thought was important, etc.  Those questions were not asked by the other retailers - they just pointed me to what they had in the store.  I bought my new computer from Microcenter, after the salesman agreed that I knew what my needs were and that the computer I was considering was the right fit.  Recently, I had to return the computer for service after a parts failure under warranty.  The technician kept me informed at every step along the way about the progress as new parts had to be ordered, so there was a delay in getting my computer back.  Each person that I dealt with listened to my questions or issues and made sure that my needs were satisfied.  I have highly recommended Microcenter to several other people who have also had an excellent experience with them.  Now, Microcenter is my first choice for computer-related products, in spite of the distance.  

TrendMicro:  Many years ago, there was a small local company, TouchStone Software, who had a product called PC-cillin, a virus detection program.  Some years after I had met the owners, I was working on a contract project.  I copied some files onto a diskette and gave it to a co-worker.  When the co-worker put the diskette into their computer, they immediately got a message that there was virus on it.  The computer I was using had not flagged the virus, even though it supposedly had anti-virus software installed.  At that time, I did not have anti-virus software running on my home computer.  I was so impressed with what PC-cillin caught that I bought a copy of it for my home use immediately.  Eventually, TrendMicro bought the PC-cillin product and integrated it into what is now called TrendMicro Internet Security and related products.  Many times over the years, I contacted PC-cillin or TrendMicro support people to ask questions for friends who thought they might have a virus.  Every question was answered quickly and competently, sometimes, with very detailed instructions.  When my sonís computer got a brand new virus, they helped me figure out how to clean it.  Even as the industry has changed over the past 20 years, I still use TrendMicroís products and so does my family.  I have recommended them many, many times to others.

Toyota of Olympia:  I had an odd and intermittent problem with my car.  After several visits to the dealer to try to isolate what the problem really was, my service manager said that it could be one of several different parts going bad ó each one was fairly expensive to fix.  He then made an unusual suggestion: his personal car used some of the same parts that mine did and he offered to exchange a part with me so we could see if that was also bad in his car.  We did that exchange for a couple weeks, then switched back.  My problem never reappeared, even with my old part back.  I used that dealer for my car for 9 years until I moved out of the area and received excellent service every time I went there.

NordstromNordstromís customer service is legendary.  I got my first Nordstrom charge card when I walked by a store on a lunch break from a nearby seminar.  The sign in front of the store said, "We can give you a credit card in 10 minutes."  I saw the challenge and knew their reputation, so asked if that was really true since I had just 10 minutes to get back to my seminar.  I left the store with a new card in my pocket and was back to my seminar on time.  I have always had good experience at Nordstromís - in the store and their online website.

Americaís Tire CompanyRecently when I went for an oil change, I was reminded that it was time to rotate my tires.  The tires on my car had been purchased in Washington before I moved back to California.  When I went online to make an appointment to have the tires rotated, I could not locate my paperwork right away for the free lifetime rotation so put a note on my appointment asking if I needed to bring my paperwork with me for the appointment the next day.  I later found the paperwork from my original purchase; it was where I looked first - just underneath a CD in my glove compartment.  A few hours after making the appointment, I got a call from one of the technicians at the local Americaís Tire store that he had looked up my records in Washington, found my purchase and had it all entered into the local storeís computer so I was all set for my appointment.  Sure enough, when I arrived, it was all set and finished very quickly.  I have been buying tires from Americaís Tire Company for many years and that was just one example of their good customer service.


These are just a few examples.  When I shop for products and services, I want and expect good service, as do many other people.  As in the example of shopping for a new computer, sometimes good service is the most important deciding factor for me in whether to use one company over another.

  Internet Resources

book graphic  Books   -  Disclosure: We get a small commission for purchases made via links to Amazon.

  • Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service.  Ken Blanchard, Sheldon, Bowles, Harvey McKay.  William Morrow, 1993.  ISBN-13: 978-0688123161
  • Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results. Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul, John Christensen.  Hyperion, 2000.  ISBN-10: 0786866020 ISBN-13: 978-0786866021
  • Super Service: Seven Keys to Delivering Great Customer Service...Even When You Don't Feel Like It!...Even When They Don't Deserve It!, Completely Revised and Expanded.  Jeff Gee, Val Gee. McGraw-Hill, 2009.  ISBN-13: 978-0071625791 
  • The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence: The Handbook For Becoming the "Nordstrom" of Your Industry. Robert Spector, Patrick McCarthy.  Wiley, 2012.  ISBN-13: 978-1118076675 
  • Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to Do About It.   Chip Bell, John Patterson.  Berrett-Koehler Publisher, 2011.  ISBN-13: 978-1605099750
  • Dangerous Customer Service: How You Can Turn Your Team Into An Innovation Force Various authors.   A&C Black, 2012.  ISBN-13: 978-1408125021
  • 1-800-Courtesy: Connecting With a Winning Telephone Image.  Terry Wildemann. Aegis Pub Group; (December 1998) ISBN: 1890154075
  • The Big Book of Customer Service Training Games.  Peggy Carlaw, Vasudha K. Deming.  McGraw-Hill, 1998.  ISBN-13: 978-0070779747
  • Customer Service Training 101: Quick And Easy Techniques That Get Great Results.  Renee Evenson.  AMACOM/American Management Association, 2005.  ISBN-13: 978-0814472903
  • Exceptional Customer Service: Going Beyond Your Good Service to Exceed the Customer's Expectation.  Lisa Ford,  David McNair, Bill Perry.  Adams Media Corporation, 2001.  ISBN-13: 978-1580624589
  • Superior Customer Service: How to Keep Customers Racing Back to Your Business--Time Tested Examples from Leading Companies.  Dan W. Blacharski.  Atlantic Publishing Company, 2006.  ISBN-13: 978-0910627528
  • Customer Service For Dummies.  Karen Leland, Keith Bailey.  For Dummies, 2006.  ISBN-13: 978-0471768692
  • Income Without a Job: Living Well Without a Paycheck.  Michael Jay Anthony, Barbara J. Taylor., 2008  ISBN-13: 978-0-557-00377-8.  Website:  Tap into your own creativity and use  your full potential.  Learn how to see opportunities that others miss.   

world wide web - articles  Articles

Related newsletter article:
    June 2007 - Good Customer Service Tips

smiley graphic  The Lighter Side  

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. ― Bill Gates

It is not the employer who pays the wages.  Employers only handle the money.  It is the customer who pays the wages.―  Henry Ford

Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. Youíd be amazed how many companies donít listen to their customers.―  Ross Perot

Loyal customers - they donít just come back, they donít simply recommend you, they insist that their friends do business with you. ―  Chip Bell, Founder Chip Bell Group

If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that.  Word of mouth is very powerful. ―  Jeff Bezos, CEO

If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends ―  Jeff Bezos, CEO

Thank your customer for complaining and mean it.  Most will never bother to complain.  They'll just walk away. ― Marilyn Suttle

There is only one bossThe customer.  And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.  ―  Sam Walton, Founder of Wal-Mart

About our resource links:  We do not endorse or agree with all the beliefs in these links.   We do keep an open mind about different viewpoints and respect the ability of our readers to decide for themselves what is useful.

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