Businesses today are focusing more resources than ever on delivering great customer service and why shouldn’t they be? Customers today are more tech savvy and connected than ever, and simply providing a product or service no longer differentiates one business from another. Companies now need to worry about things like customer retention and satisfaction in addition to simply selling products. That means empowerment to the consumer and, hopefully, a better all-round experience as well. But even the best satisfaction guarantee can still provide a frustrating service experience. Here are ten tips for you, the consumer, to help navigate the waters of customer service and help ensure you get the best experience you can.

1. Be Friendly and Positive
Every interaction you have with your service provider is the beginning of a relationship, be it a short or long one, so why would you think being negative or angry (even if you are angry) would be a good start to that relationship? Once while working the returns counter in a retail outlet I had a customer throw a set of guitar strings on the counter and snap “You keep screwing this up and I’m done shopping with you idiots. Give me my money back!”. The very next customer in line came up and started her return like this (said with a smile, I might add), “I’ve been struggling with this for a couple of weeks now and I just don’t think it is worth the frustration any more, can you please help me return it?” Both of those customers got what they wanted. But which of those customers do you think it was easier for me to deliver great customer service to?

2. Understand Their Policies
This step will save you a lot of time and frustration. Typically, most companies will have a statement on their website and / or somewhere in their terms of business as to what their general terms are. Once you’ve read and understood these, you need to ask yourself if what you are asking for falls under that policy / terms of business. This can really assist when challenging payment terms or any service level you have in question.

3. Choose the Day and Time Wisely
Obviously your schedule will dictate when you do most of your business. However, if you have some flexibility in your timeline you will be able to find moments when service providers have the ability to give you more focused attention. I always recommend to get in early, before lunch and as early in the week as you can with anything you require. Obviously there always the “I need you now” scenario but where you can, get in early.

4. Give Them Time to Help You
I understand that there is a threshold after which something is taking too long. But being impatient with a service provider only creates pressure that could lead to mistakes being made. Things don’t always go according to plan and unforeseen obstacles get in the way from time to time. Trust that the service provider is doing their best to help you and give them the time to do their job. If they feel like you are patiently waiting for them, they will go above and beyond to get you what you want or need.

5. Know What You Want and Communicate It Clearly
A service provider representative’s job is to work within their company’s policies and terms to meet your needs. If you aren’t able to communicate what that is, you make their job very difficult. I recently had to make back to back contact customer service calls to my internet provider. The first interaction left me frustrated and angry. The second call resulted in me receiving great customer service. When I was done with the second call I thanked the person helping me and he replied, “Thanks for being so clear in what you wanted, it made my job easy.” Can you guess how each of those conversations started? The first, “Why is my internet bill this month so outrageous?!”, and the second, “Can you help me figure out what services I do and don’t need so I can lower my monthly bill?”

6. Have Clear and Reasonable Expectations
This is probably the most important step as far as having your needs met. Lots of people (including myself from time to time) do not realise that their expectations might just be a little too high. In the recruitment industry there’s always the 17:05 phone call for the best trades person you have on your books to be on site for 6:00 the next morning.  A general hand to help get through the next day is one thing but fully trade skilled, heavily experienced candidates perfect for your business may not be!

7. Recognise When You Need to Move Up the Ladder
Sometimes the person you are talking to isn’t able to meet your needs. It could be for many reasons ranging from not having the appropriate authority to not knowing how to perform the task. You could also simply feel like they are unwilling to help you. When this happens it is okay to ask to speak with a manager or someone who is better able to help you. In some cases, this can be a relief to the employee as well as to you.

8. Be Willing to Compromise
There will be times when your expectations will not be able to be met (as raised in No. 6). At that point a willingness to give in a little bit can help you leave the situation without feeling like you were taken advantage of. Using the earlier example why not request the general hand if a suitable trades person is not available right at the time allowing the service provider a little more time to find that “perfect fit”.

9. Control Your Emotions
It is okay to express your disappointment in the service you receive. It is okay to tell someone you are unsatisfied. It is never okay to yell, curse, make a scene, or throw a tantrum (I have witnessed all of the above and it is never pretty). Remaining calm, collected, and reasonable will always go far in ensuring you receive great customer service.

10. Provide Appropriate Feedback
This is equally important for those times when you receive great customer service as well as times when you left disappointed. Managers love to hear about when their employees did an outstanding job. Your comments could even come into play in a performance review or their next raise. Conversely, a manager wants to know when their customers are dissatisfied as well so they can follow up with an employee / process or even contact you to fix the problem. If you don’t speak up, how will they know? Most companies do have a way in which you can leave feedback typically on the company website. Take a couple of minutes and provide feedback whenever possible.

By Stephen Ward