Customer service is a huge part of what I do on a daily basis. Here I’d like to share an anecdote about my first major customer service breakthrough.
The story begins with the first home football game of the season last year. It is not uncommon for students to have a good time at football tailgate parties and this particular student was no different. The character in question here was a freshman who was obviously going through rush for a campus fraternity, adorned from head to toe in painted Greek letters on his chest, ripped clothing on his back, an authentic looking World War II military style helmet on his head and aviator sunglasses on his face. As he stumbled up to where we were seated in the box office, we knew this was going to be good…and yes, sure enough – he was denied from entering the football stadium. He had no identification, no money, slurred speech and couldn’t stand up straight without leaning on our window. Somehow, he expected us to make an exception for him and allow him to enter the game; that wasn’t going to happen and never have I seen anyone so upset upon being told no. It was not a pretty sight.
Fast forward to that following Monday when this student’s father called the athletics department with the intention of finding out why his son was denied access to the game on Saturday. On that morning, I was the one who answered the phone; on the other end of the line was an extremely irate parent, making all kinds of outrageous demands in retaliation to how his son was mistreated. Come to find out, the story was much different as this student’s father understood the situation. The young freshman pledge had not been entirely honest with his parental unit…not honest about anything other than the fact that he was denied access.
To make a long story short, the phone call with the parent lasted about 20-25 minutes and ended with a very pleasant good bye. I explained to this student’s father what really happened at the box office that morning, what the University’s policies are regarding student football tickets, as well as what the state and local laws are regarding underage drinking. Once this parent understood the full circumstances of what had happened and why, he went from wanting to terminate his relationship with the University all together to probably punishing his son more severely than I really felt comfortable asking. His displeasure with his son was obvious – let that be a lesson in honesty that that student will never forget!
There are several points to this story that serve to demonstrate quality customer service. The first is the ability to actively listen. In order to truly understand someone, as well as to help them know that you understand, active listening techniques are a great way to start. Repeat what the person is saying in your own words and ask for affirmation. “So you’re telling me your son was denied because he is in a fraternity?” When you do this, the customer knows you heard what they are saying.
Secondly, another aspect to providing quality customer service is to not only explain your side of the story, but to explain why there are policies in place regarding the circumstances being discussed and how they relate to what the customer is saying. “Any fan who is obviously intoxicated or visibly under the influence of drugs or alcohol will not be allowed entry into the stadium.” If such policies are clearly posted near stadium entrances and in the conduct statement every student must agree to before buying tickets, the customer service representative has more leverage in helping a student’s parent understand why their child was at fault.
Third, sympathy and empathy. “Sir, I understand that you are upset that you are the one who paid for your son’s ticket, which ended up not getting used. We explained to your son why he was denied access and that he was in violation of the student conduct policy to which he agreed, in addition to state law. I know what it is like to be in college and wanting to have a good time, however we cannot condone that type of misbehavior or public intoxication.” A little patience and kindness in empathizing with the customer goes a long way in terms of building a positive constituent relationship that benefits both parties.
Finally, don’t treat others as you would want to be treated, treat them the way THEY want to be treated. I wrote about this in a previous post HERE and am posting it again, as it applies very well to this topic. Take whatever time you have with a customer to figure out what is important to them and treat them in a way that makes them feel at ease, understood, and comfortable. Again, active listening is key to understanding.
This is a just a basic outline of one situation that occurred a long time ago, but one that demonstrates the influence of patience and understanding when involved in a customer service type role; to get emotional or defensive only makes things worse. I have learned and continue to learn from every interaction I have with customers on a daily basis. No phone call or personal interaction is the same and you never know with what you will be presented. The best advice I could give to any one regarding customer service is to know yourself, know your product, and know your team of fellow employees. Other than that, stay strong, true to your gut, and be honest. Honesty is always the best policy.
If you’d like to share a customer service success story, please leave a comment below – I’d love to hear what you have to say!