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Good customer service even more important

Thursday - 3/3/2011, 8:51am  ET

Evan Haning, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Being put on hold used to be customers' biggest gripe.

"Now it's number three and your automated attendant is now the number one frustration of the American public," says Nancy Friedman, president of Telephone Doctor, an international customer service training company.

Over the last two winters, many Pepco customers who called to report power outages were misunderstood by voice recognition. When customers, who were seeing their own breath in their living rooms, were re-directed to billing or change of address lines, they were enraged.

"I have horror stories of what people say to voice recognition, which is not very nice," Friedman says. "Think of the people who have accents or don't speak loudly enough, again, I hear horror stories all the time."

Because local utilities are the only game in town, customers' anger toward them can be greater than the frustration they feel when dealing with a store, Friedman explains, "because people can't spank them with their wallets."

In her new book "How to Get Your Customers Swearing BY You, Not AT You," Friedman lays out her blueprint for optimal customer service, a message she has shared with Disney, Nordstroms, AC Delco and scores of other businesses and government agencies.

While good customer service is always important, Friedman says it it particularly important now.

"Consumer confidence is low, and part of it is people don't want to go spend their money where they're not going to get treated better," she says.

Friedman's Six Cardinal Rules of Customer Service include:

  • People before paperwork. "Paper can wait, people should not have to."

  • Don't be too busy to be nice. "Being busy does not give you carte blanche to be rude."

  • Rushing threatens customers. "One word answers make you sound cold and unfriendly. Slow down and stop rushing people."

  • Don't use military language on civilians. "Some companies have words and acronyms that would make the CIA green with envy. Use easy to understand words with your customers."

  • Be friendly before you know who it is. "If you're friendly before you know who it is, you'll make a good impression. Don't discriminate and save your charm only for 'important' people."

  • Say "Please" and "Thank you" and "You're welcome." Let the buck stop with you and take responsibility for the job you're doing.

  • The worst thing you can say is 'Because I'm new,' because I always say, 'Oh that's why you're stupid, because you're new!'"

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)