I don’t care how patient you are as a person, or how well you think your people skills are. In the work world; there is always that one person, that one customer that rubs you the wrong way. They have bestowed a gift to make your blood boil and bring out dark thoughts you never knew you had. While your anger is brewing (and your conscious is screaming every curse word in the book) you end your conversation/altercation, with this gifted individual with, “thank you sir come again”. The ordeal is over; you both go your separate ways, but the pattern is repeated later that day; different person, same entitled 2-year-old behavior. Working in customer service, you learn how to handle yourself professionally and keep your composer with the world’s most incompetent people. It doesn’t come naturally and cracking a forced smile while this half brained individual insults your intelligence can do a number on your nerves, as well as your patience. This learning is self-taught through years of experience; or in other words, years of B.S. From customers thinking they are entitled to more than just good service, the tightwads trying to make a quick buck, to the thieves trying to pull a fast one right in front your eyes. Learning to bite your tongue when someone belittles you for something that is completely out of your control is called, good customer service. Believe it or not it’s a lot harder than people make out to be.
Not patient by nature, learning how to handle people isn’t something that has been easy for me. Especially the people that go out of their way to make your life a living hell for a moment. But in that moment, I’ve learned you can be an opposite reflection of what that person is. Meaning; if that person happens to rant a raving, you must be calm and collect. Learning from my mistakes of what I shouldn’t have said and absorbing knowledge of my mentors, I’ve found my own style of customer service. Once while I was working in fast-food; already 2 years’ experience in customer service, I put my “reflection” style of customer service to use one night while I was working over-night drive-thru. This already being the hardest shift physically, you can only imagine how hard it is to keep it together mentally when someone acts like a jackass. I had a younger guy maybe in his early 30’s pulls up to the drive-thru mic; took his order, told him to pull forward for his total and his food. He pulls up to my window and I tell him the total, he gives me the money I give him his receipt, all good. He’s waiting patiently as I prep his order. As I’m working at a quick pace to finish his order I hear “Hey!……Hey!” I walk to the window and ask, “yes sir did you need something?”, “take this” the man is holding his hands full of trash that he had gathered from his car. “I’m sorry sir I can’t take trash through our drive thru window” “why not?” “for sanitary and health reasons its California state law” “so you’re not going to?” “no” “okay” He sticks his hands out of his car and drops all his trash on to the floor! I tell him “are you serious man come on” “what you don’t have to pick it up” “yes, but the people I work with do when they come in the morning” “and so?” “so, you could be more respectful of others, you know what it is what it is, let me get your order” Asked him if he needed extra ketchup, napkins, remained as polite as I possibly could, gave him his order and wished him a goodnight. That was that and he was on his way. The following week the “trash man” returned. When he pulls up to drive-thru window to pick up his order. Handing his order while simultaneously making small talk asking how his night is going; thank him and ask if he needed anything else. He responds with “I don’t know if you remember me from the other night” “no I do” “I just wanted to apologize, your right it was disrespectful, my bad…here I want you to have this for your service.” Hands me a $20 bill. I graciously decline, but he insists. I take the tip; shake his hand and gained a loyal customer every Friday night. From that point on I felt as if I found my perfect balance of firmness, and excellent customer service.
Customer service takes more than patient and practice to master; it also takes perception in identifying what an individual is really wanting from you, identifying what they are really saying. They display the problem and you become the problem solver. Easy right? No two people have the same fingerprint and no two people have the same problem, that is the challenge. You cannot address every problem or situation based on past problems. Every problem is different even if the outcome is the same. So how do you identify the problem in the first place? The work world doesn’t give you manual on how to handle humans, and seminar that I’ve been to give the same, “blah, blah, smile be polite, they’re probably just having a bad day.” When really, there’s so much more behind customer service people don’t see.
In my 12 years work experience, I feel like I’ve finally mastered customer service. Although every job and situation may be different, the focus is the person. I’ve learn how to put people in categories based on their emotions, so I can figure out what it is that they are needing. First category, “The whiners.” These people don’t have a problem, they just want to be heard. They complain and whine, but it’s really about nothing that has to do with you or anything in your control. With these types, its best to just listen, smile and agree. Then you have “The aggressors.” These people want to argue, they want you to get mad. It’s hard not to, but never lose control with these people. These people are the best to use the “kill them with kindness” method. There on a power trip and want to make you feel weak. I had an incident once with a man that was an “aggressor” type customer, the nicer I was, the angrier he got. Get this, it was over an $8 ice cream tub. Long story short he was upset that I wouldn’t exchange a half-eaten tub of ice cream. He even went to full extent of calling corporate on me while he was in the store. While being on hold for more than 20 mins with corporate, he gave up called me a “baby man” and walked out. A week later I got a visit from my district manager (who handles corporate complaints) and she reads me the email complaint that he had submitted. He went full on over dramatic and insisted that I had gave him a “sex number” when he asked for the corporate number. My district manager complimented me on my professionalism and that was that. If I had reacted differently to the situation, my company wouldn’t have sided with me.
Lastly, “The thief’s.” These types of people are my favorite to “flex” my customer service skills on. You can’t bluntly tell them “I know this is a bad check your writing” or “I know your filling up your bags to run out of the store.” But you must have a balance of playing dumb with wit. For example, the bad check writers. In all honest it is extremely hard to catch a fake check, but there are key things to look for with these people that help 95% of the time. First is the small talk. They will talk, and talk, and talk, as your trying to process their check. It’s never a typical conversation, it’s always some outlandish topic that they pull out of their ass for the time being, just to cause distraction. The check won’t process, or they have a something on the check that gives us reason not to accept it by our policy. After telling them no, comes the “well why not” “I’ve been coming here forever I’ve never had this problem.” That’s when the playing dumb comes in you tell them “I’m sorry I don’t understand why it’s not clearing through, must be our system, do you have any other form of payment?” And always they will fumble around in their purse or wallet (pretending as if they had some money stashed somewhere) then the “I’m going to call my bank and find out what the problem is I’ll be back.” They never come back.
Each situation may be different, and some more than others make you think you might just snap on that person and end up on a “breaking news” incident, but always remember to stay professional and study the individual. Noticing peoples’ emotions in combination with my “reflection” method of customer service (and alcohol) are what have taught me how to give great customer service; keep my cool and my sanity.