Customer Service: Do You Have a Clue What That Means?

I thought thcustomer-service2-0110e holiday season was time when we’re all supposed to be nicer to each other. Was I wrong about that? After a string of unpleasant and downright rude retail clerks, I’ve taken my business online where I don’t have to talk to or interact with anyone. This may seem like the perfect answer but, unfortunately, there are still some sites that want to service their customers so much that they won’t leave you alone long after the purchase.

This is a situation that I will dub “when good customer service goes bad.” My husband needed to replace his Shure ear bud covers. After checking several retail stores who didn’t have them in stock, he went online and bought them from a very recognizable and reputable music dealer (whose name is withheld to protect the clueless).  Since then, we’ve suffered through a deluge of follow-up calls, catalogs, mailings, and more telemarketing calls. All for a $20 purchase that we already said we were happy with! Their repeated outreach is so annoying that we don’t even look at the catalogs they send because we won’t be buying from them ever again.
On the flip side, I’ve had the opposite experience while calling many a home AV installer/customer integrator this year. Three times in the past week, I’ve had a shop owner set an appointment with me for a phone interview and when I call I just get voicemail. Of course I ask for a reschedule and then get radio silence. Now, I know I’m not a customer per se but, in my book, customer service extends to everyone you deal with in a professional capacity. And if I was looking for an AV shop to do work in my home, I wouldn’t pick the one who blew off a set appointment and then didn’t return my calls or emails.

These two uneven situations got me wondering about how to know when your customer service is enough and when it’s too little. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes not. So what can you do to ensure you are offering the right level of customer service to the customer at any given time? Here are some tips from experts:

  • “Create authentic, sustainable dialog throughout the service process: most people I know are extremely frustrated when their service provider doesn’t keep in touch or give adequate updates on where things stand in the service process. A good way to keep things moving AND keep your customers informed is to make sure you’re using a simple project management tool,” advises Deb Kolaras, a small business and social media coach with BizCoachDeb in Boulder, Colorado. “Be real, be friendly: no one likes a smart aleck, and when customers need tech help, they’re already worried about sounding silly or being techno-phobe. Find out your customer’s level of tech savvy and adjust your techspeak accordingly.”
  • “From a tech perspective, there is no real difference to how customer service plays out in comparison to any other industry. The basic fundamentals of professional communication are paramount from the outset. Once the relationship has been formed between the customer and provider, the communication between the two should follow the tone and style dictated by the customer. This is about learning how to read people; learning how to read tone and expression; adjusting your own communication style to suit the customer’s needs,” says Brendon Walker of Centric Consulting.
  • Don’t editorialize. “When an HVAC technician looks around the basement, prior to repairing on a furnace, and says “Whoever installed this ductwork did a lousy job.”  He has good intentions which are to show the customer how much he knows about ductwork.  However, he just tried make himself look good at the expense of other employees,” says Steve Coscia of Coscia Communications Inc.

Bottom line: There is no secret recipe to providing the “right” amount of customer service because it all depends on your customers. But you do have to listen to them and be responsive in order to figure out where the proper level lies. And if they sound like they are annoyed with you, it’s a good chance they probably are.

Linda Seid Frembes is a rAVe columnist who covers AV technology, installs, market trends and industry news. Linda has worked with high profile AV manufacturers, trade organization, systems integrators, rep firms and dealer/distributors in the industry including John Lyons Systems, Eastern Acoustic Works (EAW), Northern Sound & Light (NSL), and InfoComm International, among others. Reach her at linda@ravepubs.com