Friday, December 21, 2012

The Secret to Good Customer Service: Be a Good Customer

Here's that spit you ordered, sir.
Want the secret to getting good customer service? Be a good customer. You'd think this would just be common sense, along the same lines as the attracting-more-flies-with-honey-than-vinegar variety. But I've witnessed so many people think that they are somehow entitled to good customer service, even when they are being cranky and nasty.

Think about it, though; the people delivering the service are, after all, just people. And when customers are rude to them, they, being just people, tend to react badly. You can't blame them.

Say you get bumped from a flight and you are one of the many frustrated passengers in line trying to deal with the poor, harassed, ticket agents at the airline desk. They are frazzled themselves, and the delays or cancelled flights aren't their fault; yet they get all the vitriol sprayed at them. They also have a tremendous amount of power over your immediate fate. So why would you want to make their day any worse than it already is? Do you think they're going to bend over backwards for the jerk ahead of you abusing  them? By contrast, when it's finally your turn, and you've had the good luck to be behind an irate jerk, try being nice and understanding. You'll be amazed at how much they're willing to help you. That's just human nature.

In crime TV shows, where they use the good-cop-bad-cop interrogation technique on the felons, who gets the cooperation? The good cop. Be the good cop.

Can I Have it on the Side?

Years ago, I used to work with a young copywriter who was nice to me but nasty to waitresses, clerks, bank tellers, and all service people. He was a sanctimonious bully, thinking he was entitled to good customer service because he was, well, the customer, as if that alone were a sacred status bestowed by God Almighty Himself. As I said, he was always nice enough to me, but it would get to me how he'd treat people whose job it was to serve him.

One day we were are at lunch and he was being particularly sarcastic and nasty to our waitress taking our order. He made some remark about how he expected her to screw up his order because they always did at this restaurant, but he'd make sure it was reflected in her tip (he was always a bad tipper anyway).

I couldn't stand it any longer. After she had gone back to the kitchen to deliver our order, I said to him, "Mike, you do know they spit in your salad when you're nasty to them?"

"What?!" he said, his face going ashen, "How do you know?"

"I don't know that for certain," I said, "but I would, if you talked to me like that."

"But that's against the law!" he said indignantly.

"So? Who's to know? Why would you provoke somebody who prepares your food outside of your sight?"

I think this must have gotten to him. He just kept reiterating that it was against the law. When the waitress brought our meals, he bluntly asked her if she'd spit in it. She just turned abruptly and left--before she said something she'd lose her job over. He was silent throughout the rest of the lunch, which he didn't touch, evidently calculating the gallons of other-people's saliva he'd ingested over the years. I myself tried to be extremely respectful and polite to the waitress, just so I wouldn't get spit by association.

I found out later that my hunch about waitresses spitting in your salad was not far off. Some friends who had had waiting jobs at some point in their lives confessed that they had actually witnessed it. Though they had never done it themselves. Nossir. It's against the law. (Isn't it?)

Be Nice. Get Nice.

This same principle applies to all customer service. If you want good service, be as nice as possible to the people delivering it to you. It's just a job to them. And they may not, out of fear of losing it, be outright rude to you. But they have a considerable amount of say in the level of service they do give you. They might be able to get you on the next flight out, or upgrade your hotel room, or find you a good table, or make sure your meal is hygienic.

As with the good fortune of being behind a cranky passenger at the airline counter, look for opportunities to contrast your own civilized, empathetic behavior with a rude customer. As an angry customer is ranting, make eye contact with the harassed sales person, signalling you are on her side. When it comes your turn, you'll be amazed at how helpful she is to you. You're not only a relief, you have indicated you are already friends by that knowing, sympathetic look. It's diabolic how well this works.

They Have a Name Tag. Use It.

Also most service employees wear name badges. Use them. Address a person by their name. This establishes an immediate, if temporary, bond with them. It also shows respect; that you recognize them as a fellow person. In a restaurant that makes its waitstaff introduce themselves at the beginning of the meal, try to remember their name and use it to thank them whenever they come by to refill your water or ask you if you need anything. This will also enhance the service you get from them. Most service jobs are hard, grueling and thankless. So anything you can do to make it pleasant for them will help give them a little more enthusiasm in serving you. It really works.

Another trick my daughter uses is to compliment them on something; their earrings, their nail polish, their haircut. My daughter does it sincerely because she is a naturally congenial, empathetic person, but it also seems to bring her exemplary service. A compliment will usually spark a short conversation that creates a bond. People with a bond want to do nice things for each other. Men can't do this as easily as women, but then women have always been more adept at getting good service. A man, however, can still be nice and find something to talk about, any little thing that establishes a tiny human connection.

This is the flip side of one of the fundamental rules of marketing I write about in our book (shameless plug alert) The Unbreakable Rules of Marketing. Rule 6: Give Love to Get Love. This might also be a rule of life and not just marketing. But since so much of life involves marketing to each other, it makes sense. When you're a merchant, give your customers love, certainly. But when you're a customer, love the people who provide you service.You'll get much more from them.

Unless you like spit in your salad.