All of us have had to deal with customer service representatives of one kind or another. Whether it's on the phone or in person, every once in a while it's a horrible experience.

by PhotoMIX-Company
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My theory on this is that in many instances customer service representatives aren't taught as much as "technical" expertise as many of us would like them to be. Many of them know more about selling and upgrading services than knowing how to help someone. Personally, I think it's getting better, but every once in a while I still get someone who's not listening to what I'm trying to tell them... if I get to talk to someone, since many companies are using technology to answer questions we're not asking.

What happens when you get to talk to someone, whether it's in person or on the phone? I wrote a post some years ago about Best Buy's lousy customer service, something I've experienced many times over the years. True, it's not everyone or every time, but if they had any local competition for what they sell they'd be sending customers to them in droves.

It's a pervasive problem; am I right? Let's face it, it's not just customer service people by title; anyone who deals with the public for any company is a customer service representative, no matter what level they're at or what they call themselves.

I'm going to address the issue, but I'm only going to address it as it pertains to people you see in person. Telephone customer service is an entirely different thing. For all you customer service folks, or for those who know someone that does customer service, if you need a few lessons, this post is for you.

1. If you see a customer standing around, go to them.

Two paragraphs above I mentioned a particular problem I had at Best Buy. There was one customer at a counter with 5 Best Buy representatives all standing around one terminal trying to figure something out. Meanwhile my friend and I and at least two other people were standing nearby waiting for someone to come help us out.

If it had been just me I might have left, but my friend really needed a part for her computer. If you're free, help a customer out, even if it's just to try to get someone else to help them.

I understand that sometimes you're just following policy. Best Buy had a policy where each salesperson had a "zone" they were supposed to stay in. If the floor's busy and there's a lot of customers, I understand that. If there's no customers in your area, I don't care what policy says, help someone!

2. Don't ever condescend to a customer.

You may think you know more than the customer about a specific product but it's more than possible that the customer might know more than you think they know. These days many people research products before they go shopping, but might not remember all the little options that each product has.

This is something I do often. For big dollar purchases, I've usually researched the products I'm interested in; I also like buying them in person instead of ordering them. If I tell you what I want to look at and tell you I've read about it, I don't need you working hard to sell it to me; let me enjoy my experience.

3. Don't use a customer's first name unless you either ask them first or ask them their name.

I know many people are taught during orientation that all customers love it when you use their name; trust me, they don't. Many of us go by nicknames and thus no one ever calls us by our real first names. Hearing it can be jarring and off-putting from someone we don't know.

You've also been taught that showing familiarity will put people at ease. I'm going to dissuade you of that belief. If you're 21 and the person you're helping is old enough to be your grandparent, maybe even your parent, it's good manners to ask them what they want to be called. I'm good with either because I'm not telling you my birth name until I'm ready to pay for something, but being courteous and somewhat deferential to your customers will put you in a good light.

4. If a customer starts getting really rude and riled up, go get a supervisor.

We know you're trying your best but sometimes trying to solve a customer's problem when they're really angry is something you're not going to be able to do. Most people will alter their behavior if a person of authority, someone they feel can solve their problems, comes on the scene.

Any real leader will have your back if you get their attention and allow them to address angry customers. I used to do that when I was a director at two hospitals. My employees didn't need to take abuse from anyone, and trust me, I didn't either.

5. Try to make sure that it's not your fault that a customer isn't satisfied.

The overwhelming majority of the time customers are upset with everything else except you; it just happens that you showed up at the wrong moment. No sense getting into a battle with a customer if it's not your fault. But make sure you don't cause it or escalate it.

I remember a news story where an airline employee threw a slanderous remark at someone as they were leaving that they didn't hear. However, someone else heard it, a celebrity no less. He called the guy out in public, prompting the other customer to come back, and... well, you can imagine the row. You never know who's around you, what they'll do and how things might turn out. If you've gotten through the experience, let it go. If you have to fuss, wait until you get home.

This is a great motto to learn: "Don't start none, won't be none."