Customer Service: A Matter of Common Sense
There's more to customer service dealing with order
fulfillment, returns, complaints and questions. Good customer
service is based on respect and concern --- qualities that
can't be spelled out in a company policy.
The managers of two department stores frantically scrambled to
do damage control following employee-actions that sparked
In the first scenario, a sales person refused to call 911 when
a mother requested help for her child who was experiencing a
seizure. "It's not our policy to make phone calls for
customers," said the staffer.
In the second incident, a sales person walked away wordlessly
when a pregnant woman reported dizziness and asked for help.
Other shoppers assisted after she collapsed. "An unfortunate
incident," the manger told local journalists.
The media coverage of these two incidents could not have been
good for business. That old saying "No such thing as bad
publicity" isn't always true.
Meanwhile, in another department store in a different city, a shopper suffered an
injury to her arm when a heavy box fell from a high-up shelf.
The woman pointed out to a supervisor that the boxes were
unstable in their present position. She suggested they be moved
elsewhere before someone was seriously hurt. Several weeks
later, the supervisor merely shrugged when the shopper returned
and pointed out that the boxes had not been moved.
The above incidents all involved large, international chains.
Is the situation any better with medium or small businesses?
We would like to believe that it is. However, the answer is
"Not always." In one example, a diner at a small mom-and-pop
restaurant was dumped unceremoniously on the floor when a chair
collapsed. The waiter snickered and walked away, leaving it to
other customers to ask if the person was hurt.
Undoubtedly, it was not store policy to refuse assistance to
customers experiencing medical emergencies. Undoubtedly, it was
not company policy to stack merchandise in such a way that
shoppers are at risk of injury, or to laugh at customers who
are victims of damaged restaurant chairs.
The problems occurred when employees were faced with situations
that called for good judgment and independent decision making.
In other words, they failed to display what most of us
call "common sense."
And, as most of us know, common sense cannot be written into a
customer service policy. However, you can do certain things
that will increase the likelihood that your employees will make
good judgments. Experts claim that small to medium businesses
have an advantage over big business when it comes to offering
customer service. Smaller size can mean a more personal
atmosphere and better opportunities for communication between
management and staff.
To make the most of that advantage, try the following:
1. Communicate your expectations to employees. Discuss
emergency situations and how to handle them. Stress that
emergency situations take precedence over company policy.
2. Make good hiring decisions then empower your employees to
act independently when the situation warrants it. If you have
hired good people and trained them well, you can trust them
with a degree of independent activity. This will work to your
advantage in a second area as well. An opinion survey
demonstrated that the public resents waiting while staff
persons seek approval from one or more supervisors before
refunds, exchanges or complaints are handled.
3. Set a good example by showing respectful attitudes to
persons both inside and outside of the company. If employees
hear management jeering at delivery persons, customers or other
staff members, the message received is that disrespect and lack
of concern is acceptable. Employees who know that internal
respect is the norm will extend that respect to customers and
4. Provide feedback to let employees know how they are doing.
When you catch an employee showing "good common sense,"
compliment him/her and do so in front of other employees.
5. Reward employees for providing good customer service.
Rewards can be informal (i.e. praise, mention at a staff
meeting) or formal (i.e. a regular award for employees who
provide exceptional customer service).
6. Avoid over-managing. Happy staff means happy customers. The
more involved in your business the employee feels, the more
effort he or she will put into satisfying the customers or
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