Customer Service: Not for the Faint of Heart

Many entry-level jobs are customer service jobs.  They involve working directly with customers each and every day. The pay is generally low, hours vary and a lot of those hours are spent working while friends and family are playing.

Many service jobs are filled by young people, either in high school or putting themselves through university or college.  Some choose to make a career in the retail, accommodation or food and beverage sector, but for many, it is a stepping stone on the way to other things.

My first job was as a food & beverage server at a pizza restaurant.  My training consisted of learning the menu, where the beer and wine fridge was, how to make the salads and hot take the order and where to put it so the cooks could prepare the meal.  In other words, the “how” behind the job.  Service training simply involved “be friendly and be sure to ask if their food is good.”  I was not taught what friendly “looked” like or how to professionally handle an irate or difficult customer.

Fortunately, my idea of friendly was similar to the owner’s idea of friendly so I did well in that regard.  But that was not necessarily true for everyone.  I’m sure we’ve all had servers who come across as slightly cold or some who are overly friendly.  There are many personality types out there and it’s important that we clearly outline our service expectations.  What should the first greeting look like and sound like?  How soon should it happen once a customer has entered our business?  How often should offers of assistance or quality checks be conducted?  These need to be outlined so that employees can be trained to a specific service standard.

Communication and conflict management training need to be a part of the training process.  Learning to recognize the different personality or communication styles of our customers helps to provide personalized customer service and can reduce the number of negative situations that arise.  Some people seem to instinctively know how to read others. They know what to say at the right time, but those people are in the minority, especially if we are talking about young workers.

Knowing how to deal with conflict is an essential skill for customer service jobs.  Throughout my entire career, I have found that by far the majority of customers were easy and pleasant to interact with, but like anyone else who has worked in front-line customer service job, I have stories of “that” customer. And they are out there.  We need to provide our employees the tools they need to handle those situations and also let them know when they should ask for help, and that it is perfectly ok to do so.

Customer service jobs are demanding.  Yes, sometimes the employees are only with you for a short time, but while they are with you, be sure to provide them with the training they need to put your business in the best possible light.

9 thoughts on “Customer Service: Not for the Faint of Heart

  1. Pingback: Why People Hate Training ...» Talented HR

  2. Laurie, I couldn’t agree more with your post – great job. This is even exponential when you consider Social Media, right? Twitter, Facebook, Yelp…all provide very public places for Customer Service, conflict resolution, PR and branding. Skills and training there are essential.

    • Thanks Susan,

      Social media has absolutely stretched the reach of positive or negative messaging. Back in the “old days” messages were, for the most part, limited to those in our immediate social circle. Not true anymore! We can now influence, and be influenced, by people we have never met. I know many people, myself included, who will review comments on Trip Advisor before making a hotel selection.

  3. Pingback: The Definition of Customer Service « vinalytic

  4. Pingback: Gen Y and Customer Service » Talented HR

  5. Laurie,

    My first real job (I was a paperboy before this, but I don’t count that as a “real” job) was also at a pizza restaurant. I started working at Little Caesars pizza when I was 16 years old. I answered phones, washed dishes, packaged the pizzas, etc. While I definitely would not want to do that work again, I am so glad I got that experience. I learned so much from that job and it helped shape who I am today. I still have so much empathy for people that work in fast-food restaurants. I still remember what it felt like to work there. I had some great times and met many wonderful people (one of my best friends today was my boss there). But it was hard work. And like the experience you had, most customers were fantastic but there were certainly a few that were difficult.

    I love the idea of training employees well. I think it’s extremely important and can make a big difference with the business. I wonder how often people in service jobs are trained well. My guess is that most of the time they are left to figure a lot of things out on their own. Have you found that this is usually the way things are done?

    • Hi Greg,

      Unfortunately, yes that happens a lot. I’ve found that employees are trained on the technical skills and standards, but not on the service side. There seems to be the assumption that people instincively “get” what good customer service is, and some people absolutely do, but not everyone does. Or perhaps their idea of good service is very different from what the owner or manager envisions as good service. One of the things that I focus on in my customer service training is learning to recognize that our customers have different expectations when it comes to what good service is. The same holds true for our employees. We need to clearly define what good, actually great, service looks like for our business and then train to that.

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