Top 10 Customer Service Mistakes & What You Can Do To Prevent Them

By on June 1, 2009
Top 10 Customer Service Mistakes

The most effective leader is one who not only effectively manages mistakes but turns them into opportunities that strengthen the company vision. With that, here are the top 10 mistakes employees make with customers:

  1. Taking the customer for granted. It is common for employees to forget the expected niceties: “Good morning.” “How may I help you?” “Let me check for you.” “Thank you.” “We appreciate your business.” Customers have come to expect these phrases, delivered sincerely, when they are purchasing something. A quick and surefire way to lose customers is to take them for granted and stop showing them appreciation. Make sure your staff knows that you expect them to show politeness and appreciation toward customers. Give them some leeway on how to express that, so they don’t sound like robots. But if they go a bit too far-“Hiya, dude!” – reel them in by telling and showing them the proper way to address a customer.
  2. Using jargon, expecting the customer to understand your lingo. Even when the customers are highly trained professionals, they may not be familiar with your company’s acronyms or buzz words. If your company deals with customers, don’t assume they understand industry talk. For example, the insurance professional who says “binder” means something entirely different from the image the consumer conjures up, which is usually a vision of a three-ring binder! Listen closely to what your people are saying. Or ask someone who doesn’t know your business to call and talk to your people. Get them to tell you how they were treated and what confusing words your staff used.
  3. Speaking so fast that the customer has to ask the employee to repeat. When you hear a customer repeatedly asking your staff to repeat himself, this is a sign the employee is speaking too quickly. When he slows down, he needs to make sure the tone won’t be interpreted as condescending. The reason the customer is asking for the information again is not because they are dumb. They may be unfamiliar with what your employee is saying and just needs him to slow down.
  4. Giving short, clipped answers. When staff say, “Yes” instead of “Yes, let me look that up for you,” or “Yes, we do have that in stock,” it can come across as unfriendly or even curt. Adding a few additional words to amplify the point conveys a friendly demeanor. When you hear your employees giving short answers, pull them aside afterwards and help them understand how clipped answers can be interpreted negatively by customers. Suggest they add a few more words to their answers to show they’re friendly and interested in making the customer feel appreciated.
  5. Not being proactive when a problem arises. When a customer initiates a call about a problem, they become angrier when they find out your company knew about the problem but didn’t notify him/her immediately. Train your people to call customers as soon as they’re aware of a problem. It may not be a pleasant call to make, but it’s less difficult than the situation may potentially get if they wait for the customer to initiate contact.
  6. Not appearing like they care about the customer’s complaint. Often staff does not show that they care about a customer’s concern, or they may even get defensive when a customer complains. Perhaps it’s a common complaint, one they have heard so often that they have become callused. Perhaps there’s nothing they can do about the issue. If they instead act like they care, many problems would be resolved more quickly. The customer would feel that your business was concerned about his/her issue.
  7. Being preoccupied with other tasks (talking with co-workers, doing paperwork, stocking shelves). Train your staff to notice what’s going on around them. Teach them to look up often from what they are doing and approach customers who may look puzzled or lost. This not only improves the customer’s impression of your service but also cuts down on shoplifting.
  8. Interrupting the customer or no longer listening, believing or acting as if they know what the customer is asking or saying. After working in a customer contact position for a while, you can begin to predict what customers are going to ask or complain about. However, it makes matters much worse when the employee cuts the customer off in mid-sentence. Remind your people that each customer wants to be heard. It will help build a positive relationship with the customer which will encourage him/her to come back again.
  9. Making judgments about the buying power of a customer based upon his or her appearance, language skills, or company’s reputation. Buyers come in all levels of dress and education so it’s unwise to assume buying ability based on these aspects. Employees sometimes make snap judgments about customers based on their buying history, assuming for example, that order will be small and therefore neglects the customer in someway. Help your employees see that these assessments hurt your company and are unfair to the customer.
  10. Arguing with the customer. You can’t win an argument with a customer! Even if you win the disagreement, you lose the customer. When the customer is wrong, there are ways to assist the customer in understanding your point without being rude. Role-play common scenarios with staff about bad customers who are trying to blame the company for their mistakes. And yes, bad customers do exist! Train your team on how to handle a difficult customer so that they leave with their dignity intact and remain your customer, rather than becoming more embarrassed and angry.

Heading off these 10 common customer contact mistakes is not easy. It takes vigilance, caring and time on the manager’s part. You need to help your staff see new ways to interact with customers. Train them in ways that do not affect their self-esteem. It is easy to yell and berate your staff. It is much harder to take time and coach them so that they, themselves, want to improve.

Adapted from “Best Practices in Customer Service,” edited by Ron Zemke and John A. Woods.

About Karin Fowler

Karin is the Senior Program Manager and Customer Service Business Practice Leader at St. Louis Community College, Workforce Solutions Group (WSG) Division, where she manages the Metropolitan Education Training (MET) Center. She manages and develops workshops in Customer Service, Career Development, Resume Writing, Interviewing and Leadership skills. She has been a Customer Service Business Practice Leader and Facilitator with the Workforce Solutions Group since July 1999. Karin has extensive experience in the areas of customer service development, training and delivery. In addition, she also manages on-site contracts to develop and deliver training for displaced and adult workers for coaching and career strategies. Karin consistently receives high praise on course evaluations with such comments as - “Karin’s inner personal attitude makes you want to be better,” “Helped me take a look at myself and helped me with better customer service; “Kept the audience involved” and “Karin re-integrated main points as examples during our group discussions and activities.”

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