The (Consultant-Approved) Customer Service Diet

[Originally published in The author, Micah Solomon, is an author, consultant, influencer, keynote speaker, and trainer in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, and hospitality. (Here are three ways to reach Micah: email, chat, web).

Instead of pointing out what to do to improve your customer service (my usual mode of operations as a customer service consultant), today I’m going to point out the actions and mindsets that, if removed from your repertoire, will go a long way toward creating customer service excellence.

In other words, I’m going to prescribe a customer service improvement diet: ten things to stop doing that will improve your customer service through their absence.

1. Do away with unnecessary scripts. Customers today are looking for a genuine style of customer service and are allergic to anything that feels insincere or saccharine. (Read more on genuine customer service here.) So, wherever practical, ditch the scripts and let employees speak in their own language. Or, I should say, let them speak their own language within reason. For more on this, see point #2.

2. Declare war on inappropriate language: Although I’m not a fan of scripting, I do believe that every company should have (and follow) its own language lexicon: a small book of discouraged words and phrases and preferred alternatives that work better when speaking with customers. In fact, a language lexicon usually one of the first things I set up when consulting with a client. Here are a few of the phrases I encourage you to discourage:

“You need to”

“Like I said”

“To be honest with you”

“I’m not going to argue with you”

“No problem”

There’s also a whole category of defensive language that tends to rear its prickly head when an employee is facing an upset customer. Such language, including the following phrases, needs to be excised from your company vocabulary:

“That’s not what happened”

“I didn’t/we didn’t”

“Not our responsibility”

“We would never”

and so forth.

3. Stop building processes based on the worst behavior of your worst customers: Refusing to take checks because one customer, in 2003, once wrote you a bad one; asking for ID unnecessarily–when there’s no safety or security concern involved, etc.

4. Stop griping to employees about the times when customers let you down. Any of us who have worked with customers for years have some negative stories to tell. But I’d suggest keeping them to yourself, because when you continually gripe to employees or co-workers about the worst of customer behavior, you set a terrible example–an example unlikely to lead to superior customer service moving forward.

5. Stop frowning–in person and on the phone. This is advice is self-evident when applied to face-to-face interactions, but it’s amazing the difference that facial expressions make on the phone as well. When you smile, your voice has more treble and other cues that help you start off on the right foot with a customer and stay there. (Only exception: If a customer is upset or telling you something bad, please, please don’t smile. In a situation like this you want to mirror the customer mood, not stay artificially apart from it.)

6. Stop tolerating auditory and olfactory irritants: smoke retained on employee clothing and breath after cigarette breaks, floral arrangements whose water should have been changed two days ago, loud intra-staff chatting, vacuuming when there are customers nearby, dragging chairs instead of lifting them from location to location…

8. Stop looking at your cell phone. Yes, you. I’m talking to you. (I’m talking to me, too.)

9. Stop thinking of customers as an interruption.Even the best-intentioned service professionals can get in the rut of thinking, as they go through the day trying to get their long-term tasks and projects completed, that customers seem to be always “interrupting.” (And customers will be able to read this attitude; even a tell-tale half-second brow-furrow before you respond to a customer question will give you away.)

10. Stop disempowering your employees. We frequently talk about the importance of empowering employees (here’s an article of mine on this subject), but one of the keys to this is to stop disempowering—to stop sending managerial messages that an employee had better not mess up and go too far out on a limb–that if they try to do something special for a customer and it doesn’t work out (it ends up costing more than you expected, or something else goes wrong), the company definitely doesn’t have their back.

Micah Solomon is an author, consultant, influencer, thought leader, keynote speaker, trainer, and subject matter expert (SME) in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, hospitality, innovation. (email, chat, web).