When I read something from someone who writes about uplifting other people, that gets my attention. It also gets my attention when someone points out that uplifting others can serve you well, like when you're dealing with service providers.
I'm referring to the book, "Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet" by Ron Kaufman, a columnist and consultant who specializes in building service cultures. What really grabbed me was Kaufman's recognition that the service experience works both ways, and that to get better service, you need to be a better customer.
Here are a few tips from Kaufman that might be helpful for anyone in your organization whose responsibilities include dealing directly with service providers:
- Be appreciative and polite. Remember, there is a fellow human being on the other end of your phone call, the receiving side of your email, or just across the counter. "Begin each interaction with a quick, "Hi. Thank you for helping me. I really appreciate it." This takes about two seconds and can dramatically improve the mood of a service provider.
- Get your service provider's name and use it. You can make this short and friendly by first offering your name and then asking, "Who am I speaking with, please?" Or if you are face-to-face, simply ask, "May I know your name?" Once you know it, repeat it with a smile in your voice. This creates a personal connection and makes it much harder for a service provider to treat you like an anonymous account holder or policy number.
- Be upbeat. Many service providers face customer after customer all day long. The routine can become tiresome. When an energetic and smiling customer appears, that person often enjoys special care and treatment in return. What you send out does come back. Attitudes - positive and negative - really are contagious.
- Provide information just the way they want it. Many service providers need your data in a sequence that fits their forms, screens, and procedures. Have all your information ready to go, but give it in the order they prefer. Saying, "I have all my information ready. Which would you like first?" lets the provider know you are prepared and will be easy to work with. The time you take getting everything in order will save time in the service conversation, too.
- Confirm next actions. Repeat what your service provider promises to do. Confirm dates, times, amounts, responsibilities, and commitments. This helps you move together through the service process, catching any misunderstanding and correcting it along the way. Be sure you both understand what will happen next: what they will do, what you will do, and what both parties have agreed to going forward.
- When appropriate, commiserate. Sometimes service providers let their frustration show. A slow computer, a previous customer, high call volume, pressure from a manager, or some unwelcome personal event may have upset them. When you hear an upset tone, be the one to soothe it. You might say, "It sounds like things are tough right now. I really appreciate your help." This brief moment of empathy can be an oasis in their world.
- Show your appreciation. A sincere "thank you" is always appropriate. If your service provider deserves more, give more. A nicely written compliment can make a huge difference in someone else's day, or even career. And who knows? The person you praise today may serve you again tomorrow. If you want to take showing your appreciation a step further, ask the service provider how they'd like to be recognized. For example, a younger service provider might love it if you Tweet about them while an older-generation service provider mind find more value in a completed comment card. Show your appreciation in the way your service providers want to be appreciated.