It Just Wasn't Quite Right ...
Returning from my favorite coffee shop, it suddenly struck me that my "regular" guy had been nowhere in sight. Now mind you, everything was still the same: The coffee was steamy and excellent (but not "steamy" enough to win a million-dollar lawsuit), and the bagel was crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. However, as I paid for my purchases and exited the shop, I experienced an empty feeling in my gut -- something just wasn't right.
Reflecting on what had transpired, I finally figured it out -- the one missing link. It occurred to me that I hadn't been asked how my evening was, how the boys were doing or how work was going. The bottom line was that my "regular" guy was not there to complete my routine; nor was he there to soothe my soul. This got me thinking (and, as you know, the editor of this magazine loves it when I begin to think!).
Think about it. If I personally felt this way, what happens in our cashier offices, garage booths and reception areas when our "regular" staff is out? Could the customer possibly notice as quickly as I had at the coffee shop?
It has been said that two primary dimensions make up quality customer service: the procedural and the personal. Each is critical to the delivery of quality service. The procedural side of service consists of the established systems and procedures to deliver products and/or service. The personal side is how service personnel interact with customers (using attitude, behavior and verbal skills). Four types of service are listed below. (The diagrams are from the Quality Customer Service, 3rd edition, William B. Martin, Ph.D.).
So sit back and relax, and determine where your organization is when it comes to these four types of service!
For purposes of this article, let's assume our organizations have the procedural side of service down and concentrate on the personal side. It includes how service personnel use their attitude, behavior and verbal skills when interacting with customers.
Important behaviors include body language and personal appearance. Creating a good first impression is essential and has been said to have a direct connection toward your attitude. In other words, the better your self-image, the more positively it will be emulated onto your customers.
Now let's look at what I believe to be the most important elements of customer service -- attitude (sometimes referred to as the magic word). Attitude is an extremely powerful word to me. One definition I have always used is: "the position or bearing as indicating action, feeling or mood." And it is, in reality, our actions, feelings and/or moods that determine the actions, feelings and/or moods of others. Our attitude tells the world what we expect in return. I also believe our attitude has a cause-and-effect relationship; everything we say or do will cause a corresponding effect. If we're cheerful, others will reciprocate and reflect that good cheer back to us.
Now, can one change his or her attitude? Of course they can! However, the main obstacle in this transformation is that the person must want to change. Listed below are some techniques a person can use to assist them in retaining and/or restoring their positive attitude:
Physical well-being. Although I am not quite sure if anyone conclusively has proven a clinical relationship between physical well-being and attitude, I concede there is a connection. Since we are a society that repetitively uses cliches, try the Army's: "Be all that you can be."
Have a sense of humor. People often asked my co-workers if I am every serious. Of course I am ... at times ... but I will admit I try to keep those times to a minimum. While finding humor in a situation doesn't solve the problem, it can point you in the right direction.
What is your purpose of life? Many would claim that living day to day sounds good. I challenge that. Having some sort of mission in life provides direction and challenges you to better your attitude.
Be contagious. Give people a piece of your positive attitude. The recipient will not only feel better, but you will too. A case in point: I have been in many service lines where levels of patience are limited -- short fuses, irritability, hot tempers. Then out of the blue comes a young kid amid this diminishing patience triage with a smile on his face and a low pleasant hum. Needless to say, the majority of irritated people observe this guy and find themselves smiling back.
So, in the scheme of things, looks like the Successories, Inc. portfolio pad I use states it best: "Service is the lifeblood of any organization. Everything flows from it and is nourished by it. Customer service is not a department; it is an attitude."
Robert Milner is Associate Director of Parking at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He has been in the private sector as a senior manager with Penn Parking and Central Parking. He can be reached at email@example.com.