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Customer Service – Being a Human Being

Female employee in a white button-front shirt with a headset on

In my small company, everyone helps customers.  Everyone is educated, capable, smart and interesting.  We’re well spoken, intelligent human beings.  When a customer calls (or emails) I want the first thing they notice to be that they have reached a human – a helpful, friendly human who appreciates their contact and is an expert in the product category, who is interested to know all about the customer’s needs, and who has set aside the whole world to focus exclusively on giving full attention to that customer.  As opposed to someone who is keeping up a wall of impersonality, or who is apparently busy or disengaged. Customers will quickly realize that they have reached a friendly person who is there to help them. 

In Society Awards, we sell awards. We make them and design them – including most of the world’s most famous accounts like the Emmys®, CLIOs, MTV VMAs, Golden Globes and many others. This is a very niche business.

After quickly establishing a human connection, the next thing we address is the most common human emotion which our clients are most likely to have – anxiety, or uncertainty about the whole “I need awards but how does it work?” process.  We understand that our clients are not expert purchasers of awards, and that people want to understand exactly how a process is going to work.

The fact that this is niche and often event-driven and the products are individually personalized (with a different name on each award, logos etc.) makes people feel uneasy when they do not understand that process ahead of time. So we want to make them feel comfortable; we want to alleviate that anxiety.  We know what to do.  We’ll take care of you. You don’t have to worry. 

Whether it’s a custom made product or something from our “ready-to-award” line (following the couture / ready-to-wear distinction), we don’t in the first conversation try to make our clients understand the whole process so that they can then figure it out on their own. We first let them know that we understand, that we will move the ball forward for them, we will make sure the project gets done, and we will tell them everything they want to know. Once that anxiety is alleviated, the customer and our sales team can focus on the project. If that anxiety is not alleviated, the customer simply cannot enjoy the experience. 

These two key elements – making a connection as a person (I don’t want to say “personal” because we don’t need personal details – we can become friends, sure, but it’s not necessary to have a luxury awards experience) and identifying our customers human emotions and catering to them – are essential to setting the groundwork to be able to do the exemplary work that we then do. If you provide the best customer service in the world for your industry, but the customer was too overwhelmed to notice, did it happen?

I want to also qualify that this process is extremely efficient – we don’t get chatty and waste anyone’s time or share photos of our pets (unless we establish long term business relationships then yes this may happen). It doesn’t take extra time to behave on the phone or on the other end of a computer like you are smiling and like you are grateful that the customer made the effort to contact you (we are in fact, always grateful). They took the first step, they leaped across that chasm and reached out – we just want to let them know that we met them halfway; we were there to catch them. Our perspective is, “You did the hard part, you picked up the phone – we’ll guide you from here.” 

In my other business, Mode Design Group, we sell creative services. That’s slightly different in that most of the customers are in fact professional purchasers of creative services – it’s a component of many job titles.  In a competitive market with a lot of experts (both within clients and agencies) providing excellent customer service can be more complicated. However, I do find that the core ethos of striving to provide excellent customer service can make a better experience for the client when as the service provider, you may otherwise be distracted by diverse tasks and responsibilities to the client and the project. The same principle applies that even if the work is brilliant, the customer must also have a good experience. You also need to be very careful to manage expectations – don’t try to be nice in the short term by just agreeing to anything, because that’s not nice in the long run. Little adjustments to comport with project realities are well received up front, while the same changes can be big deals when they are only communicated later on.

So in this case, being a good human being to your clients and customers can involve greater responsibility than simply being friendly. Yet we keep going back to the core theme – try to be a good person, overall, and that’s a great start to excellent customer service.