good customer service

I worked in retail for over half my life. I waited tables, worked in department stores, sold bicycles and knick-knacks, repaired bicycles, operated a drive-thru window at a bank, and about a dozen other jobs. I've done a lot of customer service work.

So I notice when the customer service I receive is less than stellar. I know how to take into consideration the work involved, the number of staff, the stress of the situation. I recognize that if you have five customers in line and a phone ringing non-stop -- and you are working alone -- this can get frustrating. I get it.

But this week, I've had a few incredibly disrespectful customer service experiences. One was from a UPS customer service rep who hung up on me during a call to track down a parcel they "lost" (because no one really seems to know what happened) which was one-half of a two parcel order (of a garden shed I planned to build today). The other was a clerk at a local hardware store who treated me like I was a child, refused to deactivate the sensor on the tools I purchased, and then yelled at me when I further set off the security alarms at the doors.

I think about these kind of interactions a lot, especially since I am preparing to launch a store that features products I will be selling to others. I'll be providing customer service not just on my own end, for my own products. I must take into consideration the service provided by each agent I engage along the process: the web servers, the shopping cart, the payment processors, the shipping company. Each one of these companies has an influence on the experience my customer has from the moment they arrive at my site to the moment their purchase arrives in hand.

Everyone has off days, everyone has mishaps, and everyone risks loss each time they take on a transaction. But a focus on working with customers, meeting them where they are and respecting their knowledge and experiences, makes all the difference.

I am going into this shop launch with full awareness that mistakes will happen. But I'm spending more time focused on building systems for smoothing out the errors, for meeting the customer's needs at whatever level they arise, and preparing to provide the best customer service I am able. This includes choosing to work with companies from whom I have personally experienced great customer service, and choosing not to work with companies who have treated me poorly.

You wouldn't use a hammer to brew tea. You might not know the perfect tool, or the best method, but you know a place to start. So too with customer service. You might not know exactly how to solve the issue the first moment it is discovered, but a willingness to stay open, to explore the possibilities, and to reach a resolution where everyone feels heard, witnessed, and respected is the first step.