When you are working in customer service, no matter which industry, customers should be your friends.
Why should they be a friend? To quote Sam Walton “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
You have to build customers trust.
I have been with Chillibreeze for six years now and building customers’ trust is the best thing that I have learned throughout these years. This did not happen in a day; it started from day one and gradually increased with every experience. This habit has been ingrained so deeply in me that whatever I do, I always keep my customer in mind. Whatever I communicate with customers, it should be worthy of their time.
I joined Chillibreeze in 2012. At the start of my career in Chillibreeze, I was being trained by Suresh, now a Manager. I had a rough start because I had a hard time understanding and meeting the expectation of the customers. I was very slow in executing, understanding instructions. I lacked in paying sufficient attention to detail due to which my training got extended.
I focused on skill development
At the end of my training, I was given a month to improve my performance before I could move on to probation. I was sad and disappointed with myself. When I saw my colleagues moving to become probationers, I knew that I had to get out of my comfort zone and get to where my batch mates were.
I was determined to succeed and spent extra time working on improving my skills. I cut my lunch break to 15 minutes. I came into work an hour early.
It took me three months to come up to the skill levels of my team-mates and format PowerPoint decks to the point that were customer ready.
I recall a particular day April 6, 2012, when James, deputy manager had presented a challenge to me. He asked me to work on a project of 60 slides in one day. It would typically take me eight hours or more to work on 60 slides.
It is a credit to Suresh’s coaching that I was able to complete the project in six hours!
With each day and each project, my confidence increased. My understanding of each customer’s requirement grew to a point where my teammates sought me out for guidance.
Communicating with customers
Communicating with customers did not come naturally to me. Initially, I had a lot of difficulties expressing my responses and thoughts in writing.
I was always concerned about whether I was communicating well. Was I using the right words? Was my grammar correct? Was my tone right? My mentors, James and Suresh, who had six years of experience, showed me the ins and outs of communicating with customers. With their support, I gained confidence and was quickly learning on my own. And learning fast!
I would read the email trail, analyze each response and assess whether my responses were suitable for various contexts and situations.
But responding to emails was not enough; we needed to be able to provide solutions to our customers. We needed to capture and understand every detail of each request, execute the instructions flawlessly and meet their expectations.
James began to see the improvement in my formatting skills, and my ability to understand and breakdown emails from customers. I was finally allowed to be the Point of Contact. I was thrilled to be chosen for responsibility.
When I bent a rule to make a quick decision
I was once put in a situation where I had to bend a few rules and make quick decisions if I was going to gain the customer’s trust.
This happened in 2013, in October, our busiest month. We had taken on a project and not assessed its time requirement accurately. Now, Chillibreeze’s core service is overnight PowerPoint formatting and design. And here it was 11 PM, but we still had a lot of work to complete on the project. We knew that it was going to take us until the next morning.
What did I do?
I communicated the truth about the situation to the customer.
I explained the situation and assured the customer what we could complete the task if given one more day. The customer was very understanding about the situation and agreed to the new timeline.
It was learning for my team and me.
If someone says jump; our response should not be “how high?”. We should be able to analyze and assess the situation before we agree.
And remember, it never hurts.
I have thrown out of the nest to fly!
Our communication with customers is not restricted to email. Now and then we also talk over phone or Skype.
The first time I spoke to a customer, I was very nervous. I felt that I had been ‘thrown out of the nest to fly for the first time’!
It was the 24th of January, 2014. My colleague Henry and I were working on a project for a customer from Dubai. Midway, Henry was invited to a meeting with our CEO, Ralph. At the beginning of each year, our CEO Ralph Budelman comes over to Shillong from Chicago. He stays in Shillong for two to three months.
Henry handed over the project to me. He was confident that I could handle it.
In Henry’s absence, the customer called. I could not disturb Henry’s meeting with our CEO, so I had to take the call. The customer wanted to explain a few more things about the project over the phone. I was frightened, but tried not to let it show through!
I need not have worried. The customer was not in the least bothered that Henry was not the one taking the call. He was worried about his work, and as I could answer all questions related to that, the call went through beautifully. A few new instructions were given, which I wrote down and read back for confirmation, and that was it.
When I put down the phone, I realized I had forgotten that I had been scared at the beginning. True, I had been worried that I might mess up a good working relationship, but when I started talking about the project, I did not remember those worries.
I learned to overcome fear when challenged. I also learned that there is no substitute for being thorough in your work.
With time and more phone calls, I became better at conversing with customers.
Some things I quickly learned from my experiences with customer calls:
- Always listen.
- Note down every instruction the customer gives.
- After the customer has completed their request, repeat after them to ensure that every point has been captured by you.
- Summarize via an email, if necessary.
- Most importantly – stay calm and always smile, because the end receiver can always sense how we are receiving the messages.
If you want to compete, compete with yourself. Explore techniques, move out of your comfort zone and build a relationship so strong with your customers that they will become a good friend.
Your customers will be and should be a good friend because they push you and help you unleash your potential.
So, believe in yourself, in every experience, every learning. Eventually, it will all pay off.