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Understanding your customers starts with walking in their shoes

There are loads of resources and training courses out there about customer service. But the best way to truly understand what customers want is to put yourself in their shoes. Nothing beats personal experience, and the best thing is that you won’t have to squeeze your training budget to use it.

Everyone’s dealt with bad customer service staff. Whether it’s rude receptionists, pushy sales staff or cashiers who are more interested in chatting to their friends than talking to us, we’ve been there.

Poor service puts us off, and it’s important to remember that with our own businesses.

The principles of good customer service are exactly the same regardless of industry. Apple, one of the biggest tech names in the world, built an entire customer service training programme around the successes of Ritz Carlton.

Ok, the luxury hotel group had nothing to do with selling mobile devices and computers. But when it comes to delivering a quality service they’re hard to beat. Steve Jobs and his team knew they wanted to build a reputation for excellence, so they harnessed the expertise of a company known for five star service.

It didn’t matter that these two companies were from completely different backgrounds. What mattered was their commitment to making customers happy.

So, use your own experiences as a customer to inform your own business processes. Whenever you buy anything either online or face to face, make some notes. If the company is one you buy from regularly, ask yourself why.

What is it that keeps you coming back? Do they look after you? Do you feel like they understand you? Do they constantly deliver on time? Or is there something else that makes them stand out from the competition?

It might be that they’re simply your only option right now, in which case will you go elsewhere if a better opportunity arises?

Spend a week comparing every transaction you make as a customer with how your own business performs. Pay attention to things like:

  • staff knowledge

  • speed of service

  • courtesy and friendliness

  • expertise

  • management of expectations

  • innovation

Think about your own behaviour as a customer too. Dealing with people isn’t always easy and we all have our off days. If you’re not in the best of moods, do you notice a difference in their response? Front line staff often end up taking the brunt for our bad days but the best ones don’t let it phase them.

Great customer service is universal. It takes time to get right, but if you can remember the following you’re halfway there:

  • The customer might not always be right, but they should be treated with respect and professionalism regardless

  • Friendly, smiley staff are worth their weight in gold

  • It’s better to under promise and over deliver than commit to something you can’t manage

  • Customers are people, not statistics

By all means invest in a good customer service training programme, journey mapping and digest as many resources as you can. But always remember to use your own experiences to really shape how you deliver your own services to others.