Canadian Vending

Features Business Staffing
Operator’s Perspective: Customer Communications

Customer Communications


June 16, 2008
By Lio Prataviera

Topics

What customers say and what they mean can be two very separate things
in the service industry. It’s difficult to know if the feedback they
give you is an accurate reflection of their feelings or the situation.

What customers say and what they mean can be two very separate things in the service industry. It’s difficult to know if the feedback they give you is an accurate reflection of their feelings or the situation.
 
If a customer complains about a late delivery, is it the time or the driver they don’t like? The driver may have done something to annoy them or they may be in a bad mood to start with. It’s important to follow-up and understand the context of what they’re saying in order to know for certain that the issue is valid.

Sales representatives have to be very careful in how they approach a potential client, because if they are told, “we can’t afford your services because it’s not in the budget,” is the customer making this decision based upon a reality (no budget) or a perception (didn’t like the sales pitch)? Experts say that 60 per cent of human communication is through body language, 30 per cent is via the tone of voice and 10 per cent is through the actual content of what is being said. Accurately translating the 90 per cent that’s not in the form of a verbal message is the most important skill in correctly assessing customers’ feelings.
 
Even technical issues, such as successful troubleshooting, require careful listening and translation in order to correctly assess the situation. Often when a customer complains that machinery isn’t working properly, the problem could lie in how they’re using it. Alternately, they may be disappointed by the performance of the machine simply because their expectations aren’t in line with the scope of the service they have requested.
 
By sensing little ‘cues’ in the customer, you’ll be better able to address their misconceptions. This can be a particular problem if the customer uses what they consider ‘industry terms’ to describe something totally different from what your understanding is. The best way to avoid this is to use only those terms that you’re certain the customer understands; your professionalism is enhanced in the eyes of most clients when you make the effort to explain things clearly and simply.

Finally, there’s the other end of the customer-service provider equation: being perceived as a nice guy who the customer doesn’t want to hurt with a complaint or concern because they see you as a “buddy” or friend. Or when the customer feels that because existing or past problems have resolved themselves over time, there is no need to bring them up.
 
If you feel this may be the case, ask your customer specific questions such as, “Would you like more or different selections?” or, “Is the delivery schedule working out OK for you?” Watch and listen carefully to their response; you can usually tell when there’s an issue and you should, of course, follow it up – assuring them that providing the best possible service is your goal and that you’d be happy to deal with any concerns they have. When you ask general questions (“Is everything OK?”) you’ll get general answers, so the solution is to be more specific … you’ll get a much more precise understanding of their situation this way.

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The quality of your service and the benefits it provides in the eyes of the customer heavily depend on listening and translating their comments accurately so that your service level remains high. This includes being honest with yourself and your organization, as well as understanding that when a customer complains about an element of your service, they usually have a good reason. However, only by understanding their message on all levels will you be able to fully deal with their concerns.
 
As an operator, by paying attention to the little details in everyone and everything you deal with, you’ll always know exactly what the customer is saying. As with so many things, it is not just what they say, but how they say it.