at_your_service_column.fw Have a blessed Memorial Day Weekend.

Thank you again for helping me name my new monthly CUSTOMER SERVICE column for the Central Valley Business Journal  “At Your Service”.

Click for the May column online  “EVERY SECOND COUNTS WITH CUSTOMERS”.

Also printed in full below:


Professional Development Adventures

Three seconds!

That’s how much time some say we have to make a good impression. Others give us a whopping seven seconds!  Like improv comedy, customer service means we are on and live.

Three seconds on the phone tells us the customer service representative is engaged. They greet us pleasantly and state their name clearly.  And, if we miss what they’re saying, they don’t get huffy when we ask them to repeat it.

I was going through the drive-thru the other morning, and my server finished our transaction with “Have a nice day” but was looking somewhere else when she said it.  The next morning, at the window again, I realized she never made eye-contact at all. That was extra food for thought, along with my muffin and juice. She seemed disengaged.

Research shows that the most frustrating aspect of waiting is not knowing how long the wait will be. We appreciate the service agent who looks up for even a half-second and says welcomingly, “I’ll be with you in a moment.” At least they know we’re here.

Camille Lavington, in her book, “You’ve Only Got Three Seconds, writes, “Get used to it. The real world has your number. It only takes people a few seconds to know where you’re coming from. Within a few seconds they can size you up. It’s not a comforting prospect to be judged so hastily, but that’s the way it is.”

In my customer service workshops I like to teach the 7-11 rule. Participants see the following lead sentence, with two blanks in it. It reads, “In the first ___ seconds customers decide ____ things about you.” It’s fun to hear their responses.

The answer of “7” seconds and “11” things is surprising at first. Then heads start nodding in agreement as we reflect on our own experiences.

We read through the 11, then I ask each person to self-evaluate and mark some of the 11 that they already do well and a couple that could be improved.

Here are the 11 items with brief descriptions. Rate yourself if you wish.

  1.  Clean: This has to do with daily grooming items such as bathing, hair, teeth, clothes.
  2.   Attractive: No, this is not about being sexy in dress, tone of voice, or flirtatious activity. Attractive is more about being approachable, comfortable, and socially safe to be around.
  3.   Credible: Wearing a business suit while repairing cars or sporting flip-flops and shorts at a bank give mixed messages. The question is: Are you believable? Do your words, vocabulary, dress, and demeanor match your business? Can I take you seriously?
  4.   Knowledgeable: Are you prepared?  Have you done your homework? We get annoyed on the phone with the script reader who seems to know nothing about our concern. On the other hand, we are delighted with the ones who not only knows their stuff but care about it, and about us, too.
  5.   Responsive: Even a lack of knowledge can be compensated for by a genuine interest in meeting the customer’s need. If we don’t know the answer we’ll get it for you right away.
  6.   Helpful: While responsive has to do with speed, helpfulness has to do with anticipating the customer’s need before they ask. Would you like more … Water? Chips? Napkins? May I help you with that?
  7.   Friendly: Body language and tone of voice convey friendliness before words are ever spoken. Do you look happy and positive? How’s your posture? Is your handshake appropriate and engaging? What about your eye-contact? For repeat customers, do you try to learn their names?
  8.  Empathetic: This is the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position, sense what they are feeling, and respond accordingly. Empathy tunes into body language, tone of voice, and mood of the customer in order to better serve them in the moment. It is not manipulative but genuine and understanding.
  9.   Safe:  OSHA for the soul. It’s about creating safe conversations and exchanges even with the unhappy customer. We are non-threatening, non-intimidating, positive and appropriate at all times – even when customers are not.
  10.   Confident: Our poise and self-management creates a sincere assurance that is not smug or arrogant. It is peaceful without being distant and secure with out being cold.
  11.   Professional: We are actively seeking to live out the first 10 items ethically, responsibly and sincerely.  We match what we profess with what we do. We seek to practice what we preach.

Three seconds! Seven seconds! These add up to a customer service style that says, “Yes, we care” and “Yes, you can trust us.”