Essential Customer Service Skills
You know what we deal in here on this blog, customer service, customer care, customer experience, etc. It’s all about the customer. But what we’ve never done is given names to the very specific skill set you need to deal with the customer. What skills you need to focus and work on. What skills set you apart from the rest. What very specific skills will keep them calling you back for bigger, better design project.
So for the next two weeks we’ll cover the top 20 customer service skills you need. 10 each week. I mean, I love to talk incessantly about the unquestionable need for great customer care but you may not love to read it quite as much. It’s ok, I understand! Now let’s get started!
1. Patience – Sometimes life, business, and customers get the best of you. And being patient with it all is absolutely essential to being seen as a professional. If you can stay calm, cool, and capable during a stressful situation, you can win a lot of lifelong customers. And let’s be honest, patience is also crucial when customers aren’t sure about a design decision, their budget, or how happy they are with the the way the project is unfolding. Although it may be extremely frustrating, it’s best to let them take a little time so they can convince themselves, rather than you push them into something they may regret later (and blame you for).
2. Listening Skills – It’s essential to let your customers talk, and for you to listen. They may reveal something that’s essential to getting the design right, or getting the budget you really need. People trust those who listen. And, it’s essential to do more than just blindly listen. You need to evaluate what they’re saying. Since your customer isn’t in the design industry, they may not know the real reasons behind your questions. So when you ask them what their dream home would look like and they say, I’d love to live in a home that is all white and tan – don’t just assume that they actually want an all white and tan design. That may be a dream of theirs, but, it may not be something that they can actually live with at that time – children, pets, whatever it may be, that just makes an all white and tan design completely impractical. So, really listen, and then ask questions to make sure you’re hearing them right.
3. Empathy – Understanding your customer’s position is essential to a good relationship. When they ask a million questions, or wonder about the budget, or why you’re not going to be present during certain project tasks, or why there are any nicks on the delivered furniture, try to see it from their standpoint. They just don’t know the business like you do. It’s so easy to assume that already know, but they don’t. But you do.
So, whenever your customer seems like they’re being difficult, try your best to think of how you would feel in a similar situation – maybe like you felt when you were planning your wedding. You gave a lot of money to someone that you didn’t know very well, knew that there may be some mistakes, that you wouldn’t see what you want come to life for months or possibly up to a year, and had to trust them to really understand what you want and love, and bring it into reality. You put your heart, money, and time on the line, and just hoped and prayed that it worked out. And as a customer, you did everything you could to get the best price, value, and design you wanted, and asked as many questions as possible to make sure you were getting what you wanted. The customer is just doing the same thing. So try to remember when they’re driving you crazy with questions and requests, they’re just hoping for that beautiful day where it all comes together, just like you were.
4. Humor – Sometimes people are just ridiculous and so is the seemingly impossible chaos that can sometimes mount against you. All you can do is laugh, even if it is weeks, months, or years later. Most terrible situations do eventually become great stories!
5. Know when to upsell – This one might be a surprise, but sometimes the greatest service you can give to a customer is selling them something. Back to weddings, during my own, I desperately wish my florist had known to upsell me. While we were planning our flowers, I was so relieved to have found her. Finally, I found someone as organized and detail oriented as I. I trusted her completely. I mean, I had gone through five designers already – they were either too expensive, too old fashioned in their designs, or too unorganized. And since I love flowers, I was determined to find the best florist I could. So what happened to my flowers on my wedding day? Let’s just say, when I look at my wedding pictures, I literally won’t look at my flowers. I quickly divert my eyes away, because it’s just too painful to look. They were that bad. So bad that even my husband noticed. The peach colored flowers that she used, all looked dead and brown. The arrangements looked cheap, old, and just so unprofessional. The only arrangement I liked was my own bouquet. I HATED everything else. And I was devastated.
So what do I really, really wish she had suggested I buy? Her service to create table bouquets, my bouquet, and the bridesmaid’s bouquets beforehand. If I would have seen those flowers in person before the wedding day, I would have immediately asked for a different option. I wished I would have known that all I had to pay was $100 to just see the flower arrangements before my wedding day. And she had it on a list of options I saw, but she just never suggested it so I never even considered it. I wish she would have stepped in and made the suggestion. My florist knew that I was incredibly detailed and if she had only used that information to sell me the preview service, I would have been a lot happier with my flowers on my wedding day.
So, provide the same for your customer. Take the time to talk to them, listen, and understand who they really are, and what they really want out of this project. And if you know there’s something that you can sell them that’ll make them happier with their end design, then do it. Maybe you can provide a presentation is more detailed than usual complete with hand drawn renderings, 3D printings of furniture, etc. For the right kind of person, it could be perfect. The client may even thank you for bringing that option to mind, as they just never knew it existed or was necessary.
6. Reliability – The customer needs to know when you say you’ll do something, you’ll actually do it. Simple as that. Tell them what you’re going to do, and then do it.
7. Focus on What You Can Do – As exhaustingly overused this phrase is, “Think positive.” When a problem arises, take a minute to asses what you can do to fix it. Rather than brewing over how the world is always plotting your demise and yelling, “Why me?! Why every dang time?!” Consider, “Yes, this is UNBELIEVABLE but what can I do to make it better?”
Because mistakes are always going to be a constant. How many of your projects have gone seamlessly? I’m guessing not many. But I’m also guessing that as you’ve gotten more and more experienced, you’ve grown in 2 major ways. First, you make fewer mistakes. But second, and more importantly, when mistakes or problems arise, you have a much better idea of how to calmly and creatively handle them. A calm mind creates solutions. A frustrated mind finds other frustrations.
8. Set the Right Expectations – Let them know from the beginning, in a friendly way, the best way to reach you, the best number to call you or your assistance at, your office hours, a reasonable timeline including possible setbacks, a reasonable budget including any typical “add ons,” etc. Anything that your business typically does, sees, or expects from a client, let them know as soon as possible. But always deliver it in a way that shows it’s for their benefit, not yours. No one likes a business that says “this is how you must behave so that I will grace you with my service.”
9. Don’t “Let it Go” – Despite the craze around that ridiculous movie “Frozen” (sorry but even as a 6 yr old I preferred watching “Designing Women” to “Cinderella”), don’t “Let It Go.” When a problem arises, follow it from beginning to end. Don’t just assume that the contract showed up eventually. Or that the delivery man ever found the right house. Or that the chair finally has the right finish on it. When you find out there’s a problem, own it until the end. Even if you didn’t create it in the first place.
10. Know What The Customer Really Wants/Is Asking For – When a client asks you about whether the contract is redefinable, or if they can make changes to the design mid-project, or if they can return ordered items – don’t shut the door in their face just yet. First, ask some questions. Maybe they just don’t know the design process. Maybe they had a nightmare designer before you who had them sign a confusing contract that stated she could take as long as she’d like to deliver the final design, but wanted a huge fee before she even started designing. Maybe they’ve heard from friends that if a designer doesn’t let you return items then they’re cheating you. There could be a million reasons. So when a question seems suspicious, odd, or just confusing, find out the reason behind the question. There might be a lot more to it than you first think.
So, until next week’s post, think on some of these skills. Which you need to work on, which you’re killin’ it on, which you’ve never even thought of (maybe thinking of up-selling as a service). And do what you can to get better. Cause the more of these skills you acquire and perfect, the more and more desirable you become as a designer, and a business owner. So go out there and get ‘er done.
And if you need even more help on how to develop your skill set to kill it with your customer care, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!