I was having a conversation with a friend of mine the other day about customer service. He was an advocate of the commonly held belief that we should adopt American customer service practices in this country as they are infinitely better than our own. As someone who has lived in America for ten years, I felt well placed to wade into the debate and add my two cents… I mean pence.
Now first of all, before anybody thinks that this article is about America bashing… it is. No, of course it’s not. The fact of the matter is that the Americans do have better customer service practices than we do. They are more attentive, friendlier and work their dandiest to make your experience with them memorable for all the right reasons.
My point to my friend was not that their practices were not better; I just didn’t think they were necessarily the best. And on a scale of 1 to 10, why not strive for a 10 rather than the 8 or 9?
Now, why do I say this? Well, I just don’t think the American model of customer service would work in this country. They are a young, optimistic people with bushy tails and bright eyes. They’ve only been around for a couple of hundred years. We, on the other hand, have been around for a few thousand years and are wizened with a cynicism that can only come with experience and old age. In my opinion it wouldn’t take long for the enthusiastic ‘Have a nice days’ to begin to grate upon our sensibilities, even if at first we are impressed by it.
No, a much better model of customer service is not to stick to any particular set mode, but to adapt our mode based on the customer in front of us. It’s about personality profiling and knowing when something will be liked, and when it won’t. Let me give you an example. Have you ever been clothes shopping, walked into a shop, only to be approached by a floor attendant asking if you needed anything when all you wanted was to be left alone to browse? Did it make you feel uncomfortable? What about walking into a shop, scanning for an attendant to ask a question, and ended up feeling ignored? Did you feel frustrated?
What is happening here? The attendant is following a formula. Either, be attentive and approach the customer, or don’t suffocate them with too much attention. But neither was right for that particular situation, though they might have been right had your needs been different. What the attendant wasn’t doing was reading the body language and other signals of the customer and being flexible based on what he or she sees.
Ultimately my point is that sometimes an enthusiastic American approach might be called for, but other times, a more reserved British approach might work better. The way to take customer service to the highest plateau (a 10 in my scale above) is not to settle for any single rote approach, but to teach your people what they need to know to be able to flex their style and create a truly unique and memorable experience for that person at that time. Therefore it’s important to incorporate personality profiling, body language reading and other psychological elements into any customer service programme. A team of people armed with the tools to think on their feet is surely better than those bogged down by the restrictions of blanket procedures.