Through his company, Inspiring Performance Results, Mark Huston has coached thousands of customer service representatives for organisations of all sizes across many industries in the skills and mindsets necessary for customer service success.
Huston, Australian resident-citizen for 12 years, is an organisational development specialist originally from Chicago, USA. His company improves organisational development, performance and profitability through improved people development and performance.
In ensuring effective customer service, Huston elevates the often-overlooked importance of the “inside job”: attitudes and mindsets. For example, people who want to solve problems for people inside are naturally going to provide more effective customer service than people not so keen to solve problems for people, he says.
He clarifies this “inside job” factor is clearly demonstrated in the skill of “active listening” – necessary to success in most communication, but particularly to customer service.
Active listening is essential in receiving and understanding what the customer is communicating. Active listening also reassures the customer the message has been successfully received and ensures understanding for the customer service representative.
To be an active listener you need to care about the person or customer you are talking to. Otherwise whatever you say to them is just words or platitudes. The behaviours of active listening include making eye contact, nodding, paraphrasing back and asking questions to elicit information, all in a relative neutral but empathetic tone of voice.
When someone cares about the communicator and their message not only will the ‘active listening’ behaviours be there but understanding will much more likely be accomplished and conveyed. Says Huston: “Caring inside makes the difference outside. In both cases – solving problems for people and active listening - it is the ‘inside job’ even more than the outside that makes the telling difference in success”.
When recruiting customer service staff, even more than experience, Huston recommends standard questions in the interview like: Would you consider yourself a person who likes to help people and solve problems for them? Give an example of a time you helped a customer or solved a problem for a person. How was that for you? How did you feel about that? Would you say you care about people? What does that mean to you? How do you express that?
If you are a small owner-operator business and as yet don’t have any customer service staff, you can still apply these principles in your own dealings with customers. The advantage for small business operators is often that they are in a business they enjoy, so it is easier to become interested in their customers and potential customers.
Anybody with a basic grasp of sales knows that features are of no use to customers if you can’t show them the benefits to them of the features you describe. Better to be an active listener and find out exactly the customer’s needs before you bombard them with your “features”. If your office is “centrally located in the Sydney CBD” that will not be a feature that will benefit a customer who wants to meet with you in person if they are in Wagga Wagga.