Customer Service and Understanding

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…” ~ Atticus Finch

I’ve worked in Customer Service for over 9 years now. And no matter how many customers I’ve worked with, no matter how many job positions I’ve had, there is always one thing I’ve found necessary to succeed in this department: You have to be open to understanding other people’s points of view.
I used to work in Retail as a cashier supervisor. Throughout the years, our store had its share of interesting customers walk through our entrance. But one night there was a gentleman who came in and approached one of my cashiers asking to exchange an item. As a standard response, my cashier was quick to inform the customer that he could hold onto his item until he found the correct item he wanted to exchange it for. So the customer started to walk away, and suddenly without warning he turned around. He marched right back up to the cashier, and he demanded to speak with a manager.
I was also at the register performing another task when I heard this happening, and when I heard the customer’s demands I stepped in. At first, my cashier attempted to start explain his reasoning, but the customer kept interrupting and only continued to get more defensive. While I didn’t even know what was going on, my gut told me that the situation was only going escalate and I had to defuse it. I calmly informed my cashier I was going to assist the customer and I came from behind the counter to address the gentleman’s needs. I took ownership of the customer’s problem; his needs were now my needs, and we were going to figure this out together.
This is NOT a picture of the customer, but his body language and facial expressions were similar:
Anger 2
After asking him some further questions, I eventually found out why he was angry: his expectations of the store’s associates had not being met. His expectation was upon entering the store he’d find an associate that would offer him assistance to find the item he was looking for. He also noted he was unsure he’d even find the item by himself, and the nervousness in his voice only reinforced that. So when he asked my cashier for assistance, he mistook the cashier’s response as passive and lazy. Another important point I’ll add when dealing with angry customers: They all have a story to tell, and more often than not they want you to listen, to tell you why they are angry.
To conclude, we found out the item he wanted was not available in the store. I stayed proactive so I checked our online store and found we could order it for him. Success! And before he parted, he gave a sincere “Thank you!” and initiated me to shake his hand. I would be lying if I didn’t say I was shocked; this was a completely different man from the one I had met twenty minutes earlier. So it was not just rewarding to see that he left the store satisfied; I also learned about his perspective and what standard I could set for myself on future customer interactions.
And this idea about trying to understand other people’s perspectives is not limited to Customer Service either. You can use these tools in your own life! It’s why so many great leaders also see the power in understanding from Dale Carnegie to Stephen Covey. You don’t have to agree with them, but you now are aware that they exist. In developing this skill, you not only open your mind but also open your heart.
In regards to understanding, I’ll leave this entry with this: People like to generalize what they don’t understand, have yet to understand, or don’t want to understand. But it all comes back to understanding, and it’s something we can always use more of in this world.
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