Sunday, March 23, 2014

5 Things I Learned in Customer Service

I have heard it said many times that we humans are social creatures.  We rely upon one another for fulfillment emotionally, but we also rely upon one another in the business realm. When one deals with the public and the needs of the public regularly, we refer to this as customer service.  Customer service gets a bad rep, and it is also considered a very low-end job, serving others the basics. 

Yet, after many years in customer service, I firmly believe that every individual should experience what it is like to serve coffee, to make sandwiches, to balance all of the tasks and duties required of customer service positions.  Everyone should know what its like to serve the public at 5 in the morning on a rainy or snowy Monday, when every single person is grumpy, bitter to be awake and going to work again.  Everyone should know what it is like to get yelled at for no reason.  Everyone should know what it is like to clean toilets and pick up disrespectful messes. 

Customer services has taught me many things, but, these five stand out the most:

1.     Just Say Yes

While this was my Starbucks district’s slogan, it really comes down to the heart of where customer service is now.  Just say yes.  Give them literally everything they want and ask for.  And do it with a smile. 

Boy does that take self-control!  When you’re being shushed by a person ordering while on their phone, it takes everything you have no to yell in their face and say come back when you’re ready. 

It makes me wonder, though, is just saying yes the right thing to do?  It seems that it continues and perpetuates the entitlement and the disrespect of customer servants as non-humans, but rather robots or individuals with no personhood or story or importance.  Is this really where we want to be as a culture?

2.     Relationships Matter

A relationship with the customer is the most crucial aspect of business and customer service.  After all, people can buy their own coffee and make it at home, but, at Starbucks, they get waited on hand and foot with a smile.  And they come back for that every single day. 

Relationships keep them coming back.  Relationships with customers paid my rent.  Got me tips to put gas in my car.  Relationships made me friends, got me connections, and encouraged me that I was meant for more in this world than relationships with people I serve daily at a coffee shop.  What kind of relationships are these?  Where customers know little to nothing about me, yet I listen to their morning whining and their evening tired proclamations?  Is this really a relationship?  Or are customer services representatives simply emotional dumping grounds?

Relationships matter in all aspects of life.  We humans are social beings, after all, right?  I tried to cultivate real relationships with customers.  But in the end, I’m left wondering, was it real?

3.     Give Everything You’ve Got

In customer service, you’re expected to give everything.  Whether the demands come from your boss, the higher ups in the corporation, or the customers themselves, you have to be on – constantly.  Especially when you don’t feel like it.

You’re asked to give and give and give.  Even when you don’t feel like it, you slap on a smile and a howdy-do that even frightens you at how genuine it sounds.  At Starbucks, we are asked to give “legendary” customer service.  Legendary.  As in it lives on.  And gets talked about after the customers leave and go back to their own lives.  I hope everything that I gave and how I made people feel lives on in the stores where I have worked.  I guess that’s all one can hope for.

4.     Be Yourself

It’s obvious when you’re a fake, and you work in customer service.  I’ve actually been frightened by baristas or managers who are basically different people at work and outside of work.  Even if you’re shy or weird, you have to be you. 

Starbucks drew me outside of myself.  It pushed me to talk to people I would not necessarily have talked to on my own.  And like it or not, I was me.  I was quirky.  I was funny.  I was chatty.  I was real.  People saw me on good days and bad days.  Days when it was really hard to wake up at 4:07am and days when I popped out of bed like a pop tart. 

There is beauty in being yourself that I learned during my time in customer service.  Because everyone has a place.  Everyone fits somewhere.  Some places better than others.  I gained confidence exponentially in the past few years.  And for that I am extremely grateful.  Even though everyone is replaceable in customer service, people are still good and have value and are beautiful and giving at the end of the day.  And that is magical.

5.     Don’t Be Afraid

Don’t be afraid of anything.  Of anyone.  Of any dream that you have.  Sure it’s scary, but don’t be paralyzed by it. 

Sure I lost a lot of sleep and worked long and weird hours at Starbucks.  Sure I got anxiety trying to constantly meet the needs of an ever-changing company trying to compete in a changing market.  Sure I felt underappreciated and underpaid.  That’s customer service. 

But it wasn’t my dream.  It’s okay if someone has a dream to have their own Starbucks and be a part of that bigger community.  You can change lives that way – one cup at a time.  But it wasn’t my dream.  And now I have the confidence to follow my dream.  And three stores cheering me on – along with a whole family of partners who believe in me and what the path holds for me. 

For that, I am eternally grateful.

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