Intro: How to GET Good Service

“According to your plan, you need to do it this way. It is not possible to change plans in the middle of a service contract.”

“No, sir, I cannot do that for you. Only the manager can do that, and she’s not here.”

“This item is non-returnable. If you’ve changed your mind, there is nothing I can do.”

“You’re not listening to me. Therefore, I am simply unable to help you.”

If there is a one-word label for the era we live in, then this is the age of consumerism. Every day, we find ourselves in the role of the customer, managing a never-ending supply of goods and services we require to sustain ourselves and our families.

Remember the really old days, before we had things like cars or shopping malls? We made or traded for most of the stuff we needed: food, clothing, tools, and building materials. The concept of time had a whole different meaning. There was a lot less multi-tasking, and we were scarcely in any big hurry. When we wanted something, we waited until the market was open, and we walked there, probably at a pace we would now call leisurely.

Since then, the number of ‘necessities’ has grown to include things that, not long ago, seemed like miracles. I never thought I would have a telephone in my pocket, not to mention the world’s most extensive library at my fingertips, literally. And, thanks to these gadgets, we don’t even need to leave the house in pursuit of our vast acquisitions. Nowadays, with a few clicks, we can order nearly any product or service under the sun. With this massive expansion of needs and conveniences in our lives comes, well, the never-ending inconvenience of managing them.

Most of our purchases compel us to (physically or digitally) approach some company, organization, or person. We enter each transaction in the hope of a smooth and painless process. Sometimes, we’re lucky; other times, we have to try harder. How do you rate the quality of service you’re getting, the attitude of employees vis-à-vis the customers, as compared with years past? There seems to be a downward trend in certain parts of the world which, unless we do something, is not about to improve any time soon.

Much has been written on how to provide good service. Google “book, good, service” and you’ll find thousands of ‘Business-to-Customer’ (B-to-C) books on how to deal with customers, mostly written for mid-level managers who will never actually speak to one. This knowledge is supposed to trickle down to the employees we meet. So… how’s that been working out?

I could not find a book for customers on how to prepare for different situations, prevent and solve problems from the ordinary, through the sensitive, to the peculiar. It became my inspiration to fill that void with this ‘C-to-B’ handbook to getting better service. The tips, quotes, and methods are carefully intended to be universal, so, provided you translate them into the local language, you can apply them across the globe, give or take the occasional minor faux pas.

We are the customer in “customer service”

Our role as consumer-gatherer is never-ending, and there’s little we can do about that (search “living off the grid”). For as long we can remember, we’ve been bombarded by media and advertising, masterminded to give us an illusion of entitlement that we deserve only the best. As a result, customers have become more savvy and demanding than ever before. Customer service, though, has not always kept up with those demands.

{It’s not just our money that talks; most employees don’t care about our money.}

We earn the service we get

It’s nice to think the customer always comes first, and “The customer is king!”, but, as of this writing, that’s a platitude from days gone by. Currently/Today, for many employees, it’s survival at any cost, and that can arouse a bad attitude in all the wrong places. If they aren’t being helpful or receptive, then – it’s only logical – it’s up to us to exact better service from them.

How can we take someone who’s having a rotten day and suddenly make them more helpful? Well, when are we at our most helpful? It’s no mystery: people are simply more cooperative when they like the other person. Since the beginning of human history, liking a person has always been a cardinal motivator in anyone’s decision-making process. The fastest way to get someone’s agreement is to get them to like us, if only for a couple of minutes. The second fastest way is to appeal to their sense of fair play.

When you put on a sad smile and mutter, “I understand this is not a common request, but would you mind…..” or a serious face: “What can you do, to make sure that I will continue to be your customer?”, your counterpart is temporarily disarmed, and your position is temporarily elevated. It’s time to make an offer, or say something nice. Or, when you hit a snag with someone, and so you raise your eyebrows and ask, “What can you do to resolve this?”, you give the other person a chance to use their brain and be the good guy. The phrases suggested in later chapters are designed to make people generally more amenable. This agreeability may seem odd at first, but you will get used to it soon enough.

After all, most transactions are simple; this does not have to be a complex relationship. It’s in everyone’s interest to conclude the business swiftly and get back to our respective lives. By helping them to help us, we’re more than halfway off the phone, out the door, on our way.

Practice makes Art

Like any art, martial or creative, these communication skills can be practiced and developed. Think of any muscle-memory skill, e.g. driving, playing a musical instrument, or making love. The more we practice, the better we get, gradually, until it becomes second nature.

Dealing with some employee, service provider or clerk is an uninspiring task we face whether we like it or not. I’m not promising that your errands will become any more enjoyable, but they will get smoother, steadier, and easier to manage. That’s a small victory I think most of us can live with.

How is this book organized?

The book is divided up into chapters, each illustrating a customer service setting, where distinct features and pitfalls are addressed. Certain methods will recur across chapters as appropriate; so, instead of describing them every time, there will be a hyperlink to its description in the Appendix {link}. Then, just press “Back” to get back to your previous page, and keep reading where you left off. Forgive me if you already knew that; I didn’t. I left the formatting to a pro {link to Hynek}.

For clarity and to keep the word-count down, some settings have been combined into chapters with transactional similarities. This enabled me to present the methods in varied settings, and demonstrate that they are not always situation-specific. In other words, you are encouraged to combine the methods, mix-and-match, according to your situation. There are other chapters I omitted as too specific, and one or two I may have overlooked. Do let me know, and I will add it to the next edition with sincere thanks.

The quotes

In each chapter, there are suggested phrases you can use in specific circumstances. These are in italics for the only reason that if you’re in a predicament, you can easily locate them. You might have heard some of these already, and I’m sorry if that happens, but I bet you’ll find one or two you haven’t tried out yet. The quotes, like the methods, can be applied to more situations. You should mix and match them according to your ingenuity.

Where it might not be obvious, and as infrequently as possible, I’ve made some words bold within the quotes, for vocal emphasis. If there’s no bold in the quote, just use your natural intonation, whatever that means for you. Most sentences, nevertheless, should end with a downward inflection (link). This vocal inflection sounds authoritative, convincing, and, when done right, not at all aggressive. Keep it in mind every time you are in persuasion mode. I will make reminder of this three more times in the book because, alas, some people forget.

Not a non-disclaimer

Can you teach someone how to catch a fish? Sure. But catch a fish every time? This book is about converging with people, their behaviors, and their reactions. There will always be variables we have no control over, and are impossible to predict. We’ve all been through unusual situations where we managed, with varying success, and lived to talk about it. A lot of what you’ll find here will be common-sensical, considering most people already know how to get the shopping done without too much aggravation.

You will not always get everything you always want (catch the fish) every time. However, if you practice these tips ‘in the field’, it will not take long to notice an improvement in how smoothly you manage your customer dealings. Probably about the same time as getting good at a video game. In contrast to the adrenaline of killing your on-screen enemies (when your brain secretes dopamine), in real life communication, oxytocin is released, resulting in a subtler, controlled ‘high’. Each time you experience the satisfaction of good service, your confidence will rise a wee tad. This rise is cumulative; your brain remembers and reconfirms when you enter your next customer situation with even more confidence and poise.

A guarantee

It can take a little longer to become a master, but you will see a noticeable improvement in your customer service transactions within a month of buying this book. If not, email me for a full refund. If you happen to live off the grid, or don’t get out much, read this book at a more casual tempo, will you?