We recently re-released a customer video we did 30 years ago (tinyurl.com/bubbaism) and the response has been as great as it was then. The same message holds true today. Customer service is mostly about common sense but at times common sense is not all that common, especially when dealing with a bunch of Bubba- and Skeeter-type field hands. Most contractors win the customer service battle by default. Many competitors do not return phone calls or show up when they say they will. By being dependable, many contractors win by default but customer service is more than just showing up. Here are some simple practices and information that can help improve your customer service.

People may not know the technical difference between a good and bad job but they know if you show up late, are dressed unprofessionally, park in the wrong spot and do a poor job of communication. Customer service is about the “how” you do things, not about the “what” you technically perform. Think of a doctor you really like. You probably judge that doctor based on his or her bedside manner, not on his or her technically ability. Personally, I would rather have the smartest technical doc in the world than a nice, incompetent guy. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough medical knowledge to make such a decision using technical facts.

What’s your complaint action policy? I bet you don’t have one. If you don’t provide training and specific information on how to respond to a complaint, workers tend to wing it and make stuff up. That is not a good thing. The following practices can help field workers know how to respond to a complaint. 

Instruct people to listen. Then listen some more. Think of a bunch of balloons. If the balloons are full of hot air, they can be hard to manage. Let the air out and you can put them in your pocket. Letting the air out of customers allows them to vent and become less emotional.

Field workers write down what the person says and keep notes. Taking notes ensures the customer is being heard. Most normal folks will calm down. People are more careful about what they say when records are kept. Taking notes also gives the worker something positive to do while the customer is being a jerk. Smile and he or she gets madder. Frown and you have an even angrier situation.

The worker then acknowledges the customer’s concerns without admitting guilt or apologizing. “Mr. Jones, I can appreciate your concern. I will reach out to my project manager and he will get right back to you.” The worker’s role is to acknowledge the problem and then get management or the appropriate person to talk with the customer. Of course, experienced workers can solve simple problems but boundaries should guide them. Was the work requested included in the original contract? Is the request safe and within code? 

Customer perceptions are driven by the beginning and end of interaction. Customers remember when you arrived and how you left. It’s important to have specific and consistent company introductory and departure procedures. 

For introductions, the worker should know the customer’s name and in a large industrial or business complex, how to find them. Ideally, the worker has identifying paperwork and even a photo badge with his or her name on it. Workers should be neat and clean (always keep an extra clean shirt in the truck.) Uniforms and proper company attire brand your professionalism.

When departing, the worker should let the customer know he or she is leaving. If possible, do a walk through with the customer. This will cut down on call backs and many cases offers a chance to correct something before leaving. The worker should also see if there is other work that is needed and ask if the customer wants it done while the worker is still there. Any paperwork should be approved by the customer.   

If a field worker breaks or damages something, he or she should fix it right away. If it cannot be easily fixed tell the customer about the problem. Avoiding problems only makes them worse. If something is mistakenly installed wrong, go ahead and fix it now before the customer sees it.  

Office personnel should always smile and answer the phone in a friendly manner. Frequently, the office person is doing admin and paperwork tasks with the phone call being an interruption. When answering the phone, the person is “on stage” and should act accordingly. If office folks receive a complaint, they should ask the customer to hold on a second while they get something to write it down. Again, this tends to calm the customer. It may seem silly but a few roleplays can really help phone courtesies. 

Any employee talking with a customer should work to build empathy. We like people who listen to us and mirror our communication style. If the customer talks rapidly and seems concerned, you should talk rapidly and seem concerned. If the customer is laid back and doesn’t say a lot, you should appear calm. 

Just a little bit of training can help avoid potential problems. Don’t let your workers’ personality drive customer service. Drive service by implementing some simple procedures and training.