Feature Article - September 2005
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A Field Guide to Patrons

Tips for keeping customers happy

Training and Tricks

ROLE-PLAYING   The number-one technique for teaching staff how to tame the wild customer is through regularly scheduled role-playing. Experts agree this helps prepare employees for all situations.

"Sometimes when we're faced with a situation that's new, we get the deer-in-the-headlights look," says consultant Karen Carnabucci, MSS, LCSW. Role-playing allows staff to preempt such moments by practicing in a safe setting.

KNOWLEDGE   "What knowledge does it take to be able to serve the customer?" asks Louise Anderson, author of Cream of the Corp. Employees should be armed with knowledge, not only about their slice of the facility, but of the entire facility, so when they're called on by a customer to help, fix a problem, resolve a conflict, they'll be ready.

BEST PRACTICES   "Keep track of your own best practices," Anderson says. If one employee has dealt with a prickly customer, talk about what happened. Was it resolved successfully? If not, what could be done better? If so, make sure all your employees know what worked.

"Encourage employees to make it a learning experience," Anderson adds.

STABILITY   When a customer makes you angry, your blood pressure will probably kick up a notch or two. Carnabucci offers two simple techniques to staying in control: First, breathe.

"It literally brings more oxygen to your brain and helps you think more clearly," she says. "After that, consciously soften your feet and imagine you're sending roots from your feet to the earth."

Sound hokey? Well, give it a try, and consider this:

"We can't stabilize someone else until we stabilize ourselves," Carnabucci says. "It's simple, and no one will know you're doing it."

REWARD   Good customer service should be applauded and perhaps even rewarded. Some organizations create a point system.

"Employees accumulate points for providing good customer service," Anderson explains. You can recognize individuals at team meetings and get peers to recognize each other as well. It could be for something as simple as smiling and greeting customers as they enter the facility.

"Everybody likes to be recognized—young, old, wealthy, poor, union, independent," Anderson says. It'll make your employees happy, and happy employees create an atmosphere your customers will enjoy.

RELEASE   It's draining, maybe even maddening, to remain calm and collected while dealing with an irate or otherwise difficult customer. The employees should have their own outlet for venting.

"People need a chance to recover from their experiences and process them," Carnabucci says. "It could just mean walking into the office and having a good scream." Or maybe stamping your feet in private, just getting out the negative energy. A cool-down should be allowed and even encouraged.