The oddest thing happened to me recently, I achieved invisibility!

Being a consummate stickler for long drawn out processes of large financial organizations and how defects seem to creep into the best thought out, multi-million dollar consultant assisted workflows, I had gone to a local financial institution to complaint of an over-charge of interest on my credit card statement. After pleading my case of the over-charge, the customer service person promptly checked her ‘highly-sophisticated, specially-designed, guaranteed-not-to-create-any-reaction-from-the-user’ computer program; and this is where I began to achieve invisibility.

What she discovered was evident in her body language and facial expression that their system had erred and I had been over-charged. Sliding her chair back a little, I anticipated her to stand up and provide me with an explanation. However, looking right through me she gestured for a colleague across the room (semi-transparency stage). Colleague “A” comes to her side and a whispered discussion takes place with my credit card statement being scrutinized. This of course takes place with their backs to me (translucent stage). Unable to decide what to do, a wave is motioned to yet another person across the room but this time both of them ignored my presence and my expression of disdain (evaporation stage). Colleague “B” joins them and by some miracle provides a solution and there is a quick bustle of activity as they break out of their scrimmage to different parts of the room. At this point (fully invisible now), I was on the verge of being watered by the Rent-a-Pot guy lingering around a dehydrated palm in the lounge area behind me. The other bank staffs take suspicious glances at me as if I were a member of the internal quality assurance team conducting an audit.

The customer service person returns after four other people have been served at other counters. I apparently regained visibility as she promptly looks up and utters “No interest anymore” and I’m thrust my original statement and a voucher for a complimentary iced coffee beverage from Starbucks. No more is said.

My stint at invisibility had left me in a daze, which led me to realize there is a desperate lack of interpersonal skills at the front-line level of service organizations. They all knew what to do and very likely had been taught all the right customer service techniques, but when it came down to it, they were afraid to even look let alone talk to their customers!

A rebuttal would be, these are people without extensive business experience and to be able to satisfy difficult customers in high stress environments may be unreasonable. After all, doing so requires exceptional people skills – the ability to listen, empathize, respect customer’s points of view, provide solutions, and be pleasant, all with confidence and professionalism.

Like it or not, business is business and the fact remains and probably will never change; YOUR CUSTOMERS EXPECT IT! Customer service individual’s interpersonal skills make all the difference in how your customers perceive your organization and how likely they are to do business with you in the future.

Herein lies the challenge; from a trainer’s perspective, interpersonal skills are the toughest part of customer service to train. This is why people in customer service who know their products and have been through customer service training can still fall short in real life situations. The good news is that these are specific and coachable skills that can be improved. Anyone in an internal or external customer service position can benefit by practicing the following six steps. Six simple steps to prevent customer service professionals from developing x-ray vision and in the process exceed customer delight.

Step 1: Greet and begin a conversation that puts customers at ease
Acknowledging the presence of the customer from the onset of an interaction is crucial in initiating the rapport building process. Use more words. Push your creative envelope and go beyond just “Can I help you?” Managers can encourage team brainstorming in coming up with creative greetings and use it as a fantastic tool to end mechanical briefings in the morning on a high note.

Step 2: Capture not just what a customer is saying but HOW it is said
Identifying a customer’s current mindset, mood and level of satisfaction at the earliest point of interaction is the most crucial step in approach and handling of any customer. This step sets up the whole interaction cycle and will most probably determine the satisfaction level and outcome of your contact with a customer.

Step 3: Exhibit sincere respect for what customers have to say
Sincerity and respect are the building blocks of establishing credibility and rapport. Customers have a tendency to open up with customer service professionals who have this ability. Think the clichéd bored psychotherapist listening to yet another sad life story whilst he’s doodling away on his notepad. Avoid this from happening! Feigning interest is the most guaranteed way to turn a customer invisible.

Step 4: Understand an issue clearly without making any assumptions
The “I’ve heard this one before” attitude is a sure way of making your customer feel like one of the potted plants in the office area. Ask specific questions and understand clearly what the issues are before you launch into solution mode. Mentally analyze all information carefully before providing a solution. Customers appreciate customer service professionals who take the time to understand what the issues are.

Step 5: Solve problems and resolve conflict quickly
Customers expect you to be knowledgeable and possess expertise in solving whatever issues they may have. Resolve issues as quickly as you possibly can. If this is not possible, keep customer advised as to the steps you will be taking in coming up with a solution. You are going to do it anyway so you may as well share with the customer what you’ll be doing for him/her!

Step 6: SMILE!!!

Ken Ng
CEO/Senior Managing Consultant