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The Key to Winning in this Economy is
Great Customer Service

by Jim Sirbasku


With the economy in recession consumers have cut back on their spending.

This is probably not the first time you have encountered this statement; however, if your company is fortunate enough to still be able to count on its greatest asset – its employees – then it has the potential to thrive in spite of the current economic climate. It is important that managers to start seeing things from a different perspective, beginning with the statement above.

Customers have cut back on their spending but they are in fact still spending. Customers are being careful and scrutinizing, but they are still spending. And to keep those customers, every manager must understand the value of great customer service and know that it can be accomplished at every level of the business to ensure that positive customer experiences are touted and delivered regularly and that negative customer experiences happen rarely – if not never – and that they are dealt with appropriately so as to diminish the tarnishing effect they can have on the business.

How can your company achieve this? Cohesively.

Customers don’t see your company as a collection of departments that work together, they see you as a single entity and you must train your employees to think in the same way and to see customer service as part of their job description, no matter what department they are in.

Every industry is different but any employee, at any level and at any company can start thinking about delivering great customer service by keeping in mind a universal list of what customers want: Attention to detail, consistent performance, help when it is needed, a knowledgeable staff, flexibility and convenience.

But this is only one end of the stick. Given the times, no matter how good you and your people are, or the quality of the products and services you offer, customers concerned about their light wallets will occasionally prove to be more demanding on the customer service front. What can you do when you are faced with a complaint?

There are other ways. The following guidelines will resolve most problems, and turn a complaint into a more positive experience for the customer, your employees and yourself.

  1. It may not be your fault, but it’s still your problem. Approach all angry customers with this attitude. And even if it is your fault, don’t take the complaint personally and resist the temptation to fight back. Even if you win the battle, you’ll lose the war and the customer.

  2. Listen. In order to address the customer’s problem, you’ll need to know exactly what the problem is. Listen to gain some insight on the customer’s distress and to dispel some of the initial anger the customer is feeling.

  3. Don’t Interrupt. Let complainants express themselves and vent. It will be easier to reason with them afterwards.

  4. Calm Your Complainant and Clarify the Problem. Show some empathy and let your customer know you are going to try to sort things out. Ask questions and qualify comments to understand the problem from the customer’s point of view. Then, decide whether or not the complaint is justified.

  5. If it’s Your Fault, Say So. If it’s Not, Don’t. If your company is at fault, admit it early in the process and accept the responsibility but don’t automatically accept blame before you know it’s warranted.

  6. Solve the Problem. Think of how best to solve the customer’s problem. If you need time to come up with a response, say so and commit to getting back to him on a specified timetable.

  7. Don’t Accept Abuse. Don’t accept it if a complainant steps over the line between the reasonable right to complain and outright personal abuse. Calmly explain that you will address problems, but you can do so only if they speak and act courteously and respectfully.

  8. Pin Down Moving Targets. If you’re dealing with a problem that seems to grow every time you implement an agreed solution, ask your customer to put the complaint in writing so you can better understand and address it. This will help you to focus upon an agreed solution. Also, working things out on paper can sometimes make a complainant recognize if his is an unreasonable viewpoint.

  9. Stop it from Happening Again. Try to prevent angering customers in the future – at purchase time, by keeping in touch and, when necessary, by changing what you do to minimize the chance of the problem recurring.

By hiring employees that match your company’s values and its take on customer service and by investing the time to train and develop them in order to deliver it together, you will ensure that your customers’ expectations are met, if not exceeded.

Get your employees to stand together behind your company and you will find that it is possible to navigate through this harsh economy with a renewed confidence in what you have to offer and the customer service you provide. Trying economic times are an opportunity to build loyalty among customers by showing them that you care.


The Author

Jim Sirbasku

Jim Sirbasku is co-founder and CEO of Profiles International Inc., the leading provider of human resource management solutions and employment assessments for businesses worldwide.  Sirbasku founded Profiles in 1991 and has worked to make Profiles International the industry leader in providing business, government and other organizations modern occupational evaluation tools that optimize human resources.

About Profiles International
Profiles International is the world’s leader in selecting and developing high-performance workforces through innovative human resource management solutions. They offer a comprehensive suite of employment assessments that help companies gain a competitive advantage by selecting, hiring, retaining and developing great talent. Continually validating and updating its assessment products, Profiles International serves many of the largest companies in 120 countries around the globe.

For more information about Profiles International’s suite of human resource management solutions, visit

Many more articles in Customer Service in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2009 by Jim Sirbasku. All rights reserved.

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