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Customer service = common courtesy

Published October 17. 2009 09:00AM

I was on a bus trip to New York recently, and had to deal with a salesgirl whose attitude should go on a Top 10 List of "Things You Shouldn't Do If You Work in Customer Service."

Our plan was to walk around a certain museum, but thanks to rerouted subway lines and trying to get a bus from Lower Manhattan to SoHo, we got to the museum about 15 minutes before it closed. That left us just enough time to browse through the gift shop and check out the few displays on the first floor. There were a few other people in the gift shop, obviously wrapping up their visit before the place closed, and let's just say the salesgirl didn't look too thrilled about any of us.

Granted, I can't say I'd appreciate a last-minute rush a few minutes before my shift ended. I've been there, and yes, it's annoying. Just in case there was a slim hope that the hours on the door were wrong, I asked her, "Do you close at five?" She barely muttered, "Yeah, five", and didn't have the courtesy to look me in the eye, either. Okay then. I'm a pretty quick shopper, so I found what I wanted to buy and took care of that. I didn't want to be on the receiving end of this girl's attitude if I didn't hurry.

My traveling buddies took a bit longer. Afterwards, as we left the place and did a post-shopping trip wrap-up, we saw the salesgirl not two steps behind us. She couldn't get her earphones out for her iPod fast enough.

"Look at that," my friend said, and we laughed. "There goes Miss Personality!"

It's true. How many times have we eaten in a restaurant or gone to a store and based our experience on the quality of the service? She wasn't rude, necessarily, but her overall attitude didn't exactly make us feel welcome. Her whole persona said "I have two minutes until five and you better be out of here so I can leave!" I can hardly wait to go back there (catching my sarcasm?)

Customer service is a skill, yes, but most of it is just common courtesy. The tough part is being nice and accommodating to the rudest, nastiest, most demanding customer you work with all day. But, you have to do it. You have to make that rude, nasty, demanding customer feel like the most important person in the world that nothing would make you happier than making them happy. That's where the skill comes in. Keep that smile plastered onto your face, no matter what. Remember that old saying: "Happy customers equal returning customers." If they were nasty or rude when they came in, their mood may not have anything to do with you or their experience in your place of business. They might just be a naturally crabby person. Or maybe they were having a bad day. It doesn't matter, though. You still need to treat them like the VIP they know they are.

Even worse, you could run into a salesgirl like Little Miss Sunshine as we did in New York, who doesn't care either way if you're giving them a sale. Don't you just love when you're standing around by the cash register, getting more and more agitated as you wait for a salesperson to show up? Where are they all hiding? Do they not want your money?

It seems simple, really. Customer service folks should focus on the customer. If they're agitated, let them rant and get their frustrations out of their system, then ask "How can I help you?" or "What can I do for you?" Show them that they are important.

Unless you show up 15 minutes before closing in a museum gift shop in New York. Then all bets are off.

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