Smile – even when you don’t want to: customer service

I love to people watch.  But not the creepy kind of people watching.  Just the people fascinate me kind of people watching. I was watching an episode of TNG and I laughed because Data’s role in the episode was to be fascinated by people doing ordinary things.  That is so me. And that episode got me thinking about my next post.

Here are a few tips I wish everyone in customer service positions knew:
Tip #1:
Let’s say you are running late or having a bad morning.  I understand completely.  You smile and you welcome your patrons, your customers.  A warm welcome and smile are so important that you can feel it – even over the phone.

I don’t mind if you drive up – run out of your car – run back to your car to grab your phone that you left – run back to the door – oops! run back to the car to grab your lunch – nope! you forgot your lunch – growl a little – run back to the door and realize you left your work keys at home – knock on the door – get a little teary-eyed frustrated – and run to the bathroom to scream a little.   What matters is, when you start working, that you are present.

Tip #2: Be Aware. (And sometimes, beware…)
Be aware of who is in front of you. Your patron is important. You want that person to feel welcomed and you want that person to return.  You need to greet the person, look at the person, and smile.  You need to communicate with the person.  If something is not working or going wrong, tactfully and briefly explain what is going on – so that the patron doesn’t get frustrated about the length of time or worried about an error that could affect them.  If everything is going well, a simple comment on the weather makes the person feel accepted and places you both in the moment.

Be aware if you have a crowd forming. Though you have your attention on the person you are assisting, don’t ignore your surroundings.  Don’t give your patron reason to become irritated by carrying on a conversation for longer than it needs to be to handle the transaction.

Be aware of your co-workers. I call this the ‘buddy system’.  The best way to diffuse a situation, is to have a team member help you out.  Perhaps your co-worker or the patron might be flustered or heating up the moment (not in a good way). Sometimes by simply standing next to your co-worker, you can help calm down a situation.  Other times, you might be able to throw the conversation off track by stepping in calmly.  I don’t recommend taking over – but lending an extra set of ears could help if emotions have taken over common sense.

Tip #3: Don’t take it.  Don’t give it back.
We all have bad days, bad moments.  That doesn’t give us the right to treat anyone else badly. My recommendation again is to smile.  Sometimes by talking to the patron, they ease up a bit, get out of their head, and realize there is a person in front of them.  If a person is over-the-top rude or crude, ask them to not speak that way to you and finish with them as quickly as possible.  If that doesn’t work and the buddy system doesn’t work, follow the guidelines your company has in place on how to diffuse a situation.  No matter how much training you have, handling this type of situation is never easy.  Take care of the patron quickly and do not engage.  (Ever hear the rule “don’t engage the crazy”?) Never react by treating the patron the same way.  You have to make judgement calls when working with the public.  All you can do is control how you act and react.  *Note: Of course, if things get out of hand, hopefully you have a system in place to call for a manager or the police.

Tip #4: It’s not personal – even when it is.
It’s hard to not react when a person is upset and taking it out on you.  If you are dealing with a situation of following a rule, direction, or procedure – try to direct the conversation back to that. Avoid saying ‘you’ when you can say ‘it’ type of phrases/sentences. Most of the time the person just wants to be heard.  So do less talking and more listening.  See what the person truly wants and look for a loophole to jump through to assist the patron. Find the person that can help them – or, at least, explain something to them with more authority.

Found this gem on Pinterest. No copyright infringement intended.

Tip #5: It helps to have a sense of humor.
…that’s pretty self-explanatory.

Pay attention.  Is your patron reacting well to your humor?  Sometimes it helps diffuse a situation.  Sometimes the person doesn’t have a sense of humor – at least in that moment.

When you work with people, you never know what to expect.  This is one part of my job that I love.  I respect the service relationship between a patron and employee.  And when you witness it done well, you understand why that library or business is doing well.  You can literally point out a person or a team to explain the success of the business.  I live near chain stores where I have my choice of which store I can go to.  I choose a store based on the type of service I receive and the selection of what they sell.

A real example of a great employee making a difference is from a local Walgreens.  One employee, we’ll call him WJ, offers exemplary customer service.  WJ smiles, greets people throughout the store, asks if assistance is needed, runs to help out his team, and keeps an eye on what needs to be done next.  One minute he is helping at the register, the next he’s checking in stock, then he’s off to answer a question.  If everyone worked like WJ did, stores would be more efficient and a more pleasant experience to shop in. …that reminds me, I need to speak to a manager.

I decided a few years ago that if I witnessed amazing customer service, I would acknowledge it – to the manager of the person with the amazing service skills.  I figure managers most often hear complaints.  I’d like to give a morale boost to anyone I could.  I have written letters to corporate businesses to let them know about a store excelling in their mission.  When I look back at the letters, I might have a tendency to go over-the-top a bit.  But, it’s always good to support those doing an amazing job.

And when I see poor customer service, I bite my tongue.  I like the idea of ‘secret shopper’ and would love to pursue this.  I would observe and write-up a report.  Do you think anyone would listen to it? It might help if they asked me to do this – before I handed them my report.

~I’m here to help

When I was 12, I had my first job – babysitting.  When I was 14, I had my first tax-withholding paycheck.  I worked three jobs at-a-time from age 16 to age 30. I worked full-time while going to school for my bachelor and master degrees.  I started working in libraries when I was 18 and held retail and service-type jobs besides.  I’ve been in leadership and management roles since the age of 13.  I’m also passionate about reading self-help and non-fiction materials.  I have a passion for training excellent customer service skills. Now that I’m in my 40s, I enjoy sharing my knowledge and experiences with others.  Why am I sharing all this?  To lay out why I think I understand great customer service – both from the customer point-of-view and from the employee point-of-view.

Note: for those of you wondering about the acronym in the first paragraph TNG = Star Trek: The Next Generation

Resource:  To recognize good customer service, you should say thank you.  If you are a manager, here’s one great website with fun recognition gifts:  Trainers Warehouse

Here are just a few customer service resources:
Business Training Works.  21 Tips for Excellent Retail Customer Service. Retrieved from

OCLC: WebJunction. Customer Service That’s Cause a Smile. Retrieved from

Reach Across the Register.  Good Customer Service Skills in 3 Easy Steps.  Retrieved from

Turnali, Kaan.  (2014). 4 Reasons Why Excellent Customer Service Should Start With a Smile. Forbes. Retrieved from

Tycho Press. (2015). Extra Mile: 500 Customer Service Tips for Success. Tycho Press. Berkeley, California.  (See if your local library has this book.)