The Customer Service Casualty – The Lost Art of Customer Service

I was training some new Customer Service Representatives the other day, a task I take very seriously, and came across some customer service atrocities I thought I would share. If you recognize some of the bad behavior I list below, then you should consider making some changes.

My industry is Self Storage. This article is written with self storage facilities as the customer service example. The concepts in this article are universal. If you are not in self storage, you will still find strategies that work for you!

When I was training sales organizations across the United States, from time to time I would run into an abominable customer service situation. When I came across an obvious profit-killer, I would seek out the Manager/Owner and simply say, “If you can’t change your people…change your people!”

Yes, I am suggesting that you fire those responsible for costing you money. I know, I know; this person is your sister-in-law and you owe her because she saved your life at Sea World, or your great-grandfather, who just got out of prison needed a job and just needs a little time adjusting to the outside world; you can’t fire them…they are family. Well fine then; I guess if you have to do something, let’s try training them before firing them.

In selling, the receptionist is often referred to as the “GATEKEEPER”. The rejectionist, uh, receptionist is referred to in this manner because one of his/her job descriptions is to keep sales people from the owner/manager. I have heard that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so why risk it? There are a few simple premises on which customer service is based. If you adhere to these principles, you will be more successful more often.

From self storage San Diego to self storage New York, the lowest common denominator among under-producers in our industry is bad customer service. I don’t want to lay the blame solely on managers or receptionists, because we all know there are many owners without a clue running their own show out there. So EVERYONE listen up, customer service is everyone’s job; let’s get it right.

What is a customer anyway? Why do they need service? Originally, the word derives from “custom,” meaning “habit”. A “customer” became another word for someone who frequented a particular shop, and made it a habit to purchase goods sold, and with whom the shopkeeper had to maintain a relationship to keep his or her “custom,” meaning expected purchases in the future (Thanks to Wikipedia).

Nowadays, “customer” also has a broader definition. Customer service has become a term for any interaction with commercial and non-commercial entities. This may be part of the reason that our idea of customer service has become somewhat distorted.

In non-profit situations or government services, the “customer service representative” does not consider themselves as a customer service representative, and certainly does not regard the folks they speak to as “customers” (anyone ever been to the DMV?). People in this capacity don’t have an obligation to maintain a “custom” because they are at next to zero risk of losing their jobs, or losing a customer. Most government employees don’t care if you ever come back! Their lives and jobs would be less complicated if that were the case anyway. Thank goodness in recent years employees in this capacity have objected to the confining restraints that is appropriate customer service, and have substituted the term “customer” with words such as “constituent” or “stakeholder”. Wow! What would it be like to not have to be accountable to those pesky profits and bottom lines?

It is “custom”-ary to say hello when someone walks through the front door. It is customary to stand up when someone enters your business. It is customary to be friendly on the phone. These are all common sense, but you would be surprised at the amount of people who do not put these concepts into common practice. Below, I will describe some situations I came across recently. Please don’t hold it against me that this article is highlighting bad behavior in customer service. I usually like to write positively, but I realize in this article, you have to take your socks off before you clip your toenails.

Let me preface this because I think that it is important to understand the situation first. I was calling for customers to try and find a self storage unit that would work for them. 99% of the time I would call as if I was the customer (at least in the beginning of the call). My point in telling you this is merely to demonstrate that the customer server that answered the phone had no idea that I was not the customer.

Here is how many of the calls went:


OK, rule #1: If you have a business, make sure you answer the phone.

Ring….ring….ring. “You have reached the Johnson residence, please leave a message after the beep.”

Rule #2: If you have a business, make sure that you have a dedicated line for that business, even if you run it out of your home. If you absolutely must have voicemail for your business (I have no idea why you would given today’s modern technology), make sure that it is personally professional.
The ingredients of a good voicemail message are simple. When recording a voicemail message smile and start your message with an excited greeting. Then apologize for missing the call and say something like, “I am currently assisting other valued customers just like you in their search to find the perfect storage facility and unit for their needs.” Explain on your voicemail that their call is very important to you, and that you will be returning their call as soon as possible. Lastly, wish them a good day until you speak. Leave them thinking that you run a professional organization.



Rule #3: Try a different approach. In business it is rather important that the customer know they are calling a business, otherwise you have increased your chances by 60% that you will be hung up on. An appropriate inbound phone call answer sounds something like this, “Thanks for calling XYZ storage, where safety of your belongings is our number one concern. How can I be of assistance today?” This greeting starts off with a thank you, leads then into a company credo that establishes credibility for your self storage facility immediately, and ends with a pledge that you are there to earn their business. You would like something a little simpler? OK, try this, “Reservations, how may I help you?” BAM, right out of the gate you let them know that you are serious about getting them the self storage unit they are looking for. custom logo dress socks

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