Utility managers who talk about good customer service but do not demonstrate it are fighting a losing battle with their employees.
As a manager, the first step in motivating your staff to provide excellent service is to consistently demonstrate the attitudes and behaviors you want them to use with their customers. You must be a role model for your employees.
Here are 10 suggestions that will help utility managers be a shining example of a customer service role model.
No 1. Start the day off right. Everyone has a bad day but managers must always remember that their mood affects the disposition of their staff. This, in turn, has an effect on the way they treat customers. The way you first greet your staff in the morning can set the tone for the rest of the day. Make it a positive greeting.
No. 2. Discuss your feelings. If you’re irritated with one of your staff, you don’t have the luxury of venting your feelings in a negative way. Letting off steam with a dramatic outburst erodes your relationship with your staff and demonstrates to them a totally unacceptable fashion to deal with customers. Try the following instead. Remain calm. Discuss the matter in private, never in front of other people. Explain in detail why you’re upset. If you talk in general terms, that forces the staff member to guess why you’re angry. Avoid a one-way conversation by giving your employee a chance to respond and say how he or she feels. Then come to a mutual solution to the problem.
No 3. Try to do the right thing. When you find yourself face to face with a difficult customer, your staff will carefully listen and watch your every move to see how well you deal with the situation. If you handle this difficult person like a pro, you teach your staff by example. They will more clearly see how they should act in similar situations.
No. 4. Support staff decisions. Upset customers who don’t get what they want often ask to speak to the manager or supervisor. If your employee has made a decision that enforces company policy and you reverse it, you’ve just taken the first step toward dis-empowering them. Employees will wonder why they should stand up for the company if the company won’t stand up for them.
I suggest talking to the customer and then discussing the issue briefly with the staff member. If you and your employee decide to reverse the decision, have the employee tell the customer so they can be a hero in the customer’s eyes. By taking a few extra minutes to collaborate with your employees, you empower and encourage them to be more flexible and resourceful.
No. 5. Be willing to not know the answer. Some supervisors think that being a manager means having to know all the answers to every question that’s fired at them. There will always be times when you won’t be able to answer a question, so don’t try to bluff it. Admitting you don’t know can be a sign of strength that garners trust from those around you. By being open to discovering answers, you encourage your staff to do the same.
No. 6. Learn to listen. Employees must understand they shouldn’t interrupt their customers or jump to conclusions about what they’re saying, and the best way to reinforce this message is to learn to listen to your staff when they speak to you.
Nov. 7. Take time to socialize. Know your staff and what they’re up to in their lives. By all means, have your privacy and respect theirs, but don’t be so distant that you’re out of touch with major events such as birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and so on. Celebrate noteworthy occasions and develop a relationship with your staff that is based upon respect for them as complete individuals, not just the results they produce.
No. 8. Use good telephone etiquette. You should be your staff’s best example of excellent telephone manners. If you do so consistently, your staff will naturally follow your example. Any time you pick up the phone is an opportunity for you to demonstrate good telephone skills.
No. 9. Thank your staff often. Be generous with compliments to your staff and acknowledge their service skills when they’ve done a good job. Don’t assume they know you appreciate the excellent job they do. Nothing has the same impact as hearing it straight from you. An environment of recognition and appreciation encourages your staff to maintain consistently high levels of service. The negative attitude that some managers have toward praise guarantees staff resentment which, in one way or another, reflects back to customers.
No. 10. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Your staff is appreciative when you are straightforward with them. If difficult situations must be dealt with, your words should match what your body language and tone of voice are already communicating. By being honest and straightforward with your staff, you gain their trust. If they can count on you to say it the way it is when things aren’t going well, they are that much more appreciative of your praise when things are going right.
Talking about good customer service and not demonstrating it means you have lost before you even started. Managers who understand this will make great strides toward ensuring their utility provides only the best in service.
David Saxby is president of Measure-X, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based measurement, training and recognition company that specializes in customer service and sales skills training for utilities.