Beware of Customer Service Barriers and Detractors – Part One

On a foggy morning, visibility while driving is poor. In large, polluted cities, smog makes it hard to see and breathe. In these examples the atmosphere is vitally important. Let’s look at people now. A party without music makes the atmosphere that little bit more awkward. Likewise in organisations, there are common barriers and detractors that exist that kill the customer service atmosphere. Firstly, I’d like to clarify the difference between barriers and detractors. Barriers are things that completely block the customer, creating a definite end to a positive interaction. Detractors don’t necessarily block the customer, but significantly lose any impact or credibility in terms of delivering a positive interaction. This blog is written in two parts. Firstly, customer service barriers, and next week a focus on customer service detractors. There are four customer service barriers that organisations need to be aware of.

1. Jargon

Jargon can refer to slang, abbreviations or even industry-specific terminology that isn’t abbreviated. It is interesting that when we start to work for a company one of the first things they do is train you on how to understand their jargon. The reason why is to eliminate confusion amongst staff (some terms may contradict terms in other industries) as well as to improve efficiency by shortening common terms and phrases that are used regularly between staff members. The problem is only created when these terms and phrases enter the customer-facing environment. Whilst there are many reasons to have jargon in the workplace there are just as many reasons to keep it away from customers. When you speak in jargon, it immediately puts up a barrier to customers. Customers will find it incomprehensible with no meaning. In some instances, it could directly block anything that has been said beforehand as well as the potential to create a divide with the staff member being considered as superior and the customer feeling less superior and intimidated. This creates conflict — which is why it should be removed from any customer environment.

2. Indifference

It is such a big word with a very small meaning. It basically means to have a lack of interest or concern. To put it quite simply, just not to care! I won’t be ignorant here and say that everyone cares, because in reality there are many organisations that are customer-focused, however, they have staff that don’t care. The difference is being indifferent in the mind versus being indifferent directly to a customer. This is when a barrier forms because, quite simply, it has the same outcome as jargon, however, in plain English. This is where a customer is ‘palmed off’, ‘told off’ or even ignored. This is a problem because, over time, staff members have told customers exactly what they are thinking and how they feel. Reading this you may find it hard to believe, but it is definitely happening out there.

3. Argument

One thing worse than indifference is showing you care, but just not caring about the customer’s point of view. The word argument doesn’t need to be defined further, it’s known all too well. We have arguments in our personal lives with family and friends, but it is something that shouldn’t enter the customer environment because it is a barrier to delivering customer service. Argument emerges into this environment when the culture of an organisation sees there is a need to ‘win’ over the customer. This can be due to pride or down to lack of training (this is where people argue at home but don’t leave it aside when they come to work. Precisely why I always say that customer service improves when people have ‘one life’ not a ‘work/life’). There is just no point in arguing with a customer, especially when we are all professionals; often the argument is about something deeper than what the problem actually is — that’s why they become so emotionally charged.

4. Incident

What words and phrases would you associate with an emergency or a crisis? ‘Stop, no, can’t, won’t, shouldn’t’ are all words that come to mind. As a general rule we should never use these in most sentences with customers as they are closed and do place a barrier in communication. But the one time we seem keen to use them is during a crisis or an emergency. The safety of your customers should be the highest priority as part of your service delivery, but when it comes to low risk or routine incidents like smoking in a no-smoking area these words seem to emerge as it is so tempting to do so. Organisations need to make it un-tempting and look at some of the incidents that take place and see where they can change the language and response to avoid using barrier words such as these. Ultimately, service must be kept with safety.

Are you aware of any of these barriers to service in your organisation?

Chris Smoje is a customer service speaker, trainer, facilitator and founder of the DIME™ Customer Service approach. Chris works with organisations and their people to develop a common interest and excitement about delivering exceptional customer service results:

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