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Customer service: Dealing with the good, bad and ugly

January 13, 2012
Christine Weatherman , Tribune Chronicle |

Unless you live in some extremely remote area, customer service is a part of everyday life. True, when customer service is mentioned, many recall their latest visit to a coffee shop or cellular phone store, but, the concept of ''customer service'' isn't exclusive to retail; it encompasses every type of industry including sales, manufacturing and politics, to name a few.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, customer service representatives provide a valuable link between customers and companies and, in 2008, held about 2.3 million jobs. Customer service is one of the fastest growing job markets and if you're good at it, you're in demand.

As a self-proclaimed ''customer service specialist,'' I feel qualified to recognize what's important to consumers and understand how to provide it. Since age 15, I've run cash registers, sold shoes, simultaneously answered six phone lines, waited tables, managed offices and have seen and heard almost everything a customer could possibly do or say. I've often pondered writing a book on my 37 years worth of experiences. I firmly believe in the two golden rules of serving customers: 1. The customer is always right; and 2. When in doubt, see rule No. 1. No exceptions.

With this in mind, I pay particular attention to the customer service I receive and often give feedback when it's either exceptionally good or poor. Remember pulling into a gas station in the 1950s and seeing a team of servicemen simultaneously pumping gas, wiping the windshield and checking the tires? Some may remember firsthand but I've only seen it in movies. What an extraordinary way to make your customers feel appreciated. Sadly, this eagerness to please the customer seems to have waned.

While shopping recently, I experienced the worst customer service I've ever witnessed. I stopped at a restaurant to place an order to go. At the time, I was the only customer. The man working went to get it as I waited at the cash register. Meanwhile, five more customers arrived and he proceeded to fill their multiple orders while I waited and waited for him to wrap up my little one.

When I asked him about the delay, I was ignored and dismissed as unimportant in front of my children and the other customers. I got angry and decided to leave. As we walked away, the young man remarked to my children ''Hey kids, don't act like mommy.''

I stopped in my tracks and returned to the counter. I asked what he'd said to them and, to add insult to injury, he actually waved me away from the counter telling me to ''just leave.'' I was stunned, embarrassed and vowed to do something about it.

While speaking to the owner the next morning, she said the young man who'd worked the night before was her son. I explained to her that I wasn't looking for free food, but rather an apology for his abhorrent behavior. She ensured me she would speak with him and get back to me. After six weeks and three more attempts at resolving this issue I'm still being ignored and dismissed. I'm sorry, but I find this completely unacceptable.

In contrast, some thankfully still know how to make a customer feel like they matter. I recently called my mortgage company and, after what turned into a 40-minute conversation, complimented the woman with whom I'd been speaking. She was articulate, patient and the epitome of professionalism, all qualities a great customer service representative should possess.

Customer feedback, positive and negative alike, is of vital importance to any business, and if they're smart, the public relations folks will listen and respond accordingly. Word-of-mouth publicity can make or break a company's reputation, so be sure to treat your customers right. Without them you might not have a job tomorrow.

Weatherman is a Trumbull County resident. Email her at



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