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Providing Better Customer Service - Home based Basics

By Ronda L. Claire

Kankakee, Ill. (Sun., Aug. 8, 1999) -- In most any situation, business or personal, customer service is a factor. The obvious elements are greeting people as they enter your shop or store; smiling and telling a person "thank you" and/or inviting them to return; acknowledging that a person may need some help and offering your assistance...

But customer service goes beyond this. How about the regular visitors to your business, the patient customer who will "wait" because they "understand" or someone 'wondering aloud' where a product might be? Answer the following questions and we'll see if you are a Customer Service STAR. Answers and Scoring can be found at the end of this column.


  1. A customer you are unfamiliar with comes into the little shop you work in, you...
    1. stop what you are doing, smile and acknowledge the person;
    2. stare at the person, saying nothing;
    3. look up from what you are doing, then go back to it;

  2. A "regular" comes into the diner where you waitress at a time you are busy with a table of five customers. You...
    1. smile an acknowledgement that you'll be there as soon as possible;
    2. stare at the customer; s/he's a regular, s/he'll understand;
    3. give no sign at all that you saw someone enter and sit down;

  3. You are chatting with a co-worker or customer at a service counter and the telephone rings. You...
    1. cease your conversation, pick up the receiver and answer cheerfully;
    2. pick up, but continue your current sentence as you lift the receiver;
    3. let it ring while you continue your conversation; maybe it will stop;

  4. You are in management at a grocery store at which a sign is displayed "when there are three or more customers in line, we'll open another register" and you can plainly see six customers in each of two lines with two more registers standing idle. You...
    1. open at least one more register immediately;
    2. wait until the current lines dwindle down to three customers each then open a register;
    3. stand with your arms folded and watch;

  5. You are a sales associate in a major chain store. While stocking clothing, you overhear two customers chatting about a particular item in another department, one wondering aloud "I wonder where I could find..." and you know the location of the item in question. You...
    1. approach the customers with the location of their item in question;
    2. continue working; it isn't polite to eavesdrop;
    3. walk past the customers without saying a word;


Providing good customer service is so much easier than it sounds. We all know what it's like to be treated poorly in a place of business, but sometimes we don't realize we are doing the same thing to people we deal with on a daily basis.

Being a Customer Service STAR is quite easy. It's a matter of being polite, courteous, and friendly.

"S"mile there's hardly a warmer greeting to a person entering your place of business.

"T"ry to determine the person's needs quickly.

"A"cknowledge by calling out or approaching the person. This also helps deter criminal activity if a person who is "up to no good" thinks they are being watched they will leave.

"R"espond to questions as completely as possible (or know where to get the needed information)

A smile, a friendly "hello", a genuine concern for your customers' needs is what Customer Service is all about. No special training is required, just be nice!

But do not forget the more subtle actions which also determine good customer service. A person waiting at the counter for a few minutes gets no acknowledgement yet the person who walks in the door is greeted warmly and waited on first...the person at the counter may still wait and make her purchase but she may not return and worse yet she may tell up to nine people of her experience.

Two customers are in a clothing store and one says to the other, "I can't for the life of me remember where that sweatshirt is. I thought it was right here the other day." The second customer replies, "I don't know; I haven't been in here for awhile." A sales associate nearby overhears the conversation walks up to the two ladies and says, "that stock of sweatshirts has been moved to the back corner, right here if you'll follow me." This is an example of excellent customer service...not only has the question been answered, but the additional courtesy of taking the customers to the new location of the item will be long remembered and the story retold.

Put yourself on the other side of this scenario. A busy day has dictated stopping at your favorite cafe for dinner. A waitress you know well is on duty and busy and she calls hello to you as you take a seat. After 10 minutes, and the waitress passing your booth with the coffee pot at least four times, you begin to wonder why she can't stop and pour you a cup of coffee. Then she arrives, "oh, sorry, Sal, but you know how busy it gets here," as she pours the coffee for you. "But you're so patient, I knew you wouldn't mind waiting." Inside you're thinking, 'excuse me, but yes I do mind' while you say aloud, "oh, that's ok, Jen." You will go back again to that place, but it may be awhile longer between visits.

One of my favorite annoyances is when the person waiting on me talks with everyone but me. I've had cashiers actually lean "around" me while scanning my groceries to continue the conversation I obviously interrupted. I have had the owner of a restaurant get annoyed at me because she was on the telephone when I walked up with my money. "Just a minute!" she almost snapped at the person on the phone, then, "what is this for?" to me because I had coffee only and no ticket. I said "for coffee! And the service is as bad up here as it is in the back."

Making customers feel stupid is another joy many employees and business owners seem to take. This can happen by accident and most likely the majority of the time that is the case. But how about this...after $2000 of electrical work a light still doesn't operate properly. The electrician is called back and, of course, the light works for him. He stands there smiling a "ha ha" kind of smile and says, "nothing wrong with it now is there?"

Customer service goes beyond the physical location of a business. There is one service in town which has a little truck with the business name proudly emblazoned across it. The person behind the wheel has absolutely no concept of what it means to obey laws or be a courteous driver. He runs stop and yield signs as though he is blind, he tailgates and he races at a very high rate of speed, right beside cars in a construction zone when his lane has barricades, then he cuts the car off then slams on his brakes.

Keep in mind the simple things, to smile, try, acknowledge and respond. Be aware that in company uniform or vehicle you are still providing customer service even if you aren't directly dealing with people one on one. Don't assume that because a person walks into your store in jeans and a sweat shirt that she has less money than the well dressed woman behind her. Customer A may have a gold card with a $20,000 limit while Customer B hasn't got enough to purchase a lipstick...

Acknowledge poor or unpleasant customer service by contacting the manager or owner of the business. Explain the situation in writing or on the telephone if you don't want to speak in person. Gather your thoughts and make a good case. If you still aren't satisfied, call the home office or post a note on the website of the company. In the case of a locally owned business there is little choice but to stop trading there. A letter of complaint to the Chamber of Commerce or the Better Business Bureau may carry some weight. A dramatic problem might be handled by the State's Attorney...

Remember, however, that there is also some wonderful customer service around. I was telling someone that I was very pleased with the way a traffic situation at the county fair had been handled one year and that I was going to speak with the police officers handling the situation and compliment them. "Why?" the person I told asked, "they're just doing their job. Don't go telling them things." I was astonished and though I verbally agreed to avoid an argument, I did stop by the booth and complimented the traffic control. The guys were quite grateful and told me thank you. "We don't hear that alot and it's nice of you to stop by." I then mentioned that 'some people' figure no thanks are necessary because its part of the job. "Well, that's true, it is our job," the officer told me, "but we still really appreciate when someone notices and says so."

And that is some of what customer service is all about! Now your thoughts, please?


a = 20 points; b = 15 points; c = 5 points.

Answers & Scoring: The a's have it. If you chose "a" for each answer your score is 100 and you are a Customer Service Star!

If your score is 100 You are a Customer Service STAR! Between 99 and 76, you are A Rising STAR, Excellent Effort! From 75 to 50, you are A Rising STAR, Trying Hard, you Will Improve with Effort!

About The Author

Ronda L. Claire, is owner of Starlight Creations, Kankakee, Illinois. Ronda has been a home-based business owner since 1994, and established and published a newsletter for home-based (and otherwise) self-employed people since 1998. She has loved to write since childhood and has worked as a print reporter and correspondent for weekly and daily newspapers. Ronda loves being home-based in business and sharing her experiences with others who are or wish to be for their education and encouragement.

Tags: Home Office



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