407 West State Street, Trenton, NJ 08618  (609)695-3481
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William G. Dressel Jr, Executive Director - Michael J. Darcey, CAE, Asst Executive Director
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NJLM - Bringing Better Customer Service
Andrew Borkin

Local Government Relations
Bringing Better Customer
Service to Your Citizens

Andrew Borkin
President, Strategic Advancement, Inc.

Too often, municipal employees in the town hall or municipal building are viewed as faceless individuals who either take “my” money in the form of taxes and fees or tell “me” why I can’t do something. Immediately there is a negative stereotype that one has to deal with. It is much easier to be hostile to a faceless somebody than a real person. Good professional customer service toward the public will help diminish this negative perception and it might even make the job easier.

Service is a product, just as a car is a product. And, just as we as customers look for and expect the highest quality in a product we plan to purchase, so should the public expect to receive the highest quality from our product, service.

Our customers fall into two categories—internal and external. Internal customers work within our local government, and how well we perform inter-governmental tasks directly affects the quality of the service we provide to the external customers. External customers are the public that you serve.
While there are many areas of customer service, this article will deal with two: defining the customer’s needs, and handling unpleasant situations.

Defining the Customer’s Needs Satisfying the needs of customers is critical to success. But every customer is unique and, therefore, the needs of one customer might not be the needs of another, at least not in the same priority. How then, can we possibly hope to satisfy all of our customers’ needs? First we find out what those needs are, and then we proceed to effectively respond to each customer’s expectations:

  1. When answering a customer call, immediately seek to determine the needs of that customer and to respond to them.

  2. Convey the impression to each customer that he or she has your complete and undivided attention.

  3. Listen carefully to everything the customer says, taking notes and checking your understanding of every request.

  4. Garner all the facts that you will need to respond quickly and efficiently to the customer’s request.

  5. Ask any questions that will help clarify the customer’s requests.

  6. Respond quickly, but without sacrificing accuracy.

  7. When the transaction is completed, thank the customer for his or her interest, and indicate your desire to work with them in the future.

  8. Be courteous—no matter how painful! If the customer is surly or otherwise unpleasant, always retain a professional attitude, never responding in kind.

Put yourself in the place of a customer, and offer the type of service you would expect to receive if you were in his or her position. Always practice the Golden Rule of Customer Service: Do unto the customers, as you would have the customer do unto you.

Handling Unpleasant Situations Concurrent with any customer service function is dealing with upset and angry customers. It is often very difficult to maintain one’s composure when dealing with an unpleasant situation, where anger and frustration give way to rude behavior. Following are some techniques to assist you in dealing with situations such as these:

  1. When responding to an angry caller on the phone, always identify yourself, and then ask for the caller’s name. Respond by saying, “Hello, Mr./Mrs. Smith, how can I help you?”

  2. An angry or upset individual usually needs to talk. Let them do this, as long as they don’t become vulgar or profane. Give them your attention, and don’t interrupt. Eventually they will calm down, and then rational communication can proceed.

  3. Never provoke or interrupt an angry customer. This will only escalate the situation.

  4. When it seems appropriate, review your understanding of the problem to make sure you have all the facts straight. This communicates to the customer that you were really listening and are concerned with solving the problem.

    Most people cannot communicate rationally when they are extremely angry or frustrated. Giving them the chance to vent these feelings creates an atmosphere in which they can eventually communicate with you, a concerned person who is interested in helping resolve the problem.

  5. Once you have garnered all the facts, summarize your understanding of the situation, and ask for a reasonable amount of time to research the problem and create a resolution. In addition, suggest a time to call back and determine whether that is satisfactory to the customer.

  6. Once a callback time has been established, make sure you respond within that time with the solution.
In both of these areas, if you follow the steps outlined, you should start to see improvements with both internal and external customers. People like to talk, and if their experience is a positive one, you will reap the benefit as a pleasant “go to” person who can get the job done. The benefits of good customer service are priceless!


Article published in February 2006, New Jersey Municipalities


407 West State Street, Trenton, NJ 08618  (609)695-3481
 NJLM logo 

William G. Dressel Jr, Executive Director - Michael J. Darcey, CAE, Asst Executive Director
Change Font Size
Larger
| Smaller
Andrew Borkin

Local Government Relations
Bringing Better Customer
Service to Your Citizens

Andrew Borkin
President, Strategic Advancement, Inc.

Too often, municipal employees in the town hall or municipal building are viewed as faceless individuals who either take “my” money in the form of taxes and fees or tell “me” why I can’t do something. Immediately there is a negative stereotype that one has to deal with. It is much easier to be hostile to a faceless somebody than a real person. Good professional customer service toward the public will help diminish this negative perception and it might even make the job easier.

Service is a product, just as a car is a product. And, just as we as customers look for and expect the highest quality in a product we plan to purchase, so should the public expect to receive the highest quality from our product, service.

Our customers fall into two categories—internal and external. Internal customers work within our local government, and how well we perform inter-governmental tasks directly affects the quality of the service we provide to the external customers. External customers are the public that you serve.
While there are many areas of customer service, this article will deal with two: defining the customer’s needs, and handling unpleasant situations.

Defining the Customer’s Needs Satisfying the needs of customers is critical to success. But every customer is unique and, therefore, the needs of one customer might not be the needs of another, at least not in the same priority. How then, can we possibly hope to satisfy all of our customers’ needs? First we find out what those needs are, and then we proceed to effectively respond to each customer’s expectations:

  1. When answering a customer call, immediately seek to determine the needs of that customer and to respond to them.

  2. Convey the impression to each customer that he or she has your complete and undivided attention.

  3. Listen carefully to everything the customer says, taking notes and checking your understanding of every request.

  4. Garner all the facts that you will need to respond quickly and efficiently to the customer’s request.

  5. Ask any questions that will help clarify the customer’s requests.

  6. Respond quickly, but without sacrificing accuracy.

  7. When the transaction is completed, thank the customer for his or her interest, and indicate your desire to work with them in the future.

  8. Be courteous—no matter how painful! If the customer is surly or otherwise unpleasant, always retain a professional attitude, never responding in kind.

Put yourself in the place of a customer, and offer the type of service you would expect to receive if you were in his or her position. Always practice the Golden Rule of Customer Service: Do unto the customers, as you would have the customer do unto you.

Handling Unpleasant Situations Concurrent with any customer service function is dealing with upset and angry customers. It is often very difficult to maintain one’s composure when dealing with an unpleasant situation, where anger and frustration give way to rude behavior. Following are some techniques to assist you in dealing with situations such as these:

  1. When responding to an angry caller on the phone, always identify yourself, and then ask for the caller’s name. Respond by saying, “Hello, Mr./Mrs. Smith, how can I help you?”

  2. An angry or upset individual usually needs to talk. Let them do this, as long as they don’t become vulgar or profane. Give them your attention, and don’t interrupt. Eventually they will calm down, and then rational communication can proceed.

  3. Never provoke or interrupt an angry customer. This will only escalate the situation.

  4. When it seems appropriate, review your understanding of the problem to make sure you have all the facts straight. This communicates to the customer that you were really listening and are concerned with solving the problem.

    Most people cannot communicate rationally when they are extremely angry or frustrated. Giving them the chance to vent these feelings creates an atmosphere in which they can eventually communicate with you, a concerned person who is interested in helping resolve the problem.

  5. Once you have garnered all the facts, summarize your understanding of the situation, and ask for a reasonable amount of time to research the problem and create a resolution. In addition, suggest a time to call back and determine whether that is satisfactory to the customer.

  6. Once a callback time has been established, make sure you respond within that time with the solution.
In both of these areas, if you follow the steps outlined, you should start to see improvements with both internal and external customers. People like to talk, and if their experience is a positive one, you will reap the benefit as a pleasant “go to” person who can get the job done. The benefits of good customer service are priceless!


Article published in February 2006, New Jersey Municipalities

 

 

 

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