Customer Service 101

“Their food’s OK but their wait staff is terrible!” “I literally stood at the counter for five minutes before anybody even acknowledged me.” “Good luck calling their customer service ‘hotline.’ Expect a good hour before you get through to a live person.”

Who hasn’t been part of a conversation or two like the above? Are people saying things like this about your shop? Are you sure?

Janet Attard, founder and CEO of, a great resource for small businesses, says that you need to make sure that you’re not included in the all-too-familiar “Their service is lousy” conversation.

Business Know-How, like a lot of small companies, operates with a very small staff. We rely on highly skilled contractors and paid product support services to handle jobs that we don’t need done daily on a set schedule. In fact, when we choose technical products, we look as closely at the vendor’s support services as we do at the product itself. As a result we often pay top dollar for products or services, but we expect that the support we will get will be top-notch too.

And usually support is good. But every once in a while we run into situations where a vendor’s tech support staff is less than helpful—or worse, seems to have an attitude problem.

That was the case recently when my assistant contacted a long-term vendor about a problem with their service that started while I was out of town on a business trip. The tech person we usually work with wasn’t available, so another tech support rep took the call. My assistant explained the problem we were having, expecting that the tech support person would either look into it while she was on the phone, or say he’d check it out and get back to her.

But the support representative did neither. Instead of indicating how he’d research or solve the problem he said, “Whaddaya want me to do about it.” The tech support rep finally made one suggestion—one that my assistant knew was something we considered a last-ditch effort. So she called me to explain what had just happened and ask how to proceed. She then called back the vendor, got the same contact support person, who in the meantime had tried solving the problem with some more acceptable options.

In thinking back over what happened (and having dealt with this alternate tech support person myself at times), I can’t help thinking that what sounded like a rude or arrogant initial response to my assistant, was really a lack of training. The tech support person did all the things we would expect the vendor to do, but angered the customer because he didn’t know how to communicate effectively. How can you be sure your tech support isn’t irritating your customers? Begin by listening as your staff answers phones and works with customers. Are they answering politely? Do they use full sentences, identify themselves and your organization? Are they actually listening to the customer, or just giving them pat answers that may or may not solve their problem.

Send customer satisfaction surveys to your customers, too. Be sure the survey is short, and that there is the opportunity to write in comments as well as answering one or two multiple choice questions.

Consider providing customer support training as well—either sending them to live training seminars, or, if that’s not practical, providing training on disk, or through manuals.”

—Janet Attard
Small business expert and the founder and CEO of The site provides information for home offices, small businesses, and the self employed who are looking for ideas for practical suggestions to start, run, or manage their business.