Malaysiakini Letter

It pays to treat everyone like a customer

YS Chan  |  Published:

LETTER | Human beings are normally sensible and prefer to live in harmony, but all hell breaks loose when they are overwhelmed by emotion. Speakers can whip a crowd into a frenzy and unthinking mobs can be driven by herd mentality.

In normal situations, most people conform and try to blend in, rather than stand out in a crowd. Over time, the environment conditions public behaviour and those with minimal exposure to the outside world would be least tolerant of others different from them.

Most Malaysians are still feudalistic as they can be seen kowtowing to persons with Datuk, Datuk Seri, Tan Sri or Tun titles. But if they truly respect themselves, they will do the same for everyone and everything, including the poor, weak, children and environment.

The Golden Rule is to treat others in the same manner you wish others to treat you. This is easily understood but too general and academic to apply. The better advice is to practise treating everyone like a customer, whether they are family members, colleagues, associates, neighbours or friends.

Although few people could provide exemplary customer service, almost everyone knows it is necessary to be polite. Service providers that deliver excellent customer service can create a great first impression, show courtesy, perform communication skills and build trust.

Inappropriately, many employees who clock in for work or register for customer service training keep to themselves, instead of trying to meet and say hello to everyone. The people they meet may not be customers, but they can be treated as such, as being nice to everyone should be a habit.

Anyone switching on and turning off a false smile in an instant will put off those watching and will long be remembered as a phony. Those who stoop low to shake hands with VVIPs and enjoy being patronised are not much better.

On the other hand, a person who greets people they often meet, such as family members and colleagues, is a joy to have around. Such persons possess the first attribute in providing great customer service by greeting others cheerfully, whereas those forced to do may sound like a growl.

The hallmark of customer service is showing courtesy and this is one area many Malaysians fail miserably, starting with punctuality and not saying 'please', 'sorry', 'thank you' and 'welcome'. Anyone who wishes to interact well with others must be generous with compliments, but should not over-flatter.

When we are focused to hear correct or positive things and acknowledge them by agreeing or praising, we induce the speaker to share more or proceed in the same direction. The reverse is also true if we concentrate on the negative and the resultant outcome would be likewise.

Vocal tone more important than choice of words

Mastering a language is necessary to think, speak and write clearly, and acquiring interpersonal communication skills are crucial. Many Malaysians can chitchat for hours to vent their feelings, but there is little intelligence, learning or progress to be gained from such repetitive activity.

Those who wish to provide great customer service must not only choose the right words to communicate verbally, they should also be mindful of their vocal tone, which expresses their true feelings and is far more important than the choice of words.

But the dead giveaway is their body language and facial expression, which are difficult to suppress all the time, and these visual clues are taken into account more than the sweet words or modulated voice an imposter could try to muster.

If we desire to provide great customer service but may not have the capability or confidence initially, it is no harm faking it in the beginning. Competency can only be attained through practice and becomes second nature over time.

Customer service should become a habit and applicable to everyone. If it is limited to memorising a long list of dos and don'ts, frontline staff serving customers would appear cold and methodical. Customers could only feel the warmth if the staff take a genuine interest in the welfare of others.

As such, those who attend customer service training ought to develop themselves through self-reflection and self-respect. Only then they can truly respect others, regardless of their appearance, background or circumstances.

The litmus test in customer service is when clients are angry for good or no reason. Untrained staff will react naturally by getting panicky or annoyed. Trained staff will respond empathically and allow customers to throw tantrums at them, confident of an eventual positive outcome.

The staff that stay with customers through thick and thin earn the highest respect from everyone. They are bound to succeed in any career or business, and in social and family life, when they treat everyone like a customer.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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