Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Customer Service Fatigue

My coworker, Laura,  used the term Customer Service Fatigue to describe the burnt-out feeling we, as professionals,  get after being "switched on" all the time.  You know what I mean.  It's that tiredness of repeatedly greeting customers and annoyance at explaining how the copier works, again.  Customer service fatigue is a natural feeling but, left untreated, it can become a real problem for you, your coworkers, and your customers.  Here are a few symptoms to watch out for:

  • Finger Pointing - if you are pointing to an area in the building and not walking the customer there, then you may have a problem.
  • Giving Directions - this one goes along with finger pointing; it's much easier to just show the customer.
  • Terse Replies - this happens when we are all talked out or have been repeating ourselves so much we stop communicating.
  • Saying No - sometimes you have to say no, but if you've stopped offering another solution then it may be time to regenerate.
These symptoms can occur at any time and for any number of reasons, but let's talk about how to treat them by addressing common situations which may bring on bouts of Customer Service Fatigue:

WHERE CAN I FIND IT?
It's a busy Saturday; you've been running around all day and the lines at the desk just haven't let up.  No doubt about it, you are tired.  When the next customer in line asks you where the science fiction books are located, you are tempted to point your finger and give directions.  After all, the collection is pretty easy to find because it's only the last shelving unit on the left side. When you begin to feel Customer Service Fatigue because your body is physically tired, overcoming the exhaustion you feel and giving the best customer service seems impossible.  You've probably heard the phrase "point with your feet, not with your hands" in customer service training you've received in the past.  It's really good advice, and I try to adhere to it as much as possible, but the reality is such that it's not always possible.  For this I give a conceit: use your hands to gesture and give verbal directions but ask if they would like assistance.  Saying something like "the science fiction section is straight back and to the left, would you like me to show you," gives customers the power to accept or decline your help and gives you a 50/50 shot at exerting extra energy.  By offering the help, you are keeping up customer service expectation levels while still giving your body a break.

HOW DO I DO THIS?
Everyone seems to be using the printer today and if you have to explain the printing process one more time then you may just burst.  It's not that difficult! One of the most difficult things about customer service is repetition. Realizing that customers are not equipped with the same information as you is easy in theory but difficult in practice.  Treating each customer as if they know nothing can be painstakingly repetitive at times but, before giving the Cliff's Notes version of anything, think about the time you will be saving yourself in the future.  If a customer is unsure of the procedure then the likelihood of him coming back and eating up more of your time is great.  Even worse, the customer may never come back.  Having this at the forefront of your mind may make it easier to give full explanations and, preferably, demonstrate at the same time.  When giving an explanation, use the strategy above and ask the customer if he would like assistance.  If you've already given a terse reply and you realize it after the fact, like I have on many occasions, don't be afraid to follow up with the customer.

CAN I?
A customer needs a book that the library no longer carries.  You've already offered to submit a request for Interlibrary Loan but the customer needs it right away.  You feel bad about sending her away, but what else can be done?  Sometimes the library can't fill a request, but it can help arm the customer with information.  Your Customer Service Fatigue may tell you that you've already done enough to help this customer, and that may be true, but I've found that going the extra mile is a great cure for the "Saying No" symptom.  When you truly see something to the end, you may find yourself invigorated to do more great customer service.  For this particular customer, needing the book right away probably means she will need to buy it.  There have been times when I have called around to different used bookstores in order to locate a title, looked it up on Amazon, and even reserved it at Barnes and Noble for a customer to pick up.  Since I couldn't put the book in their hands, I found someone who could.  If you ever find yourself saying "no," try your best to add a "but."

The reality of life is that we can't always be on our A game, but that doesn't mean our customer service should lack.  Remember that these are only treatments for the symptoms to Customer Service Fatigue and may not treat the issue completely.  If you find yourself having any serious side effects, please consult your nearest librarian for help.

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