If you don’t have the right skills, have the right attitude

‘Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference’

Winston Churchill

I’ve never started a job with the skill level to hit the ground running. My education level is moderate at best and I haven’t any specialised qualifications. Therefore, I generally start a new role with minimal real ability to perform the duties.

What I do have however, is the right attitude. I start every new role with enthusiasm and with a learning mindset. In some ways, my lack of knowledge is an advantage as I don’t go in with a ‘know it all’ attitude. I don’t know what I’m doing and any opportunity is a chance to learn.

My current role serves as an example. If someone asked me to deal with an aggravated customer, I get onto it immediately without complaint. If I’m asked to clean up vomit or a particularly nasty toilet incident, I go and do it immediately. If I’m stuck with a full shift or just standing at the top of a broken escalator to perform customer service, I’m there.

These examples are not especially complex but they are not everyone’s idea of a good time. The point is, I do them and take the opportunity to learn. I might learn some strategies to manage the aggravated customer to use the next time. I get to use my communication skills with the broken escalator. I might not learn a lot while cleaning up a messy toilet but it is a mindless task that allows me to reflect on ways to make money or for other productive thought.

I have applied the positive attitude to every role I have held for the last decade. This attitude has given me the reputation as someone that is reliable and can be counted on to assist when needed. This has resulted in many opportunities being offered to me that were definitely beyond my education level and skill. Many times, these offers have been made ahead of people with considerably more experience in the role then I had.

It surprises me that I see many long-term and new starters that are reluctant to undertake tasks and make excuses. I get it, no one wants to clean up a blocked toilet. It is smelly and unpleasant. I won’t lie, there have been times I have been dry retching while cleaning up.

You know what though, when it’s time to offer an extra shift, overtime or a spell at a higher role, they will be asking the guy with the right attitude, not the guy that complains every time they are asked to do something.

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Sometimes money finds you

You just have to be at the right place at the right time sometimes.

I had just turned up to start a shift yesterday when a vacancy for a Sunday shift became available. I put my hand up for it immediately, even though it would reduce the length of my weekend. It’s all about priorities at the moment though. The chance to work 8 hours double time on a relatively quiet evening Sunday shift is a good financial bonus I can’t pass up.

Later in the shift, the manager on duty asked if it would be ok to alter a shift for the following week to finish at a later time. Again, I agreed immediately. The changed shift would result in 12.5% penalties being applied, while the previous shift didn’t. This more or less gives me an additional hours pay for the same amount of work.

Finally, approaching the end of my shift, some problems occurred on the network and trains were suspended. This means there were a lot of upset customers to manage. At the same time, it became apparent shifts had been messed up and there was no replacement for me. I was offered overtime until the replacement arrived. Again, I found it difficult to say no to a few more dollars in my pocket, so I agreed again.

Interestingly, I was only pondering that morning how I could accumulate some extra money by the end of the year. Maybe putting the thoughts out to the universe attracted some money my way.

High-volume customer service – The 15 second relationship

The majority of my career has involved some level of customer service. Some has been intensive, long-term case management, where you have the opportunity to develop working relationships with customer over a period of time.

Currently, my customer service exposure is high-volume. A normal shift will involve interactions with 100’s of people. The trick in high-volume is to provide value to the customer, while still being efficient. My view is that each interaction with a customer is a relationship and you have 5-15 seconds to maximise the experience.

Following are some tips that work well for me in terms of customer involvement and the business objective:

Smile – It amazes me how many people in customer service fail to smile. They work efficiently without expression. The service is provided but fails to engage the customer. In high-volume customer service, you only have one chance to make an impression. A smile is so simple and if you really enjoy customer service like I do, it is genuine and comes easy.

Greet the customer – Again, such a simple thing. Just say ‘Hello’, ‘Good morning sir’, ‘Hi’, or even ‘Gidday’. Accompany a greeting with a smile and the customer will usually respond in kind.

Provide value – Even if you are dealing with a large volume of customers, you can still provide additional value. For example, I am often asked for directions for a particular train. I could respond quickly and just say ‘Platform 9’. I have done my job but it takes me possibly 5 seconds more to quickly turn to check the monitors and say ‘Platform 9, Springfield Train in 5 minutes’. Little things make a big difference.

Become knowledgable – In line with the previous point, having knowledge of your business is very important. In my case, what trains are on what line, what stations are on what line, where is the lost property office, where are the toilets, where the taxi rank is; etc. All simple things but important so you can move traffic through quickly while still being informative.

Develop short scripts – I don’t sit down and write out scripts for each situation but I take notice of what responses are effective with customers with respect to being clear, concise and achieve a positive customer response. A quick example would be directions to a platform. Instead of saying ‘Platform 9 up the end’ (which admittedly, I have said), I say ‘Platform 9, 3rd stairs on your left’. The customer walks away confidently instead of looking back at me with blank eyes.

Close the transaction quickly – For a lot of regular commuters, efficiency is key. I still apply the engagement techniques but I retain efficiency. Some customers are oblivious to how busy it is and are inclined to stop in chat. This is fine during quiet periods but not when there are 20 people in a queue. My goal is to engage the customer and move them on in a courteous way. Scripting plays a part here. Using the previous example, I will say ‘Platform 9, 3rd stairs on your left. Thank you, have a good day’. This sums up the interaction in a pleasant way and allows me to divert my attention to the next customer without being rude.

No jokes – Unless I am comfortable with a customer, I don’t consider that jokes, more like clever quips actually, play a part in high-volume customer service. A lot of my colleagues rely on amusing comments. I find these unnecessary and don’t add value to the customer experience. I’m not particularly funny anyway, so I don’t want to force something and be disingenuous.

Don’t do it unless you love it – In terms of work, customer service is my passion. I do it because I genuinely enjoy it. The more customers I can serve and get positive feedback, the better my day is. Sadly, I see many, many colleagues performing the job without passion. They are either transitioning between jobs or stuck in the role so long they no longer enjoy it. My view is, if you no longer enjoy a job, move on. You are doing yourself, the customer and the business a favour.

Look professional and smell nice – This applies to any customer service role. How you present yourself is a reflection of the business. I consider it also a demonstration of your respect for your customer. Make sure your clothes are clean and pressed. Be clean shaven or at least have facial hair neat. Shoes should be clean. Brush teeth/ Wear deodorant! I recall a podcast from How I Built This.  1-800-GOT-JUNK?: Brian Scudmore In this episode, Brian stated that a priority was for his staff to be neatly presented. This is a role where they will be carting away rubbish and will get dirty. Brian still recognised the importance of how the customer perceives someone who looks presentable, versus someone that turns up in dirty overalls and smells like a goat.

These are my thoughts on what works for me with high-volume customer service. In some ways, I’m not the most confident person and understate my ability. Customer service is not something that can be easily measured as but when you’re good at something, you know.