• Course Introduction

        It would be nearly impossible to find the first person who noted that good service is good business. However, if you want to find someone who said it recently, just ask any businessperson about the relationship between business and service. Adam Toporek, writing on the blog Customers That Stick, asked 19 business experts to define customer service. "Customer service is the act of providing your customer with something they need, want, or value," one expert responded. Another said that it is the "deliberate practice to put ourselves in our customers' shoes." The definition Toporek recorded that best represents the approach this course takes toward the subject is: "Customer service means NOT reading from a script but, instead, reading the customer." This course will not tell you what to say during your business communications or when to say it. Instead, you will learn how to plan, produce, and perform acts of communication that satisfy the most demanding audience: your customers. Communication is the stage on which customer service superstars perform, so this course begins by taking you onstage to familiarize you with the communication process and the elements that influence it, influence you, and influence your audience. Next, the course takes you out into the audience, teaching you the techniques needed to adjust your performance based on who you see out there and what you hear coming from them. The course then addresses your actual performance, providing guidelines for good writing, to ensure you have an excellent script, and good speaking, so that your performance is a success. The course concludes by considering the customer service equivalent of the set, props, and costumes: the visual aspects of the customers' experience that frame you in their minds and create lasting impressions long after you have left the stage.

        This course is part of Saylor Academy's Customer Service certificate program, which aims to provide students with a solid knowledge base in the areas of computer skills, business communications, and best customer service practices.

      • Unit 1: Understanding Communication

        A model is not just a pretty person in a suit or a dress; a model can also be a representation of something complex that shows you how its parts successfully function by working together or fail by falling apart. Fifty years ago, Claude Elwood Shannon and Warren Weaver created a model of communication that remains one of the most popular representations of the parts – or elements – that good communicators use to produce effective messages and to respond appropriately to messages they receive. In this unit, you will examine the elements of effective communication and then apply Shannon and Weaver's model – your blank stage upon which you will eventually perform the role of customer service expert – to plan and practice the way you interact with your audience – your customers.

        American author and cartoonist James Thurber stated: "Precision of communication is important, more important than ever in our era of hair-trigger balances, when a false or misunderstood word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act."

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 5 hours.

      • Unit 2: Knowing Your Customers

        Comparing the job of a customer service representative with an actor on a stage is not a perfect analogy. For example, although actors do interact with their audience in a collective sense, it is usually not reasonable, or even possible, for an actor to isolate one audience member and respond only to that person. And yet, that is exactly what you must do most of the time when you are dealing with customers. On the other hand, like the actor, as a customer service expert you must respect and react to the characteristics of your audience, making note of their general demeanor and remaining ever vigilant for the feedback they provide that will guide your own actions.

        John Russell, President of Harley Davidson, said: "The more you engage with customers, the clearer things become and the easier it is to determine what you should be doing."

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 6 hours.

      • Unit 3: Listening to Your Customers

        In contrast to actors who perform on television or in film, the stage actor performs in front of a live audience. Because there are no cameras to stop and restart in order to record a better version, the stage actor has to get it right the first time. Luckily, live audiences can communicate to the actors on the stage. They can shout, laugh, nod, scream, squirm, yawn, or even fall asleep. Actors can use audience reactions to make subtle changes in their live performance and also to make changes in between performances. Their use of audience feedback is similar to how customer service experts must gather feedback from customers by using effective listening skills. Also like actors, customer service experts should respond to both verbal and nonverbal indications of what their customers are feeling and thinking. This unit focuses on how you can use active listening to understand the messages your customers are sending, both verbally and non-verbally.

        Robert Baden-Powell, founder of The Boy Scouts, said, "If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk."

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 9 hours.

      • Unit 4: Providing Information for Customers

        The former U.S. Senator and widely respected language scholar S.I. Hayakawa often argued that you should put your thoughts in writing because learning to write is learning to think. Unfortunately, customer service can't be performed from a script. When you are on stage and interacting with your customers, the script has to be in your head, not on paper. However, you still need writing skills. As Hayakawa implies, writing organizes the messages you want to communicate and enables you to choose and edit your ideas into their most effective formats. As a result, while you may not be responsible for a lot of writing in customer service, you will constantly use the patterns and forms of communication that writing introduces. Learning those patterns - referred to as principles in the readings for this unit - becoming comfortable with those formats, and shaping your words for maximum impact enable customer service experts to communicate with clarity, efficiency, and impact, whether that is done on paper, face-to-face, or just in your brain.

        Legendary American author Mark Twain said: "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 6 hours.

      • Unit 5: Speaking to Customers

        What percentage of an actor's or actress's performance on the stage succeeds because of what he or she does versus what he or she says? The best thespians know more than their lines; they also know their craft. A good customer service representative needs to be well versed in the craft of public speaking. To present information, respond to requests, influence buying decisions, and in other ways satisfy your customers' needs, it is essential that you speak clearly and persuasively. Unfortunately, one issue that causes many speakers to become tongue tied is when they have to present important details from memory. This unit concludes with a section on memory aids to encourage you to use techniques that will not only help you remember but also, hopefully, ease your anxiety about having to remember and speak at the same time.

        Sir Winston Churchill, statesman, orator, and former British prime minister, said: "A good speech should be like a woman's skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest."

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 9 hours.

      • Unit 6: Creating a Visual Impression

        Award-winning costume designer Judith Bowden has explained that an actor's costume "must provide strong visual support for the story, concept, and context of the play as a whole." Like an actor, you too must provide visible support for your role in customer service. From the clothes and accessories you wear to the way you display products or demonstrate services, you use visual communication whenever you interact with customers. Visual communication is influenced the most by what customers see, not by what they hear or read, and can be used to attract customers' attention, help them understand how products function, direct them to locations, emphasize what is important, and make their experience with you and your business more pleasurable and more memorable. This course concludes with the topic of visual communication because it is often what produces customers' first and last impressions - impressions of you, of what you offer them, and of everything they saw with regard to your business.

        Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, said: "We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It's our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better."

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.