P. Wynn Norman's "The Special Nature of Customer Service Communication"

Read this article, which relates your previous readings from the textbook Business Communication for Success to the specific challenges of interacting with customers. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the terms used in the textbook so that you can relate to the customer service exchanges described in this article.

To serve means to contribute to the welfare of others. People in the military serve their country. Police officers and firefighters serve people in a community. Elected politicians serve their constituents. You may not realize it, but you are surrounded by individuals whose jobs contribute to your general well-being. Many of those people go unnoticed by you because you rarely, if ever, interact with them directly. As a result, you probably take their services for granted: air traffic controllers, members of the armed services, scientists, urban planners, or engineers, for example. Indirectly yet continuously, you benefit from services provided by people you may never meet.

Customer service, however, is different. Unlike many public services, your contact with customer service is usually initiated by you and is direct, immediate, and sometimes very demanding. You interact with customer service agents with a specific purpose in mind, such as to purchase a product, get information, make a decision, or file a complaint. The contact you have with them may be face-to-face, by telephone, through a letter, or online. Nevertheless, however it is established, the result of that direct contact is a relationship between you and the customer service agent. It may exist for only a few minutes, such as when you call a shipper to locate a package you are expecting, or it may last for many years like when you frequent a neighborhood store or drive up to the same fast food window every morning for coffee or a donut.

Whether it is brief or enduring, the bottom line for effective customer service is that, unlike most other forms of service, it depends entirely on the agent’s ability to understand your needs and expectations, even if you do not communicate what those needs are. The shipper who locates your package knows you expect courtesy, speed, and accuracy as well as the information about your package. The owner of your neighborhood store knows you wouldn’t keep coming back if products were poorly displayed, the floors were unclean, or some products’ prices were missing. Even the person handing you your coffee through the fast food window might make you reconsider where you bought it if she insisted that you find that last penny to pay for it. Customer service is about much more than helping people purchase products or services. It is about information, presentation, attitude, effectiveness, efficiency, courtesy, and the many other traits and skills that fulfill customers’ needs and satisfy their expectations.

Last modified: Monday, March 28, 2016, 2:30 PM