Updated: Jan 13
My ‘trainer's head’ is never far away! It accompanies me everywhere I go, inside and outside 'normal' working hours.
While I specialise in software training, I also have 25 years’ experience in customer-focused departments and over the years I have had to provide training to my own teams, covering an array of skills, including customer service.
I was unfortunate enough to experience some less than acceptable customer service recently while going about my daily chores. The experience could easily have been avoided, had the company in question focused on some basic customer service skills for staff new to the service industry. While the young man I encountered had obviously received training on the technology he required to complete the transaction, a little care and attention on internal personal skills would not have gone amiss.
I had returned home to find the inevitable, ‘Sorry we missed you…’ card from a delivery company. Keen to pick up my delivery, which was my replacement fitbit (you have no idea how hard it had been to go for a walk or to the gym and not have my steps counted for four days!) I headed for the designated collection point in a local retail outlet with my delivery card clutched in my excited hand!
Upon arrival, I handed over the card, announcing that I was there to collect a parcel. The young man took the card and located my delivery - my new fitbit was in sight! Carefully, as if to follow his training, he compared the card details to the parcel in his hand. He then did a double check and looked up at me with a concerned look on his face. My smile turned to confusion as my hand, now holding my driving licence as identification, lingered in mid-air, reaching for the parcel. “There’s a problem,” announced the young man. “Oh!” was all I could muster up at that point. “Yes", he said. "This parcel is for Chris Gibbs.” Relief and confusion flooded me at once. “Yes, that’s right, here’s my ID," I said, as I pushed my ID forward expecting confusion to vanish and the parcel to be placed in my hands.
His response baffled me further. “Yes, but this is for CHRIS Gibbs and you can’t possibly be Chris!” I will pause here, while those that know me take that inevitable in-take of breath….
So, here I am - in person trying to collect my very important delivery and I am being told that I can’t possibly be who I am! My baffled response was, “Why can’t I be Chris? That is me,” a second or two of silence followed as the huge penny dropped for the young man as he realised his mistake. His response was a sheepish and embarrassed, "Oh sorry,” as he scanned the item and tried to complete the transaction as quickly as possible, so the embarrassment would leave the store.
I regularly experience assumptions with my name when communication has been on email and have become quite relaxed about it and do accept and understand that seeing a name that could be applied to both male and female does tend to lead people to assume one way or the other. In the case of my name, 100 percent of the time, the assumption is usually that I am male. I often join conference calls, meet people for the first time and am met with an honest, "Oh, sorry - we were expecting a man!" and I joke back telling people that it’s OK and that I only take offence if people make that mistake after meeting me.
I understand that ‘Chris’ could have been male or female, but basic customer skills about HOW to speak to a customer and handle a query were completely lacking in this situation. It felt like I was being accused of fraud by trying to pick up someone else’s parcel. Had he taken the time to accept the offered identification and look at the information provided before making an assumption, he would have avoided the awkward situation for both of us. He could still have double checked that the package was for me and checked that 'Chris' was in fact the same person as ‘Christine’ detailed on the driving license.
I don't hold a grudge against the young man, but what I would like to see is more general training in customer service, to help anyone new to the service industry to think before they speak and construct a response to a situation that isn’t blunt and won’t cause offence. I believe it is essential for organisations to invest in the time to help new team members understand how they are expected to interact with people, instead of concentrating on just the processes, or technology needed to do their job.
I feel that this is especially important in a world where the generation coming into the working world, have learned to communicate through text or images on hand held devises. My own step-son, who is 21, will go out of his way to avoid actually speaking to people to resolve problems or gather information, but is quite happy to text or email instead. We are of course, addressing that at home!
As a takeaway for everyone, when you receive an email, letter or are introduced to someone called Chris, Sam or Alex to name just a few - take a few minutes to consider the person behind the name.
A course on an introduction to customer services will be added to the Pincus Solutions course offering from early 2018.