When I'm not working in customer service on a heightened and concentrated basis, I tend to notice it more than I do if I'm just passing through a traditional workday. As is the tendency with any passion, if you're sitting on the outside, or if you are dealt the consequences of something you could have done better, then you instantly shift into backseat driver or Monday morning quarterback.
What I have been trying to do to be optimistic is a) look for the instances where there was exceptional customer service (and write about it somewhere so there's recognition to be found); and b) treat customer service providers in a way that if I would want to be treated as a worker. I get the second part of that outlook from working in customer service myself, and the first part from being a manager.
Recognition is important. All too often, front-line employees and middle managers aren't recognized by anyone, regardless of the challenge and the outcome, with one exception: they are blamed if something didn't work for the customer. Imagine hearing what didn't work all day and never hearing back when you exceeded your customer's expectations. Sounds like the world's most abusive co-dependent relationship, doesn't it?
Throughout my experience as a manager my recognition of my employees has come about in a variety of ways. Bring in baked goods. Utilize them as mentors for the next round of new employees that are hired. Even something as small as announcement acknowledgment works. When I worked for Grainger I had a habit of saying "Thank you" to any radio announcements that employees made to inform other employees of crucial information. It sounds way too simple, but I established such an expectation that when I would come back from lunch and no one thought I was listening, employees were acknowledging each other. People like to know that they've been heard, that what they are doing or saying matters. (You want proof? Look at Facebook and Twitter on any given day and tell me there's no thrill in someone "liking" your status or retweeting a line of yours. Even if it's small, it's gratification.)
Acknowledgment works for people who provide me with customer service as well. A simple "thanks," a good write-up on Yelp or on other social networks (if you use the employee's name you can really make someone's day for thinking of them as memorable in a good way), or even sending a note back to the place of business thanking them is helpful (I did that once with a dentist; if you were like me in the dentist's chair, you would too).
In regards to the second aspect of my outlook--treating customer service providers in a way that I would like to be treated if I were doing their job--well, that comes from what I've tried to establish with every student or employee of mine. Evaluations started with, first and foremost, asking the employee if they would have liked to have that kind of service. Then we explored a breaking down of what could have been done better. Then we made a plan of how to improve the next customer experience. I do the same thing now when I greet a customer service provider as a customer. Who's my favorite customer? What could I do to make this person's job easier? How can I be a better customer next time? Being the best customer doesn't always mean spending the most money (although that works as incentive, don't mistake me there), but in little things like establishing clear expectations, addressing the person by name, and offering up a smile, to name a few. I do this with Muni bus drivers, and they never see money from me with the transit card I use. I say thank you when I get on the bus, and thank you when I get off the bus. (I'm a better bus patron than dental patient, but it still pays to be kind.)
I may be independently employed at the moment in unconventional ways, but that doesn't mean I can't still follow establish practices of what works in customer service.
More on my passion, my foundation, next week. Have a great workweek and a warm holiday.