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  • Derek Carlson

Customer Service Tips: A Chance to Say “Hi,” the Rest is Gravy

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

I do a lot of mundane tasks daily. Resetting users’ passwords is one of them. But I have found that the following mindset keeps me in a really good mood, and I get all sorts of thank yous and touching personal responses from the people I serve, so it seems to be working.


First, I don’t think of any request as a job or task I need to do. I think of it primarily as a chance to connect with someone and say hi. Just as if I had met a stranger, or even an acquaintance or friend on the street, and the only thing in my mind upon seeing them is “hi!” If, after saying hi, they ask me for directions somewhere, then I gladly tell them what I know. But the interaction is about the connection - about the “hi” - and the opportunity to help them is gravy, almost an afterthought. It’s never about just helping them quickly – skip the pleasantries – so I can get on down the street to help the next person.

Looking at a list of people to help as a list of “to do items I’ve got to get through, and fast,” misses the point of enjoying the connection in everyday interactions.

Thus, once I see an email with a request for this or that, I think, “Oh, how nice to see Bob again! I wonder how he’s doing?” or, “Hmmm, I don’t think I know Sally... let’s say hi and see how we can help.

Another thing I naturally do is look for a way to relate. I read the tone of their email and see if I can get a feel for them or their situation. I also read their signature closely to see if I can find something out from that. For example, some people have inspirational or spiritual quotes in their signatures, and I find it really easy to relate to most of those. I also think about who they are (are they a teacher, a tech support person, a principal), where they are, and what are they going through or being affected by. I put this all together, kind of like a social-emotional detective, so that I can respond in a way that they can relate to and in a way that they can feel cared about, seen, and heard.

For example, recently, due to COVID and distance learning, the principals have been under a lot of pressure to figure everything out. So when a principal wrote me asking for some data, I ended my email with, “Hope you’re hanging in there. The weekend’s coming soon.”

And from that I got an honest, heartfelt response, “Yeah, it’s been crazy lately. But we’re doing the best we can.”

Another guideline I follow is if they are asking for A and B, I do two things. First, I try to think through whether they really need A and B. Sometimes teachers misunderstand what they are needing technologically and they try to solve problems in certain ways when there’s actually an easier way. So in that case I will give them C, which they didn’t even know to ask for. But if I realize they do legitimately need A and B, I’ll take a moment to ask myself if there’s a C or D that I could give them in addition that would make their lives even easier, or perhaps happier.

I call this looking for the gift. What can I give them to bless them? It reminds me of a friend of mine who is generous to a fault, and whenever I leave his house, his habitual, knee-jerk question is always, “Ok, hmmm, what else can I give you before you go?”

Often, if I can’t think of an actual thing I can do for them over and above what they ask for, then I think of what I can say that might put a smile on their face. It might just be something as simple as, “You’re awesome! Keep up the good work!” or “You’re a gem.” or “Have a great weekend.” But if I know them personally, I might throw in something personally relatable. I always try to be the same way that I am when I am saying goodbye to a good friend.

A little fun thing I came up with recently is pasting in images from Google Image Search. If I had the thought to write in my response “You’re awesome!”, then I might search for “superstar cartoon” or “you’re awesome meme”. The pro tip is to always add the word “cartoon,” “meme,” or "gif" to your search.

The fun and happy images that pop up are usually legion. Then I look for one that hits me emotionally, like: “Oh, yes! That’s perfect!” Once I find it, I don’t bother to download it – that’s too much work. I just click on in within Google to bring up the preview, and then use the Windows+Shift+S hotkey to drag a screen capture selection area around the picture. Takes two seconds. Then I just go to my email and hit CTRL-V to paste it into the email.


As an example, let's say that Sally (this awesome tech support person I often lean on) helped me out and I want to acknowledge her. So first I searched for "Superstar cartoon":



Then I did the Win+Shift+S trick to grab the pink starfish, and I put it in an email like this:



It’s amazing the response these pictures get. “You’ve made my day!” “I love this!” And lately, of their own accord, people have been sending me back similarly cute and clever pictures. And now I just made work fun for both them and me.


I realize that my main job in this world is to spread the love and be the light, and this is a silly simple way to do that, but it really makes a big difference!


Another trick I use is to personalize a meme for someone. I do this using the awesome free image editing software Gimp because I'm really fast with it and I can create custom memes in seconds, almost as fast as I can type an email. But other people might want to use Canva or something simpler than Gimp. I think this trick only works if you get really fast at image manipulation so that doing this doesn't upset your workflow or slow down your momentum too much.


My latest shtick is that I have the old "success kid" picture laying around on my desktop and I use it to personalize all sorts of messages to people. My awesome co-worker Christopher helped me out the other day, so I whipped this up and sent it to him:



I really experience a lot of creative joy thinking up some silly thing I can say to someone to share the love, so doing this sort of stuff uplifts me, and it seems that it surprises and uplifts the people who get these images, pictures, and memes in their email inbox when they aren't expecting anything but "boring, dry work stuff."


I'm just ratting off thoughts randomly now as they come to me...


Another rule of thumb I follow is to test whatever I did for them if at all possible. If I just reset their password, I attempt to login as them with the new password to make sure it works. It’s my own way to add a little quality control to my services. And from time to time I catch problems that I would have missed.

Sometimes I’m not always in the greatest mood, and when that’s the case I fall into a tendency to pass the buck. If I get a request that was inaccurately directed at me but it’s really Bob’s job not mine, then I sometimes find myself writing, “Email Bob. He’ll take care of that for you.” This puts the action item back on the requestor – now they have to email Bob. This happens when I’m relating to emails in my inbox as “things to process” as opposed to “people to help.”

But when I catch myself, what I do instead is respond with the same sentence: “Email Bob. He’ll take care of that for you,” but I simply cc Bob on my response. More often than not Bob will see this and respond by helping the person and they didn’t have to do anything to make that happen.

Lastly, I try to catch myself when I am triggered by a request. Maybe the person doing the requesting has sent an email with attitude, like they are bent out of shape and frustrated, and they’re expecting me to fix something. Or maybe I feel the request is a stupid idea – Why would they want to do that?!?

First I realize that I am triggered and want to fight. Then I might let the email sit, do something else, or sit back and do some mental-emotional processing to uncover what beliefs of mine are getting triggered. I ask myself: “What’s the projection?” “Why am I triggered by this?” “How do I act the same way in my own life?” “What do I need to forgive here?” Usually I can talk myself off the ledge in just a few minutes.

Then, in my response, I try to give them options. “If you really want to do X, then you need to talk to so-and-so. But you might have these issues. Alternatively you could try this, and that might have these benefits." The implication in my mind is that the ball’s in your court.

That way I feel I can disengage and don’t have to control what’s going on. If they want to do the “stupid” thing, then that’s their choice. Maybe it will work. Maybe I’m stupid for thinking it’s stupid. Maybe it won’t work but they’ll learn something valuable. I realize I don’t know what truly is in anyone’s best interest, and often times making a “bad” choice is more valuable to a person in their emotional development than if they had made a “good” choice. So I try to step back and release control.

Anyway, I just woke up this morning ruminating over all the guidelines, pro tips, and tips and tricks that I use for customer service and how well they have been working, and I thought to myself, “I should write this up!”


So, there you have it.

You are awesome!

Keep up the great work!

Have a super day!



Derek

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