The other day I was in a doctor’s office waiting room when a woman sitting across the way said LOUDLY to the man next to her, “What time was your appointment? Mine was supposed to be more than 30 minutes ago.” The man replied, “I know, I’ve been here for more than 45 minutes!” The woman’s comments were said loudly enough that it was obvious to me she wasn’t really talking to him. She was talking to the receptionist at the check in desk whose only response was to look at me with a sheepish expression and shrug her shoulders.
Although most customer service providers can readily share stories of loud, direct, complaining customers, the vast majority of customers never say anything at all. They just vote with their feet and walk away from the business, never to return. Then there are those in-between who try, either passively (or passive aggressively) to share their displeasure.
In situations like these, it’s best NOT to ignore the customer’s communication, even though it may not seem to be directed at you. Instead, REALLY listen to your customers and acknowledge what you heard.
Had the receptionist been listening to her customers, she could have simply said, to the entire waiting room, “My apologies for the long wait. Dr. Davis had an emergency patient this morning and that’s put us behind. We ask for your patience and if anyone would prefer to reschedule due to the delay, we’ll understand and I can re-book you at any time.”
In addition to listening to passive or indirect communication, it’s important to listen to what customers are telling you even if they don’t open their mouths. If a customer service rep working the return desk at a retail store notices customers looking at their watches, rolling their eyes, or letting out heavy sighs, THAT’S COMMUNICATION. And when a customer communicates with you, you should respond. Simply saying, “I apologize for the long line. We’ll get everyone through it as quickly as possible,” or even better, asking for another rep to join you and help processes the returns more quickly, shows that you GET what your customer is trying to say.
It’s not enough to just listen to your customers and respond when they’re speaking directly to you. You have to have situational awareness and “read between the lines” of customers’ comments and gestures to get at the real meaning of their messages.
For more information about communicating with customers, check out my previous blog posts: