A smile and a little understanding go a long way to deescalating a situation, finding a path to a solution and creating a good relationship with your customers.
Back when I was just starting out in the grooming industry, I took a short-lived side job as a server at a chain restaurant. During the training process, we had to learn the company-approved greetings for answering the phone and for welcoming guests to the restaurant. There were three greetings for answering the phone and three for in-person guests, and we were free to use any of them as long as we said them exactly as they were written, word for word, and with a cheerful tone.
Initially I found it to be a silly and somewhat annoying policy, mostly because they were more like an advertisement within a greeting; something like, “Welcome to ‘blank,’ the home of the biggest burger in the state. How may I help you?” or, “Hi, welcome to ‘blank’ where we feel dining should always be a pleasure.” But I soon realized that it was part of strengthening their brand, making the customer feel welcomed and comfortable, and improving their customer service.
But why is it to your advantage to make a customer feel welcomed and comfortable? The words that stood out the most to me were, “How may I help you?” Think about that for a moment—five simple words that have so much power; five words that can set the tone for a good experience or a bad one. I think back to moments when I’ve heard those words as a customer and just from the tone, I knew right away whether the person offering to help me actually was going to help me or just make my day worse.
Picture it; a busy coffee shop, under staffed and busier than usual. You get your latte and take a sip—yuck! Somebody mixed up your drink. So, you walk back to the counter and set the cup down in front of the visibly-frustrated barista who snaps their head around with one eyebrow raised and barks out the words, “How can I help you?” Your inside voice tells you this isn’t about to go very well. You feel cheated; your drink is wrong, but you are the customer and the employee was just rude to you so now you can get defensive. You explain that you got the wrong drink in an unsatisfied manner which adds to the tension, yet the tone of the barista set the dynamic of the conversation.
Now, picture a bit of a different scenario: You get the wrong drink, and when you set it down, the barista smiles and says, “Hi, is something wrong?” You reply, “Yes, that’s not what I ordered,” to which the barista replies, “Oh no, I’m sorry. What did you order? I’ll get a fresh one started for you right now.” The smile, the willingness to rectify the issue and the positive manner of the barista set the tone for a positive experience.
You might be reading this and thinking, what does ordering a latte have to do with dog grooming? Aside from the fact that I need my coffee drinks to deal with most days, this scenario plays out in grooming salons across the country every day.
As I scroll through the grooming pages on social media and I read the posts and resulting conversation threads that ensue, I see these same scenarios play out. But instead of a botched latte, it’s a botched haircut, a late customer or the need for an emergency appointment.
I see groomers recount the story and, right away, I know which way the story is going to go by the way the groomer started the conversation. Then I read the comments. And when the groomer sets the tone for a negative accounting of what transpired, I watch as some cheer on the verbal lashing that was delivered to the customer while others respond in complete shock that any business owner would speak to any customer that way.
On the flip side, when the groomer recalls their interaction from a problem-solving approach, astonishingly, I see the same divide in the conversations. Responses to a client arriving late like, “You’re nicer than I am, I would say you’re FIRED! And hand them back their dog,” battling others saying, “That’s no way to treat a client, I think you did the right thing by taking them in anyway.”
What I’m getting at is that I think the finesse of customer service is slipping away. In a digital world with less face-to-face time, I think in some regards people are forgetting that you don’t have to be angry to get results, similar to the old saying, “You get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”
Now I’m not saying the customer is always right, because they’re not, and I’m certainly not saying that you have to take abuse from customers, because you don’t. But what I am saying is that every issue, every difficult customer and every stressful situation doesn’t have to be escalated to a confrontation. A smile and a little understanding go a long way to deescalating a situation, finding a path to a solution and creating a good relationship with your customers—even when things go awry or mistakes are made.
Life happens, things come up, people forget and we all make mistakes, it’s how you handle the situation and what tone you choose that dictates the outcome. ✂️