A Fun and Simple Way to Build Elite Customer Service Skills

There are a lot of flight attendants who make air travel more pleasant.

I was relaxing on a recent Alaska Airlines flight, traveling home from Fort Lauderdale where I had just spoken at ICMI's Contact Center Expo. A flight attendant slipped me a bar of chocolate when she came by with the drink cart. 

It was the good stuff. A fabulously delicious jcoco chocolate bar. 

Later on, I took a walk to the back of the plane. The flight attendant and her colleague were in the rear galley, so I said "Hi" to my new friend. She smiled and told me she appreciated me. "You've been so sweet and patient."

What did I do that was so special?

There's a special customer service skill-building workout that I like to do. The best part is you can do the workout while you are the customer.

It's convenient and it often leads to better service, like my experience on the flight. Here's how it works.

A smiling grocery store cashier bagging groceries for a customer.

My Customer Service Workout

The workout starts with the intention to be a good customer. 

If you've read this blog before, you know I've often written about the importance of having a customer service vision. This is a shared definition of outstanding customer service that gets everyone on the same page and gives each employee a clear purpose in their daily customer interactions.

So my intention to be a good customer is a way to practice having a vision.

I know from personal experience how hard customer service can be. You work long hours, you're tired, and attending to other people's needs can drain you emotionally. I also know that it takes just one great customer to give you a huge lift and make it all worth it.

So I try to be that customer. Someone who is pleasant, friendly, and easy to serve. Considering the encounter from the service provider's perspective is also a great way to work on my empathy skills.

From there, I like to practice the fundamentals:

  • Building Rapport

  • Exceeding Expectations

  • Solving Problems

I look for opportunities to build rapport and break the ice with service providers. I try to be an easy customer to serve, thereby exceeding their expectations for me. And I collaborate with them to solve problems or even prevent them from occurring.

Working on all these skills while I'm a customer helps drill them into my unconscious memory, so they become habits I can easily turn to when I'm serving customers myself.

What I Did on the Plane

There wasn't anything special I did on the plane to earn a little extra attention from a flight attendant who was already friendly and helpful. But I know the small things add up.

I took my head phones out and paused the movie I was watching when she came by with the drink cart. It's amazing how many passengers don't do this, but those same people would throw a fit if the flight attendant was preoccupied with her phone while trying to serve us. 

Giving people your full attention is simply polite. I did a few other small things that are basic demonstrations of courtesy:

  • Smiling

  • Saying "Please" and "Thank you"

  • Preparation—my credit card was out and ready for the snack I purchased

  • Waiting patiently for my turn to order a beverage

None of these would be special in a social situation. It's exactly how you would behave if you were a guest at a friend's house. Yet something magically changes when people become customers, and I can tell you from observation that what I was doing was rare.

There were a lot of passengers whose actions unconsciously demonstrated they felt the flight attendant was beneath them.

  • Headphones stayed in and the movie stayed on, versus pausing and paying attention.

  • “I’ll have an orange juice” versus “I’d like an orange juice, please.”

  • A head nod as they went back to their movie versus “Thank you.”

So my small acts of courtesy stood out in a positive way. Practicing them in this situation helps these skills come more naturally when I'm serving my own customers.

Create Your Own Workout

The workout is called "practice while you shop." You can do it almost anyplace you are a customer.

When you call a contact center, try to start the interaction by learning the agent's name and developing some rapport, even if you're annoyed by having to wade through the endless phone menu. It often helps the call go better.

When you're dining in a restaurant, introduce yourself when the server share's their name. Give them your full attention, and ask for their recommendations (everyone likes to be an expert). You'll often receive more attentive service.

And each time you think of complaining about a company on social media, try complimenting five other companies or individuals for a job well done. Sharing more compliments than complaints helps you appreciate the positive.

You can get more practice while you shop ideas from this LinkedIn Learning course.

For Elite Service Pros Only: The Thank You Letter Challenge

Customer service professionals often ask me about advanced skills.

"I know the basics," they'll say. "But how can I learn some elite techniques for providing outstanding customer service?"

Some tell me they want to develop jedi mind tricks for helping upset customers feel better. Others are searching for a magic way to deliver memorable WOW moments that become the stuff of legends.

OK. I hear you!

Introducing the Thank You Letter Challenge. My bold prediction: only elite customer service professionals will complete it. 

Are you ready to join their company? If so, read on to see how it works and get signed up.

The Power of Visualization

Do you ever wonder how elite athletes prepare for the big game?

Yes, they spend a lot of time practicing, training, and working out. Elite athletes also visualize themselves succeeding.

A baseball player can't stop and consider his options in the middle of a crucial play with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. He has to already know what he will do in any likely situation and believe he will succeed.

Visualization can help that baseball player react instantly in the moment because he's already though through how he will perform.

The same technique works in customer service.

You can visualize yourself helping an upset customer, delivering a spectacular WOW to someone, or accomplishing another challenging feat before it happens to give yourself a better chance of reacting the right way when the real moment arrives.


Visualizing The Thank You Note Challenge

Here's how this challenge works:

  1. Sign-up for the challenge using the form below.
  2. You'll be prompted to write a thank you letter that you'd hope to receive from a customer.
  3. For the next 21 days, you'll receive a daily reminder email asking you to read your letter.

What's the goal?

The whole point of the Thank You Letter Challenge is to receive a real version of the letter you write to yourself.

Here's what happened when I did this exercise. First, my letter:

Dear Jeff,

Thank you for being our trusted partner. Your commitment to helping us achieve our goals is the reason you are the first and only phone call when we need help improving customer service.

Thank you! A. Client

A couple of weeks after I wrote the letter, I asked a client to write a testimonial that I could post on my website. I didn't tell her I was doing this exercise. Look at what she wrote:

If I had to choose only one outside company to help with some training initiatives this year, that would be Toister Performance Solutions; Jeff is reliable, dependable, and flexible to incorporate the organizational culture in whatever he presents.

Crazy, right?

I visualized myself being a trusted partner to my clients. That visualization helped me act that way. And acting that way led to my client writing a real testimonial that was remarkably similar to the one I visualized.


Start the Challenge

You can use the form below to start the challenge. For my readers who subscribe via email, you can use this link to access the form if it doesn't appear in this post.

Name *

I'll start by sending you some tips on how to write your letter. Make sure you do that right away! (It took me 1 minute to write mine.)

Next, I'll send you a daily reminder email for 21 days. Each email will contain tips to help you get the most out of this exercise.

Finally, I'll ask you to send me an update at the end of the challenge to let me know what feedback you received.