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.