I experienced an interesting aspect of customer service recently. I went to the post office to send a parcel to Australia. I send parcels often, so I know what the lady behind the desk needs to know in order to complete the transaction. Instead of waiting for her to ask, I put the parcel on the scale and said, “Good morning! I would like to send this ‘signed-for’ to Australia.” I also know that Australian customs need to know what’s in the parcel, so I added, “It is an accessory.”

The lady smiled, very pleasantly, and thanked me. She then asked me if I wanted it First or Second Class. These options are only available for domestic mail but I thought – what do I know? This lady works here – so I said, “Whatever you think is best.” She smiled and asked me to pass the parcel through the hatch to her.

She then asked, “May I ask what’s in the parcel?”

I repeated, “An accessory.” Her smile said – thank you.

Then she asked, “Do you want it signed for?” I had said all of this at the beginning of the interaction.

“Signed for.” I repeated.

“That will be £4.20. Oh…” she muttered, “I didn’t realise this was going to Australia. That will of course be more.”

I was very clear at the beginning so that I would avoid all the questions and speed things up, for me and for her. There was also a queue of people building up behind me.

So, what went wrong?

The lady was doing her job robotically. She asked the questions robotically. She responded robotically – most importantly, she didn’t listen to me, the customer.  Two of the most important aspects of customer service are to smile (which she did) and engage, (which she didn’t do), but the simple aspect of listening made me, the valuable customer, feel annoyed. This also slowed everything down, which meant there was a lack of efficiency – in business time is money.

What could’ve been done differently? At the beginning of the interaction the lady behind the counter could’ve gained all the knowledge needed by listening to me. She presumed I did not know or understand the processes. A warm response could have been used to engage with me or make me smile, or maybe even make me feel a little bit special.

This experience highlighted for me the importance of giving your customer all the attention they need during the time you are dealing with them.  This means that active listening has to play a major role to ensure customer service is delivered efficiently, professionally and most importantly so that the customer feels valued.