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“Customers want you to care as much about their problem as they do.”

Barbara Khozam has delivered more than 1100 presentations to audiences of all sizes, sharing great strategies on customer service, leadership, motivation, and communication with difficult customers and co-workers . She is also the recipient of 27 awards for Sales Achievement & Outstanding Trainer Ratings.

Barbara Khozam Inc. focuses on Customer Service. Because at the end of the day, how you deal with your customers directly impacts your bottom line.

Through keynotes, seminars and coaching, Barbara Khozam Inc. educates, empowers and entertains using humor and down-to-earth strategies.

Barbara Khozam, Barbara Khozam Inc. - President

MO: Where does your passion for customer service come from?

Barbara: I believe it all started with my mom – yes, I’m going to blame my mother on this one. When I was a child and I would get frustrated or angry with someone, my mom would say “Barbara, kill them with kindness.” It wasn’t until years later that I realized that this philosophy is the core to all successful relationships – both at home and at work. We don’t have to like everyone or agree with them, but we can absolutely be kind and respectful. And that is the essence of great customer service: being kind, respectful and actually caring about each and every customer regardless of how they’re dressed or what they believe.

I believe it’s this positive attitude that has gotten me where I am in life. Here’s the problem in our society: negative attitude is more contagious than positive attitude – just look at the news. We wake up in the morning and turn on the news – murders, fires, floods, oh my. Then we get in our car and road rage all the way to work. (We’re not even driving and we’re still road raging.) We arrive at work and our colleagues say “I hate my job. I hate my boss. I hate YOU!” Then you start thinking “You know, I do hate my job, and I hate my boss. Hey, I even hate myself!!!” And it goes downhill from here.

BUT what if you wake up in the morning and did something positive – like take a shower, eat a health breakfast, listen to your favorite music. Then, during your commute, when someone cuts you off you simply smile, wave, and say “Go right ahead!” And when your colleague says “I hate my job.” You sing out “I love my job!” Guess what will start happening. The negative people will stop talking to you because you’re no fun. BUT others will join in with your positive attitude. And that’s pretty powerful.

Here’s one more reason I’m so passionate about Customer Service and it has to do with the “Pay-it Forward” concept. Here’s how it works; when someone does something nice for someone else, their serotonin level in the brain increases. (Serotonin causes positive thoughts.) The person that you help has their serotonin levels increase and the people that see it have their serotonin levels increase. So, one kind act by one person can affect many people positively. Now that’s some pretty powerful stuff.

MO: What’s the difference between good customer service and great customer service?

Barbara: Before I answer that, let’s first think about customer’s expectation of service in general. Customer service has become so bad that customer’s EXPECT to be treated with rudeness, disinterest and disrespect. So, a company that provides good service is miles ahead of their competition. However, it’s the companies that are providing Great service that are the most profitable. The differences between good and great customer service are subtle, and can mean the difference between keeping and losing a customer. For example, good customer service is smiling. Great customer service would be smiling and welcoming the customer by name. Good customer service is solving the customer problem. Great customer service is solving the problem with empathy and doing it quickly. (Studies have shown that if a company handles a complaint, 54-70% of the customers will return. If the company handles the complaint quickly, 94% of the customers will return.)

With great customer service, customers feel special and important. They feel like the company cares. And when they feel cared for they will become loyal, repeat customer who tell their friends. And isn’t that the goal?

MO: You wrote the book “How Organizations Deliver BAD Customer Service (And Strategies that Turn it Around!)” Can you give us some highlights from the book and perhaps some examples of bad customer service that can be easily avoided?

Barbara: Since most people make a judgment about a company within the first 30-40 seconds of arriving, my tips have to do with making a great first impression.

1. The most obvious customer service mistake is not acknowledging the customer immediately. All it takes is a quick smile, a simple head nod, or if you’re on the phone, a combination of the two. Some companies even go so far as to have greeters. For example, I was visiting a Hilton in Philadelphia for a meeting. As I entered, a friendly looking employee approached me with a smile and asked if she could help me find anything. Wow, what a great first impression.

2. The second most obvious customer service mistake is when the employee does not introduce themselves. It could be as simple as “Hi, I’m Barbara, how may I help you today?” (Said with a smile, of course.) That little gesture adds the personal touch to the conversation. Some people don’t do it because they don’t want to be reported to their boss. That’s a bad sign isn’t it? What’s interesting is that when customers know your name they CAN report you to your boss – for the good stuff too. And that can only happen when you say your name and deliver great service.

3. The third most obvious customer service mistake – and maybe this should be number one – is not smiling. I realize that people cannot smile every minute of every day. However, if you’re not smiling when you greet your customer, they will get an automatic negative impression of you and of your company. It amazes me how many of my clients will say “You can’t make me smile.” They are right. However, if they want to create a good positive first and lasting impression, smiling is mandatory, not optional.

MO: What’s the worst customer service experience you have ever had?

Barbara: The worst? Hmmm, that’s a hard one. But there is one that stands out in my mind. I was in Hawaii on my way to teach a seminar on one of the marine bases. Before getting onto the base, you have to stop by the guard shack to get a visitor’s pass. It was about 6:30am and when I pulled up, there was a line of people out the door. When I finally made it inside the building, I was able to observe the two workers checking people in. First, neither of them acknowledged anyone as they entered. I had to ask the people in front of me if I had to sign in or something. The two workers were extremely slowly. Neither of them smiled. At one point their coworker entered the room and they all started talking and laughing about how drunk they had gotten last night. One of them even said the “F” word. I could tell from the faces of the people waiting in line that they were not pleased – and neither was I. I had a VERY bad impression of these people, and of this branch of the military as a whole. Fortunately, the officers that were in my class were extremely respectful and friendly. When I told them about my experience, they were appalled and promised to take some action.

What could have solved this problem? If someone had greeted us with a smile as we entered, told us what to do (wait there, sign it, etc.), and worked quickly without side chat and profanity.

MO: Can you provide our readers with some tips for handling difficult and complaining customers with class, calm, and poise?

Barbara: Absolutely! I wish I could say that difficult customers are few in number, but that would not be true. Many customers are so disappointed with all the BAD service they’ve experienced in the past, that when they have a problem or issue, they are ready for a fight. Some of my consulting clients have said to me “But Barb, it’s the customer that is the rude one.” Well, that may be true, but that does not mean we combat rude behavior with rude behavior. There are better approaches.

There are a few things we must realize when dealing with a difficult customer. First, the number one reason for all complaints is: unmet expectations. Second, the complainer wants one thing: for us to care about their problem as much as they do. If we can remember these two points, the interaction will go a lot more smoothly.

I teach a process that uses the acronym H.E.A.R.T.

The first thing to do when someone is yelling at you is to Hear Them Out! LISTEN. If you interrupt them, it fuels the fire and they get madder. Some will even start over.

Step two is to Empathize – get out of your shoes, get into theirs. Look at the situation from THEIR perspective. This step is hard when someone is yelling at you. It’s harder when they are making it personal; when they say things like “You’re stupid.” The best thing you can do is to ignore those negative comments and listen for their unmet expectation.

The third step it to Acknowledge and/or Apologize, sincerely. This is the most important step of the five. You must say it and mean it. We’ve all heard customer service reps that say “I’m sorry for the inconvenience, but that’s our policy.” That’s not what it sounds like. It sounds more like this, “I am so sorry for your inconvenience. I can see how frustrating this is for you. In fact, if it were me, I would probably feel the same way.” You must show empathy for what they are going through. Many customer service reps will skip this step and go right to the solution. But if you do that, the customer will not think you heard them and will feel like you are just trying to get rid of them.

The fourth step is to Review the situation. It sounds something like this: “OK, I want to make sure I got it right. You just said ……….” The purpose of this step is to show the customer you were listening and that you clearly understand the problem

The last step is to Tell What You Can Do, not what you can’t. There’s ALWAYS another option. Even if the policy clearly states you cannot give them what they want, the solution could be “Although our policy does not allow me to do that, let me talk to my supervisor to see what else we can do” or simply “Would you like to speak to my supervisor?”

This process works with most difficult customers, most of the time. Of course there will be those people who don’t like anything you suggest. At this point I would pass them on to, either, a colleague or to a supervisor.

MO: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?

Barbara: In addition to keynote speaking and training, I’ve begun doing consulting projects with companies in my area, with the sole purpose of raising customer satisfaction while at the same time raising morale and increasing productivity. We do this through customer satisfaction surveys, employee surveys, mystery shopper visits/calls, employee and management training. We then set up Service Groups that meet monthly for the sole purpose of monitoring service and implementing service projects. It’s exciting to see companies improve their morale, engagement and bottom line when the right processes are followed.

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