At Your Service: July 16, 2008

The Internet is a terrific resource when you want information. Search engines, like Google, afford the opportunity to find the answer to almost any question. Type in a few words and you can learn more than you ever wanted to know about almost anything. When a computer is not handy, we are more likely to fall back on the old standby, making assumptions; otherwise known as making a wild guess.
From the perspective of service, assumptions can turn a transaction into an unfortunate experience. We make an assumption, act accordingly and wind up getting something other than what we really wanted. We buy the wrong product for a specific task and it becomes a difficult chore. A customer orders an entree that proves to be a very different dish than what they wanted and we are disappointed with our tip.
The alternative to making assumptions is getting the facts. It doesn’t matter which side of the service equation we are on, the facts can be our best friend. The only way to get the facts is to ask the questions.
Providing good service depends on knowing what the customer wants or needs. Since very few of us are mind readers, the only way to find out what a customer wants is to ask. Most people appreciate the opportunity to express what they really want. One trick for ensuring that you have heard their request is to repeat it back to them, as in, “I understand that you are looking for….” This affords them the opportunity to confirm their needs or provide a more detailed explanation until you are both clear.
You can further clarify their needs by discovering what it will take to satisfy them (this includes things beyond the specific task). You may discover that they will not be fully satisfied until they understand not just what happened or needs doing, but why. Most things that go wrong could have been prevented by some form of maintenance. Informing people of why something happened can help them avoid problems in the future. Your reward will come as they recognize that you act in their best interest and they become loyal customers.
At other times, our role as a service provider may be to deliver information. Then, it is our responsibility to provide as thorough an explanation as our own knowledge will permit. When offering information, we can suggest that they stop us if we are explaining things they already know. When there is a pamphlet or brochure that provides details on the subject, give it to your customers. It is far better to err by providing too much information than to have problems arise from the customer’s ignorance of facts we might have provided.
Pride is a valuable character trait, it can give us the confidence to take on a difficult task and accomplish great things. When it comes to asking questions, however, it can get in the way. False pride and the fear of appearing foolish can stop us from getting the information we need. The only stupid question is the one we don’t know the answer to and don’t ask.
When you have a hankering for a specific meal, make sure you ask the waitress about how dishes are prepared. It is sometimes the more subtle differences that make for the bigger disappointments. If it matters to you whether there is gravy on the mashed potatoes, find out what you can expect before the dish leaves the kitchen. Most restaurants will make changes to a dish if you ask for it when you place your order. If you don’t ask, then learn to be satisfied with what you get.
Whether we are the service provider or the customer, questions can lead to improved service. The asking of questions opens doors to improved communications and eliminate the need for assumptions. When you are the service provider, think of yourself as a living search engine and provide as much information as you can. When you are the customer and information matters, don’t be afraid to be “high maintenance” – ask until you understand what you need to know. There is no reason to make an ass (out of) u (or) me.