July 17, 2023

A Story About Customer Service

The other day, I went to Whole Foods and had a very embarrassing situation happen to me. I was checking out via the self-checkout line, buying a bottle of mead (which I was super excited to try, and it was the last bottle). The condensation made the bottle just slip out of my hands when it was on my way to the bag. I felt the bottle slipping out of my hands and saw it just tumbling to the floor and smashing open, and it made this huge, loud sound. The bottle dropped, shattered, exploded, glass and mead everywhere—it was mortifying. And everybody turned and looked at me, everybody in self-checkout, everybody that was in the regular cashiers’ lines, obviously turning and looking at me. You know, you never want to hear a big boom in a crowded place, especially nowadays with our gun violence out of control. I was so embarrassed. I hate being embarrassed, and I hate having attention drawn to me in those kinds of situations.  I was mortified; I could feel my face turn bright red and it was dead silent.

So I looked over to the clerk overseeing the self-checkout area. And she’s just looking at me with dead silence. And I was like, “Oh my god, I’m so sorry. It just slipped out of my hands. I’m so sorry.” I was obviously a little bit rattled, a little bit embarrassed, and I was met with just silence. Somebody else, I assume a manager or somebody a little higher level, casually walks up, and again, I’m just like, “I’m so sorry.” Again, silence. She just walks over, stares at the mess, they look to each other like they are figuring out what to do, and I’m just standing there awkwardly. Finally, they go and get some paper towels and rags to clean it all up, audibly wondering where the broom is, and just overall seemed to be completely unprepared for the prospect of somebody potentially dropping something liquid in the self-checkout service area.

And I’m awkwardly watching them figure out what to do and start cleaning things up. And I repeat myself again, “I am so sorry. I wish I could help clean this up or something.” And then, finally, I get a response. “It’s all good.” Now they seem very visibly annoyed. And so my hands are just shaking right now with embarrassment, but also a little bit of annoyance. And I’m telling this story here now because while it was an embarrassing accident, it was also a good reminder about the importance of communication and good customer service.

I am a service-based business owner. I interact with my clients day in and day out; I’m trying to listen to what they want and execute that in terms of the deliverables that I produce and the services I provide. But I’m also trying to make the process for them as uncomplicated and as comfortable as possible, especially because many of the people I work with have never worked on a design project or they’ve never worked with a designer. Sure, they may have worked with a marketer, or their office manager also does their marketing. That’s a different situation, but I’ve found that many people go into an interaction or design project a little bit intimidated because they don’t know what to do, how it’s going to run, or what the expectations are.

My job is not only to create design solutions and appealing websites for my clients but also to communicate with them about the process and make them feel as comfortable as possible by constantly communicating with them about what to expect. I show them what I’m working on, share my expectations, and am not afraid to ask a lot of questions. Sometimes I get met with “I don’t know,” or maybe other priorities came up. The content or images they promised to provide haven’t been pulled together yet, and they seem to be a little bit frazzled. In those situations, I reassure them with a “Hey, it’s okay, shit happens! No worries. We can have you finish this over the course of this week and we’ll catch up next week.”

It is mind-boggling to me that more people don’t have this kind of customer service mentality. You should never just freeze up, especially when someone you are interacting with is visibly frazzled and uncomfortable, especially if you’re in a customer service position. You should try to make your customer feel as comfortable as possible, saying something like, “Okay, it’s all good. Accidents happen. We will take care of this because we are the professionals.” You should never be clearly unprepared to handle a foreseeable situation, both in rectifying something that went wrong and having a script to reassure the customer.

The point of the story is that I’m sitting here now, writing this blog post, not wanting to even show my face in that store ever again (which is silly because I’m definitely going to keep shopping there, it will just be awkward the next time I go.) I should never have left an interaction feeling that way—feeling embarrassed and like your employees were annoyed with me because I made a mistake. This is a reminder to anybody in customer service or any service-based industry: watch out for your customer! A little bit of kindness goes a long way. Treat them kindly, and if accidents happen, they happen. It’s not like people are maliciously trying to make your life harder. People aren’t maliciously throwing bottles on the ground, your customers aren’t cruelly withholding answers or content from you, and they aren’t viciously telling you, “Hey, maybe you didn’t get it right on this solution.”

I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume that most people’s intentions aren’t bad. When accidents happen, or when things don’t go according to plan, you take it with grace and kindness, and you communicate, even if it is a little bit awkward and embarrassing. You simply communicate with them like another human being—especially with empathy. “Hey, okay, cool. I’m processing this information. We’ll revisit it, or we’ll take care of it. No problem.” Don’t ever just brush it off or pretend like nothing even happened—don’t let the customer walk away stewing in the awkward silence or feel like they don’t ever want to interact with you again.

Please, just take care of your customer and treat them with kindness.

Thanks for reading!

About Mary-Ann Zykin

Mary-Ann Zykin is an experienced freelance designer based in Houston, TX who specializes in custom web design, WordPress web development, and branding.

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