The 10-4 Rule of Customer Service

The 10-4 Rule of Customer Service

Some people are customer service savants. They just get it. They intuitively know how to work a busy showroom – or restaurant or doctor’s office – assisting customers and diffusing problems efficiently and cheerfully. Maybe you’re one of those people yourself or maybe you employ one of these naturals. Lucky you! I’m sure Harry would never have a bad experience visiting your showroom!

But as business grows, there is simply no way to handle every customer yourself. And your star employee may decide to go back to school or join the circus. What do you do? It’s not easy to hire a natural. Sure, there are a few things you can look for during an interview. (Don’t hire anyone who can’t muster a smile when they’re asking for a job!) But there is no litmus test for intuition. So, can you train somebody who has good intentions but lacks the natural gift? Yes!

Teaching Staff to Provide Stellar Customer Service

Think of the worst experiences you’ve had as a customer. The waiter who avoids making eye contact even though he clearly sees you trying to get his attention. The people behind the desk at the doctor’s office (or government agency or hair salon…) who are visibly annoyed when you interrupt their personal chatter with a question.

These worst experiences help us identify some basic skills and behaviors that can be taught, measured and rewarded. This post, the first in a series focused on improving customer service, offers a strategy for avoiding the pitfalls described above.

The 10-4 Rule

It’s easy. When you find yourself within ten feet of a customer, make friendly eye contact. If you can include a smile, even better! But the key is eye contact that acknowledges the customer and shows that you are open to questions – even if you’re not available that instant. For example, if you are helping one customer when another approaches, you can give the second customer a quick nod and a smile, without being rude to the first.

The second part of the 10-4 Rule: if you’re within four feet of a customer, say something friendly. It doesn’t have to be “May I help you?” You can say “Howdy” or “Have you been in our showroom before?” or “How ’bout them Cowboys?” The key is that you say something that invites communication. (As opposed to something uninviting like, “We close in ten minutes.”)

These are observable behaviors. They don’t rely on intuition. They can be taught. Therefore staff can be held accountable for adhering to this rule. Try out the 10-4 Rule with your staff and watch it work. Later I’ll share some ideas about how to measure and reward good customer service.

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