Customer service essential

  • Published
  • By Dr. (Lt. Col.) John Weatherwax
  • 341st Medical Operations Squadron
Associating the idea of customer service with a military organization would appear to be an oxymoron, such as "pretty ugly" or "awfully nice." After all, the mission of the 341st Missile Wing is to defend America with safe, secure, effective nuclear forces and combat-ready Airmen. There's nothing in that statement asking us to always be nice, is there? Clearly, customer service is not part of the mission statement, but it is an essential ingredient for getting the mission done.

From the folks in the 341st Maintenance Group who work on the assets, to the security police who are keeping us safe, customer service is happening around us every day. You may not even think you are providing customer service and consider your interactions with others as a "common courtesy" or "just doing my job." Common courtesy standards vary from person to person and can be affected by factors ranging from the job environment to personal upbringing. Because of this, there are several rules I subscribe to that can help improve customer service no matter what your AFSC is or duties involve.

Treat everyone as if they areĀ a general's family.
As a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, I encounter a multitude of families who entrust me with the care of their children. My goal is to treat each family equally and offer the best care I can, regardless of rank or duty title. When you imagine the person in front of you is the spouse or child of a four-star general, you will be surprised at how well you provide customer service.

Listen to what the customer is saying.
If there's one thing that drives people crazy, it's not letting them finish their thought, assuming you know what they want, or worse, not paying attention to their explanation of the problem they have. Have the patience to listen to what people are saying. Occasionally, there are long-winded customers, so it's important to ask for clarification or recap what you think they are requesting so you can avoid any confusion or misunderstandings.

Be helpful, even if there is no immediate reward in it.
Some consider this "paying it forward," to others it's just customer service karma. No matter what you call it, it's just the right thing to do. I am always dumbfounded when I see people who expend energy to avoid being helpful. If you have to play Rochambeau, or rock-paper-scissors to decide who takes care of the next customer, get a new line of work.

Deal with complaints quickly and at the lowest level needed
. No one is perfect, and mistakes happen. Deal with them, fix them and learn from them. If you don't, there's always someone higher up in the chain that will. It's also important to get all of the facts from both parties before making a decision regarding a complaint because the customer may not be right - like when mission requirements or an Air Force Instruction requires a specific course of action. In these circumstances, it becomes your job to handle the complaint by explaining the guidance you must follow.

Train your staff.
Those who work both with and for you will emulate your behavior. If you create an atmosphere that is helpful and provides great customer service, you will reap the rewards of their behavior.

Be patient,
especially with old guys like me. I've been in the military since 1985 and have moved around quite a bit, but I still manage to have a complete memory lapse of what I need to do when it's time to PCS. Because I don't use this knowledge frequently, I forget. That's just human nature. Another point to keep in mind is to be patient with people you think have "stupid" questions. Just because you answer the same questions over and over doesn't mean the person in front of you has this information, or has heard you explain it to 10 other people this morning. Take a deep breath, answer the question and realize that you just helped someone out with your vast wealth of knowledge.

Don't forget to smile. Whether you have a customer in front of you or are on the phone, smiling eases tension and conveys a message that you want to help solve the customer's problem.

I'm sure you can think of other rules to improve your customer service. These are just a few that I use daily and have kept me, most of the time, from having to explain myself to the boss in a nice carpeted office. In my job, I interact with a lot of people and I strive to ensure a positive outcome by adhering to my seven rules for customer service. I encourage you t