Effective Customer Service

  • Published
  • By Maj. Shane Watson
  • 92nd Contracting Squadron commander
Regardless of career field, we can all trace what we do every day to some form of customer service. While some jobs are more obviously customer-oriented than others, we all provide something to someone in the course of our daily Air Force duties. Take a moment to reflect on how your customer service might rate. There are many common scenarios that often frustrate us: long lines at the checkout, waiting for a meal at a restaurant, a delayed airline flight, or just simply not getting enough information on the status of something that's important to us. In most cases, receiving information from the provider might ease your frame of mind. For example, if the restaurant staff informed you that your meal would be ready in ten minutes, you would then have enough knowledge to form a new expectation on when the service would be provided.  In today's operational environment information is power and speed is key: no one likes a lengthy wait for a response to that important email. As we have adapted to doing more with less, and on a shorter schedule than ever before, a prompt answer can quickly become a mission enabler. While we can't always deliver that contract, travel voucher or work order immediately, a status update can provide a welcome frame of reference for daily planning. As a Contracting Officer, it is not unusual to receive a purchase request and later realize that weeks may have passed since the request was made. Not unlike a pilot, medical technician or communications specialist, we often become focused on completing the task at hand, quickly forgetting that someone is probably wondering about when you're going to deliver. Delay that information or product long enough and you earn yourself a complaint. We've all been on the receiving end of no information and understand the frustration...so, how do we improve our customer service? While it's impossible to make an all inclusive list, these tips come to mind when I think of how to improve my customer service skills: 

First, answer your phone and email. Simple, right? A brief statement such as "I received your request and am starting to work on it now," can quickly buy you more time with an impatient customer. Second, don't make promises unless you will keep them. A few broken promises without adequate explanation will quickly damage your credibility and that of your unit. While we've all heard the "promise late - deliver early" method, that's not really right either, is it? Make realistic completion estimates and update immediately when you realize there's a change. Customers (and Commanders) don't like hearing that you're going to be late at the last minute. Inform early. Finally, listen to your customer. If they tell you that a project is a high priority, make it yours as well. 

Once you find little ways to incorporate good customer service skills into your daily tasks, your customers are a little more forgiving. We all like to know what's going on, so I encourage you to develop your own system to keep those who need your services informed. Am I talking about good customer service skills or effective communication? Yes! Treat them equally and see the difference.