I think personality has a lot to do with it, but that customer service can be learned. I am not sure it can be taught or trained, but it can be improved. I found my own level of customer service increased immeasurably at two points.
Once when I was working in Yellowstone Park as a cafeteria line worker between a southerner and a New Englander, I soon became used to chatting with the customers in front of me and began referring to everyone as “Sir” or “Ma’am”, which I understand is the level etiquette needed for meeting with the Queen of England. This seems to me to be a very high level of service, and it was not natural to me as a midwesterner. I was used to responding naturally to comments, but not engaging everyone in conversation as a matter of policy nor had I called anyone Sir or Ma’am until it was just the way I passed people through my step in the line. The other servers’ modelling was very effective, and just standing there smiling nicely no longer seemed an option.
This level of service got me through numerous jobs as exceptionally polite, until I took library science classes by university extension with a group of experienced library assistants. It was a job I had held, but suddenly I was in a group devoted to supportive empowerment. There were competitive students, but as a whole the group supported and empowered everyone. If someone spoke slowly, everyone listened encouragingly; if someone needed help, someone lept to provide it; if someone did something inappropriate, it was ignored and corrected later. I came out of that experience a much nicer person.
Whatever customer service skills I have were immensely strengthened by having been in those two environments where good service was the expected norm and poor service seemed to be a social crime. I think that is how good customer service occurs and is passed on to new employees. What is generally different now is not ruder people or employees but an atmosphere where queuing strategies save money, fewer employees doing more for less is the norm, and customers are expected to know and do everything for themselves or be chastised for wasting other people’s time. If the point of hiring the employee is to prevent customers from ever talking to someone who might really help (and a surprising number of organizations have someone out front just to keep customers from barging in) the level of service is going to be poor. The more friendly and engaging the employee the better, but the service will still be poor. If we just want the perception of service, the personality of the gatekeeper is essential. If we want to really serve the customers, responsive organizational policies and a helpful atmosphere may be set by the leadership, and employees can respond accordingly.
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