Sadek Lallouani is a programmer-analyst who works in customer service for Gestisoft. After several years of experience serving various types of clients, he has come up with a best-practices guide for professional customer service to uphold the image of the company he represents.
As far as attire goes, the important thing is to not go overboard. The key is to be neither flashy nor scruffy. Better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed.
My definitive sartorial style for each customer will evolve over several visits. For example, for my first few visits at a client’s, I’ll wear a tie, but if I see that this isn’t a suit-and-tie kind of company, I’ll dress more casually.
The important thing is to dress the part. Programmers and sales people should not be better dressed than the President.
My work space on the client’s premises is always tidy and neat, since it is an extension of who I am. I figure that if my office were always a mess, clients might presume that my work is also chaotic. And if this thought has crossed my mind, at least one out of ten people will also come to the same conclusion. In other words, a spotless work space is a spotless professional image!
You must be able to adapt your vocabulary and use plain language rather than technical jargon and acronyms. Programmers may use a language of their own amongst themselves, but they must be able to make themselves understood by the client. A programmer who adapts his vocabulary for the client is reassuring; it indicates that they will be able to fix any problem in a way that is sensitive to the client’s needs.
Plain courtesy dictates that you don’t interrupt. Further, in order to preserve your professional image, it is always best to avoid taking part in personal conversations between employees. Above all, avoid personal comments or excessive reactions; always stay calm and never let annoyance show, no matter what.
The importance of non-verbal communication should not be underestimated. This is what enables us to fully understand what the client is saying. Interpreting body language, such as the way a client walks, looks or stands, helps us react appropriately.
Give your client your undivided attention, for example by smiling at them, looking at them in the eye, keeping your hands visible. This can foster a more positive attitude on their part, as it shows that you take their problem seriously. Don’t forget that actions speak louder than words.
Always leave your personal problems at home; never talk about them or even let them show. Always be upbeat and keep a positive attitude.
When it comes to professional conflicts, just try to identify the bone of contention, avoid pointing fingers and don’t jump to conclusions. On the one hand, don’t let things fester, but on the other hand, choose your battles and refer problems to the right person. This will reassure the client that you understand their frustration and that you’re doing everything you can to address the problem.
In any conflict, avoid communicating by email. They never go away, and they could come back to haunt the organization!
Programmer–analysts must gain a thorough understanding of the client’s business needs in order to provide them with the best possible solution. For example, if a client asks for a new field in a database, you should ask the reason for it, to understand what need it will meet. Having understood the need, you may be able to offer a better solution; otherwise, when in doubt, refer the ask to the project manager. Whatever the case, always address requests in a diplomatic manner.
Another crucial issue is to always seek out advice. Instead of working solo, consult your colleagues: they may suggest a more efficient way of doing things, allowing you to learn and develop professionally by the same token.
Keep smiling! No matter what happens, keep a smile on your face. The advantage of smiling is that you look friendly and approachable. If you look grumpy, clients may not approach you so easily. If you always have an open and positive attitude, the client’s first reflex when they have a problem will be to come and see you, because they’ll feel like you’re there to help. Always have a positive attitude: that’s the key to customer service best practices!