Managers and customer service – the award for best supporting role

We’ve all heard (and maybe dreaded) the phrase from a disgruntled customer, “I want to speak to your manager.” But if you’re the manager in question, what next? And what’s your wider role in customer service beyond ‘gruntling’ the disgruntled? The following pointers are focused on line managers, team leaders, maybe even department heads – any managerial role that may have to engage with a customer personally. The more strategic customer service role that senior managers have – standards and policy creation, culture setting, employee empowerment, processes and procedures – is for another article; this is about managers getting hands-on.

Your role in a nutshell

As a manager, your role is not ‘front line’, your role is to support those who are to deliver the best possible service. To be more specific, the key elements are:

  • Set the direction – This is not so much about setting a policy as communicating it to your team. Standard customer service provision should be in line with whatever customer service strategy your company has decided upon and it’s the line manager’s job to ensure the customer-facing team know it, understand it, and deliver it.
  • Provide training and coaching – Customer service roles require specific skills: questioning, active listening, problem-solving, conflict management… as well as certain key attitudes, such as patience. As with any skills need by a member of your team, your role includes ensuring they have them, whether it’s through formal training programs or a coaching conversation between the two or you.
  • Dealing with complaints – This might be a formal written complaint or just a ‘shop floor’ customer transaction that has gone awry. Depending on your in-house procedures, the former may require some sort of investigation, the latter may require you to step in. Timing is everything here, you don’t want to take over if it’s unnecessary (potentially undermining your team member’s efforts and motivation) but your support may be required, and sometimes, even if the team member is handling the situation sensitively, human psychology means the customer just needs to hear the same message reinforced by someone else.
  • Giving feedback – You might be collating, understanding, sharing, and using formal feedback (for example, following a customer survey) or talking with a team member about their handling of a specific situation; either way, your role is to ensure feedback is used to improve performance wherever possible.

And just to touch on one of those more ‘strategic’ managerial customer service roles – setting a customer service culture – the day to day behaviour of line managers and team leaders is critical. You are the role model for your team and others around you. Like it or not, your personal approach to customer service will be observed, noted, and probably copied in one way or another.

If you do intervene…

If you decide you do need to step in and join or take over a customer transaction, not only do you need to remember and use the usual customer strategies (ask, listen, understand, act, etc.) there are a couple of other points to remember.

  • Stay positive and calm – A bit obvious maybe, but it’s specific to your situation: you’re coming into a conversation that’s already showing a level of strain (lucky you, as a manager you don’t get to do the ‘easy’ ones) and you’re expected to defuse the so-far-unexploded customer bomb. So, keep your cool.
  • Don’t throw your team member under the bus – The complaint may be justified, you may not agree with how your person has handled the situation, perhaps they’ve even got it wrong, but taking sides (with the team member in the villain role and you as saviour) is not the way to go. You’re there to ensure excellent customer service but also to support your team, even or especially when they’re getting it wrong.

By all means, apologise, and offer a fresh solution, but don’t do it at the expense of your team (though you may later need to step into the training/coaching part of your role).

A quick but meaningful intervention with minimum disruption is often all that’s needed: understand the situation, acknowledge the customer’s position, promise appropriate action, then follow through. A well-judged apology and a commitment to act can work wonders.


If you want your team to understand the foundations of great customer service, give us a call on 01582 463464.  We’re here to help!


Categories: Customer service

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