Ever wonder why certain people are so effective at satisfying customers? It's because they possess the service mentality.

Customer service. Pick up any ad, and there's probably a line of type or two explaining the type of treatment to expect when you shop there. Usually, the advertisement reads, “We're the best” or “Service is our middle name” — something like that. Phone book advertisements are loaded with commercials for being very customer-service minded.

Why then do we hear so many horror stories about how people were treated? I recently surveyed several companies to seek out the traits and characteristics of those that have the service mentality. Clearly, not everyone does. The good news is you can learn the skills of the “best.” No one has a monopoly on a service mentality.

I culled the seven traits that scored positively among the highest in the survey. Here are the results.

  1. Empathy

    This trait won hands down as the most important characteristic when serving customers. In so many cases, you get APATHY, the exact opposite of EMPATHY. Simply put, empathy is putting yourself in the other person's shoes. How would you feel if what happened to them happened to you? True story: On a recent trip, someone stole my wallet. All my credit cards, checkbook, driver's license and, of course, the few dollars I had in it.

    I proceeded to start making the appropriate phone calls to each credit card company — there were four in all. After explaining who I was and that I was at Disneyland and my wallet was stolen with four credit cards, cash and checkbook, the person on the other end blurted out: “NAME?”

    There was no, “Gee, I'm sorry that happened,” no, “Oh my, how sad.” All they wanted was my name. No empathy at all. I hope those people (and by the way, all four credit card companies did the very same thing) never have to go through that loss. All I wanted to hear was a, “Gee, that's so sad.” Or a plain old, “I'm sorry to hear that.” Someone who understood.

    Empathy is the No. 1 ingredient for a service mentality.

  2. Enthusiasm

    Ah, yes, enthusiasm. You cannot replace appropriate enthusiasm. It's a sign of giving service that is above and beyond. When a customer feels that you are enthusiastic on their behalf, they just fall right into the palm of your hand. Exhibiting enthusiasm toward customers will give them confirmation that they made the right decision by choosing you. It's a confirmation that they've done the right thing. And everyone likes that.

    It's the No. 2 ingredient of a great service mentality. Do you show enough enthusiasm in your job?

  3. Responsibility

    Being responsible is so important. Being responsible is living up to a previously agreed-upon commitment. It can be a large or small responsibility. Example: I was speaking at a corporate meeting last spring, and when asked my needs, I told them all I needed was a hand-held wireless microphone. “No problem,” the contact told me. She said she had told “Bob” to have the hand-held wireless microphone ready for when I was supposed to speak.

    Well, when I got to the meeting room, there was only what they call a “lavaliere” microphone,” the type you clip onto your garment. Not the correct one we ordered … but nonetheless, it would have worked. However, my contact was terribly disappointed.

    My contact said: “You know, I gave Bob the responsibility to get you the hand-held, and he let me down — which in turn let you down.” She continued, “I gave Bob the responsibility of getting you the microphone you needed, and he didn't do it.” When you agree to something for a co-worker or a customer, it's key to be responsible and keep your commitment.

  4. Resiliency

    How fast can you pop back into a good mood when something has disrupted your schedule? Or do you pout and fret and linger and wallow in it? The ability to bounce back from any adversity is an important service mentality.

    Problems arise throughout the workday for everyone with disruptions that we hadn't planned. And as my mother used to tell me, “It's not the problem, Nancy, it's HOW you handle it.” As usual, mothers are right. How we handle the situation is what makes it good or bad. And when disappointment or some unplanned interruption hits you, it's time to bounce back and be resilient. Your customers should never know you were disappointed. Need to work late and miss dinner with some friends? Or perhaps you had a minor disagreement with someone. The customer should never know that. Resiliency is a requirement for the service mentality.

  5. Balance

    We view the balance of scales on the symbol of justice as an example of evenhandedness and fairness. So, too, with our workload versus the needs of the customer.

    There's a fine line between pleasing the customer and losing money for the company. In other words, it shouldn't all be one-sided. When a customer needs something, that's fine. If, however, we go over the line, it becomes unbalanced and not fair to either the customer or the company.

    Finding the right balance at your job and in your company will help you maintain the right balance for both you and the company. Is the customer always right? No; the customer always thinks he's right. We need to know the difference between giving away the store and sticking to company guidelines.

    Balance keeps everything in check.

  6. Ownership

    This is my personal favorite, because I see it so much as I call and shop around. It runs rampant through the business world. This is the proverbial, “It's not my job, or not my department, or I wasn't here that day, or I don't know anything about that.”

    Customers don't care if you were on vacation when something happened and they need help. They don't care if it's not your department. You answered the phone; they're depending on you. You were at the counter to help them now.

    If you answered the call, you own the call. Take ownership of the situation. It's not that you'll need to do everything, but taking ownership and making sure the customer knows that you will find out for them are the key! As the Telephone Doctor, I feel it should never take two people to give good customer service. You get the call. You own the call.

  7. Adaptability

    Granted, this service mentality might need some practice, but it is another important ingredient, characteristic or trait of the service mentality.

    Think about the number of people whom you help every day, either on the phone or in person. They're all different, aren't they? Not only in culture, color or accent, but in mood and personality. We need to be able to adapt to all kinds of personalities. Having difficulty understanding someone? Learn to adapt to their particular problem. Ask them if they could please slow down so you can get what they need. Slow talkers? Adapting to them is so important, mostly because slow talkers don't like to be rushed. So rushing a slow talker through a conversation will only make matters worse. You'll need to adapt to those that are slow talkers. And of course, there's the fast talker — to whom you also need to adapt.

    Think of the chameleon, that little lizard-like animal that takes on the color of what it lands on. They adapt to the color. And usually they're difficult to see. We need to adapt to the situation so that every transaction is a seamless one.

    Well, there you have it. The seven traits that make up a SERVICE MENTALITY. You probably have some of them. Work on the ones that you don't have or aren't up to par in. Possessing these traits will garner you happier customers (and a happier boss).

Nancy Friedman is president of St. Louis-based Telephone Doctor, a customer service training company. She is a featured speaker at association, chamber and corporate meetings. To receive her free monthly e-mail article on customer service and a free subscription to the Telephone Doctor Newsletter, The Friendly Voice, visit www.telephonedoctor.com or call 314/291-1021.