"I saved Christmas."
And no, that ain't an exaggeration. That's a direct quote from Dean Cumming, a product placement coordinator with The Home Depot Canada. He isn't talking about the time he foiled the Grinch—he's referring to a time when, in a customer service role, he went above and beyond the call of duty.
"It was Christmas eve, and there was a wonderful elderly woman who needed a stove delivered immediately," he says. "But our regular delivery guys couldn't get it to her that soon. So we had it delivered to the store, and myself and a manager installed it that day, so she could prepare Christmas dinner for her family."
Heartwarming, right? But there's a lesson to be learned here: awesome customer service can be a game-changer. Yet the basis of great customer service—the type that The Home Depot Canada says is their cornerstone—can be devastatingly simple. In fact, great customer service boils down to one action: Listening.
"It's about developing solutions that you'd appreciate as a customer," adds Amber Knight, a kitchen designer. "They key is to listen to what people are asking you, and be honest—no one would expect you to know everything. Then, people start opening up to you. They treat you more like a friend than a staff member."
And customer-service skills can take you way, way beyond the sales floor. Both Cumming and Knight, who've worked with the company for two and eight years respectively, now coordinate orders, handle office administration and take on public relations duties—in short, they're working in managerial-esque positions. And that should tell you two things: First, at places like The Home Depot Canada, retail jobs can bloom into larger roles. Second, learning customer service skills can benefit you in the long-term.
How, you ask? Simply add these four career-enhancing (and potentially Christmas-saving) skills to your résumé.
1. Professional skills.
Or, in other words, people skills. "When someone's spending $30,000, they want to feel like they're not just handing money over to some juvenile person that doesn't know what they're doing," says Knight.
So, along with being knowledgeable at her job, Knight says she learned world-class presentation and teamwork skills with The Home Depot Canada. "I've always been personable, and being pleasant is important. But I've learned to conduct myself in a professional manner, and use the staff here, or our vendors, as resources. If I don't know an answer, I can rely on them."
"Building rapport is really important," says Cumming. "A lot of customers will come in here saying, 'I need a tool to somehow do this.' A big part of customer service is understanding what people want to accomplish—whether it's installing a bathtub or building a deck—and then focusing an entire project. Take the time to know your customers, and work them through the entire process."
2. Organizational skills
Working at The Home Depot Canada requires plenty of skills: you'll have to learn about plenty of products. Answer questions from customers. Manage large-scale projects. In short, you'll have your plate fulland you'll learn to prioritize your tasks. Plus, prioritizing is a huge part of multi-tasking (a skill that just about every job asks for).
3. Communications skills.
At places like The Home Depot Canada, great service equals great communication, and that means being transparent with customers, co-workers, and bosses—a trait that's beneficial, no matter your role in a company. "If I don't have an answer, I call and let customers know I'm working on it. A big thing is keeping those lines of communication open, so people don't feel like they're being ignored."
Don't underrate the power of persuasion. Sure, it'll net you a sale, but your negotiation abilities will also help you while writing cover letters, interviewing for a job, or negotiating that pay raise. And, says Cumming, you can learn plenty about persuasion when dealing with tough customers—in fact, converting grumpy customers can be the most rewarding part about customer service positions.
"The most satisfying part about customer service is working with difficult customers," he says. "Working with people who are difficult, and having them return to you, is the greatest challenge—and a challenge is what you should strive for. Most customer service people won't be able to deal with these people—but you'll develop the strongest bonds with them."