There's a great article from the New York Times that describes the "100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do". Reading it, I wholeheartedly agreed, and a lot of these things apply to anyone who deals with customers on a regular basis. I worked for a long time in the service industry, and I went through a few of the highlights of the article to draw some correlaries. Take a walk with me through the restaurant, will you? Do not let anyone enter the restaurant without a warm greeting.
Never let the first interaction you have with a customer in your community be silence.
Never say “I don’t know” to any question without following with, “I’ll find out.”
Followup is key. If a customer's got a question, it's the job of the community manager to keep that thread moving and find out who knows the answer. I'm not a technical person. I'm not a chef. However, I can find the right person and communicate clearly about what's going on.
Do not curse, no matter how young or hip the guests.
If I'm in my professional capacity, I don't use cusswords. It's unprofessional, it's inflammatory, and it never helps. This isn't difficult. (Even for me, and I swear like a trucker.)
Never blame the chef or the busboy or the hostess or the weather for anything that goes wrong. Just make it right.
Telling a community or customer that you're blaming someone in your own company is disloyal to your colleagues, and undermines your company's reputation.
If there is a service charge, alert your guests when you present the bill. It’s not a secret or a trick.
If you've got a pricing change, a fee you're assessing, or anything else that comes between a customer and their pocketbook, communicate that to your customers early and clearly.
Do not disappear. The most challenging part of being a community manager is that it's a 24/7 job. If you know something's happening and you can't answer right away, enlist help, even if it's just someone to say "we'll get back to you on Monday at 9am Pacific." There's a great post about the "service heart" that describes in more detail the sort of person you've got to be to be a community manager or a waiter. If it makes you happy to make other people happy, you've got it.
Do not show frustration. Your only mission is to serve. Be patient. It is not easy. Humans are tricky beings, and keeping your cool when people are upset is just what you're supposed to do. Fortunately, unlike bartending, if someone's hurling insults at me, I can step away for a moment to compose a response that's patient. Don't let anyone's reaction (or overreaction) fluster you. People are still learning how to communicate clearly online. Someone may take their bad day out on you by venting. OFTEN IN ALL CAPS. A calm and reasonable response shows your professionalism, and helps other customers to understand what the proper way to handle ALL CAPS ought to be.
Bonus Track: As Bill Gates has said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” An unhappy customer is one who's determined enough to still be your customer that they're taking the time to complain. Listen to what's going on underneath the unhappy emotions, help to solve the problem, and you'll keep customers coming back. Never touch a customer. No excuses. Do not do it. Do not brush them, move them, wipe them or dust them. Ok, that one just makes me laugh.
Cross-posted on the Get Satisfaction blog.