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Article 8 min read

10 ways to be a great customer and get great customer service

By Page Grossman

Last updated December 23, 2020

I have a confession to make. My boyfriend has a quality that I found extremely embarrassing when we first started dating. I’m not sure even he knows this. Well, now he does. I let him read this before I sent it to my editor.

My boyfriend has the embarrassing habit of holding up the line at the coffee shop, taking the waiter’s time at the restaurant, and chatting with the grocery store cashier, to ask: “How’s your day going?” With a nice big emphasis on your.

Every time I’d hear him intake a big breath and launch into it, I’d cringe. He’s just a titch too loud, garrulous, and has a subtle Texas twang. And then there’s always an awkward pause on the other end.

Every service person practically throws on their mental emergency brake when he asks, “How’s your day going?” I can hear it, every single time.

But after six months or so of expectant cringing and painfully waiting for the conversation to end, I noticed something special was happening.

Only human

People, humans I mean, are so happy to be asked that simple question. The service we receive after he asks that question is undeniably better. I, selfishly, first noticed because we might receive a free drink, an upgrade on our popcorn, or more efficiently-packed groceries. I started to like this upgraded service.

But then I realized another effect. In 95 percent (from my unofficial study) of the people my boyfriend asks that question of, there’s a physical change. You can see the load taken off their shoulders. Maybe they stand up a little straighter. Maybe their smile finally reaches their eyes. Maybe they let out a breath of exasperation. Whatever it is, I can see relief.

Someone has recognized them as the human they are.

I can think of several times in the last three months that we’ve received free upgrades. None that we asked for. They’re all small things, but they mean so much to us and I think, I hope, our kindness means something to the person we’re interacting with.

They’re all small things, but they mean so much to us and I think, I hope, our kindness means something to the person we’re interacting with.

I haven’t yet learned how to employ his technique as boldly and unabashedly as he does, but I’m trying to learn. Not only does it benefit me but it makes the world around me just a tiny bit better. No matter your beliefs, I think we can all agree that we want a better world filled with happier, kinder people.

So, let’s consider kindness as the first lesson in being a good customer. But there’s more to it than just that.

Good customers versus bad customers

As soon as my boyfriend genuinely inquires about the service person’s day, they not only treat us more like individual humans, they treat us as friends. But why?

All it takes is watching a little bad customer behavior in order to learn how to be a good customer.

It’s a gorgeous day in Austin and my boyfriend and I have to run an errand downtown. There’s an outdoor bar I’ve been dying to try and we happen to be parked nearby. So, we stop. I’m on deadline so immediately after ordering our beers, I whip out my computer and start writing. I begin to notice that the women at the table next to us are unhappy with their food and service. They demand new forks, more napkins, and water refills. They don’t ask, they demand.

Lesson 1 (reminder): Be kind.

Let’s be clear, I was working and not trying to notice these ladies, but they made themselves noticeable. When asking for things, they were dismissive and unthankful of the waitress, treating her as if her sole job was to be available for their beck and call. I was most taken aback by how one of the customers demanded a new fork as if the waitress was purposefully keeping one from her when in fact, the woman had dropped her own fork on the floor.

Lesson 2: Good customers aren’t dismissive. Good customers have good manners. Good customers treat their wait staff (and all customer service people) as people, not servants.

When the women were finished eating, they again call for the waitress. I see one of the women gesture to her (almost completely empty) plate and look unhappy. Then I hear the waitress say, “I’m so sorry, I’ll have the kitchen take a look, and will take that off your bill.”

Lesson 3: If you’re unsatisfied with your food, don’t eat all of it before telling the staff. In more broad terms, if you’re unsatisfied, notify a manager or the company as soon as possible. Try to explain as calmly as possible and ask if there’s something they can do to resolve the issue. And, do I really need to say it? Don’t expect a refund if you ate the whole plate! I thought this one was obvious, but I guess not.

The waitress returns with the bill and the women brazenly ask for a dessert menu—settling on a slice of red velvet cake. It looks sumptuously rich and delicious. And then I realize—they’ve already received their bill. These women received a free entree and a free dessert. This is downtown Austin; that’s at least a $23 discount on their order.

So, yes, sometimes customers get rewarded for bad behavior.

Lesson 4: To be a good customer, try not to take advantage of a company. This one is hard to remember when dealing with sprawling, faceless entities, but should be much easier when dealing with an individual person, whether they be someone on the phone with your cable company or a waitress.

I always hesitate to ask for food to be removed from a bill as I know it is sometimes taken out of the staff’s paycheck, even though it is unlikely their fault. That should give anyone pause.

Lesson 5: To be a good customer, consider who might be affected when you complain and consider who is truly to blame when you’re unsatisfied.

After the women leave and the waitress comes over to fill our water glasses, I lean in and say to her, “I’m so sorry that they were so rude. I know how tough this job can be.” The waitress’s face completely changed. Instead of a stiff debutante smile, there was genuine relief.

As with many other places around the country, waitstaff in Texas, no matter how fancy the place, can be paid as little $2.13 an hour. They work for tips. I then found out from the waitress that the women barely left a 10 percent tip. On the price of the discounted bill, no less.

Lesson 6: If you want to be a good customer, consider where your money is going. If you were truly unhappy with your service, consider speaking to a manager. Should your waitstaff go hungry because you were unhappy with how you were treated?

This tip doesn’t apply only to waitstaff. This tip can be applied with any service employee, from the grocery store to the movie theater to the phone company to the car wash.

Lesson 7: Anyone in a customer service role deserves to be treated with kindness and as a human. Think of it this way, your kindness will ultimately benefit you in the way you in the end. Treating other humans with kindness benefits everyone.

At the end of it all, my boyfriend and I had a lovely conversation with the waitress. We joked a little about bad customers and how they’re more common than people think. In the end, we were only charged for one beer. We made sure our tip paid for the other beer and 20 percent of the total bill.

Lesson 8: Leave a nice tip for good service (and sometimes for bad, but that’s another story)—be it for pizza, flowers, furniture, or a drink.

My boyfriend and I aren’t rich and we’re generally pretty frugal, but when we spend money, we like to know where it’s going. Typical Millennials. We’re always happy to spend money on people and friends.

Being a good customer isn’t just about leaving a nice tip, though it certainly helps. Another way to be a great customer, and this one works well on the phone, is to share a personal moment.

Lesson 9: Make yourself an individual, humanize yourself in the other person’s eyes. If you’re on a phone call, ask how the other person’s weather is, share that you’re tired because your kids have been playing all day, or that you’re fostering a kitten who likes to climb your bare legs for attention. Whatever the story, it makes a connection and bridges a gap.

My boyfriend’s method is not the only way to build rapport with service people and receive great service. But his, I think, is the fastest. That one simple question breaks the barrier and changes the interaction.

Lesson 10: “How’s your day going?” Instead of customer and customer service, you’re now two humans working together towards one common goal of great service.

To get great customer service, try being a great customer.

Page Grossman became an entrepreneur at 22, knowing that she never wanted to settle down in a cubicle. With a degree in journalism, some money in a savings account, and Millennial-spirit, Page founded her own freelance writing business. Page writes about creating an intentional lifestyle through travel, finances, entrepreneurship, health, fitness, and nutrition. Depending on the day, you can find her writing for various blogs, slaying SEO, researching grammar questions, banishing the Lorem Ipsum, fostering kittens, and traveling the world on Instagram.

Original illustration by Violeta Noy.

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