The following are some rules I've learned during several years of customer service jobs in my previous life as a senior complaint handler for a large financial institution. I have written them down as a note-to-self as I could do with being reminded sometimes. Thought maybe others might find them useful too:
Everyone is a customer
The back-end dev who works in your studio? She's a customer. The junior designer who shadows you? He's a customer. Your boss? Customer. Printers? Customer. They are all relying on you to provide something. Even if they are not direct customers. All the following rules apply to all of them.
Its not hard. Introduce yourself if you've not met, shake hands, make small talk about the weather, ask how you can help. Be attentive when they talk and excited, passionate, polite and helpful when you talk.
Your shitty day does not matter
If you can't handle putting on a front and being nice as pie like you're having the best day of your fucking life, don't go to work. Whatever happens, follow rule number 2.
Talk all the time. Regular update emails. Daily/weekly calls. Face to face meetings. Keep the communication up. Show sketches. Show the progress of the work. Show good ideas. Show bad ideas. Silence is the enemy.
When they're telling you stuff, make sure you listen hard. Make notes, clarify points and ask questions at the end if you still don't get something.
Customers can like surprises, but only good ones. Commit to stuff you will definitely do. Tell them what you won't do, if appropriate. Try and explain when you'll do all the stuff and keep them in the loop if the timescales or things change.
If you commit to doing something, verbally or in writing, do it. No ifs. No buts. If the reason you can't do it is outside of your control, tell them soon and suggest an alternative. If its a temporary hiatus on doing the thing, explain when you expect to be able to do the thing and feed back to them.
Oh if you have to deliver bad news, it'll suck, but most people can take it and take it pretty well. Just be helpful and bring some potential solutions to the wake if you can.
Fuck ups and customer complaints are both the best feedback you'll ever get and the best opportunity to make a customer love you. If you fuck up, don't try and cover it. Admit and fix it. Don't believe me. I got statistics, fool. Further listening on this subject here.
Don't be a dick
Scenario A: If you turn a project around under time (it happens), you will be tempted to pocket the change and take a few days off in your pants. Don't. Instead, why not say “Hey. We're already done. You can have more internets for your moneys! Or maybe we'll renegotiate the moneys”. That customer will come back.
Scenario B: If you can't do what they need; tell them. People prefer honesty. Tell them what you can do and how you'll help them. If its not right for them, try and point them in the direction of someone who can help. They'll appreciate it.
Let them shout
If a customer ever feels the need to shout at you, Let them. Whether they are in the right or completely out of order. Let them know your listening (nod or make “uhuh” noises). Make mental or actual notes. Then when they're done you have two options:
1. Say sorry. Discuss how you will put it right. 2. Don't say sorry. Discuss how you will help put it right.
Might be your fault, might not. Fix it. Be a hero. (See Don't be a dick)
An attractive member of your preferred sex approaching you demurely in a night club (should) precipitate a very different tone and body language from you than a police constable walking up to the side of your car, which he has just pulled over.
Likewise, when you meet a customer, you can pretty much tell if you need to use your serious-face or not. You are a grown up.
Whilst your voice should always be professional, the tone of your voice, the language you use can (and should) be altered for the customer in front of you. They aren't always in front of you though.
Sometimes, answering the phone or sending an email starting “'Sup”, will be totally fine. Other times, it will be wholly inappropriate. You may only deal with “cool” bro-grammer start-ups, but if your shit is hitting their fan, answering the phone like that will lead to them tearing you a new one.
My advice, have a standard greeting, for any communication where you can't see their face. It should say hello, tell them who you are and ask what they want, nicely.
Its ok not to know something
If someone asks you something in a call or a meeting and you do not have a fucking clue what they're talking about, you may feel an overwhelming desire to make something up. Stop. Don't panic.
Customers are humans and they know you are a human. They will understand, and in some cases be reassured, if you take a breath and say: “I'm sorry I don't know the answer to that, I will get back to you on that later today” and move on. (See manage expectations)
A company I used to work for had a corporate initiative which was "Walk a mile in the customer's shoes". I wouldn't necessarily have put it as wanky as that, but the sentiment is good. Just have some consideration for their perspective. This extends to not bitching on twitter when they want the logo bigger or the background green, or when they want to use the design their nephew made in Powerpoint. Empathise. Understand. Explain why their idea is balls and why your idea is the balls.
Know when the customer is wrong
It definitely happens. If you know you're in the right about something tangible (eg. not a preference on colour based on a design hunch), you are allowed to be firm and stand your ground.
Sometimes you will lose "battles" with the customer. Sometimes your idea will be the wrong one for their business or brand. Sometimes their idea will be better. Sometimes their idea will suck so hard… Ultimately, it is their call and they are paying you to fulfil their brief. Sometimes you eat the bar sometimes the bar eats you.
The customer will smile with you. It will come across in correspondence, communication and your work. Smile when you answer the phone. Smile when you write the email. Smile at the meeting. Smile during daily stand ups. Smile while you're making stuff. Smile when you deliver the stuff. Smile writing the invoice. Smile writing the chasing letter. Smile when you get paid.
Jesus. You get paid to do your fucking hobby.