Responding to criteria about customer service

Customer service appears in many government job applications as a criterion. For example:

  • Experience in managing customer expectations and identifying customer needs
  • High level interpersonal skills and the ability to deal with distressed or angry customers

In some contexts, there can be a specific customer service capability The NSW Public Sector Capability Framework identifies specific behaviours for ‘Commit to customer service’. Being Adept in this capability means:

  • ‘Take responsibility for delivering high quality customer-focused services.
  • Understand customer perspectives and ensure responsiveness to their needs.
  • Identify customer service needs and implement solutions.
  • Find opportunities to co-operate with internal and external parties to improve outcomes for customers.
  • Maintain relationships with key customers in area of expertise.
  • Connect and collaborate with relevant stakeholders within the community.’

Foundational skills mean:

  • ‘Understand the importance of customer service.
  • Help customers understand the services that are available.
  • Take responsibility for delivering services which meet customer requirements.
  • Keep customers informed of progress and seek feedback to ensure their needs are met.
  • Show respect, courtesy and fairness when interacting with customers.’

To work out how customer service skills are expressed, look for hints in duties lists. Examples are:

  • Provide accurate and timely advice.
  • Work collaboratively with other areas.
  • Provide support to a team.
  • Exceptional customer service.
  • Provide specialised information and expert advice to resolve complaints.
  • Educate customers as appropriate.
  • Contribute to a client-focused approach to service delivery.
  • Participate in forums and groups to represent the agency, share information and educate customers.

Key outcomes may be listed, such as:

  • Providing an effective customer service to clients from within and external to the division when dealing with requests for information or resources and working collaboratively with the team to accommodate changing priorities.

Customer service can be a broad approach to many roles. For example the ATO includes in their list of what they are looking for: ‘Customer focused people who will put our clients at the centre of everything they do.’

Customer service requirements vary based on seniority. A manager role may include responsibilities like these for a council library role:

  • Ensure an effective first line response to customer service enquiries.
  • Provide courteous, effective and consistent service to all customers based on a high level of knowledge of products and programs.
  • Spend 50% of rostered work hours in direct customer contact.
  • Assist customers in the efficient use of the automated management system, and other technologies.
  • Provide specialist level assistance that enhances the technology, information and literacy skills of our customers.

One of the first aspects of customer service to understand is what good customer service means. This information may be expressed in expectations, such as staff being expected to be easy to deal with, empathetic, effective, trusted. Organisations may provide examples of excellent customer service skills. Examples include:

  • treating your customers respectfully.
  • following up on feedback.
  • handling complaints and returns gracefully.
  • understanding your customers’ needs and wants.
  • exceeding customer expectations.
  • going out of your way to help them.

Connecting with clients/customers may translate into a range of behaviours, including:

  • Demonstrating empathy for individual circumstances;
  • Taking account of the special nature of client experiences and the challenges they face;
  • Responding quickly, accurately and sensitively;
  • Dealing fairly and consistently with complaints;
  • Being aware of the frameworks and parameters we operate in;
  • Keeping sensitive information confidential;
  • Using knowledge of the organisation and public service to resolve issues accurately and quickly;
  • Understanding how our own advice may impact on other areas.
Responding to criteria

Consider the following steps when responding to criteria about customer service:

  • Identify who the customers are for the role, both internal and external.
  • Research the organisation’s customer service standards.
  • Identify what form customer service takes: in-person including counter service, telephone, email, mail, social media.
  • Be clear about whether you are delivering or managing customer services.
  • Think of relevant customer service examples that closely match the role requirements and explain them using a SAR structure: situation, action, results.
Gathering examples

Examples requested for applications may focus on complaints, problem solving [applying liaison, negotiation good judgement], explaining complex information, handing competing tasks.

Rather than claiming skills and qualities [I am always polite and friendly to clients] specific examples will explain the nuances of the situation faced – the people, the issues and problems, and what specific details you took into account when handling the situation.

This can mean including details such as: demographic background, geographic location, expectations and needs of the customer; relevant aspects of the service; generic and specific customer needs; steps taken to establish specific needs; knowledge used; steps taken to explain information; problems identified and resolved; feedback obtained; information shared internally and externally; records kept; advice and information shared with team.

When considering examples from your experience to support customer service skills, there are many details to take into account:

  • Are you demonstrating foundational skills, competence, or managerial skills?
  • Who is the customer?
  • What are the customer needs and how do you know this?
  • What customer service standards applied?
  • Did you meet these standards and any targets and performance measures?
  • What customer service attributes do you display?
  • Can you explain best practice customer service standards, such as for telephone standards?
  • Can you explain what quality service is?
  • What relevant knowledge have you acquired?
  • What was the complaints handling process?
  • What were typical complaints?
  • How did you handle complaints?
  • Did you receive any customer feedback?
  • Did you suggest any improvements?
  • What other areas of the organisation were affected by your service?
Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.