It’s odd that sometimes no matter how many times you hear a phrase or saying you think of it as just that – a saying.

I can’t remember the exact time, but recently I heard someone say something I’ve heard on many, many occasions:

“that guy is just a natural with customers”

Now for some reason, at least compared to previously, this got me thinking.

‘Nature vs Nurture’ is a long standing argument in scientific circles – are you born a certain way or can you change how you behave with learning etc? And so I began to wonder whether customer service was indeed some kind of innate quality that you are born with or whether it can be taught and you can learn it.

From a customer service perspective, there do seem to be traits that are ‘visible’ with people who give great service.

Possibly the most critical of these is empathy, the ability to see things from their customer’s perspective by listening closely to their wants and needs, asking the right questions at the right time, and proposing a solution.

Whilst it is possible to teach a person to be more empathetic, that is just the point, they are being more empathetic than they used to be, but are they truly being empathetic? Some people do it intuitively, whilst for others it is not quite as natural.

Having a positive mental attitude is something that you see time after time with good customer service. If you have a ‘glass is half-full’ attitude, this comes across, and customers respond to it.

There are a couple of things though that I don’t think you can teach:

• Interest – showing a genuine interest in customers
• Initiative – taking steps to help customers as much as you possibly can

I think it’s fair to say that we’re in the midst of a change from a product orientated world to a service orientated world, and these to things fit perfectly with this dynamic shift.

What you really want people to be asking is “what can I do for this customer to make their experience better?” as opposed to the “OK, who’s next?”

People with these traits are the type of people you’d want to see helping your customers but, in this changing world, creates a problem. What if you’ve got great sales people, and you want them to become more customer-focussed?

All is not lost.

Good sales people display empathy – at least at a very basic level – they get to know their customers to identify needs and sell to this need. They also have a positive attitude, they may face rejection repeatedly but they come back for more. What they therefore have is a good foundation of skills.

What good sales people need to deliver good customer service is leadership and coaching to help them maximise their potential.

For me though, all this can be summed up in two sentences.

When it comes to good customer service, this can be taught.

When it comes to great customer service, I’m putting my money on nature.