situational awareness

The Thing Nobody Mentions that is Vital for Good Customer Service

Usually when you read articles about customer service, it’s about how to interact with customers, how to over-deliver and exceed expectations, and how to create a culture of service in an organization. All really important, and I’ve touched on each of these before and will certainly continue to do so in the future.

We also read stories of opportunities found and taken advantage of. LEGO would be a recent perfect example.

But what I don’t see in a lot of articles are references to “situational awareness.” I’ve seen a few blogs allude to it but no direct linkages between it and customer service.

As for a definition, from the great collective minds of Wikipedia, it “involves being aware of what is happening in the vicinity, in order to understand how information, events, and one’s own actions will impact goals and objectives, both immediately and in the near future.”

Have you ever been in line, waiting to be served, when the cashier is busy focused on some task at hand, finally looks up  and seems startled to notice you’re there? (Happened to me 2 days ago)

Have you ever been out for dinner and the server hasn’t been by in ages, yet they seem to be visiting every other table no problem…even tables that were seated after you?

Situational awareness is key in great customer service. In order to take advantage of opportunity, you have to be knowledgeable about what is going on in your environment – emotionally, physically and spiritually.  Here’s a few ways it can help:

1)   Emotional – noticing body language is a great way to diffuse or even improve a situation. Perhaps the person is crossing their arms, tapping their foot or rolling their eyes, all because the person in front of them in line is taking F-O-R-E-V-E-R! If you are aware of this, it’s a great time to say, “Sorry for the wait. I’ll get you through as quick as I can.” You know they’re in a hurry or impatient, so acknowledge you’re the barrier to getting them out the door. If a customer is noticeably agitated, or could become so, why not make sure they don’t leave the store that way?

2)   Physical – a customer has two items and is having a hard time deciding. A guest at a restaurant table has just emptied his glass of water. Both scenerios where you don’t need to ask, you just need to do – recommend one of the items over the other and fill up that glass. In the summer, I like to partake in patio dinning, enjoying my meal in the freshish air. This is a great environment to take advantage of situational awareness because the outdoors can have such an impact on an experience. A server can move an umbrella to block the bright sun because they notice you covering your eyes or turn the heaters on/offer a blanket when the sun goes down as it usually gets chilly. It’s about noticing a less than ideal situation and making it enjoyable.

3)   Spiritual – OK, I’m not really going to get into your “beingness” but there is something to be said for understanding where you are and the role you play in regards to customer service situational awareness. Are you in a position to help? Are you the problem? If you did do something to assist a customer, would you be ignoring others? It’s as much about your external situation as it is about your internal one. There is strength in understanding your service weaknesses.

It’s really important to know what technology to use to reach your customers (call centres, social media) and to know the right thing to say and how to say it. But, if you don’t know what’s going on around you…it doesn’t really matter.

Situational awareness is vital to taking advantage of the business environment you find yourself in, whether it’s online, on the phone, or in person.  Do you have any good/bad examples from your own experiences?


  • We’ve all been in that situation where you are ready to check out and none of the employees seem to notice. When everyone is busy with other customers you don’t usually mind but when two employees are just “doing their own thing” it can start to rub you the wrong way. Have you even been in a store and gone up to a sale clerk and asked for help and they tell you they can’t ring you up? That’s an internal process getting in the way! That sales clerk might have noticed you needed help but their hands are tied. That’s still not a good situation to be in!

    • Any barrier to the customer spending money or leaving the store with a positive experience, is a bad situation. Thanks for the comment. What do you think the most common reason for this situation?

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