You just accepted your very first job in customer service, either as wait staff, bartender or front staff. Now you’re probably excited but crazy nervous inside. No one has told you anything about managing a customer service job, let alone with a hearing loss. The last thing you want to do is get fired on the first day of the job.
You were confident enough to believe in your abilities to apply for the job. You advocated for yourself and disclosed that you’re hard of hearing or deaf. They accepted you as a candidate without hesitation. But reality is setting in now.
Remember, you were hired because you could do the job. Every employer knows that there is a high cost of hiring someone. No employer wants to fire or have an employee leave the job later and start the recruitment process again. They want to find suitable people who can stay longer and are willing to do the job.
To get a customer service job in this day and age, you should be proud. Twenty years ago, it was hard for anyone to get a customer service role even after they disclosed their disability, like hearing loss. Managers had negative biases about people who didn’t fit their definition of a customer service role. With greater competition for talent today, managers are motivated to find good reliable candidates. They are more willing to change their old beliefs of what constitutes a good candidate for the job to attract potential candidates to the role.
Lately, companies have been hiring people with hearing loss into roles that were once closed or out of reach. We may question their true motives. Sometimes it’s to meet their quota. Other times it has to do with talent shortages. But another reason is companies have prioritized diversity and inclusion in their workforce. They’re learning new ways to engage and hire people of various skills and abilities. This gives them an extra boost of confidence that you and I haven’t seen before.
So here you are in this new job about to start soon. You may be worrying about not being able to take orders correctly or too much background noise that makes it difficult to hear customers. Here are a few tools that you should have in the back of your mind to help you manage at work.
Use an external adaptive mic
Invest in an external mic compatible with your hearing aids or cochlear implant. Like the Roger pen for Phonak hearing aids, you can place the device between you and the customer. You may even try clipping the mic on your sleeves to see if it can help pick up the speaker’s voice.
These devices are pricey, and you may feel uncomfortable leaving them unattended if you don’t place them on you.
Borrow the company’s portable tablet
If your company can provide you with an iPad, a tablet, or a smartphone that allows you to take orders, you may be able to use them on a double duty. You can ask your manager if they could let you download and use a speech-to-text application.
Sometimes, these speech-to-text apps do not pick up words in noisy environments. You may need a backup to get the customer’s request. Lip reading can provide you with the extra support you need if you have good lighting. Along with your lip-reading skills, you could manage and get the gist of what someone is saying.
Moreover, to get an idea of what your customers want, you should be able to know what customers want with clues. You can get familiar with the product served at the store. It may require you to do extra work to study or memorize or, at the very least, get familiar with the products your company sells after hours. You’ll have a good idea of what the customer wants between lip reading and reading the captioned speech.
Request the quietest area of the store
Request if you can be stationed at the quieter area of the store or restaurant. Based on the store’s layout, you’ll know where some of the high-traffic areas are. Some cashiers are positioned away from where most of the noise may come from. If you work in a restaurant, some tables are in a quiet area. Perhaps you can take over the tables in those areas.
Act like a broken record
Sometimes you need to go one step further and repeat what you heard to the customer to verify that you understood what the customer wants. This technique is good practice even when you think you have listened to what they say. We can get it wrong sometimes. So you must have a way to verify what has been said.
Work with regular customers
Some customers are a group of regulars. They love the place and have a routine for their preference. These people can be a great source of stability. You will regularly be able to understand them and already know what they want to order. They will love that you already remember what they like and maybe you’ll also see good tips.
Use a whiteboard or menu
Sometimes people have a way of speaking that makes it difficult for you to understand. Tell them you’re not catching what they say because the place is loud. Request them to write down the specifics of what they want you to check and provide to them.
Leverage your strength
You were hired because your manager saw something in you to support the customers greatly. Leverage that skill you’ve cultivated to make this job work for you.
Don’t be discouraged by customers giving you a hard time or making you feel bad. The fact that five minutes before the incident, you’ve never met them before. And they could lose control of their emotions for someone they don’t know. This tells me they’re carrying past issues and baggage into the conversation. Their anger or upset has nothing to do with you. Don’t carry their emotions with you.
Also, you should be proud of yourself for not backing away from a customer service job. Most people in your situation are too worried that they may underperform in a customer-facing role that requires too many interactions. They may even not even applyYou should be proud that you can challenge yourself to be in an environment where the conditions might not always be in your favour but continue to deliver and help customers.
With the tools I shared, I hope you find this an icing on the cake that can make you a customer service rock star.
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