What are the factors that make a front-line employee as likeable and does this impact your business success? Here are just a few common sense factors that I have seen in my 25 years of observing and training customer service team members:
- Smiling and Friendly
- Knowledgeable about Products & Services
- Sincerely Willing to Help
Let's look at each of these and see where we need to enhance our efforts...
Smiling and Friendly
If there was ever any common sense it would be to hire friendly people to serve customers! But what gets in the way of that? Several things come to mind. For one, in a booming economy the pool of available workers is tight leading us to take 'whatever we can get'. This is a dangerous strategy as our good times prepare us for the roller coaster that inevitably will arrive. If we have not identified the qualities that are non-negotiable, we may hire people that are a turn off to customers and cause us to lose business. When speaking for HR groups on customer service I point out that noticing the first seconds of a call or in person interview with a prospective employee are critical. A few seconds is all that your customer will take to determine if they like the person 'across the counter'. HR law today is so complex that this is often overlooked in the effort to avoid a lawsuit! The other hiring issue is that many firms eliminate a vast number of employees through algorithms used in the search process. While this is important, it may also eliminate a person who would shine in a REAL encounter with a human being.
Once hired, the training department must have a way to convey the importance of friendliness that starts with a smile. But caution should be used as a smile with an upset customer is as bad as a lack of a smile in a standard interaction. The bottom line is that people do business with people they like. HIRE likeable people and train them in the fine points of making the customer feel welcome at all points on the customer journey.
We have all been in customer service transactions where the person serving us is either completely inattentive or simply distracted. Whether on the phone, online, or in person, a customer must feel that they are the center of attention. I will never forget the story a friend relayed to me years ago about going to a department store with her young son to buy some linens. It just so happened that the toy department was adjacent to the linen department. As she was handling her purchase, she heard her son speaking loudly. She turned around just in time to see her son holding a stuffed animal, looking it squarely in the face and shouting, "Look at me, LOOK AT ME!" Obviously, the young boy had heard his mother saying that to him on previous occasions. Our customers are silently saying "PAY ATTENTION TO ME... I am paying your salary!" Peronalizing attentiveness by asking the customer's name and then using it is critical to making the customer feel important and valued.
Knowledgeable about Products & Services
It would seem that training employees on product and service attributes would be common sense. Why is it then, that many of us ask questions of an employee only to be told they don't know. The likelihood of this can be magnified in a strong economy. If we are lucky enough to get a good employee to replace on who has left or to handle our growth, we have the temptation to get them working with customers as soon as their foot hits the front door. We must remember that we are only as strong as our weakest link. It is not only a tight labor market it is a highly competitive consumer market. Customers today not only expect but demand that customer service representatives know what they are talking about. This is why mentors and job shadowing are critical to the training process. While training is critical, experiencing what really is asked on the front lines with a veteran at your side will build confidence and expertise in a new team member. At a minimum new and long time employees need to have a knowledge of internal resources, both human and documentary to help when they don't immediately know the answer to a question from a customer. "Let me check on that for you" is a vastly better response than "I don't know." Once again... common sense but for some reason a response that is not always given!
Sincerely Willing to Help
There is a vast difference in the first impression received by a customer when they perceive that an employee is helping because they want to versus have to. If a customer service representative demonstrates an eager desire to serve, the customer will forgive a myriad of other transgressions. Many of the traits discussed previously in this article combine to project this eagerness. A smile combined with attentiveness and a mastery of product knowledge give the customer the impression that the service representative is ready and willing and eager to be of assistance.
What can get in the way of this sincerity of service? Obvious scripting! Notice I said OBVIOUS scripting not all scripting. Scripting is an important part of training, particularly in the call center environment. But training with scripts has to allow the flexibility of personalization, or it can sound robotic and insincere. The worst thing we could do to a customer is have their first point of contact be a robotic chatbot followed by a living breathing human who sounds like a robot! If you have hired a friendly employee as is recommended in step one, don't make them into a zombie with canned responses!
Even in a strong economy, it is critical to let the customer know we appreciate them and their business. Once again, this is common sense but I challenge you to think of the last time you were in a customer encounter... did you thank the service rep before they thanked you?! I often catch myself doing this and then thinking, "Why did I just thank them for taking my money???" This is not to say that we as consumers should not be thankful for great support from caring representatives. But it does say that our representatives must look for opportunities to thank the customer even before the end of an encounter. Once again, this should be spontaneous and not sound scripted! "Mrs. Jones, thank you for explaining your situation... that will truly help me to assist you better."
A great way to thank the customer at the end of a call, a chat, or a live close encounter is to pave the way to the next encounter or transaction. "It was such a pleasure helping you today. We look forward to helping you soon with your next purchase!"
Smiling, friendly, attentive, knowledgeable, willing to help, thankful ... wishing you a customer service team embodying all of these important qualities in your customer service success story of 2020!
A world recognized customer service expert, Teresa Allen is often asked to share strategies for customer service success in her highly rated customer service keynotes and customer service training programs. To contact Teresa, contact her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.