Maybe this has happened to you. You need to call a large utility company or national bank and speak personally with a customer service representative. Before even talking with a human being, you are prompted to enter two personal pieces of ID into the phone. When someone finally answers, they ask to verify your identity again. Sometimes it’s the same information you entered at the beginning of the call.
Now, I understand the security issues associated with telephone calls, it’s for our own (and their) protection. But for some people this can be very irritating. Identifying yourself on a website is pretty easy. On the telephone, people just want to communicate the old-fashioned way. For me personally however, it can be a lot of fun. A telephone call is about taking care of business and accomplishing a goal. It means you have to be nice.
Attitude is everything
In one instance when I was practicing my art of communication with a representative, my brain detected a hint of annoyance in her voice. I started the conversation very politely so I couldn’t imagine her being annoyed with me already. She didn’t even know me yet. But in this instance, the surly attitude was there right from the beginning. Why?
Maybe she was having a bad day. Perhaps she hated her job. Or maybe she was a grump. I could only guess. But I still think about it every time I call.
There is a lot of preaching from many sources about the virtues of respecting others. In the case of a business however, it can be slowly devastating. Customers really do tend to remember their first experience. This is a big mistake from their point of view.
When a new business opens, they may be virtually unknown. The goal is to earn profit. Just because a business exists doesn’t mean everyone will come running. Almost every business in America took some time to become profitable, including Amazon. It’s socially embarrassing when large and profitable companies appear to not care about their public persona.
They do take notice however, when an irritated consumer posts a mocking video on YouTube which goes viral. It’s actually quite amusing to watch companies squirm through a carefully crafted insincere public apology, but unfortunately it can change little in the company culture. Think airlines and banks.
These companies seem to push every rule, regulation, policy and procedure they can come up with down the throats of each employee. But it’s the spirit of sincerity offered to each costumer which matters. If the wrong tone is absent, that message slowly seeps into consumers’ heads for permanent storage. Think Sears and Circuit City.
But smaller businesses are incredibly more vulnerable to failure because of poor customer service. According to Neilsen Research, 77 percent of consumers are interested in buying new products when they learn about it from their family and friends. Even in profitable times, negative perceptions can spread through a community like COVID-19. Google Reviews is an example. Without large advertising budgets, word-of-mouth will either make the business a household name or possibly bankrupt them.
Customers can feel if they are important
When I walk into a business, the first thing I notice is if I’m acknowledged and how. The atmosphere may be busy or quiet, but what’s important to me as a consumer is feeling somewhat important and welcome. There are customers in retail who actually try to avoid contact when they walk in due to the stereotype much of the public believes about salespeople smothering them.
The job of a salesperson however, is to greet the customer, qualify them and take the appropriate action. It’s unfortunate that mistakes are made by salespeople who enthusiastically and boringly blurt out “can I help you?” without showing any enthusiasm whatsoever. Lack of sincerity openly invites negatives, such as the infamous “just looking” response. In many people, this is automatic, even if they might need assistance later on.
Avoiding repetitive and overused sales lines altogether is ideal, but how does one handle introducing themselves in a way that soothes the customer? It’s how it’s said. Sincerity is everything. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been greeted by a clerk who sounds like he’s pulling a tooth from his gum while talking to me, or the person texting on their phone while I interrupted their “Instagram life crisis”. People representing the business must be trained and retrained on how to make the client feel genuinely welcome.
Working shouldn't be a chore
In my early career days of pounding the pavement door-to-door, my mentors and successful peers would always tell me to “have fun, make money!”. Due to my social immaturity or perhaps the pressure of the job, that expression sank into my head as strongly as “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Who actually sits down and thinks really hard about what it means?
But as I developed self confidence in dealing with people in a sales situation, I found myself more concerned about building a mini relationship with customers and fully engaging myself with business. And it was fun! The time passed quickly and at the end of the day, I felt great about myself. More importantly however, I really was making money. I cherished the feeling of being profitable and work was no longer a chore. I was fully in control of my career through confidence, which led to natural advancement up the chain.
People who work directly with customers should want to have fun engaging customers on a personal basis. If they are not, the business may be suffering. Humans are the strongest asset in any business and companies need to perform maintenance work with employees to keep the system running properly. Sitting down one-on-one with people and just talking about their situations can alleviate many problems. This motivates people to rebuild their confidence so they can perform at full capacity. It also strengthens the bond between people.
I have seen situations where the exact opposite occurred. People were reprimanded or even let go simply because of some corporate procedure written in a manual. In these cases, I felt more sorry for management because they weren’t allowed to use personal judgment to fix a problem, thus being victims of poor management themselves.
Sincere leadership is important
Every business can get busy. As important as customers are, associates need attention as well. Re-training creates the opportunity to teach new techniques or re-iterate basics. For example, salespeople should avoid asking closed-ended questions, such as “can I help you?” which can quickly end the chances of creating a mini relationship. They should try striking up a conversation instead. In the case of retail, a browsing customer might be approached with a “you look like you’re on a mission” opening line. People usually smile at that point. Allowing peers to participate and display examples of knowledge gained through experience is a great asset. But again, how friendly, professional and welcoming the greeting is makes a huge difference. The key is to have fun, so make it fun. Making someone smile goes a long way in their perception of the business and how that perception trickles into their memory.