We often make or break relationships with, and subsequent loyalty from, customers by the subtle and sometimes not so subtle messages that we convey to them. Customers want to be treated with dignity and respect, be understood, get good value from purchases and feel that there is a good connection with supplier employees. Treating customers as a nuisance that has to be endured just does not cultivate the relationship towards further purchases and loyalty to the brand. Employee behaviour, focus and energy directed towards the customer either enhances connection or breaks it down.

Some of the negative messages that are conveyed fairly often include the following:

  • Poor behaviour, like a sigh, shrugging the shoulders, not looking up and making eye contact, no smile, no welcoming gestures, no eagerness to serve, etc.
  • Statements like “that’s all that we have” or “everyone else seems to be happy with this size or output”
  • Rudeness, poor use of language, inappropriate gestures
  • Lack of product knowledge
  • Indifference, distraction and where one’s relationships with colleagues dominate
  • Bad attitude, like “thank God it’s Friday” or slouching at the counter
  • Disempowerment, like “management make the rules here”

Excellent customer service originates from the foundation that the leader has created in the way that he/she has engaged with all employees. Stephen R Covey, of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame, notes here: “The way you treat your employees ultimately will be the way they treat your best customers”. Employee engagement (or a lack thereof) sets the tone for customer interaction. Staff members pick up and are influenced by the attitude, intent, style and disposition of the leader. All leaders should therefore focus on modelling the behaviour they expect from their employees – live it out in their daily interaction with supervisors and other employees. Focus should be given to the following:

  1. Care – employees need to sense that their respective leaders really care for their welfare and that issues felt by them are grasped by managers. They need to see visible signs that those in leadership are doing what they can to alleviate any form of pain – e.g. addressing ergonomic issues, proper breaks for relaxation, etc.
  2. Understanding – listening well (without interruption) and even reflecting back the emotion and content of issues that have been raised. For example, “I sense that you are frustrated by the slowness of your computer’s response and that this is impeding your ability to provide customers with appropriate answers”.
  3. Acting on issues that can be solved for employees – responsiveness is all important to demonstrate genuine care and compassion.
  4. Effective communication – modelling communication style for accuracy and preciseness in relation to the vision and values of the company. For example, “in our company, we believe that quality is our strategic advantage. This quality must not only be experienced in our products, but also in the way we answer our customers”.
  5. Training – comprehensive product knowledge must be acquired be everyone – even cleaners should know where to find things to point customers in the right direction. This enables employees that deal with customers to relate to the customer technically and emotionally. For example, “I am sensing that this particular product is not exactly what you had in mind. What do you want a perfect product to do for you?”

Alinda Nortje, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Free To Grow, notes: “Delivering exceptional service is much more than serving customers – it is a mind-set, a conscious commitment. This mind-set and commitment are directly related to employee engagement. What is the reason? Engagement, the emotional commitment one has to your organisation and its goals, drives higher levels of discretionary effort”.

The messages that employees give customers are all important to retain existing, and attract new, customers. Messages need to be designed and then translated into attitude, behaviour and communication. Leadership example is critical to grow and maintain exceptional customer service.

Free To Grow offers the workshop WorkQ Customer Service to enhance great customer experience – for more information, please contact me: jonathan@ftgsa.co.za

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