We have all experienced walking up to the front counter at a business somewhere and encountering an employee who didn’t quite understand the importance their outward role carried. This is the first point of contact usually you or I will have with a business. Anything done and said during the initial interaction will reflect upon your perception of the business itself and impact the probability of recurring business.
I will use Tim Horton’s as an example here, as they are well saturated in the Canadian market. Since a location exists on almost every corner, consumers have the option to choose which retail store they wish to spend their money at. With the products being the same, the only differentiating factors are ambience (how the store is setup for comfort or atmosphere), efficiency, and customer service. People will traverse a little bit further if it means they are avoiding people who have no business in customer service roles, or incompetence and immaturity is seemingly ingrained in the work culture (usually by managers).
Here, we are going to review some very common customer service fails that leave a bad taste in the collective mouths of consumers and ultimately impact the bottom line of businesses.
Say Hello, For Crying Out Loud!
This is so basic and egregious that I should not really have to say this, but unfortunately many customer-facing representatives just don’t have the fundamental (human) ability to GREET SOMEONE! I’m certain behavioral scientists and primatologists observe this ability in infants and chimps (in some capacity), even. This is not meaning to poke fun of the situation, but rather expose how utterly stupid it is to have an employee not actively greeting people on every, single, interaction. If you are a manager and are witnessing customers initializing the conversation first with an employee who seems to be curing like concrete at times, then some coaching is desperately needed. First impressions can be lasting impressions.
The logic here is, if you have an employee who is readily gazing at an incoming customer (or a fly on the wall), but they are either too meek or uncaring to at least smile or say hello on cue, this can and will be taken the wrong way. The LAST thing you want to do to a potential or repeat customer is intimidate them or make them feel unimportant. Employees on the phone or with Apple EarPods hanging off the side of their face? Tell them to shape up quick or boot them out. Common excuses businesses will counter with is, “Well, this is one of my best employees.” “No one wants to show stellar customer service working on minimum wage.” Stop it right now!
My reply: if this is your excuse for maintaining a lackluster customer service environment, then you are a poor manager/business owner, and your profit is suffering as a result. Not only that, but this sort of attitude likely bleeds into other facets of the business as well, where issues are explained away rather than resolved.
The Online Reviews Are Terrible
Over 50% of consumers will look at the online reviews of a business before making a purchase. If a business owner sees a litany of hate posts while scrolling down a review site, then you need to come to terms with just how bad it has become. Sprinkling in fake reviews conducted by your associates to cure it? Consumers can see right through the facade, and it will additionally make you look deceptive on top of everything else.
Great business will actively respond to negative customer service reviews with sincere responses that extend ways to rectify those experiences. People are human, after all, and consumers get that. Remember, retaining new business is a lot harder and costlier than satiating repeat business. If your online reviews are terrible, so is your reputation, and only a seismic shift in how you do things will remedy that. Consider the work that would need to be done in regaining that confidence. It just takes your time and attention away from your core business.
Employees need to have the ability to stay consistent, no matter what extraction the next customer is that walks through the door. A microaggression is typically characterized as perceptual slights of behavior directed at historically marginalized groups during a given interaction, but I want to extend this definition to everyone, as I believe just about everyone encounters it. When a probing question is asked that a customer service rep does not know off-hand, does this seem to annoy or frustrate them? Does a problem that presents itself soon turn to conversational brinkmanship or even a terse (short)/heated exchange? Does one of your employees make it a point to ridicule your customers repeatedly in private? Just generally bad or defiant attitudes?
These are signs of individuals who are not emotionally mature and just their mere presence will bring a toxic veil down on your business. You can’t tell people how to think, but you can sure as heck instill standards of behavior while on company time. If, as a manager or business owner, you cannot rein in behavior that alienates your customers, again, you are shooting yourself in the foot in terms of business income.
Like a cancer, you need to cut the tumor out at the source before it becomes malignant. Trying to reverse the morale and attitudes of an entire team after one bad apple spoils the batch takes a herculean and sometimes impossible effort. I’ve seen this happen time and time again at many businesses, and it is usually one of the reasons why for high turnover. Bad behavior is left to proliferate and domineer over sensibility.
Building Habits Are Crucial
People – and by extension, employees– are creatures of habit. Working in various customer-facing roles myself and dealing with many businesses (on the back end and receiving end), I know 100% that poor customer service also leads to poor general work habits and overall company morale. Think about it for a minute. I mean really think about it. A business owner or manager must also deal with its own staff members. If a person does not outwardly enjoy dealing with customers, it means they will also show contempt for leadership and liberally take short cuts in the work that they do. It could be while tallying inventory, cleaning restrooms, or machining a product. If they can show such blatant disregard for the people keeping the lights on, just imagine what they are doing behind the scenes.
A business should prioritize customer service the same way it prioritizes sales. Because these are not mutually exclusive elements (customer service is a crucial aspect of sales). It is why all great businesses champion their leaders in customer service and conduct audits to hold employees accountable. At the end of the day, being polite, understanding, and non-judgmental out of the gate are essential to dealing with people in a professional and productive manner. Productive in the sense that you are approaching customers with a welcoming attitude, open mind, and clarity of thought. Without the apprehension, cloudiness, and discomfort negative feelings can create. These often prevent a person from doing their job effectively.
Only as Good as Your Last Interaction
As hard as it can be to please everyone, a business must have the attitude that every, single, customer, matters. This is true because you simply do not know where some of your customers derive from. They could be CEO’s of an entire company with the purchasing power and sway to change your business forever (the decision-makers that would decide on any contracts or partnership agreements). A customer could be the type to want to rush home and quickly pen their experience on a reputable review site–keeping in mind that sometimes these personal reviews can be quite lengthy, authoritative, and can stay up as a central focus for quite a while.
The point is that you do not know who will come walking through the front door, and it won’t be as easy as spotting the person wearing business attire or pulling up in a late-model luxury vehicle. Businesses need to be cognizant that not striving to please every customer can be a recipe for reputational disaster.
One More Thing
Fundamentally, customer service is easy. I mean, how hard is it to feign at least, even? If you can’t smile, then you are in the wrong business. I had jobs where I was greeting and conversing with 40-50 people a day, 5 days a week, without fail. Sure, there were days when my energy level was not up to the task, or I felt some people were undeserving of good service. It didn’t really matter about my thoughts, though. These customers were paying my salary and benefits. Ensured I had food on the table and gas in my car. Tell me if you have any friends who do such things for you like that? The respect I have for customers that work hard to eke out a living and be patrons of the business I was part of, that is something that has never wavered. As the adage goes, “do well by your customers and they will do well by you.”