Many customer experience programmes encourage the front-line staff to smile at the customer. This of course makes total sense. A genuine smile is a great way to connect to anyone. You can even hear it over the phone.
But this simple expectation of friendliness creates an interesting management problem. A challenge which stretches all the way to the C-Suite.
After all, how do you make an employee smile?
Genuine smiles don’t appear on command. You can try to prescribe them as part of your training and process manuals. But compliance doesn’t mean sincerity, and customers can spot a fake smile a mile away.
You can also decide to create a wonderful working environment. There’s growing support for the statement that happy employees produce happy customers. Think of it as a modern day variation of the statement that happy cows give more milk.
But also on this path, success isn’t guaranteed. In fact, kindred customer spirit Maurice Fitzgerald even questions whether it leads anywhere. After analysing 345 companies, he could only conclude that: "employee satisfaction does not do anything at all for customers in most industries". While my data-set is more limited, I can only confirm this conclusion. I've even experienced situations with an inverse correlation between employee and customer happiness.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that employee satisfaction doesn’t contribute at all. But I am saying that to make employees smile at customers, they need to be more than happy to be working for you. They need to enjoy working for the customer. Enjoy providing them with great experiences.
As a leader, this means you need to do three things:
#1. Give your people a reason to get out of bed.
Don’t tell your people to smile at customers as part of hitting their targets. Instead, give them a customer related purpose which they enjoy fulfilling and which will eventually drive profit for your business. If they like putting a smile on your customer’s face, they will start smiling themselves.
#2. Show them you mean it.
Too many leaders fail to walk the talk. So greet your colleagues with a genuine smile. Build teams of positive people, that support and build each other. Even if they’re not in the front line. And yes, create that employee experience which treats your people like you hope they will treat your customers.
#3. Be ready to support.
No one can be cheerful all the time. But customers will nonetheless expect the same level of friendliness at every interaction. So be sensitive to the ups and downs of your people. Give them an opportunity to take a time-out. Put a mechanism in place to cheer them up on those days when it’s hard to smile.
Creating a front-end culture of genuine smiles is one of the bigger leadership challenges that I'm aware of. Because as you might guess, it’s not the smile that matters. It’s the sincerity that goes with it. The desire to meet and exceed customer expectations. The desire to make customers smile, because you made their day.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS! Did I miss a beat? Do you (dis)agree? What do you do to make your people smile? Use the comment section to share your thoughts and views with everyone who reads this article. We can all learn from each other.
This article is one of a series to help me articulate my thoughts for The Customer Fitness Code. This is a new book I’m writing to complement the rapidly expanding Customerfit system. If you would like to know more, you can already check out www.customerfit.eu or get in touch. Meanwhile, don't forget to follow me on Linkedin or subscribe to my newsletter.
(c) 2018 Alain Thys, all rights reserved
Photo by Brooke Cagle
I regularly meet customer champions who complain that their colleagues just don’t get it. Or that they don't care about the customer.
I always challenge this mindset. If, as customer advocates, we cannot convince people to care, this doesn’t mean that they are slow. It only means that we haven't been convincing enough. After all, no one gets out of bed with the intent of upsetting customers (well, there was this one guy, but that's another story :-)
So with this article, I would like to share three suggestions to help your people care about the customer. None of them are magic bullets, but I hope you find them useful.
1. Show people how they impact the customer experience.
In my Reebok days, a colleague of mine ran a programme to create the perfect order for UK sports retailers. Like everyone else in the business, the warehouse staff also got involved.
During one of the many workshops, a breakdown occurred. One of the warehouse workers wanted to leave the session, as he felt it was a waste of his time. After all, all this customer b**lsh*t didn’t apply to him. He worked with boxes and had no influence on customer satisfaction.
Now, luck had it, that on this day the CEO of a major retailer was visiting that particular warehouse. He overheard this employee. In a friendly way, he joined the conversation and asked him about his job at the warehouse. The man explained that he worked on picking and packing. He had to seal the boxes before they went on the truck.
The CEO continued with a rhetorical question. "So you are telling me, that you are the last person to see and touch my product before it comes to my stores? And you say you have no influence over my satisfaction as a customer?" The point didn't need any further explanation.
ACTION 1: The actions of every employee (should) add value to the customer. Explain to each of your colleagues how they are part of the bigger picture. Once they see how their work puts a smile on the customer's face, it'll be easier for them to get excited about it.
2. Make the customer voice actionable.
Customer voice programmes can be a great source of honest feedback. They can help you pinpoint what you are getting right and what you are getting wrong. But those unfamiliar with the way these programmes work, may struggle to see their value.
For example, if a customer complains about the price she needs to pay, billing may not be the issue. Sales or marketing may have created the wrong expectation. Those delivering the service might have delivered sloppy work. The invoice might be unclear.
Yet, if you work in marketing, service delivery or IT, you may not immediately see these aspects. After all, the bill being too high has nothing to do with the job you do.
ACTION 2: Complement your customer voice programme with a regular root cause analysis. Translate customer feedback into functional and departmental language that resonates with your silo-colleagues. Once they see how they can contribute, they are more likely to act on this.
3. Humanise your customers.
Every business and employee wants to look professional. Tools of this trade include PowerPoint presentations, jargon and complex analytical models.
While these serve a purpose, they can dehumanise customers. Juan, Mary and Gérard, become units-in-use, policy holders or PAX (BTW does anybody even know what that abbreviation means?). This directly affects the organisation's ability for customer action. In fact, once we turn someone into a number, there is a dramatic decrease in our ability to care. Bringing back the customer as a human can inverse this process.
A few years ago I saw a brilliant example of this at a global telecom operator I worked for. Like any other telco they had clients that suffered from bill shock. Especially when confronted with unexpected post-holiday roaming charges.
Also, like at every operator, these customers were numbers on a spreadsheet. That is, until one of their customer experience champions singled out the story of Johan.
Johan was a single dad who had been on holiday with his two children. Upon returning home at the end of August, he found that his bank account was empty. The country he was in, wasn't part of his data-plan and he had incurred a bill of several thousands of Euros. Through automatic debit, this amount had disappeared from his bank account. At the start of the school year, he didn't have the money to buy his children the books and new clothes they needed.
Telling this story at the start of the bill-shock meetings, got a lot more of people's attention than the spreadsheets used to do.
ACTION 3: Replace your cold customer reports with human accounts. Give your people the opportunity to relate to your customers as individuals. Make them care. Once they do, they'll be ready to help. Not because KPI's say so, but because it's in our nature.
Thank you for reading until the end of this page. This article is one of a series to help me formulate my thoughts for The Customer Fitness Code (project title). This is a new book I'm writing to help companies improve their customer experience management capabilities (aka. customer fitness). If you would like to know more, you can already check out www.customerfit.eu or - alternatively - get in touch :-)
Meanwhile, if you haven't done so, do subscribe to my newsletter. Here, I share articles like this one, additional thoughts and the occasional freebie. You can find a registration field at the top of this page.
About this blog
Whenever inspiration strikes, I use this space to share my thoughts on customer experience management, storytelling or what ever else crosses my mind.