Are you “over servicing” your customer?

A great customer experience is the soul of any business. It is what differentiates your company, what bonds your business to that loyal customer making him come back over and over, one of the huge factors into your success.

I started asking friends, peers, and even (honestly) random people what a “great customer experience” meant to them and obviously found lots of commonality to the responses: friendly and “smiley faces” was among the top ones (no surprise there); promptness, availability and flexibility (of associates and solutions) were close, and product/service knowledge, options and solutions were also there. I believe all of us expected at least part of this list.

When I asked what turned them off though, I got a little surprised (or not…) with one of the top responses: “over servicing”. Wow! What does that really mean?

I started thinking about some of my experiences (and coincidently enough I was having lunch in one of the “chain restaurants”) and trying to figure out exactly what could bother customers about “over servicing”. Well, I was having lunch with a good old friend and it was really not that difficult to remember lots of experiences where I wish service was a little …less?

We stayed in the restaurant for about one hour (I believe that is a pretty average time for lunch, isn’t it?) and we were interrupted 9 times! 9 times!!!!!

I do believe the waiter wanted to be nice to us and deliver a great experience, however, we had to stop talking 9 times to answer “is everything ok?” or “do you need anything else?” type questions… and that really annoyed us.

And that became a topic of our conversation and we started sharing other experiences that we had (mostly in the retail environment). Times when you go to a store and you hear “what are you shopping for today?” a zillion times, or “is anyone helping you?” another zillion.

Actually, on another note, after lunch I was browsing some accessories in an store – a relatively small store ( probably 4 or 5 associates working at the time) and in less than 10 minutes basically ALL of them asked me the same question – “what can I help you find?”. I felt like they were invading my space, that I could not really look around and just leave if I wanted to, that no matter where I went, someone would try to push some kind of small talk. And yes, that did annoy me. A lot.

Why the heck would they be asking me the same question over and over if I already told them I was “just looking” (and believe me, I know first-hand how “just looking” can be annoying to them)? But following me throughout the store was not going to make me spend a single dollar there. If anything, it made me leave before I even walked the whole store. And I can say that this was a common response when I asked my friends and peers, or even eventual customers that were browsing the store at the same time as me.

So, how can we, first of all, know when great service can rapidly become annoying? And how can we, as leaders, coach our associates?

I do not believe there is a magic answer for these questions because we are dealing with people, and people are very different from one another, have different expectations and react differently to our interaction attempts.

However, after many years as a leader, I will share some of my insights to keep the customer experience to its best:

1-      Do not give your associates a script: I have worked and seen companies that require associates to greet customers in a certain scripted way. I can tell you that in my experience that is a very ineffective way of breaking the ice and makes most of the customers uncomfortable.

2-      Coach your associates on observation: when you observe your customers you can tailor your small talk to things that matter to them – why would you ask about yesterday’s football game to a mom with a little girl who gave you absolutely no signs of even enjoying football? Wouldn’t it be easier to maybe start talking about that super cute daughter of hers with that adorable American Girl doll? (an important part of that observation is in getting to know if the customer is extrovert or introvert and “customize” your service…introverts are by nature quieter and like their space)

3-      Motivate your associates to be authentic and genuine – if they are introverts and feel uncomfortable “breaking the ice”, they might be better on a more operational task (also notice that it is very important that you recruit and hire the right people).

4-      Communicate and encourage communication: if someone has already approached a customer, let the other associates know, so not every single one of them go ask her the same questions… if your associates noticed something that might be helpful on the “closing”, encourage them to tell their peers – closing the business many times requires team work and a lot of information about the customer (leverage the separate pieces of information that your associates got separately by communicating with each other so the “closer” has insights enough to approach the closing in an effective way).

5-      Do not focus on the metrics: focus on the service and on your team’s development. If they are knowledgeable, genuine and provide an outstanding customer experience, the metrics/results will come!

6-      Praise your associates: individually, publicly, however you can make them feel valued and special – remember, not all the employees will feel valued the same way (make sure you know your employees and praise them in a way they will understand, feel comfortable and motivated – once I complimented and associate in front of the customer just to find out later, through another associate that she felt uncomfortable with it).

7-      Promote and encourage a fun environment: we all understand the pressures of the business, the importance that companies give to their metrics. If all you do as a leader is transfer the pressure to the associates, the atmosphere will be tense and uninviting to the customer. Coach, guide, lead and have good attitude – all in a fun way (yes, you can be fun and serious/firm at the same time) – both your employees and your customers will love it!

Obviously all of us ultimately need results, but again, in my experience, your success is directly connected to your focus: focus on the right things and the results will be there.

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