When a customer walks through your door, be it a bricks-and-mortar door or a virtual one, it is paramount that they be greeted and feel welcomed into your business. Not just making them at home, or perhaps offering a little espresso, but rather making them feel that you are there to help them, to answer their questions, to find what they are looking for, or to chit chat about whatever is on their mind. There is no reason that the conversations you or your team have with customers should not be enjoyable for both of you. The best conversations are the fun conversations and these are the ones you want to actively encourage.
This means being accessible, being knowledgeable, being thoughtful, and being helpful. Every member of your team, whether it is a front-line cashier or a back-end coder, needs to understand your offering and be able (and willing) to help any customer. A baseline level of availability is necessary to build relationships with your customers; this can be achieved by positioning salespeople on the floor where customers can see them, by adding live chat features to your website, by displaying your customer service phone number prominently on every page of your site, or by communicating proactively through emails, newsletters, or mailings.
But aside from simply being available, of equal importance is how you are available; the quality of your communications count. What possible good can come with a surly or rude counter-person? How do potential customers feel if they are ignored or treated coldly? Here are five things any front-line employee can do to welcome customers, make them feel wanted, give them comfort that you are here to serve, and actually enjoy the interaction!
1. Understand them. The first step in communicating with your customers is to understand who they are, why they came to you, and what the problem they’re trying to solve might be. The basics of this are simple: if someone walks into a hardware store, chances are excellent that they want to buy some kind of tools or supplies, right? But it is impossible to know exactly which aisle they need unless you ask. Anyone in your business who is entrusted with speaking to customers needs a level of empathy and understanding that allows them to help that customer find exactly what they are looking for, advise them on their choices, and arrive at a decision on what they will buy from you that day.
2. Stay off-script. Last week, I had another of those incredibly frustrating calls with a customer service agent on the other end of the line insisted on reading to me (over and over) from the scripted response she was required to deliver. What this particular company (OK fine – it was People’s Gas) clearly didn’t understand, was that every customer is different and every customer’s problem is unique to that person. This is why we train our customer service agents to be natural in their conversations, to be themselves with our customers, and to understand that every response is must be distinct. Building a culture of service starts with the people who deliver that service and teaching them to communicate effectively without relying on a script is a good lace to start.
3. Listen closely. Pay attention to the person you are speaking with, watch their body language and expressions, listen to the tone of their voice, and actively interpret their words and gestures to gain a better understanding. Of course in a live chat or phone call it’s pretty hard to watch for gestures, but you get my drift. When speaking with a customer (especially a new customer) the best thing you can do it to pay close, close attention to them and determine the best way to help. That same agent I complained about in the last paragraph simply refused to listen to what I was asking and, in the process, lost me completely. Of course they run a monopoly, so I had little choice but to growl and bear it; it’s unlikely that your business has a corner on your particular market so take that lesson to heart.
4. Lighten up. Little-known fact: people prefer fun conversations over serious ones. Well actually that is widely-known, but rarely acted upon in a business context. Why shouldn’t your front-line folks be trained and encouraged to have fun with customers, to enjoy their interactions and, in turn, let your customers also have an enjoyable experience? This is not to say that every customer wants to banter a bit, but there is absolutely no reason that your team can not keep the atmosphere light and fun if the person they are speaking with is amenable (see #3, above).
5. Attend to training. The best thing you can do to help your team to better connect with customers is to help them to know your product. The more intimately connected to that thing you are selling they are, the better they’ll communicate its value, the more relaxed they’ll be with customers, and the more confident they can be in providing assistance. This means training them actively, modeling best practices and behavior, and creating a learning environment where everyone can participate enthusiastically in dealing with customers, user or clients.
So go out there and have some fun with your customers – as the great Michael Jordan once said, “Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.”
Photo: Diegoestefano97, Wikimedia
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