Caring about customers is one of the best ways to differentiate your business and gain long-term consumer loyalty. But how can employers operationalize such a "soft" skill?
"Your best strategy is to teach your employees what caring about customers looks like in action," says Jon Gordon, best-selling author and speaker. "Suggest specific tactics they can employ. When they see how good it feels to care--and how good caring is for business--you'll receive your team's buy-in and continued participation."
Gordon notes that most of the tips he shares can also apply internally.
"Employees can apply these principles to their interactions with each other, too," he says. "How you treat your coworkers is how you'll treat customers--you can't separate the two!"
Here, Gordon shares 11 strategies employees can use to show customers (and each other) that they care:
"Leaders, your employees will be fully present with customers only if you give them permission to be," Gordon points out. "For instance, if you ask someone why she didn't respond to your email sooner and she tells you that she was on the phone with a client, you need to be okay with that. You can take a cue from Zappos, which encourages their employees to spend more time on the phone with their customers instead of creating time limits like many customer service call centers. Instead of rushing through calls, Zappos employees focus on being present and caring."
Say it with a smile.
Smile and be polite during all customer interactions. "Can I help you?" said with a smile has a very different effect from the same words said without one. If you don't feel like smiling at any given time, Gordon advises you to think of your favorite joke or funny movie scene and make yourself smile. It has been scientifically proven that the act of smiling improves your mood and can reduce stress!
Call customers by name.
When interacting with a customer, ask her name--then remember it and use it. Referring to someone by name demonstrates that you see her as an individual with unique needs and preferences, as opposed to "just a number" or a source of income.
Extend a genuine offer to help (but don't hover).
It's true; no one appreciates "that" salesperson who shadows your every step as you browse through a store, asking you every two minutes if you need any help. But that doesn't mean a single, simple, heartfelt, "Please let me know if you have any questions or need any help while you're here" won't be appreciated. It will! Even if a customer knows exactly what she wants, where to find it, and how to use it, the fact that you noticed her and offered your assistance will make a positive impression and send a powerful message about your company.
Be generous with your time.
When someone does have a question or requests help, don't rush through the task of explaining your company's policy or toss off a piece of canned advice--take your time and really help the customer. It's a conversation, not a lecture. Gordon suggests you ask questions and listen to your customers. This lets them know you care about them and their thoughts, and it helps you to better understand their concerns so you can help them.
Stay calm and respectful at all times.
Sometimes it's easier said than done, but you should always strive to treat customers with respect and deference. Often when a customer is upset (or perhaps even hostile), using soothing words that show you care can have a powerful calming effect. "I'm sorry you were dissatisfied with your experience. Would you mind telling me how we can improve in the future?" will be better received than a perfunctory, "What was wrong with your experience?" or an exasperated, "I don't think I can help you!"
Respond quickly and touch base often.
It's simple: Return calls and emails promptly. Whenever possible, try not to leave any unanswered emails or voicemails overnight. And be proactive with updates, too. Don't force a client to get in touch with you in order to learn the status of an order, for instance. Send daily or weekly updates--whatever is appropriate.
Build it up.
There is no such thing as a "perfect" job. Every employee in every industry has the occasional complaint about work. But that doesn't mean you should dwell on them or air them gratuitously. When you're talking about your company (especially if you're on the clock), try to stay positive. Focus on the things you like about your work, what's going well, and what your organization has to offer. Spreading discontent to your coworkers can create internal dissent--and that comes across to customers in your attitude, even if you never utter a bad word about your company to them.
See the good.
You can apply this principle by making an effort to stop thinking of customers as "annoying," "needy," "clueless," or "a waste of my time." Instead, choose to see the good in them: "She is genuinely curious about how this product is manufactured." Or, "I admire how responsible he is with his own company's money." Or, "Getting their business is a big win for our company." Customers will notice and appreciate the change in your attitude.
Don't make it all about business.
During any prolonged or follow-up interaction with a customer, ask them, "How are you doing?" Make an effort to learn about return clients on a personal level as well as a professional one and follow up on what you discover. If you know that an individual recently had an important event--a wedding, birthday, or even a big presentation--ask him how it went. People are surprised and pleased when you remember what's going on with them--precisely because the assumption today is that most people don't care about what's going on outside their own bubbles.
Always go the extra mile.
Constantly look for ways to make the service you provide just a little bit better. Gordon points out that even one percent more time, energy, or thought can make a big difference. Even small actions (like walking a customer to the door after checking them out, taking five extra minutes to return a call before going home, or calling a patient to follow up after they visit your health clinic) mean a lot.
And those employees who, despite your best efforts, just don't or won't care?
"You need to move these people out of your organization," Gordon instructs. "Caring as a success strategy works only when all of your employees are on board. Think about it: It takes only one dismissive salesperson or rude customer service rep to drive a client away. And you can bet that client will spread the story of how poorly he or she was treated by your company!"
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