Smile or Frown: WOW! Customer Service

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It takes 50 muscles to make a frown — but only 13 to produce a smile. No it doesn’t, not really. Like much of the advice about excellent ‘customer service’ there is a lot of misinformation out there. Customer service (let alone excellent) is a very diverse and broad term that covers a multitude of industries and businesses. Most of the collected wisdom is questionable, non-scientific or generic. I like to compare it to myth you have probably heard about smiling and frown. You may have heard this version of the tale,

Scientists have told us that it takes 41 muscles to frown and 17 to smile this leads to two conclusions:

  1. Scientists have WAY too much free time on their hands!
  2. Frowning uses more muscles, and therefore burns more calories.

The numbers of muscles may vary ( I have seen 13, 17, 36, 41, 47, 50 and 60) yet the story has been around for years. Actually most Professors of Anatomy I have talked too say we use approximately the same number of muscles to do both and probably (depending on the effort put into to both) the same amount of energy. But, it is very difficult to actually tell as there is no real definition of what is a smile and what is a frown. The maxim has been handed from generation to generation because of its enduring value as implied advice rather than its being an authoritative tally of a parts list. More simply, the story persists because of what it says about people, not their anatomy, so to get lost in the metrics would be at the expense of losing sight of its far more important component.

Well if that was a partial myth, we surely know that customer service is a highly important part of every small business? Right? Well it amazes me how many companies get it wrong day after day. Companies that are unable or unwilling to properly service their customers stand to lose the customers’ business.However, several key variables or characteristics set excellent customer service apart from mediocre customer service. A company that best demonstrates these excellent customer service characteristics will have a distinct advantage over its competition.

In survey after survey the British public, and even staff in these organisations, tell us too often that service in this country is still poor, attitudes are wrong, complaints are not handled well and the service provided is not keeping up with increasing customer demands. Regardless of the type of contact that you have with customers, whether it is over the phone, face-to-face, in a restaurant or shop, in an office or financial institution, in the entertainment or tourist industries, good customer service skills help everybody.

There are certain customer service skills that every employee has to master if they are forward-facing with customers. A happy, satisfied customer is likely to return and/or tell others about the good experiences (think social media x 1000) that they had when dealing with your company – word of mouth recommendations from friends and colleagues are very valuable.

Luckily, there are a few universal skills that every member of staff can master that willdrastically improve their interactions with customers. You can start reading or listening to the Pursuit of WOW ( fantastic book (although ageing gracefully) by that Master of Service, Tom Peters). So when your staff (or you) interact with the customers on a daily basis they can become heroes of service.

We could steal time, just for one day
We can be Heroes, for ever and ever
What d’you say? – David Bowie

So here are my top 6 tips for Excellent Customer Service and creating your WOW!


1. The Good Old Fashioned Genuine Smile

  • This is the most simple and often the most powerful tip for customer service and most other interpersonal interactions.
  • Smiles are contagious – usually when you smile at somebody they’ll smile back at you. Whether the myth of it being physically less exhausting to smile than to glower, it is certainly beneficial, and thus there is something to this ancient exhortation to put aside negative emotions long enough to turn a frown upside down.
  • In a 2002 study performed in Sweden, [Goleman, Daniel. “A Feel-Good Theory: A Smile Affects Mood.”The New York Times. 18 July 1989 (p. C1).] researchers confirmed what our grandmothers already knew: that people respond in kind to the facial expressions they encounter. Test subjects were shown photos of faces — some smiling and some frowning — and required to respond with their own smiles, frowns, and non-expressions as directed by those conducting the experiment. Researchers noted that while people had an easy time frowning at what appeared to be frowning at them and smiling in reply to the photographed smiles, those being tested encountered difficulties when prompted to respond in an opposite manner to the expressions displayed in the images — they instinctively wanted to reflect what they’d been exposed to, answering smile for smile and frown for frown, and could not easily overcome this urge even when they were quite consciously trying to.
  • Because we humans are wired to instinctively respond like for like, facial expressions are contagious. When taken, the homily’s implied advice to put on a happy face does work to benefit society in that smiling people cause those around them to smile.
  • Do not pretend to smile, or produce a false smile since these are easy to spot and send the wrong messages. Instead relax, gain eye-contact and smile naturally. This will help the customer or client to feel at ease and welcomed, and you’ll come across as friendly and approachable, setting the scene for a more positive interaction.
  • If you are talking to somebody on the telephone then you can still smile – your voice sounds different when you smile and are happy. Clients and customers are more likely to want to talk to a cheerful person with an enthusiastic personality and by smiling while you talk you can help to project this.
  • Smiling makes us feel happier. It is not a cure-all for every situation, that is, don’t look to it to remedy overwhelming grief, but in terms of getting us past a small dose of the blues, it can help to lift the sense of sadness being experienced. It makes a differences to customers and to staff.


2. Have Patience but Don’t Make Your Customers Wait

  • Patience is a virtue, but don’t depend on it when interacting with customers. In one survey conducted, 69% of those interviewed defined good customer service as receiving a quick resolution to a reported problem.
  • 72% of respondents blamed their frustrations on having to address an issue to multiple employees at different times. If you’ve ever had a similar experience, then you know how aggravating it can be to call back or be transferred only to re-explain your problem over again (and again), while seemingly never actually getting any closer to a solution.
  • Customer service representatives who have neither the authority nor the ability to resolve problems on their own, and are thus forced to take those problems to higher levels, run the risk of alienating customers. Unfortunately, this is a common problem. In fact, 26% of consumers have experienced being transferred from agent to agent without any resolution.
  • This makes me sad (see also my article on Customer Service) so I have on my wall Tom Peter’s 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence:

3. Build Trust and They Will Come Back (Time after Time)

  • Only ever offer a customer or client something that you are sure you can give them – delivery of small things matter.
  • It is better not to mention a delivery date and then deliver tomorrow than it is to say you’ll deliver tomorrow and then don’t.
  • It is better to tell your hotel guests that the fire alarm system is being tested in the morning than let them find out for themselves.
  • Stick to deadlines, make sure you turn up promptly for any appointments and never make promises you cannot keep. If situations change then let the customer know as soon as possible.
  • If your company is answering a phone by the first ring, is straight forward with all pertinent buying information, and is giving customers a personalized experience when they need it, then congratulations, you are building much-needed trust.
  • Your product or service will attract them initially, maybe even bring them back a second time, but what consistently entices customers to return is trust that they’re going to have a good, barrier-less customer experience.
  • If you can provide the customers what they’re looking for, when they need and expect it, then that trust built between your company and the customer will evolve into invaluable customer loyalty.


4. The Emotional Signature: Be Memorable For the Right Reasons

  • We tend to remember positive and negative experiences more vividly than average day-to-day ones. Try to make every customer’s experience a positive one that they’ll remember and talk to others about.
  • Be helpful, be courteous and polite – give a little extra if possible, even if it is just some advice or extra information about the product or service they are buying or interested in buying.
  • If appropriate, and you need to be careful here, try telling a joke or introducing an element of humour; if successful you will add to the positive experience of the customer.

5. Clear Communication Skills Require Excellent Listening

  • You are unlikely to be able to help all your customers effectively if you don’t listen to their needsExcellent customer service requires effective listening and communication skills.
  • A company’s customer service representatives should listen carefully to what the customer needs. The answer or solution to the problem or question should accurately address the nature of the call or question. excellent communication skills are crucial.
  • A customer should be able to easily understand what the customer service representative is saying.
  • The representative must speak distinctly, and use common terminology that everyone understands, not highly technical language.
  • Excellent customer service means acknowledging a customer’s question in a timely manner.
  • Excellent customer service means having more experienced people or supervisors available to answer more difficult or technical questions
  • For customers not listening can become very frustrating and may lose a sale or repeat visit.
  • Listen to the customer’s needs, empathise and find the best.solutions.
  • Work on the ability to use Positive Language.

6. Learn Your Business – Know Your Product – Be The Expert

  • One of the most important elements for achieving excellent customer service is training. Customer service employees must be trained on product features, prices, warranties and even the various technical aspects of products.
  • If you are selling cars then learn the features and specifications of the models you have (and those of your competitors).
  • If you work in a hotel learn about the business, how many rooms there are, the history of the building, when breakfast is served.
  • If you work in a bank then learn the advantages and disadvantages of the various products you sell and which product suits which type of customer the best.
  • Make sure that you know more about your business than the customer does, be able to answer questions about your business or organisation even if they are not related to your normal field of work.

The obvious truth is that the so called secret of service excellence is actually very simple. It requires clear and consistent leadership from the top, the right culture, great people, and customer-focused systems, processes and tools. If your company can achieve a positive and efficient service experience wherever your customers happen to be, and can scale it, then you’re on your way to defining what good customer service means to your company.

Excellence, always. Smile.

With massive acknowledge and thanks to the wonderful insightful Tom Peters.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Zen and the Art of Smiling, Breathing and Going Slowly

Zen and the Art of Smiling, Breathing and Going Slowly

Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine. Look, I’m not a Zen monk; nor will I ever become one. However, I now try to live my life according to a sort set of Zen like principles and rules (BAED). Many years ago (1976), when I was a punk, I first read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (ZAMM).It was the first of Robert M. Pirsig's texts in which he explores his Metaphysics of Quality. It was an iconic book, selling more than 5 million copies worldwide. It was originally rejected by 121 publishers, more than any other bestselling book, according to the Guinness Book of Records. It had a massive impact on me at the time and still resonates today, in my rules for Being Amazing Every Day.

I do find great inspiration in the way Zen Monks live their lives: the basic simplicity of their lives, the concentration and mindfulness of every activity, the calm and peace they find in their days. I deeply admire these qualities and believe they can be applied to business, sport and our personal lives equally.

My first introduction to the concepts of Zen living, were found in the pages of ZAMM;they were fascinating to a teenage rebel like me. It was very unusual book, written in the first person, about a 17 day journey on his motorcycle from Minnesota to Northern California by the author and his son Chris. The trip is punctuated by numerous philosophical discussions, referred to as Chautauquas which are just my sort of event, which inspired my Explore, Play and Create Novelty workshops.

ZAMM was loosely based on a sporting classic called Zen in the Art of Archery. Published in 1948, it was a short book written by Eugen Herrigel which brought Zen to Europe after World War II. Herrigel describes Zen in archery as follows:

The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull's-eye which confronts him. This state of unconscious is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill, though there is in it something of a quite different order which cannot be attained by any progressive study of the art..

Zen Archery is very complex, with the aim / un-aim technique, the non-achieving, the metaphor of ying and yang, of female an male power and finally of life and death. You probably don’t want to become a Zen monk but you can live your life in a more Zen like manner by following a few simple rules. One of my favourite Zen monks, Thich Nhat Hanh, simplified the rules in just a few words:

Smile, breathe and go slowly.

Does it get any better than that? All of us know what it’s like to be in a hurry. So how do we cultivate a spirit of patience day in and day out? For me, I have found that I have to stay in the present. As soon as I get caught up in thinking about the rest of my life, I get overwhelmed, even depressed, stressed and very impatient. Living in today is so key to practicing patience. So let's look a little further at these Zen sayings and see if there is some logic we can extract:

  • Life is available only in the present moment.
  • When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.
  • The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.

Very cool. In addition to being present, I have learned that I must also take a step back a look at the bigger picture, rather than simply the barrier directly in front of me. I am all about being Amazing Every Day. I have learned the hard way, that in order to truly claim my power and live my best life, I must be more patient. I must stay present and mindful. I must relinquish my worries about tomorrow. I must smile, breathe and go slowly.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. DiscoverMark Twain

Before enlightenment chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. Wu Li

Be Amazing Every Day.

 

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values"; Author: Rober Pirsig; Publisher: HarperTorch; Reprint edition (April 25, 2006) Language: English ISBN-10: 0060589469 ISBN-13: 978-0060589462}