Does he know you?
A week or so ago I was in the local big box hardware store (Mitre 10 Mega) for what seemed like the thousandth time that month - renovations will do that to you. I was there to pick up a notice board for my son's room which was nothing particularly high value. Having finished my transaction with the guy at the checkout my daughter asked me, "does he know you?" This is not a strange question for my daughter to ask me. Because of the work I've done with businesses in the past there aren't that many Warehouses or Z service stations that we go into where I haven't been part of the training of the staff and they do know me. But with the local Mitre 10 I'm just another customer, one of hundred that particular guy will see on any given Saturday. But thinking back on that question from my daughter it struck me that the fact she needed to ask me that meant his customer service really worked. And it worked on a few levels.
Let's take a look:
His interaction with me felt like a little more than customer service. He was treating me as a person. He felt my pain as I approached the counter and ran the gauntlet of the impulse purchases that always set my little people to begging. He noticed the paint covered clothes I was wearing and was able to quickly engage me in a bit of conversation about what I was up to. And that was after he had smoothly managed to deflect yet another request for chocolate by getting the little people to help me with the corkboard. Once we actually made it to the payment process proper he handled it efficiently but without making me feel further rushed and harried. It didn't feel like I was doing a business transaction - it felt like I was part of a human interaction. And it obviously looked that way to the kids too.
But at the same time it was professional enough that they weren't quite sure if he knew me or not. That was the real success of the balancing act that this guy did, probably without even realising it. It’s something that good empathetic human beings do all the time when they are interacting with other human beings. We match our energy, our pace, our language to what we think works best for the other person in the conversation. At least that's what we do if we are good conversationalists. We listen and we observe.
Unfortunately the large majority of customer service models ignore these very organic building blocks of human interaction in favour of routine and rubric. They remove the person from the equation and focus on the transaction. There is no empathy and staff are encouraged implicitly to stop seeing the person and to see the customer as a transaction or an obstacle.
I like to challenge this with our training and get people connecting with people again. It doesn't take much to shift the focus back to people but it necessitates a trust on behalf of the business, a trust in their people. For some reason many businesses presume that their staff can't function like human beings and so need methodology to help them interact. Yet those very same staff leave work at the end of the day and most become part of a rich circle of family and friends. It’s no wonder you get so many disgruntled employees when you don't even trust them with the basics of human communication!
Because I think at the end of the day you want the sort of experience at a store to leave the outside observer wondering if the staff have ever met you before.