If your work involves direct line-of-sight with customers, you need to read this rant.
Businesses have embraced technology that removes much of the face-to-face interaction of customer service. Companies do this to lower cost. Do you remember when banks first started carrying ATMs? Initially, those machines were shunned. How can a machine give you a smile, be responsible for creating an error-free transaction, and get you on your way? Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine living without the ease of conducting business transactions without that sort of self-service option.
My rant is about those businesses that still have face-to-face transactions. I’m referring to the places where you, as the customer, seek a commodity that is readily available in multiple outlets, places like grocery stores, department stores, oil change shops, restaurants, etc. Price and products are usually about the same. The only real differentiator is service. And in a high-touch, people-centered business, service needs to be provided by employees who are both knowledgeable AND friendly.
And that’s the problem. I’m seeing an increase in sour pusses. A sour puss is inconsistent with FRIENDLINESS.
At the grocery store yesterday, the guy who returns the shopping carts nearly ran me over with his load. In my surprise, I jumped aside and said, “Sorry.” He didn’t even reply. Instead, the sour puss stayed on his face and he kept going. Inside the store, a stocker blocked my access to the food I wanted. I waited patiently for him to move. He was in no hurry even though he saw me standing there. His face was a blend of anger and indifference.
Later at the gas station, the clerk stayed on the phone while I waited to pay for my purchase. Yes, I know that I can pay at the pump, but I needed a bag of ice, too. So I had to stand there, being ignored, while he finished his call. And then, once he hung up, he didn’t say, “I’m sorry for the wait” or anything like that. In fact, he said nothing. He held out his hand for my credit card. The transaction was completed in silence, and the only trace of emotion was the pained expression on the clerk’s face.
Okay, I know many Americans are in a funk right now. The economy stinks. Our country is at war on two fronts. Lindsay Lohan is heading to jail. LeBron passed on an invitation to play for the Bulls. So yes, there are reasons for all of us to be sad, distracted, and stressed. But LOSE THE SOUR PUSS…OR RISK LOSING BUSINESS.
I’ve found myself doing face-to-face business transactions over the self-service option because I want a pick-me-up. So I shop at Staples to see Sherry’s smiling face. I usually go to CITGO where Ahmed’s greets me with a friendly, “How’s it goin’, boss?” I walk inside Harris Bank instead of hitting the drive up window to see Katie because she establishes eye contact and shows with her mannerisms that she truly likes her job. When I leave those places, I feel lighter, a little more upbeat. When I leave establishments staffed by spirit-sucking zombies, I feel cheated, drained, and unfulfilled.
If you manage customer-facing employees, look at their faces today. Would you buy from that sour puss over in the corner? Or would you be more inclined to buy from someone who smiles, connects with the customers, and creates a little positive experience for anyone who comes in contact with him?
And even if you don’t work directly with customers, look at the faces around you in the office. Rate your coworkers from 10 (pleasant, upbeat, and joyful) to 1 (needs to be slapped hard). Now go ask your boss to try to find jobs for the 1’s with your competitors.