When I was fourteen years old, I was hungry to get out in the world and work. A locally run delicatessen was willing to employ me for a couple of shifts a week after school hours. I will never forget my first week. I served customers with a smile and was friendly; however, there was one skill that I was not prepared for – receiving cash and giving change. It involved calculating the difference manually, with no calculator, no mobile phone and no digital POS (can you imagine?).
Fast-forward to the present, where many of these manual customer service skills have been lost to technology. Yet good-old fashioned friendliness, care and attention is just as – if not more so – important now. Here’s why.
An emotional connection
As well as speed, efficiency and consistency, there is a less tangible measure that we talk about and critique when we are served as customers: the emotions that we experience with an employee in the moment of service.
Consider the inherent power of a service provider in their relationship with the customer:
- An employee will make a customer feel important or will not.
- An employee will make an interaction feel personal or will not.
- An employee will be 100% attentive to the customer or will not.
- An employee will give meaning to the customer’s purchase or will not.
- An employee will allow the customer to feel connected to your brand or will not.
How a customer feels when they interact with your brand relies on how your employee makes them feel, while serving them at the frontline. Yes, customers can feel a connection to your brand by watching a great video in-store or on your website, or experience your brand when they taste your products; however, it is how they are treated that lingers long after this.
Humans have a unique capability, unlike any robot or automated solution, to provide an interpersonal interaction that creates the social bond that we all look for when seeking connection. The real challenge is to, therefore, embrace technology and automation without compromising emotions and customer relationships.
How loyal do you feel?
I don’t know about you, but the best customer experiences I have had in my life, the most positive and memorable interactions with any brand, have always been the unexpected moments that made me feel special as a customer. The moments that were delivered by a human, not a kiosk touchpad. How a customer feels about an interaction is the most significant driver of customer loyalty. It’s what keeps us coming back, time and time again.
According to research done by Bain & Company (the inventor of the Net Promoter Score), increasing your customer retention rates (aka loyalty) by even just 5% will increase profits by 25% to 95%. Our economic value as humans in the retail revolution of AI and robotics has increased. Sure, technology can eliminate jobs, but it is also inspiring us to hold on ever tighter to human values and human ethics.
David Autor, a leading American economist, consistently states in his talks and publications that it is our unique skills and human capabilities that cannot (yet) be replicated or substituted by AI robotics. Humans still have the edge when it comes to things like complex problem solving, reasoning, communication and interpersonal skills.
So when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of your customers, it’s the behaviours of your frontline employees that influence your whole organisation’s performance and results.
How customers feel when they interact with your employees determines how they feel about your company itself. This is what determines whether they will be a one-click wonder or a customer for life.
Procedures and steps of service may be great for robots and androids, but it’s the ways in which your service staff act and the emotional connection they create with your customers that will determine your ultimate success. Rather than look at complex customer service strategies and ways to engage your staff, you must look to the most powerful and influential people in your business – you and your frontline employees.
What you need to see is that human capital is just that: a capital investment in your organisation and your brand. When we yield better actions from our employees we will yield better results in our business. That means we must learn to leverage our service staff, to invest in their development and performance so they want to come to work and give 100% attention to our customers’ needs. Then, and only then, do you start to build a service mindset (instead of an automatic one), that will set you up for customer loyalty for life.