You lost me at "Hello"

There’s something magical about a warm, friendly, and authentic greeting in customer service. As a customer, you feel immediately at ease and gain confidence in the other person’s ability to serve you well.

So why doesn’t it happen more often?

Here’s an example that can help us better understand some of the reasons why so many greetings fail.

Rep: “Thank you for calling The Bayside Grill. This is Jane. How may I help you?”

Me: “Hi Jane. My name is Jeff. I’m calling to make a reservation please.”

Rep: “It will be my pleasure to assist you. What's your name?”

Here are just a few misses in this very typical exchange:

  • I gave my name, but Jane missed it.
  • Jane sound rushed when she answered the phone.
  • Jane sounded robotic when she said, “It will be my pleasure to assist you.

I know, the fix is easy, right? Jane should just answer the phone with a bit more enthusiasm, listen carefully, and then respond with sincerity.

Unfortunately, the problem is often created by management practices that influence Jane's performance.

Here are a few other factors that may contribute to poor customer service greetings.

Employees are distracted. In many customer service situations, the person greeting you is expected to simultaneously perform other tasks, depriving you of their full attention. For example, Jane may have be staring at a line of guests waiting to be seated when she took my call. (Check out my recent post on how multitasking hurts customer service.)

Scripts are for robots. Many customer service greetings are scripted, presumably because employees like Jane can’t be trusted to create an acceptable greeting on their own. The problem is that employees start focusing on nailing the script instead of nailing the greeting. (I wrote a post in 2009 on getting more consistency by ditching the script.)

Employees aren’t monitored for friendliness. When I worked in a large call center I remember having endless debates over what friendly sounds like. It’s easy to observe whether or not Jane used the correct, scripted greeting. Unfortunately, friendliness is inherently subjective. It might be very difficult for Jane and her supervisor to come up with a shared definition of what “friendly” looks or sounds like.

What’ the solution? Here are three simple things customer service leaders can do to improve their employees’ greetings:

  1. Eliminate distractions. Give employees the tools, training, and coaching to help them focus on one customer at a time.
  2. Ditch the script. Replace cumbersome scripts with more general guidelines. Employees like Jane can use their own personality to come up with something that works or them and still achieves the desired result.
  3. Hire naturally friendly people. Obvious, I know, but this practice isn't as common as you would think.

What else can we do to make greetings more friendly, warm, and authentic?