Humanity in customer service is getting rare.
We shop online without ever interacting with a person. Go on a trip and you can check in for your flight, summon a ride to the airport, and check into your hotel room all from your smart phone.
Got a problem? There's a self-service portal for that. Try to call and an interactive voice response system will do its best to dissuade you from talking to someone.
Even when you do interact with a live person, it doesn't always feel that way. There's a whole class of transactional employees whose jobs are at risk of being automated because they don't add any uniquely human value.
Self-service is great and makes a lot of things easy. Yet there's still times when a friendly word and a genuine smile is needed to create an exceptional experience.
Here are five ways you can make sure that happens on your watch.
Start with Vision
Unite your team with a shared definition of outstanding customer service, called a customer service vision.
The vision should focus the team on people, not transactions.
Shake Shack was one of the customer-focused companies profiled in The Service Culture Handbook. The company's customer service vision is Stand for Something Good.
You can see this vision in action when you visit a Shake Shack. Employees are smiling, engaging, and helpful. Their humanity is contagious. Even at a crowded New York City location, you somehow find yourself enjoying other people.
Interesting things happen when service providers and customers see each other on a human level.
In restaurants, one study revealed that satisfaction increased 17.3 percent when customers and cooks were able to see each other.
One of my favorite restaurants is Glen Ellen Star in the Sonoma Valley wine region. Here, you can sit at the chef's counter and have a conversation with the chef while you eat. Its website has a great video of this in action.
Find ways to help people who don't normally interact with customers make real connections.
One exercise Clio used to develop its award-winning culture was a "Know Your Customer" campaign, where each person in the company interviewed at least one customer. The idea was help employees do their jobs with more empathy.
Give People Time
Time pressure often prevents human-to-human connections.
Employees feel the need to rush through interactions to get to the next person in line. People instinctively struggle to maintain a warm and friendly demeanor when they are focused on speed.
Increased staffing is one solution. Another way is to focus employees on first contact resolution. While counterintuitive when we're pressed for time, slowing things down can actually prevent additional contacts which frees up more time in the future.
Use Connecting Techniques
Help your employees develop specific skills to create human connections.
One of my favorites is the 10 and 5 Rule. This is used in retail, hospitality, and other settings where you have face-to-face customer interactions.
Employees use this technique by giving a non-verbal greeting to anyone within 10 feet. This can be a nod, a wave, or a smile. Give people a verbal greeting when they're within 5 feet.
Another option is the Five Question Technique. Employees think of five questions they can potentially ask customers that break the ice and uncover an additional need to serve. At least one of those questions will likely be useful in nearly any situation.
Create Human Procedures
Whenever I call for customer service, I like to introduce myself and greet the other person by name.
This often breaks the ice and creates a warmer interaction.
Some customer service reps must follow procedures that discourage them from doing this. They must follow a script that requires them to ask for an account number or some other information.
These procedures are typically created for efficiency. This can backfire if the customer bristles at the lack of warmth. Studies show that people are less open to ideas when they're angry, which means the interaction can take longer than it would if the employee was able to develop rapport with the customer.
Want to Practice?
These certainly aren't the only five ways to make customer service more human.
You can practice your human-to-human skills by making this a two-way conversation and leaving a comment or dropping me a line. Let me know how you humanize your service!