Torres Consulting

The importance of good client facing service (and how a bad one can damage your reputation)

We spend most of our time interacting with other people: Be it at work, with the family, socializing or doing sports, etc.. We meet many different people during the day, every day.

I want to focus on the work related interactions, and more specifically, the client facing roles.

The definition of  client facing role is “wherein an employee interacts directly with a customer, sometimes in person”. 

So, from all client facing roles, I want to focus today on the ones that actually do face customers (as oppose to the ones working in call centres).

Positive experiences

I would like to share 2 positive  personal experiences I’ve had in the past, a mix of verbal and non verbal.

Many years ago, at El Corte Ingles, a department store in Spain, I bought a pair of trainers and paid with my card, which had to be inserted on the device. Once the transaction had been done, the shop assistant took the card out, and handing it to me with both his hands, said  with a nice tone and a smile “thank you Mr Torres”. Did he know me? No, it was the first time I’ve ever been to that shop. So how did he know my name? Easy! He had just read it from the card he had just pulled from the device. Such a simple gesture, which I’ve never experienced before or after.

The second example happened to me a few years ago, and in this case, it repeated itself as it seemed a brand standard. It was boarding an Emirates flight at Dubai International Airport. When getting into the aircraft, the flight attendants asked me, like in most flights, to show my boarding card again. This agent took it in her hands, and again, kindly and with a smile said “welcome back Mr Torres”. Did we know each other? I doubt it. But again, she’s just read my name on the boarding card, and seen that I had a loyalty number printed on it. Hence the emphasis on the “back”.

Common sense, not common practice

What most customers in our industry miss, when loyal to a brand, is recognition. To feel important, to know that they are appreciated. And the examples I’ve just mentioned are very easy to execute. Common sense, but not common practice, as the founder of TSA, Bill Butler, always says.

And that is the main challenge, that this type of behaviour is not common practice. Shops, bars, restaurants, hotels, are crowded with poorly trained agents, who don’t have passion for clients, who tend to have low motivation, and who, as a consequence, provide a poor service.

This circumstance has a direct effect on the perception of guests or customers towards that brand, which is a reputational risk for companies.

Customer facing employees should be brand advocates, they should identify themselves with the company. And if they are not, at least pretend.

Not in a negative way, but when facing customers, you are on stage, you are, as some say,  in the performing arts.

You might not be at your best that day. Maybe you are tired. Or had a problem at home. But the customer can not pay for it. Therefore, you need to act as if you WERE at your best. Because that customer might be having a bad day too. And because you are a professional, and that customer is paying your salary.

A good example was shared with me not long ago by Olivier Magne, the Director of Sales of Selenta Hotels, a Spanish Group. When he was a trainee, he worked at Disney greeting customers into an attraction. And he had to show a great smile and an enthusiastic “welcome to XYZ rollercoaster!”. He might have to repeat it hundreds of times each day, and might be tired and worn, but he was taught something very useful: “it might be the 300th time for you, but for that customer in front of you who is really excited to finally be here, it’s her first time”. Wise words.

You get what you pay for? I disagree

And that, the satisfaction expected based in cost is, in my opinion, a misconception. Why would I have to expect being treated worse at a fast food outlet than at a fine dining restaurant? The easy answer is “you get the service you pay”. And I completely disagree with it. I pay less because the food is cheaper, but that does not mean that a customer-facing agent has to be grumpy, or can not smile at me.  It’s courtesy, it’s manners, and again, it’s the least that can be expected. And by the way, smiling is still free, and a great exercise for your face muscles, and positive for your health.

Why don’t they care?

There are, from my point of view, 2 age-groups that get it wrong when facing customers:

The older ones, or may I say more experienced ones. Employees who are nearing retirement age and cannot be bothered anymore with smiling and giving a good service. In small numbers, but they do exist. Here, in the UK, it’s common to encounter them in large supermarkets and department stores.

However, the most common one is the group of young employees, many working part time while they study, who do not care at all about the work they do, because for them is just a way to get some pocket money, or for some personal expenses. Not their passion, not the job they plan to do for long, so they don’t commit, and therefore, in many occasions, provide a poor service.

And again, for me that is also a big error, both from the employee and employer sides. Mainly the employer.

The challenge of hiring talent

Having someone without motivation as the face of your company can be counterproductive. If they don’t understand that providing a nice, kind service is the basis of customer facing roles, they should be properly trained. And if by that point they still don’t get it, maybe they shouldn’t have been hired in the first place.

That, again, represents a challenge in places like the UK, with no real unemployment, where companies don’t have much of a choice when hiring, and have to just put what would be the analogy of “heads on beds” in hotels. That is, anyone as long as they can do basic maths if working with money, or are flexible enough to work shifts if required.

Customer who have a transaction (as I can not say they are “attended”, because they are not) with these sorts of staff experience a bad service, which they will express on the survey they’ll receive. And they might also reconsider going back to that shop or restaurant based on that poor experience.  Why should I go to shop A if there is the product is no different than at shop B, and they treat me as if I was bothering them? There is no answer other than “then I won’t go back”.

Eventually, that poor service might mean a drop on business, which could lead to the closure of the enterprise. All (or at least) partly due to that poorly trained or demotivated customer-facing person.

The challenge is huge for companies: find the right customer-facing team members, either based on their skills set or willing to be trained, or face the consequences of the poor service the will provide and eventually erode your company reputation.

Pablo Torres

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