The “Feel Good” Factor: Customer Service Skills That Make a Big Difference
By Debra Fine
People part with their money for two reasons. One, you can solve a problem for them. Two, because you make them feel good in the process.
Look at it this way. It’s hard to quickly evaluate the expertise of a new dentist. But you immediately know which one makes you feel more comfortable. You can take lessons from a highly qualified ski instructor. But if his silence makes you feel awkward while riding the chair lift together, you’ll switch instructors. When Super K-Mart and Target carry the same items at about the same prices and they’re located close together, where do you buy? You choose the store where the returns are simpler, the people are friendlier, and the appearance is cleaner where you are made to feel more welcome.
The “feel good” factor underlies every aspect of life. Even in the area of parent-teacher conferences, if your child’s teacher delivers negative feedback in a way that shows empathy, not harshness, you’re more likely to support the next vote to increase taxes for schools.
In June 2003 story, USA Today reported that basketball legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar struggles to be considered for NBA and college coaching positions. Apparently, he’s perceived as aloof. A problem because coaching is a combination of building rapport with players, the community, alumni, athletic directors, sponsors and business executives. My best guess is that Mr. Abdul Jabbar is shy or ill at ease with people he does not know well. Similarly, in the corporate world, if you want a promotion but come across as aloof or reserved, you’ll be overlooked in favor of someone who has warm “people skills” – someone who makes others feel good about being around them.
Here’s how to build rapport that leads to success in every business relationship.
- Use small talk as a picture frame around business conversations. Begin and end with small talk before and after making a presentation to a client, selling a widget, negotiating a contract, providing a service or conferencing with your child’s teacher. A study conducted with physicians showed those who spend a few minutes asking patients about their family, their work or what summer plans they have before and/or after an examination are less likely to be sued than those who don’t. Let’s face it. People don’t sue people they care about. And we care about people who show they care about us.
- Express empathy. Everyone is entitled to be listened to, even when in the wrong. Consider the client who sees the stock market rise 30% but not his own portfolio. The stockbroker knows the client insisted on picking the stocks himself, but it would be a mistake to make the client “wrong”. It’s better to say, “I realize it’s frustrating to experience this. What can we do from here?” That goes a long way to diffusing negative emotions and helping the client feel better about this relationship — rather than be tempted to move on to another stockbroker.
- Greet people warmly give eye contact and smile. Be the first to say hello. Be careful, you might be viewed as a snob if you are not the first to say hello. People often go back to their favorite restaurants because the host greets them with a sincere smile, looks at them directly, and welcomes them with warmth. My husband and I go to our favorite restaurant Carmine’s on Penn–and bring our friends there, too–because the wait staff, the host/hostess and the door and even the owner take the time to make us feel extra special.
- Use the person’s name in conversation. You are more likely to get special treatment by using the person’s name you are talking with. When you call to clarify a credit card billing, for example, say, “Joe, thanks for taking the time to help me with this question.” That makes Joe feel his role is important. If you don’t know someone’s name, take a moment to ask, and then repeat it. Be sure to pronounce it correctly. And never presume your conversation partner has a nickname. My name is Debra, not Debbie. I don’t feel good when people call me Debbie. It’s a little thing that has big importance.
- Show an interest in others. In response to our high tech environment filled with e-mail and fax broadcasts, we need high touch more than ever. That’s what you create when you show an interest in the lives of your customers/clients/patients every chance you get.
- Dig deeper. When you engage in a conversation, don’t leave it too quickly. If your customer/client/patient mentions her vacation, pick up on the cue and dig deeper. Ask where she went, what she did, what was the highlight, if she would go back. You’ll make her feel good about her life and about taking time with you. Always follow up a question like “How’s work?” with “What’s been going on at work since the last time we spoke?” This way they know you really want to hear about what is going on with work.
- Be a good listener. That means making eye contact and responding with verbal cues to show you hear what the speaker says. Verbal cues include these phrases: tell me more; what happened first, what happened next, that must have been difficult, and so on. Using them makes people feel actively listened to.
- Stop being an advisor. When you mention a problem you might be having with an employee or an associate, do people offer advice without asking any questions? Have you ever put together a resume and, as soon as you sent it out, someone told you it was too long or too short or too detailed or not detailed enough? Jumping in with unsolicited advice happens annoyingly often. Instead of advice, give understanding with simple phrases like: “I know you can work out a solution” or “I hope the job hunt goes well for you.” Offer advice only when you are specifically asked for it.
An example I experienced in my business really makes my point about the “feel good” factor. I wanted to find a good print shop near my home and walked into one near the busiest post office in our state. I was greeted with a sign that read: “Lack of preparation on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” I thought how many people would zip into this shop for a few photocopies before mailing off an important package? I doubt they would feel welcome here.
I then visited a printing shop across the street. Two colorful signs posted there made my day. One featured a cactus and said, “Stuck? We’ll help you out in a prickly situation.” The other showing a pot of jam said: “In a jam? We’ll help you out of a sticky situation.” You can guess which printer made me feel better about forming a business relationship.
Whether you want to land a new job, enhance your practice, gain listings, increase your billable hours, bring new people into your business, or make sure people remember you with referrals – pay attention to the “feel good” factor. And enjoy the success that follows.