A friend of our family was an assistant coach at one of the most successful college football programs in the country. He was also the head of recruiting and had a philosophy that really stuck with me.
He said: “We recruit fast kids and find the best place for them to play.
“You can’t coach fast.”
Fast is to football as friendly is to customer service: It is a necessity for competitive differentiation.
A lot of research has been done on the importance of being friendly to a great customer experience. In one study almost 50% of participants chose “friendly” as the most important aspect of customer service. The next closest was “knowledgeable” at about 40%.
Here are two compelling examples of what to do and not do.
Friendly Trumps Efficient when Efficiency is not Friendly.
One of our employees—call him Bill—had been a customer of one of the large auto and home insurance companies for more than 30 years. Bill was pleased with the company’s service capabilities but had always had a small thorn in his side for the people.
Other than getting the annual calendar, he never heard from the company unless they had something to sell or were raising rates. But, the strength of their service delivery capabilities overcame his annoyance with the personal side of the experience.
Suffice it to say, the people were simply not friendly.
And, get this: Bill had not spoken to his agent—the owner—since 1984! Not a call, not a letter.
On the company’s books Bill looked like a highly-loyal and happy customer.
Not even close.
Out of the blue he got a referral to a new agent, who insisted on a face-to-face meeting. In short, he blew Bill away and quicker than you can run a 40-yard dash, Bill changed providers.
Four years later he is still with that small, local firm, and likes their functional service just as well as the big company.
The Person Who First Speaks with Customers Should be as Good as You
Another friend—call him Joe—recently told me about an experience he had with a local St. Louis eye care firm: The Koetting Associates.
Joe had put off an eye exam for a couple of years and let his optical coverage lapse. He obviously wanted a high-quality exam but knew that some of the larger firms in the area were pretty expensive. Conversely, he didn’t want to go with whichever firm had the best offer on Groupon.
A friend of Joe’s his had just gone to Koetting and couldn’t say enough good things. So, Joe called and had one of the most memorable customer service experiences he has ever had.
The person who answered the phone was both friendly and knowledgeable, almost to the point Joe thought it might be one of the docs. She knew about each one of the eight different tests and walked Joe through why each was important.
During the call Joe mentioned he was as Type II Diabetic, and the nice lady went into hyper-drive. Not only did she know what Joe needed, she also told him that his health insurance would likely cover most of the exam (which it did).
Five or so minutes later he had an appointment and seven days later he had the great news that his eyes were fine.
She was both knowledgeable and friendly.
No, she was more than that, she was happy. And, she wasn’t one of the docs, but you could have fooled Joe.
Four Keys to Making ‘Friendly’ Part of Your Customer Service Experience
Another friend told me of what has become an almost-harrowing experience with one former customer who gave him an extraordinarily bad rating on Google. The one bad review has led to several potential customers choosing competitors (along with some other unwanted complications) and, undoubtedly, been a blow to his online reputation.
Most small businesses cannot withstand blows like this from customers. This kind of punch to the nose of your business can be avoided by re-thinking the experience you want your employees (and yourself) to provide. Here are four reasonably easy things to do:
- Let Technology Make Being Friendly Easy. Clunky processes or old technology can make it hard for employees to be relaxed and friendly. Continually ask for feedback from employees on where your systems create drag on providing a great experience. Their focus should be on the customer, not on the system.
- Require Smiles. One of the great pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten was to smile when you’re on the phone. The person on the other end can tell. It’s amazing how well it works.
- Hire People Who are Friendly. Good news: Starbucks hasn’t cornered the market on all the friendly people. Think about these when you interview candidates. Do they smile? Do they laugh? Do they have a sense of humor? Are they passionate about their work? What gets them out of bed every day? Make them talk about themselves, not just their functional skills.
- Look at Yourself in the Mirror. Examine how your company provides service. If you have an office, ask a couple of customers to do a little research for you by calling the office with questions to see how the staff handles them. Ask a couple of other customers to make an appointment at your office and let them observe what happens. You might not always like what you see, but you’ll never know until you ask.
This is one of my favorite business quotes: “You only get one chance to make a great first impression.”
Start having your employees (and yourself) think of every customer contact as the chance to make a great impression.