By Jonathan Chalstrey, Jonathan Chalstrey Associates
We all know the stats: People are 10 times more likely to moan about poor customer service to a friend, family member, or business associate than to praise good service. This means that when somebody does recommend or advocate a product or service, it’s a rare and valuable event. For companies, it’s a crucial way of getting and maintaining competitive advantage. It also drives and sustains profits. For example, I recently was working with a top sports car company that found many of its showrooms started to lose money when the recession hit. However, shining like beacons of light in gloomy times, those showrooms whose customers had become advocates for their cars stayed profitable —and not just through new car sales but through car servicing, too. As the company has started to lift a little out of recession, these same beacon showrooms continue to make more profit, more consistently than other showrooms.
Building Rapport with Customers Is Central
So what is it that these beacon showrooms are doing so much better with their customers to turn them into advocates? Their employees focus on building rapport with the person either at the other end of the phone or standing in front of them. They don’t unthinkingly follow a script, a pro forma, or a computer screen to manage the interaction with the customer. Why? The showrooms discovered that when a customer service representative built some rapport with a customer, it was easier to do business, particularly if a difference emerged between what the customer expected and what the customer service representative could deliver or actually had delivered. When a customer service representative built rapport, they were seen by the customer as, at the least, “reasonable,” and the customer consequently was more negotiable.
By contrast, when a customer service representative had not built rapport and a difference emerged, the customer tended to “dig in” and become less negotiable. In these situations, customers described customer service representatives as “critical” and “defensive,” and apparently unwilling to take responsibility for fixing a problem. Customers rarely expressed their opinions directly to the customer service representatives.
In addition, the showrooms found that when a customer got what they wanted but a customer service representative had not built rapport, the customer tended not to remember the experience and reported, when surveyed, that they felt “neutral” about the company. However, when a customer got what they wanted and the customer service representative had built rapport, the customer remembered the experience and, crucially, often subsequently advocated the company or its products to a friend, family member, or business associate.
Having customers advocate your service to others isn’t just a “nice to have,” as I discovered at a different business from the sports car company. At the sharp end of the logistics industry, one of the UK’s fastest growing suppliers understands that to win over business customers from more established rivals, it must win advocates in its client businesses. While advertising and marketing can raise awareness of what they do, customer advocacy is more powerful in persuading people to part with their hard-fought-for budgets to buy more of the logistics company’s services.
Changing Employees’ Mindsets Is Key
You might be reading this article and thinking, “OK, what we need to do is train our employees in the skills of building rapport, and the customer advocates and increased profits will follow.” In my experience, training employees in rapport-building skills goes some way to improving their performance in real interactions with customers. However, what I’ve also discovered is that no amount of training in the techniques of rapport building will improve an employee’s real behavior with a customer if that employee is stuck in a mindset that, wittingly or unwittingly, drives rapport-destroying behavior. What do I mean? Here are some of the mindsets employees have bravely been willing to reveal during my training sessions in recent months:
“It’s enough for me to know my product or service inside out.”
“If it’s not in my immediate control to solve a problem, it’s not my responsibility.”
“I have to know the answer to every question. If I don’t, I’ve failed.”
“Customers only value efficiency.”
“Achieving the task at hand is the priority; all this touchy-feely stuff about people is all well and good when you have the time for it, but we don’t!”
“Customers are basically bringers of problems to make our lives difficult.”
So training in the skills of building rapport is only going to change an employee’s behavior with a customer if the training also helps the employee to challenge their mindset and underlying assumptions about what makes good customer service.
For example, let’s examine the first mindset above:
“It’s enough for me to know my product or service inside out.”
If I am operating from this mindset, I am unlikely to be trying to understand a situation, conversation, problem, challenge, or issue from a customer’s perspective. Focusing on the specification, benefits and features, terms and conditions, rules and regulations surrounding my company’s product or service will prevent me from focusing on understanding and empathizing with a customer’s circumstance, dilemma, challenge, need, want, or desire. And a customer’s need, want, or desire could be functional or emotional. For example:
Functional: I need my car serviced by 2:30 p.m. so I can get into town by 3 p.m.
Emotional: I need my car serviced by 2:30 p.m. so I can get into town by 3 p.m. to pick up my kids from school, and if I’m late, I will be very stressed!
The good customer service representative will discover and acknowledge both the functional and emotional needs of the customer and respond to both.
Focusing Training Efforts
Organizations are likely to get more “bang” for their training “buck” by working with learning and development specialists who have the skills and experience to uncover the hidden mindsets of employees. This will enable organizations to commission training that both seeks to transform employees’ mindsets and provides them with the rapport-building skills to turn customers in to advocates.
Jonathan Chalstrey heads up Jonathan Chalstrey Associates, which provides leadership, management, teambuilding, and customer service training and coaching. For more information, call +44 (0)7899 781540 or visit www.jonathanchalstrey.co.uk.