Influence With Ease
by Jeff Mowatt

Do you confront or attack?

Perhaps one of the toughest challenges in relationships is giving ‘corrective feedback’ to people you care about. As a supervisor, husband, and father, I’ve made my share of mistakes when confronting others – less so since discovering this tip. Focus your feedback on behavior – not attitude. Instead of saying, “You need to be friendlier to customers.” (Friendliness is an attitude), focus on behavior with, “Within 5 seconds of the customer’s arrival, you are expected to smile, show teeth, and greet them.” Avoiding confrontation doesn’t help anyone. Focus on observable behavior. As for ‘correcting’ the other person’s attitude – what they think, believe, and feel – forever hold your peace.

Instant Acknowledgement

One of the most common preventable blunders in customer service is failing to acknowledge the customer immediately. Most employees believe that you’re doing well by greeting customers within 30 seconds of arrival. To test this, picture entering a restaurant. Then check your watch to count 30 seconds. You’ll likely realize that 30 seconds is slow service. I prefer the policy of a major submarine sandwich company - acknowledge customers within 5 seconds. Acknowledging someone doesn’t necessarily mean have to serve them. “I’ll be with you in just a few minutes,” works fine – even when you’re busy.

Do you 'accidentally' offend customers?

I’m bewildered by the number of managers and employees who rate their service as being good when it’s actually borderline offensive. One of the most frequent gaffes involves ignoring customers. As customers, we’ve all been served by an employee who stops to answer the phone or talk to a coworker. When I ask seminar participants what that behavior is called, I hear a collective response of, “rude!” Employees assume this behavior is acceptable because few customers complain. That’s because most customers don’t complain - they just quietly go elsewhere.

Receiving a transferred call

One of the most efficient ways to enhance the perceived value of your organization is to train employees on interpersonal telephone skills. Consider the example of a trained professional, who, when answering a call that's been transferred to her say's, "Hi Greg, this is Carol Jones. Cindy tells me that you've been having problems with your ..." That kind of introduction tells the caller that you're a professional who listens well, acts as a team, and values the time of your customers. Great return for a little training.

That's a great question!

As children we've all experienced the slings and arrows of being made fun of. You probably remember the humiliation of asking a question at school and having other kids make fun of you. Those childhood scars are etched into practically everyone's psyche - including that of your customers. So, next time one of them asks you or your employees a 'stupid' question/objection about your products and services, take the high road. Begin your response with, "That's a great question..." You'll find that the compassion and maturity that you convey with those 4 simple words will be appreciated - and rewarded.

Overall context over immediate concern

Imagine shopping for household necessities with two restless preschoolers. Observing your situation, the store employee greets the children, "Hi kids, taking Dad shopping? You like colouring? How about if we set you up over here to colour while Dad finishes shopping (as she looks to you for permission)?" As the parent, you'd likely be delighted. The employee generated these good feelings by focusing more on the customer's overall context (trying to be a good parent), than just dealing with the immediate concern (buying stuff for the house). When dealing with others do you focus on overall context or merely immediate concern?

Stop checking your BlackBerry

In today's world of cell phones, BlackBerrys, and people's ears being hardwired into iPods, the skill of listening is rarer, and more highly valued than ever. With so many people 'multi-tasking' (not being full attentive to the person they are talking with), customers are craving to be fully listened to. You aren't really listening when your phone is vibrating, or if you take a call while a customer is waiting. You aren't really listening if you're just waiting for your turn to talk. Real listening means not just hearing the words, but attempting to sense the emotion behind the words. When you've fully listened to someone, you'll speak with more than understanding; you'll speak with compassion. When it comes to influence, talk is cheap. It's listening that's rare and valuable.

Discuss customer concerns, not complaints

No one likes to hear customers complain. Employees become impatient and defensive when faced with these "trouble-makers." One of my seminar participants equated listening to customer complaints to undergoing amateur eyeball surgery. (That can't be good).

To prevent this defensive mindset, employees need to be trained to treat customer complaints as concerns. Employees need to know that customers who express concerns are helping you to stay sharp and competitive. Focusing on customer concerns vs complaints will immediately shift a potentially negative situation into one that is positive and productive.

A phrase that pays

Quick - name two words which, when frequently used by waiters and waitresses, increases tips by 12%. (Hint: it's not please or thank you).

Give up? The answer is, 'for you.'

So, rather than saying to a customer, "Would you like some more coffee?", the savvy waiter would say, "I brought more coffee over for you." The patron thinks, "Gosh, you did that for me, how thoughtful!" and tips accordingly - on average 12% more.

That's what I call easy money.

Five greetings that boost sales to walk-in visitors

Quick, what's the typical greeting used most often by 60% of retail stores? You're right if you guessed, "Can I help you?" The visitor's usual response, "No thanks, just looking." The problem is the walk-in customer is never "just looking." They came into the premises because at some level they perceived a need. This greeting only reminds visitors that they're not here to buy. Lousy selling strategy.

The way you and your front line employees greet walk-in customers has a huge impact on your bottom line. Here are some tips to ensure that you and your employees greet customers in a way that makes them want to buy and keep coming back.

  1. Show that you recognize them
    Even if you don't remember the customer's name, you need to at least let them know that you recognize them and are happy to see them. So an effective greeting would be, "Well, Hello! It's nice to see you again." Customers return to secure, friendly environments. Show that you recognize them, and they'll want to come back.

  2. Ask if they've been in before
    With this greeting the employee can also add, "Welcome back, we appreciate your coming to see us again." That provides that all-important recognition.

  3. Ask about the weather
    I realize the weather is an often-used topic, but it's disarming, and gets the customer talking about something where they can be the expert. The critical step that's often missed is you need to respond to the customer's comments. That shows that you're listening - not just techniquing them.

  4. Complement appropriately
    Be careful with this one. If you do it wrong, you be construed as being a phony and will lose the most important thing you need to sell - trust. So don't offer a general complement such as, "Don't you look good today." Instead make sure your complement is relevant and specific.

  5. Use a conversation piece
    Interesting artwork, a talking parrot, or anything you place near your entrance that draws comment is great. It gets the customer talking, questioning and interested.

Jeff Mowatt, CSP is an international speaker and corporate trainer. His focus is, "The Art of Client Service… Influence with Ease."® For tips, self-study kits, and information about booking Jeff visit or call 1-800-jmowatt (566-9288).

Many more articles in Customer Service in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2007 by Jeff Mowatt. All rights reserved.

Current Issue - Archives - CEO Links - News - Conferences - Recommended Reading