If you are a person in a front-line, customer-facing role like maybe a customer support rep, food server, host, valet, bartender, etc., the importance of being able to do your job well is not lost on you. Moreover, you also know how important it is to behave well by being nice and easy to work with. Your experience has shown you that it is simply not enough to just get the job done, it must be done in a way that decreases customer stress and increases good feelings.
Given this, if great customer experiences are really important to companies, it is imperative that they do likewise: 1) get the job done that customers need done and 2) do whatever can be done to lessen customer effort. Put simply, businesses should get customers what they want or need in as easy a way as possible.
But wait a minute, originally, when talking about people, it was about behaving well, but for companies, it’s about making things easy? What gives? Well, terms like less effort or easy refer to two types of activity. One is physical effort and the other is emotional effort, and it’s emotional effort where playing nice comes in. Let’s take a deeper look.
Physical effort refers to any work or tangible actions customers must perform. These can be things like filling out forms, having to call another department, needing to find a receipt, pushing buttons in a phone-tree maze, etc. If you have ever searched in vain for a way to contact a human on a website, you know the toil of exerting physical effort.
Similarly, emotional effort is work, too. It is the work we put forth wrestling with frustration, worry, anger, confusion, etc. You have no doubt experienced it when, after engaging in a difficult service exchange, you felt exhausted and said you would never do business with the organization again.
The ironic thing though is how influential emotional effort is. Because emotional effort comes along with virtually any physical effort, it has heightened impact. Take my example above of searching for a way to make contact on a website. While putting in the physical effort, there was building frustration (emotional effort) to deal with as well. The power of this is significant, in fact, according to research from Challenger Inc., emotional effort influences a full 2/3rds of our perception of overall effort. Thus, it is clear the importance of playing nice. When we are easy to get along with, we make the lion’s share of the experience easier, and by extension, more enjoyable.
So, how can we manage it? Is it an ability we can develop or are we just born with it?
If you look at several studies about prosocial behavior, they suggest that we are all—excepting maybe psychopaths—gifted with some ability to be helpful and make things easier for others, it may just take more practice for some, particularly when it comes to the emotional side. To help with this, here is a list of five key practices that, if applied regularly, will grow the ability to decrease customers’ emotional effort.
- Choose to help. Take a moment to consider people’s lives. Everyone has baggage they carry daily. This baggage can contain problems, needs, and hopes. When we consider this baggage lying like an iceberg beneath the surface, it allows us to get into a more helpful mindset. To do this, stop and think, “They are just being human like me, how can I help rather than hurt?”
- Listen actively to understand. There is no better way to make others feel that they matter than by listening to them. In addition, there is no better way to learn the details of a problem as well as those things lurking under the surface that we can’t readily see. The more we know, the better we can provide solutions, and not just any solutions, we can provide ones that better fit the context of the baggage being carried. To be a better listener, a couple of key things you can do are to rid yourself of distractions and then pay attention as if someone were going to quiz you on what was said.
- Ask questions to get clarity. When you ask questions, you accomplish many things. One, you hand over the keys of control and give the other person a sense that the interaction is not one sided. Two, you help to lessen tension because questions cause people to move from intuitive thinking—reacting emotionally—to more rational thinking. And three, by asking questions and getting answers, you diminish the chance for misunderstandings as “fuzzy” details get more definition.
- Share information or ideas by asking permission and using “yes” language. In any interaction, there will come a time when we need to share our thoughts. Our typical inclination is to just burst through the door and express ourselves, however, when we ask permission, we slow down to wait for the door to open and be welcomed in. Asking permission means saying things like, “May I make a suggestion?” or “There are a few things we can do, may I share them?” Once the door is open, keep it so by using “yes” language. “Yes” language refers to speaking in terms of what we can do instead of what we can’t do. For example, instead of “this is another department’s job, you will need to call them” use “the ABC Department is better equipped to handle this, may I transfer you?”
- Solve problems. What customers want is to get their needs taken care of and their problems to disappear with as few hassles as possible. This is what we should be aiming for, not winning battles or trying to prove anything. If we circle back to our first skill of considering people’s lives, the mantra is to help not hurt and that is all about finding success. This requires awareness. We need to be aware of what customer success is and find ways to get as close to that as possible. If you have started with your head in the right place—helping not hurting—and then listened, asked questions, and provided information and ideas positively, you should be in a place to provide solutions that get people on their way easily both physically and emotionally.
If you are someone who provides service—that is just about everyone—practicing these skills will help you make life easy—at least the emotional part of it anyway. And given that emotional effort influences 65% of customer perceptions, you will be making your customers’ experience—and life—better. So, if you want to create great experiences, get on with it, get to work developing these practices.
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