by Micah Solomon
There's no force more powerful in growing and sustaining organizational success than engaged customers: customers who enjoy their time with your business and who think positively about it when they're away. Barring this, there's a good chance you'll fail to make the kind of impression you're hoping for in the marketplace.
Customer engagement is a result of superior customer service and a well-designed customer experience. To make the concept trickier, though, not every aspect of customer service and customer experience affects engagement equally. Here are seven places where you have an opportunity to make the most difference; use this list as a checklist you can return to any time you think things may be going astray, to ensure you're on the right track.
- Adjust your service style to ensure it comes off as authentic, rather than as overly formal and obviously scripted. Today's customers recoil from what I call "Stepford customer service," where employees seem stiff, interchangeable, and soulless. If you're striving for customer engagement, make sure your employees feel permitted to bring a bit of their own personalities into the mix when they serve their customers.
- Beware of the Cliff of Dissatisfaction: The Cliff of Dissatisfaction is the moment when customers lose faith that your business will be able to serve you on their own timetable. This is a major issue; in our sped-up, 24-7 society, customers take it personally, and quickly disengage, if you don't serve them on their own expected timetable
- Avoid money-related turnoffs: No matter how well you design and execute other parts of the customer experience, you can quickly disengage (as well as offend) a customer if you handle issues of monies owed awkwardly, or rudely, or thoughtlessly.
- Strive for a default of yes: A default attitude of positivity is a powerful way to ensure that you're engaging your customers. The attitude every employee in your organization should exude is, "The answer is yes, now what is the question?" It's not good enough to grudgingly, foot-draggingly, eventually carry out your customers' wishes; you need to give them the impression, from the very first moment, that you're going to take care of them.
- Avoid shuffling customers between employees and departments any more than necessary. There should be as few handoffs from employee to employee as possible (and those handoffs that are required should be carried out as warmly and seamlessly as possible). One way a great company distinguishes itself is in how the employees react when a customer requests something that is a little off-track from the core of that employee's duties. The wrong answer is, "You'll need to call back and ask for Judy in client services." The right answer is, "Absolutely, I can help you with that," even if that help means running down the hall to Judy to find the needed information.
- Respect each customer's invisible protective bubble: A common turn off for customers you interact with face-to-face is to attempt interactions with them when they're not in the mood. The concept here, which should be part of employee training, is that every customer is surrounded by an individual, invisible, protective bubble. This bubble should only be entered after receiving implied permission from the customer. Employees who work in a face-to-face environment with customers need to learn to recognize the cues that mean that it's okay to venture into the customer's protective bubble—the invisible "meditation chapel" within which the customer has an expectation of solitude–as well as how and when to graciously make an exit.
- Be sure you're providing customers with the personal recognition and remembrance they desire. One of the best ways to engage customers is to provide them personal recognition and to personally remember them in their absence and when they return. Failing to do so is one of the most direct routes to turning your company and its offerings into a commodity, something that's interchangeable in the eyes of your customer.
- Watch your language. Language is a quick way to turn customers off, particularly if the language is harsh, prescriptive, judgmental or abrupt. A couple of examples: Avoid telling a customer "you need to do X"; try "we find it works best if you do X"; don't flat-out tell a customer "you owe us X"; instead try, "our records indicate a balance of X"; don't say "please hold" and immediately press the hold button; instead ask, "may I place you on a brief hold?" and wait for the answer.
Watch out as well for harsh linguistic missteps in the boilerplate on your invoices, website, and printed collateral; these can be negatively affecting customer engagement, even if you get everything else right.