Caring about customers is one of the best ways to differentiate your business and gain long-term consumer loyalty. But how can employers operationalize such a“soft” skill?
“Your best strategy is to teach your employees what caring about customers looks like in action,” says Jon Gordon, author of The Carpenter: A Story About the Greatest Success Strategies of All. “Suggest specific tactics they can employ. When they see how good it feels to care—and how good caring is for business—you’ll receive your team’s buy-in and continued participation.”
Gordon notes that most of the tips he shares can also apply internally. “Employees can apply these principles to their interactions with each other, too,” he says. “How you treat your coworkers is how you’ll treat customers—you can’t separate the two.”
Following are Gordon’s 11 strategies that employees can use to demonstrate that they care.
1. Be present.
Most modern workers have so many responsibilities and distractions that it’s tempting to listen to clients with only one ear (or half an ear!). You know how it goes: You make the appropriate noises during a client call (“Mmmhmm … I understand … No, that won’t be a problem….”) while simultaneously typing an email to someone else. But by being fully present, you’re saying, “I really care about you and what you need from this organization. You are my top priority right now.”
“Leaders, your employees will be fully present with customers only if you give them permission to be,” Gordon says. “For instance, if you ask someone why she didn’t respond to your email sooner and she tells you that she was on the phone with a client, you need to be okay with that. You can take a cue from Zappos, which encourages their employees to spend more time on the phone with their customers, instead of creating time limits like many customer service call centers. Instead of rushing through calls, Zappos employees focus on being present and caring.”
2. Say it with a smile.
Smile and be polite during all customer interactions. “Can I help you?” asked with a smile has a very different effect from the same words said without one. If you don’t feel like smiling at any given time, Gordon advises you to think of your favorite joke or a funny movie scene and make yourself smile. It has been scientifically proven that the act of smiling improves your mood and can reduce stress. (Actually, a fake smile can also produce stress relief. Just so you know.)
3. Call customers by name.
When interacting with a customer, ask his or her name—then use it. Referring to someone by name demonstrates that you see the person as an individual with unique needs and preferences, as opposed to “just a number” or a source of income.
4. Extend a genuine offer to help (but don’t hover).
It’s true: no one appreciates a salesperson who shadows their every step as they browse through a store, asking every two minutes if they need help. But that doesn’t mean a simple and heartfelt “Please let me know if you have any questions or need any help while you’re here” won’t be appreciated. Even if a customer knows exactly what they want, where to find it, and how to use it, the fact that you noticed the customer and offered your assistance will make a positive impression—and send a powerful message about your company.
5. Be generous with your time.
When someone does have a question or requests help, don’t rush through the task of explaining your company’s policy or provide canned advice—take your time and really help the customer. It’s a conversation, not a lecture. Gordon suggests you ask questions and listen to your customers. This lets them know you care about them and their thoughts, and it helps you to better understand their concerns so you can help them.
“The world is filled with those who get things done the fastest and the cheapest, but it needs more artists, craftsmen, and craftswomen,” writes Gordon in The Carpenter. “When you become a craftsman in a world of carpenters, you will stand out, and people will clamor to work with you.”
6. Stay calm and respectful at all times.
Resist the temptation to get defensive. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but you should always strive to treat customers with respect and deference. Often, when a customer is upset (or perhaps even hostile), using soothing words that show you care can have a powerful, calming effect. “I’m sorry you were dissatisfied with your experience. Would you mind telling me how we can improve in the future?” will be better received than a perfunctory, “What was wrong with your experience?” or an exasperated, “I don’t think I can help you!”
7. Respond quickly and touch base often.
It’s simple: Return calls and emails promptly. Whenever possible, try not to leave any unanswered emails or voicemails overnight. And be proactive with updates, too. For example, don’t force a client to get in touch with you in order to learn the status of an order. Send daily or weekly updates—whatever is appropriate.
8. Build it up.
There is no such thing as a “perfect” job. Every employee in every industry has the occasional complaint about work. But that doesn’t mean you should dwell on these complaints or air them gratuitously. When you’re talking about your company (especially if you’re on the clock), try to stay positive. Focus on the things you like about your work, what’s going well and what your organization has to offer. Spreading discontent to your coworkers can create internal dissent—which is then communicated to customers in your attitude, even if you never utter a bad word about your company to them.
“Negative chit-chat damages a brand and may send an undeservedly negative impression about it to others,” Gordon says. “If you care about your organization, help build it up. If you don’t care, it’s time for an honest self-evaluation or a new job.”
9. See the good.
In Gordon’s book, the carpenter tells his protégé, “When you see the good, look for the good, and expect the good, you find the good and the good finds you.” You can apply this principle by making an effort to stop thinking of customers as annoying, needy, clueless, or a waste of your time. Instead, choose to see the good in them, such as their curiosity about how a product is manufactured or their cautiousness with their own money. Customers will notice and appreciate the change in your attitude.
10. Don’t make it all about business.
During any prolonged or follow-up interaction with a customer, ask them, “How are you doing?” Make an effort to learn about return clients on a personal level as well as a professional one, and follow up on what you discover. If you know that an individual recently had an important event, such as a wedding, birthday, or even a big presentation, ask how it went. People are surprised and pleased when you remember what’s going on with them—precisely because the assumption today is that most people don’t care about what’s going on outside their own bubble.
11. Always go the extra mile.
Constantly look for ways to make the service you provide just a little bit better. Gordon points out that even 1% more time, energy or thought can make a big difference. The smallest actions—such as walking a customer to the door after checking them out, taking extra time to return a call before going home, or making a follow-up call to a patient after they visit your health clinic—can mean a lot.
Gordon cites a personal example of something little that has made a big impact on him: “Oceanside Cleaners near my home replaces missing buttons on my dress shirts at no extra charge. This ‘little’ service has earned my loyalty because it shows that Oceanside cares about the quality of my clothes and my satisfaction with their services.”
And what about those employees who, despite your best efforts, just don’t or won’t care? “You need to move these people out of your organization; they won’t be top performers if they don’t care,” Gordon says. “Caring as a success strategy works only when all of your employees are on board. Think about it: It takes only one dismissive salesperson or rude customer service rep to drive a client away. And you can bet that client will spread the story of how poorly he or she was treated by your company!”
Jon Gordon is the author of The Carpenter: A Story About the Greatest Success Strategies of All. His best-selling books and talks have inspired readers and audiences around the world. His principles have been put to the test by numerous NFL, NBA, and college coaches and teams, Fortune 500 companies, school districts, hospitals, and non-profits. Gordon is a graduate of Cornell University and holds a master’s degree in teaching from Emory University. For more information, visit www.jongordon.com.