Be yourself at work and make customer service fun!
Customer service can be a difficult job. Whether on the phones at a call-center, or working with customers face to face in retail or hospitality, one encounters a whole range of people and personalities. Some people can be lovely and others can be difficult. However, research has shown that keeping it real and finding ways to personally relate to customers – expressing your own personality – helps to make customer service work more fun!
Five strategies for being ‘real’ that make customer service fun
Research I conducted in a New Zealand call centre suggests that customer service staff can feel more satisfied in their work when they are able to ‘be real’ with customers (Owler & Morrison, 2012). That is, relating person to person without feeling the need to ‘pretend’ to be nice, feel they need to be sugary sweet or manipulative in order to make a sale. Being false, never feels good. On the other hand, staff enjoyed finding ways to relate well to customers. As a result, customer service felt a lot less like work. Below are five strategies from the research, general advice I have been given, and my own experience, that can help you be yourself with customers and have more fun:
1. Be a chameleon – be yourself at work in different ways:
Good customer service people need to be need to be chameleons. This involves taking a flexible approach to communication. Read the customer. Are they in a hurry? If so, be friendly yet efficient. Are they relaxed and chatty? If so, engage in banter. It is useful to engage with the customer, at the level of their current energy. In this way you will be able to create an easy relationship with the customer.
For instance, I recently experienced a disjuncture of energy levels during a customer service interaction, as a customer at my local doctor’s surgery. On this particular day my regular doctor was away and they were replaced instead by a young, locum. When I came into the surgery I was feeling quite stressed and upset. However, rather than responding to me quietly and calmly, the locum responded to me in a perky, upbeat manner making quick witty retorts to statements that I made. The result was that I felt minimized and silly, as I was not able to create the kind of energy needed to meet her witty, caustic humour. I didn’t feel taken seriously and it seemed to me that the young doctor felt I was not being open with her. As a result, both I and the doctor were left feeling unsatisfied by the interaction. However, if the doctor had matched her energy to my own, we could have found a point of commonality and had a better time together.
2. Get your customers to say 'yes':
Try to ask questions of customers that will get them to say ‘yes’. This gives them some sense of control over the situation. If they are rushed or cranky, it will also help them to feel listened to. These questions can take many forms, including reflecting back to the customer their problem and asking them to clarify if you have understood them. You can then work together towards a solution. A sense of camaraderie and collaboration with others, is a great way of building a genuine relationship and having fun.
For instance, a customer service person in an electrical goods shop might reflect back to the customer: “So, you are wanting a T.V. that you could mount on the wall in your bedroom, but also has wi-fi, is that correct?”.
3. Mirror body language to connect with customers:
Body language can help you connect with a customer and establish a rapport. This includes using their name and making eye contact. We also tend to unconsciously mimic the body language of someone we feel positive about. Therefore, establishing a stance similar to your customer (provided they are not taking an aggressive or otherwise inappropriate stance) may help you both to feel that you like the customer. It is always much more fun relating to someone who you like!
For instance, I recently took my car in to be serviced. I was very concerned about the price of repairs, which I thought might be fairly high. The lady giving me the quote surprised me, because she came and sat down next to me in the waiting room to discuss the quote with me. As I leaned forward to listen to her, in a concerned manner, she did the same. I felt that she liked me enough to take my concerns very seriously. I also felt listened to and, she made me feel safe. It is my guess that she would have gone away from the interaction feeling very satisfied. This is because she had helped me, made a sale and made a friend in the process.
4. Be positive, yet realistic:
Generally our customers come to us with a problem that needs solved. Depending on the service we are offering, they may feel anxious or upset, worried about spending a lot of money, or concerned that they will purchase the wrong product and waste their money. Be positive, while taking their concerns seriously, as their concerns are very real to them. Offer a range of options, based on their concerns. They will be grateful that you took them seriously. And, solving someone’s problem can be very satisfying!
For instance, the other day I went to a panel-beaters shop to get a quote for a scratch on my car. I specified that I only wanted a quote at this stage, indicating a concern for the price. The panel-beater gave me two options, the cheaper option, which he was very happy with, or, if I wanted to spend a little more, that would work too. He went away feeling satisfied that he had offered me two potential solutions and I went away with two good options to consider.
5. Smiling can be infectious:
Engage others with a smile! Smiling at someone tends to engender a similar response. When we smile we also tend to relax. It is a great way to begin relating well with someone.
For instance, in one of my jobs, I work closely with students, helping them work on their University assignments. When they arrive for the session, they are sometimes nervous and also a little shy. By simply smiling at the student and asking them how they are going, they relax as they realize that I am friend, not foe. We can then start to engage with each other in a friendly way. I can be open and honest with them, and they feel comfortable and relaxed enough to listen.
In Conclusion - Keep it real and have more fun!
Try these five strategies to help you keep 'it real' at work and have more fun!
Dr Kathryn Owler
Karl, K & Peluchette, J. (2006). How Does Workplace Fun Impact Employee Perceptions of Customer Service Quality? Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 13(2): 2-13
Owler, K. & Morrison, R. (2012). ‘A Place to be me, A Place Belong: Defining Fun at work in a New Zealand Call-Centre’. New Zealand Journal of Human Resource Management, 12(1): 22-33.
Tips, training and resources
Staff training: Training for staff can motivating and help staff know that you care. Joyworkz offer a range of workplace wellness seminars such as Effective Strategies to Enjoy Your Work that assist staff to be healthy and happy at work.
A wellness programme: This has the added advantage of providing a workplace with an array of team building activities that are known to contribute to employee motivation and loyalty. If you need help getting started, consider Joyworkz SimplyWell™ package, which takes the stress out of designing a workplace wellness programme.
Fun at work books: There are a range of good books available on promoting fun in the workplace. David Hemsath and Leslie Yerkes are well known authors. Dr Kathryn Owler, director of Joyworkz and local author, has also written Fun at Work: A journey of acceptance, joy and true meaning, a refreshing read for anyone seeking more fun at and enjoyment at work.
Visual prompts: Visual prompts in the workplace can be useful. For instance, the free Alsco Heart Health Poster encourages staff to have a good laugh at work.
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