Personality and professionalism are customer service traits all brands should aspire too, but it’s easier said than done. Here’s Chris Humphrey and Malcolm Ross of Smith+Co, a customer experience consultancy, on how businesses can up their game.
We’ve all been there. That moment when you walk into a store and come face to face with captain enthusiastic whose eyes light up as soon as you step into his environment. He really lines you up and it doesn’t matter how many times you say ‘I’m just browsing’, he doesn’t budge.
And then you have the polar opposite – captain corporate – the robot who’s pre-programmed only to use rhetoric and sound bites. (You half-wonder whether he switches himself off at night to be recharged).
The ideal scenario for customers is to interact with a member of staff who knows the product inside out, loves the brand, but also has the awareness to adapt to their preferences. Some customers will want to talk the hind legs off a donkey, while others, like us, want to keep the conversation short so we can make up our own minds.
So how do some brands create this culture excellently, and others fail miserably? At Smith+Co we’ve seen it from both ends of the spectrum. Some brands struggle to equip their workforce with the tools and training to create the right environment, while others successfully galvanise a team full of individual touches of brilliance.
Being natural doesn’t come naturally
What we’ve learnt is that staff are often reluctant to add their own personalities for fear of straying from the party line. Some over-reach and end up creating an experience that feels totally out of sync with the brand – an uncomfortable ‘pantomime’ for the customer.
To business leaders who think creating a personality-led shop floor should come naturally to their staff, we say that one person’s inherent common sense is another person’s complex algebra. We all differ in how we engage with others, and that’s what makes the tapestry of the workforce so rich.
For those brands that execute this culture well, the truth is that spontaneity and personalisation is not a free-for-all. We know that enabling and empowering employees to give exceptional service that looks spontaneous and personalised requires an incredibly structured and intentional approach behind the scenes.
Disney’s customer experience
During our time at Disney, we worked to give everyone across the entire organisation a clear sense of purpose, not rules, but then supporting them with a very clear decision-making framework.
Take, for example, the importance of health and safety for customers and employees at Disney World. The staff operate in a strict framework, where safety always comes first, but the happiness of the customer is the raison d’être of each and every employee, so they also know to embed positivity within the procedures themselves.
So when any child is half an inch too short for the Tower of Terror – a thirteen-storey drop ride – a highly intentional approach means that the disappointed youngster receives a certificate signed by Mickey Mouse allowing them to jump the queue once they are tall enough. And to become part of the experience there and then, they’re quickly invited to wear a themed bellboy uniform and meet their family at the end of the ride. So what looks like spontaneous generosity has been enabled as part of the culture way in advance.
Captain enthusiastic vs corporate robot
Let’s be honest, both customers and brands don’t want to be faced with the improvisation efforts of captain enthusiastic. Equally we don’t want people wrapped in rules and scripts. There needs to be a blend. But while brands like Disney, Lush and Apple seem to get the right balance, lots of other shop floor representatives fall into the ‘Spock scenario’; they definitely have human DNA, but they don’t really seem that human.
The nirvana is when employees are collectively brought to a place where they’re crystal clear about communication boundaries, helping them feel more self-assured, flexible and creative on the shop floor. And by taking the workforce back to the core reasons why their customers are choosing them in the first place, it becomes easier to sustain a Disney-like consistency and spontaneity within those millions of often fleeting and infinitely varied interactions with us.
Which brands do you think are the best and worst at giving a customer experience with personality? Have you ever walked out of a store due to poor customer service?
This is a guest contribution by Chris Humphrey and Malcolm Ross of Smith+Co, a customer experience consultancy that advises a number of big brands. All opinions are their own, not necessarily those of Which?