Humanity – according to the Merriam Webster dictionary – is defined as compassionate, sympathetic, or generous behavior or disposition: the quality or state of being human.
It’s likely that one of the first companies that come to mind when talking about humanity in customer communication is Zappos. It’s well known that they have created a customer-obsessed culture whose aim is to wow their customers, creating deeply loyal advocates. Their organization worked together – involving all employees – to define and establish the company’s core values. It’s probably easy to get on board with the Zappos purpose and culture when you, as an employee, contributed to these conversations. This shows that Zappos saw their employees as an essential piece of this bigger picture, making them feel valued. The way your employees are treated correlates directly to how they, in turn, treat customers. Even companies operating with remote employees are learning this. Encouraging your employees to bond with each other to help create a team-like atmosphere, in spite of obstacles such as time zones, miles, and culture can boost company morale and create caring and engaged employees.
In this article, we will explore three ways to bring more humanity into your customer communication. We will take a look at:
- Emotional Intelligence – The ability to manage one’s own emotions as well as helping others to regulate theirs.
- Empathy – Being able to identify and understand the emotions of others
- Extra (or WOWing the customer) – Going above and beyond to show the customer you care.
Michael Lowenstein, Ph.D. wrote in Beyond Philosophy that: “It is not nearly enough for employees to be engaged. Humanistic experience is achieved when employees are armed and enabled to deliver on the brand promise. The technology and tools can’t replace real-time passion, or a genuine commitment to the organization, brand, and customers”. It is wildly imperative that all employees are on board with the brand philosophy and values of your company so that they are bringing that into every customer connection they have.
The business of customer service is emotional. A customer service agent might speak to dozens of people each day. They need to be flexible and interact differently with each customer depending on their unique issue and the customer’s tone and enthusiasm. It’s easy to make a personal connection with a customer who is chatty and happy on the other end. It’s not so easy to do so with a frustrated or angry customer. However, an agent who is emotionally intelligent has the capacity to turn the experience around for the customer by managing their own emotions and helping the customer to regulate theirs as well. Emotionally intelligent employees are also able to be patient with customers. They can listen well and they focus on understanding what the customer is really trying to say. Emotional intelligence is also linked to higher job satisfaction as well as job performance, according to PositivePsychology.com.
Learning how your emotions affect your moods and those around you will help you to do your job better. Emotionally Intelligent people aren’t lacking in emotion, they just understand their emotions and feelings and are able to regulate them and empathize with others.
Justin Bariso, author of EQ Applied, describes empathy as: your pain in my heart. The article went on to say: ‘by helping us display flexibility and compassion, empathy makes us easier to work with. In the eyes of others, it makes us more human’. Customers want to feel, be seen and heard. They are just looking for someone to understand their pain and care enough to work at fixing it.
Imagine sitting in a cafe having a cup of coffee with each customer. While this isn’t practical, it’s how we should be thinking when we engage with our customers. Using this imagery while you work will help you to empathize with the person at the other end of the channel.
One of the tough things about communicating with customers is that if it’s not face-to-face, a lot can be missed or misread. It’s easy to sit across from someone and read their body language, facial expressions, and understand what they are saying as they speak. It’s another thing to be on a phone call, email, or even live chat and try to empathize, let alone understand where the customer is coming from.
One small trick that can help you in all your connections and communications in the day is to assume positive intent of others. We live in a world where it is very easy to be skeptical and wary of people. When we make the choice to assume that the other person has our best interest at heart, that they are not trying to take advantage of the situation, and that they are intrinsically good, our perception of the world starts to change. This has a domino effect on others around us. Take time to assume positive intent this week, the intentionality of it will also help you to develop more empathy towards those you work with, the people in your family, and your friendships.
A little ‘extra’ never hurt anybody. Brands such as Ritz-Carlton, Zappos, and Trader Joe’s are known worldwide for their excellent customer service examples, but what is it that they are really known for? It’s their humanity. These companies care about their customers and they understand that they are people. They are able to put themselves in their customer’s shoes and step back for a minute to say ‘how would I feel if this was happening to me?’ as they handle situations. It doesn’t end there, often after the customer is gone or has received their purchase, they follow-up to show that they are not forgotten. The Ritz Carlton, for example, values empowering their team throughout all departments. Each employee is trusted and authorized to make decisions to resolve guest issues. They are authorized to spend up to $2,000 per guest per day to ensure guest satisfaction. The company also shares a database throughout the 91 properties where they can implement ideas to help improve guest experience based on suggestions from other locations.
Several years ago, a story made headlines when Trader Joe’s went the extra mile and showed their humanity. A Pennsylvania Trader Joe’s received a phone call from a woman whose 89 year old father was snowed in during the holiday season. She had attempted to phone several other grocery stores who told her that they did not deliver. Trader Joe’s also told her that they didn’t deliver…usually. The store went out of their way to take the order and have it brought to his home within 30 minutes of the call. The extra didn’t stop there, Trader Joe’s did all of this at no cost to the woman or her father. They simply wished her a Merry Christmas.
These companies know that customer retention is important. It costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to WOW the one you already have. Trust – in any relationship – takes time and effort to build, and it’s the same in business. Every individual is different. Keep this in mind when communicating with customers and use it to help you figure out the best way to go above and beyond in each scenario.
With emotionally intelligent employees delivering exceptional service and showing empathy, your customers will feel cared for and appreciated. It is important that this starts at the top, with your leadership, and run throughout your company flowing through the company values and culture. In closing, this quote by Louis Efron from a recent article in Forbes says it well: “By putting people at the center of your business model, you unleash the power of humanity and generate unimaginable positive ripples for your employees and your customers. Technologically assisted or not, meaningful human connections remain the key to accelerated business success.”