IF SOMETHING is free for you to give, would you give it often and with abandon?
I have come to slowly realise that this is the number one question every business owner whose nature of work involves even the slightest bit of customer service, should ask themselves.
Dr Maya Angelou passed away just last week, leaving behind a wealth of wisdom and influence through her writings.
One of my favourite quotes from the celebrated poet and author speaks volumes about generosity, empathy and the human connection.
“I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
So the question, again, is if it was within your power to make someone feel good, yet it doesn’t cost you anything, would you do it again and again?
Last Sunday, my husband and I headed to a café for brunch. We heard that the food was good, so we were not surprised to see the place filled with people.
Just as we were near the door, a group of diners who had been waiting outside were ushered in.
I asked the guy holding the door if there was a table for two.
He said, “We’re full. It’s a half-an hour wait.”
I looked at the tiny table right by the door. “What about this table?”
“Oh, thank you,” I said, and walked away.
He was not mean or nasty. He was not even rude. He just did not smile, seem apologetic or said thank you. I don’t think he cared much if we never came back.
“Maybe he was too busy,” my brother said.
“Too busy to smile?”
“Well, okay,” he laughed. “The café is always packed, so maybe this is not their priority? Because regardless, customers still go.”
And that, is the beginning of the “gradually and suddenly” decline of many businesses.
Let me give you an example: Today, you are doing great business, smile or no smile. Tomorrow, you are doing great business.
On the third day, a café next door opens its doors. The owner offers the same kind of food that tastes just as good at the same price.
The only difference is, this new café has employees who smile, joke, banter and generally, make people feel good.
Which one would you go to?
Business may be great and we may be feeling fantastic because the money we make is an indication of our success. Then suddenly, we make a great deal less money and we realise that we are losing our customers.
Like author and marketer Seth Godin said, “It didn’t happen suddenly, you just noticed it suddenly,” which by then, is too late.
I have written about this, just like how I have written about smiling and making people feel special in previous articles.
It simply is not enough to have mantras such as “Service with a smile” or “Always be cheerful” in customer service trainings.
Badges do not work, especially if it is worn on a uniform and the only people who see it are the customers.
We can tell our employees to do something, in fact, we can even tell ourselves that, but if we are not in the habit of not giving generously — especially something as simple as smiling — then we will forget to do it when we are busy or stressed.
Someone once told me that they think their employees smile too much.
Here, I would like to emphasise that there is no such thing as “smiling too much”.
If an employee is extremely smiley and not doing his or her job well, rest assured that it is not the smiling that is making them ineffective at their jobs (and you need to find out what that is).
In fact, the opposite is true — there is such a thing as smiling too little.
If you are going to smile, do not be stingy with it.
Don’t simply purse and stretch your lips horizontally, because that looks half-hearted; neither warm, joyous nor genuine.
Be generous with your smile. Commit to it. People always say to smile with your eyes, and here I would like to highly encourage you to always smile showing your teeth.
Sometimes, we think we don’t look as good grinning widely or laughing, because our gums show or our eyes wrinkle (or in my case, they disappear!).
Here, I would like to promise you that I will not be the only one who thinks you look captivatingly radiant when you smile.
In Malaysia, customer service would be at least 50% better than it is right now if every single person would simply smile more.
Customer service training would not get anywhere if we cannot get the basics right.
It is important for businesses to acknowledge just how important the simplest of things are, because the question always remains: If you cannot even do the simple things, how are customers going to trust you to do the major things?
One can always say, “My work is good and reliable and I deliver. And I have the customer base to prove my success.”
My theory still stands. If there is another person exactly like you (and there will be, not just one, but many), but this person makes people feel good, then you will slowly but surely find your customer base diminishing.
Of course, don’t do it out of fear of competition.
Seth Godin recently posted on his blog — Treating people with kindness — a post that I found extremely true and inspiring. He says:
“One theory says that if you treat people well, you’re more likely to encourage them to do what you want, making all the effort pay off. Do this, get that. Another one, which I prefer, is that you might consider treating people with kindness merely because you can. Regardless of what they choose to do in response, this is what you choose to do. Because you can.”
We should treat everyone like they matter, because they do.
Customer service is not about learning, it is about being. The former is a mask you slip on (and falls off when you are busy, tired or in a bad mood), and the latter is simply who you are.
Be generous with your smile, because if something is free, why not give it often and with abandon?