All Articles Leadership Management Why customer-facing employees should stop with the fake pleasantries

Why customer-facing employees should stop with the fake pleasantries

4 min read


Eric Chester is an award-winning keynote speaker and the author of “Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce.” He is also the founder and CEO of the Bring Your A Game to Work program. He can be reached via e-mail.

My wife is a strong, upbeat woman who rarely complains. However, one evening at dinner, I could tell something was really bothering her, and I pressed until she revealed that she was feeling somewhat insignificant in the lives of our adult children.

During previous weeks, Lori had received news from three of the four sharing important things that had happened in their lives. One was a text that contained a photo of our granddaughter’s Halloween costume. Another broke the news that our son-in-law had passed the Colorado lawyer’s bar exam. Then there was the e-mail from my son stating that his 10 months of unemployment had ended, as he had accepted a great position in another city.

Lori’s feelings of insignificance came from the fact that she was only one of many people who received these news updates, via text and e-mail blasts.

“Would it have been so difficult to send a personal message just to me?” Lori lamented.

Our children — and yours — aren’t wired like you and me. As products of a different world or “a digital universe,” their hierarchy of communication needs is completely reversed, as evidenced by this chart.

Technology has made communication easy, but it’s done so at the cost of the personal, one-to-one connection we all crave.

It’s far easier to order a batch of greeting cards imprinted with “Happy Holidays from ACME Industries” than it is to write a personal note to each recipient. Then again, if easy is the objective, it takes a few seconds to send an e-card to your entire database or post “Merry Christmas, everyone!” to your Facebook page.

If you’re content to make customers, employees, friends and others feel as unimportant as Lori felt, then, by all means, take the easy way out.

It’s easy to train your employees to say, “Would you like fries with that?”; “Thank you for shopping at Big-Mart”; and “Have a nice day.” But it takes time, energy, passion and repetitive coaching to instill the importance of maintaining eye contact, speaking in clear, audible sentences and expressing sincere gratitude at the end of a transaction.

So it boils down to a choice, one that has a major effect on the stigma of your brand.

If it’s enough to appease your stockholders with an annual increase of 5% in same-store sales growth, then you should continue to roll out products and generate clever marketing that attract expendable customers, being careful not to spend any more than you have to on training front-line service personnel. Put such workers through a crash course in which they memorize a few catch phrases, and, if the economy remains flat, maybe you’ll get six months to a year out of them before they turn over.

However, if developing a loyal customer base is more than a lofty phrase bolted to your mission statement, and you want to build and retain a workforce that is a cut above the norm, you need to create a culture focused on that objective. This requires an investment of time and resources. It also requires an old-school philosophy in which employees disconnect from their cellphone any time there is the slightest chance for actual human interaction — a battle that is well worth fighting.

Foundationally, you need to spend time teaching courtesy, etiquette and manners, showing your emerging workforce how to approach people, smile, introduce themselves, remember names, actively listen and keep the conversation focused on others. Stop lamenting that employees should have learned this before you hired them; the rules have changed.

This isn’t done overnight. You need a curriculum, a plan and an integrated system of daily tips and focused instruction. You also need to alert workers when they get robotic and impersonal, and reward them when they make someone feel valued and appreciated. This is a cultural change, not one-and-done training or a casual mention at a weekly meeting.

Most importantly, as workers see you demonstrate sincere, personal appreciation to them throughout their employment experience, they’ll discover that there’s an entire world beyond the screen of their smartphones. They’ll see how serving each customer with a heart full of gratitude and a one-to-one personal connection is crucial to the success of your business, as well as the key to success to which they aspire.