25 Jun

Networking, the new customer service

What is the difference between mediocre customer service and great customer service?

This question has been asked and discussed ad nauseum over the years and when broaching the subject of customer service with employees, quite often you can see their eyes glaze over, their minds wander and their hearing suddenly becomes impaired. Customer service has somehow become a swear word for so many people.

So how do you avoid your employees turning into robots that present fake smiles and rehearsed sales pitches to your customers? How do you wake up them up to out-perform your competition?

Well, firstly the term customer service has gotta go! Let’s call it customer networking from now on? The objective behind this change is to equal the playing field. There is a very confusing cliche “the customer is always right”, which causes people to automatically create an employee-customer hierarchy with the customer naturally receiving a more superior status than the employee. This is a recipe for disaster and automatically places your employees on the back foot. If their mindset is not right and they engage with customers with an inferiority complex, the customer’s experience will either be mediocre or a disaster, but never great.

Secondly, start apply networking principles to customer service training. This will help to create a balance between employee and customer relations, where they interact on an equal level.

Carol Ross, a career coach talks about 8 principles of networking in her article 8 Principles of Networking Naturally.

How could these networking principles be applied to customer networking?

Principle # 1: Successful networkers are relationship-based, not transaction-based. 

People buy from people they like. So teach your employees to first build a genuine relationship with the customer. After establishing this bond then only  try the sales pitch. An extremely effective, but easy example is to get to know the customer’s name and use it in future interactions with them. People like to be recognised and made to feel good about themselves. Being greeted by your name is often a point of difference which the customer will not forget.

Principle # 2: Successful networkers have a genuine interest in people, as people. 

Teach your employees to not “read a book by it’s cover” Every customer is just a person, whether they are having a good day or a bad day. Whether they seem extremely intimidating or “look” like someone who is not going to buy. Everyone should be treated equally and should always be given the benefit of the doubt.

Principle # 3: Successful networkers listen more than talk.

Customer’s like to be heard. They like to know that someone is genuinely interested and cares about them. Disinterested, rushed and overly self-absorbed employees are very quickly noted by the customer and this type of behaviour is soon shared with potential customers.

Principle # 4: Successful networkers offer up value before asking for anything. 

Teach your employees that confidently giving of their time without strings attached and genuinely asking “How can I help you?” is part of creating that first impression, which the customer will always remember.

Principle # 5: Successful networkers know that networking happens anywhere, anytime, not just at “networking events.”

Employees need to be aware that customers identify them as “John, the sales assistant from x company”  even when they are outside of the working environment. So when employees  bump into one of their customers whilst off duty, they need to remember that  their behaviour influences the company reputation. So ignoring or pretending to not see the customer is not an option and can result in uncomfortable consequences. On the other hand a positive encounter outside of the business could lead to additional sales and creating a customer for life!

Principle # 6: Starting out, successful networkers treat everyone equally.

This one is focused rather at how employees treat their fellow internal customer than the external customer. Teach employees to keep their egos out of the working environment. Teach them to acknowledge the fact that every person working within the organisation plays a specific role and brings a unique skill to the success of the business.  The results of this type of positive internal networking shines through and is noticed by the external customer.

Principle # 7: Successful networkers focus on building trust.  They keep their word, act with integrity, and treat the relationship with care.  They create trust by being authentic and trustworthy.

This principle should be applied as is. We should all strive to follow this principle in our personal and business lives.

Principle # 8: Successful networkers are gracious. They give others the benefit of the doubt and don’t take things personally.

As you may know working on the front line has it’s ups and downs. Working with different customers with unique personalities, needs and attitudes can be challenging at times. Teach your employees that customers are human beings just like them.

As Carol so beautifully stated in her article, “...successful networking requires each of us to be the type of person that we would want to meet: someone with a generous spirit, an open mind, and an authentic voice. “ 

This should be the advise for customer networking. All employees should think about how they would want to be treated. Then be that person.