I’ve been obsessing lately over how to effectively communicate and train the execution of emotionally engaging service. This is a big topic and the more you dig into it, the deeper down the rabbit hole you find yourself.
Whether it’s to drive customer loyalty, increase sales or improve online reviews, connecting with customers on a more personal level is something that most businesses strive for. It’s a subject talked about at a conceptual level but it’s exceedingly difficult for managers to turn the concept into a practical training program. Finding the right words to explain the practice in an actionable way is elusive. It’s presented simply as a job requirement but rarely do trainers show how to do this on the ground; and far be it for most to discuss the roadblocks that employees might face and how to overcome them.
If you can articulate what it is, you can show people how to do it, you’ll know which behaviors to train, what to look for and what correct. That said, emotionally engaging your customers starts with showing your team HOW to do it. Giving them the tools, tips and perhaps most importantly, the latitude to make decisions to serve customers without fear of too much negative feedback or disciplinary action. In other words, it comes from a high degree of internal empowerment and trust.
The foundation of understanding emotionally engaging service is to critically look at all of the touch points in your operation. Answering the following questions in an open and honest way will shed light on where to focus your efforts:
Where are the choke points in your customer journey?
Which emotional triggers currently exist in your customer experience? Intended and unintended.
Which feelings and emotions do you want your ideal experience to evoke?
You may be starting to think about all the inputs along your customer’s journey and all of the points of potential failure… see what I mean about the rabbit hole??
It’s surprise and delight not surprise and upset.
There are six primary emotions: surprise, joy, fear, sadness, anger and disgust. Everything your business does triggers one or more of these feelings, to varying degrees, in your customers. When talking about emotionally engaging service, the goal is to minimize feelings of anger, fear, sadness and disgust while amplifying joy and (good) surprise.
Anything unexpected carries with it the element of surprise BUT surprise alone doesn’t guarantee success, it needs to be combined with other positive emotions. It’s surprise and delight not surprise and upset. This requires that you craft experiences, both tangible and intangible, that drive positive emotional reactions.
Tangible experiences are those that engage the five senses; touch, see, smell, taste and hear. If something triggers one of the senses in a negative way, like a bad smell in a beautiful room, it affects the congruency of the customers expectations. Suddenly, what was expected is replaced with disgust, sadness or fear. Intangible experiences are about how people feel. Think of how a smile and a warm welcome can melt away the stress of a difficult day of travel to a hotel.
Engaging service is more than just using guest names and being polite
From an operations perspective, you want to focus on attention to detail by building job duties and checklists around catching potential failures. This requires some forethought and true understanding of the functions and steps that each position is intended to perform. It means finding those moments of downtime throughout the day so smaller detailed work can be accomplished. It also means that there should be some overlap of duties in different departments to act as a failsafe against missed items throughout the day. For example, if a housekeeping houseman is responsible for cleaning the lobby on a daily basis, have that person visit the area several times per shift to account for heavy traffic. Ensure they’re looking in non-obvious places for trash, like planters or behind furniture, and have them carry extra napkins so they can replenish a low supply on the coffee station. Thinking ahead and designing checklists to cover areas of need, even if those smaller tasks don’t traditionally fall to a specific role, will make it easier to cover off on those detail items that contribute to the overall customer experience.
From a staff training perspective, you should focus your efforts on showing them how to respond to guests reactions. Extra effort spent on staff interactions, attitudes, words and body language will pay dividends. Showing them how to get comfortable with the ebb and flow of the interaction, sometimes driving, sometimes responding minimizes the chances of failure and from having negative emotions being triggered. This is how you create natural connections with customers.
There are six skills to train and develop within your team that will increase emotional engagement with guests:
Being kind and optimistic in all interactions, whether it’s a positive message or when handling a recovery situation
Being curious about guests, asking probing questions about their likes and interests and offering suggestions based on what is learned
Having a strong work ethic with the desire to perform everyday, including looking for problems within the operation, taking ownership to communicate those problems to a manager and work together to develop solutions that make sense
Have empathy in difficult situations and being solution oriented when guiding interactions based on understanding where your customer is coming from
Have self-awareness, knowing that body language, verbiage used and tone of voice play a huge part in communication
Have integrity and do the things that need to be done, even when no one notices or there is no opportunity for praise
These are the tactical habits and practices that you should focus on with your team. Ask questions of your front line staff to better understand how they feel and to assess their level of comfort. Role play and game plan it out, repeatedly, until they can demonstrate it. It might be a slow process. Perhaps there are introverts on your team who aren’t all that comfortable speaking to customers. Maybe there are internal roadblocks, making their job harder than it needs to be or a lack of resources that, when provided, will allow them to flourish. You’ll never know without involving them in the process.
When people develop strong, deep feelings around an experience, they are more likely to create lasting connections and share their story with others. Designing training and daily feedback sessions around these steps will drive repeat business and bring in new customers through word of mouth and better online reviews. It also has the added benefit of improving employee job satisfaction and can even reduce turnover. Wins all around!