4 customer experience behaviours that blow empathy out of the water
What does a good customer experience look like?
You may think that you know one when you see one, but the consensus about what great service and sales looks like has changed a lot over the decades. Quality guarantees, the ‘wow’ factor and conspicuous empathy have all been held up as the gold standard. But in a time-poor, one-click, cross-channel world, polite and professional is no longer good enough.
When you look at the induction content today for large companies, it hasn’t evolved much further than the ‘smile when you dial’ mantra from the late 1970s. But does this really drive up customer satisfaction? We combined analysis from 1,080 conversations, across seven different sectors, in 17 FTSE 100 companies.
There is no significant difference in the politeness of the staff between conversations where customers were very satisfied or very dissatisfied.
‘Best practice’ strategies differ from place to place, but they tend to have one thing in common: they’re not drawn from a detailed analysis of the behaviours that the company’s top performers demonstrate. They’re well-intentioned… but essentially make-believe.
Instead, to answer our opening question more rigorously, we analysed tens of thousands of sales and service conversations from dozens of companies, from telcos to water to retail to banking. Then we interrogated the resulting data through the lens of the latest scientific thinking from fields such as psychology, neuroscience and behavioural economics.
And what we discovered were four common behaviours that consistently work.
They’re not magic bullets.
You should still investigate and identify your company’s specific drivers for success. But our findings are clear: all of these four behaviours, whatever your sector, will help move your customer experience dial in the right direction.
How many are you displaying on a daily basis?
Most customer conversations take place because something has gone wrong. A product has broken, a delivery is late, someone is annoyed. Conventional service wisdom tells us that this is the moment to use empathy, but that often makes things worse. We don’t want our gas company to give us a hug – we want them to sort out our pipes.
This is where advocating comes in.
Advocating is a behaviour specifically designed to make the customer feel safe in your hands. It involves three stages: first, genuinely acknowledging what has been said (without false empathy); then accepting accountability (without excuses or blame); and finally, explaining what action you’re going to take to solve it (now).
“That sounds as though we’ve confused you a bit there with your bill. You’re through to the right place. Let’s see if I can explain what’s happened and then we’ll sort it out for you now.”
2. Using effortless language
For a time-poor generation brought up in an instantly-gratifying world of apps and algorithms, the best service feels easy. Unfortunately, many services and sales conversations require a great deal of technical complexity and effort. But effortless language can take away the pain.
Effortless language is positive, accountable and easy.
Being positive doesn’t mean exclaiming ‘awesome’ every five seconds but noticing and praising good choices and successful moments in the conversation.
Similarly, being accountable doesn’t mean insisting that you’re doing all you can, but giving the customer trust that they’re safe in your hands.
Finally, easy language doesn’t mean walking the customer through every step in the process. Make things feel as simple as possible, then offer to give more detail if required.
Human beings are not blank slates.
We come to each conversation pre-loaded with a cluster of character preferences and cognitive biases that determine how we behave. So when we talk to customers, sometimes those preferences blend – and sometimes they collide.
That’s where flexing comes in.
Flexing allows us to adapt our language and behaviour to best fit the individual we’re talking to.
It isn’t an exact science, but once you start picking up on your customers’ verbal cues, you soon get into the habit of making quick and effective decisions about how to flex. Maybe they’re a competitive driver, who hates it when people don’t cut to the chase. Maybe they’re a logical analyser, who wants every detail.
Tiny changes can make your conversations vastly more personalised – and vastly more effective.
4. Paying it forward
It is all too common for people trying to shift the responsibility for a customer’s problem onto someone else. Whether they’re trying to build rapport with the customer by blaming another department (common enemy syndrome), avoiding accountability with vague answers (lack of clarity) or doing the bare minimum (box-ticking), the result is eroded trust, dissatisfied customers and increasingly angry call-backs.
To help your people to pay it forward, you have to engage their imaginations so that they can step into the customer’s shoes and predict any problems in advance.
You have to motivate them to care about doing a brilliant handover. And you have to foster that permission culture that allows them to step out of the process and provide an experience tailored to each individual.