Customer centricity is a common phrase thrown about boardrooms daily. There is a definite shift from focusing on internal processes that frustrate customers, to systems that are made to make life easier and solve the person’s problem (whether face-to-face, by call or online), quickly and efficiently, and still leave them loving the brand. There is a move away from corporations that stand tall in cities, remaining visible, but never available to the residents of the city. There is a shift from organisations that talk at customers and throw specials their way, but never engage beyond traditional marketing and PR spin. Organisations now need to be more hands on, focused on their customer, and offering clients more than just a product and a competitive price, but a real connection with the brand.
In the context of this article, it's important to recognize the correlation between employees and clients in creating this connection. Both employees and customers require a focus on our humanity and our need to be treated as people who are valuable, different, emotional, at times irrational, easily influenced (just read Jonah Berger’s Invisible Influence), and wanting to be heard.
The way to address employee engagement, culture change, staff attrition and retention, customer centricity or focus, change, and even innovation is to focus on people’s humanity and connect with them as people first, before looking at fancy systems, gorgeous e-mailers and posters, or trendy design school thinking workshops. While these may be important, the need to connect should supersede all these interventions.
So, the question is how? In our training, we often use call centers as examples, as therein exist interactions that can make or break a customer (they’re usually phoning in because they have to not because they need to, and usually are irate), and, something we usually forget, can make or break a call center agent, an employee of a brand. Often in these interactions, a call center agent starts hating the very customers who are part of making the brand they work for a successful, profitable company. The customer dreads the interaction that will take place, at times arriving frustrated purely by the time they’ve had to wait to speak to a person, listening to dreadful hold music or repetitive sales lines. Two humans arrive in their own ego states, and now need to speak.
Let’s imagine how the first lines of the conversation go. Let’s pretend this is a mobile operator’s call center.
Client: “Hi, I’ve just been mugged. I’m a bit shaken, but I need to cancel my SIM card and block my phone.” Call center agent: “What’s your mobile number?”
While, there is nothing bad about this interaction, there is nothing good about it too. The call center agent is doing their job. They will proceed to cancel the SIM card and the client will walk away with a cancelled card. Job done. Tick.
But, no potential for good customer service exists in this interaction and I can bet the client will express frustration on the call until they feel heard, and afterwards will probably vent about how long it took to go through the process on social media or to their group of influence. The call center agent will be given a reprimand for bad service and will hate their job, and become ruder to clients who call in after this. A vicious cycle begins to occur.
How can I predict this?
As trainers at Circle & Square, which operates in both South Africa and Canada, we have listened to hours of call center interactions and can often predict the outcome of a call based on the first few lines of interaction. You see, as humans we never say things we don’t want people to hear.
In the illustration above the client who called in said two things. The first thing they mention is that they are rattled by the robbery. Let’s call this the connection statement. The second thing they ask for is the SIM card to be cancelled. This is called the task. Looking back at the interaction, what did the call center agent hear? Only the task. There was no acknowledgement of the connection statement.
In essence, there was no acknowledgement of the person’s humanity. A simple “I’m so sorry to hear that, I hope you’re okay. I’m going to sort this out for you as fast as possible. What’s your mobile number,” would have left a very different taste in the customer’s mouth. What we forget in business, and especially in organisations where time is of the essence, is that connection shifts customer service from average to extraordinary. It makes people feel heard and acknowledged. It leaves employees feeling like they’re doing a better job. And it makes interactions go quicker. And we can prove this. By training teams on connection, we have been able to decrease call times in call centers, reduce return calls or visits, and increase customer satisfaction, simply by teaching candidates to look for points of connection rather than just task. Or in other words, teaching humans to remember that they’re talking to humans, and it would be great if both parties could end the interaction feeling like they were both treated as such.
The call center example has resonance across all our interactions as a brand. The need to look out for, hear, and acknowledge connection statements should be the basis for change management, employee engagement, and, yes, innovation. Without hearing what people want (from both our internal customers – our colleagues, team members and employees – and our external customers), authentic transition and customer centricity will never be the first order of business. Listening for connection, and a willingness to connect, make an excellent start to get internal and external customers on your side.