In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins writes that “People are not your most important asset. The right people are.”
Customer service is all about building relationships – relationships with superiors, direct reports, vendors and customers. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, claims that success in any job is 20% knowledge and 80% interpersonal skills. Ultimately success in customer service is all about interpersonal skills.
Unfortunately, while there are people who want to work in customer service, many lack the necessary interpersonal skills because they have grown up or interacted with others in a generation far different from our own.
I am convinced that people can only deliver an experience that they themselves have experienced. In order to succeed in customer service, they would have had to personally experience and learn from great examples of others exhibiting stellar interpersonal skills in their day-to-day interactions.
But those opportunities to learn firsthand from face-to-face interactions have all changed in less than a generation. Like many of you, when I earned my first paycheck there was no direct deposit or internet banking. We would have to go weekly to the bank to deposit our paycheck. After a while, the teller got to know who we were, where we worked, what we did there, and regularly asked how work and our company was doing. We learned how to communicate personally as a result of those interactions. But with on-line banking and ATM’s, when was the last time you had to actually go into a bank? We have lost that opportunity for regular personal interactions.
I was a member of after school clubs in school and in that process I collaborated with others in person. Now many young people are more apt to spend as much time with an on-line team of avatars of people they have never met playing Call of Duty or Warcraft. All those hours on-line, but what interpersonal skills are they learning from that experience?
Remember when gas stations used to have the attendant check your oil and tire pressure, clean your windshield and ask us if there was anything else they could do for us ? How bad has customer service gotten when we never see an attendant and actually pump our own gas? Where is the interpersonal skills reinforcement in that experience?
This will date me, but I remember when the baggers at the grocery store would actually take the bags in a shopping cart and help me load them into my car. Not only are the baggers gone, but so are many of the cashiers, replaced by self-serve checkout lines. And even the cashiers who are on duty certainly have no time to strike up a social conversation.
The average Facebook user today has 200 friends. When people posts on their page, they don’t have a loss of self-esteem when only three “like” the post. The other 197 have ignored them – and they are OK with that! Even those that “like” the post rarely leave a comment to begin an interaction. Social media, then, is rarely social.
I have a cell phone and young people have cell phones. But what are they doing with their cell phones? OMG. LOL. I’m so old I remember someone actually laughing out loud on my phone. Texting is really one-way communication. You don’t hear voice tone or inflection or a pause. Two text monologues on do not make a real dialog.
So the experiences for many people are not full of the good examples of emotional intelligence, body language or verbal communication that only face-to-face interactions can teach. I believe that translates in a real world that is OK to ignore the customer and our co-workers. We don’t have to greet our co-workers every morning or every customer who walks through the door. Having not experienced good examples of communication, collaboration or relationship-building skills, how will those people we entrust to take care of our customers be successful? And if we allow ourselves to accept that level of performance as adequate, how will our businesses succeed?
The answer is that we, as managers, are responsible for the education of those who do not have those skills. For us to succeed in this very competitive customer service marketplace, we will need the right people. We will need people who know how to consistently welcome our customers with eye contact and a smile, listen and respond empathetically, and bid them a sincere fond farewell. So we will need to ask the proper interview questions with the specific intent on finding out if the candidates have the necessary skills of expressing sincerity, empathy and trust. And we will be the ones who will have to educate the people we select to deliver the experience our customers are expecting from us. Customer service cannot be “Day One and Done” training. Soft skills reinforcement must be continuous. Only then will we build the interpersonal skills of our staff to drive their success and ours.