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Next Level Customer Service Blog

News, tips, and trends to help you reach that next level of customer service.

Entries in customer perception (5)


Connecting rapport to five star service

I often write about service failures and what we can learn about them. This post is about the other side of the coin. Specifically, I want to share ways that building rapport can have an inordinate on customers’ perceptions of service quality.

First, let’s define rapport.

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, rapport is a “relation marked by harmony, conformity, accord, or affinity.” In a customer service context, this involves connecting with customers in a way that causes them to see you as a real, likeable person.

Operationalizing Rapport

Terms like rapport can be a bit squishy, making it hard to observe, quantify, and even train. One way to operationalize the definition of rapport is to count how often people mention someone by name in the comments section of your customer service survey.

I started noticing a very specific trend around names while helping a client analyze their customer satisfaction data. Their survey had an overall satisfaction question where customers were asked to rate their service on a three-point scale:

  • Above Expectations
  • At Expectations
  • Below Expectations

A definite pattern emerged when I separated the comments section by rating. Individual employees were mentioned by name much more frequently when customers gave their service an “Above Expectations” score. Here’s the distribution for one of the groups I worked with:

Just for fun, I analyzed the Yelp reviews for my favorite Italian restaurant, Antica Trattoria. Their overall rating is 4.0 stars with slightly more than half the reviews giving 5 stars. However, you’ll see a familiar pattern if you look at the reviews that mentioned an Antica Trattoria employee by name:

Will this trend hold up when you analyze your own voice of customer data? I don’t know, but it is worth a look.

Barriers to Rapport

If rapport is highly correlated to outstanding service, why doesn’t it happen more often? One explanation might be that customer service professionals face a number of barriers that can make rapport-building difficult.

  1. Speed. It’s hard to build rapport when employees are in a hurry.
  2. Skill. Many people simply don’t know how to build rapport with customers.
  3. Sales. It’s really hard to like an overly aggressive salesperson.
  4. Task-focus. Rapport takes a hit when tasks are prioritized over service.
  5. Customers. Some customers are jerks and resist rapport.

Are there other barriers that I missed? What do you see?

How to Build Rapport

You’ll have to remove these barriers if you want your employees to build more rapport with customers. Here are three simple steps to help your employees become rapport-building champions.

Step 1: Look at the Data

Review your customer satsifaction data to see how rapport might be impacting service quality. Do you see evidence of greater rapport in your top box survey scores? Are some employees consistently mentioned in customer service surveys while others are not?

Step 2: Observe

You can learn a lot by assessing the current situation before doing any tinkering. Watch your employees serve customers. Can you observe any of the barriers to rapport mentioned above?

Step 3: Engage the Team

Share your observations with your employees and ask them to help you find solutions. You might be surprised at how many good ideas your team can come up with. You’ll also notice they are more like to implement ideas that are their own.

In many cases, employees just need a little bit of training to help become more adept at building rapport. One of my favorite exercises is called the five question technique. It’s based on the idea that having a short list of conversation starting questions at the ready can make anyone seem like a rapport-building pro.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Ask employees to brainstorm a list of five rapport-building questions.
  2. Have employees practice using these questions with customers.
  3. At least one of these questions will be effective in almost any situation.

You can learn more about this and other rapport building tips in my customer service idea bank.


Why customers don’t read signs

Anyone who has served customers face-to-face can attest to the fact that customers don’t read signs.

Take a look at this example from a deli. The sign above the bin clearly reads Recycle (in two languages!), yet many customers have ignored the sign and used it to throw away their trash.

So, why don’t customers read and follow simple signs like this one?

The root cause of this problem stems from employees and customers viewing the experience through different frames. As I noted in a recent post, customers often see things differently.

Going back to the deli, let’s start by looking at the employees’ perspective. The location of the recycling bin seems like a matter of common sense because their actions reinforce their knowledge of the bin's location:

  • They put out the recycling bin so they know where it is.
  • They put up the sign.
  • They put out the trash bin too (15 feet away, not pictured).
  • They empty the recycling bin and have to sort out the trash.
  • They direct customers to the recycling bin when asked.

Now, let’s look at the customers’ perspective. It only took a few minutes of observing customers to see what led people to put trash in the recycling bin.

I observed customers stand up, scoop up their trash, and quickly scan the area for a trash bin. The recycling bin was closest to the deli’s tables, so it was the first bin most customers saw.

The bin looked like a trash bin at first glance. It was gray and stood by itself, so customers naturally approached the bin thinking this was where trash goes. This thought was reinforced when they peered inside the bin and saw a mixture of trash and recycling.

Deli customers are in a slight hurry to leave once they finish their lunch. Being in a hurry can narrow our focus and lead to a phenomenon called inattentional blindness that causes normally obvious things to disappear from view. Hurried customers fixated on a solo gray bin filled with trash could easily overlook the recycling sign.

Customers can and will make mistakes like putting trash in the recycling bin. I even devoted the second chapter of Service Failure to the notion that the customer is not always technically correct. However, it’s our job as customer service professionals to make it easier for customers to be right.

Here’s what the deli could do to help their customers recycle:

  • Put the recycling bin and trash bin side-by-side so customers see both.
  • Use a blue bin for recycling to differentiate it from the trash bin.
  • Add the "chasing arrows" universal recycling symbol to the sign.

Customer service employees often find themselves getting annoyed, frustrated, or exasperated with customers who don’t read or follow signs. However, taking a step back to observe customer behavior can often reveal simple solutions that will yield better results.


Why you need to view service through your customers' eyes

This sign greeted me as I entered a parking lot on a recent Tuesday morning:

I chuckled as I imagined what someone might think if they didn’t realize that Tuesday Morning was the name of a store. Yes, that scenario seems a bit far-fetched, but it’s a good reminder that customers can often view a situation in different or even unexpected ways.

This is a topic I’ve blogged about before. Two years ago, I shared a post about a sign taped to an ice cream cooler that either advertised a nice selection or the worst flavor imaginable (Seeing things from the customer’s perspective). This time around, I’ll relay a story from a friend of mine plus share a few strategies I use for gaining customer insight.

"You're no longer welcome"
A friend of mine recently posted an update on her Facebook page complaining that she had been refused an appointment at her hair salon. Apparently, she had been a no-show for an average of 1 in 9 appointments, so the hair salon finally decided to turn away her business. From the salon’s point of view, no-shows cost them money since that appointment slot would otherwise have been filled, so it made sense to cut loose an unreliable customer.

However, I doubt the hair salon considered my friend’s perspective when they made their decision or when they delivered the message. Predictably, she was quite angry to be abruptly told she was no longer welcome. It also made her remember the poor service she had received on her last visit, where she had previously forgotten about it because overall she really liked the place. Her post on Facebook drew many supportive comments and offers to refer her to another hair dresser.

How to see through the customers’ eyes
The challenge is our customers’ perspective is often only obvious in hindsight. It takes consistent, deliberate effort to really get inside your customers’ heads before a service failure occurs. Here are a few techniques you can use:

Teach empathy. The ability to empathize with another person comes from having a relatable experience, but customer service employees often have difficulty relating to their customers. Through proper training, employees can learn techniques to see things from their customers’ point of view (see 5 Ways to help employees empathize more).

Dig deep into survey data. The problem with a lot of customer survey data is it’s presented in aggregate, but those averages don’t tell the full story. For example, a client mined their survey data and discovered that one particular problem accounted for the overwhelming majority of customer dissatisfaction.

Look for icebergs. It’s easy to dismiss strange feedback as an isolated incident involving a confused and disoriented customer. However, in some cases this feedback may be just the tip of the iceberg. A favorite technique of mine involves digging deeper to see if there’s a systematic problem (see What the FAA can teach us about icebergs).


New show Bar Rescue is full of customer service gems

I’m a sucker for just about any TV show that provides an inside glimpse at how companies really work. Bar Rescue on Spike is the latest show in this category. If the first episode is any indication of what’s to come, this show will be a customer service gold mine.

Bar Rescue’s premise is simple. In each episode, bar expert Jon Taffer tries to turn around a struggling bar. Taffer and his team work with the bar owner to quickly build profitability and increase customer loyalty.

Episode one featured a bar called Angels. It was run-down, the food and drinks were terrible, and the service was poor. Unfortunately, the owner and her employees had come to accept these conditions and did nothing to change or improve them.

Enter Taffer. Over the course of the episode, the fiery Taffer and his team whip the bar and its employees into shape. The owner’s biggest problem was she didn’t see the bar from her customers’ perspective. Taffer was able to change this by showing her how even simple changes can improve the customer experience. A better customer experience leads to more revenue, more referrals, and more loyalty in just about any business.

Visit the Bar Rescue website to see for yourself.



Taking a look through the customers' eyes

On a recent trip, a stop in the hotel gift shop reminded me that companies all too often fail to see things from a customer's perspective. This myopia can lead to frustration, poor service, and sometimes humorous consequences. Check out the picture below and note the third option down.

I'm sure they meant "assorted" but that's not how I read it in the store. You can only imagine a frustrated manager scratching his head and saying, "I don't understand it, these fruit stix just aren't selling!" A simple look at this sign through the eyes of a customer would help that manager spot the problem instantly.

Here are a few other examples (OK, pet-peeves) that are definitely not customer-focused!

  • Entering an account or credit card number into an automated phone system so they can "better serve you" only to have to repeat it when a live person answers the phone.
  • Cashiers who hand me my change with the coins on top of the bills, especially in the drive-through line. You have to be careful to catch the coins before they go flying!
  • Airline workers and cashiers who ask to see my identification and then don't look at it. (I once showed a cashier my zoo pass with a picture of a gorilla on the front and he didn't even blink.)
  • Employees who respond to a question that begins with "Where is..." by pointing in that thing's general direction rather than helping me find it.
  • Valet parking attendants who leave my seat all the way back and my radio blasting on a station I don't listen to.