You and your staff; the value of being ‘UP’

Last week I went to my regular hair salon in the city and I overheard a conversation I’ve heard many times before… Staff talking to customers mentioning they’re on the home stretch. “Only 45 minutes until I get to go home”, was the exact comment.

It wasn’t me this statement was being spoken to and it wasn’t even delivered in a sad-sack voice, he seemed really lovely actually. But what he didn’t realise is that in some way, his comment was taking away from the experience of the customer whose hands he was massaging. The whole purpose of that hand massage, I’m sure, was to give a greater salon experience, to add value for the customer getting their hair done and, among other things, is what makes them better than their competitors in the eyes of their customers. That hand massage is the added extra to show they truly care about their customers. No customer wants to hear as they begin a relaxing massage that the person who’s delivering it can’t wait to get away from you! It takes the gloss, the sparkle out of the moment.

It got me thinking about the importance of prompting, not scripting staff and their interactions with customers as well as having some ‘no-go areas’ in conversation. Talking about time until they get to go home or take a break is just one of them. These sort of negative comments happen to many of us in all types of places, the supermarket, pharmacy, or cafe.

I’m all for staff bringing their individual personality to the workplace, but if someone needs to vent, the complaining should be done at home or with management if it’s really an issue. Mentioning being exhausted or worse, complaining about another customer, does nothing for the overall customer experience. And this applies not only to employees, I’ve seen business owners guilty of it too!

Here’s what I suggest. Start a staff meeting by discussing scenarios they have been in like this. Ask them if they’ve had a cranky cashier serving at the grocery store. Ask them where they recently found themselves on the receiving end of ordinary service anywhere in the last two weeks. At the post office, on a phone call, perhaps even online. Then discuss the way it made them feel. The impact, decision making or feeling that occurred as a result of ordinary or even terrible service. Ask, ‘Who knows what it’s like to go into a place of necessity like a supermarket or petrol station and dread the sour attendant who rarely makes eye contact? Or perhaps the person whose voice is ‘up’ but body language says the complete opposite?

Now think about your workplace. If you own or work in a restaurant or cafe, is it a place of necessity for your customers? You might argue that your fantastic coffee makes it so but, really, aren’t there several other places your customers could go if they don’t feel completely welcome and comfortable?

All staff need to have a filter of sorts when interacting with customers. Detailing management’s expectations through collaboratively creating a set of rules or parameters around this will establish a great starting point. Document the clear ‘no-go’s’ agreed upon and summarise with a phrase or two (in simple language) what you all want your customers thinking, feeling and telling others about their visit to your business. This then becomes the mantra for all customer interactions.

Put yourself in the shoes of the customer and ask yourself, ‘What would our customers expect from us in terms of conversation?’ ‘Could they be made more happy, more comfortable or more engaged by our conversations?’

Talk about actual customers you have. Identify one or two you know by name as your ideal customer. The type of person who you can realistically envisage being able to get more of. Discuss what they like in terms of interactions with them. Reading their personality and body language is a worthwhile topic for discussion. Sometimes they’ll be up for a chat, sometimes not. Generally, the main rule is, keep it ‘UP’. Discuss the importance of not being the person to put a sad or sour note on anything. It’s different if the customer chooses to take the conversation there, but it’s never our place to bring lower the tone or show even a hint of being ‘down’.

Next, ask staff to share where they’ve been really pleased with the way they’ve been treated or served. What makes the interactions meaningful and professional? Is there a place where the staff are always consistently good? Look to those business to guide your and discover what it is the creates a culture where everyone is providing a super experience.

Conversations with customers in their twenties may be vastly different from conversations with a customer in their fifties. Two things will remain constant though….bagging or running down other customers is just not professional. Neither is talking about not wanting to be there.

As people in hospitality, we’re in the business of providing exceptional customer service if we’re wanting to keep the customers we already have and get new ones as well. When staff are ‘UP’, so is productivity and efficiency. The catalyst for change will best come from your staff identifying the value of being up for themselves rather than being told and it just being another rule or procedure to follow. Revisit this at least twice a year, more if your staff turnover is high.

Conversation in a workplace always needs to be reflective of the business. After all, everyone employed is a representative of it. All of the touchpoints your customers have with your business need to be tinged with the overall image and experience you’re wanting them to feel. As a manager or owner you’ll need to lead by example and positively contribute to the culture of being ‘UP’. With you and your team all doing the same thing, the sparkle, the overall experience that makes you stand out for your customers, will be so much brighter.

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