March 29, 2012

News & Opinion: The Welcomer Edge

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 7:04 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

When we have a bad experience with a company, we get upset, we're apt to tell someone else about it, and we never return to that business. Most of the time, though, we interact with people, give them our money, get something in return, and move on our way without really thinking about it. But once in awhile, we have a great experience, a genuinely positive interaction, one that we not only want to tell others about, but one that we we're attracted to have again and again. The people that create those experiences offer a high level of interest in us as people, and a passionate desire to help us with what we need. Richard Shapiro calls these people 'Welcomers,' and his new book The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business explains how to create a company of Welcomers that bring customers back because of that welcoming and positive experience. I'm a big advocate of pointing out good customer service stories when they happen. Sure, it's the employee's job to provide good service, but as I mentioned above, how often does something truly remarkable happen? When it does, it makes a big difference in our lives - from how we view a brand, to how we talk about business, even down to how we feel that day. It's more important than we might think at first, and Richard's book is a great reminder of the times when the actions of one person within an organization can affect nearly our entire perception of that company in a positive way. Following my reading of the book, I sent Richard a few questions which he's answered below. Business owners and managers take note. This is hugely valuable, yet such simple information you can put to use now. How do people in service positions become robots? Richard Shapiro: Unfortunately, many managers and owners of businesses act and think like robots themselves. They train their associates on the stock, how to use the checkout equipment and what the company’s return policies might be. But rarely do they educate their associates that the most important part of their job is to build relationships with customers. There were some Welcomers that I interviewed as part of my research who said it is sometimes difficult to act welcoming if they work in an environment where even their managers don’t seem to care if customers ever return again. Companies also need to have policies in place that allow frontline associates to be empowered to make customers happy, which sometimes requires “bending” some of the rules. Lastly, if management does not acknowledge and demonstrate appreciation to their associates, it doesn’t reinforce the positive behavior that is required to connect with customers on each and every encounter. If a business (i.e. a restaurant) is extremely busy, how can employees still be Welcomers and connect with their customers? Richard Shapiro: One of the best ways to connect with customers is to give them a big smile whether you know them or not. A smile can make the customer feel more comfortable and it takes zero time. Another suggestion is to provide the customer with your name, even if it is on your badge. For example, “Hi, my name is John, isn’t this weather unbelievable today?” Lastly, people love to hear their name. For the majority of all retail transactions, customers use either a debit or credit card with their name printed on it.  At the conclusion of the meal, a Welcomer should say, “Mr. Jones, I really enjoyed waiting on you today. I work here during the week and would love to take care of you again.”  The goal is to always leave the customer with a good feeling. Even saying an additional good-bye as the customers are walking towards the door can make them feel good. You can smile or say hello or good-bye to more than one person at a time.  It takes less than 15 seconds to make a connection with a customer and the ROI will be amazing. Can pay create Welcomers? Richard Shapiro: Natural Welcomers don’t need an incentive to always make customers feel welcomed, important and appreciated. They enjoy meeting new people and building relationships, however, they need to be rewarded and recognized. Welcomers appreciate being appreciated and part of that appreciation is compensating them for the amazing job they are doing at building and creating long-term customer relationships. For those associates that act and think robotically, developing an incentive program that will focus on them not only handling the transaction, but explaining the benefits of connecting with customers and conveying a feeling that you want to see the customers again, can definitely change behaviors if management conducts themselves in the same manner. What recommendations do you have for consumers who NEED what an UnWelcomer company has, and there are no other resources? Richard Shapiro: When a customer comes across a frontline associate who is not very welcoming, I would suggest that the customer try to connect with the associate by asking him or her how their day is going. Tell the associate you could use their help, because most people like to help. The customer might also say, “If you were the customer, how do you think you would want the issue resolved?”  It is just as beneficial for the customer to try to build a relationship with a frontline associate as it is for the frontline associate to connect with the customer. It’s a two-way street. A key part of the book is that companies lose a lot of profit without Welcomers. What are some tips on finding and hiring Welcomers to get on track? Richard Shapiro: Every Welcomer I interviewed had a history of helping people. They worked in soup kitchens, volunteered at community and charitable events, coached or babysat kids because they enjoyed doing it. Their families helped build the local firehouse, were teachers or social workers or just enjoyed helping others. Learning how applicants have helped others throughout their lifetime, even if they are in their teens or early twenties, will assist your company in finding Welcomers. Customer service is all about helping people obtain what they are looking for, so it makes good sense that those associates that like to help and have a history of helping will make the best representatives. If you only find one Welcomer as you start the process, make sure that you place that person in the position where everyone will benefit; i.e. hostess station, scheduling appointments, coat-check, receptionist, etc. Want more? Grab a box of these books for your team, and give your organization the Welcomer Edge.