We’d only been in the restaurant about three minutes, but had already had some humorous and warm conversations with three of the staff who immediately made us feel both welcome and pleased that we’d chosen this restaurant in downtown Vancouver. What came through loud and clear was that these people were authentic in both their attitude and desire to make us feel at home, and although this was their “job”, they treated us like friends and part of the family. Maybe that isn’t that much of a stretch in a restaurant,( well at least not in Canada) but it doesn’t always happen as naturally as this. Often, especially when they’re reading their list of specials, it can sound robotic and more than a little scripted, especially when it’s that special favourite, “Hi, my name is Bruce and I’ll be your server today” (sorry if your name is Bruce!)

Proud to Serve – Happy to Help

As I’m quite often in Vancouver and have written about my customer experiences there in past blogs, I’ve come to expect this level of service. And as this visit coincided with Canada being named #2 for Customer Service in a recent Zendesk poll, I wanted to really see what the magic sauce was and who was cooking it. In an earlier blog entitled Across the Great Divide, I had responded to some positive reviews from some friends who had experienced great customer service in Canada and wondered if they were lucky, or if this was the norm.  I suggested that it was the latter and that Pride, Tolerance and Enthusiasm were the key elements that underpinned this. In general most Canadians are proud to serve others, and don’t see it as menial or a temporary job between acting gigs. As a result, many Canadian companies have created an environment where employee engagement is a living, breathing organism, participation in decisions is de rigueur and pride in their company shines through and is reflected in their interactions with guests.

Have a Nice Day – We really mean it!

Europeans often mock North Americans’ “have a nice day” attitude as disingenuous. But for the most part people in Canada really mean it. In Vancouver they keep it fresh and meaningful with genuine excitement and healthy dose of youthful creativity, open-mindedness and enthusiasm, and nowhere is that more apparent than it its ever-burgeoning food and drink scene. Certainly the hospitality industry in Canada is alive and well, and is the place where many visitors get up close and personal with authentic and memorable customer service experiences.

Be yourself – everyone else is taken

But my latest restaurant visit, the other positive experiences during my trip and the Zendesk survey made me realize that there was something else. Another equally critical element that continually freshens the offering, makes the moment come alive and keeps people coming back for more.  This was something that went deeper and wasn’t just in the DNA of the people that delivered this great service, it was the DNA!  It was the people being allowed to be themselves and consequently providing a more authentic, consistent and memorable customer experience. And this isn’t just true for restaurants. Any business that truly cares about customers, and I’m not yet convinced that is all businesses, must allow their front line employees to express their own personalities and act naturally and spontaneously.

Most of us naturally want to help others and come pre-wired with an attitude and a caring side that is ideally suited to achieving that objective. But often organizations want to actively discourage any personal feelings or emotions from creeping into their employees’ actions. The best companies enhance their customer engagement by encouraging employees to build on these natural feelings and attitudes and let them loose on their customers, fellow employees and anyone within hugging distance!

I was glad to see that I wasn’t alone in my feelings when I read a recent article by Steven Van Belleghem entitled Defining the ‘human touch’ in the customer relationship. While the article focuses primarily on the difference between human and computer based customer service interactions, Steven’s underlying theme looks at three areas in which humans excel. This is their ability to add empathy, creativity and passion to any interaction. He notes that “Creativity and innovation are uniquely human characteristics. It is smart for companies to allow human creativity to blossom in all phases of the customer relationship. You must allow all your staff to think creatively about improvements that can benefit the customer.”

I’m sure there will be people who will say there are risks associated with letting people unleash their personalities, creativity or rich and fruity vocabulary on poor unsuspecting customers.  The alternative may be to bore your customers with monotone agents who can’t deviate from a script, have the personality of a turnip, and force customers into seeking other places to do business. But I’m not talking about thoughtless, knee-jerk or unplanned communications. This is all about giving employees permission to engage with customers on an emotional and personal level.  It puts the responsibility for great customer experience back where it belongs; in the hands, or voice, of the people who deliver the service. Let them have the knowledge needed, the trust and freedom to use it wisely, and set them free to execute.

Ditch the scripts – Act Naturally

But this isn’t such a revolutionary idea. A recent survey from Software Advice, a website that provides information on customer support software, is a great illustration of the fact that most customers would prefer not to engage with agents who sounded as if they were reading from a script.  Their survey – What Customers Really Think About Your Call Center Script, had a lead-off question which really hit the nail on the head when it asked, “Does it improve your call experience when the customer service agent doesn’t sound like they’re reading from a script?” The response was a resounding 69% who said their customer service experience is improved when the agent doesn’t sound like they are reading from a script.

The survey was very enlightening and went on to focus on a number of other strategies. It discovered that using some very basic and very human, unscripted, natural responses such as “please” and “thank you” were vastly more effective in building empathy, consistency and understanding into the interactions. And the reasons for this seems equally simple.  When agents say “please” and “thank you,” they are not reading those words directly from a script. They’re saying them naturally. They fit into the dialog just like they do in normal, everyday conversation, and the inflection and tone of the words is exactly how it should be.

I realize that many organizations have legal and regulatory statements that need to be covered. But I’ve worked with many organizations who have found innovative and natural ways to introduce these into the conversation and meet their commitment without reducing the customer to tears.

Put the spotlight on talent and let the feelings shine through

Engaged and trusted employees naturally want to help and find it easy to draw on their reserves of empathy & understanding, tune in to their customer and turn up their performance. Forward thinking organizations put the spotlight on these talents and believe that if you can unleash imagination, encourage innovation and build trust based on simple human behaviour and principles, then people will come together in a common purpose – and customers, employees and companies all win.

For those companies that truly understand this and measure success by the daily performance of the people who are the company, the results are clear. Not only are they reputationally and financially more profitable, but their employees achieve greater success and satisfaction in work and life, and are typically less likely to leave and more inclined to establish a career for the longer term.

As Steven Van Belleghem notes “Companies need to realize that in future the human element will be one of their scarcest resources in the customer relationship – and therefore one of the most strategically important. People love other people.”

It’s only natural!