Grumpy, angry looking, unfriendly customer facing staff - welcome to America! Dale Carnegie's Human Relation's Principle Number Five is "SMILE". You would never guess that this idea to smile when you meet people, especially when in a customer facing roles, had been around since "How To Win Friends And Influence People" was first published in 1936. I was in the US attending our Owner's Meeting in Chicago, but had also spent time in New York and Washington DC, so my observations were not influenced by one location.
The idea of smiling when you answer the phone, hasn't made it to some of the staff working in major hotels yet either. Very angry voices would pick up the phone and repeat the name of the Hotel. I asked one lady if she was angry? That threw her and she said "no", so I asked her why she answered the phone with such an abrupt, unfriendly, angry voice? Her self-awareness factor was trending into negative numbers, as she was baffled by my line of questioning. Maybe I have been in Japan too long, but I don’t think that is it.
Buying food, checking in for your flight, or entering the airport lounge, unsmiling, unfriendly staff assault your senses. No smiling, not even one of those pathetic fake jobs. To top it off, they then produce a section from the manual and say "have a nice day/flight/whatever". The incongruency of greeting you with a "I don't care" attitude and their final words, has obviously not been explored yet.
Giving your instructions to the cabbie or the serving staff and being greeted with total silence is a bit disconcerting. Do they know what I want, are we clear about what needs to happen next? Why is there no acknowledgement of what you want?
Excuses such as, "it’s America" or "it’s New York" or "it's Chicago" or " it's the minimum wage syndrome" don't cut it. These abysmal service interactions are a simple failure of leadership. The companies employing these staff have poor leadership, because the people destroying their brand are not being trained properly. There are obvious conceptual barriers here about what is important. The message is pretty clear, you the customer are just not important. That fundamental idea comes from the leadership.
What a fantastic opportunity for companies to win in the marketplace. The cost of a genuine smile is obviously too expensive for these failing companies. Imagine though, that properly led staff were being trained on just one thing - smile when you meet your customer. Behind that idea is a whole gamut of attitudes and concepts about the task at hand. These untrained, unskilled people are totally focused on processes. Check in the passenger, issue boarding passes, hand over the hotdog, head on to the road system to get to the destination. No! No! No! The experience is the key, not the process.
Teaching our teams to smile at the first interaction with the customer, sets up a chemical reaction that will create the right momentum, to create an experience that adds to the value of the brand and to the revenues of the organization. To do this we need to properly train our leaders to make sure their staff get it. The lack of congruency is costing firms money. The up-sell, the cross-sell missed opportunities are frankly scary, pathetic and unnecessary.
So, do an audit of your own shop. Call your own organization at different times of the day, especially around lunchtime, when the chances are high of someone not normally picking up the phone is now your "brand ambassador".
Listen to how your staff answer the phone. Do they say the name of the organization, their own name and do it with a smile in their voice. Observe the customer facing interactions and see if the genuine smile is there or not. Here is a trick - can you train your staff to smile? It is not impossible, but let's get the right people on the right bus and in the right seat, so that the first impression is a big happy smile, because it is their natural reaction. If that is not possible, then work on getting their minds around the idea that a smile is shorthand for what the brand represents and what the organization stands for and explain where their role fits into the whole picture.
I am often critical of the polite but robotic service we get in Japan, but it beats the genuine disinterest of a lot of service staff I met in America. As company leaders, I don't think we should be satisfied with anything less than excellent smiles as the first point of contact. Yes, it requires effort, leadership and training, but the majority of our competitors are doing a pretty miserable job, so let's differentiate ourselves and win. If we can get a smile going at the outset a lot of good things will follow and Principle Number Five "SMILE" can be the catalyst to success. On the other hand, if we can't manage this much, then we had better start asking some pretty harsh questions of ourselves.