What a conversation! A British
gentleman working in global logistics, his
American entertainer wife who recently
became a mother, an Australian event
coordinator and me. Four different cultures
– and different points of view.
We talked about the
service we received at retail stores, banks,
restaurants, hotels and airlines around the
world. We each had very different opinions
about what constitutes ‘good service’.
The logistics guy likes
fast and efficient; pleasantries are
incidental. The entertainer wants time to
browse before she is approached, and feels
‘hurried’ if someone comes too close, too
soon. The Australian feels just the
opposite. She wants attention right away or
she walks right out the door. And me? I like
the ‘human touch’: a smile, friendly tone of
voice, a twinkle in the eye.
Our differences are not
surprising given our backgrounds. But what a
challenge for committed service providers!
Should your service be
reserved and polite, or outgoing and
friendly? Should you be fast and efficient,
or personal and attentive? Should you
initiate contact and offer immediate help,
or wait discreetly until you are asked?
What pleases one customer
may easily disturb another. But you’ve got
to do something. So what should you do?
Beneath the preferences
of one person and another, I found ‘Three
Steps to Welcome’ that always apply:
Make a positive
Extend an offer to
Acknowledge the person
means letting them know that you know they
are there. This can be done with simple eye
contact, a tip of your head or a momentary
opening of your hand.
Have you ever been in a
store with sales staff who completely
ignored you? Did you feel awkward as they
talked on the phone, or invisible as they
chatted with each other?
Have you ever been happy
to wait several minutes while a clerk helped
someone else, because she acknowledged you
first with a tiny gesture, raised eyebrows
or a smile?
It doesn’t take much to
acknowledge another person. But it does
require something. One small gesture makes
Make a positive
gesture doesn’t mean waving your hands
and shouting ‘C’mon in!’ That might be good
for a carnival or a bustling street on a
busy night. But theatrics can be out of
place at government offices, hospitals or
jewelry stores where couples search slowly
At the government service
counter, a positive gesture could be simply,
‘Next, please’. In a museum or fine
restaurant, a slight tilt from the waist is
enough. In a retail store, the wide sweep of
your hand invites shoppers to browse freely.
Extend an offer to
help is easy when spoken: ‘How may I
help you?’ ‘Your passport, please’, ‘Good
morning. My name is Ron’. In silence, two
open hands mean ‘I am here to help you’. One
guiding palm says ‘Come this way’, or ‘Have
Your ‘Three Steps to
Welcome’ will depend on where you work, whom
you serve and what reputation you wish to
create. This may take fine-tuning before you
get it right.
When Giordano clothing
stores first opened, the staff were too
excited, cheering new customers and scaring
timid ones right out of the store! Today,
Giordano’s has refined the welcoming process
to an elegant dance of body language,
gestures, facial expressions and spoken
words. They watch customers carefully and
observe how they react. Staff know when to
go slow and let new shoppers browse, and
when to step forward with personal
American Express went too
far with their initial Platinum Card
telephone service. Caller ID allowed Amex to
know who was calling and answer the phone
using the customer’s name. But customers
were shocked to be addressed by name before
they had introduced themselves. (Now Amex
only uses your name after you’ve said it
Raffles Hotel understands
that too much service can become unpleasant
service. A personal welcome by the chef, the
manager, the hostess, every waiter and
busboy will scuttle the best hospitality
intentions at dinner. Raffles’ Chief
Executive Officer likens their style of
service to ‘a gentle breeze’, soothing you
when you want it, but never blowing too hard
in your face.
Key Learning Point
Everyone entering your
place of work should receive acknowledgment,
positive gestures and an appropriate offer
Survey customers of all
types: old and young, male and female,
hurried and relaxed, on a budget or on a
spree. Ask them how they like to be greeted.
What would be ‘too much’, what would be ‘too
Discuss the results with
your colleagues and ask their opinions, too.
Decide which ‘Three Steps
to Welcome’ match your company’s image and
your customer base. Then set standards,
practice with role-plays, train and
supervise new staff. Use these three steps
to make your customers feel recognized,
appreciated and welcome.
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