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  Three Steps to Welcome

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:

  1. Acknowledge the person

  2. Make a positive gesture

  3. Extend an offer to help

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 the difference.

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 for rings.

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 a seat’.

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 attention.

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 once yourself.)

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 of assistance.

Action Steps

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 little’?

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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