We continue our discussion on soft skills for customer service by covering the third major skill: communication. While empathy and promptness can be quite intuitive for a lot of people, good communication skills are very difficult to come by. Think about how many times you’ve come into conflict with someone who misinterpreted something you’ve said; it can be very frustrating to have your words misconstrued or your motives questioned, right? Also consider that individuals, families, businesses, and organizations of all types spend billions of dollars every year in finding ways to communicate more effectively. From psychologists, family/couple’s therapists, human resources and customer service corporate training, self-help books, one of the biggest ways we attempt to get better results from our interactions with others is through improving the way we communicate.
For that reason, I believe that this section can help you not only in your professional life but in your personal life as well. Keep in mind that this topic is very broad and is typically a full day training session in a three day seminar. In order to keep this section from being too long I’ll provide an outline of the main points and recommendations. Let’s get started!
Studies have shown that communication is 55% body language, 38% tone of voice, and only 7% the words used. That might come as a huge surprise to you—I know it was for me when I first learned about it. But if we really think about it makes sense, though. Like I mentioned above, think of a time when you got yourself in trouble for something you said and you had no ill intentions. Chances are that the problem was how you said it and not what you said. This is more easily understood when we think about how many misunderstandings we have with others in this day and age of technology when so much of our communication is via text (texting, email, social media, etc.). The problem there is that since there is no body language or tone the receiving party is open to interpret it as they see fit. Some people who are naturally defensive, self-conscious or insecure are bound to interpret things in the worst possible way. So it’s easy to see how things like emoticons came to be in order to bridge that gap. But here we’ll deal mainly with in-person communication given that we are interested in how we interact with our customers in a salon type of setting.
Here is an outline of the behaviors to focus on or avoid in order to allow your words to be interpreted as positively as possible:
- Facial expressions: Don’t send mixed messages; ensure that your expressions match the situation. Although smiling is usually a good thing, being in a situation where the customer needs empathy this can get you in a lot of trouble. The best example of your face getting you in trouble is with people who tend to laugh or smile when they’re nervous. There is nothing more infuriating to a customer than when they’re trying to express a serious concern and they feel like they are not being taken seriously or that they are being mocked.
- Eye contact: Appropriate eye contact conveys respect and attention. This should be natural—not staring, which will have the opposite effect.
- Gestures: Avoid pointing, crossed arms, or clenched fists. Practice different stances that convey openness and confidence.
- Posture: Sitting or standing with proper posture projects calm and confidence. Avoid slouching or resting against something when addressing a customer.
While body language is something that we develop from a young age without even thinking about it or without having any motives behind our expressions or mannerisms, tone is something that we can harness intuitively and change quite easily. Most of us don’t walk around yelling at others, much less our customers, since we recognize that it would be rude. The biggest culprit in this area is sarcasm. It must be avoided at all costs when dealing with a customer. Even if your friends get a kick out of your wit and sarcasm remember that some of your customers might not. When saying something in a sarcastic tone that essentially says that you mean the opposite of the words you are using, you open yourself up to coming across as snide, snarky, or downright rude. Don’t do it.
If the words we use only account for 7% of what we communicate, you might ask yourself, why even address this? Just like we would not drink a glass of water if we knew that it was 7% poison, we should do whatever we can to ensure that 7% doesn’t derail our communication even when we have our body language and tone in check. The trick here is to avoid jargon lest you risk alienating your client (remember, you are the expert not your customer). It’s imperative that you use words that convey that you are on their side. The bottom line is use positive language.
Consider the following scenario in which a customer comes to an employee to express some concern about a product that another associate sold them. Now let’s look at how one might respond:
“Unfortunately, since I didn’t sell this to you I can’t help you. You need to find your salesperson.”
Now compare that response with this one:
“I’m sorry that you’re having trouble with the product. I’ll go find your original salesperson and if they’re not available I’ll personally make sure that your issue is resolved.”
Big difference, right? So now you have a better idea of what effective communication is and what it looks like. I’ve elected to leave off some crucial aspects on this topic as they will be better exemplified in the next section where we’ll discuss troubleshooting customer complaints. It’s easy to provide good service when everything is going right, but where we really earn our money is when things go sideways and we are able to make it right. In the meantime, mull over what I’ve covered today and try to role play some different scenarios with a colleague to see how well you communicate. It might even be helpful to recreate past experiences and take video so you can see for yourself if your body language, tone, and words are skewing what you’re trying to get across. Have fun with it!