Leading Brands Excel At Employee-Customer Interaction

Dan WhiteApril 10, 20245 min

In some categories, a major component of the brand experience comes from human interaction, such as at premium hotels, restaurants and retailers, to name a few. Brands in these categories need their client-facing employees to be emotionally intelligent, attuned to customers’ needs, knowledgeable about the brand’s offer and motivated to look after customers. Having committed employees kick-starts a chain of benefits.

Employee Commitment

The cycle starts with careful employee selection. If client service is crucial, client-facing vacancies should be filled by applicants who show not only the right skills but also a belief in the brand and its purpose. The benefits of high employee engagement are well documented – they are more loyal and more productive, boosting customer acquisition, satisfaction, and retention.

Online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos is famous for the loyalty of its staff and the quality of its customer service. To ensure all its employees truly believe in the brand, job applicants are thoroughly screened so that their values match those of Zappos. Additionally, new employees’ commitment is tested by offering them $2,000 to quit after two weeks of training if they’re not convinced that they fit the company’s culture.

Big companies can be seen as greedy and impersonal, so brands that genuinely care about their customers are greatly appreciated. US grocery chain Trader Joe’s is a brand that puts people first and gives employees the freedom to support customers as they see fit. In one of many examples, an 89-year-old man was housebound during a snowstorm, and his granddaughter called several grocery stores asking if they would deliver to make sure he had sufficient supplies to last through the cold spell. She had no luck until Trader Joe’s said they would help, even though they don’t normally deliver. They arrived within 30 minutes and, as a gesture of goodwill, decided not to charge him. The company did not try to publicize the good deed, but it went viral anyway when the granddaughter tweeted about it.

Once recruited, people are more likely to stay with a company and promote it effectively if they are treated well and can see the brand is true to its word. Microsoft has repeatedly been ranked as one of the best companies to work for in the US because of how it advances equal pay across genders, offers salaries that match or exceed the cost of living, provides workers with a generous benefits package and reduces waste and energy usage.

In a world where consumers understand and appreciate the value of equality and conservation better than previously, companies that strive to do the right thing are increasingly attractive to both workers and customers.

Handling Customer Complaints

Handling Customer Complaints

How complaints are handled has a major impact on customer relationships. A customer who is pleased by how their issue was handled may become a brand advocate, whereas a disgruntled customer is likely to discredit the brand at every opportunity. When an issue occurs, it should be easy for the customer to find out how to flag it, ideally choosing their favorite channel such as email, telephone or online chat. From then on, there is a proven formula for ensuring the matter is handled well.

Respond Quickly

The quicker a complaint can be addressed, the better. A drawn-out process frustrates customers and makes them less likely to accept proposed solutions. As a rule of thumb, it should be no more than one to two days between the initial contact and a solution being offered. Many companies scour social media posts for customers expressing dissatisfaction with their service and try to resolve the problem quickly to prevent any further negative word of mouth and to show how responsive the company is.

Apologize And Thank

Acknowledging that the problem has inconvenienced or annoyed the customer is an important step that helps establish rapport without needing to admit responsibility for what has happened. Thanking the customer for giving the company an opportunity to put things right is also a great way to foster a constructive atmosphere. After all, many customers choose to express their displeasure by simply moving their business elsewhere.

Listen And Understand

As with any conflict, a customer complaint can usually be diffused by asking the customer to the explain the situation and listening to them properly, probing for clarification and playing back what they’ve said. Customer service teams should be trained in how to interact with customers and never be given a script to follow, time limits or quotas.

Ask Desired Outcome

Once they’ve aired their complaint, the next step is to ask them what an acceptable solution would be. If their request falls within guidelines, it should be met. Quite often, however, the customer isn’t sure what they want and is expecting a suggestion.

Suggest Solution(s)

Suggested solutions should reflect the details of the issue and reflect the level of inconvenience to the customer and degree to which the company is responsible. The customer service team needs flexibility in the solutions it can offer and to use judgment as to what is fair and appropriate without additional levels of approval if these would cause delay.

In addition to adopting this best-practice approach, customer service teams should avoid the following:

  • Passing the customer from one person to another
  • Questioning the customer’s accuracy or honesty
  • Explaining what the customer did wrong
  • Making excuses or blaming partner businesses (e.g., delivery companies)

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Dan White, author of The Soft Skills Book, The Smart Marketing Book and The Smart Branding Book

The Blake Project helps organizations and brands in all stages of development create marketplace advantages. Please email us to learn how we can help you compete differently.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

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