By Paul Krutak
Professional etiquette – standing, shaking hands, introductions, using customer names – is a foundation of customer service (see Good Etiquette for Customer Service below), but it’s not enough. Customer service, and the experience that customers perceive, is based on everything we do. This means knowing our products and services inside and out, helping answer questions we don’t know and making customers feel we’re truly the experts we claim.
This means that even a new employee at a financial institution can provide an exceptional experience by being prepared to help a customer, even if they can’t immediately meet the customer’s need. When this happens, they should know where to send the customer. All employees should have a “go-to” plan.
A simple technique to make this more likely to happen is to give every new front line employee a list of products and services in one column, with the names and contact information for the respective “go-to” people listed in another. Instead of a directory with only names and titles, we suggest an alphabetical list of products or services.
How does this help? Customers simply want their needs to be addressed – they don’t want to hear “I can’t help you,” “I don’t know,” or “that’s not my job.” Taking care of our customers is everyone’s job.
In his book, Lessons from the Mouse, Dennis Snow (who spent 20 years with Walt Disney World, including several years teaching at Disney University) says that when a customer is having trouble one of the worst things an employee can do is blame another. For example, when presented with a problem, an employee says, “Yeah, we’ve got a bunch of new people. They don’t know what they’re doing.” This attitude and language immediately puts off a customer, because the customer doesn’t want to hear about “they” or “them” – the customer simply wants “us” to fix the problem!
Snow also says robotic customer service is everywhere, in every industry. Trite sayings such as “have a nice day” are too often used as a reactionary response at the end of conversations. Another example he cited was about a bank loan officer telling a customer to, “Sign here, here, and here,” without acknowledging the customer is using the money to send her only child to college. To make the customer feel more appreciated, the loan officer should mention the purpose of the loan as he gives instructions.
We don’t want to be customer service robots. We should be animated, not automated. We should put ourselves in our customer’s shoes, and consider how the customer is thinking or might be feeling.
Snow espouses the idea that, “everything speaks,” as important to the customer experience. People process the whole environment and something as simple as a sign can impact the customer experience. Have you ever stayed in a hotel that has a sign in the room that says, “Towels are inventoried every day. Guests will be charged for any missing towels.” Does that message make you feel like a valued guest?
A more positive example comes from a bank in New Orleans. For years the bank had “no soliciting” signs on its doors; however, after careful consideration of everything that could impact a customer visit, the bank took down these signs and replaced them with signs that say “Welcome!”
It was this consideration of everything that can impact the customer experience to lead one New Orleans bank to remove “No Soliciting” signs and replace them with “Welcome” signs. Another financial institution realized how irritated customers can get when waiting in long drive-through teller lanes, especially on Fridays. Rather than the expensive alternative of building more lanes, the institution hired high school students to come in after school and serve freshly baked chocolate chip cookies to customers waiting in their cars. Customers loved it, and the students also made a little extra cash! Another financial institution had a similar approach but gave waiting customers cans of cold soda, and another institution even cleaned the windshields of waiting customers’ cars!
In short, we must consider every aspect of customer contacts with our financial institution, be it in person, on the phone, via our website (e.g. online banking), and even in our advertising. There is not space to cover every possibility in this article, but the hope is that this has you thinking about them!
Good Etiquette for Customer Service
Why should we exhibit these behaviors? Let’s examine a few of them more closely.
Introductions and Names – Even if your employees wear name tags, they should introduce themselves. Expecting a customer to read our name tag is not very welcoming, especially if our name is difficult to pronounce. Even if we have a simple name, it’s friendlier to tell our customer who we are. Perhaps even more importantly, we should always ask a new customer for his or her name. Not only does it begin a transaction-oriented conversation, but asking for a new customer’s name also makes that person feel much more welcome, the target emotion we want all our customers to feel. In addition, simply think about what the new customer is probably accustomed to; the customer was likely called by name at his/her previous financial institution, and there’s no reason we should wait to do it at our institution.
Standing and Shaking Hands – According to Dorothea Johnson, author of The Little Book of Etiquette, standing shows respect to the other person and to you. This is true, regardless of whether a male or female is involved. Customers want to be shown respect, and there is no reason we shouldn’t stand when greeting customers or completing their visit.
Shaking hands is also important. It’s more than just a greeting. It’s a message about personality and confidence level. In business, a handshake is an important tool in making the right first impression. In fact, a study by the Incomm Research Center in Chicago found handshakes produce a higher degree of intimacy and trust within a matter of seconds.
But not just “any old” handshake. First, before you shake hands, you should make eye contact with the other person. Then, according to Johnson, keep your thumb pointed up and your fingers closed together. The web between your thumb and index finger should touch the web of the other person’s hand. You should pump your hand (up and down, not sideways) only two or three times. Shake from your elbow and don’t be overly forceful with your grip, but don’t offer a limp handshake either. Under normal circumstances in business settings, both men and women should offer a handshake when meeting someone for the first time.