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Tim Hadfield

Accord Engagement

Managing Director

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Blog: What are your staff non-verbals really saying to customers?


What do your employees unwittingly communicate to customers about how important they are to the company?

Despite the focus on customer service, customer experience and more recently customer engagement, the following examples of employee behaviours are still common – and of course impact how customers feel about the company:
1. It’s Too Much Trouble
I was out shopping for chocolate at the weekend. Needing gifts for 27 people I went into an extremely well known chocolate retailer and explained what I wanted.
I expected to be treated as a valuable customer – instead what she assistant said was “I don’t know whether I can let you have that many.  I’ll have to go and look in the stockroom to check we have enough.”  And then she disappeared behind the scenes, returning a few minutes later with all that I’d asked for. 
We completed the transaction, valued at £150, but not once did she thank me for my business. Reading between the lines, what I heard in her words was: “Oh no, now I’ve got to go and look in the stockroom.  How inconvenient, why couldn’t you just have a box or two like every other customer.”
I suspect that’s not what Head Office would have wanted her to communicate.
2. The Task I’m Doing is More Important Than You
In the village where I live there are two reasonably sized convenience stores. In one, whenever the queue at the tills goes down the assistants emerge from behind the counter to restock shelves, tidy, sweep and keep the store well presented.  
But when the queue grows again they’re much slower to jump back on the tills and often the remaining assistant has to ask for help two or three times before it happens – whilst customers look on.
When they do it what it says to me is: “Tasks around the shop are more important than you – so wait until we’re ready to serve you.” 
3. Can’t You See I’m Talking
The folks who work in the other store in my village seem to really get on well. They never stop talking. No really, they just don’t stop! What they watched on TV last night, where they’re going tonight, what they think about the weather. Anything goes really, just as long as customers don’t interrupt their conversation.  
I’m regularly served around their conversation without a word being said to me, and sometimes even with no eye contact. What I imagine them saying behind the scenes about customers: “We enjoy working here.  It’d be even better if we weren’t always being interrupted by customers.”
4. It’s Not My Job
I rang my mortgage provider last week. I was expecting to get straight through to the Contact Centre but evidently got an incorrect extension and spoke to someone in some sort of support area. After he’d asked me what number I rang he said that I’d come through to an incorrect number and that he couldn’t help.  
He then asked me to call a different number. When I asked him to get someone to ring me instead he reluctantly took my number and said he’d pass it on. What he really meant was: “My job’s not to serve customers. Don’t you realise I have more important things to do?”
5. Can You Call Back?
I recently called a company to check on the progress of an order I’d placed for some printing. The guy I’d spoken to when making the order was great, and so I asked specifically for him again. His colleague asked me to call back later as he was out at lunch. Instead I asked if he could take a message and get him to call me back. 
Given his initial silence, followed by a further long wait whilst he got a pen and paper he said he’d try to get him to call me that afternoon. It didn’t fill me with confidence! What I understood from his reaction was: “We don’t take messages and promise to call customers back. It’s better not to promise it because it probably won’t happen.”
Leaders in every business would I’m sure say that these are isolated incidents, and down to just one or two rogue employees.
But do they really know whether that’s the case? Are they measuring the experience customers get?  And whether they are or not, what does it say about the emphasis on customers in the company when these things are allowed to go unchecked?

Tim Hadfield is managing director of culture development consultancy, Accord Engagement.

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4 Responses

  1. Thankyou!

    Thanks David, I appreciate your comment.  It would appear we’re on the same page…….

  2. Customer ‘service’

    Can entirely agree with you -after all, without customers the business wouldn’t exist. Had a smilar experience with the Tesco Express in my village and emailed their feedback system – they dealt with my complaint very well, apologised, validated my concerns, promised to look into it, and even sent a £10 gift voucher. So far so great. But after six weeks no change in the policy of let’s ignore pesky customers who come in to empty our shelves and interrupt our conversations.

    Whatever our industry or role, we need to put customer care at the heart of our business. Raymond Blanc once spoke at one of our events and said that his research showed that a happy customer told 7 people about their experience – an unhappy customer told 26.

  3. great post.

     I think alot of these are quite common experiences, especially in retail where sometimes the people working in the shops have no real connection with the values of the organisation and only care about their wage. Alot of the time, whether its in a shop or a call centre, the point of contact between a customer and a business is through someone who works towards the lower end of the organisational hierarchy, who may be the victim of poor communication from higher ups. This is relayed through to customers in the form of poor service and a lack of motivation.


    David Evans, commercial director at accessplanit, specialist in learning management software and learning management system

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Tim Hadfield

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