The customer took a long time exploring which of the teddy bears was right. Picking each one up and holding it out in front to check its expression and the quality of the fur, before putting each one carefully back on the shelf and then walking again around the toy department. Clearly this purchase was important.
After ten minutes of looking at cuddly toys of various colours and in particular different types of teddies, the customer came to the cash out desk clutching a medium sized brown teddy with a very characterful expression on his face and large dark brown paws.
‘We love this teddy’ said the assistant. ‘We love his expression. So who is the lucky child’ she said cheerfully
The customer looked up from her wallet and smiled a thin smile – ‘Oh, this isn’t for a child she said sadly, this is for a very close friend who is going into hospital for chemotherapy. I thought it would be something to keep her amused, something to smile at when she is feeling unwell’
‘Oh’ said the shop assistant looking away embarrassed. The assistant didn’t know what to say and the conversation died away. The customer too looked embarrassed as if regretting her truthful response to the question.
This true story helps to remind us designers of customer service development programmes, that all too often we focus front line staff on always being bright, cheerful and smiley. Of course, this is essential, no matter how sensitive the customer situation, no one wants to be greeted with a glum face.
However, developing people on how to be empathetic and how to respond appropriately when the customer’s situation is negative or an unhappy one, is key to a balanced customer care approach.
Not all customer interactions can be built on ‘happy day foundations’ and we need to develop confidence in our customer facing staff to be able to respond in the right way, particularly those new or inexperienced in the workplace.