Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Be a partner in your service encounter!

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about a few things front desk agents at a hotel go through emotionally and physically while working. It's not an easy job, and in my opinion, they are tremendously underpaid for the huge responsibility (that of providing excellent service and being the company's ambassador at all times, amongst other duties, of course.) they carry each and every day.

It is part of my wish to help customers and guests better understand their service provider, so that they too, can partner up in order to achieve a successful and very positive service encounter.

A customer service agent, whether sitting at a desk answering phone calls, helping customers exchange unwanted merchandise, checking guests in and out of a hotel or arranging dinner reservations "even if it is not his real job", constantly goes through emotion regulation.

In a negative scenario, emotion regulation will dictate how employees react to situations right there when they are interacting with their guest/customer. They have a choice of reacting in a fake way, a choice of retrieving from the negative encounter or a choice of deeply feeling what the customer is going through. Not all customer service agents act in the same way, and this may not even have to do with the company policies they abide to. It could be related to culture as well.

When customer service agents fake their feelings, they are "surface acting". They want to fix the situation, but don't really care deep inside. They could smile often and say empathetic things to ease the frustration of the guest ("I know how you feel, Mr. Schmidt..."), but they are faking because they don't feel the connection, may think the customer is exaggerating, have their thoughts set at something else, yet, this is their job. There is no authenticity in their smile. This frustrates the customer as well and is not "healthy" for the employee.

On the other hand, customer service agents who are well trained are able to engage in "deep acting", creating a strong connection with the feelings and frustrations the customer is feeling. The agent appears very authentic, because, in a way, the empathy feeling exists. They might not have gone through the same issue, yet, they are able to replay in their minds situations that have triggered them to feel very similar feelings and these feelings are brought alive through "deep acting". "Deep acting" is far more effective than "surface acting" when interacting with upset customers. And yes, it is what it is: acting with real feelings.

Don't think customer service agents are there just to do their jobs and act. Many of them have a true passion for serving others, and while sometimes they might not feel the emotional connection with an upset customer, they are able to regulate their emotions in a way to develop this common feeling and better deal with the situation. If you manage customer service agents, you are lucky to have true passionate employees on your team. They exist!

"Deep acting" has also shown to be a far better manager of burnout, absenteeism and job satisfaction for customer service employees.

Other employees simply avoid the situation and call their supervisor or manager, especially if they are not given a lot of autonomy on the job. This (lack of autonomy and avoidance), however, in my opinion, does not foster job satisfaction.

So, why do I write about this?
I believe that as part of a pleasant, effective interpersonal exchange, people need to better understand how their service providers work and think. What can you, as a customer, do with this information? Understand and regulate your emotions as well. Be a partner in the service encounter. Help the agent engage in "deep acting". It will pay off.

How do you engage in deep acting?
Recall a situation and re-live the feelings that were brought along with the situation. Pick a situation that suits the event. Is the customer really upset seeming very disappointed? When were you last so upset and disappointed that you promised yourself never to walk into that store again? Feel that feeling and apply it to the service encounter.

As a manager, look deeper into emotion regulation and "deep acting" for your employees. Be a transformational leader more than a "numbers and rules" leader.

Communication is so important, yet, we fail to acknowledge it and understand the dimensions that can make it more efficient and meaningful!

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