Customer satisfaction surveys often allow customers to provide open-ended feedback or comments on their service experience. A while back, we gathered these responses from a retail client survey, in part to try to determine the differences in the language used by very satisfied and very dissatisfied customers. We felt that these differences, if they could be found, could provide insights to help fuel employee training and marketing and communications programs. I intend to post on how we actually went about this text mining exercise at a later date (and on all the wonderful analysis that can be done with customer satisfaction data), but, in the interest of getting some sleep, I’m going to just jump ahead and tell you the two words most used by very satisfied customers in that survey: friendly and helpful.
I think the good people at Wikipedia have it all wrong about service. Being amiable or genial is to aim for cheerfulness. And cheerfulness is like rain or sunshine — it falls equally “on the just and the unjust.” A customer-facing employee who’s cheerful doesn’t distinguish between customers. The customer sees a great show, it’s true, but she senses that it wasn’t especially done for her sake.
The opposite of friendly is close to hostile. But no one (who’s not buying lunch from this guy) expects hostile when entering a store. They worry about indifference, being overlooked. The specificity of “friendly” is very meaningful for customers, and their use of the word is telling. Friendly, unlike cheerful, is directed — like a flashlight, it lights up a smaller place. Being friendly is showing kindness and concern for a specific person for the specific person’s sake (some thoughts on friendship). Very satisfied customers intuitively use the word friendly rather than cheerful to describe employees who provide exceptional service. Just like these incredibly valuable employees, customers are able to make distinctions.
Customers enter a store to solve a problem. To serve a customer, a retail employee must first understand the problem which often means first helping the customer understand the problem. This can be grueling and frustrating. Customers struggle with navigating their own complex needs and desires. And they struggle to make sense of the complex and imperfect solutions businesses offer up to satisfy them. A customer who connects problem to solution is thrilled — and grateful for the help. Retail businesses face tradeoffs in deciding the best way to serve customers: price, assortment, quality, service, etc. Helping customers connect problems to solutions is a good rule to follow. Here’s another good rule.
Marketers often refer to moments of truth in customer service. Two words for employees to keep in mind when their moment arrives: friendly and helpful. Straight from the customer.