The Value of Welcomers

Customer service has always been important. But in today's fast-paced, technology-driven society, service can be robotic, indifferent, and, in some cases,  hostile. But even when service meets customer expectations, it is not always a driver of repeat business. Retail operations must go further than that.

From Welcoming to Hostile

After years of research, including making hundreds of mystery shopper visits and calls and initiating contacts with e-commerce sites, I have determined that all service and sales associates can be classified into four types. Understanding these classifications will help any business hire the right people and generate repeat customers.

  • Welcomers are associates who draw new customers to a business and keep them there. Welcomers can create relationships that last a lifetime. They like to engage, are friendly, and want to learn more about the people they encounter. They have a history of helping people. They have worked at soup kitchens, volunteered for charity work, and coached children or babysat because they like to do it. Welcomers are not greeters at large retail stores. They have a personality component that makes them excellent front-line associates.
  • Robots are staff who just go through the motions in their customer interactions and do not understand the need to make a personal connection.
  • Indifferent employees overtly communicate that they really do not care whether a person is a customer or not. They almost never say "Hello" and certainly do not say "Thank you" and may even walk away when assistance is needed.
  • Hostiles are people who do not want to be at their jobs and make it abundantly obvious.

If business owners and executives hire Welcomers, they will notice that a larger number of customers will come back to seek out the specific associate who assisted them previously. They will see their revenues increase and their profits rise, since it costs five to six times as much to bring in new customers as it does to keep the ones that you have.

Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, scientist, and educator, is responsible for the axiom "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Taking into account this wisdom, we can say that while each of the three components described below may be equally important and can stand alone, when used together, customer experience will dramatically improve. Training Robot associates to think more like a Welcomer by employing the stages of the Greet, the Assist, and the Leave-Behind will make the word personal part of any customer encounter.

The Greet: Say hello and smile. In this era of technology, people are more stressed than ever. Receiving a warm hello can go a long way toward conveying the feeling of "Hey, this person is really glad to see me." It does not matter whether the representative has ever met the customer before. In my experience, a smile from even 20 feet away can make someone feel special.

The representative should introduce herself, even if she is wearing a badge with her name, saying, "Hi, my name is Joan. How can I help you today?" The sales associate should ask customers for their name and try to use it at least once in the conversation. People like to hear their name said aloud.

These simple actions help transform an impersonal first-time encounter into a personalized experience.

The Assist: The primary task of a sales associate in customer interactions is to help patrons find what they need or respond to an inquiry they may have. Whether it's regarding barbecue chicken or an automobile is immaterial—the better the explanation, the more likely that the customer is going to make a purchase or be inclined to return.

Answer questions from customers by not only responding to their direct inquiries, but, when relevant, providing them with additional useful information as well. Customers often enjoy learning more about a potential purchase than what's written on a tag or in a brochure. Welcomers will naturally provide more than a brief one-word response to an inquiry, as they enjoy interacting and love to share their knowledge.

Millions of dollars are lost every year by sales and service people who answer questions correctly, but not effectively. Be sure to prepare your staff to make the most of their time with the customers.

The Leave-Behind: Leaving a positive lasting impression is just as important as providing a good first impression. The last step of the customer interaction provides one of the best opportunities to generate repeat business.

Welcomers will invite a customer back. This magic moment can occur when a sales associate communicates to a customer that he wants to specifically see and assist that person again. Actionable steps that will facilitate the Leave-Behind are informing the customer of the representative's hours and days of work and telling him to ask for him/her by name. Calling or emailing customers when a new shipment from a favorite designer arrives, their Certificate of Deposit is due for renewal, or notifying them of an upcoming sales event will convey a feeling that the representative wants to build upon the relationship that has been recently developed.

More and more products and services have become commodities. Customer service is needed to differentiate your business from your competition. However, a good service encounter will not automatically generate repeat business. In order to gain repetitive revenue, customers need to build relationships with a company's front-line associates. Understanding the four types of associates and training front-line staff to view the encounter in a new way will result in significant increases to the bottom line.

Richard Shapiro is founder and president of The Center For Client Retention (TCFCR), which provides research, consulting, and training services on how to improve the customer experience. His first book is The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business. For more information about TCFCR, visit www.tcfcr.com or follow Richard on Twitter at @richardRshapiro.

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