Good customer service is founded on the exchange of information; messages being send out, received, de-coded and acted upon. Needless to say it is very important that the messages we send out are de-coded in the way we intended them to, but more often than we like to admit our messages become misunderstood. To our great bewilderment what we thought was ever so cleverly communicated turns into a tangle of confusion, contention and more questions than answers.
Human communication is a complicated business it involves a complex mixture of verbal and non-verbal cues such as; tone of voice, the words being used, facial expressions, gestures, posture, appearance and the list goes on and on. Ever since Albert Mehrabian published his 7-38-55 rule, which basically states that we base our approval of a person on 55% body language, 38% tone of voice and only 7% on the spoken word, the importance of non-verbal communication has received much attention and discussion. Whatever the distribution really is one thing is for sure; the majority of the cues we use to understand a message are not actually related to the spoken word, but are instead based upon physical observations. If you work in customer service you will know that being liked by your customer is crucially important for the outcome of any given situation.
The root of the problem lies in the emotions we build into the messages we send by our physical behavior. Being able to understand the messages from the receivers perspective can alleviate potentially negative and contentious situations. It’s a case of “putting the shoe on the other foot” and imagine how you would feel as the receiver.
Here are a few tips on non-verbal communication that will help resolve differences, build trust and foster an environment where cooperation can flourish.
When dealing with a customer face to face the most important part of your body to be aware of is, well, your face. And in particularly your eyes and the area around them. Raise your eyebrows to the top of your forehead and you will look like a deer caught in the headlights. Relax your eyebrows and you will look like you don’t give a damn. Practice what your facial expressions look like by standing in front of a mirror and be acutely aware of them when dealing with your customers.
Keep eye contact with the person in front of you, that will tell them that you hear them and are doing everything you can to understand them. But be careful not to stare at them, that could make you appear somewhat intimidating, and watch out for knitted eyebrows that read “I don’t understand a word you are saying, but you are giving me a headache”.
If you can smile with your eyes, well that is half the battle won right there. People who master this seem friendly, inviting, caring and attentive – all things that makes people relax and open up.
Your mouth is the second most important feature. A lot of people will look you in the eye while they talk, but quite often look at your mouth when you talk. Tight lips and clenched jaws will certainly make you look annoyed and angry. Pout and you look like an obstinate teenager.
It will probably not come as a surprise that I recommend smiling. Smiling is just one of the most attractive things we humans can do, smiling makes us feel good and it is infectious; in a difficult situation it can turn animosity into cooperation.
But smiling also has it’s limitations, as much as a genuine smile can bridge a gab between people, so can a fake smile widen the gab beyond repair. Do not attach hooks to your cheeks and pull them up behind your ears, apart from looking freakish you will also look condescending, and that will get anyone’s back up against the wall.
Moving on down the body we come to the arms. Try to avoid putting your hands in the pockets, especially the back-pockets, it looks a bit too casual like you are not taking the situation serious. And never cross your arms in front of you, by doing that you communicate that you are closed and will not listen. Instead keep your arms relaxed down the sides or hold them in a loose grip in front of you or behind you. When you talk use your hands to illustrate that you welcome the dialogue by holding your arms out and open up your hands.
Eyes, mouth and arms are the three main components to master when communicating non-verbally. Top them off with a good posture; straight back and chin up, and you are well on your way to making your customers feel appreciated and valued and that will help them de-code your messages in the way you intended them to.
In a later post I will give tips on effective customer service in non face-to-face situations, such as through social media or over the phone.