August 26, 2020
Many businesses around the world are tentatively coming out of lockdown. As everyone navigates these uncharted waters, SignalCX has compiled a list of 12 pointers to make sure your businesses are ready to welcome customers as confidently and positively as possible.
Many retailers, hotels, restaurants, offices etc have greeters who welcome customers as they come in. This role has never been more important. These days as customers walk through your doors, they want to feel welcomed but also reassured. They want to feel that you are on top of things. Many customers want to know that you will uphold standards (even if some customers won’t). Many of these critical signals will come from the very first person they interact with. This greeter is not a night club bouncer – don’t be tempted to have a security-like presence. Research consistently shows that positive behaviour is much more likely to ensure compliance. This was proved to us a few years ago when working with a supermarket retailer in Europe. They had an issue with shop-lifting (or shrinkage as the industry coyly terms it). They increased security presence in store which had some impact but not quite enough. They then introduced a greeter. In one branch, this was a ‘mature’ lady who looked much like everyone’s idea of a favourite grandmother. She smiled and greeted everyone who walked into the store and a combination of her lovely welcoming demeanour and the prick of conscience about what one wouldn’t want to do in front of their ‘grandmother’ led to a significant decrease in lost sales.
Of course one could argue that these days, every step on the customer journey is a critical moment of truth. But sometimes, when you can’t do absolutely everything, what should you focus on? Cleanliness has always been a critical foundation of any good customer experience. When we were working with an airport, cleanliness ratings were not as high as they could be which was then having a ripple effect on overall satisfaction. The airport knew it needed to enhance its cleaning regime but couldn’t do that across the whole airport. The answer? Find the places that the majority of passengers interact with most. So one critical moment of truth was the end of the travellator or moving walkway. Virtually everyone who comes off a moving walkway looks down as their feet orientate back to a different surface and speed. That spot better be the cleanest spot in the whole airport.
Going into any environment, all our senses are tuned in. What do we see, smell, hear etc? These days all these signals should display a business’s focus on hygiene and cleanliness. For a start, think carefully about how your environment smells. Smell is the first sense we develop and use. In fact (geek alert!) babies are able to smell from their twelfth week in their mother’s womb. Because our sense of smell (unlike sight and sound) links directly to the emotional centre of the brain, it has the power to build lasting memories. Certain scents denote ‘cleanliness’. Because so many cleaning products use lemon and lime scents research shows that citrus smells subconsciously put the idea of hygiene in our minds. Businesses need to focus on visible signs as well. Whilst our colleagues might be scrupulously washing their hands, customers are still reassured when they see positive behaviours in this area e.g. someone at the check-out disinfecting their hands after each encounter – even if no cash was exchanged.
For businesses with employees in uniform, this might be the time to revisit or at least call out these standards. There’s no point wearing face masks but having dirty shoes. There’s no doubt though that being confronted with colleagues who are all masked up (even the plastic transparent ones) can be a little off-putting (though necessary), so is there a way of integrating a more human element to the standards? Some organisations (particularly hospitals) are using photos of themselves on their uniform (so people can see the face behind the mask), others are using badges with smiley faces to counteract the ‘sterility’ of the uniform. Brands such as Liberty are using Liberty print face masks to reflect their brand. It’s also important to think about how the uniform standards are positioned. A few years ago, we developed a persona for a supermarket which we named Frances. She was a mum with two young children. We developed a campaign to enhance emotional engagement between colleagues and ‘Frances’ so they could understand things from a customer’s point of view. As part of this campaign, we renamed the uniform standards, “Are you fit for Frances?”. This emotional hook led to a much higher level of adherence.
This is strongly linked to the previous point about ‘Frances’. We know that we humans are not brilliant at changing habits. But we are far more likely to change if we feel there is a purpose to what we are doing. In other words, ‘telling’ someone to do something is not enough. We need to give people a reason. And if that reason taps into a deeper sense of purpose, then that’s even better. Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton Business School, conducted some interesting research relating to compliance in hand washing by doctors and nurses in hospitals (several years prior to Covid19). The research found that compliance rates for hand washing in American hospitals at the time were only around 40%. The research found that changing the message in toilets used by doctors and nurses from “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases” to “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases” actually motivated doctors and nurses to wash their hands more frequently. This latter sign increased soap use by 33%.
Disney famously calls its employees cast members and uses the notion of being ‘on stage’. Colleagues need to remember that now, more than ever, when they are representing your business they are ‘on stage’ – even if they are on a break. There is no point having a store that talks about social distancing when round the back colleagues are having a cigarette break huddling up together for a chat. As Disney would say, “if a customer can see you, then you are ‘on stage’”. Customers want to see colleagues complying at least as much as they do – and in fact, even more.
The Covid19 service experience is undoubtedly different. This means we need to ‘unlearn’ some of our habits and relearn new ones. That’s not easy. One way to keep everyone on track is to have regular briefings. And we don’t mean long ones. We have worked with hospital teams and airline crews to introduce 60-second briefings. With the right structure, it’s amazing how much can be accomplished in 60 seconds. A well- designed 60-second briefing can keep people on track, provide a platform for recognition, and give everyone a much-needed boost if things are challenging. They can be done on the floor, in the moment, even on the hour. But at the very least they should be at the beginnings and ends of shifts and ideally midway as well. This is critical right now as local government requirements change and customer needs start to shift. Communicating to your team members in a ‘little and often’ approach is essential.
On a recent visit during lockdown to a petrol station, we reached for gloves to refuel with, and paper towels to use after refuelling. There were no supplies of either nor any alternatives. The fact is, whilst customer numbers were lower than previously, use of these items was clearly considerably higher. As far as customers are concerned, it is simply unacceptable to run out of stock of what they perceive to be essential items and critically to not acknowledge it in any way. Revisit your quantities for critical essentials such as soap and paper towels in areas such as customer toilets. It is likely that you will be using more than you previously did.
In a famous HBR article “Want to perfect your company’s service? Use Behavioral Science”, the authors noted people have an ‘asymmetric’ reaction to losses and gains. They reminded us that most people prefer to win $5 twice than win $10 once. Conversely people prefer to lose $10 once rather than $5 twice. This led authors to suggest that businesses should break up pleasant experiences into multiple stages and combine unpleasant ones into one single stage. A sector that has actually been surprisingly good at this in lockdown has been the veterinary sector. Many vets practices have asked pet owners to wait in the car park. The vet comes into the car park to collect the pet, chats to the pet owner and reassures them where necessary. Then after the procedure, they return with the (hopefully healthy) pet and again spend some time chatting to the pet owner. In other words, one unpleasant experience bookended by two more pleasurable ones.
Linked to the previous point is the idea of managing unoccupied time. Too often, organisations measure customer journeys and the time they take in purely linear ways – measuring whether something takes 15 minutes, 30 minutes etc. The reality of course is that we human beings don’t experience time in that way. Time is elastic for us – it sometimes goes in a flash and sometimes seems to take forever. So when managing our experiences, we need to avoid unoccupied time – they inevitably feel longer. If customers are standing in a queue with nothing to distract them, 5 minutes will seem 5 times that length.
With Covid19, we are used to lots of rules. “Use face masks, stay 2 metres apart” etc. The fact is an environment with lots of signs with rules can feel at best soulless, at worst anxiety-inducing. Consider the language you are using in your signage. There is a difference between a poster that says, “No Smoking” and one that says, “Thank you for not smoking”. Positive affirmation is often a much more effective driver of action. Beyond that, businesses should look for other ways of using language in a more overtly positive way during these often less than positive times. We love the departure board on a train platform in Vienna that said “Wieder da bist!” – loosely translated as “Nice to have you back!”
At SignalCX we are huge fans of Noble Prize- winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his work in behavioural economics. In one of his famous experiments, he asked subjects to plunge their hands into uncomfortably cold water (14°C or 57° F) for 60 seconds. He then asked them to undertake a second experience – one where they immersed their hands in the same cold water for 60 seconds again and then took their hands out and immersed them into a second bowl of water – still cold but very slightly warmer (15°C or 59° F) for an additional 30 seconds. In other words, the second experience was longer in duration – 90 seconds. The fascinating finding was that 70% of subjects chose the longer uncomfortable experience (the 90 second one). What this experiment told us is that most people have an innate desire for improvement. If you then layer this research with the more famous peak-end rule (where people judge an experience based on how they feel at the peak (i.e. the most intense point) and at the end) – it’s clear the end of an experience is critical.
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