What is the most important customer service skill you can have? There are a lot of skills and behaviours to choose from – Asking questions, active listening, using positive language, problem-solving, being proactive, being genuinely interested – the list goes on. All of them are critical to creating outstanding customer experiences, and most require a lot of time and practice to truly master.
The most important customer service skill is, however, a much simpler one. Paradoxically, it also seems to be one that people struggle with the most.
It’s astounding the overwhelming percentage of service providers who go about their business, either in person or on the telephone, with uncaring, deadpan expressions on their faces and equally lifeless tones of voice. Even more astounding are the number of senior people, even some purported ‘customer service experts,’ who we see respond to comments about the importance of a smile with dismissive wave of a hand and a “yeah, yeah, whatever.” Smiling is too trite, they seem to believe, to spend time talking about. It’s too simple. Not advanced enough. “We need to get to the next level,” they will say.
You Can’t Get To The Next Level of Customer Service Without It
I think it’s time we all stepped back for a moment and thought about this. How can anyone get to any ‘next level,’ when they haven’t demonstrated a willingness or understanding of the simplest and most important part of the ‘first level?’ A smile is more than just a fuzzy nicety. It is the catalyst that brings all of the other skills to life. Imagine, for example, two guest service people at the front desk of a hotel. Each listen intently to their guest, ask great questions and make sure to use positive language. One of them remains expressionless and serious through the interaction, and the other has a friendly, engaging smile. Which guest is more likely to feel a connection or feel cared about. Which guest is more likely to tell a friend about their experience?
Trying to execute higher level customer service skills without smiling is like an apprentice baker trying to master more complex cake recipes without putting in the baking soda. Sure, you have all the right ingredients, and the chocolate will still be chocolate. But it won’t be a cake.
For the customer service superstars that we see, smiling isn’t a conscious action. It’s a reflex. It’s a desire to, in every interaction, connect with the person standing across from them or sitting on the other end of the telephone. They understand the importance of making others comfortable and cared about.
I have heard more than one person say, “I’m just not a smiling kind of person.” Fair enough. But smiling isn’t that hard, and if you work at it you can turn it into habit. And, if you don’t really want to make that effort, for everyone’s sake find a job that doesn’t involve customers. I’ve also heard people say, “But what if I’m a bad mood. I can’t just fake a smile. I hate people who fake a smile.” My response is simple: It’s not about you. It’s about your customer. And if you aren’t prepared to do what it takes to create a great connection with the people you encounter, again, don’t work in a customer service role.
Are there times when a smile is inappropriate? Of course. But not as often as some might have you to believe. I recently spent some time with people in the funeral and cemetery business. One said to me, “We are dealing with people who are often in the saddest time of their lives. When they are telling us stories of their loved ones, a warm appreciative smile lets them know that we care, and understand how important that person was to them.”
Make no mistake. A smile is the most important customer service skill you will ever have.