Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Approachable Service: Avoid the First Word Farce

I pushed my shopping cart up to the counter.

“Good morning!” I said to the cashier.

I awaited my greeting.

And the first words out of her mouth were:

“Zip code please.”

Yes. That was her actual greeting.


Not “Hello.”
Not “How are ya?”
Not “Welcome to Office Depot!”

Zip code please.

Gee, thanks for the friendly greeting, I thought.

WARNING: This indicator of unapproachable service is called The First Word Farce. And here’s why it’s so crucial:

According to an article from the Wall Street Journal in February of 2006, you only have a few seconds to make an UNFORGETTABLE first impression.

A few seconds!

LESSON LEARNED: Greetings are GOLD because confidence is KING.

So, the challenge is: Which extreme of the unforgettable spectrum will you project?

Unfortunately, too many front line employees go the wrong way.

That is, they greet the customer according protocol. What THEY have to say, as opposed to what THE CUSTOMER wants to hear.

Examples include:

Next in line!
Paper or plastic?
Last name please!
Phone number with area code first…


You get the point.

A similar example that comes to mind is the local sandwich shop by my office.

When customers step up to the front counter, the first words out of the cashiers’ mouths are, “For here, or to go?”

Sometimes, they’ll even interrupt YOUR friendly greeting, just because they HAVE to ask that question first!

OK, so here’s the deal. If you’re a receptionist, cashier or any other front line employees AND want to avoid the First Word Farce, consider three ideas:

1. Brainstorm. Sit down (or have line-up) with your entire front line team. Challenge each employee to come up with three brand new, brand consistent greetings. Then, vote on which greetings you like best, and try them out for a week.

2. Field Research. Now that you understand the First Word Farce, the next step is to keep your eyes and ears open. Pay close attention to the first words used by other front lines employees when you’re the customer. Make note of how they made you feel. Ask yourself, “Would I want MY customers to be greeted that way?”

3. Think big picture. Whatever greeting you decide upon, just remember one thing: make it customer oriented.

Even if you’re in a rush.

Even if you need some information from a customer to begin the transaction.

There’s always time.

AND, there’s always room, too.

In that respect, Approachable Service is sort of like JELLO.

Because when you do it right, it’s not only sweet, it’s also satisfying.

Both for you AND the customer.

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag

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