The friendlier the better
Every year, a number of organisations come up with their annual look at the world’s friendliest people. I always look forward to those surveys with amusement. One thing that I have always wondered is how countries move up and down the rank. What changed during the previous year for that country to become friendlier or less welcoming? How do the researchers even decide what constitutes a friendly country?
In the 2018 edition of the World’s Friendliest Countries by Forbes magazine released in March 2018, Portugal was voted the country with the friendliest people in the world, having moved nine places from the 2016 edition. What did the Portuguese do to jump to the top? As a Ghanaian, I was not too happy not to see Ghana up there? I thought we were supposed to be the friendliest people on earth.
Many countries take these surveys seriously—and they must because friendliness is important and that is a fact. Self-improvement guru and author, Dale Carnegie puts it simply “Winning friends begins with friendliness.” Customer service is all about making friends of strangers and therefore friendliness is more than just a great human quality. It is a very important business strategy.
The importance of friendliness for business was clearly brought to the fore in a 2011 study by customer relationship management software provider, RightNow Technologies, Inc., (now Oracle RightNow). Conducted by New York-based market research company, Harris Insights & Analytics and titled the 2011 Customer Experience Impact Report, the Report stated that 73% of consumers say friendly employees or customer service reps make them fall in love with a brand.
Friendliness of employees placed higher in that report than “Easy Access to Information and Support” (55%) and “Personalised Experiences such as knowing what customers have bought in the past and service issues they have raised” (36%). Evidently friendliness matters to customers. This is something that every employee should appreciate.
It is surprising that sometimes employees behave as if what they do does not matter. They seem to forget the simple fact that they come to work for one reason and one reason alone—to serve customers. It is important for employees to appreciate the truth that whatever they do, whether negative or positive, has an effect on the overall experience of the customer.
This fact was confirmed in the results of an October 2008 study titled The Impact of Employee Behaviour on Customers’ Service Quality Perceptions and Overall Satisfaction published in October 2008 edition of the Tourism and Hospitality Research journal. That study was based on data collected from customers of a random sample of 33 ﬁve-star hotels in Egypt.
The study revealed something we have always known for years that “all negative behaviours recorded a high negative effect on customers’ overall satisfaction.” As expected, positive friendly behaviours affected the customer’s overall experience in a very positive ways. A positive behaviour such as “Listening to customers with empathy in responding to their needs in a good manner” was the most highly regarded by customers. This was followed by “allowing check-in procedures to run quickly” and “making every possible effort to resolve customer complaints.” In other words, customers would prefer the friendliness of service staff above the way and manner problems are resolved.
Every organisation that is serious about customer service must make it a policy that every employee must always friendly—from the time the employee enters the office till the time they walk out. It must be compulsory that any staff who meets someone on the premises must smile at the one and greet the one warmly. If the employee knows the customer by name, it is right to greet the one by name.
The entire organisation must be saturated with so much friendliness that every customer who walks in must feel it. Friendliness must be felt over the phone. When customers call the organisation, the voice they hear over the phone must be one that puts a smile on the customer’s face, no matter the situation. The voice must be saturated with a genuine smile that the customer will feel at the other end of the line.
Two key aspects of friendliness that research shows are greetings and smiling. The power of greeting to positively affect customer satisfaction was revealed in an article published in the Journal of Organisational Behaviour Management in 1994. Captioned “An Assessment of the Relationship between Customer Satisfaction and Service Friendliness,” the researchers sought to find the link between service friendliness and customer satisfaction using a banking institution as a backdrop for the study.
When customers walk into the establishment, they must be met with the warmest smile and a warm greeting. A frown should not be seen anywhere at the front line. There should not be a situation where the customer has to struggle to get the attention of the one that is there to serve customers. From the moment the customer walks in, he or she must be made to feel special.
It is also a show of friendliness when those at the front line take their time to explain to customer whatever process they need to go through. Customer-facing staff must treat customers, especially first time customers, with lots of care. Empathy is a way of showing friendliness. It is unfriendly on the part of organisations to make their customers suffer just to buy a product or enjoy a service.
Regular follow-up is another aspect of friendliness that customer-friendly organisations do not joke with. In fact, the way an organisation relates to its customers after the transaction is done is a good indication of the customer-friendliness of the organisation. Good friends do not leave each other for months and years without checking up each other.
It is impressive to see that there is a growing tendency for organisations to send out messages to their customers on birthdays, holidays and on special occasions. All these are ways of ensuring that the brand is always on top of the mind of the customer. Leaving customers for long without getting in touch with them can open the way for competitors to jump in.
Friendship and gift giving go together. Therefore it is in the right order that organisations give out gifts to their customers. Gifts should not be so expensive before they make the desired impact. Tokens and giveaways should not be only reserved for Christmas, New Year and other festive occasions. Surprise gifts can do wonders for the relationship.
One time where the importance of friendliness become most pronounced is when customers are not too happy with something. It is at that time that one gets to appreciate the importance of being on friendly terms with the customer. When the customer’s expectations are not met and the one is angry, friendliness has a way of reducing the tension.
With all the talk of the importance of customer-facing staff to be friendly, it is possible that some people might take the friendliness too far. There are levels of friendliness and therefore what constitutes friendship with one customer might be an inconvenience for another customer. By their different make-ups, customers differ and therefore these differences must be factored in any attempt to exhibit friendliness to one’s customers. In a December 2010 article published in Journal of Services Marketing titled “Courtesy and Friendliness: Conflicting Goals for the Service Provider?,” a conclusion was drawn that “consumers express strong preferences for the level of friendliness they want from any type of service encounter, and that expectations will vary from one service to another and also from one customer to another.”
In other words, customers appreciate the level of friendship they are comfortable with. Anything else might be consider an unwelcome approach. There are customers who would wish to be called every now and then by the organisation to just check how they are doing. However, there are those other customers who would be a tad uncomfortable with such a show of friendliness.
This is why it is of importance that customer-handling professionals take their time to get to know their customers. Knowing your Customer must be more than a form to be filled when establishing the relationship with the customer. It must be something that is lived on a daily basis by each staff of the organisation.
If there is one thing that is clear from the ongoing discussion, it is the extreme importance for every business to have its front line staff at their friendliest each and every time. As much as technology continues to grow in importance within all business set-ups, business leaders, managers and supervisors must not leave out friendly employees. Technology cannot replace friendliness. Friendliness within the organisation cannot be sacrificed for efficient operations. There can be no down time when it comes to being friendly to one’s customers. Mood swings cannot be tolerated for those at the frontline.
All these start with ensuring that individuals with the right temperament are placed as the first port of call for the customers. Those who deal with customers must be naturally cut out for the job. They must not struggle to be friendly to customers. Not everyone is cut for putting up a warm personality that makes them approachable and easy to relate with. Friendliness must exude from their pores to infect everyone they come into contact with. That is the way to go and if the stats are anything to go by, there is a real reward for customer friendliness.