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It happened again. An employee was making a customer feel as uncomfortable as possible, while I observed in enforced silence. Let me back up: The setting was a mystery-shopping visit to a resort property with a restaurant (as a customer service consultant, I was staked out for an assessment of my client’s current-state customer experience). There, a young customer, clearly on a dinner date, asked the waiter for a bottle of Rioja. Not being much of a sophisticate, the guest made the mistake of pronouncing it with a hard “J,” Rio-JAH.
The waiter didn’t directly correct him (though I got the strong sense that he wanted to).
Instead, he took an underhanded, passive-aggressive (as opposed to “aggressive aggressive” approach:
“Certainly, Sir. I’ll bring you this lovely Rio-Ha [emphasis on the soft “j”] straightaway.”
Whether the young man’s dinner date dumped him that same evening for his lack of sophistication, I don’t know. But the mortification on his face and the shaken confidence in his bearing were palpable.
Although this waiter knew enough to not flat-out tell the customer he was wrong, he still found a way to bring the customer discomfort. In a similar spirit, here are fifteen common ways that businesses make their customers uncomfortable, divided into three broader categories. Are you, your employees, or anyone in your organization guilty of these sins?
A. Using thoughtless language:
There are endless ways to make a customer comfortable via language. My first eight ways to make a customer uncomfortable fall into this misuse-of-language category–and boy, they are doozies.
1. The “No Problem” problem”: When a customer thanks an employee, one of the worst replies they can give is “no problem.” The problems with “no problem” are legion. First off: Your customer invested an effort in thanking you, and you’re being dismissive of this effort. Second: You’re implying that maybe whatever they required you to do for them that inspired their thanks was a problem or could have been one. Finally: Why bring the word “problem” into the mix at all, even if it’s modified by that little “no”?
“[I’m] glad I could help.”
2. Attention-shaming: Telling a customer “Like I said…” or “Again…”: If a customer isn’t paying attention up to your standards, just repeat yourself rather than making them feel bad about not understanding you the first time.
3. Single-shaming: Saying “Just one?” to a customer who walks into a restaurant alone. It’s better just to proceed to seat the arriving customer if you have the impression that they’re solo (and clearly that is your impression, if you’re tempted to say, “just one?”). You can let the customer correct you if they actually do have someone joining them.
4. Drawing attention to a customer’s age: I see this most frequently when an employee calls a woman of advancing years “young lady” (I see this happen with some regularity at TSA in particular). I have to assume the employee believes they’re being cute or flattering, but the effect is the opposite.
5. Calling human beings “wheelchairs,” as in “Two wheelchairs on this plane” or “We’re clear, no wheelchairs on this plane,” from a flight attendant to ground crew upon landing.
6. Making a customer feel uncomfortable about money: Telling a customer “You still owe us X” (rather than “our records indicate a balance on your account), or “Your card’s been declined” (particularly if this is spoken in a public environment); you need to give this bad news to your customer discreetly and couch it in polite euphemisms.
7. Using your company or industry’s internal jargon when speaking to or corresponding with a customer, rather than using simple, universally understandable terms. No matter how intelligent a customer, they’re going to feel dumb if they don’t know your lingo and you insist on using it.
8. Industry-specific insensitive language. Healthcare, for example, has some stunners, as do many other industries where employees share a specific background and training that is far removed from the experience of their customers.
B. Physical environment
9. Light switches and other essentials thoughtlessly located where the customer doesn’t expect to find them.
10. Sound volume. When you work in a loud environment, your hearing compresses (to protect itself); this is the same effect as the temporary deafness you experience at–but only notice following–a rock concert. But for a customer temporarily visiting a loud environment, the impression can be thunderous, every time you scrape that chair across the ground or clang that silverware together.
11. Too hot/too cold. The sensory experience of a customer being served or waiting to be served is inherently different than that of an employee bustling around doing their job. Getting the temperature right requires you to realize this.
12. Insensitivity on accessibility issues. Flat-out evading ADA to save money is of course outrageous (though I sadly see this happen with some frequency). But even more common are issues that come from carelessness and insensitivity: You have the prescribed number of ADA parking spaces, say, haven’t maintained the directional signage that was to indicate how to get from those spaces to the nearest accessible entryway via a truly barrier-free route. Or you replace universal access door levers with knobs because that’s what you happen to have in the storeroom when one malfunctions, and never replace it with the correct item because you don’t understand how essential the easier-to-manipulate levers are to anyone with a manual dexterity limitation. Or you thoughtlessly place a heavy planter in front of the automatic door-assist mechanism.
13. Signage worded in your internal jargon or not tested for whether it’s comprehensible by an outsider—i.e., a customer.
C. Treatment of Employees:
14. Disciplining an employee within earshot of a customer is a quick way to make a customer uncomfortable.
15. Blaming an employee for a problem when speaking to a customer will have nearly the same effect.
January 30, 2019 at 10:35PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs