What’s your policy on eye contact? Do you have one? You should.
I’ve been working with a company recently who contacted me because they were concerned that their customers are frequenting a close competitor more than they had in the past and it’s showing in the bottom line. As such I went into this business and just looked around.
Initially the contact was to up the company’s social media game as the new head of the company blamed social media for the change in the number of people frequenting the business. But it didn’t take long to ascertain what was going on, and it wasn’t social media at all. But it was antisocial.
As I walked the floor of this customer-facing business I noticed that most of the new hires didn’t make eye contact with me. In fact, it was something that really bothered me as I walked around. So I went to the competition.
It should be known that this is a medium-sized locally-owned business that is very much customer-facing. Also, none of the team at the business really had any idea I was there in any capacity to help the business grow so, for all they knew, I was just another customer.
Let that sink in. Just another customer.
At the competition I was greeted right at the door. All the people who were on the team at the competing business seemed really friendly and actually acknowledged me as I walked around there. It actually made me feel so good I patronized the business and thought the experience was really positive - enough so that I wrote a positive review of that business.
Then I went back to my client but, before sharing what I learned, I spent a few days in the business just experiencing what it was like to be a prospect or a customer.
It was clear that some of the team members had developed an exceptional skill at avoiding eye contact at all costs. It was almost as if it were some professional game they were playing or a contest where they’d win a prize for not ever, ever looking the customer in the eye.
If we’re going to play a fun game, I’m in. So I zeroed-in on a group of these employees just trying to make eye contact. Just once. The funny thing is, this business has security cameras so I took note of the time and location of all these interactions. Well, really it was just me with a ridiculous grin almost obnoxiously trying to make eye contact with the employees.
Many of them were successfully ignoring me.
Since I was getting paid to do this, it went on for a couple of weeks. There were some team members whose name and smile I instantly got to know but there were a larger bunch who were more difficult to crack.
Then there were a small group who, over the course of two weeks of my being in this business, I was never once able to make eye contact with. Never once.
The lack of warmth at the company who called me to solve their social media problem was absolutely palpable. But I noticed the new head of the company was just as bad as some of the team who never acknowledged the customers or other team members. Now I see the real issue here.
So, again, using the operation’s in-house security cameras I made a list of times and locations and invited the new head of the company to watch those interactions. Or lack thereof.
This inability to make eye contact is sadly common in customer-facing businesses. Servers at restaurants, retail workers and anyone else who should be coming into contact with the people whose patronage pays their wages should never be distracted from making eye contact and offering a pleasant greeting.
Yet it is very common. So how much perceivable difference is there in placing an order online and going into a retail store? If you are not acknowledged and greeted with kindness when you’re bringing your money into a place, why not just go online then? At least you generally get a thank you email.
If you’ve ever been on a cruise ship you’ll notice that the team members, all the team members, are extraordinarily pleasant. From the people swabbing the decks to the servers you are always warmly greeted by the staff on a cruise ship and it makes you glad you’re aboard.
This is also true at Disneyland, the “Happiest Place on Earth.” Even the people keeping the ground clean and tidy are very pleasant and are trained to be happy to offer directions, know the time that things happen and even offer tips and ideas. The “it’s not my job” syndrome doesn’t exist there.
When the new head of the company I was working with and the new marketing manager saw the various security videos I had asked them to set aside they were shocked by what they saw. But they also saw themselves doing the same thing. Busted. And, even worse, busted setting a bad example.
So this week, if you are in a retail environment, make it a point to make eye contact with your customers. Encourage your team to do the same. If it’s not your area, or not your table, or you think it’s not your place to be nice to the people who bring the money that shows-up on your paycheck, forget that. Just acknowledge and be nice to everyone who is a customer at your place of business. There is not one person on the team who should be above being an ambassador of customer service to the people who, ultimately, are the ones who pay the bills.