Coffee heat rising

Motivating People around Us: Six Ways to Better Customer Service

A week or so ago, Financial Samurai posted a thoughtful article on the importance of recognition in motivating workers, especially as they move upward through the organizational hierarchy to take on greater and greater responsibility.

He touches on an issue that was presented to me some years ago. While I was an editor at Arizona Highways, I was sent off to take a seminar in motivating creative workers. To boil a daylong talkfest down to a sentence or three, the gist was that creative people are motivated less by money than by recognition of their skill and talents. It was claimed that graphic artists, writers, and editors feel a great deal less validation from promotions, nice offices, and raises than from awards (whether from inside the organization or from trade and creative groups) and verbal commendations from management.

Well. I recall thinking that sounded like a good excuse to pay creative workers less than accountants, circulation managers, and ad salespeople—as though those folks never engaged any kind of creativity in their jobs. What I took away from the seminar was that all workers thrive on generous recognition of excellence: that positive feedback on good work is more effective than negative feedback on efforts that leave something to be desired.

Weirdly, that idea was recently reinforced by, of all people, a dog trainer.

Motivated creative worker

Cassie the Corgi and I were attending an agility training class. The trainer was trying persuade everyone that the key to convincing a dog to do what you ask is effusive praise. In the middle of his harangue, he stopped and said, “How do you feel when the boss says to you, ‘Great job, Joe! You really did exactly what was needed!'” He mimed a handshake and a pat on the back.

“That makes you feel like doing the same thing again, right? Maybe even better the next time.

“But what if he just grunts ‘Nice work there’?” He made like a guy walking past the cube, waving a coffee cup in the air. “How does that make you feel? Not so enthusiastic about the job.”

You don’t have to be a boss (or a dog trainer) to profit from this advice. One obvious application is to customer service reps and sales clerks. Ever think about how you behave affects the way they feel about their jobs? Imagine having to put up with some chucklehead who can’t even make eye contact while she yammers on the cell phone as you’re toting up her grocery bill. What must it feel like to be on the receiving end of a call from a customer who has just spent ten, fifteen, or more minutes listening to infuriating Muzak, advertising, and “we value your patronage” pseudomessages while trying to get a simple answer to a simple question?

We can “motivate” all sorts of employees around us. Even though they’re not strictly “our” employees, they’re our employees in that they’re trying (in theory) to please us with various products and services. It’s in our interest to motivate them, because happy employees provide better services and may even go above and beyond the call for us, in one way or another.

Here are some ways to build better morale and promote better service among the employees we run into every day:

Refrain from yakking on your cell phone while the checkout clerk is charging up your purchases (that is so rude!).

To keep the edge out of your voice after navigating an endless phone tree, turn on your speaker phone so that annoying ads and muzak aren’t pumped straight into your ear. Try not to take out your frustration at having to fight to reach a human on the human being who finally does answer the phone.

Thank people for their efforts, even if they’re just doing their job.

When people do something you like, compliment them on their professionalism, helpfulness, or special effort.

Even if the person is doing just an adequate job, compliment him or her on something or make some empathetic remark. Recently a tired-looking bank teller perked right up when I observed that her manicure looked lovely.

When a talking machine asks you to comment on a telephone representative, say “yes” and leave a positive comment—most people only comment when they’re complaining, so these devices serve mainly to add stress to an already stressful job.

What strategies do you use for getting the best out of the people around you?

Image: Pembroke Welsh Corgi on an agility teeter-totter. Elf. GNU Free Documentation License.

5 thoughts on “Motivating People around Us: Six Ways to Better Customer Service”

  1. If I’m in a foul mood and then had to wait through fifteen minutes on hold, I’ll usually preface my call with, “I’m sorry you have to be the one getting my wrath, but I’m not a very happy customer today.” It seems to help me calm down, having apologized and then they also know I’m annoyed. I agree what we put out often is reflected back to us.

  2. That was one of my biggest complaints when working in the corporate world was the lack of recognition and lack of praise. To tell you the truth, it was foremost on my mind for being one of the reasons why I never wanted to work in the corporate world again. It’s no longer an issue now that I work for myself.

    I like your points about how to treat other people in business and I’ve always thought I was an odd lot because I do that. I like to give compliments and I’ll do that on Facebook and in emails to companies. Glad to know I’m not alone in this thinking.

  3. One of my co-workers has a wonderful treat for the phone talkers: All their produce becomes organic. A barista that I know gives all the phone yakkers decaf. I don’t have the nerve to be passive-aggressive, but I do just ignore the heck out of them. The next person in line usually talks about how rude the previous customer was. I just smile and tell them that at least I know not to waste any time and energy on them and tell them that I’d much rather help the ones who care. Said with a large smile in the current customer’s direction. I know from being on both sides of the counter that kindness goes a very long way. Everyone’s life is stressful and hard. To have even a few minutes where one’s load feels lightened is a blessing. Being a retail clerk is hardly brain surgery, but I do get to interact with mostly great people (my store attracts those sorts), and I’m going to give back to the world as much and as long as I can.

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