The SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, better known by the disease COVID-19 or the coronavirus, put life and business on hold for countless people. For many, the price is even higher. Human society is gradually shifting into a new normal, but achieving safety and stability while we await a vaccine means adjusting to life with masks and social distancing.
For those in the service industries, reopening the economy takes some extra-special consideration. How does one provide top-flight customer service even with a mask on? Here are a few suggestions to help the workers of the world get back to delighting customers, even with their winning smiles hidden away:
1. Practice a Different Kind of Smile
Although there’s some controversy over the precise numbers, you may have heard that the components of a successfully delivered message are 7% verbal, 38% vocal and 55% body language.
If smiles, facial expressions and body movements are so important in conveying meaning, we need to compensate while wearing a mask. The “Duchenne smile” is one way to do this.
Stand in front of a mirror and practice the type of smile that reaches your eyes. Smiling is easier to “force” using your mouth than your eyes, meaning the Duchenne smile conveys a more genuine state of happiness or pleasure. Even with half your face covered, you can make customers feel welcome and engaged.
2. Make and Maintain Eye Contact
While we’re on the subject of eyes, it’s important to give a shoutout to eye contact. You’ve heard a hundred adages about eyes being “gateways to the soul.” In truth, people in general — and customers especially — appreciate it when their presence is acknowledged.
From a nod on the sidewalk to a meaningful glance across a busy shop that says, “I see you and you’re my next priority,” eye contact is one way we lend one another significance and urgency.
When our voices are muffled and we’re all a little on edge, eye contact can accomplish many things. It can soften customer frustrations, ensure everybody is acknowledged and served efficiently and help people feel more valued, heard and human.
3. Use the Expressiveness of Your Whole Face
There’s a saying among actors that “acting is overacting.” If you want to become the world’s finest masked customer liaison, you’ll have to do a little overacting.
Charles Darwin posited that facial expressions served an evolutionary purpose in early humans, perhaps by adjusting their field of vision or alerting others to nearby dangers.
With this in mind, remember that eyebrows can convey all kinds of meanings and emotions during customer interactions. Do your eyebrows rise in sympathy when customers tell you about their problems? Does your brow furrow while you’re concentrating on troubleshooting?
Get used to overacting a little while wearing your mask in public. Using your whole face to convey meaning will eliminate a few of the miscommunications that are bound to crop up.
4. Demonstrate Patience, Not Frustration, at Being Misheard
Being misheard is a discouraging experience, and masks only compound the frustration. We’ve talked a lot about how to use your eyes and face to communicate and provide service effectively. What we haven’t spoken about yet are the words you use and your demeanor and delivery.
If a customer is continually mishearing you, don’t lose your composure. Likewise, if they’re the ones losing their cool at the communication challenges, don’t rise to the bait. The conversation will echo the tone of the party who communicates with the greatest empathy, respect and patience.
It’s also important to remember that there’s no such thing as “over-communicating” right now. With everything else going on, customers will appreciate every attempt to make service interactions smoother and more productive. Provide information proactively, and speak and enunciate clearly.
5. Use Technology to Fill Service Gaps
Business leaders have lots of opportunities at their disposal to expand their technology and digital services portfolios. Although it’s more than possible to deliver fantastic customer service with a mask on, many customers will still want to limit their in-person interactions with service personnel.
Times like these call for investments in service industry technologies such as:
- Automated chatbots for answering FAQs and providing basic customer and account interactions.
- In-store kiosks for effortless on-premises check-in.
- Intuitive web apps for appointment scheduling and other self-help customer tools.
- More robust e-commerce solutions, including customization options, curbside pickup, real-time inventory and more immersive product photos and videos.
- Video conferencing tools like Google Hangouts, Apple FaceTime and Zoom
Customer experience is paramount right now. As we all emerge from the worst of the pandemic, customers will look for companies that handle the transition most gracefully. They’ll seek organizations that handle this newness with the most attention to the customer experience. Technology can support our service staff in countless ways while eliminating frustrations for customers.
From Service With a Smile to Service With a Mask On
Keeping customers engaged during uncertain times and with half your face hidden from view is no easy task. Hopefully, by now, you have a better idea of how to get your service industry mojo back while the world enters a new chapter.
By: Caleb Danziger, BOSS contributor