Empathetic Customer Service

Perhaps you are like me and certain types of questions, asked in retail and restaurant environments, set your teeth big time on edge:

How are those first few bites tasting?

Any plans for the weekend?

How’s your day been so far?

On the one hand I get it: servers and customer service folks have been “trained” to ask these questions as a way of creating a relationship, quickly, with the customer. BUT when the questions are so clearly rote and not in any way genuine, I believe they have the opposite effect. They become ritualistic and carry the potential to backfire, defeating the original purpose.

So here’s an idea that can change the way your staff interacts with customers. It will take a little bit of training but it’s dead simple once you grasp the content AND allow your natural, human curiosity to kick in.

Example:  I’m unloading my groceries onto the belt at my local grocery store. Let’s say I have chicken thighs, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, mushrooms, shrimp, celery, crab, and Belgian endive. Oftentimes I find the check-out person must ask what the endive is and then look up the code as it’s not all that common, apparently.  Rather than asking me about my plans for the weekend or evening, why not say, “I’ve never had Belgian endive; what do you do with it?”

There is no more danger of a prolonged conversation than there is with the open ended, rote question, what are your plans? In other words, it won’t hold up the process in any significant way BUT it will create much better empathy through the use of curiosity. People want to be asked what they think and they want to be asked it with genuine interest.

In a restaurant, where you have much more time to engender a relationship with your tables, rather than trotting out the “first bites” routine, why not ask about the specific dishes? What do you think about the sauce on those carrots? Can you taste the cumin?  I mean, how hard is it to ask a sincere question? And if the answer is not rote but actually tells you something that isn’t quite right, isn’t it better to know and report that to the kitchen? Most of the time people will be complimentary, especially if you are asking their opinion in a genuine way.

We say yes to people we like and what better way to get someone to like you than to ask them about themselves, their groceries and their dinner?

Try it and let me know what happens.

Joanna Piros