There’s a lot that’s been written about narcissistic business leaders – including how driven, focused and successful they can be – up to a point. But recently I’ve noticed a trend of narcissistic-styled approaches at the Customer Service level in smaller sized businesses. By narcissistic-styled, what I’m referring to here is a lack of interpersonal awareness and skills when dealing with customers, in particular, around empathy.
While a narcissistic CEO or chief “rain-maker” of a large corporation may be able to pull this off, narcissistic-styled, “me-centric” behaviour at the customer service level in a small to medium sized business is a total liability.
When it comes to the customer service area of business, hire for attitude first, then skills is key.
Here is what I experienced the other week when I travelled interstate and encountered a stuff-up that had occurred within a car hire company’s processes:
1. Rigid, fixed thinking and views about ‘how things should be done’.
2. Focusing on problems, not solutions – no attempt to solve the issue.
3. Black and white, concrete thinking. No mental flexibility or agility.
4. Dumping the problem back onto the customer.
5. A lack of empathy and recognition of normal human emotions in other people, such as frustration and exasperation, over the stuff-up. There wasn’t even a glimmer of trying to imagine themselves in the customer’s shoes. Active Listening Skills 101: listen, understand, clarify, and then move forward – were nowhere to be seen.
The overarching fundamental theme to all this seemed to be a lack of understanding around what makes people tick. It was a “me-centric”, narcissistic-styled “I don’t have to listen to you” approach.
This style of approach is customer relationship kryptonite and guarantees no repeat business.
Successful multinationals, like Virgin, totally get how important customer relationship management is for their business and brand. Yet smaller to medium sized companies sometimes skimp on investing in core customer relationship skills training, focusing instead on processes and systems above everything else which is a big oversight. Because when stuff-ups occur within business systems or processes that aren’t quickly resolved, the solution from the customer’s perspective is quite straight forward. There’s no repeat business. Simple. And then there’s the viral word of mouth. When negative customer experiences occur, most people tell just about everyone they know.
So What Can You Do About It?
How do you appreciate the nature and scale of the problem? In the situation that occurred the other week, when it was clear I was being blocked, I spoke with the manager who immediately got things sorted. Management were in fact great, they were solution focused, friendly and switched on. So the gap and brand-disconnect was occurring at the customer service level of the business. Had I dealt with the manager in the first place, the issue would have never even arose.
Customers won’t always take the time to give you feedback, they’ll just walk away when stuff-ups occur that don’t get sorted at the customer service level, or higher up.
Here are 3 things you can do to avoid this problem jeopardizing your business and brand:
1. Provide Active Listening, Interpersonal Skills and Customer Relationship Training. It’s a must.
2. Be clear around your company’s expectations on Customer Relationship Management so that everyone delivers a consistent brand experience.
3. Invest in on-going people development to help your people succeed and grow, including support for new staff to ensure they are on the right track. Don’t just focus on systems and processes, as important as they are, and leave out the people side of things.
Sometimes, all of this is still not enough. All the amount of training in the world would not have shifted this person’s attitude and lack of interpersonal skills. It can take enormous amounts of time and effort, with little progress to show, trying to change someone’s behaviour who’s simply not suited for a particular kind of role, for a whole range of reasons. If that’s the case, then it’s knowing when to recognize this, find them a more suitable role, or look at other options. Some personality types are simply just not suited to customer service roles and if you don’t identify this from the get-go it will cost you.
Because business is about people. And how well, or not, you respond to your customers has a huge impact on the success of your business and brand. This is true for all businesses, whether they are small or large.
Image by Rayi Christian Wicaksono