Recently I was reading an article in McKinsey Quarterly titled The Moment of Truth in Customer Service. As I was reading I could not help but think of all the frontline jobs in a ski resort/area that are really the essence of what makes a ski resort/area a good or not so good one. Here is my paraphrasing of the article, putting it in the context of a ski resort/area.
Many ski resorts/areas are investing significant amounts of money in loyalty programs, in customer-relationship- management (CRM) technology, and in general service –quality improvements, most of these initiatives end in disappointment. This according to Forrester research, only 10% of business and IT executives surveyed strongly agreed that business results anticipated from implementing CRM were met or exceeded. I am extrapolating these finds to the ski industry.
What’s regularly missing, in my opinion, is the spark between the customer and the frontline staff – the spark that helps transform wary or skeptical people into strong and committed brand followers. (More on spark in future posts.) The spark and the emotionally driven behavior that creates it explain how great customer service companies earn trust and loyalty during “moments of truth”: those few interactions (for instance, a lost season pass, a missed ski lesson, a damaged piece of clothing, or bad meal) when customers invest a high amount of emotional energy in the outcome. Superb handling of these moments requires an instinctive frontline response that puts the customers emotional needs ahead of the company’s and the employee’s agendas.
There a number of practical ways to overcome these challenges. In any business that offers service (or sells a product with an embedded service element), i.e. a ski resort, there are moments when long-term relationships between the business and its customers can change significantly – for better or for worse. By supporting and developing the frontline emotional intelligence of its employees, a ski resort can ensure that most of those moments have a positive outcome.
High emotion, high performance
What is the link between emotionally charged moments of truth and the purchase decisions of customers? Many companies make the mistake of overinvesting in humdrum transactions but fail to differentiate themselves in the customer experiences that really matter. The impact of frontline emotional intelligence on the bottom line has proven to be clear. After a positive experience, more than 85 percent of customers increased their value by purchasing more product/services; just as telling, more than 70 percent reduced their commitment when things turned sour.
Why behavior is key
Standard responses to eliminate human error (IT systems, mechanistic CRM approaches, and complex protocols, for example) may smooth simple customer interactions such as in fast food restaurants or remote-banking transactions. But pure technological solutions can never stoke the emotional connection between employee and customer – the kind of connection that characterizes positive moments in frontline situations.
When technology falls short, frontline employees can succeed with the right skills and competencies, as well as an appropriate range of deep-seated emotional and psychological assumptions. While most ski resorts fully understand the importance of building capabilities (through training, for example), most ignore the mind-sets of their front line employees. Mind-sets, as defined by authors, have three elements that largely govern human behavior: thoughts and feelings, values beliefs, and personal emotional needs (both met and unmet).
Seizing the moment: How managers can help
Based on observations from working with companies, emotional intelligence in ski resort settings typically manifests through four intertwined characteristics:
- A strong sense of self-empowerment and self-regulation, which together helps employees to make decisions right on the spot if that should be necessary
- A positive outlook, promoting constructive responses to the challenges of work
- An awareness of your own and other people’s feeling, creating empathy and facilitating better conversations with customers
- A mastery of fear and anxiety and the ability to tap into selfless motives, which make it possible for employees to express feelings of empathy and caring
To no small degree, these can be intrinsic features of a human being’s personality. Even so ski resorts can take practical steps to encourage and enhance them.
Ski resorts can begin by hiring emotionally intelligent frontline workers in the first place: (More of this topic in future posts) ski resorts start with an obvious advantage if they can attract people born or brought up with the right emotional instincts for frontline employment. A lift operator for example can be taught to manage the lift but having the right mind-set to be on his/her feet all day, in the cold and interacting with people is starting in the right place.
Recruitment, however, is only part of the story. The authors have increasingly observed that if companies understand and act on four key “environmental” levers, they can significantly influence front line’s emotional intelligence. Activities inspired by these levers must be mutually reinforcing. When they are – and when a company’s senior managers understand the links between them – they help to create a workplace where excellent customer service can blossom and key moments of truth are handled deftly and successfully. The levers involve both carrots and sticks:
- Creating meaning and clarity of purpose for people in frontline work, thereby addressing their thoughts, feelings, values, beliefs and emotional needs
- Improving the capabilities of employees – influencing their mind-sets – so that they acquire the right emotional skills
- Putting structures, reward systems, and processes in place to back up these changes
- Enlisting frontline leaders to serve as role models and to teach emotionally intelligent behavior
Long post – more to come on how to develop programs on the four environmental levers in a future post.