Most of us acknowledge that when we’re performing our jobs, we are working.
But what many employees don’t often consider is that their jobs are made up of both mandatory actions that fulfill job functions (i.e., the bullet points on a job description) as well as optional behaviors that fulfill job essence—their highest priority (which, for most service-based businesses, is creating delighted customers).
Most work environments reinforce mandatory job functions through job descriptions, standard operating procedures (SOPs), checklists, etc., and pay little attention to the optional behaviors that, in the end, are the difference between an ordinary transaction and a memorable experience.
Here’s a quick example from the retail industry:
A couple of weeks ago, while in the checkout line at the supermarket, I had a chance to observe the cashier’s interaction with the customer ahead of me.
Typically these interactions are transactional: a screen displays the total, the customer swipes a bank card and signs for her purchases, the cashier presents a receipt, and the customer (9 times out of 10) thanks the cashier—presumably for accepting her money.
The cashier has completed a set of mandatory actions that fulfill her job function. But nothing stood out. No impression was made. An opportunity to make a connection was lost—forever…
But on this particular day, as she scanned a bag of dog food, the cashier asked, “What kind of a dog do you have?”
With that, the cashier and the customer had an enthusiastic exchange about their mutual love of Labrador Retrievers. It wasn’t long—maybe all of 20 seconds—while the customer swiped his bank card and signed for his purchases.
The cashier, by simply posing a question, expressed genuine interest in the customer and transformed a bland and uneventful transaction into a unique and memorable experience. An impression was made. A connection was established.
The cashier’s question was optional and fulfilled the essence of her job: to create a delighted customer. And because questions like these are optional, as customers we don’t always receive them. But when we do, they tend to leave a lasting positive impression.
Perhaps when the customer returns to the store, he will quickly scan the checkout lanes to see whether or not his “friend” is working and, if so, may go out of his way to queue in her line. The cashier may even recognize him and, recalling their previous conversation, ask about his dog.
This is how relationships form. This is how customer loyalty is earned. Customers don’t establish relationships with stores, they establish relationships with the people inside the stores.
Good customer service is rarely the result of perfectly executed mandatory job functions. Rather, it is most often the result of optional behaviors such as expressing genuine interest (e.g., “What kind of a dog do you have?”) and offering sincere and specific compliments (e.g., “You couldn’t have picked a breed with a better disposition.”) that fulfill job essence.
Good customer service is always optional. That’s why we rarely experience it.