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An Emotionally Intelligent Staff
| Anne-Marie Hardie
>> Published Date: 1/31/2014
Almost every industry talks about the importance of customer service, from service with a smile to the customer is always right. However, these two things alone will not retain your customers. The key to customer loyalty is developing emotionally intelligent staff.

What is Emotional Intelligence?
“Our simple definition of emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and assess the emotions in oneself and others and being able to act accordingly,” says Michael Labun, Facilitator at Emotional Intelligence in the WorkPlace, Achieve Training Centre, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Unlike IQ, emotional intelligence can be both learned and developed. Daniel Goleman, one of the top journalists in emotional intelligence today, believes that when management takes the time to foster an emotionally intelligent work team, quality customer service is simply a natural result.

“All communication involves the ability to basically guess what the other is thinking or will think in response to something we do,” Michael says. “Having said that, some of us are better at this than others. In other words, some of us are better mind readers. Those of us who are good at it aren’t always conscious of why we do what we do or how we know what we know; we just instinctively feel that something will work, and it does.”

Scientists are discovering that these individuals are subconsciously reading the emotional cues that the other individual is sending out. “These individuals may notice the eyebrows quickly coming down and together while the eyelids push up [suggesting anger] or they notice the eyebrows coming up and together, forming a mini-tent, suggesting sadness,” Michael says.
Being able to accurately read body language is also a key ability in emotional intelligent individuals. When training emotional intelligence, it’s important for staff/management to discuss the message communicated through body language. Michael shares that even simple actions like head scratching or rubbing eyes communicate volumes. These two techniques are often used when an individual is either trying to self-soothe or avoid a situation.
“In essence, the ‘how’ on emotional intelligent customer service is quite simple,” Michael says. “It begins by thinking about how other people are feeling and thinking and trying to put yourself in other people’s shoes.”  

Before starting with others, it’s important for both staff and management to focus on becoming aware of their own emotions, drives and moods. 

Step 1: Develop Self-Awareness
Take the time throughout the day to check in with your emotions. If you’re feeling angry, irritated or upset, what do you need to help change these emotions? Sometimes, something as simple as taking a deep breath can help make this shift. This is extremely important if you’re working with other staff or with customers directly. Negative emotions breed each other, so if you go into work angry or agitated, unfortunately, those are the customers that will surround you. Thankfully, the opposite is also true.  

Step 2: Take the Time to Connect with the Customer/Staff

Having an emotionally intelligent conversation shouldn’t take any more time. In fact, when done correctly, this technique will save time and avoid angry customers. Here we’ve shown some key steps to a quality conversation.

Making eye contact with the customer is a simple technique and tells a customer they’re important and you’re ready to listen.

Smile as soon as the customer approaches and give the customer an authentic smile. If the customer hasn’t begun to speak yet, ask, “How can I help you?”

Listen to what the customer is saying and what they’re not saying.
This is the key to an emotionally intelligent conversation. Pay attention to not only the words, but also the body language of the individual. If the customer is agitated, notice what part of the conversation that they become more agitated in. Do they look away at any point of the conversation? When do their words become faster (a key indicator of anger)? If this is a long conversation, nodding and using small words (like uh/uh or simple rephrasing) shows that you’re still paying attention.

Wait for the pause in the conversation. If the customer is angry, this is extremely important.

Allow the customer to fully tell their story before beginning to speak. In most cases, customers that are angry or upset simply want to be heard.

Rephrase what the customer has said. Michael emphasizes the importance of genuinely paraphrasing what the customer has said.

“That’s difficult for most people to do because people usually disagree with challenging customers. They feel that if they put themselves in the other person’s shoes, they will leave their own ‘shoes’ behind. Their own perspective will be forgotten and they will be conceding the battle,” Michael says. “But it’s not true. Challenging customers want to be heard. Challenging customers are often using tactics, like yelling, belittling, going on and on or asking to speak to someone else because they want to be heard.”

Paraphrasing a customer’s conversation shows that we understand their concern. In most cases, the customer now no longer has to yell or belittle to be heard and understood. 

Wait for agreement: Allow the customer to respond to your paraphrase. If a customer has more to add, take the time to listen to them and then paraphrase again. Continue this process until the customer feels that they’ve been fully heard.
Respond with the “cans.” Michael recommends that the customer service representative reflect on the questions below to help understand the customer’s perspective:  

•     Why does the customer want to return it?
•     Why does the customer feel that returning the object would be fair? Is it because the item never worked? Was the tree bought at a discount (50% off) and died over the winter? 
•     Did the customer feel that it wasn’t worth the money that we charged?

Don’t Say This
These phrases can take the happiest individual and transform them into an angry customer. Avoid them at all costs:
•     Our policy is ...
•     Management says …
•     Sorry that the product doesn’t work, but … (when you use but, you’ve just taken away the apology)
•     No.
•     I can’t.

Instead use:
•     Thank you for letting me know.
•     Here’s what I can do for you.

“An emotionally intelligent workplace is a place where both employees and customers feel they are understood and can be effective,” Michael says. “Customers are willing to pay for that. And employees are willing to work for longer if they can get that.” GP

Anne-Marie Hardie is a freelance writer/speaker from Barrie, Ontario, and part of the third generation of the
family-owned garden center/wholesale business Bradford Greenhouses in Barrie/Bradford, Ontario.

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