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How can our employees engage customers emotionally?

Experts Don Peppers and Martha Rogers give tips on how to get customer service representatives to engage customers emotionally.

We would like our customer service representatives to engage customers emotionally in order to build customer equity and brand loyalty. How do you recommend they do this?
The biggest secret to engaging customers emotionally is to ensure that your employees are truly engaged in their own work. They need to take satisfaction in the work itself, and you can't simply command this through a particular organizational structure or set of rules. Your corporate culture – what your employees do when no one's looking – is the primary driver of employee behavior. If your culture is based on acting always in your customers' best interest, constantly trying to see things from the customer's own point of view, then you're at least halfway there when it comes to engaging customers emotionally, as well.

We suggest that to earn your customers' trust you first have to earn your employees' trust. Getting your employees' trust is not always easy, because hierarchically structured, top-down organizations are just not well designed to encourage trust.

Part of what gets in the way of honesty, trust and openness within the ranks at most firms, for instance, is the natural resistance that bosses show to opposition by their subordinates. In a top-down organization, decision making is placed in the hands of higher-ups, an implied recognition of their superior wisdom and leadership character. But people have a natural tendency to try to avoid conflict whenever possible. Bosses would rather not hear about problems and subordinates would rather not have conflicts with their bosses. As a result, as information is passed up the chain in a hierarchical organization it gets filtered in ways designed to minimize disagreement and trouble (i.e., edited to ensure that the higher-ups are not displeased).

Add to this the fact that, in the vast majority of companies, managers' incentive pay is based not on performance per se but on performance relative to expectations. The performance-versus-plan system can be easily "gamed." Students of incentives and budgeting processes have pointed out that when you set a target for a manager's performance bonus, you are essentially "paying people to lie."

Rewarding people for superior performance is a crucial management tool and an indispensable mechanism for improving a company's overall operation, but don't be deceived: Performance pay, especially when it is earned by individuals rather than by teams, is almost always going to have a corrosive effect on an organization's sense of honesty, openness, and trust. It may well be that the improvement in a firm's operational performance as a result of individual managers trying to achieve their own goals will be worth the cost. But unless it's managed carefully, performance pay can work against a culture of trust.

Despite the pitfalls, it is possible to manage your organization in such a way as to encourage customer service representatives to develop engaging, emotional relationships with customers, and truly successful firms do this. Look at the relationships that UPS drivers have with their customers, for instance. When you become a UPS driver, there is a whole gestalt of service, created largely by the expectations of other UPS drivers. That is the result of a positive corporate culture based on earning and keeping the trust of customers.

Hear more in Creating Customer Value, a SearchCRM.com monthly podcast series with Peppers and Rogers.

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