Soft skills for customer service staff have never been more critical.
Bar staff, hotel concierges, retail shop assistants, flight attendants, ticket attendants, waiters, receptionists; these are just some of the professionals who will be asked to enforce vaccination rules when serving the general public.
A key piece of advice I would give all front-line service staff is this; your days at work will be easier and more peaceful if you leave your own personal and political views at the door. While you’re at work, be your best professional self. Be of service.
As society faces this “new normal”, customers are showing obvious signs that they are:
- anxious returning to crowds or travelling
- emotionally charged with personal and political views
- fatigued and triggered easily by something small.
The concern for staff bearing the brunt of frustrated and agitated customers is real, just last week the retail sector called for vaccine mandates for non-essential stores to be abandoned. Many employers are realistic about the large percentage of their staff who are not equipped to deal with the push back, nor do they want to deal with it. To be fair, this is not part of the “usual” job description when you accept a customer-facing role.
Regardless of what changes in the future regarding vaccination mandates, the valid concern is how staff respond and serve their customers in this new COVID conscious environment.
Businesses have already lost so much to COVID and can’t afford to be further penalised, so they’re following the rules. Those in the travel, retail and hospitality sectors simply can’t afford to lose another customer as they begin their road to recovery.
The goal is to have front line staff who can be direct and kind at the same time. In other words, make sure the customer understands the needs of the business and the customer feels you understand them.
Here are my top tips for frontline employees enforcing vaccination protocols:
Smile with your eyes
Smiling with your eyes is instantly being kind. Many frontline employees in these businesses will still be wearing masks, so their smiles can’t be seen, making the interaction feel clinical and transactional. People respond better to kindness and your eyes are the key. Even from behind a mask, this kindness will carry through in your tone of voice and show compassion and care.
Say “I understand”
Vaccinated or unvaccinated – this apparent divide in our society doesn’t take away the human desires we all have; to be seen, heard and understood. Avoid using the words ‘unfortunately’ or ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I can’t’ and replace it with ‘I understand’. When you use the word ‘understand’ you immediately show empathy.
Show them the solution
Providing your teams with visual prompts or posters that support them in their messaging is vital. This gives employees language cues to use and to show customers. It will assist them in not making it personal towards the individual customer. Using simple statements such as, “I can’t allow you to shop here/dine here, without proof of your vaccination, because we may both get fined.”
Being kind, but direct and not creating any drama around the interaction serves customers.
Those businesses preparing to take care of their customers (regardless of whether they’ve had the jab or not) may consider having an alternative solution to offer customers who are denied entry. A pamphlet or service that assist them online, a takeaway menu or bottle of water as a gesture of good will and to further inform.
Rules are there to serve, not enslave. A customer is a customer. We can always bring a sense of common humanity to a direct interaction and treat everyone with kindness.