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Connecting With Customers: Don’t Forget To Put On A Smile

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As summer nears, youthful memories of adventurous and reckless activities emerge. HVAC contractors might agree that they learned valuable business lessons by taking risks. How? Keep reading.

Lesson From My Youth
A youthful summer adventure which comes to mind involved a hitchhiking trip through much of New England and Eastern Canada. I hitchhiked from Long Island to Montreal, then to Quebec City and on through New Brunswick to Nova Scotia and then back to New York through New England. It was the summer of 1975, and hitchhiking was popular among college students who sought an economical way to travel and see the world.

One of the first important lessons I learned about successful hitchhiking involved building a relationship with a prospective ride. After being stuck in one spot for more than one hour with no success and little hope for improvement, I began to assess the situation. After a few minutes of rational thought, I decided to walk to the next entrance ramp and hitchhike from there. My logic was that the vehicles would be traveling at a much slower speed, while on the ramp, and therefore stopping would be more convenient. I arrived at the next New York State Thruway entrance ramp, and within five minutes a driver stopped for me. This driver stopped not only because he was driving at a slower speed, but also because he and I had made eye contact, which established two seconds of rapport. The success of this lesson served me well during the remainder of my journey — hitchhike where vehicles drive slowly, smile, and make eye contact with the driver.

The Importance Of Non-Verbal Behaviors
In the customer service industry, non-verbal behaviors such as eye contact play a large role in establishing rapport. I have observed a noticeable absence of eye contact in business and social interactions. For example, I have encountered numerous cashiers that do not make eye contact with me — the paying customer. The indifference and apathy, which I sense from an impersonal cashier, does little to enhance the value of their employer’s retail establishment. The lack of eye contact is a subtle way of the cashier saying, “We don’t care whether you shop here again.”

For all HVAC service professionals, eye contact, in addition to a smile, ought to be a standard operating procedure. Managers should enforce that employees who work with customers, learn to greet, make eye contact, and smile. While this appears to be intuitive — it is not. I work with organizations who hire me to teach their employees how to greet, make eye contact, and smile. In today’s world, we must teach interpersonal skills at every level.

There Is A Difference
Maintaining eye contact does not mean staring at a customer. Staring makes customers uncomfortable. So, what is the difference between meaningful eye contact and staring? Socially acceptable eye contact lasts every 3 seconds or so, staring is continued beyond that. These simple yet effective non-verbal behaviors convey a willingness to cooperate prior to any spoken words.

When I speak publicly, I urge my audiences to enforce positive service behaviors — especially when these behaviors are free. The greeting, good eye contact, and a nice smile do not cost a penny. In fact, when a service professional fails to do this, they are probably costing their employer more money by diminishing opportunities for repeat business. It cost just as much time to smile as it does to frown — so all things being equal go ahead and convey a professional smile.

Steve Coscia, CSP

Posted In: ACCA Now, Customer Service, Sales & Marketing

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