Customers. Are their brains with you or against you?

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Throughout your life, five times every second, 300 times a minute, your brain, as well as everyone else’s brain, is continuously scanning the world around it to determine whether things are dangerous or safe.

It happens in your subconscious mind all day and you don’t even realize it, and the determination makes a big difference, particularly in interactions with others.

If, during this environmental scan, your brain registers things as dangerous, it gets to work ensuring survival, getting ready to fight, flee, or freeze.  Energy and fuel are shunted away from your conscious, prefrontal cortex and things begin happening based on instincts originally set up so you wouldn’t be eaten by a predator. You begin to subtly see those around you as potential enemies, things become black and white, you get tunnel vision, you begin acting automatically and start saying and doing things you wouldn’t normally say and do.

However, if the brain looks around and says things look “safe” here, things turn out very differently, you have more control of yourself and the interaction becomes more collaborative. You feel you’re among friends, willing to share and work together. You are able to see not only black and white but gray subtleties and nuances. And since your prefrontal cortex, your conscious thinking center, isn’t working on minimal power, you’re able to bring your best thinking, attitude, and decision-making skills into play.

So what can we do to make “safety” happen more regularly and influence environments and interactions that are more positive?

Well, thankfully, the work of David Rock and others in the neuroscience realm has shown us some answers.  By examining brain scans, a few critical factors have been identified that suggest an influence on the brain’s interpretation of situations as safe or not. These factors include feeling important, knowing what to expect, having some control, feeling included, and a sense that dealings are fair.  By considering these factors and how our behavior is either making people feel safe or not, we can make adjustments that can inspire more positive relations.  In business, there is nowhere where this is more needed than in customer service.

Customer service interactions can be some of the most difficult since they involve people who are typically strangers relating around products and services requiring the exchange of money.  It is easy in these dealings for trust and safety to quickly fall into jeopardy.  By using the knowledge of brain science outlined above and focusing on four key behaviors, we can promote the perception of safety, and in turn, help to build better interactions; I call these the WALS behaviors.

  • W is for Welcoming, a response to the brain’s need to be included, to belong.
  • A is for Accommodating, an answer to the brain’s need for fairness.  Is this one-sided, are their needs considered or is this just about you?
  • L is for Listening, because the brain needs to feel important, it wants your full attention, it wants to feel it can have input and some control.
  • S is for Sharing, a reply to the brain’s desire for information so it knows what can be expected.

So, if you interface with customers, some key things to regularly ask yourself are:

  • Am I welcoming people? Did I greet them warmly?  Am I demonstrating to them that I want them to be here?
  • How can I be more flexible and accommodating with their requests?  How can I find a way to say “yes”?
  • What questions can I ask and how can I better listen and give them the attention they deserve?
  • What information do they need from me? How can I provide more so they know what to expect and feel more confident?

If you are a manager, teach your team to ask these questions of themselves.  Perhaps, post these questions somewhere so they remain top of mind.

If you want your employees to deliver great service, coach them to make these behaviors habits.  By doing so, you will not only benefit your customers but also those same employees because interactions will get easier and more pleasant.

Regardless of what you do, we all want the human-to-human aspect of life to be better.  It’s always nice to have people, especially customers, with you rather than against you.  So, how can you contribute more to “with” environments rather than “against” environments?

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