Did you take psychology in college? Do you remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? If you do, kudos, if not, here’s a refresher.
Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who reached fame in 1943 when he published a paper called A Theory of Human Motivation where he set out the foundation of what would become known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This hierarchy postulates that all of us have basic needs that must be met in order to reach true happiness and fulfillment. These needs include physiological needs, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization., a term that can be defined as reaching one’s potential.
Why am I strolling down memory lane to a psychology class of many, many years ago you might ask? I want to look at one of the most fundamental needs on the hierarchy, that of safety.
How does safety fit into the customer/provider world? Is it about making sure customers don’t fall or get injured? Certainly. But it also means more. Every customer comes into a business looking for help to get goods and services and this comes with some amount of fear and trepidation. Think about your trip into a store, you have to have a certain amount of trust in them to have what you want, to provide good advice, to provide support over the longer term, to be fair in the deal, etc. When you have no past dealings with the business, you naturally put up some guard. Face it, you don’t know how good they are, you don’t know whether you might get ripped off, there’s some, even if it’s infinitesimal, amount of distrust. The challenge for businesses is how to create that feeling of trust, or safety, from the beginning.
Here are three As – Appearance, Attitude, and Ability – to lead the way. If your employees demonstrate these three things, customers will be more likely to trust and feel safe so you can proceed in building the relationship.
Imagine you need a lawyer so you make a call for an appointment. The meeting time arises and you go to meet this person for the first time. The lawyer steps into the room looking disheveled wearing ripped jeans, a t-shirt and a tatty old ball cap. How do you feel about entrusting them with whatever important legal action you need to accomplish? Do you feel safe? Do you want someone else? Appearance is usually the first indicator we have in the trust journey and a poor appearance can be very hard to overcome. In fact, a poor appearance can end any further interaction immediately. How do your employees appear? Do they send a message that your organization is trustworthy or do they just send up flags of distrust?
What attitude do you want when someone is serving you? How many times have you experienced indifference or that fake smile that says “I’m smiling because I have to”? The best attitudes I’ve found in people serving customers are ones that say “I want to help you”. This requires a mindset that first understands that customers are not a means to an end or obstacles to getting work done. Rather, it’s a mindset that understands that customers are unique human beings with their own objectives, needs and challenges. It’s a mindset that understands that customers, like all human beings, have bad days, frustrations, personalities, hopes, dreams, fears, the list goes on. The key here is using this understanding of people to inform that overall desire to be helpful, to always be looking for ways to make others successful and life easier. How much safer might customers feel when they genuinely feel your employees truly have their best interests at heart? How much more trust might they have in your business if they experienced that attitude?
Last, your employees must not only express that they want to help, they must demonstrate that they can help. Your employees must be trained in your products and services so they can provide good advice and counsel. They must be trained to troubleshoot and provide answers and solutions to problems. And as a mandatory outcome to training, they must be empowered to make decisions on the spot to do what’s necessary to make customers successful. This means trusting employees to do the right thing and supporting their decisions. However, if that idea sends chills up your spine thinking about the possible bad choices that could be made, you need to assess your leadership and make some changes.
Good leaders help employees learn to see things the way they do and make the decisions they would make. This means showing them how to do things in real life, not role plays, real life. It means getting out there and demonstrating how to do it. People need models to clearly see what’s expected. Then, to refine the behavior, they need coaching. And by coaching I don’t mean more telling them what to do, I mean asking them questions to draw out what they know so that they get engaged and take ownership. As with attitude, how much safer will customers feel when they know your employees can quickly solve their issues without undue complication? How much more trust might they have in your business if they knew that they didn’t have to wait for answers or solutions?
Three simple As – Appearance, Attitude, and Ability – that can build initial trust and make customers feel safe working with your business. Is it worth it to you?