Is this key ingredient missing in your customer experience?

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I live in a city that is mandating the use of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. I support this requirement if it helps flatten the curve and speed our recovery from this pandemic. I have noticed on more than one occasion when I venture out for essential supplies, that my customer experience has dramatically changed due to one missing element. Our protective masks help prevent us from getting or spreading the virus. They also hide a very important part of the customer experience, our smiles.

Today we are left to exchanging glances as we check our distance or nod our heads in affirmation of our collective shelter-in-place predicament. Until the mask requirement, I never realized how much I missed seeing someone’s smile while transacting business with them. It’s even harder to convey, via our tone of voice, our thankfulness for grocery store clerks, health care workers, pharmacists, truckers, and so on. I find myself raising my voice to a near screaming level to ensure they’ve heard my appreciation for the risks they take every day to keep America on the move.

I live in Austin, Texas. It’s hard for us Texans not to smile and greet one another. When we moved here 9 years ago, the first thing we noticed was that Texans care about relationships not just transactions. They want to get to know you so they can trust you. We weren’t just another transfer into the state. Our fellow Texans got to know us and made us feel welcome. It’s hard to make people feel welcome from behind a mask. Our Texas-based grocery chain, H-E-B, is known for their friendly staff that even today remain upbeat and pleasant despite being safely secured behind glass partitions and masks.

There are many elements in creating an effective customer experience. We identify them in our strategies and document them in our journey maps. We survey our customers ad nauseum to find out if we satisfied their expectations, if they will buy from us again or recommend us to their friends. We train customer service representatives to convey their attitude through the phone, in a chat or through email by their tone of voice, sentence structure or prompt replies. We share our smiles with colleagues on office video conferences and with family and friends on virtual happy hours. But at a time when a smile would mean much more than ever before, it’s hidden except for a slightly noticeable raising of our cheeks.

It’s a necessary evil we must endure from an invisible enemy. It gives me something to look forward to when the pandemic eases. We may not return to hand shaking for the foreseeable future, but I do hope we can get back to making eye contact and smiling brightly. If the goal for our customer experience is relationships rather than transactions, then conveying our smiles from behind our masks can’t come soon enough!

By the way, National Smile Month begins May 18 and National Smile day is May 31! Mark your calendars and remember to smile, even if it is still from behind a mask!

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