Customer service tip: How to build rapport in 4 seconds

I arrived at the counter of a Starbucks coffee shop.

There was no one else in line.  Great. No waiting required.

For some reason that I am still not sure of, I became a “fly on the wall” and observed my own behaviour while ordering my coffee. That fly helped me understand why I find it easy to build rapport with people. It helped me “decode” how to build rapport with strangers in just 4 seconds…and how to apply this in a customer service setting.

The lessons are highly applicable to people who work in high volume service environments such as ticket counters and check-outs.

So what did that fly on the wall see?

George arrived at the counter. Behind the counter there was a Starbucks employee ready to take his order.

George made eye contact with the employee and gave him a warm smile. He said, “Hi. How are you?”

The employee gave the customary answer of “Good thanks”. (It would not really be appropriate for the employee to say that his cat died that morning and life sucks, so “Good thanks” is an evergreen, safe answer!)

The employee smiled and returned the eye contact.

George showed that he was listening to the employee by holding eye contact and pausing for two seconds. This signalled to the employee that George was listening.

A connection had been made between two human beings who may not see each other again. George had paid undivided attention to the employee for 4 seconds, and in that time, made him feel important.

George then ordered his coffee.

This might seem pretty simple and straightforward, but let’s decode.

In the first 4 seconds of the encounter, I paid attention to the Starbucks employee. I made him feel important by focusing on him as an individual. My tools to do this were a warm smile “with my eyes”, a simple greeting and a brief pause before I commenced my order.

The pause was my transition from the personal phase of the interaction to the transactional phase.

It is not my practice to consciously think, “Smile with my eyes, greet and pause.” However, this encounter helped me understand why I seem to be able to build rapport with people in very short spaces of time.

So where is this leading to, you might ask. You might say that you don’t want to build rapport with people on the street who you will never see again. That’s a fair comment.

But now switch positions and imagine that the Starbucks employee did the same 4 second rapport building to you. Or the checkout employee, or the ticket counter employee.

These employees work in high customer volume environments. They don’t have time to talk to you about the latest news. But, as the fly on the wall at Starbucks will tell you, they can make customers feel important in just a few seconds.

There are two components to the service experience – the personal component, ie how you make customers feel, and the material component, ie what you get, in this case, a cup of coffee.

The first 4 seconds is a simple way to create a positive personal-emotional experience. Those first 4 seconds will create a positive first impression.

The payback will be happier customers who will say, “Wow, your people are really friendly!”

And all it took was 4 seconds!

Train your employees on how to connect in the first 4 seconds of each service encounter, and they will be seen to be providing surprisingly engaging customer experiences.

Finally, I have mentioned something that is really important to rapport building – smiling with your eyes. Stay tuned for my next blog post on this one.

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