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Emotional intelligence - An essential ingredient in customer service

BY: Novella Delali Ashison

In one of my visits to a utility company’s office in Accra, I was directed to talk to a cashier in one of the cubicles. The design of these cubicles as you may know are a hindrance to free flow of communication which is the bedrock of customer service. Most often, it is difficult to hear what the person on the other side is saying.

As I moved closer and made my request, the cashier’s agitated response of “I can’t hear you”, left a bitter experience in my memory throughout that day. My first reaction was to respond likewise. Even though I chose to ignore him, I left that office with my customer service experience at below average.

In July 2018, a police officer assigned to Midland Bank in Ghana physically assaulted a customer; the incident was captured on video and it went viral on social media.

The police authority subjected him to disciplinary measures while, the public advocated for legal action against the officer and the bank.

We have seen and experienced several cases of negative customer service in all levels in the Ghanaian public and private sectors. What may account for these lapses; Is customer service limited to procedures or laid down rules/steps on how to handle customers?

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Customer service, according to Langois and Tocqueris, “is a process that creates service quality for customers, it can be technical quality or relational quality. Technical quality refers to the benefits offered to a customer while relational quality describes the nature of the interaction between customer and the organisation. “However, one cannot satisfy a customer if one is unable to satisfy both the emotional and physical needs of that customer.

Emotional intelligence, therefore, is essential for creating an exceptional customer experience.

In his book “Working with emotional intelligence” Daniel Goleman, one of the pioneers of EQ asserts that the way a customer feels when they interact with a staff of an organisation determines how they feel about the company itself. In a psychological sense…, loyalty is lost or strengthened in every interaction between a company and its customers”

The writer

The term Emotional Intelligence (EQ or EI) was created by Peter Salavoy and John Mayer and popularised by Dan Goleman in 1996 in his book “Emotional Intelligence’.(1) Goleman defined EI as “the ability to recognise, understand and manage our own emotions, recognise, understand and influence the emotions of others.
EI is centered on the  development of four competences.

Personal Competences:
Self-awareness
Self-management

Social Competences:
Social awareness
Relationship management

These competences when mastered will ensure a high level of EQ and an outstanding performance at work.

To excel in customer service, a person needs to understand and practice the EQ fundamentals of social awareness and relationship management
Social awareness involves the competence of empathy; “this is the ability to read non-verbal cues for negative emotions particularly anger and fear, and to judge the trustworthiness of other people” whereas, relationship management gives a more complex picture because the effectiveness of our relationship is centered on our ability to accommodate others or influence the emotions of another person.

“Tuning into customer’s emotional needs is a pre-requisite for achieving customer engagement” (2) as Steve Offsey, VP Marketing of Pointillist explains “the emotions customers have while interacting with your brand correlated to their future behaviour – and those behaviours directly impact business growth” because the engaged customer is the one who keeps coming back and also refer someone to your business.

Even though most businesses venerate the customer as “king”, we often hear horror stories about customer service. For most businesses, their relationship ends when the goods are delivered; therefore, losing the link between services and sales, service and customer satisfaction. Many companies are concerned only with the tangibles and not on the intangible such as reliability, responsiveness and empathy.

In this era of digitalisation, business must strive to achieve customer service excellence. One of the core ways is to invest in your staff. Giving our limited time and money, businesses should now focus on engaging, training and maintaining people with a strong level of emotional intelligence.

Customer service training must be reviewed and revamped, businesses should adapt and apply the concept of emotional intelligence in an effort to improve work performance and excellent customer service through human capital which will in turn lead to organisational success.

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