The Importance of Non-Verbal Cues When You Work in Customer Service
Numerous studies show that your non-verbal communication conveys more than half of the message you’re trying to share when you interact with a customer. Being in the hospitality industry, you likely already know that. But are you aware of your own body language and how it’s being received? What kind of impression are you making when you aren’t “saying” anything?
Customer satisfaction relies on your ability to use effective non-verbal cues. And that goes double for dealing with guests from other cultures. Many cultures have different meanings for similar gestures that can lead to an unhappy guest.
For example, some cultures are considered “high context” and others are “low context.” In a “high context” culture, much of the message is conveyed using elements other than words. It may be social standing, relationship status, ritual or a deep cultural understanding.
In contrast, “low context” cultures rely mostly on spoken words without as much emphasis on the surroundings or hierarchies of those in the meeting. Of course, there are plenty of cultures that fall in the middle (such as Italy, Spain or Latin America).
To give you a better understanding of some of these cultural differences, here are a few examples:
- Eye contact: In some Asian cultures, avoiding eye contact is a sign of respect. In the U. S., it’s the opposite. In some other cultures, it can signal an act of romantic interest.
- Touching: Touching children on the arm or on the head is considered acceptable in the U.S. Not so in some Asian countries, where it’s highly inappropriate. There are also a wide range of cultural viewpoints on appropriate touching between genders.
- Physical space: If you’ve ever encountered someone standing quite close to you while speaking, you’ll relate to this difference. Some cultures view physical space as “public” while, many Americans feel they own a “personal space” of a few feet surrounding their bodies.
- Volume, pitch and silence: These aspects of speech are something called “Paralanguage” and affect the way your message is conveyed in various situations. In particular, silence can mean a refusal (as for some in Greek culture) or it can mean consent (for example, in Egypt). Some cultures are just more comfortable with long silences than others.
So what can you do to better understand appropriate non-verbal behavior?
1. It never hurts to nod and smile. Being pleasant is understood across all cultures.
2. Even if you speak another language, are you aware of the non-verbal behaviors that go with it? Take the time to study the culture to augment you language fluency.
3. Ask questions and show an interest in your customer.
4. Learn a few phrases in another language, such as “hello,” “thank you,” “good morning,” etc.
5. Actively listen. That means nodding, an occasional “uh huh,” and good eye contact (when appropriate). Don’t look all around or behind them while they’re talking.
6. Stand up or lean toward the customer when speaking with them.
7. Make positive gestures. Shake hands firmly, don’t cross your arms over your chest or look down when interacting with a guest.
8. If someone needs your assistance, come out from behind the desk and offer help. Don’t just “direct them” or point.
Final thoughts: Smile when you’re talking on the phone. Of course, the person on the line can’t see you, but they can “hear” that smile in your voice. Also, give them your full attention; don’t try to do other things while you’re on the phone.
If you’re responsible for interacting with customers on social media, be sure you’re answering questions promptly and making it easy to communicate with you and your company. Prominently display your contact info so customers know you’re willing to listen.
It’s also important to keep in touch with customers after they leave your hotel or restaurant. Customer Service Surveys are a good way to solicit customer advice and keep your service fresh and on point.