Welcomer Edge“Hello, my lovely” , said the FedEx man delivering books. What a way to wow your customers.

This was how the Fed Ex delivery man greeted me when he handed me over my signed copies of Richard Shapiro’s new book on unlocking the secrets of repeat business. I’ve known Richard Shapiro for a while so he promised me 2 signed copies of his book: The Welcomer Edge. Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business.

Now many people may be offended by the phrase “Hello my lovely” but in my part of Wales where I live, this is a very common phrase. It’s not meant in a leering way but is a friendly greeting. I was charmed, not offended. He had already spoken to me on the phone to found out where my house was. We live along a long, narrow country lane. The houses have no numbers, just house names so it’s very hard for the postman and delivery couriers to find us. Mr FedEx was quite happy to stop for a chat, asking me if I liked living there (we have stunning views across a luscious valley). And as he left, he said a friendly “ta-ra!” . It brightened up my day, as a distraction from detailed reports, hundreds of emails and multiple spreadsheets.

Richard R Shapiro, Customer Retention Guru would define him as a Welcomer. Putting it simply, Rich is a customer service expert. His highly successful US company The Center For Client Retention provides research, consultancy and training to Fortune 500 companies on how to improve their customer experience. His very readable book has one message at its heart. You must employ Welcomers. This is not a job title. Those people who meet you at the door when you go into an Apple Store or venture into Hollisters are Greeters and not necessarily welcoming! In contrast, no matter what job they do, Welcomers make you instantly feel good.

Working in the world of Medical Information & Communications, we often become hyper-aware of what great customer experience is and what it isn’t. Now technology or service design has its place in defining this experience. I spend literally thousands on Apple kit because the experience of using it is less frustrating than a pc, is more aesthetically pleasing than a Dell laptop and is simplistic in its workflow. If I’m spending 8 hours plus most days using computers, I want my experience to be as pleasurable as possible. I also like my kit to look stylish and sleek.

But a huge part of what we do, involves people interacting with people. If we have remodelled our business to outsource first line customer queries, our teams still need the right customer interaction skills. They’re more likely to be working in brand teams or with Key Opinion Leaders so need good interpersonal skills. Whilst we can improve these skills, it’s far better to recruit the best people. What we want is to only employ Welcomers.

“So what is a Welcomer?”

Rich goes to great lengths to describe the defining features of Welcomers and gives lots of examples. Simply you always know when a Welcomer has helped you. They make lasting impressions on us as they make us feel special, valued and appreciated for being a customer of their business. They treat you as a person first and a customer second. They are essential to your repeat business. When it costs 5-6 times as much to find a new customer as retain a loyal customer, this makes sound financial sense. But they can be as rare as hens teeth in some businesses. Some companies seem to be staffed by the other 3 categories of people:

  • Robots
  • Indifferents
  • Hostiles

I’m sure we know these people only too well! The Indifferent and Hostiles are obvious. The Robots are those who do the right things, like welcome you and say thank you but you get the sense that they don’t really mean it. It’s the script they were taught to say. They view customers as yet another transaction. With Welcomers, it comes from the heart. They view customers as people first so create relationships.

As the word of mouth becoming a powerful influence of customer choice with the speed of sharing through social networks, it’s never been more important for managers to make sure they are staffing their front line operations with Welcomers, rather than Robots or Indifferents.

“So how it this relevant to Medical Information/Affairs?”

Highly relevant! If your team no longer do front line phone calls because you’ve outsourced it, does your provider have Welcomers? Have you tested the service to find out? Your metrics may look great. Lapsed time to response – check! Call abandon rate <4% – check! Customer survey ratings >90% satisfaction – check! BUT…. if the people are coming across as robotic, then it’s Epic Fail, not check. Having been involved in Mystery Shopper exercises and knowing that the interaction wasn’t quite right but couldn’t pinpoint why, Rich’s classification was a big “Ahaa!” moment for me. It was because I didn’t feel like they particularly wanted to help. Those characteristics and attitudes that make a great customer service person can’t necessarily be picked up in a resume.

With the increasing trend to use in-house staff to work closely with brand teams and other company personnel, having Welcomers on your team will make them become accepted and embedded in those teams. They want to share with others and so they encourage brand team members to do the same.

“But what about digital transactions?”

Surely this only applies in face-to-face or in phone calls? Wrong! It’s especially important to be welcoming in digital transactions. I’ve often preferred to buy services from companies that seem to be staffed by people not robots. Their website text was more chatty than impersonal. Yet they still came across as professional, efficient and expert in what they do. Succeeding in any business today is understanding and leveraging the premise that people buy from people.

Call to Action!

#1. So what if you have more Robots than Welcomers on your team? Robots can become “Wannabee Welcomers”. Once they understand the benefits of being more like a Welcomer and learn how to interact with customers in the 3 key phases (the greet, the assist and the leave-behind), then they have a chance to morph into Welcomers.

#2 Employ as many Welcomers as possible. When interviewing, ask about their customer interactions (it can be in any customer transaction, not necessarily a Medical Information call). Ask about their interests and their background. Their drive to help others runs through their life and their parents often instilled these values into them as children. I’ve employed a couple of Medical Information Scientists who didn’t have a relevant biomedical degree but had great customer service skills. They all went on to be highly successful in their careers, aided by those great Welcomer skills.

#3 Think about how customers perceive all aspects of your service. What is the service journey like for a customer? Is it a nightmare to find your contact details? Are they correct in any publications, like your prescribing information, websites, directories, etc? You ought to know these contact points anyway as it’s often part of an audit or inspection. How can you embed more Welcomer aspects to the service you provide?

I urge you to buy and read Richard’s book. It’ll give you a different perspective on your business from the viewpoint of a customer. There is also a Facebook page or you can follow Richard on Twitter

“But there is a downside.”

You’ll never be satisfied with being served by a Hostile or Indifferent again. But if you’re like me, you already walk out of stores or coffee shops because of poor service. But now you know what you are looking for in great customer service – the Welcomer!