Customers in the United States judge companies and brands the same way they judge and perceive other people – on competence and warmth. Forbes author Chris Malone uses an example to present these findings:
“We’ve all had the experience of knowing someone we would recommend for a job but wouldn’t bring home to dinner. The reverse is also familiar: There is someone we’re happy to have to dinner but wouldn’t recommend for a job. In the first instance, we’re sure our colleague is competent, but we feel no real personal bond. In the second instance, we respond to the warmth of our friend but don’t feel he is competent for a particular role.” – Chris Malone, Forbes, Customer Loyalty
Companies and businesses that manage to be perceived as both warm and competent by customers have higher rates of customer loyalty, or returning customers. This is the heart of the importance of warmth in customer service.
But even successful national and international brands have trouble channeling this finding into action; after all, just knowing that customers want warmth and competency from a brand doesn’t accomplish the task.
What is warmth in customer service?
Research by Drs. Susan Fiske and Nicolas Kervyn on behalf of Princeton University sought to find what consumers define warmth and competency in customer service as. The research team looked at 8 “big brands:” Minute Maid, Advil, McDonald’s, Burger King, BP, Shell, Tylenol, and Tropicana. Overall, the team found that “consumers’ warmth and competence perceptions of these brands were highly predictive of purchase intent, likelihood to recommend, and–most importantly–brand loyalty.”
In this study covering more than 36 countries world-wide and thousands of participants, it was determined that consumers associate the following traits with warmth:
Additionally, the research found that the same group defines traits related to competency as:
The “warmth and competency model”
Social psychology calls it the “warmth and competency model”: the way human beings judge, perceive, and interact with one another in social situations. Doing business is a social situation, so the same rules apply. Customers are looking for companies they do business with to meet two major criteria: Good intentions toward them (warmth) and a proven ability to carry out those intentions (competency).
It’s not good enough to be competent without warmth in business; you miss out on the human connection side and fail to turn customers into loyal customers. It’s not enough to be warm without showing competency in business; you won’t earn customers’ trust and will cause customers to seek other, more competent brands (according to their own perceptions) for their needs.
How to show warmth
The traits associated with warmth are trustworthiness, friendliness, helpfulness, and sincerity. You can help your customers perceive you as warm by showing signs of all these traits. But how does one show a customer that they’re trustworthy and friendly?
To show trustworthiness – Be as accurate as possible. Always be on time. Live by your word. Don’t change your prices often. Provide a consistent experience for your customers.
To show friendliness – Smile often. Remember repeat customers and develop a repertoire. Give customers the benefit of the doubt when possible.
To show helpfulness – Be ready to assist customers at all times. Go above and beyond to find solutions to problems. Give little-known or “insider” tips to customers (that item will go on sale tomorrow, FYI!). Direct customers to helpful resources.
To show sincerity – Say what you mean and mean what you say. Keep prices and policies as consistent as possible. Laugh at customer jokes that aren’t funny, but don’t cackle. Show concern when problems arise and don’t be afraid to show a little sincere emotion to customers (in writing a condolence letter, responding to a positive review, etc.)
The importance of warmth in customer service can be summed up simply: Competency may attract customers, but warmth has the power to keep them around. Being good at what you do will impress consumers, but showing warmth in customer service while being good at what you do will make consumers loyal to your brand or business.
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