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Clever Or Creepy: Is Your Customer Service Crossing The Line?

Being just a hair too clever can backfire when you’re running a business that exists in physical space. Making use of customer information you’ve captured digitally, in a way that would seem OK to a customer shopping online–alone and protected by a firewall–can seem intrusive in the world of face to face customer service.

Now that a business can find out/look up so much about its customers before they walk in (or walk back in) its doors, some caution is called for. Consider foodservice, for example: When you can pull up what a customer ordered from their last visit to your restaurant, digitally “remembering” that preference on a return visit can seem cool (even life-saving in some instances) or c0me off as stalkerly.

Watching out for the Digital Ickiness Factor

It requires supple employee and organizational implementation to not cross the creepiness line. You want to make customers feel recognized in the sense of giving recognition, but you don’t want guests to feel like you are examining their dental records or their bare anatomy. A FuturesGroup report put this well, recently: “A sense of balance will be key. Entering a hotel room to find all devices tailored to your name, favorite music and film, and your fridge filled with your favorite brands of food and drink, mined from your social media profiles, may lead even the most affable traveler to feel a bit uncomfortable.”

“Thank you, Mr. fill in the blank, for your loyalty”.

There’s another pitfall here. Even if you’re not coming off as creepy, you may be coming off as wooden, stilted, and utterly and completely insincere. One particularly tone-deaf example: The way certain major airlines require – require – gate agents to look down at the electronic scanner as each passenger puts his pass through it, and woodenly recite–read, actually– the following script: “Thank you, Mr. [she fills in blank #1] for being a [she fills in blank #2] level member with us.” Reading this off the scanner–which the passenger clearly can see is what’s going on– takes what could be a personal (albeit quick) interaction and turns it into a guarantee that no eye contact is made and nothing genuine transpires.

Make sure your implementation is nuanced

But enough about the downside. Even in the highest touch settings, customers appreciate when you use the knowledge you have of them, if you do so with the proper sensitivity. “Even in a small, intimate business, technological advances can have great benefits,” says Patrick O’Connell, proprietor of the legendary (and I don’t use that term lightly) Inn At Little Washington. in Rappahannock County, Virginia.

In the process of researching incoming guests prior to their arrival, says O’Connell, ”[we] frequently discover key pieces of information that we can use to make a guest’s stay more enjoyable.” For example, O’Connell says, if the guest collects antique cars, they might put a book in their room on the subject. “The important thing is not to let technology get in the way of our humanness. A guest can usually tell if you genuinely remember his name or if you’re reading it on a computer screen.”

Or, as another customer service professional, Tim Miller, told me recently, “as technology moves along, so does the ability to share that information with co-workers and make sure people know who’s who and whatever. I think at the end of the day what makes it not creepy is a real level of engagement from the employees you see face to face.”

About the Author: Micah Solomon is a customer service consultant, customer experience consultant, customer service speaker and the bestselling author most recently of High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service.

Russell Dean
Russell Dean
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