In the past decade or so, the term helicopter parent became popular as a description of a parent who constantly hovers over his or her children, overprotecting them and microparenting. Similarly, a helicopter rep is a customer-facing professional who hovers over the customer, creating a sense of pressure and overbearing attention.
Often, helicopter reps mean to do the right thing; they are trying to be available for the customer and attempting to let the customer know she is not being ignored. It’s just too much of a good thing. People need space. Even people who generally look forward to contact from frontline reps can quickly grow irritated when a service rep hovers over them or checks with them too frequently. It’s like having a friend who calls to check on you every hour when you’re sick. The repeated gestures are really nice, but at some point you just want to lie on the couch and binge watch The Walking Dead.
To add another layer of complexity, some customers don’t even want minimal contact; they simply want to be left alone.
In this post I wrote about self-service in retail, I was surprised to read in the comment section just how much people enjoy self-checkout. Recent data supports this. An MSNBC .com survey found that 35 percent of consumers said they “loved self-checkout lanes,” and a study from the United Kingdom found that 57 percent of consumers “like self-service checkouts because it speeds up the process.”
Regardless of whether self-service is a good thing or not (some people hate it), the takeaway from the research is that probably a third or more of your customers want to be left alone or, at most, want the minimum interaction needed to complete the transaction. When customers feel this way, it’s easy to make them feel smothered.
Despite these statistics, you don’t want to be inattentive or to assume that customers don’t want assistance. And you certainly don’t want to set off Service Trigger #1 of The 7 Service Triggers, Being Ignored.
You always want to make initial contact with the customer. Once you’ve initiated contact, however, it’s important to remember that the customer may simply want to be left alone to shop and get out as fast as possible.
How do you know what the customer in front of you wants? If you’re lucky, she will tell you outright: “Can you help me find the baby strollers?”
If not, you want to pay close attention to the language the customer uses and the body language she displays. In Zen-speak, you want to be present without pressuring and to be available without attaching.
Knowing how to find the balance between attentiveness and space is one of the hallmarks of great customer service. By being aware that all customers do not want the same amount of attention and by paying close attention to the signals the customer sends you, you can avoid crossing the line from Hero-Class rep to helicopter rep.
By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.