We were in the supermarket aisle last Wednesday picking up our usual 10 pack of white tissue rolls, when my son pulled out a pack with pink rolls and asked ‘Mum, this pink tissue paper is for girls?’ I had a rather challenging time explaining that pink tissues can be used by everybody and are not the reserve of little girls. I then started to wonder where this whole pink and blue typing came from and how pink became a girl colour and blue a boy colour. And pretty much the entire world abides by these rules from childhood unto adulthood, for to date it is claimed that men that have been spotted sporting a corporate pink shirt, can only be described as a brave and daring lot. A slightly bigger group have increased their bravery and adventured into pink ties, but even as they wear them, they do so with a streak of bravado. And indeed when we come across this lot, we immediately chalk them down to being, bold, daring and dashing.
So, this provokes us to delve into the role that stereotypes and stereotyping play in our world of service delivery. Is this a good or a bad thing to do? Are the assumptions that we make about people from different backgrounds, religions, cultures, countries and socio –economic divides, helping or ruining our cause to up the service delivery bar?
Where do we draw the line between knowing our customers and ‘judging’ them? For it is not all West Africans that are loud, not all vertically challenged people sensitive or dread lock haired persons defiant right? When does one use their knowledge of a given group to aid the cause of handling a customer as they assume would be best desired, or cast these pre conceived ideals aside and put on a generalized good service format?
It does help significantly to understand a group’s dynamics and assume a stance that would make them more comfortable and make their transactions more enjoyable. I’ve thought about a strategy we used when I worked at a Hospital not too long ago. We felt that it was generally safe to assume that fathers with ill children unaccompanied by the child’s mother would be extremely troublesome, impatient and quick to react to delays or interruptions to service. We chalked that down to their not being in control, having a unwell child and generally operating out of their comfort zone, while playing the role of the comforter, many of who took to this circumstance like fish out of water. It was our general rule therefore to already be aware of this underlying factor and handle these fathers with a different set of gloves –pun-intended- to preempt explosive situations. But then again, isn’t that stereotyping at its peak? Who said that all unaccompanied fathers fall in this category? There is in fact an increasing population of fathers completely in touch with care giving especially with the rise in single fathers raising children. These fathers would be completely offended to imagine they’d been classified with those ‘other fathers’ and were receiving ‘special’ attention.
Here’s my take …..
In customer service the golden rule is ‘know thy customer’. It is critically important for customer service practitioners to intimately understand their customers, know who they are, where they come from, what they like and do not like, their preferences, their quirks, their history, background, eccentricities and where possible their hopes and dreams. The better you understand your customer, the higher your chances of consistently providing signature service. So when it comes to stereotyping, more often than not the intervention put in place to more delicately handle whichever stereotype is at play would call for more patience, more understanding, keener listening, more sensitivity and generally more tender love and care.
These aspects wouldn’t hurt even if applied to persons that go against the grain and are exceptions to the assumed stereotypical rule. It would mean for example that the single father with an ill child in the hospital, who is already adept at handling the situation, would get more perceptive service. And as this doesn’t hurt the situation, it would be more of a folly to not apply extra care when dealing with a particular customer than to apply extra care where it is not necessary.
So yes, let us be keenly aware of stereotypes, use them to profile our customers to provide them customized service, be extremely careful to not let our stereotyping biases confront clients and then use this ammunition to go out and give the best, most discerning service to those that walk in through the door or interact with our businesses.
So next time you look at that dashing chap in a hot pink business suit – think twice, no make that thrice and then go give him memorable service.