Greet – a trust-building warm welcome

How often have you had an experience as a customer of an organisation where you’ve been greeted by a disengaged, bored sales assistant, or a clipped, process-driven rep? It doesn’t exactly get your experience off to a good start, does it? But standing on the other side of the fence, it’s so easy to slip into autopilot when you speak to lots of customers in a day; before you know it, you’re greeting your customers with a monotone or distracted greeting, or a sing-songy, impersonal “Thank you for calling us, can I take your account number?”

So how important is your greeting at the beginning of a customer interaction? You’ve guessed it – VERY!

Amy Cuddy is a psychologist at Harvard Business School and a leading thinker in trust and first impressions. In her book, ‘Presence’, Cuddy says that people quickly and subconsciously answer two questions when they first ‘meet’ you (this applies whatever medium you’re using):

  1. Can I trust this person?
  2. Can I respect this person?

Psychologists refer to this as Warmth and Competence. To preserve energy, our brains are wired to rely on speed over accuracy when we first meet someone. So, we make judgements about someone based on their behaviours and this then informs how we then interact with them. Ever heard the phrase ‘Behaviour begets’ behaviour’? So, whether you project warmth or competence in your greeting determines the success of your interaction with your customer and whether or not your customer trusts you.

So, which do you think is the most important to demonstrate in a customer interaction? Warmth or competence?

In a work context, most people say competence – but in fact warmth, or trustworthiness, is the most important factor in how people judge you in your ability to deliver a great customer service. Whilst also important, if you lead by competence first, this can come across as pushy and unapproachable (process, process, process!)

The challenge is that all of this happens quickly and often subconsciously, but there are things you can do to show warmth first and then competence, and so inspire trust from the beginning of the interaction. Here are three top tips:

  1. Smile – Really smile, from the inside. Not a polite smile – people can tell straight away when the smile isn’t real. An inside out smile is when you feel the warmth inside, rather than smiling on the outside but not feeling the warmth – it’s showing that you’re connected and ready to help. Smiling from the inside means that you feel empathy for your customer – you listen between the lines and note what is going on for your customer – are they happy, frustrated, angry? The interesting thing is that smiling makes you happier and influences happiness – genuine smiles are contagious. This also happens on the phone – when you hear someone smile, you typically smile also. This is about human connection – it’s certainly not ‘smile when you dial!’
  1. Validate the customer’s feelings – This is about empathising with the customer – seeing the situation from their perspective and acknowledging how they feel about it. This isn’t about being a ‘yes person’ and agreeing with everything the customer says, it’s about validating how the customer is feeling. What is going on for the customer? Why are they contacting you? Showing that you understand where the customer is coming from and finding something to agree upon is a trust-building, warmth-projecting behaviour.
  2. Inspire confidence – Show your competence through your warmth and by giving the customer the confidence that you are the right person to help them. You might say things like: “You’re through to the right person, I can definitely help you with that,” or “I’m a specialist in this area so you’re in the right place,” or “I know exactly how to help you with this…”

Warmth is the real distinguisher between who we trust and are loyal to. Greeting with warmth is about helping the customer feel confident that they are in safe hands and that they are speaking to someone who understands them and cares, right from the beginning.


Take a look at our GREAT Customer Service programme and if you’d like to explore this topic further give us a call on 01582 463464. We’re always here to help.

Categories: Customer service

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