• Danielle N. Adams

Is Your Sales/Service Team Just PWP (Polite When Prompted)?


We have all been there, at the grocery store or at a fast food drive up window, and we see the staff laughing coyly behind the scenes with their coworkers only for the them to turn to you dryly asking “may I help you?” with a face so miserable and devoid of emotion that only Eddie Munster could love it. Wait a minute! But this is the same person with teeth and some semblance of a personality who was just laughing a second ago! Why wasn't I greeted more pleasantly? So I smile first, and happily greet the person with a sincere “Hi! How are you today?” Ah, yes, finally: an almost genuinely kind, human response—but only when prompted. So much for sincerity I guess!


As a call center supervisor and branch manager in financial services, I knew that initial greeting or empathetic response is the difference between just any other transaction or a return customer for life. Which would you prefer to be remembered for? Keeping your staff motivated to exude a sincerely pleasant demeanor can be tricky. On the one hand, you do not want them pouring it on so thick with syrupy, high-pitched hellos that your customers hang up the phone in hopes of getting someone a little less over-the-top-chipper-slash-annoying-AF. On the other hand, consistency is part of your brand integrity. It's a careful balance of engaging and empathetic characteristics (I.e. cognizant that shrill, high-fructose tones are not appreciated unless you have a future as a human dog whistle). Here are 5 ways to ensure that your team (and you) are consistently delivering red-carpet service every single time so you are never merely PWP.

It Starts With You.

If you thought you were off the hook, you were WRONG. Creating an environment that attracts the energy you want your customers to feel starts with you. My rule used to be “leave it in the vestibule” which meant all the crummy, petty stuff that had happened up to then—burned toast, spilled coffee, sick kids, horrifying traffic, dog mess on the rug—all got left behind at the double doors. I set the example that no matter what, I was determined to make the day great with my team, and they usually followed suit. The first step in being a powerful and impactful presence for your team is by developing a self-awareness of your own mindset under different sets of circumstances.

Granted, there were some exceptions like receiving bad news about a loved one or a death in the family, in which my team was personally invited by me to air what may be hurting them so that together, we could determine how they would best have a successful day. Acknowledging their feelings was a powerful way of letting my employees know that they were heard on a deeper level. Essentially, you mirror them or paraphrase what they have told you:

Employee: “I am really having a difficult time staying on task this week. I've been battling a cold, plus my ex wants to take me back to court for changes to our custody agreement. I am really trying to keep things together.”

You: “Oh, so you're saying you are having a hard time staying focused on your work this week because you're feeling under the weather and concentration is on your family.”

Don't forget to validate the employee’s feelings. They have a right to feel the way they do, and by recognizing that from their perspective you will deepen the relationship with your team and endear them to your company.

You: “That's completely normal. It can be very upsetting when things like that happen.”

Despite what you may think, the employee has shown some minimal level of commitment just by showing up for work. Now, it is partly your job to get them engaged in doing the work. Remember, you don't have to agree with the feeling or even fully understand it. Just show that you are not viewing them in judgment. Also, avoid inserting your own personal feelings or anecdotes here. Yes, you might want to holler “but it's just a head cold, you big, whiny baby!”, although I suggest you keep your comments and your daytime cold capsules to yourself. It's not really about you, so keep it that way. Staying focused on the well being of your employee will help to bring them around without belittling their situation with a comparative story. In other words, keep your “but” out of it.

POWER UP: These techniques can also be applied to the sales process when you are building and deepening relationships with your customers. Before trying to fix the problem, just pause to listen. For another look, click to watch.

Take Ownership.

To keep your “but” out of your staff’s personal stories, refocus your energy on how you can help them help themselves. Sounds crazy, I know, especially when other people's drama might make you want to run screaming the other way to the nearest happy hour! By asking some empowering questions when the timing is appropriate, you can get your employees back on board with completing their day’s work with a more focused energy. Let them make a conscious choice on how they want to approach the day with questions like, “how can I help you refocus today? What can I do to take some pressure off of you? Where do you see yourself being of service today?” Yes, you hired them to do a job, and sometimes we want to cut to the chase and tell our staff “just do the damn job”! However, what kind of example would this set? These questions have seemingly obvious answers, but can empower your employee to be useful in another way by volunteering for that project in the stock room or office away from customers while you accommodate their situation. In other cases, your employees may prefer to soldier on choosing the distraction of work over isolation. Sometimes the fake-it-‘til-you-make-it routine turns forced smiles into real ones, and this can help your staff, too.

Employees with more drama than usual could be great candidates for an attitude assessment. A professionally administered assessment will help to increase self-awareness, identify opportunities for development, and empower leadership competencies that will benefit the individual, yourself, and your team as a whole. As a manager or owner, you may also use this tool to pinpoint opportunities to sharpen your team’s communication skills.

It's Not About What You Expect, It's What You Inspect!

We would all love to believe our employees do exactly what we would expect them to even when you're not looking. Unfortunately, when they do not deliver, this too comes from lack of commitment and engagement. It is important to outline clear service standards that can be measured with each interaction. Whether it is saying the customer’s name three times, offering them a beverage, asking them to join your email list while they wait, saying please and thank you a certain number of times, or opening the door for incoming patrons, these are things that are observable and coachable. Your team will appreciate knowing exactly what is expected of them, and will make this part of their routine and discipline to show you and your clientele how much these standards mean to them. Those who do not adhere to these standards over time may need to be reevaluated.

If you do not already have these service and sales standards in place, start with a simple SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable, time-bound) goal.

POWER UP: Delegate these observations to senior staff or empower your team to nominate a coworker on the spot for exhibiting these behaviors well. The positive reinforcement will promote confidence, teamwork, leadership, and self-motivation.

The Bottom Line

  1. Self-awareness

  2. Acknowledge

  3. Validate

  4. Ask empowering questions to refocus

  5. SMART goals you can inspect!

That's it! Just a few tiny tweaks can boost morale, engagement, and motivation, and turn Polite When Prompted into Polite With Purpose! Go forth with an attitude without platitude, and more power to you™!

#empowerment #service #communication

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