Undercover Customer Experience – The Eye Shrug

21 years ago I started filming customer experience for organisations such as leading high street retailers and the rail companies.

Myself and colleagues would do all the things customers would do along the service journey and secretly film our experiences. We could then provide in depth insights of their strengths and development areas. For praise and improvement.

Some organisations embraced the feedback while a few ran a mile when they saw the warts and all evidence – but more of that later.

The Eye Shrug

Is a classic piece of poor service behaviour that we saw (and still see) in many different industries and I foolishly assumed back then it was such a basic mistake that organisations would automatically train and coach their staff to move beyond it by now.

Sadly, two decades later its still alive and well, disengaging customers and destroying brand perception.

What is the Eye Shrug?

A customer approaches and the serving person doesn’t speak, smile, offer open, positive eye contact – instead they shrug their eyes or slightly raise their eye brows.

In a mannerism that suggests a greeting of, ‘I can’t be bothered to even speak to you properly’. Its the minimal use of energy and effort.

The Hotel Eye Shrug 

You can get some of the most proficient eye shrugs at hotel receptions. The staff are in over process, auto pilot mode and as the customer you are preparing yourself for at least a smile, a greeting that welcomes or an offer of help; why not all three?

With a neutral face, the eye brows slightly raise (like an asthmatic caterpillar struggling with heavy shopping) and thats all you get. For those that remember, its Faulty Towers at its best.

When I can be bothered to pick them up on it I simply mirror back what they’ve given me. This throws them completely and their face does a mini double take before I follow up with, “don’t you mean to say to me, how can i help you”?

Hearing this they normally splutter a half apology and kick themselves into gear.

A Double Eye Shrug

In a coffee shop in Brighton this week I received a double eye shrug as I walked to the serving area and as the two staff members looked at me simultaneously they both volleyed me with identical shrugs.

This is a local, growing chain of coffee shops that’s trying to cement its place in a highly competitive market place.

Who is Responsible?

The answer to this question of course, doesn’t sit solely with the staff members.

Customer experience is a performance; multi layered and multi textured. Blending mind set, skills, relational understanding, psychological and emotional awareness and the ability to manage perceptions.

As a budding football coach I soon learned that the depth to which my players would play was mirrored by what we practiced on the training ground, before the critical performance.

Ultimately, the leaders have to take responsibility for the eye shrug alive and well on their shift. Why does it take the customer to pick it up when the leader is permanently in the business to notice it and coach it away?

Running From Warts and A Video Feedback

So what of those organisations a few decades ago, I mentioned that ran a mile when they saw the video evidence of how good or bad their customer experience really was?

Well as a good consultant I wouldn’t besmirch the names of former clients but what I can do is share with you the all time worst example we captured on video, no names of course!

This happened when I was a rookie consultant, with my first consultancy way before starting Future Vision.

One of the train companies wanted to fully asses their customer experience and asked us to travel their network, buy tickets and ask common questions.

Mostly the service style was transactional, often impersonal and full of eye shrugs, and communication that didn’t maximise engagement.

It wasn’t really the fault of staff as they had never been shown such skills. And the leaders weren’t walking the talk of the standards they wanted customers to receive.

At one station I bought a ticket and received a service style that suggested indifference and that I was just another customer coming through. The tickets were tossed at me like cards from a casino dealer.

Before leaving I asked, “are there toilets at this station”?

The man leaned back in his chair, placed his hands behind his head, elbows out like a male Peacock fluffing his feathers and said, “yeah mate, everyone pisses against the wall on platform five”!

Afterwards I checked the film footage –  He had engineered a perfect piece to camera.

Thankfully such aberrations are mostly things of the past so damage of this ilk has all but disappeared. Sadly however the eye shrugs of yester-year are still being meted out.

Watch out for them when you’re a customer and if they creep in on your watch.

If you would like to discuss how to create a world class customer experience contact me at glenn@futurevisiontraining.co.uk


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