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The Six Canons of Great Service – Part III: Practice Fantastic Body Language


No one likes to see Captain Slouchy when they stop by your business.

There is serious psychology behind body language, but for most daily interactions the 25 cent version is more than enough to set you apart. There is a lot of information out there on the science of body language – and sometimes it doesn’t always agree – but here are some highlights that will definitely help you succeed when engaging with your Customers. The trick here is to not only model these great behaviors but to train and inspire your team to deliver each day.

  1. Don’t be so serious – laugh and smile with your Customers. This definitely keeps things friendly and upbeat. Of course, if you are having a serious conversation or are engaged in Service Recovery, then you may want to dial down your antics.

  2. Don’t cross your arms – it makes you seem closed off. But if you keep an open stance and use appropriate hand gestures you will lend credibility to what you are saying. . .as long as you don’t turn it into the samba.

  3. Stand up straight – don’t lean against the wall or on a counter. It is an obvious nod to appearing engaged and ready to serve rather than being bored or apathetic.

  4. Keep your feet and body pointed toward the person you are engaging. It sends a message that they are the center of your attention and you aren’t trying to get away.

  5. Keep your chin up and tilt your head slightly – this indicates that you are listening, interested, and engaged.

  6. Maintain good eye contact, but don’t stare. Remember, folks don’t trust people who won’t look them in the eye, but if you stare too deeply you’ve become a creep.

  7. Nod during the conversation or interaction to show you are paying attention.

The most important thing to remember here is not to get hung up on what your body language might be saying – yes it’s important, but if you let it eat you up you’ll look silly as you try to constantly reinvent your stance to say what you want to say nonverbally. Better to be comfortable in your own skin and find a style that feels “right” to you. That will come through as more genuine than fidgeting for the right posture.

There is also much to be said on the topic of verbal vs nonverbal communication. Albert Mehrabian, a psychology professor at UCLA, crafted the most quoted statistics on this matter. He posited that the breakdown of verbal to nonverbal communication goes something like this:

55%: Body Language 38%: Tone of Voice 7%: Words which are spoken

Those are pretty staggering statistics, and really who knows what the exact breakdown is (and really who cares). The key takeaway is that this is a great stat for shock and awe value and it’s not wrong. There is no doubt that when my mom told me that what got me in trouble wasn’t what I said, but rather how I said it there was wisdom there. How I wish I’d have listened at age 10!

So long as we understand that there is power in body language and tone of voice, then the research is extremely relevant. And that truly is the intent here – to come to grips with the power of nonverbal communication and to use it to show we care. The first step, as they say, is recognizing the issue at hand and then applying ourselves to improving the situation.

This is another key item to keep top of mind during the tours of your business. Owning your dirt is very much about keeping an eye on these executional items. While you are checking to be sure everyone is dressed professionally and wearing their name badges, you should be watching their nonverbal cues. This is a great time to coach in the moment and encourage folks to smile, stand up straight, and engage in a meaningful way. Eventually this just becomes muscle memory and you will see it in stages become a part of the culture. Remember, though, that the second you stop enforcing the behaviors you desire, there will a slow slide out of alignment.

The best way to ensure that this becomes a part of your team’s DNA is to emphasize it during hiring, train it during onboarding, and reinforce through continued coaching as time goes on. Also modeling those behaviors yourself and rewarding those who are role models will give this stickiness with your team.

So the ask here is clear: Make sure your team is using engaging body language to reinforce the welcoming environment you seek to create for your Customers. It might be something that operates in the background of daily service, but it is no less relevant than a sincere greeting or fantastic product.

Until next time, Tony Johnson


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