The Power of Engagement

Oct. 25, 2011
It’s time for those of us virtual junkies who rely on Twitter, FaceBook or MySpace to communicate with our network ...

It’s time for those of us virtual junkies who rely on Twitter, FaceBook or MySpace to communicate with our network of colleagues, customers, friends, and family to stop and take a brief look at what’s taking place in the physical world. While so much of day-to-day work relies on sending and receiving emails, text messages, live chats, or voice messages, the need to personally engage people remains an important aspect of human interaction and is the foundation of our ability to deliver great customer service at airports. Regrettably, our technologically advanced society is leaning more towards the utilization of impersonal ways of relating with each other today.

  • Do you walk by someone in the hallway or on the concourse and turn to deliberately avoid having your eyes meet?
  • Do you prefer to listen to your iPod or use your Bluetooth device rather than risk making any kind of contact with others?
  • Do you send an e-mail rather than pick up the phone or walk over to someone to tell them something?
  • Do you refrain from making small talk with people, barely offering a perfunctory acknowledgement?
  • Do your non-verbal behaviors communicate to others to ‘stay away?’

Admittedly, I am guilty of these behaviors that isolate me and shield me from engagement with the world of others. Sure, it’s easier to send a quick e-mail message rather than pick up the phone because if you call, someone might wish to engage you in a conversation that you don’t want to have. Granted, some might argue that we communicate more with our social networking opportunities and smart phones that can do everything but sustain a phone call.

Unwillingness to personally engage people in our work environment and among our friends creates a psychological isolation effect. Many people I have discussed this theory with adamantly deny it and say I am wrong, citing the exponentially large networks or work/personal relationships that they are trying to keep up with.

Judging by quantity – how many e-mails, SMS messages, or FaceBook friends you have, I would have to agree that we are communicating more with more people than ever before. But the quality of meaningful, substantive communications that form relationships and engages us is seriously lacking. Twittering in 140 characters or less is anything but substantive in my opinion. Reliance exclusively on impersonal communication tactics without true engagement is not conducive to the provision of good customer service. Instead, it can further isolate the providers of the service from those who expect and need the services.

Personal micro-communication is one form of engagement that can have significant positive customer service benefits, with little to no costs expended. It only requires understanding the extraordinary power of simple human engagement tactics and the personal and organizational commitment to put these into action.

For example, the power of a smile can change a bad situation into a manageable one. Some listening skills can solve what appear to be unsolvable problems for customers. Active acknowledgement of a person, such as “Hello, how are you today?” can open an exchange that can be positive for both the provider of the service and the recipient and can differentiate a brand image from the competition. Today, when every customer truly counts, and businesses are working hard to keep them satisfied and happy, perhaps we should go back to the basics of Communication 101.

My local supermarket has implemented this customer engagement program and no less than a half a dozen employees, from the produce manager to the box person, engaged me in a genuine, positive, and meaningful way. Not one of them turned or hurried away lest I ask a question about an item. This relatively easy customer engagement strategy encouraged me to delve into how we relate to one another, or not. The reason this stood out and made me a more satisfied shopper personally, more likely to want to come back rather than go elsewhere, is because these personal engagement actions by the employees made me as a customer feel my patronage was valued.

Customer engagement is working for major corporations that have adopted it. Lately, I am beginning to see a shift in attitude towards utilizing this type of fundamental communication protocol for front line personnel in many areas.

Some personal engagement tactics include:

  • Looking people in the eye and smiling. Saying hello.
  • Appearing approachable and friendly.
  • Really listening to what is being said or requested.
  • Taking time and not always rushing through.
  • Making small talk as appropriate.
  • Being professional and pleasant.
  • Offering to help, even if it is not specifically in the job description.
  • Being aware of surroundings and paying attention, since many requests can be pre-emptive.

Airports, a microcosm of our world-at-large, are a natural place to implement active customer engagement. I encourage airport leadership to put this to the test to find out if meaningful customer interaction leads to more positive overall perceptions on customer service ratings in airport and travel industry rankings. Personally, I have no doubt that the results can only improve with the implementation of a few simple engagement initiatives.

About the Author

Agnes Huff | PhD

Agnes Huff, PhD, has more than 25 years of experience providing specialized strategic public relations, marketing, crisis management and business consulting to a diverse group of clients in the aviation industry. In 1995, she founded Agnes Huff Communications Group (AHCG) an integrated marketing and PR consulting firm headquartered in Los Angeles. Clients include national and international airports and airlines, government entities, travel and tourism organizations, and transportation companies, among other high-profile industry clients.

She welcomes feedback and will respond to comments at [email protected]. More information on AHCG is available at