Customers who refuse to wear masks when required pose a threat to themselves, other customers, your employees, and the overall ability to conduct business. So, what’s the best way to approach them and keep them as a customer while creating an opportunity to strengthen your company’s mission and values?
When you and your team use an authoritarian approach to enforce mask usage or other prevention policies, you create friction. Clearly, that approach isn't ideal to retain customers or improve employee morale.
But—if your team is living your company's mission on a daily basis, they are already creating a strong foundation to win over more customers and enjoy their work environment. When your team is promoting the company’s policies, explaining those policies to customers comes more naturally and receives more positive results. Mask usage inside your business is no exception.
The steps below cost nothing and require almost no planning, but they will send a message that your team is committed to the vision and values of the organization.
As a leader, start by looking inside your organization to get a pulse on the passion, energy, and reward structures that support your team’s ability to embrace these new safety requirements and prevention policies. Ask yourself...
When I see someone on my team building rapport with customers, even during these socially distanced times, do I praise that person and make specific reference to the values they are demonstrating?
Ultimately, your team will be the ones to enforce mask policies, so the more aligned they are with your mission and values the better. Employers can further incentive taking care of customers and coworkers by rewarding those who make mission-centric choices. Such rewards will promote employees' commitment to this new normal while maintaining the vision and values of your organization.
So instead of saying, “You must wear a mask or you can’t enter our business,” employees might invite the customer to discuss their resistance by saying,
“I understand you probably don’t like having to wear a mask – I sure don’t like it either. Not everyone is comfortable with wearing them, and personally I feel like it’s harder to breathe. But here in this store we do it because we remember there are people at risk, people who are older or have a compromised immunity. So even though neither of us like it, wearing a mask is what we do to lower the risk for everyone. I hope you can agree with that while you’re in our store.”
This is a more gentle approach to motivating customer compliance.
To build rapport, explain to employees that there’s a difference in both what they say and how they say it. Rapport is a harmonious connection in which individuals seek to understand each other's feelings, values, and ideas while communicating effectively with each other.
In a workplace, rapport puts the customer on the same side as the employee. Once you engage an oppositional customer with an interested, respectful, mission-based approach, employees may suggest a value or action that fits with your desired business outcomes. It’s up to you and your employees to be able to identify and acknowledge those specific values, and build a relationship with customers through those values. Conversely, giving orders—sometimes even stating requirements—separates employees from their oppositional customer and creates tension.
As your employees develop and implement rapport with customers, it’s ideal to recognize and celebrate them. Here are a few tactical responses that employers can share with their teams to develop rapport skills with oppositional customers while creating an environment in which rapport-building can thrive.
“You seem like a very compassionate person. We often have customers here who are at very high risk of harm if they contract COVID-19. Would you mind wearing a mask for them?”
Building rapport means that your employees are relating to customers appreciatively while showing respect for their values and beliefs. Acknowledging their values calls them to their better natures.
Employees can even go a step further and describe the various groups of at-risk people, which can help to establish understanding and empathy in the oppositional customer. It can be very valuable to offer descriptions such as,
“We have employees and customers who are very vulnerable—people with asthma, people with heart disease, and those with an elderly parent at home. It would definitely make their day if you could oblige wearing a mask for the short time you’ll be in our business today.”
Express solidarity with customers by saying something like, “It’s hard to keep up with more and more mask requirements, isn’t it?” In this way, your employees offer your oppositional customers a chance to find common ground—and potentially feel like a hero.
Remind employees to relate to customers warmly rather than coldly no matter how they behave. And if there’s a place for gentle humor, encourage employees to find it and use it as a way of building common ground. Even showing a little deference to oppositional customers can go a long way in your business’s favor.
The exponential rate of change and uncertainty due to COVID-19 has been tremendously harmful for most businesses. To survive, your organization must change at a greater rate—from the inside. Revising how you support and reward your employees helps them stay on the same side as the customer rather than opposing the customer. Instead of feeling off balance, employees and customers can start relaxing toward each other.
By encouraging employees to practice behaving in alignment with new policies, you help them recognize opportunities to show acceptance and empathy—and to use rapport as an effective tool.