Teenagers’ brains are not yet fully developed, meaning that they need more sleep than the rest of us put together - they are definitely not morning larks! They can be impulsive and moody; they spend their whole time velcroed to their mobile phones and, while they love to chat to each other on social media, they aren’t quite so keen to engage with adults – either electronically or face-to-face.
Over the past couple of weeks, Year 10 students across the country have been out and about on work experience. As it was probably their first real glimpse of what the future might hold and a taste of life beyond education, some will have found this a tricky time. However, one fifteen-year-old has taken the customer service world by storm. His name is Eddie Smith and he did his placement at Southern Rail, managing their Twitter account via the hashtag #AskEddie. Not the easiest of gigs, you may think.
Eddie was a huge hit with commuters for several reasons. First and foremost, he came across as being extremely likeable on social media. This is not as easy as you may think as, according to research, the human brain is hard wired to judge people on first impressions such as handshakes, body language and appearance. In a University of Kansas study, there was a 90% success rate in judging people’s personalities by their shoes alone! We had none of these visual cues with Eddie. Our first impression of him was via a friendly, welcoming message and a blushing, smiling emoji, which indicated someone who was both happy and proud to be at work.
Anyone working in a customer service role will know that there are many questions to deal with on a daily basis. Whilst Eddie did get one or two queries about train timetables, the majority of requests were non-rail related. With these, the teenager clearly understood that no customer question is too big, small or daft, to warrant a response.
For example, he gave factual advice on the correct amount of pasta to cook per person and the air velocity of a swallow, as well as a personal opinion on the biggest animal he felt he could single-handedly cling-film to a lamp post. A sloth, in case you’re wondering! However good his secondary school may be, it is highly unlikely that, off the top of his head, Eddie had the facts and figures on pasta, swallows and cling-filmable animals to hand, but he went out of his way to provide accurate, informative and thoughtful answers, via the power of the search engine.
Whether it was because of his immaturity, or actually having a maturity beyond his years, Eddie showed that, by being human and giving away some of his personality and preferences in the workplace, he could endear himself to his customers. Even when working for a much- maligned company. One chap asked:
‘Shall I have chicken fajitas tonight or chicken thai green curry?’
Eddie had no hesitation in going for the fajitas and said: ‘Be sure to make me some.’
Sadly, all Eddie got was a photo of two fajitas and a new hashtag, #EddieForPrimeMinister.
As we know, over the years, many adults have got themselves into trouble on Twitter, Facebook and the like. But Eddie was never going to succumb to the social media minefield. At all times, he remained professional and, when appropriate, he deferred the responsibility for answering a question to his line manager, Neil.
This occurred when someone sent in a highly inappropriate question (shame on you – he’s fifteen for goodness sake) and when more specific rail-related advice was needed. A measure of how much Eddie was appreciated, came at the end of a conversation about rail tickets and station barriers. Neil had stepped in, but immediately folks wanted to know where Eddie was. Once reassured of his presence, Sgt Harry Tangye posted:
‘Thank God for that. I was getting concerned and had a swat team ready. We’ve got your back Eddie. Great job!’
Alongside his professionalism, (not once did Eddie get drawn into any Southern Rail bashing – even when one person advised him to ‘Run’) the teenager demonstrated a caring, empathetic and unprejudiced side - again, not easy via written communication alone. He understood the importance of building relationships, as he asked people how their day had been and what their opinion was. In response to the question:
‘Will a boy ever be born who can swim faster than a shark?’
Eddie wrote: ‘Hi, I don’t think so but you never know there could be a girl that can.’ Earning himself a round of applause meme, from a lady called Louise. Go Eddie!
Whether putting a teenager in charge of its Twitter account was a well-thought-out decision by Southern Rail, or a gamble that paid off, we can all learn from Eddie and his experience.
- Putting the human back into customer services is a good thing. Processes and systems can be helpful for guidance on what to do, but empowering people to interact positively and have conversations, are powerful ways to build strong customer relationships and get to solutions quickly.
- Humour is a great relationship builder when used in the right way. Eddie’s funny answers showed Southern Rail to be a bit more human than some of us might think. Humour can be fun, lifting and useful, it’s just about using common sense.
- Doing things differently, even if it’s a little risky, can pay off. Eddie was a huge hit and possibly a risk for the company, however they ran with it, did something different and didn’t stick to the script or the system.
Assuming, though, that you don’t have your very own teenage sensation...
At Laughology we’re passionate about helping organisations develop human beings to flourish, doing this will undoubtedly build customer relationships. Empowering people to be themselves, think for themselves and do what they think is right (within reason of course) will build loyalty and happiness within the organisation, as well as externally. We have seen this with the brands we work with such as giffgaff, M&S Bank, 02, you can find more information on our cases studies section.
We can confidently say that you won’t regret working with the Laughology team. Although, unfortunately, we can’t promise that you will get your own hashtag, recommending you for the role of Prime Minister. Nor can we guarantee that, as a result of our training, every time you leave your desk, there will be a swat team searching for you!
If you would like to chat to us about how we can help your teams flourish, be happy and work more successfully, please get in touch.