By Lise D’Andrea, CXE
So, here we are, facing our new reality behind a mask. Since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended the use of cloth masks or face covering in early April to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we have been struggling with our new normal of trying to talk, listen and breathe behind masks. Compounded by physical distancing, from the boardroom to the frontline we find ourselves in uncharted customer experience territory.
In many countries around the globe, face coverings and masks are usually only worn by healthcare professionals or for religious or cultural observances. Overnight, this changed. While a seemingly simply and small shift, the impacts on how we communicate are profound. For those not used to wearing a face covering, many find it hard to breathe and talk, that words appear muffled, and that to be heard you have to almost yell.
Beyond words, human beings have long relied on reading entire facial expressions to reduce misunderstandings and guide interactions. The eyes and mouth provide some of the greatest clues to feelings and intent. Now, a smile that signifies a friendly hello and a chance to build understanding is covered. In the travel and hospitality industries, where the first step of customer service has always been to smile, we find ourselves having to rethink our approach.
A recent article by the BBC, “How face masks affect our communication,” shares that all is not lost. If we take cues from other cultures and professions accustomed to masks and face covering and amplify our body language, we can continue to create positive and meaningful connections with customers and coworkers.
While there are several ways to overcome the barriers of masks, these five techniques can quickly place you on the path to overcoming the “mask challenge”:
Eye Contact: Eye contact is the go-to means to make a connection with people. Continually scan to make eye contact with others around you to create connections and help proactively spot the needs of others.
Eye Gestures: It is possible to say a lot without saying anything at all – especially with your eyes. Gestures made with eyebrows, eye lids and overall eye movements can help customers better understand you, and you them.
Head and Facial Gestures: Although your face is covered, you can still support your voice with gestures using your head and face. For example, a tilted head for questions and “smiling” eyes can help deliver your message.
Hand Gestures: Hand gestures can be the megaphone for communication tactics. From a thumbs up to a wave, hand gestures help to clearly reinforce verbal and nonverbal communication.
Active Listening skills: Active listening skills are vital when you are masked, and facial and verbal cues are limited. Nodding and leaning-in show that you are listening.
In this new age of social distance, customer experience dynamics are evolving. Honing your communication skills can lead to increased confidence, stronger customer and coworker relationships, and less frustration and disappointment. As we navigate our new normal for customer and employee experiences, an innovative reality will redefine how we communicate, connect, and carry on to chart a new course towards customer experience excellence.
Lise D’Andrea is the Founder and CEO of CXE (formerly Customer Service Experts), an organization that specializes in helping airports, hospitality, food and beverage, retail, business, and government clients to define and deliver innovative and successful customer (CX) and employee experience (EX) programs. Harnessing over 25 years of experience developing customer and employee experience strategies, CXE has developed a practical eBook guide, “Mask Over Matter,” to help businesses quickly adjust to a society where mask wearing is prevalent. In August, CXE also plans to release an employee-centric, interactive, web-based training designed to acclimate employees to the new post-pandemic workplace and help them continue to make meaningful connections with customers.