Thursday, February 03, 2011

your zone of influence (is much bigger than you think)

Last night I attended a volunteer training session for the upcoming Charleston Wine + Food Festival. A large portion of the session centered around customer service. There will be over 18,000 people attending the festival this year and there are more than 400 volunteers. We will be wearing burgundy aprons and we will be the most visible face of the Festival.

Over half the Festival attendees are traveling from out of state; one-third have never been to the festival before; and fifteen percent have never been to Charleston. If they don't have a positive impression of me it will reflect on that person's opinion the Festival as a whole, Charleston, the South, and who knows what else. It is critical that every volunteer leave every guest they influence with a positive impression.

David McNair, co-author of Exceptional Customer Service, is a Charlestonian and was there to talk about our zone of influence. This was defined as:
  • The number of people you actually speak to. Volunteers from last year said to expect to talk to 500 people in a 4 hour period.
  • People are highly visual and at events such as this anyone official-looking immediately draws attention. So add the number of people who pass within 10 feet that we don't actually talk to. This was estimated to be twice the number you do speak to, so that's 1500 people total. Yes, people you will form an opinion of you from 10 feet away. It's not fair, but that's life.
  • Most of the events happen in tents where people file through, but some are outdoors. In open spaces people will notice you from up to 30 feet away. The number of contacts jumped to 2000. So not only do you have to worry about the people you directly talk to, and the ones who pass 10 feet away, but the people three times as far who can't even hear your voice will also form an opinion of you.
  • And finally, he threw out the number 5, which he used as a multiplier. This is because on average every person we influence will tell five other people. If it's a positive experience they usually tell two to three people, and if it's negative they tell ten to twelve. On average it works out to five. That brings us up to 10,000 impressions made in a 4 hour period.
David went on to say that people form their first impression within seven seconds of engaging someone. That doesn't mean talking to them, that's simply from the point of first sight. If you have a 60 second conversation the other person has made a final judgment about you, including whether they find you trustworthy. How to you make sure someone you don't even notice but who sees you from 30 feet away forms a positive impression of you?

David talked about how simple things can make or break a good customer service experience. Since most of the people we are influencing are not even going to talk to us we need to be aware of the message we're sending. Are we smiling or do we look bored? Are we slouched over or are we standing with good posture? Do we appear energized or tired? These seemingly small details have a tremendous impact, up to 30 feet away.

It is a little daunting to think that I may be influencing 10,000 people in a single four-hour period. It's an incredibly important seven seconds.