Do you Interface with Customers … or clients?

Customer Problem ResolvedYou have probably read books, articles, attended seminars about providing excellent customer service. You can recite all of the buzz words and phrases such as “delight the customer, ” wow the customer,” ”customers are our number one priority.” Here is the problem: Buzz words and phrases do not actually accomplish anything.

A body of research suggests that exceeding customer expectations offers no more value than simply meeting expectations. That body of research seems to show that customers simply want to have an easy experience when they encounter your organization. Perhaps the next buzzword or phrase will be “just make it easy for the customer.”

The trend seems to be shifting toward self-service. They want their needs met immediately as intuitively and without having to jump through a series of hoops to do business with your organization. Research also shows that when a customer attempts to solve a problem through self-service, but has to be redirected to fill out a form, submit a support ticket, call someone else, they are likely to be dissatisfied.

Ten (10) Suggestions:

  1. Reduce the number of steps the customer needs to take when using your product or service
  2. Provide simple, easy to find and complete answers to questions
  3. Group relevant information in an intuitive manner
  4. Use the language of the customer rather than company jargon
  5. Make it easy for customer to search for and find answers to their questions
  6. Try to anticipate the next problem that the customer may encounter
  7. Eliminate obstacles so they can resolve their issues rapidly
  8. Focus on eliminating reasons why customer would consider abandoning you or your services
  9. Recognize that customers want to move on to other endeavors and not spend time jumping through your hoops
  10. Ask your team to brainstorm five (5) ways to make it easier for your customers that are within your authority to implement

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RelatedCustomer Retention Is King   and   customer service … Be Careful What You Cut!

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Image Exchange … in Conflict Resolution

Conflict ResolutionOver the many years of my career, I have made many notes on scraps of paper about various aspects of human behavior. One particular note resurfaced recently, but I did not note the source and am unable to properly attribute the idea to the originator.  Never-the-less, I discuss my understanding and usage of this technique.

Image exchanging is a behavioral technique that is used to reveal the perceptions or images about those engaged in conflict. During interpersonal conflicts, people are very aware of what they dislike about each other. If asked to prove that the other person is at fault, they could probably specify the offending acts and when they occurred. Yet, these people are surprisingly unaware of their own contribution to the conflict.

How the Process Works

The individuals involved in the conflict describe their own image and that of the other person. Each person lists the behaviors that led the other to arrive at these images. The individuals exchange both sets of descriptions written as sentences or a list of adjectives. The individuals exchange lists and discuss the written responses to decide how they can reduce the discrepancies between self-image and the image held by the other person. Realistic goals are set to improve the relationship, reduce conflict and increase cooperation.

To illustrate how Image Exchange works, let’s use a fictional exchange of a team leader that required two subordinates, Charles and Gary, to describe themselves and each other.

Charles’s Self-image: Hard working, conscientious, dependable, quality-oriented, perfectionist, and good company orientation. Image of Gary: Loud, crude, hard-working, bad with people, ambitious, stubborn, careless, intelligent, and blames others for his mistakes.

Gary’s Self-image: Smart, tough, hard-working, ambitious, strong, “can-do” leader, self-reliant oriented toward high production, impatient, and a real fighter. Image of Charles: Slow, sneaky, mean, careful, excellent mechanic, loyal to the company and his team, stubborn, unwilling to change, has old ideas, wants quality above everything else, and not promotable.

When they finished their lists, Charles and Gary exchanged their perceptions. You can imagine the shock they received when each had read what the other had written.

Charles wrote: Gary’s image of me is not flattering. I agree that my department is slow, but that’s because I demand quality work and it bothers me that he thinks I’m sneaky and mean. He might think that because, I sometimes try to get even with him for embarrassing me in front of my team. When he embarrasses me, I do slow down and look for other problems with the machines. But that’s my only reaction to his yelling and I realize that I shouldn’t do that.

Gary wrote: Charles’ image of himself is too flattering. He makes himself sound like Rambo and The Red Baron. He’s confusing all the hot air he blows with results he thinks he’s producing for the company. Charles believes that he’s more important than anything else, and that’s just wrong. By pushing too hard, Charles not only hurts other people, but he hurts the company as well.

Now, here is what the team leader observed about the images that Charles and Gary had of each other:

Charles’s image of himself is not that far off from his behavior. He’s a slow and careful guy, but he neglected to mention some of his bad traits. Sometimes, one can be too slow and careful. Charles thinks these machines belong to him, but Gary wants him to repair the machines faster and be less of a perfectionist. Then, he’d really be the company man he thinks he is.

Gary feels that Charles’ image of him is all wrong. He feels that I’m selfish and would walk over my grandmother to get ahead. Gary admitted that he is stubborn and that he is tough with people who don’t do a good job. He also realizes that he “flies off the handle” sometimes, and that behavior is inappropriate. He realizes that Charles is right when he perceives that I “sound out of control.” But that’s not how I am most of the time.

Summary

Image exchanging is not designed to change personality or core values. Instead, it allows those involved to explore perceptions and interpretations of behavior, items that typically lie beneath the surface in the average work-place. When people know how others see them, they can begin to reduce some of their annoying behaviors and mitigate the possibility of at least some interpersonal conflicts.

However, we should be cautioned that Image exchanging can open up a “can of worms” or turn “mole hills” into mountains. If you decide to experiment with this technique, proceed cautiously. Try proposing the exercise to two team members with whom you have had long-standing relationships. Explain that you are evaluating this creative technique and would like them to participate. Ensure them that you will keep the results confidential. However, don’t worry if you can’t make it work the first time because it will take some practice to become fluent.

Please “Like” and share your comments. Additional training resources are located here.

RelatedCustomer Retention Is King   and   customer service … Be Careful What You Cut!

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When Anger Blocks Communication …

Anger and Conflict in CommunicationScenario: You are attending or conducting a meeting and someone says something that sends you or a team member ballistic.

The natural reaction to this behavior tends to signal that the meeting is off track and little will be accomplished. Naturally, you think that if we could communicate without the anger or emotion we could get a lot more done. Well, you are right. Our normal tendency is to tune out the angry behavior and try to move forward. But, you may wonder, how can you communicate with a team member that is behaving irrationally?

There are probably no “fool-proof” techniques to handle every instance of angry behavior. However, there are a few suggestions that might help if consciously applied. Let’s examine some techniques that a team leader could use to defuse these situations.

Here are four (4) techniques:

Remain CalmIn most cases, neither party may be totally right or wrong. Instead, they may have different information and perceptions about a particular situation that causes the disagreement. Although it may be difficult, try to control your emotions during the exchange. The first action should be to acknowledge the difference of views and continue the discussion. This technique tends to offset the power of the barrage without adding diverging factors that fueled the original outburst.

Adopt a Solution Oriented ApproachTry not to add to or exacerbate the problem. Ask if anyone has ideas for a possible solution to the issue. If they do, list them and discuss the applicability of each. You may also have some ideas that were not previously presented. You can introduce these ideas into the discussion at the appropriate time. If there are some emerging factors, of which the team is unaware, share and explain that information. The new information may help the team to understand current problems and be more receptive to proposed solutions.

Ask for SuggestionsIf your team has not met your performance expectations, restate your expectations, agreed upon goals and ask why they were not met. Switch to a problem solving mode and ask for suggestions to improve the performance and meet expectations. The team members will probably have some suggestions or make you aware of some changes that may have occurred elsewhere in the organization that have introduced some important factors that affect performance. Don’t be reluctant to ask the team if you can do anything differently to help them improve their performance.

Resolve to be FirmSimply stated, sometimes teams just need to “blow off” some steam. As a team leader, you are the easiest target. This makes it even more important to make sure that the issues are discussed thoroughly, everyone has had an opportunity to offer their input or suggestions and you have evaluated those suggestions for their applicability and suitability. Now, you know if they are “blowing off” steam or if there are valid business issues that need to be addressed. Ensure that feedback is specific so you can accurately deal with the factual matters.

Please “Like” and share your comments. Additional training resources are located here.

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Non Directive Coaching … or “Kicking A**”

CoachingEvery team leader will find the need to coach a team member at some point. Coaching is a form of development in which a person called a coach supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training, advice and guidance. However, coaching differs from mentoring in focusing on specific tasks or objectives, as opposed to general goals or overall development.

Let’s consider two approaches to coaching: Non-Directive and Directive.

Non-Directive Coaching

In a non-directive approach, the goal is to help a team member grow in a professional sense. This involves helping them to develop some plausible options for resolving his or her issues. The first time you use this method, don’t be surprised if the team member tries to throw the ball back in your court by asking you to make suggestions as to possible courses of action. When they balk, you could suggest that the first thing they should do is to develop a list of possible actions they could take to resolve their issues. Naturally, it is easier for the team member if you make the suggestions. The team member might ask, “Why won’t you just tell me what to do?” Let them know that you could tell him or her what to do. But, in the long run, it is better if they learned to develop some possible solutions to their issues. If necessary, press further, by asking them what they think they could do?

Directive Coaching

Some team leaders may believe that if they are not “kicking a**,” they are “soft.” On the contrary, the overarching reason for coaching is to help the team member grow and learn to develop the confidence and skill to identify techniques to bridge skill gaps and other behaviors. In a directive coaching situation, the team member is not forced to think through their challenges. Rather, they are relying on someone to provide them with answers. Admittedly, directive coaching may be easier, but as other issues arise, you may have to replay the same movie. The person being coached could also resist or resent the suggestions and make you the scapegoat.

Which method do you favor?

The Non-Directive approach helps to develop more independent and professional team members, whereas the Directive approach encourages dependent behaviors because it eliminates independent thinking, resourcefulness and initiative.

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Improve the Effectiveness of Your Process … and team!

Business Process Improvement CourseThere is an important question to consider when we emphasize efficiency or effectiveness. The question is: What is more important, doing things right (efficiently) or doing the right things (effectiveness)? Achieving efficiency is great, but we must be mindful of the consequences of being efficient at doing the wrong things.

Effectiveness

Although doing things right is important and desirable, team leaders should carefully reflect on effectiveness. Better yet, focus on efficaciousness: the power to produce a desired effect. This requires unleashing the power of the mind, giving people time to reflect, tinker and create the desired future. Success in the current economic environment relies on intellectual capital and that reliance will probably increase in the future.

However, business processes must continue to acknowledge such factors as fatigue and the ability to concentrate or focus for extended periods of time. A significant amount of research has been conducted on the factors of fatigue and concentration. Every organization should try to operate in a manner that allows it to retain quality team members. These established team members help to ensure the maintenance of quality standards.

The work practices and flow will vary depending on the type of work that is being done. So, as a team leader, a part of your role is to monitor work flow, timeliness and quality. I noted an article written by Niranjan Deodhar, entitled, Driving Effectiveness and Efficiency, wherein he makes a number of suggestions.

You can read his complete article, but I noted three (3) suggestions that could be easily implemented. They are as follows:

  1. Hands-Free or Exception HandlingA good place to start is to study hands-free opportunities. For example, look for opportunities to combine processes, locate sequential functions as close as physically possible, ensure that customer service representatives have access to all relevant customer account information, and investigate IT opportunities or improvements.
  2.  Capture and Reuse LearningMany processes are not unique to specific industries. For example, businesses that require a visit to a prospect’s home or business may be able to improve their scheduling and tracking by studying the software used by a different industry. One of the best questions that could be examined is, “How does XYZ Company do it?”
  3.  Standardized Problem DefinitionsOne primary objective is to minimize the time spent in “setting the context” so we can deliver faster and better outcomes with the assurance that you and others are in agreement on the definition of the problem. Meet with all of the stakeholders to specify and agree on all of the required metrics and causes. This is an excellent opportunity to eliminate non value-added activities.

Irrespective of the new technologies that may be installed, people are the key to making any process work as desired. You must be careful to consider “people” and factor them into the analysis and evaluation of your processes.  The overarching consideration for changing a process is to find a way to more clearly focus on the work or activities that add value to the processes. If you can eliminate or at least minimize the amount of work that does not add value to your efforts, effectiveness and efficiency will increase.

Related Articles:   efficiency … or Effectiveness?   and   Wrecking Meetings … 5 ways!

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Interview Completed … now it’s your turn

Three Common Interview QuestionsILet’s approach this situation as if you have sought and obtained an interview for either a job change or a promotion within your present organization. You have carefully detailed your qualifications, experience and objectives. Now, the interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions before we wrap up?”

Often, candidates will ask about benefits or some other benign subject. But here is a twist that may be worth considering. I came across an article written by Marshall Darr who suggests that asking this question could possibly “add value to the conversation.” He offered a format for the question as follows:

Actually yeah, I was wondering what your best moment so far at (company name here) was?”

This question could offer you some insights on the interviewer’s values, the company, and how well you might fit in. Think about it: There’s no higher note to end on than with your interviewer’s fondest memory of the company, a feeling that can now be subconsciously associated with your prospects as a future employee.

And aside from being an emotional plus for you, it’ll also give you an idea of what your future co-workers might value, and the kind of culture that company cultivates for its team members. If your interviewer struggles to come up with a meaningful memory, that could be a helpful “red flag” if they make you an offer.

On a more positive note, there are a few other questions that may add value for you or help you to evaluate whether or not you wish to further consider an opportunity with the company or organization.

Here are three (3) other possible questions:

  1. What is the most cherished value of this company? The answer will help you to understand how they value or define success. If your value structure is different, carefully consider whether this company or organization is right for you.
  2. What has been your biggest disappointment with this organization? If the interviewer, particularly if he or she is the hiring manager, is unable to articulate this response, consider it a huge red flag.” The inability to be candid about this may be a window into the “real” culture of the organization.
  3. What has been your biggest achievement with this company? If the hiring manager is unable to favorably recall or reflect fondly upon his or her achievements, it could mean that your achievements will go unnoticed, as well.

Style Points:

Each of us speak somewhat differently. So, you should rephrase these questions in a manner that is consistent with your personal style.

Consider the interviewer. Does that person seem likely to carefully consider your question or view it as “out of order?”

Do you care enough about the opportunity to even bother asking the aforementioned questions? If so, pose the question as professionally and politely as possible and evaluate the response.

Related Articles:   Habits and Skills… that will help you 5 years from now!   and   Get… Things Done W/o Authority

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We Need To Make a Few Changes Around Here!

Change Management CourseYou have probably said this, or at the very least, had this thought.

Forbes Magazine published an article by Victor Lipman, entitled, Why Does Organizational Change Usually Fail. The article summarized a new study by Robert Half Management Resources. The conclusions did not blame a faulty strategy, untalented executives or insufficient funding. It blames ineffective communication.

If you are planning to make some changes this year, here are some tips that can be employed, as appropriate for the level, breadth and magnitude of the effort:

Ensure that you have the support of senior management with the CEO playing a visible and involved role. This avoids misunderstandings between leadership and team members.

Design and implement clear, frequent an open communications that provide opportunities for questions and answers.

Communicate before the project starts, so that team members understand the background and strategic reasons and rationale for the changes.

Provide meaningful and timely updates during the change implementation so that team members understand why some confusion or dislocation may happen.

After the change effort is completed, conduct a communication session to share the findings and successes with team members and why it was important.

The communicating efforts should be scaled to the level, size and complexity of the effort.

Related Articles:   Working Amid Chaos and Constant Change , 1000 Ways to Manage Change … But Here’s Five! and Avoid Change Pains … without seeing a doctor!

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