Targeted Customer Service

Customer Problem ResolvedHave you ever called a customer service or technical support hot line for cable or satellite TV, internet, computer or software problems?

If you have, you will probably recognize at least some of what I describe.

One of the more frustrating experiences we face with technical products and services is the lack of targeted customer service.  A behavioral change many of us would like to see is more effective use of the stored information about our previous or particular issues, so that our current issues and questions can be quickly escalated to the appropriate level of authority or technical expertise.

Here are three areas that could be improved to the benefit of all.

Customer HistoryI don’t expect service provider to actually know me, but my name is included in my “order” profile. Since they have all of my biographical information in their systems, it is not completely beyond reason that they will or could see my purchase and service history. More specifically, I want them to know my history of calls or requests for service. This information should help them to determine when to escalate my issues to more appropriate technical support. Many of us have experienced having to work through the basic troubleshooting protocols even if we have already tried that process at a previous time. Some organizations have already implemented algorithms that tells them whether or not basic first line or a senior level of technical support is required.

The Right SupportSome organizations still prefer to provide customer support in a standardized format which is the exact opposite of the aforementioned possibility. When a customer calls, describes the problem and the steps that have already been taken, some still require that you complete the standard template actions again. When this happens, almost everyone wishes they could find another provider, but they are probably not any better. So, we waste each other’s time by inefficiently providing inefficient support.

The Ultimate SolutionI read one account of a customer who had purchased a laptop that later began to have problems. The customer had called about the problem at least twice. But their algorithm identified this and the technical support representative was able to offer a new laptop instead of making the customer go through all of the fixes on the trouble shooting template. In my opinion, they maintained or created a very happy and satisfied customer.

The goal is to make it easy and pleasant for your customers. In the customer service planning process, an empathetic process will yield a more customer friendly approach.

Related Articles:   Customer Retention Is King   and   customer service … Be Careful What You Cut!

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Conflict Resolution by POLITICS

Anger and Conflict in CommunicationAll of us have been in conflict situations where we were suspicious of certain actions as motivated by “politics.” An interesting take on “politics” is that there has been some research that concluded that politics could be helpful, at times. Before we begin to explore “politics,” in certain situations, standard conflict resolution approaches can be successful. On the other hand, it is beneficial to evaluate the concept of “organizational politics” and its possible effectiveness.

Many decisions have been made in organizations related to hiring. For example, the most qualified candidate was not selected, intentionally. I know of a case where the recommendation of a particular executive was accepted and the person was hired. Others in the organization knew of the political connections and that knowledge eliminated a lot of persistent interdepartmental bickering. I would not accept the theory that all political behavior would result in benefits to the organization. However, in some cases, the pursuit of personal goals by individuals can be harnessed by the organization to accomplish its own goals.

If we contemplate adopting some political behaviors to resolve conflict, self-interest and organizational interest are not mutually exclusive. It’s possible to improve organizational performance as you pursue your individual goals.

Norman Martin and John Sims reported the results of their research on power and politics within organizations. They were interested in the specific tactics that successful leaders and executives used to gain advancement in organizations.

Here are some potentially positive political behaviors.

  • Alliance FormationFriendships with those who are in high positions or who will probably be promoted to high positions can be beneficial. These leaders can help you by offering attitudes and behaviors that promote your career. This could also be defined as mentoring.
  • CompromiseCompromise can be effective, particularly on issues that are minor to you but very important to others. This is especially important when the other party is equal to or more powerful than you are in the organization.
  • Actively DelayThis is the ability to look as if you’re working on a project even if you’re just buying time. This is a useful strategy for dealing with controversial, “no-win” projects. A study committee is a particularly effective active-delay tactic.
  • Exchanging InformationSharing or exchanging information is often accomplished through informal communication channels or networks that are sometimes defined as the “grapevine”.
  • Flexibility – This could be the willingness to transfer from your area of expertise into new areas. Those who exercise this maneuverability frequently move ahead faster in their careers than those who are inflexible about what they will do.
  • EnthusiasmEnthusiasm helps you to be more persuasive and sell your ideas to others.
  • ConfidenceThose who exhibit confidence are typically viewed as more able and more powerful than those who are fearful and pessimistic.
  • Seek AdviceCarefully and selectively seek the advice of a few others whose judgement you have come to trust. However, be very selective and cautious that you do not seek too much advice from too many people. Sometimes, those who are known to seek too much advice and counsel may be viewed as weak or ineffective.
  • Stay Within Your RoleIf you are a team leader, stay within your role. Believe it or not, team members want their leader to behave and function as such, rather than trying to be “one of the group.”  In other words, there must be a certain “psychological distance” between leaders and members, even when there is a friendly relationship. Team members actually prefer and need team leaders who are respected for their expertise and influence outside their home department or group.

The usefulness of these political behaviors, in terms of career success, have been deemed necessary for advancement in organizations. Being politically smart can minimize the negative effects of conflict and help team leaders get ahead. Here is another way to consider the foregoing techniques and suggestions: “The major goal of organizations is not conflict-resolution, but rather conflict avoidance.” If conflicts cannot be avoided, judicious political behaviors can subtlety help to minimize or resolve conflicts without damaging relationships.

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

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MORE Stories = BETTER Presentations

Presentation SkillsWhy are stories so powerful?

Neuroscientists have learned significantly more about persuasion through brain scans and data-driven studies. They believe that they know how and why stories are very effective in the art of persuasion. They know what works and why it works, and can prove it scientifically.

The data firm Quantified Communications, a data firm, has accumulated a significant amount of evidence that storytelling plays a critical role in effective business presentations. Quantified Communications maintains a database of written and spoken communication from Fortune 500 executives, TED Talk speakers, political leaders, business professors, entrepreneurs, and others. They use computer algorithms to analyze and measure the effectiveness of communication. A recent study indicated that the average audience has an attention span of five minutes and you have 15 seconds to make a good first impression.

Carmine Gallo, a story-teller, contributed and article that was republished in Business Insider, where he commented about his study and analysis of 700 presentations. His big “find” was that adopting one speaking skill could help us to become more persuasive. “Messages that included well-crafted stories were 35 percent more persuasive than the average communication in their database. Story-based messages were 21 percent more memorable.”

Stories seem more likely to drive an audience to change its beliefs or actions. Sarah Weber of Qualified Communications, said that, “Storytelling language gives a speech the qualitative elements that help audiences engage with the speaker and recall the key points.” The research also suggests a format for your stories (1) Establish a setting, (2) Introduce tension through conflict, and (3) Establish a new normal for the characters via the resolution.

Our brains are wired for stories. Uri Hasson of Princeton University says that our brains are literally wired for stories. Hasson and his colleagues recorded the brain activity of speakers telling stories as well as the people listening to the stories. The researchers found that the brains of a speaker and their listeners “exhibited joint, temporally coupled, response patterns.” Simply put, the listeners’ brains mirrored the speaker’s brain — only when the speaker was telling the listeners a story. The speaker and the listeners were in sync, and story was the glue that brought them together.

In one case, human rights attorney Bryan Stevenson delivered an 18-minute TED Talk that contained three personal stories. Those in the audience were so inspired, they spontaneously donated $1 million to Stevenson’s nonprofit the Equal Justice Initiative.

For those of us who are professionals in the soft skills areas, we have some scientific evidence that can help us in the presentation aspect of the many communication skills. Intuitively, we know that storytelling helps us to make a point, but we now have evidence of what thousands of years has taught us. Now, science has given us hard evidence to support our claims of this important soft skill. So, all professionals should include more stories in their presentations. If we don’t, we may be missing some great opportunities.

Related Articles:   When Presenting … pause here, here and here! and   Engage Your Audience … compel them to listen!

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How To Spend Your Time … EVALUATE!

Time Management CourseA few days ago, I reviewed a saved article that was written by Josh Patrick of Stage 2 Planning Partners.

This article encouraged me to think about the entire philosophy surrounding time management. In much of my own experience and writings about the topic, I was reminded of a statement that I can’t remember hearing: I have too much time.”

Here is the concern that I have. We have probably had the opportunity to try or experiment with various techniques to try to use our limited time to the best advantage. Some of these techniques have worked well for us for various periods of time. My concern is that, as our positions, location, responsibilities, bosses, team and members change, we may need to reevaluate some of our “go to” time management techniques.

So, with that in mind, it may be helpful to reevaluate whether or not we need to reexamine the deployment of our time management techniques. Here are a few that could pay big dividends:

Examine your StatisticsOver time, we may have a favorite technique to get us through a rough patch. For example, we know that we can authorize overtime to get the shipments out, process the order, repair the machinery, utilize borrowed staff, obtain temporary employees, etc. However, we should ensure that our reaction is based on the actual problems we face now, rather the assumption that, these solutions or techniques, worked the last time we faced similar issues. The key point is that if the underlying issues of a particular problem are different now, the “go to” technique may not be the most effective solution. So, make sure that your current evaluation of the situation is based on solid research and factual data.

Quality ControlOne hazard or trap that we could encounter is that “haste makes waste.” It is possible when you reassign tasks, bring in temporary help or authorize overtime, the quality of the product may suffer. Many studies have suggested that after a certain number of hours worked, a team members’ efficiency and productivity may decline. In a crunch, you will have to do what you have to. But the overarching concern is to ensure that your process is efficient, properly staffed and allows for contingencies. Your cost efficiencies can take a big hit if the work has to be scrapped or returned from the customer because quality standards were not met. The goal is to avoid mistakes.

SuggestionsThis is the oldest rule in the book: Ask your team members for their suggestions. It is possible that over a period of time, minor changes occur that may not come to your attention and the new considerations do not become a part of your normal operating procedures.  For example, what happens when an account can no longer take deliveries until later in the day, but the control documents have not been changed? It is possible that time spent on an order that cannot be accepted until 4:00 p.m. may consume time that can be devoted to orders that can be accepted earlier. I think that you get the drift, so you may have to apply the theory to the type of operation, in which you function.

It requires constant diligence to ensure that we don’t waste our time or the time of our team members. The primary goal, as suggested by Steven Covey, is to do the things that are important rather than merely urgent. It is also helpful for a team leader to pose this question to themselves: Is there anything I can do to make my team more effective and efficient? Team members who feel that their time is effectively used will generally be happier and feel more appreciated. Team members in this modality are generally more productive, as well.

Related Articles5 Email Time Savers That Increase Productivity   and  SIX Ways to Create More Time

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Making Good People Quit!

HiringHere is the biggest understatement of all time: “If you want your best people to stay, you need to think carefully about how you treat them.” This is a quote from an article that Dr. Travis Bradberry contributed to the Huffington Post, entitled, 9 Bad Manager Mistakes That Make Good People Quit.

One of the highest cost and time consuming process an organization experiences is maintaining the proper mix and level of staffing. During my corporate career, every Strategic or Business Plan contained a section on reducing turnover and achieving excellent staffing results. However, when I asked managers why they experienced high turnover, they cited every reason from Alpha to Omega, except themselves.

Dr. Bradberry remarked that: “People don’t leave jobs; they leave managers.” He also cites some research from the University of California which found that motivated employees were 31% more productive, had 37% higher sales, and were three times more creative than demotivated employees. They were also 87% less likely to quit, according to a Corporate Leadership Council study on over 50,000 people. The Gallup Research Group suggests that 70% of an employee’s motivation is influenced by their manager.

The original article listed nine (9) mistakes that managers make, but three of them resonated with me because of their particular vexing nature. However, you can read the original article here.

Here is my top three (3).

  1. They hire and promote the wrong people. Motivated employees want a professional environment and an opportunity to work with similarly motivated people. It is also important during the promotion process to ensure that the person has the people skills to properly engage the team. One of the worst disasters is to have team members who have worked hard and smart get passed over in favor of a “clown” for favoritism or nepotism. If this happens, the best people will leave.
  2. They don’t let people pursue their passions. Talented employees are usually very passionate. They need the opportunity to pursue their passion, increase their productivity and job satisfaction. Regrettably, some managers don’t want their team members to work or think “outside of the box.” Some managers feel that productivity will decline if the team does not complete work in exactly the same prescribed manner. This fear can be overcome by allowing team members to make suggestions and test new approaches. Depending on the results of the tests, a rational decision can be made to “tweak” the new process or abandon it. In either cases, team members will feel like they have been heard and given a chance to grow.
  3. They fail to engage creativity. The more talented employees seek to improve everything they touch. If you take away their ability to change and improve things because you’re only comfortable with the status quo, this makes them hate their jobs. Suppressing this innate desire to create limits them and you.

The talented team members have options. The ideal situation is to help them decide to continue as members of your team.

Related Articles:What’s Not in a Job Description? and Interview Questions … zany types of the third kind!

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performance reviews …or Performance Coaching

I am going to go “out on a limb” and say that one of the most dreaded duties of most team leaders are performance reviews. I will go out on an even longer and higher limb and say that most team members hate them even more than team leaders do.

Among the many reasons that team leaders hate this process is because, often they do not see it as being helpful or productive. Many view it as a program designed by HR to be endured at least annually. My own belief and experience, as well as those of others, is that to do an effective and meaningful performance review requires that specific behaviors and elements of performance be measurable, understood and agreed upon objectives.

In many organizations, the performance reviews are combined with salary issues. In that system, if we could read a “thought bubble” it would say “just tell me how much my raise is going to be.”  Even when performance and pay are separate, a sigh of relief is expressed and the review goes into the bottom drawer to be forgotten.

There are many reasons why performance reviews are not as effective as we desire, but many of the same reasons continue to be given for their ineffectiveness. I often observe and note the reasons why others say that the process is ineffective.

Here is a list of three of the most frequently cited reasons:

  1. Performance reviews take too much time. Document and preparing reviews for six team members could take as much twelve hours each. For example you could spend as much as one hour per month compiling statistics and data for each team member (12x 6 = 72) hours and preparation time for the each annual review could be another 6 hours. That is nearly two week out of the normal fifty work weeks.
  2. Difficulty in being honest with team members. It may be difficult to be honest with some team members because during a performance review because we know that they try hard to do a good and effective job, but somehow it just does not work out. As decent human beings, we just don’t want to be the one that hurts the feelings of the people with whom we work.
  3. An ineffective process permeates throughout the organization. If you have an ineffective performance review system, there is a good chance that you see little value in the performance review from your team leader or manager. Therefore, if you had less than a satisfactory experience, you may have unintentionally devalued the process and unknowingly provided ineffective reviews to your direct reports.

Performance Coaching

It is important to share with team members when they could have done something more effectively. This includes what they could have done instead, and why the alternative would have been better. Feedback structured in this fashion helps the team member see how they can build on previous performance to generate even more effective performance.

Taking a page from an athletic coach’s playbook, we note that they coach immediately after something has happened, and the “player” has a fresh memory of the situation or problem. In the case of a non-sports analogy, it could be the business opportunity, special challenge, or routine task. This is your chance to explain what caused the failure in acceptable performance or handling of the situation and to point out the results or consequences. The next step is to describe or demonstrate the alternative action or handling of the situation and explain or demonstrate why the alternative action would be more effective. (Read the full article here.)

Related Articles:   Coaching … how did I do?   and   When an Associate Struggles … COACH!

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Negotiate … like a PRO!

Win-Win Negotiation SkillsIt makes sense to examine some of the reasons that some of us may be afraid to negotiate. Some of the reasons are that it makes us feel uncomfortable or that we may be reluctant to ask for what we want. Various individuals have told me that they do not want to appear greedy, create a confrontation, experience rejection or be perceived as offensive. Many books have been written on the subject of negotiations, but there are a few simple techniques that are applicable to any negotiation. However, the main caveat is that these suggestions must be scaled or adjusted for the magnitude, type and scope of your particular negotiation.

So, let’s examine a few ways to prepare for and reduce some of the concerns that we have about negotiating:

Research“Bulk Up” on your knowledge about the issues that you are about to negotiate. I am sure that you have heard the axiom, “knowledge is power.” Simply stated, the more information that you have, the more comfortable you will feel during the negotiation. For example, if you are preparing to buy a new car, there are numerous websites and buying services that compare prices and derive an average price that is paid for a particular vehicle. Price comparisons can be done for almost every product. With respect to careers and job opportunities, there are websites such as Glassdoor that offer regional salary statistics for many job titles and free salary calculators to help you to determine the value of your job and experience.

ApproachThis suggestion may seem somewhat simplistic, but it could be beneficial to simply approach the negotiation as an opportunity to solve a problem. Here is the rationale for that. If we use the example of shopping for a car or a new TV, there is a fixed template for the scenario. The sales person or dealer wants to sell those cars or televisions. The problem is that, if there are no sale, there is no income for the sales person or dealer, and you have to continue to struggle with that older car or “dumb” television set. So, after you have done your research, you know a fair price when you hear it. There is no need to be nervous because there are many car dealers and outlets from which to make your purchase. In the process, you have solved your need for the product and helped the salesperson and dealer solve their need for revenue and commissions.

“Dry Run”I suggest that you practice your technique in a safe and risk free environment. For example, you have decided on a particular make and model of the desired new vehicle. The next step is to do similar research on an entirely different make and model vehicle than you really want. Visit several dealerships and test you negotiation readiness. You should not experience any anxiety because you are merely practicing your techniques and did not expect to drive home in a shiny and new vehicle. After you are comfortable with your negotiating technique, then you can begin shopping for the actual make and model vehicle that you really want.

 “All Ears”During these “Dry Runs” you should focus on actively listening to the sales presentation. You will notice that the sales person will try to gain as much information about you as possible. They will also provide a lot of information about accessories and add-on items. The quicker you get accustomed to this, the better prepared you will be to ignore information that is intended to increase the price of the basic vehicle. During this process, you will crystalize what is important to you and become resistant to all of the superfluous information. Now you are ready to actually shop for the make and model of the vehicle of your choice.

Similar techniques can be scaled and adapted to other purchases, negotiating salaries or changing jobs. When considering a job change, a practice interview is a valuable tool if you have not changed jobs recently. This is an opportunity to validate some of the salary information that you have researched. As it relates to career advancement, I don’t actually advocate that you waste anyone’s time, but not every interview is a “hiring” interview. Typically, the first round of interviews are “screening” interviews, from which several top candidates will be identified. Those candidates will be interviewed a second time to determine which will be extended a job offer.

Related Articles:   Negotiations … it’s all in the planning! and   Win-Win Negotiations … use this skill!

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