Horrible Customer Service … the epitome!

Customer Problem ResolvedI was researching some notes for a talk on customer service and during that process, I discovered an article that had been written for CBS MoneyWatch in 2012. The story was about an airline that refused a dying veteran a refund after discovering that he was not medically cleared to fly. They even attempted to defend their policy, but eventually “semi-relented.”

Another airline had the experience of humiliating another veteran in front of a plane load of passengers, bringing the wounded veteran to tears. To summarize, the veteran was a double amputee due to an explosion while serving in Afghanistan. Upon boarding the airplane, several passengers in first class immediately offered up their seats. The flight attendants and crew would not permit the switch because the aircraft door was being closed.

As a veteran, I regarded these as examples of the most disgusting incidents of HORRIBLE customer service imaginable. These may be alarming stories to get the attention of a group attending a workshop on customer service. The fact is that, horrible instances of customer service failures do actually happen. So, we must develop a system or method of addressing the issues as quickly and professionally as possible. Depending on your profession or industry, your customer service issues will probably not be as severe as the ones that I described. It is possible to overcome a customer service disaster with a well-developed strategy.

Here is a 5 step strategy:

  1. Offer a sincere apologyThe apology should be immediate, authentic, believable and unqualified. The apology should not sound like a damage control paragraph from the policy and procedures manual. Any apology, to be believable, must be offered from a heartfelt position. If the apology is delivered as if it came from the company manual, it will sound like an attempt to avoid any liability or culpability.
  2. Offer a clear and precise explanationAs your explanation is presented, be careful not to make excuses or be defensive. There are times when we will disappoint our customers or clients. Immediately, acknowledge your client or customer’s experience or inconvenience and confirm the desire to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution. If the customer service issue involves a product, ensure there is a match of the product specifications with the customer’s expectation of performance. Similar issues may arise in providing professional services and we must clearly understand the scope of work that the customer or client expects. Ask background questions, probing questions as well as confirming questions to make sure that you clearly and completely understand the client expectations.
  3. Use clear and precise languageAvoid vague, circuitous or patronizing language. You must be very specific during this process so that if there are available and applicable options, you can describe and explain them to the customer or client. This is a perfect time to reeducate customers and clients, with the added benefit of reinforcing the integrity of your organization. You should ask the customer or client for their resolution preferences so that you can accurately investigate the cause of the misunderstanding and offer appropriate options.
  4. Agree on a decisive and specific action – You and the customer or client should develop a mutually agreed upon resolution to the issue. Some issues may require approvals and waivers, so you should obtain these before offering them as part of the resolution. After the recommendations are approved, they should be presented to the customer or client. Customers or clients must be active participants in developing the resolution to their issue. Upon agreement, take decisive action immediately.
  5. Thank your customersThank your clients and customers for their business and their trust in you and your organization to ensure the satisfaction of their needs. This is a cornerstone of building long-term and successful relationships. Offer positive feedback to clients and customers. William James, one of the world’s best-known psychologists, once said, “The desire to be appreciated is one of the deepest drives in human nature.” It is often said that, “the sweetest sound in all the world to a person is his or her name.” Use the customer’s name often. This applies to external and internal customers.

The Training Shelf Newsletter covers a wide variety of topics that relate to leadership, management and small business, so you can refresh your skills as needed. Don’t forget that you can search the archives depending on your interest.

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

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Kick Your Motivation … up a step!

Get MotivatedRichard Harroch contributed an article to AllBusiness.com entitled, 25 Motivational Quotes to Get You Excited for the Week Ahead.

Most of us have probably used one or more of the techniques as suggested by Richard. Before we dig into the list, we should probably agree on one definition of what motivation really is.

Motivation is a theoretical construct used to explain behavior. It represents the reasons for people’s actions, desires, and needs. Motivation can also be defined as one’s direction to behavior, or what causes a person to want to repeat a behavior and vice versa. According to Maehr and Meyer, “Motivation is a word that is part of the popular culture as few other psychological concepts are.”

Richard says that perseverance, hard work, kindness, drive, creativity and more will help us succeed. I was intrigued by the list of quotations and read through them to determine if I had used the essence of any of these quotations to motivate myself or others. I found that I had consciously used five of them at one time or another. However, you can read the original article here.

Here are the five (5) that resonated with me:

  1. “The successful man will profit from his mistakes and try again in a different way” —Dale Carnegie, motivational speaker and author
  2. “The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are” —J.P. Morgan, American financier
  3. “Do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do.” —Oprah Winfrey, Chairwoman and CEO of Harpo Productions
  4. “No one of achievement has avoided failure, sometimes catastrophic failures, but they keep at it. They learn from mistakes. They don’t quit.” —President Barack Obama
  5. “Be nice to colleagues, customers, co-workers and everyone else you come into contact with at work. No one likes to deal with difficult unfriendly people.” —Richard Harroch, venture capitalist and author

The Training Shelf Newsletter covers a wide variety of topics that relate to leadership, management and small business, so you can refresh your skills as needed. Don’t forget that you can search the archives depending on your interest.

Related Article(s)Motivation… and Managing Your Team

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Interpersonal Conflicts

Conflict managementOne of the constant dynamics in professional or business situations is the presence of some level of interpersonal conflicts. The problem is that, a team leader cannot change a person’s personality or basic values. These fundamental traits and deep-seated beliefs can usually be changed only through a time-consuming therapeutic process. Nevertheless, it is possible for a team leader to help associates modify the behavioral consequences of their personality and values. Let’s examine two behavioral approaches to conflict resolution that can be effectively used by a knowledgeable and willing team leader.

Counseling

One of the major responsibilities of a team leader is to provide guidance and direction to team members in the performance of their job responsibilities. However, counseling is more subtle. When team leaders counsel team members, they are offering advice as to what should be done and why. One particular organization’s policy for counseling associates is summarized as follows:

  • Team leaders should organize their thoughts before delivering them so that the message is clear and easy to understand
  • Pay attention to voice intonation and pitch
  • Listen to the associate in a patient, friendly, but intelligently critical manner
  • Help the associate to relieve fears or anxieties
  • Praise the associate for describing his or her thoughts and feelings accurately
  • Understand that gender differences should be appropriately considered in the “counseling” relationship.

Cultural differences may also complicate the counseling relationship. It is well established that individuals from different cultural backgrounds often have different communicating styles. Because one cannot always assess the cultured background of an associate, the team leader needs a general strategy for a good beginning and maintaining open communication.

A suggested strategy should include as many of the following as possible:

  • A show of genuine interest
  • A sense of curiosity and appreciation
  • Empathy
  • A non-judgmental attitude
  • Flexibility
  • A learning mode

The meaning of each of these is fairly obvious, except for the last one. Being in a learning mode means being free of preconceived notions. Team leaders are not asked to become psychiatrists. They are also encouraged not to use a massive dose of authority, such as, “Change or you’re fired.” If a team leader needs assistance with a particular case, they should seek assistance from their manager or the HR department.

Modifying Behavior

Behavior modification is the shaping of another person’s behavior by controlling the consequences of that behavior. Behavior modification is based on the principle that a behavior that is rewarded will continue and will cease or change if not rewarded or punished. Most behavioral scientists believe that human behavior is rational, self-serving, and goal-directed. The goal of our behavior is to satisfy our needs. If those needs are satisfied, we continue that behavior; if not, we cease or modify it.

The keys to modifying behavior are the frequency and timing of rewards, non-rewards, and punishments. If team leaders understand the fundamentals of behavior modification, they can shape their teams’ behavior without getting involved in personality issues or deep-seated values. There are some considerations surrounding the timing of rewards or punishment.

They are:

  • Continuous reinforcement means that a team leader responds with rewards or punishments every time an associate performs a certain behavior.
  • Intermittent reinforcement means that a team leader responds to an associate’s behavior either randomly or at some regular frequency or interval.
  • Research demonstrates that intermittent reinforcement tends to take longer than continuous reinforcement to produce acceptable behavior, but the behavior resulting from intermittent reinforcement will last longer and be more resistant to change.
  • Many behavioral experts believe that punishment should be used infrequently because it tends to produce undesirable side effects.
  • Associates resent punishment and look for ways to retaliate, such as leaving their jobs, spreading negative rumors about the team leader, and performing only a minimum amount of work.
  • Instead of punishing poor behavior, many experts suggest that team leaders not respond to it. If an associate behaves correctly, the individual should be rewarded. If not, no reward should be given. In other words, punishment should be the last option that team leaders exercise.

The Training Shelf Newsletter covers a wide variety of topics that relate to leadership, management and small business, so you can refresh your skills as needed. Don’t forget that you can search the archives depending on your interest.

Related Articles:   Conflict Resolution … here’s how!   and   Listening … the internal obstacles!

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Listen Here!

Communication Skills CourseOK, you may or may not be a jazz fan as I am. But, Eddie Harris recorded a tune entitled, Listen Here. What I would like to suggest is that, there are several ways to effectively make your points in your conversations, presentations, interviews or counseling sessions. Before I offer these suggestions, it is fundamentally important that we agree that it is necessary that we support our points, arguments or positions, rather than merely claim or assert them.

There are some stylistic differences that must be observed depending on whether the venue is conversational, written, presentation format or confidential in nature. There are many variables, so perhaps we should take them in “bite sized” pieces. The secret is the effective use of evidence.

Evidence plays a vital role in the communication and persuasive process. You do not want to bludgeon your target with evidence, but rather to use it appropriately and to the right degree. The more serious or important the communication is will dictate the amount of evidence that is required.

There are many forms of evidence, but herein, we will examine five (5) forms. Here are my five (5) suggestions:

  1. Expertise – The first offer of expertise may be your own experience. You can refer to policies or programs that you have written or published, presentations that you have composed, PowerPoint decks that you have presented for similar audiences or situations. The second technique for using expertise is to use the opinion or agreement of someone that your audience will accept as an authority on the subject. It always adds value if you have an expert opinion on the subject. In most important court cases, an expert witness is frequently used by one side or the other, or both.
  2. Statistics – Factual and statistical information is powerful, but is not always the most important type of evidence. In a business environment or communication, it is customary to consider costs, value, timeliness and quality. Therefore, current or historical statistics can be effectively used to help you make your point. On the other hand, statistics may be less effective in a situation that may involve emotional or empathetically charged issues.  So, if you have a set of ten (10) powerful statistics or data sets, you might consider initially presenting the top five or six and reserve the balance for any questions that may arise later.
  3. Case Studies – Case studies are a very effective type of evidence, particularly if it is similar to the situation under consideration. This type of evidence is most useful when used with audiences or groups that value empirical proof that demonstrates applicability to the situation under consideration. This technique is very effective with business audiences and others that rely on research for guidance where processes need to be measured, and must conform to business, legal or industry standards.
  4. The Story – This could be characterized as Your Story.” There is something that is particularly compelling when we tell a story from our own experience. You can also invoke the previous suggestion (case studies) by presenting video experience of someone else. Your story may not readily prove your contentions, but may help your audience focus on the issue under discussion. If presented timely and appropriately with high authenticity, it is an effective form of evidence.
  5. Pictures – The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is still true. Except, today we can show more effective pictures. Today, we can show before and after video clips with actual commentary or “voice over” as appropriate. We can more easily show variations of a particular process or technique, or even a sequence of steps with the corresponding results. All of this can be accomplished with a laptop and/or a projector. This is powerful and should be employed as applicable.

We use our communication skills in a variety of ways. In a professional context, we answer questions, provide guidance, but when we stake out a position, this is where it is necessary to illustrate and prove the validity of our point or position. You can communicate more effectively when you facilitate meetings, problem solve or any other professional context if you are able to effectively utilize the evidence that supports your viewpoint.

Related Articles: What’s Not in a Job Description? and   Interviewing Skills … your secret weapon!

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Helping Teams Improve

CoachingIt 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.

It is important to use your own speaking style and vocabulary. Balance coaching with positive feedback so that the team member maintains a sense of self-worth and esteem. Be very specific about the performance. When you compare current performance to expected performance, team members can see what adjustments are required for future success.

TemplatesConsider this template for offering improvement feedback:

“Frank, when you were teaching Ruth to operate the scanner, you told her she just wasn’t absorbing it.” She became upset and afraid to ask questions. You need to go easier on her.

You will notice that this feedback doesn’t describe an alternative or the alternative result it would achieve.

An alternative template could be framed like this:

“Frank, when you were teaching Ruth to operate the scanner, you told her she just wasn’t absorbing it” She got angry and became afraid to ask questions.

A better approach would have been to acknowledge that it’s difficult to operate the scanner and that her questions are appropriate. That would have maintained her sense of self-worth and encouraged her to keep trying.”

Useful feedback must be very specific about performance. For example, saying “good job” but not supporting it with details makes it seem as if you don’t know what was done or why it was valuable. Actually, there is a chance that your team member will become defensive.

Another situation to be aware of is offering positive feedback when you don’t believe the performance deserved it.  This is another way to appear insincere or, worse, dishonest. Team members may consider you as being manipulative and wonder about your real motives for providing the feedback. At this point you have lost credibility.

If your feedback is based on assumptions or guesses, you weaken your feedback and give team members the impression you’re making excuses for them and don’t believe what you’re saying. It is imperative to give enough specific information about what needs to be done differently.

GeneralitiesThe use of words such as always and never in your feedback imply that you’re describing a long-standing performance trend. Team members may become angry with you for not providing the feedback sooner. You don’t want your team to think their overall performance, rather than the performance in this particular situation, is unacceptable.

TimelinessIf you wait too long to give feedback for improvement, the team could be embarrassed that other people saw there was a problem, but you didn’t. In some cases, anger may foment because it’s too late to do anything about it. Team members may feel insulted that you even brought it up. After all, if it was so important, why didn’t you say something when it happened? This is a typical case of resistance to and rejection of feedback. Frustration may be caused by difficulty remembering the specific details of the situation.

DefensivenessDefensiveness or resistance to feedback may cause the person providing feedback to feel as if you don’t value or trust their ideas. Alternatively, it can give the appearance of closed-mindedness, guilt, or unwillingness to be accountable for actions. The person will be reluctant to provide you with feedback in the future, both positive feedback you want and feedback for improvement you need to be more effective in your job.

The Training Shelf Newsletter covers a wide variety of topics that relate to leadership, management and small business, so you can refresh your skills as needed. Don’t forget that you can search the archives depending on your interest.

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

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Why Is It So Hard To Change?

Change ManagementSometimes, we acknowledge that we need to make some changes in our professional or personal lives. The biggest obstacle seems to be our general, but normal, dislike for change. The big question is, why do we find it so hard to change? Among the many reasons that we don’t like change is that it makes us uncomfortable even if we clearly realize that we must change. We find it difficult to diverge from the patterns and processes that we have established. This triggers the desire to postpone making changes as long as possible. But, overall we are adaptable and are fairly adept at making the necessary changes that are in keeping with our own best interests.

However, it is helpful to periodically examine some of the key reasons that making changes are difficult and develop a few techniques to make it more understandable, if not easier.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Fear of failure – If we try something new, there is the chance that we may not be successful. Certainly, the first time we try something new, we may not be as good as we would like to be. There is a learning curve to almost every new skill that we develop. The resolution to this fear is to take small steps rather than plunging into the deep end. When you are approaching a new skill or process, take small steps. In a professional setting, this could mean that we allow a transition period for changing from the old methods to the new methods. This allows sufficient time to revisit certain steps and make corrections before completely transitioning to the next step in the process. In other words, building on your successes is an easier way to change.
  2. Historical factors Our lives, to this point, has been shaped by thousands of small and imperceptible impulses, stimuli, training, skill building and even changes. Most of us feel that we have been successful and are skilled at the things that we do. However, some of the skills that we have developed need to be updated simply because there are more efficient and effective methods. In my opinion, if I need to cut down a tree, I would not get a better and sharper ax, I would get a chain saw. This does not demean my ax wielding skills. A chain saw is simply a better tool or skill for the job. Don’t be reluctant to investigate and invest in some new skills that may benefit you in the future.
  3. Incremental steps I am not certain of the attribution for this quote, but “fail fast, and fail cheap” translates to taking small steps so that you can recover as quickly as possible without major mistakes. Most of us would agree that if we make a small mistake, it is not too difficult to recover at a smaller cost. It is important to avoid committing significant resources before we are certain that we are on the right track. If we have invested significant time and resources, it is more difficult to accept starting over from scratch. We must fight the impulse to keep trying to salvage a failing effort.
  4. Pressure A new idea or process may be considered by some to be unworkable or unnecessary. Your team may feel that it is simply a bad idea. You may be able to avoid some of this pressure by asking for some feedback on your new plan or idea. You may actually get some constructive feedback that addresses a better method or changes to the implementation of a new process. If the feedback is constructive, the team members may be able to help design tests before live implementation.
  5. Self esteemWe want to maintain our pride and reputation, because our culture does not look kindly upon mistakes. We have all failed, particularly in the early stage, of a new effort or skill. However, we had the fortitude to continue, even after multiple failures. But, the desire to acquire and perfect the new skill exceeded the discomfort of temporary setbacks. We realized that once we perfected the new skill, we could enjoy the benefits for a lifetime. The same rationale holds now. You must invest in new skills, even in the face of perceived lower self esteem, to enjoy the lasting benefits of acquiring the new skill.

None of us want to lose the respect of our colleagues and team members. However we must not be afraid to maintain our convictions if we believe that certain changes will contribute to increased efficiency and effectiveness. Sometimes, we have to believe we’re right even if everyone disagrees with us. The foundational concept that we must accept is that, change is inevitably. So, dealing with and successfully managing change is a critical skill for all professionals.

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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Stimulate Your Career … Free!

Career DevelopmentAs we approach the end of the summer vacation season, another season begins. That season is the preparation for next year. OK, that is really not a season as defined by the weather services. But, most business and professional organizations begin the planning process for the following year. These processes include budgets, sales or earnings forecasting, hiring, contracting, expanding and many more activities.

Here is the big question: should you do the same for yourself? Rhetorically, let me answer the question… YES. Here is the primary reason: As organizations make plans for next year, those plans will affect you. I do not assume or assert that the effect will be negative. I merely suggest that you recalibrate your career compass, so that you are prepared for changes that you may face.

I suggest that you consider these ten (10) proactive steps that you can take, or continue, so that you can more accurately evaluate your situation and protect yourself.

Here they are:

1. Salary ResearchYou should establish a method for tracking the current salaries that are offered for the position or title you hold, the industry and the type of work that you do. There are a number of organizations that offer this information on their websites and a simple search will generate a listing of them. You could also check a few recruiting sites that post salary and compensation information. The reason for this step is to determine what professionals with similar experience and skills are commanding.

2. Compile positive feedback – Begin to compile your positive feedback. This could be in the form of performance appraisals, testimonials from customers, or clients or colleagues. Save this information in a private and secure file at home. As time permits, review this information and do your best to quantify the top ten (10) listings. If necessary, discretely ask customers to quantify the value of the contribution about which they commented. This will be useful, if you are asked for your largest accomplishments by a prospective employer or even your present employer.

3. List ten influential professionals you want to meet – Theses may be people in your organization, people who you met at a conference or presentation, or that a colleague or friend has suggested that you meet. Depending on the contact, you should exercise discretion in scheduling these meetings. Once you have prioritized this list, you can determine the best way to begin the outreach.

4. Summarize your year – It is a good practice to keep the people in your network up to date on your accomplishments. Consider developing an appropriate email format to let them know about your top five (5) successes or accomplishments of the current year. It would also be very helpful to ask them to update you on their progress in a similar fashion. Don’t forget to let them know that you will be willing to assist them to the extent that you can.

5. Create a reading list – You have probably made a decision to read certain books, watch certain DVDs or take certain self-improvement courses. It may also be helpful to ask your network contacts, friends and mentors for recommendations on specific or general topics. Once the list is complied, publish it to your network with a message of thanks.

6. Identify 10 companies you’d like to join – You can bookmark the web sites of these companies. You will be able to determine some of their basic plans such as expanding, new products, hiring, training, career development and other important information. This list might become a target list for your next career move, future research and tracking of their activities.

7. Wish listThroughout the year, your friends and colleagues, have probably recommended events, conferences or training seminars. Prioritize these suggestions and begin to research dates, locations and costs to help you determine which are feasible for the coming year. Don’t forget to determine if your organization’s tuition assistance program will cover any part of your list. If not, you may be able to ask your leadership if any part of this will be covered as a job related expenditure.

8. Reconnect with former colleaguesAgain, make and prioritize a list of ten (10) former colleagues with whom you would like to reconnect. Send a short email or call to let them know that you would like to reconnect. Based on their location and schedule, you can arrange to chat further or even meet for coffee or after work. Try to spread the contacts so that you do not create a “bubble” in your schedule.

9. Update your LinkedIn profileAudit and update your LinkedIn profile and ensure that you include a current photo. As a result of your outreach, check to see if your profile views have increased. You should also let your network know that you have updated your profile and ask if they have any recommendations for inclusion.

10. Business cards – Even if you have business cards from your employer, it may be a good idea to develop a personal business card to facilitate sharing your information. On your personal business card you can include your personal email address, personal mobile telephone number, LinkedIn profile link or other branding information you want your contacts to have.

The Training Shelf Newsletter covers a wide variety of topics that relate to leadership, management and small business, so you can refresh your skills as needed. Don’t forget that you can search the archives depending on your interest.

Related Articles:   Your 7 Greatest Career Sins   and   11 Rules for Achieving Success

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