Labels are for bins, not people – Repost

Labels let us know where the pens, paper or staples are in the supply room.  Labels save time.  Labels mean we don’t need to look in the bin, box or the jar.   Labels allow us to quickly scan and reject until we find the right label.  The label tells us everything we need to know.

That’s a great concept if the goal is to take a messy, unorganized desk or closet and turn it into a Martha Stewart approved oasis of calm organization.

Labels don’t work so well with people.

Slapping labels on customer or co-workers, based on external appearance or behaviours, does help us categorize them and our response to them.  Unfortunately, the problem with labelling people is we so very often get them wrong.

When we label the loud, angry man as aggressive and obnoxious, we don’t acknowledge the possibility that he may have just had a horrible, terrible day and that he’s reached the end of his rope. We resort to managing the label instead of seeing the person.

When we label young people as impatient and ‘wet behind the ears’, we don’t acknowledge their desire to help make positive change a reality.

When we label old people as stubborn and set in their ways, we lose the opportunity to learn from their experience.

When accountants become ‘number crunchers’ and sales professionals become ‘paid to golf’, the ability to connect and work together becomes exceedingly difficult.

When we label someone as strong and independent, we may assume they don’t need the same level of support as others.  We may miss the signs that show they are struggling and need some help.

Labeling employee as lazy or unmotivated takes away our responsibility to create a positive work environment, built on respect and recognition for their contribution.

Labeling managers or owners as demanding and uncaring takes away our responsibility to bring our A-game to work.

The one benefit to an unlabeled, unorganized closet is the sense of joy and satisfaction when a previously unknown or lost item is found.  I believe the same possibility holds true when we rip our labels off the people we interact with every day.

Ripping off the labels will make our life a little more chaotic and a little messier.  It means the easy answer or the neat solution may no longer work.  But I imagine that amongst the chaos, we may discover a treasure trove of undiscovered knowledge, possibilities and opportunities.

What do you think?

How Would You Describe Your Ideal Employee?

Super BusinessmenOn Tuesday, I had lunch with two friends.  Marilyn was serving our table. At one point, I completely lost the thread of our table conversation because I was watching her interact with another table. Marilyn was laughing so hard, she looked like she was going to cry.  So was the rest of the table.  Later when we turned down the chocolate cake suggestion, Marilyn’s response, with a completely deadpan look on her face, except for the twinkle in her eyes, was “Have the carrot cake then. It’s a vegetable.”

Marilyn was wonderful.  Would she have been for every restaurant?  Probably not. Some restaurants are more formal.  Friendly professionalism is always expected but off-the-cuff jokes and roars of laughter are not appreciated.  And it’s not just that Marilyn may not be a fit for that type of restaurant; that type of restaurant may not be a fit for Marilyn.

As employers, too often, we haven’t clearly defined who our ideal employee is.  Most of us know that attitude is much more important than experience. Skills can be taught; attitude not so much.  But it goes deeper than that. As in my example above, friendly professionalism looks different at different businesses. If you and your customers expect a more formal approach to service, someone like Marilyn may not be a good fit.

Take the time to think about your company culture, your customer’s expectations and then come up with three or four words or phrases to describe the person you believe will more easily integrate into your company and connect with your customer’s in a meaningful way.

These words and phrases can then be used during the recruitment and hiring process. There will be some people who automatically disqualify themselves from the process when they see or hear those words and that’s OK.  It’s better for them and for you to know up front they are not comfortable with the role. On the plus side, there will be some who eagerly jump in because you  have just described them.

Having a deep understanding of your ideal employee is necessary in order to recruit and hire people who will fit the culture. Hiring someone who isn’t the right fit isn’t good for your business, your team or the new hire. After all, it’s not about filling a role; it’s about filling a role with the right person.

When is Customer Service Training NOT the Answer? – Repost

question mark over headJust what can you do when you notice service rants for your business are trending up and service raves are going down?

First of all, pat yourself on the back for noticing. There are a lot of companies that don’t ask for customer feedback or keep track of the feedback when it does come in. Knowing there is a problem is an important and valuable first step.

Second, don’t assume that customer service training will fix the problem or reverse the trend.

It’s not that customer service training is a bad thing. Customer service training can be effective when it provides a forum to discuss challenges and develop solutions. It is a great opportunity to focus on and identify specific customer needs, wants and expectations and come up with new  ideas on how to meet or exceed those expectations. Customer service training helps build confidence and skills in dealing with difficult or challenging situations.

But all too often, the reason for poor customer service is much deeper. Very often, the reason for poor customer service falls in one or more of the following areas:

  1. There are no clear service standards in place. When service professionals don’t know or understand the service expectations, it’s very difficult to meet or exceed them.
  2. Internal customer service is fair to middling. Fair to middling internal service results in fair to middling external service. Very, very few of us are able to turn off the negative feelings that result from a squabble with a team member, a dressing down by a supervisor (especially when done in front of others), unreasonable workloads, no response or slow response to requests … the list could go on and on. And when we are not happy, generally those around us aren’t happy either, or at least not as happy as they could be.
  3. Skills training is rushed or poorly developed. When somebody does not know how to complete the tasks associated with their job, if they cannot answer basic customer questions or know who to go to for the answers, they become frustrated and the customer becomes frustrated. Putting someone on a shift too soon is not good for business.
  4. The wrong people are in the job. When the focus is on finding the most qualified candidate instead of the most suitable candidate in order to shorten skills training time, customer service suffers. Yes, it’s important that people know how to do their job. That’s what the skills training is for. But generally the hardest part of the job isn’t the how, it’s the “how the how is completed”. Efficiency and knowledge improves with training and practice. It’s much more difficult to turn surly indifference into genuine friendliness and concern.

Customer service training is a valuable tool for companies committed to the creating positive, memorable customer experiences, but by itself, won’t provide the results you are looking for.  Before hiring a trainer, ask yourself:

  • Have we taken the time to really figure out what our customers want, need and expect and then developed standards to meet and exceed those expectations? 
  • Am I providing the same level of high service to my service team that I expect them to provide?
  • Are we providing in-depth and effective skills training?
  • Do we have the right people, with the right attitudes and personal attributes in roles they are most suited to? 

If you can honestly answer yes to all those questions, then customer service training that focuses on your business, your service team members and your customers, will help move the service bar forward.

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I had a great conversation this week with an organization that has recognized the need to create a customer service strategy.  I absolutely loved it when they said “this needs to be more than a stand alone training session.”  They get it!  Workshops and training sessions are effective, when they are supported by clear standards, skills training and a recruitment and hiring strategy that includes attitude and the desire to serve as a key attribute.

Don’t Blink

redflower2The last two weeks have been incredibly busy and in amongst all that busyness, were moments of reflection and learning.

I, along with my husband, my brother and my brother’s wife, spent a lot of time helping my parents prepare for a year long visit to Newfoundland.  Mom and dad sold their house and then had to decide what to do with all the stuff that accumulates over the years. Some would go into storage to await their return. Some would go to Newfoundland with them and some would either be donated or sent to the trash.

As mom was sorting through her beloved books, I learned she loves poetry.  How did I not know that, after all these years?  It makes me wonder what other interesting tidbits of information I don’t know about people near and dear to me.

And why did it take this significant move for me to find the time to spend all those many hours with my parents?  If I could make the time now, it meant I also had the time before even if it seemed I didn’t.

As I gave my parents one long last hug before they hit the road, mini-van piled high with personal treasures, it hit me that not only are my parents no longer close by, both my children are also far away.  Amy is working in BC and already has her ticket purchased for Thailand, her jumping off point for her next travel adventure.  Erik is working in Baffin Island.  From a purely selfish perspective, I’m thankful he will be home soon.  It seems like just yesterday these two young adults were babies.

The flower picture used in my post this morning is from a plant my sister-in-law gave us when we moved into our new home.  There were no blooms for months and then one day, I  noticed a bud and a few days later, woke up to this beautiful red bloom. The next day, it was gone.  The plant blooms for one day only and perhaps that is my lesson in all of this.

Kenny Chesney sings “Don’t blink.  Times goes by faster than you think”.  We don’t know how long those near and dear to us will be close by. We need to stop being so busy and take the time to enjoy family and friends. Go for walks or just sit and talk. It will be time well spent.

If You Can’t Fulfill A Customer Request, Who Can?

Years ago, I was working in sales at a hotel. The Grey Cup was coming to Winnipeg and we, like almost every other hotel in Winnipeg, were completely sold out.  A travel agent called, desperately looking for a room for one of her clients. We couldn’t help her but I decided to make a few calls on her behalf.  I called a few of our competitors and found a room in one of them. I reserved the room under the travel agent’s name, called her back and gave her the good news. She was thrilled and took the time to write a letter to my general manager, letting him know how much she appreciated that I’d helped her out of a tight spot. Even better, in the end, my hotel became her hotel of choice when a client needed a room in Winnipeg, all because I took the time to fix her problem by sending her to a competitor.

Chances are, you’ve been asked by a customer or potential customer to provide a service you don’t provide.  In some cases, it may make sense to find a way to say “yes, I can make that happen for you”.  It may even be a product or service offering you decide to make permanent.

Other times, the best answer you can give your customer or potential customer is ‘no, that is not something we offer.” Or perhaps you do provide what they need, but are out of stock or inventory and are unable to say ‘yes’, as much as you’d like to. Telling a customer or potential customer “no” is a customer touch point that needs to be handled with care and provides an excellent opportunity to wow.

There is a job I need taken care of at the hotel.  I called a supplier that I incorrectly assumed could complete it for us. What I need done is outside of their scope of work. The person I spoke to was understanding and apologized for not being able to help. The moment was not handled badly.  It just wasn’t capitalized on. My expectations would have been exceeded if after hearing ‘no’, I then heard ‘but here are two companies that can and come highly recommended.”  That little extra bit of information would have said “‘I understand and I care.”

Do you and your team know who to refer customer’s to if you are unable to fulfill their request and is it being done?

Sometimes providing excellent service means sending your customer to a competitor.  Know which ones you trust to take care of your customer when you can’t.