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.

———————————————————————————————————————————–

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.

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.

Why are your Customers Leaving?

Fotolio.com image

I had lunch with a friend this week.  Over the last six to nine months, she has cancelled or not renewed three memberships to business associations or networking clubs and one on-line marketing / business listing site.

As regular readers of my blog know, I am a big believer in identifying your company’s customer touch points and then asking “What does my customer want, need and expect from me at this touch point?”  One very important touch point is your response when a customer decides he or she decides to no longer do business with you.

None of the four organizations gave her a hassle when she let them know she was cancelling or not renewing. That is a positive.  Unfortunately, not one of them asked her why she was leaving.  One organization, the one she had been most actively involved in for over two years, sent a generic form letter, not even addressed to her, expressing disappointment in her decision.  The others simply said nothing.

So I asked her why she left. One didn’t abide by their own code of conduct, one simply didn’t work from a timing perspective anymore, one had made political statements outside of her beliefs and one didn’t provide the results she was looking for.  All valid reasons.

Customers who have been with you for an extended period of time and then decide to leave can provide valuable insight. Take the time to ask them why they are leaving.  If you hear the same concern expressed over and over again, it’s an issue. Find a way to fix it. The organization that didn’t abide by their own code of conduct didn’t ask my friend why she left.  She told them anyway and she’s heard they have made significant positive change in that area from members in that group.

Asking the question “Why are you leaving?” doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change. The reason “It’s not you, it’s me.” may very well be true.  It is very possible the product or service you offer is simply no longer a fit for your customer. There is also the possibility that the customer wasn’t the right fit to begin with. Exit interviews with departing customers can help you better define your target market, providing you the information you need to focus on the people who benefit the most from the product or service you offer.

Asking the question “Why are you leaving?” is about ensuring you don’t lose the opportunity to become even better at what you do.  It’s about demonstrating you value the opportunity you had to be of service and that you value the customer.

When talking about customer touch points, I also suggest looking for ways to exceed the customer’s expectation.  One final way to demonstrate that you are truly service minded, that your concern is for the customer first, is to provide the departing customer information on other companies that can meet their needs.  What a way to exceed a customer’s expectations and leave a positive last impression.