You Gotta Spend Time to Make Time

Time Is MoneyWhich is more important? Completing a customer transaction in’ x’ number of minutes or having the customer walk away feeling valued, respected and cared for?

Too often, bowing down to the gods of efficiency and effective time management get in the way of building and creating relationships with the people we live with, work with or serve.

When service providers are expected to process ‘x’ amounts of call or customer interactions per hour, will they take the extra step of anticipating customer needs or responding fully to questions?

When the focus is on process and not service, customers feel like a number (because they are!), not a person. I appreciate it when service providers take the time to answer my questions and sincerely ask if I have any questions. We’ve all experienced the insincere offer to assist and been made to feel rushed. There are no warm and fuzzy feelings after that type of transaction.

Individual transactions take longer when we know enough about our customers to offer solutions or answers to questions they may not have thought of. Those transactions take longer when we stop, put down the papers, lift our head up from the computer, face our customer and give them our full attention.  When we do that, we are essentially saying “I am here for you” and that may open the door to more questions.

Efficiency is important. Effective time management is important. But when they become more important than the customer, you may end up having more time on your hands than you’d like when the customers stop coming.

Instead of saving time by reducing customer face time, look at your policies, procedures and processes. Why are they there? Is each step really necessary or is it there because it’s always been there?

Know the answers to the questions customers ask most often and train your team so they know those answers too. That way they don’t have to waste time trying to find the answer. When a new question comes up (and it will!), train your team members to share the question and answer with the rest of the team.

Ensure your team members received the training they need, which may not necessarily be the training you provided. Yes, training takes time initially, but in the long run, effective training saves time, money and customers.

There is the old saying “you gotta spend money to make money”. The same holds true with time. Spend some time up front reviewing and creating effective, streamlined policies, procedures and training programs to save time later.  Time is money … knowing where to save time is important.  Just don’t save time at the expense of service.

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This is a modified version of a previous blog post.  I was reminded of it during a very rushed, very efficient transaction recently.  The service provider was efficient .. coldly efficient.  In the end, taking a few extra moments would have been time well spent.

What to do when you have too much to do …

Segretaria stressataIt is difficult to provide great service to your team and your customers when you are always running behind on the to-do list.  But, if you’re like me (and chances are you are!) there are times when there simply seems to be too much list and not enough time. When you start to feel overwhelmed, remember the following:

You’re not saving time if the time you save now slows you down later.  Cutting corners or skipping breakfast in order shave off a few minutes is not going to help you in the long run if you have to re-do a task when it’s done poorly or too many mistakes are made because you’re physically and mentally drained.

Be sure you are doing what YOU need to be doing.  Take a look at all those items on your list.  Do all those items belong to you?  Are there some that could be completed more efficiently by others?  Are there tasks others are doing that you could be doing?  By taking a look at what you are doing, as well as what others on your team are doing, you may find that reassigning some tasks and responsibilities create efficiencies

Stop and breathe!  There are times when taking a ten minute break saves you twenty minutes later. Increased stress and feelings of panic slow you down and increase errors. When you start feeling overwhelmed, go for a walk, watch a funny or inspirational video.  Do something that brings down your stress level.

And yes, there will be some days, perhaps even a week or two at a time, when every day seems to short.  Sometimes life happens all at once and for a little while, your personal definition of work\life balance will seem a little off-kilter.  When that happens, take one of those ten minute breathers and put down in writing just what a personal celebration looks like when life gets back to your definition of normal.

Stop the Email Overload!

Do you remember way back when, a long, long time ago … before email became THE preferred mode of business communication?  I do.

My first office job was working in the sales and catering office of what is now the Delta Hotel in Winnipeg. Back then, it was the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza.  Back then, our preferred method of communication was the telephone.  Contracts were typed up (yes, on computers … I don’t go that far back!), printed off along with a cover letter, then folded and put in an envelope. The customer got their contract a few days later, reviewed it, put the signed copy back in an envelope and mailed it back to us. On the few occasions mail would take too long, we had the fax machine as a back up.

Not so much anymore, right? Today, many interactions start and end with email.  Responses are expected immediately and this wonderful new tool that was supposed to streamline communication has instead turned us into email junkies.

It’s time to take back control!  Hopefully one or two of these tips will help you manage email, instead of having it manage you.

1. Create an email schedule

Postal carriers bring mail to your office once per day.  You know approximately what time the mail is expected and are not constantly getting up to see if it has arrived yet.  You can’t schedule when the email arrives, but you can schedule when you look at it.

I aim for three times per day, setting aside 20 – 30 minutes to concentrate on emails.  If you are concerned you will then receive the “Why haven’t you responded to my email?” email or voice message, create an auto-response like “Thank you for your message. I check emails at 10:00 am, 1:00 pm and 3:30 pm.  If you require an immediate response, please call me at 204-555-1234.”

2.  Only send necessary emails

Imagine the stack of paper you would have on your desk if everyone gave you a printed copy of their email messages instead of hitting send?  You’d be swamped in no time!

Pick up the phone or talk face-to-face where possible.  If someone sends you an email that could be handled more effectively and efficiently with a phone call, call them instead of hitting reply.

Don’t use the “reply all” unless everyone needs the reply … even if everyone else is doing it.

If the email you are sending is for information purposes only and you don’t need a reply, let the recipient know that by simply saying “no reply needed.”

3.  Create complete messages through signatures

Are there some emails you send regularly? Perhaps you send a “thank you for meeting me” email after a business meeting?  Instead of retyping your very similar message each time, create a new signature with the body of the email message included. Then the next time you need to send the email, it’s done for you!  (Huge thanks to Karen Turner at Turner Efficiency Coaching for this tip.  She is a technology efficiency expert.  Contact her here for more ways to manage technology and your time more efficiently.)

4.   Create very specific subject lines

If you send a report on a monthly basis, use the same subject line and add appropriate dates.  Example:  Monthly Customer Service Index Report – June 2013.

If you need a response to your email, include a call to action such as Response Required by June 29th.  Note it’s not just response required, but also includes the deadline date right in the subject line.

Consider using the EOM (end of message) technique.  EOM means the entire message is in the subject line, no need to open up the email.  Example:  Tuesday board meeting rescheduled to 2:00 pm. EOM.  I found this tip on-line (cannot remember where) and when I started using it, initially got a lot of replies with the question “What is EOM?” but as people become familiar with it, some choose to adopt it themselves.

5.   Only one topic per email

It’s tempting to include a number of topics in one email.  After all, you’re trying to reduce the number of emails coming in, right?  The challenge is that it becomes much harder to refer back to the original email if the topic is buried and not referenced in the subject line.  Two short, concise emails are better than one long one with combined topics.

 

Finding ways to manage and reduce the flood of emails that comes in on a regular basis is good for you, for your team and for your customers.

And speaking of customers, one way to stand out from the crowd is to be the service professional, the company that picks up the phone to ask how everything was or sends an invitation or card in the mail instead of sending an email.  Email is efficient when used appropriately, but it does not provide the same opportunity to connect on a personal level with your customers.  Talk to them.  Meet with them and show you value them by taking the time to write a note on a card, put the card in an envelope, address the envelope and send it in the mail.  It will be appreciated!

 

Stop Procrastination in its Tracks

“Someday is not a day of the week.”  – Janet Dailey

Procrastination … we’ve all done it.  Instead of making the difficult phone call, we re-organize the files on our desk.  Instead of working on next year’s budget, we plan the office holiday party.  Instead of hitting send on the email that could get us our dream job, we look over the cover letter and resume just one more time.

Putting something off doesn’t make it go away.  The responsibility is still there tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that.  The longer we put something off, the bigger it grows in our minds and it gets harder and harder to find something else, anything else, to do other than what we know we need to be acting on.

Knowing all of this, what are some of the reasons we procrastinate and just what can we do to stop it?

  1. No clear deadline.  If we give ourselves until whenever to get something done, that’s exactly how long it’s going to take.  Set a deadline for each activity and write it down where you (and perhaps others) can see it. This holds you accountable to yourself and others.
  2. Task feels overwhelming.  Getting next year’s marketing plan done is a big, big job.  Looking at the job in its entirety can be overwhelming.  So don’t look at it in its entirety. Break the big job down into small, actionable steps.  Spending 30 minutes conducting market research doesn’t sound so bad, does it?  Be sure to set timelines around the small, actionable steps.
  3. Instructions aren’t clear.  If you’re not sure what is expected, ask.  If you’re not sure where to start, ask.  Sometimes we fear that by asking, we demonstrate lack of expertise or understanding.  When you think about it, your question will be forgotten much sooner than a missed deadline.
  4. Fear of failure.  The danger with taking on a big challenge is that we may not successfully complete it.  The danger with applying for our dream job is we may not get it.  It’s much safer to stick with the status quo. It’s safer to stay exactly where we are but if where you are is not where you want to be, that’s not a good thing.  When we realize that failure is just another step to success, it becomes a little easier to take the step.
  5. Fear of success.  The problem with success is that then people expect more from us, or at the very least, expect us to repeat our current success.  That could mean more work and more responsibility and that can be scary too.  What if we can’t repeat the success?  What if we don’t like the responsibility?  What if’s stall progress and promise.
  6. Don’t want to do it.  There are some things we need to do that we simply don’t want to do.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that account reconciliation needs to be done or difficult meetings held.  Where possible look for ways to make unpleasant tasks more fun. If you can’t make them fun, focus on the sense of relief and accomplishment you’ll feel when you can cross that item off your to do list.

What are some of the reasons you procrastinate? And what have you done to stop procrastination in its tracks?