How to Create a Scary Workplace

Vintage Metal Sign - Beware of Monsters - Vector EPS10.Over the years, I have met, worked with and worked for a lot of people. By far the majority of those people taught me, through their actions and words, what I can do to make work a better place.  These people:

  • Come to work each day with a fabulous, ‘let’s have a great day’ attitude
  • Look for potential in others and then make the time and provide the support required to nurture that potential
  • See the opportunity behind the challenge
  • Expect as much from themselves as they do from others
  • Take responsibility for failures or errors
  • Put team members in the limelight and acknowledge everyone’s role in success
  • Are accessible

Then there are the people who have instead taught me how to create a scary workplace, a workplace filled with hurt, mistrust, discontent and turmoil. Here are some surefire tactics these scary monsters used to create unhappiness, anxiety and even a little fear. They:

  • Come to work with a ‘let’s see who I can take down today’ attitude
  • Push and maneuver behind the scenes to ensure their favourite people succeeded at the expense of the entire team
  • Push and maneuver to get rid of people they perceive as unworthy or a potential threat
  • See challenges as an opportunity to bring someone down and raise themselves up
  • Don’t follow the same high standards they set for others
  • Blame others for failures or errors
  • Take all the credit for success
  • Hide behind closed doors, computer screens, voice mail or ‘too many meetings’
  • Expect results without sharing what the expectations are or providing adequate resources to be successful.
  • Keep changing the rules or the definition of success so success can’t be achieved
  • Discourage creativity or innovation with the phrase “that’s not the way I would do it” or better yet, discount the idea, then present it as their own

What has struck me about some of the people I’ve met who fall into the scary monster category is that many view themselves as action oriented, go-getters, not afraid to “say it like it is”, as someone strong prepared to make the hard choices. I’m not sure if they really are oblivious to the hurt, turmoil and discontent created by their words and actions, or if they are aware but simply don’t care.

Whether oblivious or uncaring, the damage caused by hurt, turmoil and discontent is real.

  • Hurt, turmoil and discontent don’t stay in the workplace. Unhappy, discontented employees share those feelings with friends, family and peers, potentially damaging the reputation of a company to potential high quality employees.
  • Employee turnover rises as people leave for a less stressful workplace
  • Employee morale and productivity continues to decline, leading to shoddier work and unhappy customers

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.

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.

What is your Priority – Product or Service?

Motivational concept image of a hand holding marker and write What is your priority isolated on white

There is a restaurant here in Winnipeg that has the talent in place to create and plate a ‘to-die-for-good’ meal.  My husband and I had plans to dine there one evening.  Then I heard and read many comments regarding the arrogant, sometimes verging on abusive, service from people who’ve gone to that restaurant… once and only once. Some of these comments have come from people I know personally and whose opinion I trust.  That restaurant is now off my list of places to go.  There are many other restaurants to go to in Winnipeg that create and plate amazing meals and just as importantly, provide friendly, attentive and professional service,

In the service industry, dinner is never just a dinner and a hotel room is never just a hotel room. It is the entire experience wrapping up the basic need for food and shelter that is important and sets one business apart from another.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to the hospitality industry.  We are all in business to meet and address a specific need.  So are our competitors. Even if a business offers something totally unique, it won’t be forever.  At some point, that unique product and idea will be replicated and if customers have been putting up with lousy service because there wasn’t an alternative, as soon as there is one, they are gone!

Product quality is important, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. Back up the great product with great service.  That’s what brings customers back more than once, creates referrals and brings new customers through the door.

Another Customer is Wasting my Time ….

Impatient woman making a phone callThat customer was me.  This weekend, my husband and I are going to do something we’ve never done before.  We are going to visit someone in prison.

In order to do that, an application form needs to be mailed in and it is then the responsibility of the applicant, us, to call to see if we’ve been approved.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting to hear a friendly voice on the other side of the phone when I called. I wasn’t disappointed, at least by the first person. Her telephone answering skills were lackluster at best.  A bored monotone voice, hurrying to get through the approved greeting is difficult to understand.  When I stated the reason for my call, I immediately heard a click, the only indication my call was being transferred.

And then, a surprise. The man who answered was pleasant.  He asked for our names politely, confirmed information and advised that yes, we had been approved.  When I asked about making an appointment, he immediately checked availability and confirmed a date.  I had more questions though and he answered each one politely and thoroughly, even though all that information had been provided on the application form.

Here’s what I think.  He took the time to get out of his shoes and put himself in mine.  He knew that a prison visit was something totally knew to me.  And so, even though the necessary information had been provided up front, he was patient and never once made me feel like I was wasting his time by asking stupid questions.

My two take-a ways from that one phone call?

  1. In some industries, not all, customers expectations regarding service are pretty low.  What an opportunity to stand out and create positive buzz about your business.  Depending on your business model, it may bring you new business or perhaps, it’s recognizing that if your customers feel they are being treated well, some of them just might be a little more pleasant in return.
  2. A reminder how important the ability to take a step back from ego and empathize is for service professionals. There are times we will be faced with angry customers. Many of  those times the reason for their anger will not be us; sometimes it will.  Customers will ask questions they already have the answers to or you at least think they should have the answers. We need to be able to let go of our right to be right and instead focus on the customer.