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?

The Grumpy Bear and the Sly Fox – Repost

bearfoxI receive a request to repost my bear and fox story, so here it is!

Not so very long ago, in a forest close by, lived a grumpy bear and a sly fox.

The grumpy bear was known to roar loudly when a gentle growl would have been more appropriate.   The grumpy bear was not comfortable at expressing any kind of emotion.   When the grumpy bear felt uncertain, he became even grumpier.  But underneath that grumpy, growly exterior was a big heart filled with love and good intention.

The sly fox on the other hand, was a smooth communicator.  He spoke softly and gently.  His words were chosen with care and always reflected exactly what his listener wanted to hear.  He never growled or challenged anyone and so many animals in the forest eagerly listened to whatever the sly fox had to say.

The sly fox used the grumpy bear’s gruffness and roughness against him.  The sly fox liked nothing better than to poke the fire and fan the flames of dissension.  He would say things like “If the grumpy bear cared about you, he would do this. That’s what I would do” or “The grumpy bear doesn’t understand you like I do”.  Sometimes the sly fox knew things that would help the grumpy bear, but instead of sharing information or offering to help the grumpy bear, the sly fox would go to others in the forest and say “Why isn’t the grumpy bear doing this?”

Of course, the sly fox never actually did anything to help anyone in the forest.  He left the hard work for the grumpy bear. The sly fox whispered, using his smooth, gentle words to turn the other animals against the grumpy bear, making the grumpy bear’s job even harder.   Then the sly fox would grin, rub his paws and skulk away … until the next time.

****

A lot of us have a grumpy bear or a sly fox in our lives.  We meet them at work, at play and sometimes at home.  The grumpy bear doesn’t realize how words and actions can be misconstrued when others perceptions and emotions are not taken into consideration. Sometimes the grumpy bear speaks poorly from a place of sincerity and positive intention.

The sly fox knows exactly what the other person wants to hear. He or she looks for and feed on insecurities, fears and weaknesses. The sly fox speaks and acts well from a place of deception and negative intention.

With experience comes wisdom and I have learned to look past the exterior to find the intention.  Some people grouse and grumble, then buckle down and act. Others sound positive and supportive,but in reality are only looking to stir the pot. They ditch and run as soon as their real objective, dissension, has been achieved.

Give me grumpy and sincere over smooth and sneaky any day.

Four Customer Dissatisfaction Categories

thumbs-down1Years ago, I was in Prince Edward Island facilitating a customer service workshop. When we started discussing the question “What are some things that make your customers angry?” one of the participants said “Snowstorms and I have no idea what to do when someone yells at me because the roads and airports are closed and they can’t get off the island.”

There are times when our customers are angry and upset because we messed up.  And then there are the times our customers are angry and upset because of something we have absolutely no control over, like the weather.  When it comes to knowing how to manage those moments, start by taking a moment to list as many causes for customer frustration as you can think of.  Next identify which of the four following categories they fall under:

Unrealistic expectations:  Sometimes our customers come to us believing we provide a product or service that we don’t.  Now ask yourself, “Why don’t we offer this product or service?  Is this something we can do?”  If the answer is yes, make it happen.  If the answer is no (and sometimes it is), who does offer this product or service? Then be prepared to send your customer there.

Policies and procedures:  I had a friend walk into a restaurant about 11:00 am.  He ordered the Denver omelet. The server said “We don’t serve breakfast after 10:00.” So my friend flipped to the sandwich section and ordered a Denver sandwich.  No problem with that order!

Take a good, long look at your policies and procedures.  Who are they designed to protect … you or the customer?  Do they make sense to the customer? Chances are they might not, for the simply reason your customer doesn’t understand all the ins and outs of running your business. So have some fun or be prepared to offer an alternative.  I imagine my friend would have shared the above story from a whole different perspective if the server had said something like “We don’t serve from our breakfast menu after 10:00 am, so how about I ask the cook to make you a Denver sandwich, with the bread on the side?”

Human error: This list could get long.  Focus on the errors that happen most often or have the most significant impact on the overall customer experience. Ask yourself “Why are they happening and what can we do to prevent it.” Then take action.

External factors:  There are some external factors that come at you out of the blue.  Your customer may have had a fight before leaving home for the day or had terrible, horrible, very bad day at work or just received some difficult news.  There are some external factors you can pretty much count on.  Plan for those.  For example, if you run a business in PEI, chances are pretty good that at some point in any given year, bad weather will hit, roads and airports will be closed and customers will be stranded.  Work with your team to recognize the frustration and teach them how to respond with empathy. What can you do to help them pass the time?  Perhaps some games or a quiet room for them to read or get caught up on other work.  Who will keep them up-to-date on travel updates?

When you and  your team view complaints positively, instead of looking at them as a negative, they provide clues on how to improve the service you and your company provide. Changing the focus from a negative to a positive helps you be in the right mind set to successfully manage those moments when they arise.

(Excerpt from “Customer Service from the Inside Out”)

Are You Really as Good as You Think You Are?

Man talking to himselfDo you use yourself as an example of what everyone on your team should be like? When hiring, are you trying to find more of you?  If so, stop it!

Chances are, there are some things you are pretty good at, perhaps even a whole lot of things. There may even be one or two things you are really good at. While there are some people who have been promoted past their level of competence or people skills, most people are in a supervisory or management role because they demonstrated capability. Awesome. That very probably applies to you as well.

Now for the reality check. Just because you are good in some key areas, does not mean you are good in all of them.  Just because you think and believe one way, does not make it the only right  way.

Hiring a bunch of mini-me’s serves only two purposes.

  1. It feeds your ego.
  2. It stops meaningful conversation. After all, a group of people agreeing on everything, including how amazing they are and how everyone else needs to be like them, does nothing to take your business to the next level.

If you are brave enough, identify your areas of weakness.  (Really brave supervisors and managers will ask the people around them to identify their weaknesses.)Then go and find people who are strong in those areas. Next … let them shine.  Don’t take credit for their good work by telling everyone how amazingly smart you were to have hired them. All you’re doing then is turning the spotlight back on you. (See point 1 above)

Find people brave enough to let you know when they don’t agree. Wait … let me rephrase. Create an environment where people don’t need to be brave to let you know when they disagree with you. Quite frankly, if this isn’t in place, there is no point in asking others to share their insight on areas of weakness as per the previous paragraph.  That will be an exercise in futility, unless the intent was to feed your ego and hear things like “I can’t think of a thing” or “Oh no, you are amazing.  Nothing wrong with you.”

An effective, engaged team is made up of individuals who recognize and acknowledge individual strengths and weaknesses. They are strong enough to ask for, accept and offer help when needed.  Individuals on a team agree on and work towards a common vision, but their perception of how to achieve the vision may differ greatly. Wonderful. Group think kills creativity.

Go ahead … acknowledge your areas of strength.  Then go and find people who aren’t like you, people who are good or great where you are not, people who bring new ideas to the table, who look at situations from a different perspective and who make you stop and think … “I wish I’d thought of that.”

Sometimes Bad News is Better than No News

The bad newsAbout two weeks ago, I woke up, checked my emails and learned the phones went down at the hotel sometime during the night. Nobody could call in or out. I immediately went in.  Our night audit team had called our telecommunications company and they reported the problem was not on their end.  That meant it must be our phone system.  I called them and in less than an hour a technician was at the hotel.  Long story short … the problem was with our telecommunications provider, not the phone system. There were large scale outages being reported and equipment was being replaced.  About five hours later, the phones came back on line.

Two nights ago work called just after 1:00 am.  The internet was down at the hotel, again a disruption to business.  Not as severe as if it had happened in the middle of the day, but never-the-less, something that needed to be looked into.  Once again, the staff working the desk had called our telecommunications provider and been told the problem was not on their end.  So I got up and went in to work.  I called the 24 hour service line for our telecommunications company thinking … “they were wrong last time, maybe they are again”.  After waiting for quite a while for my turn to talk to someone, I went through the drill, sharing our account number, business address and description of the problem.  I was also told that all systems at the hotel showed green on their end; therefore the problem was on our end. At which point, I very nicely shared with them the story about the phone incident in which we were told the problem was on our end when in fact it was theirs and asked if there was any way they could dig deeper.  Less than two minutes later,  I received an apology and was advised that yes, in fact the problem was on their end.  Outages were being experienced, equipment was being replaced and all should be back up and running within the next five to six hours.  It was back up again in less than two hours.

Why am I sharing this story with you?  Because it’s such a great example of how to frustrate customers!  When the phone system was down, I would periodically check the companies website to see if any status updates were being provided to customers.  Nothing.  The only reference to the outages I found on-line were by frustrated, angry customers, with part of the frustration attributed to not having any information and being stuck waiting to talk to someone at a call centre only to be told …nothing.

Which brings me to the call / service centre.  Is the service team trained to look beyond the quick and perhaps usual reason for the problem?  In scenario two, I asked the person to dig deeper, he did and in no time at all, recognized his first response was incorrect. If I had accepted his first response, additional calls and needless searching for the source of the problem would have resulted in wasted time and even more frustration.

Beyond the training question, I have to wonder why the outages were not reported to the service centre.  While knowing when and how to dig deeper for an answer to a customer problem is important, wouldn’t it be better to give them a heads up so that when a frustrated customer called, they would be able to immediately respond with accurate information?

Of course, it’s not just telecommunications companies that fall down when it comes to managing bad news or frustrated customers.  When something goes wrong, when customers are going to experience service disruptions, say so. Be upfront, acknowledge the frustration, apologize for the inconvenience and share information on when they can expect service to be restored.  If you can, and this doesn’t apply to all businesses, let your customers know of alternative places to get the service they need in the interim.

Share all of that same information with the people who are responsible for responding to reports and questions from customers.

Outages happen. Stuff happens. Whatever the disruption is, understand that your customer is inconvenienced.  It may or may not be because of an error on your end.  It doesn’t matter whose fault it is.  Whatever the reason, know what information your customer needs and be prepared to share it. Acknowledge their frustration, keep them informed and if possible, provide alternative solutions.

In many cases, how you manage the service disruption has a bigger impact on a customer’s continued loyalty than the disruption itself.