You Look Great … for Your Age

Bridge and the abyssYes, it’s true. I have reached that magical age where I am told I look great … for my age. I’m not sure that’s a compliment!  Compliment or not, that phrase brought to mind all the many judgments and assumptions we make about people based on age.

Here’s what I think about this whole generational divide. We make it bigger than it really is. Many of us forget that at one point, it was our generation that was going to ruin the world or save it, depending on which side of that divide a person was sitting on.

I was reading an article the other day on this very topic and the author said something along the lines of “as we get older, our adventure window starts to close and we view those with their windows wide open as suspect.”  Millennials don’t have the years of experience we have. Many have wide open adventure windows. They haven’t learned to back away from opportunity because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”  That’s a good thing, but slightly off putting for those of us who have.

Another author said “Why don’t we just view everyone as a person first?”  A great question! When we lump people into a category, we assume everyone in that category views the world around them the exact same way. That has never been true for any generation. In every generation, there are are leaders and followers. There are people who push boundaries and those who prefer to live well within the boundaries of the current norm.  It is the people who push, who question and who perhaps sometimes demand instead of ask, that create change.

We can all learn from each other.  And for those of us who’ve been around a little longer, I believe we have the obligation to create environments where open dialogue happens. Let’s not expect the young and the brash to already know the lessons it took us years to learn.

Let’s crack our adventure window open just a little wider and let’s not take those back-handed compliments personally.  Be patient with the eye-rolling and sometimes condescending attitudes the younger folks give us. After all, someday they will be on the receiving end of them and wondering just how quickly those darn kids are going to destroy all the good they created!

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice …

同僚にうわさ話されるビジネスマンYears ago, I was facilitating a customer service training session in North Dakota.  One of the service providers said to me, a Canadian, “I hate Canadians. They are cheap and always demand a discount.”  To say I was a little flabbergasted is an understatement.   Hating a large percentage of your customer base is not a good thing.

The one thing I will give her is that she didn’t talk smack about the citizens of my country behind my back … she told me straight up, to my face. There are a whole lot of service providers who have no problem labelling or mocking their customers behind their back.

I’ve heard and read comments, in log books and social media, that mock a customer’s intelligence.  I’ve heard and read comments, in log books and social media, that describe a customer as high maintenance, demanding and rude.

Yes, some customers are more difficult to serve than others, but laughing at a customer because they asked a “stupid” question (stupid in your mind, not theirs) is unkind and a true customer focused person is not unkind.

Labelling a customer as high maintenance, rude or obnoxious is assuming that your perception of their behaviour at one moment in time is exactly what everyone else would perceive as well.  It also assumes that what perhaps is a moment of rudeness is indicative of the way that person behaves all the time.

A moment that still causes me to blush with shame involved me, a plane and a mom with a young baby.  I’d been away on business for almost a week.  I was tired. I wanted to get home and I HATE the middle seat.  When I boarded, in my window seat was a young mom with her very young baby.  She explained that she did have the middle seat but with the baby, the window seat was a better option.  Did I demand my window seat back?  No, but I sure was grumpy and begrudging about sitting in the middle seat. There were huffs, puffs, eye rolls and  muttering involved. My ungracious behaviour caught the attention of the flight attendant. There was an empty seat on the plane so she asked the person in the aisle seat if she would be willing to move so I could move over one seat.  She did and I moved over.  The thing is, the entire time I was acting all high-maintenance and princessy, I knew I was acting badly and before the plane landed, I was having a lovely conversation with the young mom.  That initial bad behaviour did not reflect who I am 98% of the time.  But nobody on that plane knew that. The thing is, they also couldn’t say with an certainty that I was always like that.

When we mock our customers or start labelling them and warning other co-workers about them, we lose our focus on the customer and their experience.  Perhaps instead of leaving notes like “This customer is high maintenance … watch out” we can make an extra effort to be kind, to turn their day around and then leave a note that says “Seems like she had a tough day today … let’s all try to make her stay extra special.”

Thumper’s statement “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” is especially important for customer service providers. When you have a challenging customer, don’t complain about it to your friends and colleagues, don’t put a warning note in a log book or a customer’s file and for heaven’s sake, don’t post it on social media!

Watch Out for Customers!

  • Breaking News: Customer tries to get freebie AGAIN!vintage newsboy
  • This just in: Reports say number of cranky customers on the rise.
  • Business Bulletin: Customers are clueless.
  • In the News:  Customers the highest cause of stress in service professionals.

As humans, we tend to focus on the ‘bad stuff and forget about the good stuff or the normal stuff.  When an anomaly happens, it makes the headlines. Big, bold letters and dramatic language sell papers, encourage clicks and create huddles around water coolers.  Just think of all the headlines and intense media coverage last month regarding the safety of air travel.  The loss of life is tragic.  I cannot begin to imagine the depths of pain and suffering felt around the globe because of that. Too often though, that’s where we get stuck. We forget about the millions of people who got on a plane and arrived safely at their final destination.

I see this same perspective in the service industry.  Sharing stories about unreasonable, cranky customers is common.  Some people go on and on about the cranky, rude, or “out to get a freebie” customer. After a while, they start to perceive all customers as cranky, rude and out-to-get something.  Their attitude towards customers tends to bring on more stress than the actual customer.

Yes some customers will lie to get freebies from you. Some are crankier than others.  As for clueless – the customer isn’t the expert. They’re not supposed to be, so don’t expect them to be.

Here’s an idea.  Instead of sharing stories about the “bad’ customers, share stories about the good to great ones. Count how many good to great customers you serve in a day instead of how many ‘bad’ customers.  Focus on the many positive customer interactions, instead of on the small percentage of cranky, rude and out-to-get something people.  You’ll be happier, and when you’re happier, your customers are happier.

Do this on a regular basis and in no time, you’ll be watching for the customer instead of watching out for the customer.

 

What Makes Your Customers Angry, Frustrated or Upset?

angryman2About three years ago, I was in Prince Edward Island facilitating customer service workshops for a client. 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 omelette. 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 share 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?”  (Or perhaps have separate menus for breakfast and lunch to avoid that confusion all together.)

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.  Put a plan in place to deal with that moment.  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?

Two important things to remember when confronted by an angry, frustrated or upset customer are:

Don’t take the anger or frustration personally. Sometimes the person is angry with you because you are a handy target. They are angry or frustrated and they need to express it. It may not be fair but it happens.

View complaints positively. Instead of looking at them as a negative, look at them as opportunities to improve your conflict management skills and 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.

And one last suggestion, this is a great exercise to incorporate into your next team meeting.  Get your team together, ask them to identify when and why their customers are not happy and to come up with potential solutions to either eliminate or minimize the frustration.  This activity generates some laughs, group sharing and some great ideas.

4 Phrases NOT to Use With an Unhappy Customer

Some words and phrases have the potential to move a situation from bad to horrendous.  When you have a disappointed, frustrated or upset customer on the phone or in front of you, four phrases you definitely want to avoid are:

  1. ” As I told you…”  Use this one and your customer may respond with “So, what you’re saying is I’m an idiot?” Even if he doesn’t say the words out loud, you can be sure he’s thinking it.  The customer heard you just fine. He just doesn’t like what he heard.  It may have been the option or the way the option was presented.
  2. “You need to calm down.” Telling someone who is upset or angry to calm down is like throwing gas on a fire.  Instead of telling someone to calm down, give them some time to vent and then say something like “I’m sorry you’re frustrated (or upset or angry or disappointed). I’d like to help.
  3. “I don’t understand you.”  This sounds rude and refers to the person instead of the message.  Saying “I’m not quite sure I understand” is better. Even better is to simply start asking clarifying or probing questions to get the detail or information you need in order to understand.
  4. “You’re going to have to…”  If you’re prepared to hear “I don’t HAVE to do anything” back, go ahead and use this one.  No.  Actually just avoid it altogether.  A disappointed, upset or irate customer does not want to hear what they have to do.  They want to know what you’re going to do.  Saying something like “I need …” is much more effective.

What are some phrases you’ve heard (or perhaps used) that escalated a situation, instead of diffusing it?