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?


Getting Down on the Floor with your Customer

My son was hospitalized when he was 12 years old.  He had a dangerous infection that required two emergency surgeries to drain the build-up in an attempt to keep the infection from getting into his bone.

I will never forget the heartbreaking moan of pain he made when the orderlies were moving him from the gurney onto his bed after his second surgery.  It was a sound no mother should ever have to hear.  I broke down.  I slid down the wall, onto the floor, unable to stand, my arms wrapped around my legs, tears streaming down my face.

I will also never forget the kindness and compassion demonstrated by one of the nurses. She got down on the floor with me. She put her arm around me shoulder and she comforted me.

She did not have to do that. That was outside of her scope of duties and yet, she did.  Her compassion and her kindness moved her beyond friendly, efficiency to an outstanding example of what service is truly about.

The majority of service professionals don’t deal with fear, anger and confusion at the same heightened levels as medical professionals do.  But in any business, customers arrive with certain expectations and emotion is always attached to expectation. When an expectation, a want, a desire is not met, disappointment is felt. Some policies leave us confused, scratching our heads, wondering who in the world thought that one up.

Our customers are emotional creatures and the best service providers are those who have the ability to recognize and connect to the emotion.  They may not be able to fix the problem; they may not have a magic wand to make everything okay, but service professionals who are willing to get outside of their own world and step into their customer’s world, create experiences that are never forgotten.

Perhaps, in addition to asking candidates to describe a time when they had to handle a customer complaint, we should also ask them why they thought the customer was unhappy or angry or disappointed.  That answer would provide some insight into how they view others.  Are they judgmental?  Are they able to see past the obvious “he had to wait too long”?

Good customer service providers are friendly, they are efficient and they are knowledgeable.  They know how and what to say. There is very little they do wrong.  Great customer service providers take it one step further. They see themselves and their business from the customer’s shoes.  They are willing to get down on the floor with their customer.

I don’t think that can be taught.  What do you think?

Would You Want to Work for You?

The discussion among colleagues came up again recently.  Why are so many employees disengaged? Where is the enthusiasm, the willingness to go the extra mile?

There is, of course, no one answer to that question.  Based on examples shared by participants in some of my workshops, sometimes the answer is pretty obvious. 

One participant works as a part-time hostess at a restaurant.  She thought she was doing a good job.  She took it upon herself to let the kitchen know when a large group came in. She helped the servers by bussing tables. She let the servers know when she’d seated someone in their section instead of letting them find out for themselves next time they walked by. 

But when she asked for more shifts, her manager told her that she wasn’t going the extra mile.  She told the manager everything she was doing and then asked “What is it that I haven’t been doing?’  He told her she wasn’t taking her turn sweeping the floor at the entrance.   

Why did he wait for her to come and ask what she was doing wrong, instead of letting her know that she was forgetting one part of her job?   Why didn’t he recognize her for the things she was doing well?

Another person shared that his supervisor was running his little ship with threats and intimidation (my words, not his). The only time a person was called into his office was if something had been done wrong, and instead of dealing with concerns as they arose, the boss created lists.  When the list was long enough, the guilty party would be hauled in.  There was no discussion as to why errors were being made and how they could be fixed.  The meeting was a dressing down and an ultimatum to change or else was given.

 With supervisors and managers like these around, the answer to low employee engagement is pretty obvious. But “bad bosses” aren’t always unfair, mean and inconsistent. 

Some bosses are nice.  They want to help their team as much as possible.  But when nice means letting things slide or giving too many chances to improve, the employees who are working hard, to standard or higher, may decide they don’t need to work as hard.  When bosses help too much, they take away the opportunity for personal buy-in. 

So what are some ways to improve employee engagement?

  1. Be consistent.  Performance standards apply to everyone, all the time, not just some of the people, some of the time. (That includes you!)
  2. Be a cheerleader. Celebrate successes, both team and individual.
  3. Provide feedback, both positive and constructive and do it on a timely basis.  Immediately is best, but if that is not possible, as close to the time the action took place as possible.
  4. Don’t have all the answers.  Allow your team members to help solve challenges and create plans.
  5. Be trustworthy.  Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t make false promises or idle threats. 

These are just five suggestions. What do you do to create the culture where employee engagement can flourish?

Success from a Millennial’s Perspective

Google “managing millennials” and you’ll find a long, long list of articles and resources all addressing the question “How do organizations adapt to the unique perspectives and qualities millennials bring to the workforce?”

I was recently given the opportunity to read a book written from a millennial’s perspective on how to be successful in today’s constantly changing corporate work.  The Young Professional’s Guide to the Working World, written by Aaron McDaniel, touches on basic truths that apply to all generations.  Perhaps the scariest part is Aaron’s statement that these concepts are not being taught in college.  Hopefully that is not true across the board.

I must admit I was really hoping to learn something completely new, completely different, but I didn’t. And that’s not a bad thing.  In the end, the road to success hasn’t changed a whole lot.   Success is not a right; success is not a given.  Success depends on a willingness to:

  1. Work hard
  2. Take risks
  3. Learn from others
  4. Learn from mistakes
  5. Create a career path
  6. Be flexible
  7. Challenge yourself

Aaron speaks to millennials from a millennial’s perspective.  Remember how your child believed his teacher or scout leader, instead of you, even though the message was the same?  A millennial hearing the message from one of their own, someone who has enjoyed significant success, may be more willing to listen.

Aaron also provides specific examples of how behaviours that are new in today’s corporate world apply to old truths. For example, the importance of acting professionally is not new.  Aaron reminds young workers that their behaviour, even when on break or outside of work, impacts other’s perceptions of them.  Posts and updates on Facebook, twitter, blogs and other social media channels are open and accessible for all to see and posting  unprofessional “party ‘til you drop images” on a public forum may very well impact the next promotion, the next job opportunity or the successful close rate with customers.

For me, the two most important lessons from this book are:

  1. Take control of your career.  Create a career plan.  Identify where you want to go and what you need to do in order to get there.  Nobody is waiting to give you what you want.  Go out and get it.
  2. Learn how to successfully leverage mentorship.  Identify potential mentors and ask them to be a mentor.  Recognize and value their time, their knowledge and their experience.  And when someone asks you to be a mentor, do it.  Giving back and helping others succeed is good for them and for you.

The Young Professionals Guide to the Working World is an excellent resource for millennials looking for ideas and suggestions on how to be successful in today’s corporate world. The truths Aaron outlines have stood the test of time. They work and he is a living, breathing, millennial example of that.

(Thank you to Career Press for the opportunity to read and review Aaron McDaniel’s book, The Young Professionals Guide to the Working World.)

Effective Coaching 101

I was having a late lunch recently after facilitating a morning workshop.  It was after the lunch rush and before the early dinner diners arrived.  The restaurant was pretty much mine and mine alone, and the manager decided it was an ideal time for a team meeting.

He pulled most of the team into a corner away from my table.  Based on the initial mood of the staff, it must have been a pretty good day. There were smiles, some laughter and a general sense of camaraderie.

Then the young manager stood up to speak and the positive energy disappeared.  First the smiles left, then the shoulders started slumping and then fixed stares at points on the wall or table appeared. Here’s why:

  • The manager started off the meeting with the phrase “I am really tired of the way …” and then berated the entire group for a shift closing activity that hadn’t been completed correctly three times in the last month.  He then went on to say that if it happened again, they would be penalized financially.
  • He indicated that if they couldn’t get the work done on time then they had to stay late to finish, no ifs, and, or buts.
  • The phrases “I don’t like doing this, but I will” or “you leave me no choice” was used a few times.  (Does that remind anyone besides me of their dad?  I distinctly remember hearing the “this hurts me more than it hurts you” or “I’m doing this for your own good” phrase a few times when I was growing up!)
  • And in closing he said “I know that everyone needs to hear this, not just you so don’t worry, the people who aren’t here will be told the same thing.”  Based on the fact the staff were still slumping and silently staring at invisible spots, it’s safe to say their sense of worry was not alleviated in the slightest!

The young lady working my section was one of the lucky ones.  She was able to leave to take away my plate and bring me my bill.  It took a little longer than it should have, but I couldn’t blame her.  I’d probably do anything I could to delay my return to a meeting like that as well.

Here are just a few of thoughts / questions that popped into my mind while observing this incident:

  1.  Has the manager taken the time to find out who was responsible for the three shift-closing errors?  If not, why and if so, why was everyone hearing this message instead of just the people responsible?
  2. Why had it taken three incidents for the situation to be addressed, instead of addressing it the first time with the people who were actually working that night (and of course finding which individual was responsible first.)
  3. Why was he threatening to penalize the entire staff for one or two individual’s errors? Perhaps it was a misguided attempt to get everyone to help each other out so that nobody would be penalized.  Chances are, it will instead create a culture of mistrust.
  4. Were the incidents a result of bad attitude or poor training? Could the manager answer that question?

Coaching for performance is a skill and perhaps this young manager hadn’t been taught how to coach effectively. Some quick pointers for him would be:

  1. Deal with incidents as they arise; don’t wait for repeats.
  2. Find out who was responsible for the performance standard gap and work with that individual directly.
  3. Find out why the employee didn’t perform to standard and then come up with solutions together to fix it.
  4. Be respectful at all times.
  5. Don’t berate in public.  Actually, don’t berate at all.  If a performance issue arises, find a quiet, private place to meet with the individual.  (Ties back to respect.  It’s humiliating to be “punished” publicly.)
  6. Threats are poor motivators.  Instead, work with the employee to identify how performance improvement is beneficial to the organization, the team and the individual.
  7. Follow up.  Don’t coach and forget,  as that sends the message the change required isn’t really that important.
  8. Sit with employees instead of standing over them, especially during coaching sessions.  It helps create trust, a key factor of successful coaching.

What other tips would you share with this young manager?