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Employee/manager conflicts

It’s something that’s hard to avoid: employee/manager conflicts. They’re bound to come up when people work together at all, much less when they work in a job like customer service.

(Note: Customer service isn’t always call-center type customer service, which in general, is more “intense” than something like retail customer service. Most people who go to a nice store to shop are happy. Most people who call a call-center have problems. Not always the case, but in general.)

So, how do you deal with employee/manager conflict?

Use the three-legged stool.

Measure manager achievement/success with the three-legged stool theory. Employees should be happy, customers should be happy, and financial/business results should be good. It’s much harder said than done, but if everyone’s happy, then it’s a good thing.

Ask the employees for feedback.
If you’re a manager and don’t get along well with your employees, ask the company management to issue some sort of formal “feedback survey” to your employee. Have the company provide you with a copy of the results so you can work on improvement. Actually consider the feedback and try to make changes.

Do something to increase morale.
Whether it be taking your employees out to lunch, to a sports game, or whatever, do something to help increase morale. As a manager, pick up the tab, encourage conversation, and be friendly.

Set positive examples.
Above all things, as a manager, you should try to set a positive example. Do things that show you’re committed to great customer service, being an excellent manager, or whatever example it is that you have to set. Those “inspirational” management speakers always tell you to lead by example, so try and listen to them.

Ask your peers.
Whether you’re a customer service representative with a “bad manager,” or a manager with “bad employees,” ask your peers about what they’d do in such a situation. Try to ask exemplarily peers who get along well with their employees/managers.

Don’t rule by fear.
Don’t lead, manage, rule, etc. by fear. Look at employees as equals, and have them look at you as a friend/advisor, not so much a manager. Management consultants may disagree with me, but I don’t think having people listen to you because they’re afraid is very effective.

Have an open-door policy.
Same principle as above. You may have to say it directly (“My door is always open, so don’t hesitate to ask me anything.”) quite a few times, but it’ll eventually pay off. On the end of every memo, include a line like “If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please do let me know.” Solicit feedback and appreciate it.

Be kind to your employees.
If an employee is having a bad day, don’t make it worse. Try and be nice to all of your employees and listen to their problems and concerns. If people like their job, they’ll be more likely to go and enjoy it.

Read the blog.
Okay, this is a new point of advice I don’t normally give. Read Service Untitled every now and then, and you’ll pick up some tips to have happy employees. I intend to post one of my “exercises lists” sometime soon about how to improve employee morale and keep employees happy.

Remember, your employees are one of your most important assets and their satisfaction is just as important as your customer’s satisfaction (assuming you can’t run the entire organization by yourself).

P.S. New category. This one is called “Employees.”

Three Legged Stool

I normally don’t like the metaphors that a lot of consultants use, but one I read about and have liked is the three-legged stool. The three-legged stool is an important way to measure satisfaction and it covers everything. First of all, the three legs of the stool are:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Business results

The three items of the three-legged stool measure all elements of satisfaction. If every item of the three-legged stool is met, chances are that everyone is happy. I’ve thought of a lot situations and if customers and employees are happy and business results are being met, no one really has any grounds for complaining.

The thing is, though, that if any leg of the stool is missing or too short – chances are it’ll fall down or be uneven. If customers aren’t happy, business results will likely be bad. If employees aren’t happy, they won’t be nice to customers. If the company isn’t making any money, it’s not effective and costs will have likely have to be cut.

Again, this isn’t a business management blog – it’s a blog about customer service and the customer service experience. The question is how does the three-legged stool tie into customer service and the customer service experience?

Customer satisfaction.
Customer satisfaction is something that every customer service department should constantly measure. It’s critical, because ultimately, the customer’s satisfaction is the ultimate goal since it’s their money being used to pay the employees and fuel business results. Good customer service departments (and representatives) care a lot about customer satisfaction. You should use customer satisfaction ratings to measure how effective your employees are.

Employee satisfaction.
If employees aren’t happy, it’s unlikely they’ll be motivated to provide great service to your customers. If employees aren’t happy, they won’t go the extra mile (or the extra 3 feet), and will look at the money involved with the job. If the job doesn’t pay well and employees aren’t happy, good luck with keeping your current employees. Recruiting, hiring, training, and if necessary, firing employees is an expensive process, so try and keep your employees happy.

Business results.

Business results are likely why the customer service department is even there. Business results shouldn’t really be the main responsibility or primary motivator of the customer service department, but they should always keep it in mind. If the money isn’t coming in, people aren’t getting paid.

That’s how the three-legged stool ties into customer service and the customer service experience. Happy customers, likely happy employees, likely good business results. It’s an interesting way to manage your business’s overall success – managers or departments who have high ratings of customer and employee satisfaction, plus good business results are doing a great job. Managers or departments that are lacking in one or more areas need to work a bit harder.

I’m positive there’ll be more about the three-legged stool in the future. Tomorrow’s post will be about employee-manager conflicts.

P.S. I might (no promises) take a day off this week, since I noticed a lot of regularly updated blogs (i. e. Lifehacker) didn’t post on Monday and I did. (Great example of going the extra mile, right?)

Apologies Expanded

I was reading the June 2006 issue of Inc. Magazine and came across this quote:

“Their research found that the least effective apologies are those in which people shrink from truly taking responsibility for their errors and instead try to placate the wronged parties by shifting blame and offering some kind of compensation (say, offering a discount on future purchases.”

Before you say I’m wrong about the advice I give, here’s the next part of the paragraph:

“Apologies, they found, are most effective when the offending parties accept full responsibility for their actions, explain why the violation happened, demonstrate how they’re planning to address the problem in the future, and offer, where appropriate, some form of reparation along with the apology.”
Sound familiar to what I said? See, Service Untitled provides advice similar to that of a college professor and his associate published in the 2004 Journal of Management. This post talked about keeping customers in the loop and provided almost the same advice:”If your service is down, the first thing a customer should see when visiting your web site is “Service Down? Click here for more information.” with the following information:

  • What happened.
  • What caused it.
  • What’s being done about it.
  • When it will be back up and running.
  • What’s being done to prevent the problem from happening in the future.
  • What, if any, compensation the client will get.
  • Who to ask if you have any more questions.”

Apparently, if you fail to include the above mentioned elements in your apology (why it happened, what’s being done to fix it, and the possible compensation), you may do more harm than good. Inc. also says how apologies can sometimes be used as evidence in court, so watch what you say. (Best to check with your lawyer for the exact details on that.)

Inc.’s advise is to be up front and sincere. These two things will help you go far in a lot of things. These two character items (for a lack of a better phrase) should be ingrained into your company’s customer service culture (assuming you have one – if not, work on building it) as they do truly make customers feel better and respect your company more.


I’m sure everyone has gotten a later that starts off with something like:


We are mailing you today to tell you about a special sale we are having at our company. However, we should be working on our customer service.

The question is, why do the companies use the capital letters? Whatever the reason is, you shouldn’t.

Create/choose your applications work with customer service in mind.
Your first answer may be “our CRM doesn’t let us use proper case.” Find one that does. Every piece of software you use to help customers, communicate with customers, manage customer data, etc. should have customer service in mind. Something like having all capital letters in a name is just stupid.

Invest in top of the line software.
If you’re going to do mass-automated-mailings, invest in the right software to do it. Same goes with email marketing. Have it so the system does support proper capitalization and doesn’t confuse names all the time. Bad software can often lead to bad results, and a customer subsequently assuming your product or service, and/or customer service is bad.

When entering data, do it correctly.
Some companies may use all capital letters simply to avoid having errors with names like McRoberts that have mixed capital and lowercase letters. When someone spells or writes their name, chances are they’ll say capital M, lowercase C, capital R or write it correctly. If you’re not sure, ask them. If they write it and you call to confirm it, chances are the customer will be impressed.

Have humans check.
Even if you have a ton of mail going out, have a human just glance over the mailing list or flip through the envelopes to see if there are any obvious errors. Some of these errors may be an incorrect name or mixing up a husband and wife’s name. These happen all the time and really do cause people to completely disregard what’s sent to them.

If your competition is doing it correctly, you better.
Check if your competition is sending out emails, letters, etc. in the proper format. If they are, you better. There is absolutely no excuse for you doing it incorrectly if your competition can do it correctly. You’re then not only behind in customer service, but in the sophistication of your marketing, and subsequent business results. (You’ll notice that customer service performance and business performance are frequently tied. More about that Monday with a post about the “three-legged stool.”)

Don’t let little things go.
Some readers may be going “He’s lost it.” Little Things, Big Differences is one of the most important and frequent things I talk about on Service Untitled. Not letting the little things go makes a big difference in the customer service experience (for the better).

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be posted exercises. They’ll outline specific steps you need to do in order to do specific things. I’ve gotten a few requests for them and I think they’ll be a good addition to Service Untitled. I’ll also be adding some documents, spreadsheets, etc. you can download and fill out to help you complete these exercises.

Topic Day

Today, I’m taking a day off to think of some topics to write about and list them. I also have to read some of my previous posts and note if I said “I’ll talk about this more later.” over the last few weeks. If I’ve done this (which I’m pretty sure I have), I’ll have some things to write about.

Thanks for your patience and expect a full post tomorrow!

Edit: I’ve added links so you can easily add a certain post to places like Digg and Newsvine. Check out the comments page to see.

Preventing complaints.

Preventing complaints is probably the most important thing you can do in customer service. If you stop things from going wrong, customers likely won’t have to contact you for service. Despite how good your customer service is, most customers won’t want to have to deal with it – they prefer that everything works by itself.

So, how do you prevent complaints? This isn’t the right blog to read if you want to know how to prevent complaints. For that, you’d probably have to read a blog about business, operations, engineering, or anything else that may be related to your business and making sure things go correctly all the time. However, I’ll do my best to provide the short version of preventing complaints.

Be pro-active.
You’ll notice a common theme here: being pro-active is important. You should have some sort of monitoring procedures in place that will let you pro-actively notice and fix problems.

  • Actually use your product. If you actually use your product, chances are, you’ll run into problems with it eventually. You can then fix these problems, and see if there are any similar problems with other products (or other servers, etc.).
  • Have monitoring software. Even if you don’t believe it in, use some sort of monitoring software. Even if it’s just to see if your company’s servers are responding, use some sort of monitoring software to see what’s going on with your company.
  • Look for problems. Use your product or service and actually look for things that aren’t perfect. This may sound like a waste of time, but you should have your customer service representatives look for problems when the helpdesk isn’t very busy (it’s better than doing online shopping, emailing friends, etc.).

Make it hard to complain.
Make it so annoying and difficult to complain that customers don’t even bother. This is the best way to prevent complains. (Just kidding! Only do this if you want your customers to cancel (probably by issuing chargebacks) instead of complain.)

Have scheduled maintenance.
If you have do to do some maintenance that requires your server to go down, do it pro-actively. Don’t just say “Oops, there was a problem – we’re fixing it (during primetime).” Instead, fix it at 2 A.M. on Sunday, or whenever your service is being used the least. Ensure you notify customers of the maintenance in advance and provide any compensate to inconvenienced customers (if they do complain).

Don’t let it escalate.
If a customer sends in a support request, calls you, or whatever, be sure to deal with the issue as quickly and effectively as possible. In short, don’t let problems escalate to where they become more formal complaints. That’s when you start running into problems.
Short post today, but I may edit it later this evening with some additional information.

Preventing complaints can be tough, but in the end, it’s certainly worth it. You’ll save lots of time, money, and trouble if you can fix things before they break.

Following up on complaints.

I hate to sound redundant, but it’s going to happen again with this subject regarding complaints: following up. There hav been entire series at Service Untitled on following-up and I keep trying to tell people how important it is. It is – following up is one of the best ways to make your customer service go from acceptable to great.

Be sure to actually follow-up.
If you promise you’ll follow-up, deliver. If you say you’re going to call them back in a week, call them back in a week. Don’t lie or exaggerate – do it.

Follow the follow-up principles.
Go to http://www.serviceuntitled.com/index.php/category/follow-up/ and read the Five W’s series on following-up. It gives you a lot of information about how to do effective follow-ups.

Be nice, be considerate, compensate, and work on resolving the issue.

Now, you need to follow the complaints principles: be nice, be considerate, compensate, and work on resolving the issue. However, the issue should already be resolved, so share how you resolved it and what you’ve done to ensure it doesn’t happen again. If you haven’t already, offer to compensate (company credit or cash). If you have already compensated, make sure that the customer has been compensated as promised.

Ask for suggestions.
Ask for suggestions and encourage the customer to provide any input he or she has regarding the entire issue. Suggestions on how to prevent the issue from happening again, how to make the process better, etc. would help you and make the customer feel that his or her opinion is important.

Make sure it doesn’t happen again.
You actually have to make sure the issue doesn’t happen again. If it’s something you can’t prevent from happening again, you should definitely provide some good reasons. If you do anything, make sure the problem doesn’t occur again and everyone will be happy.

Find someone to deal with future issues.
With every follow-up, you should include ways to contact someone who can deal with any future issues. This should be a senior account representative, a member of the management, or someone else who can deal with future issues. Make sure the person is actually aware that this is “their” customer so that when the customer calls with a problem, the employee doesn’t say “Who are you again?”

Keep these in mind and you’ll do fine with following up on complaints. Tomorrow’s post will be about preventing complaints. That’s important and then we’ll be done with this series. Feel free to send some more topic suggestions.

P. S. I’ve realized that for series, I’m going to try and stick to the Five W’s format. It works out more often than not. Some series won’t, but I’m going to try and make it so a majority do.

Responding to complaints.

You already know what to do while a customer complains, so how do you respond? The principles are the same.

  • Be nice.
  • Be considerate.
  • Apologize.
  • (Prepare to) Compensate.
  • Work on resolving the issue.

Those are the exact things you should do will listening to complaints and the exact way you should respond to a written complaint. If you send a letter or an email back, be sure to be nice, consideration, apologize often, offer compensation, and work on resolving the issues. The principles are the same with almost every level of the complaint process.

If lots of people complain about one thing, fix it and publicly announce that you’ve done. Angry customers will be happy that you care, and customers who aren’t angry will be happy that you fix issues when they arise. It’s a win-win. Announce it with a post in your forums, a press release, an announcement on your company web site, an article in your newsletter, or whatever. Just make sure it’s seen by your customers. Once again, when you write these announcement, use the same techniques as when you’re dealing with individual complaints.

Customers will appreciate you taking the time to respond to their complaints. You have a very limited number of shots to make them happy, so make your complaint responses count. Ensure:

  • That you’ve done your research. If you make a comment that isn’t related to them, is incorrect, etc., you’ll look like an idiot who truly doesn’t care about the problem.
  • Do what you say you will. If you promise a customer a $20 credit, ensure it’s added to their account before you click send or seal the envelope. That way, you know it’s done and there won’t be any more complaints down the line.
  • Fix the problem. That’s by far the most important thing. Fix what they’re actually complaining about so A) they don’t get mad and B) other customers don’t get mad. Customers do like free services, but they also like fixed problems.

Tomorrow’s post is the all important, following up on complaints. I’m still accepting post ideas, so please do send them in or comment with your ideas.

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