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WordCamp San Francisco

Sorry for the lack of updates!

I’ve been getting ready for WordCamp San Francisco (taking place Saturday, May 30 at the Mission Bay Conference Center at  UCSF). I’m presenting at the conference and also helping to organize some of it.

I’m really looking forward to the event – they have an excellent lineup of speakers (excluding me), a great venue, and a lot of interesting things to learn.

If you’re going to WordCamp SF and see me there, please be sure to say hello!

If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

I was talking to someone about customer service over the weekend and he said a great quote that can really summarize the variability among customer service representatives — if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

His point was that, in customer service, you can’t afford to get monkeys and have them interact with your customers. Customer service is very much dependent on the people providing the service, so a really good or a really bad customer service representative can also polarize a customer service experience.

Some companies have seen a lot of success from paying their customer service representatives better than average. I’ve worked with companies that pay their customer service people very well and in turn, get a lot better than average employees. They get people with more experience, initiative, talent, etc. and things tend to get done better and faster. I’ve also seen companies that do the opposite and pay barely anything and get employees who are essentially incompetent. 

It takes more than money to get good customer service people, though. Companies that do well at customer service tend to have strong cultures and tend to hire people who genuinely like their jobs and what they do on a day-to-day basis. Those who are just in their job for the (augmented) paycheck aren’t going to contribute that much to the customer service culture at any company. 

How well does your company pay and what have you noticed as a result?

Use Glass Doors to Improve Accessibility

In my post on Wednesday, I touched on what I think is an important aspect of manager accessibility, a physically inviting workplace. Even though something like this seems out of place on a blog about customer service, a physically inviting workplace leads to employees feeling more comfortable and relaxed. Relaxed and comfortable employees tend to be happier and tend to deliver better customer service. Therefore, it’s relevant.

A simple step to improving the physical appeal of your workplace is to use glass doors.

Glass doors are a lot more inviting and show a much more open mood than big, solid doors. People can see that other people are working (hopefully) and easily tell who is in their office or not. Plus, they are just about as effective as blocking out noise and I think they’re more attractive.

Some companies go all out and have glass or otherwise transparent/translucent walls and really fancy office designs that are specfically laid out to encourage openness and free communication. If you want to do this, great, but glass doors are probably easier and less expensive to install and can still make a notiacble difference in the mood and level of openness in your company.  I’ve always advocated for them wherever I work and think they help.

A lot of companies underestimate the importance of the physical layout and design of their workplaces. The physical workplace is where people spend all their time and making it a nice place to spend that time is important to a great work experience.

Be More Accessible in 3 Simple Steps

I briefly touched on what can be done to avoid employee / manager conflicts just under three years ago (wow!), but I was thinking more about the idea of accessibility of managers and supervisors today and thought it was worth a follow up post.

I’ve always tried to be very accessible as a manager. I respond to emails quickly and consistently, keep my door open, and try to be as available as possible to talk to employees and customers whenever they have comments, concerns, or questions. I’m by no means a perfect manager, but I do feel that being acessible and available is an important thing for a manager, especially one who works in the customer service field.

Here are three simple things you can do to be more accessible:

  1. Have an open door policy. Physically keeping your door open can set a great example for your employees and your co-workers. I can’t stand “closed” office spaces with big doors and no interior windows and have always made it a point to keep my office door open as often as humanly possible. It is sends a less than subtle signal that you’re willing to talk and that you’re accessible (just like having a closed door all the time sends a very different signal).
  2. Have “office hours.” The concept of office hours is common at colleges and universities, but kind of unheard of in business. Ideally, you don’t need office hours, but a lot of managers have crazy schedules filled with a plethora of meetings and other engagements that subsequently make it hard to get in touch with them. To deal with this, try to set an hour or two per day aside where you’re available to talk to employees who just want to walk in and express any questions or concerns they might have.
  3. Schedule “town halls.” I stole this idea and this terminology from politicians, but that’s only because it is a good idea. Every month or so, schedule an informal “town hall” with a group of employees who are  (for example) half randomly chosen and half specifically selected where you either come in with a topic or idea that you want to discuss or simply open the floor to general comments, suggestions, questions, etc. This is a great way to get to know your employees better and to make them feel as if they’re more involved with the company.

There are literally hundreds of books on the subject of manager accessibility and leadership styles, but I’ve always found that these three things have worked well for me. What has been effective where you work now or have worked in the past?

Mute Your Microphone

Here is a simple customer service tip that will make you look (and especially sound) more professional: mute your microphone when sounds are being made that the customer shouldn’t / likely doesn’t want to hear. Some examples of situations where you’d want to mute your microphone include:

  • Talking to a co-worker / asking a question
  • Loud noises in the office (alarms, notifications, etc.)
  • Dead air (be sure to come back every now and then so the customer knows you haven’t hung up on them)
  • Similar situations where a noise is being made that the customer shouldn’t hear

Most headsets and phones have an easy to access mute button, but so few representatives use it. The mute button is a great way to avoid placing the customer on hold just to ask someone a question or look something up. If you don’t use the mute feature on your headset or phone already, try it out and see how it works for you.

Respond to Feedback

If you’re lucky, you have customers who will take the time to write to or otherwise contact your company with feedback. (Unlucky companies have customers that just cancel / stop choosing your company and tell their friends how little they like your company.)

What does your company do after it receives feedback, though?  You can share the information with engineers, pass on praise accordingly, and so on. However, those options and the procedures that most companies seem to follow leave out the most important aspect of the feedback process – the customer.

It’s really great to see companies taking time and investing effort into taking action based on customer feedback, but all too often, these same companies completely miss the ball when it comes to responding to customers and letting them know that their feedback is being taken seriously. 

When a customer takes the time to provide feedback to your company, take the time to reach out to them and let them know what you’re doing as a result of their feedback. As you make progress on changing whatever based on whatever their feedback was, keep the customer in the loop. If you don’t plan to make any of the changes that a particular customer suggests, at least say that you read their letter or email over, explain why or why not you’re going to do what they suggest, and that you encourage them to write in with further feedback.

Reaching out to customers who write to your company with ideas and suggestions is critical. Even if you’re making changes based on the feedback you receive, you need to tell customers that so they’re aware of what’s happening. Otherwise, customers think their feedback is being ignored  or dismissed.