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6 Ways to Make Your Meetings More Productive

Conference RoomCustomer service departments, like most entities of most corporations, seem to have a thing for meetings.

I personally don’t like meetings and I think the usefulness of getting everyone in a conference room to discuss something that is most likely pretty trivial is limited at best. Bureaucracy in general is something that I try to avoid (and suggest that others do as well) and I feel as if most meetings just contribute to bureaucracy. Too many companies (and units within them) fall into this trap where they equate talking about getting stuff done with actually getting stuff done. Meetings do not necessarily equate to productivity.

With that in mind, some meetings are necessary. Even as someone who grew up in the email generation, I still believe some meetings are useful written about such meetings in the past. Here are some of my tips on how to conduct an effective meeting:

  1. Have a formal agenda and distribute it beforehand. I always like to email out the agenda of the meetings I’m leading to whoever will be in attendance beforehand. It gives them an idea of what the meeting will be like (length, format, etc.), what will be covered, and if they might need to do anything to prepare. Sending an agenda out in advance also gives people time to suggest topics to add to the agenda.
  2. Stick to the agenda. An agenda is useless if it isn’t being followed. As the person leading the meeting, make sure you stick to it. I like to include estimated time frames for different parts of the meeting, mention who will be talking during each part, and so on. A detailed agenda lets people know how the meeting should progress.
  3. Let people know what they need to do in advance. There are different groups of meetings attendees at pretty much every meeting. Some people have something to present, some people are just there to listen, others are there to approve or reject ideas. Make sure everyone knows what they’re responsible for doing well in advance of the meeting and that they have time to prepare accordingly.
  4. Focus on action items. On every agenda I hand out, the back side has a section for notes and action items. Every person needs to leave the meeting with an idea about what the next steps are and what they need to do. This is where most meetings fail.
  5. Take notes. Assign someone at or bring someone to the meeting in order to take notes. This person should pay special attention to action items and noting steps, obstacles, etc. involved with actually get work done.
  6. Turn off the BlackBerries, etc. I have a BlackBerry and I like it a lot. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t checked my BlackBerry during a meeting and I’d also be in denial if I said no one has ever checked their BlackBerry when I’ve been presenting at a meeting. Cell phones, PDAs, smartphones, etc. are a distraction during meetings and should be turned off during the meeting. The policy should also be enforced.

There comes a time when email or IM just doesn’t cut it and you need to sit down and meet face to face. When you do have that meeting, try to keep some of these ideas in mind. These are things I’ve used to help ensure the meetings I have end up being productive meetings and to date, they’ve worked well. Feel free to share your own tips in the comments.

photo credit: faungg

White Glove Service in 4 Steps

When service is “white glove,” it implies that the service being provided is being provided by professionals who look, act, and talk the part of a customer service professional. I also associate white glove service with class, grace, and politeness as well. To provide white glove service, you need to make sure that:

  1. Employees are well dressed. Looking the part is important if you’re concerned with white glove services. While actual white gloves are more metaphorical in today’s time than they were 70 or 80 years ago, looking clean and tidy is necessary.
  2. Employees speak properly. If employees are walking around screaming or cursing, that’s obviously going to distract customers and lead them to form negative impressions of your company. It’s also important that your employees can use proper grammar and know how to articulate whatever needs to be said.
  3. Employees are empowered to do what’s necessary. People who provide white glove service don’t often say “I’m sorry, but we can’t do that.” If you want the level of service you provide to be truly exceptional, it’s important that the employees you’re trusting to provide that type of service are both allowed and to encouraged make decisions about what’s best in a certain situation. If the employees are restricted by a huge number of rules, policies, or procedures (that they don’t have the power to excuse themselves from in certain situations), the customer service experience will suffer.
  4. The environment is respectable. If you have the best employees in the world, but a dirty store, office, hotel, restaurant, etc., it’s going to defeat purpose. Make sure the physical environment in which you’re providing service is clean, tasteful, and conducive to whatever you’re trying to do (e. g. couches taking up space in the middle of a store don’t make much sense).

This is obviously not an exhaustive list, but I think it’s a good start. What are your suggestions for providing white glove service?

Creating Service in Stereo

boomboxEddie Taylor was the lead nerd in my high school in the 1960’s. He carried way too many ink pens, spoke ham radio, and never got more than three feet from his slide rule (just Google it!). Rather than wearing faded jeans like the rest of us, he wore black dress pants that revealed too much of his white socks. But, he was the first kid in our school to own a stereo. And, he had amazing records that made the sound of a jet plane “fly” across his bedroom. As we witness the decline of service quality in the face of challenging economics, I have thought a lot about Eddie’s great stereo record player.

Imaginative service is like serving in stereo. One track is the one that gets the spotlight – matching service to what customers need, expect, or want. And, great service means delivering that customer-centric service better than what customers expect. But, there is another “track” to serving in stereo often missed—signature service. Signature means adding your personal best to the experience. Notice the last sentence does not simply say “best.” Personal best is laced with excellence and originality. It means adding your style and character to your customer’s experience.

Service in stereo is what Zappo’s.com did to online shoe buying. There were plenty of ways to buy shoes on the Internet. Even the great Nordstrom, originally a shoe store, had them available on the Internet. But, Zappos added a signature touch – over the top service with a quirky, down-home style and delivery that got shoes to you almost by the time you got off line! It is what Disney did to theme parks, what BMW did with the Mini Cooper and what USAA did to insurance.

The difference between getting great service and getting signature great service is like getting tomatoes out of the produce section of the grocery store and getting them at a road side vegetable stand sold by the farmer who grew them in the tomato patch right behind the stand. Somehow that “made by hand” component makes it taste better, even if it is all in your head. And, the pride of craftsmanship comes through at the stand in a far different way than you get from the produce manager.

Pretend the service you deliver was something that could be displayed in a “service museum.’ Would you want your name on it? Would museum patrons recognize it as uniquely your creation? As your legacy, would it be something your kids (or future kids) would proudly share with their family and friends?

Writer Bio: Chip R. Bell is a customer loyalty consultant and the author (with John R. Patterson) of Take Their Breath Away: How Imaginative Service Creates Devoted Customers. He can be reached at www.taketheirbreathaway.com.

photo credit: stallio

Customer Service Pet Peeves

I came across this post recently, which lists some of the more prominent customer service pet peeves submitted by the blog’s readers. Some of the major examples included:

  • Phone problems (long hold times, annoying hold music, getting disconnected, blind transfers, etc.)
  • Employees that aren’t happy to see customers (rude, disaffected, unhappy, etc.)
  • Having to repeat information to multiple agents or to the same agent.
  • When representatives read from or obviously use some sort of script.

The four examples above are good examples of broad categories of customer service frustrations. What’s sad is that the issues above are relatively easy to avoid or to fix, but they’re incredibly common in the customer service field. Training representatives and putting processes in place to avoid blind transfers is not rocket science, but a majority of companies still do blind transfers more often than not.

If your company is doing any of these things, think of ways to change that. You should also try to take a few minutes to think of what frustrates you as a customer and ensure that you aren’t doing whatever that is in your own call center. Chances are, if something bothers you, it bothers other people as well. For example, I always want to get my problems resolved on the first contact, but I know most call centers don’t have perfect first contact resolution (a lot aren’t even close). You could do the same in your call center.

What are your customer service pet peeves? Which of the pet peeves above really bother you? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

Gratitude – A True Measure of Your Service Warmth

“Thank you” are the two most important words in the English language. Yet, how often are you served and end up the only one in the equation doing the thanking? It is always important and never more so in today’s tough economy to make sure customers know unmistakably that you never take them for granted. If all your customers exited tomorrow (which they certainly could), how well would you fare the day after tomorrow?

The goal of an effective “Thank You” is not simply the expression of a statement but rather the conveyance of a feeling. We have all been on the receiving end of “thanks” knowing there was little sincerity. Thanks means communicating gratitude in a fashion that makes customers feel your authenticity. Most customer relationships don’t end in dispute; they wither away from disregard and neglect. Remember: customer relationships are fueled by affirmation, attention and care which are critical elements of service warmth. Also remember most customers do not feel obligated to let you know they are unhappy much less they are leaving! Research tells us that only 4% of disappointed customers will even bother to complain!

Great service leaders show the same gratitude to employees they expect them to show to customers. One call center rep put it this way: “The big deal service award ceremony with all the ‘hot dogs’ from mahogany row that we never see except on special occasions is nice, but not necessary. All we need is for senior leaders to occasionally walk through our areas, show interest in what we do, spend time understanding what we are learning from customers, and thank us for our contribution.”

Great customer service is not “rocket surgery!” It’s simply focusing on what’s important to customers, not boxing them into absurd boundaries, carefully managing the details to keep the experience simple, and letting them know they are valued. Service warmth comes from a strong demonstration of gratitude to customers. It is great to provide a sincere “thank you” but a true measure of the warmth of your service comes from a thank you laced with generosity.

Tacqueria del Sol, a four unit chain of affordable Southwestern fare in Atlanta surprises its regular customers with a “holiday meal” every year during the December holiday season as it’s thank you laced with generosity. Staff members together identify their restaurant’s regulars and treat the regulars to a free “holiday meal” with no limits. I have frequented one location at least weekly for years yet I am always pleasantly surprised to receive the honor of a free “holiday meal”. Their generosity has at times extended to my entire family of seven! I have observed many customers expounding the virtues of Tacqueria del Sol, its great food, great service and especially its generosity.

How are you warming up your customers experience with an appropriate thank you? Does your gratitude to customers include a strong dose of generosity? In today’s rough business climate we need to forge a “steel-like” bond with our customers. Gratitude and generosity warm up the experience to help you create devoted customers who are loyal advocates for your organization.

Writer Bio: John R. Patterson is a sought after speaker on customer experience and a customer loyalty consultant. He is the co-author with Dr. Chip R. Bell of the national best selling book Take Their Breath Away: How Imaginative Service Creates Devoted Customers. He can be reached at www.taketheirbreathaway.com.

T-Mobile Charging for Bills

tmobileThere was a recent story about how T-Mobile will start charging its customers to receive paper bills. Basically, a bill summary will cost $1.50 per month and a “detailed” bill will cost $3.5 per month (in addition to whatever the phone and plan costs per month).

Needless to say, this isn’t a positive business practice. T-Mobile claims the fees are being implemented to help the environment by encouraging people to switch to online bills, but to most consumers who still want a paper bill, it’s still going to look a lot like an added fee that’s a profit center for a phone company.

Other companies’ approaches are much better. Sprint offers to pay its customers (in the way of a credit) to switch to paperless and Verizon offers its customers a chance to win a car. Even though Verizon and AT&T both charge for “detailed” bills sent via the mail, they at least provide basic bills for free and encourage people to switch to paperless via incentives instead of punishments.

The friendlier approach that encourages customers to do something (instead of discouraging them not to do something) is a lot more effective in keeping customers happy. Another approach that T-Mobile could take would be charging its customers for bills and then donating all of the revenue from that fee to a non-profit that plants trees or helps the environment. That’s better than pocketing the money as easy profit.