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When Providing Customer Service, Give an Oscar-worthy Performance

Red CarpetSometimes it takes an award-winning performance to provide excellent customer care, especially when problems are weighing on your mind. Maybe you’re dealing with the turmoil of having your credit card stolen. Perhaps your daughter failed a class or your partner forgot your birthday. You can do your absolute best to put the concerns of your personal life aside at work, but it’s so challenging to stay in a positive mindset when you come face-to-face with a crabby, complaining customer.

How do you hold it together when you feel like falling apart?

Just ask the employees at Preston Wynne Spa, a successful company featured in chapter 7 of “Who’s Your Gladys?” This high end spa’s CEO Peggy Wynne Borgman and her staff have adapted the advice of my dear friend Holly Stiel, who recommends viewing the start of a workday like the start of a performance.

Customer service expert Holly Stiel recommends viewing the start of a workday like the start of a performance.

“Your uniform is your service costume, and your workplace is the stage. To give great service, it’s helpful to consider yourself an actor playing a role with as much sincerity as possible,” Holly advises. She encourages everyone to make a conscious choice about how to “act” within the service provider role.

This got me thinking about my expectations as a customer. When I go to the movies, I expect the actors to give a captivating performance. I enjoy watching the leading man woo his love interest. It could very well be that in “real life,” the actor is going through a bitter divorce. It simply wouldn’t work to bring his personal problems into his leading man role.

Mo’Nique won an Oscar last night playing the part of Mary Jones from the movie Precious. She embodied the challenging role of a criminally abusive mother and was fully present in her performance. As a performing artist, she brought a highly challenging role to life.

Imagine yourself bringing the role of a caring customer service provider to life.

Have you ever noticed that when you say you believe something to be true, you’re sometimes tested? I believe that customer service is more than a skill, it’s an art. I was tested a few weeks ago. I was booked to fly to Wisconsin. Even though my husband and son suffered with a stomach virus for four days the week before, I stayed healthy, until 4 a.m. the morning of my flight.

I honestly didn’t know how I was going to get on that plane, let alone lead a workshop for managers AND a customer service keynote the following day. At 6 a.m., I called my coauthor Lori Jo Vest and told her, “I’m sick!” Thank God for Lori! She helped me to step into the role of service provider and do what was best for our client, who was bringing together 150 employees to see me for their annual event. The company had bought a book for everyone too, so finding a replacement speaker was out of the question. I made a call to my doctor, convinced him to prescribe something that would help, and was on the plane by 10 a.m.

As strange as it might sound, I believe it wasn’t as much the medicine that got me through as it was the mindset. I chose to BE an enthusiastic, attentive presenter and somehow, despite a stomach virus, I was.

Guest Writer Bio: Marilyn Suttle is the co-author of the best-selling customer service book, “Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan.” She is president of Suttle Enterprises, a training firm through which she has taught thousands across the country how to have happier, more productive relationships with customers, coworkers, and even their children. For more information, visit: www.whosyourgladys.com.

photo credit: Eva Cristescu

Branding your customer service

Branding is about that logo we wear on our cross-trainers, the polo pony on my shirt, and the signature leather on my French made purse. It sets products apart from the generic and with some branding shows the world “we have arrived.”

It’s important to set customer service apart by creating a strong brand which in turn can give a business the competitive edge. Since the reputation of a company is based on the experiences of their customers, it is important to give them positive experiences. Remember that bad experiences are emotional also, and customers may not come back, but that can cost a company the loss of many new clients because now friends, neighbors and co-workers have all been told about the negative experience. Also consider that the neutral experience a customer might have is almost as bad as the negative experience because it has no emotional ties and thus is not memorable at all.

In customer service, the process usually involves multiple steps. For instance, there is the initial call routing, interaction, resolution, and then finalizing the resolution. Human assisted services are here to stay since not all customer service requests, complaints, orders, procedures, etc. qualify for the one-size fits all. Emphasizing the human assisted customer service over self-service can brand a company with a positive memorable experience. Some people just prefer the human touch.

Team representatives can be matched with the brand of the company. It’s much more of a positive memorable experience perhaps to have an athletic looking person providing customer service at the running store. A brand aligned agent creates the consistent and repetitive visibility since the public’s memory is very short. It is much more effective to expose your brand to a small audience numerous times than it is to advertise your business only once a year to a large audience.

Finally when branding your customer service, it is most important to have  unified objectives so customer experiences stay consistent. If clients have to experience different communication channels and are forwarded from one representative to another, it is crucial that the training and education of the staff be logical and consistent with the branding of the company. Simply stated; make sure the left hand always knows what the right hand is doing.

photo credit: vancouverfilmschool

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.

Estimated Burden?

I was filling out a government form last week and noticed on the upper right hand corner there was a line that said “Estimated Burden: 85 Minutes.” Needless to say, this isn’t the best verbiage for posting how long a form will take to process at some government office somewhere in Virginia or Maryland.

Think about the alternatives the government could have placed that would make the line a little bit less confrontational:

  • EB: 85
  • B85
  • 85
  • Estimated Processing Time: 85 minutes
  • Estimated Processing: 85 minutes
  • Estimated Completion Time: 85 Minutes

That is just six examples from what is certainly an unlimited number of possibilities. Burden is not a positive word and there are so many ways to hide the true meaning on the form. Anyone trained to fill out the forms could probably figure out what EB means, but for the 99% of people who aren’t familiar with the acronym, EB:85 will mean nothing.  The government can even put just 85 or B85, both of which would give the processor the information he or she needs without having a negative tone towards the customer (the person filling out the form).

Even though these types of things are super simple to fix, you can’t seem to get away from them. Some organizations simply don’t understand that a simple change in wording can make a difference and convey a totally different (and much more positive) tone. The ones that do, though, are the ones that will likely have happier customers. (Assume, of course, that similar verbiage mistakes are made across organizations that don’t think about it and not just in one place.)

Poach good service employees.

Applerecruit-Lg I came across a blog post about how Apple recruiters are finding people to work at the technology company’s popular retail stores. Their method? Have a clever business card that says that the recruiter enjoyed his or her customer service experience and wants to get in touch with the employee if he or she is interested in changing jobs.

The card isn’t overly aggressive, but it does make a point – if you want to change jobs, consider the Apple Store. It is surprising that more companies don’t do this – especially considering how easy it is. It’s more direct (and I think effective) than a recruiter giving his or her card to an employee and it is obviously has a very specific purpose.

Apple, like Nordstrom and other customer service leaders, realizes that you can hire the smile and train the skill.

This tactic isn’t limited to retail. Assuming you train your employees and there isn’t a large amount of prior knowledge needed to work in your customer service department, this can work for your company as well. Look for great customer service and offer the card to people who seem like they might be a fit.

If they work out, great. If not, oh well. Hiring is just as much an art as it is a science and a fact of both aspects is that it is hard to find and retain great people, so it is important to work hard at doing so.

[Image courtesy of MacNN.]

Basing Employee Success on “Love Letters”

Ist2 1122296 Antique Love Letter
It is not uncommon for companies to decide what sort of bonus a customer service employee should get, whether they should get a promotion, or how well a customer service employee is doing based on the number of “love letters” received.

While I’m sure human resources uses a different term, the basic premise is the same: companies often value the number of specific positive remarks an employee gets from customers.

And they value it for good reason: when a customer goes out of his or her way to specifically acknowledge an employee in writing, it shows a lot about the customer service provided.

Using love letters to partially determine success of customer service employees is important because receiving positive letters is such a big deal. Even great customer service providers at great companies known for their customer service will not receive that many letters from customers about employees; customers don’t usually take the time to write. (Taking the time to write means a specific letter providing feedback that the company did not ask for – not a positive survey response or a comment card.) The fact that most customers don’t take the time to write is fine because it’s all relative.

If the average at your company is 1 letter for every 5 employees every month (thus 0.2 letters per employee per month) and one particular employee has received two letters in the last month (10 times the average!), that employee is obviously doing something right and deserves to be recognized.

Recognition for letters received should be both private and public:

  • The letter should be posted (and people told about it being posted). 
  • The employee should have a one-on-one meeting with his or her supervisor to go over the particular experience (this way, the manager can learn about what the employee did that made him or her so successful).
  • The employee should receive a small bonus or similar recognition (maybe a gift certificate for dinner). The item doesn’t have to have a significant value – anything is better than nothing and the employee will surely appreciate it.
  • Many companies ask their best performing employees to host mini-training seminars and/or work with the actual trainers to develop a curriculum that teaches employees the best practices they need to know for providing great customer service. This is a great idea and works across most departments, companies, and industries.

The most important factor is to make receiving love letters a big deal. While they shouldn’t be the only measure of an employee’s success, lover letters should be at least one measure and they  should most certainly matter.

What does it mean to be customer-focused?

On Friday, I wrote about what it means to have a customer-focused strategy. Today, I was asked to broaden the scope a bit and talk about what it means just to be customer-focused. I defined customer-focused strategy as:

Most simply, I would define “customer-focused strategy” as a view on business that puts customers at the center of business decisions.

That, along with several of the other examples and ideas I mentioned in the post on Friday, capture the essence of what I would call customer-focus. But what makes a customer-focused company? It’s a term we hear periodically and can’t think of any sort of successful company that wouldn’t like to describe itself as customer-focused, but what does it actually mean? And most importantly, when is it actually put into practice?

Customer-focus is quite literally and quite obviously, focusing on the customer. That means thinking about them when decisions are made, policies are implemented, and employees are trained. It spans across the whole business and is a cultural thing as much as it is anything else. Customer-focused businesses think about what they can do to make customers happy (as opposed to get the most money out of them, signup the most accounts, etc.) all the time and think about how they can make the customer experience better.

The best companies actually put that view into practice, though. It’s pretty easy to talk about (and to want), but it’s difficult to actually do it. I’d say that customer-focus and customer-focused strategy go hand in hand. The companies that are customer-focused (the ones that actually do it, instead of just say it) are already depending on a customer-focused strategy. If they’re doing it well, they’re most likely seeing that strategy work for them in all areas (happy employees, happy customers, financial success).

How do you define customer-focus? Do you think I’m pretty close or totally off?

Jack Welch on Autonomy

Jack Welch, like Warren Buffet, is an extremely well respected and well known American business leader. He helped make GE huge (he increased its market capitalization by about $400 billion over about 20 years). I saw this Jack Welch quote the other day and really liked it:

“If you pick the right people and give them the opportunity to spread their wings and put compensation as a carrier behind it, you almost don’t have to manage them. – Jack Welch”

welchWarren Buffet understands the importance of valuing your company’s reputation. Jack Welch obviously understands the importance of giving people autonomy and rewarding them for good work.

GE is an interesting business. It functions more like a holding company with a brand than as a centralized, traditional company. The company is known for its divisions that sell everything from trains to jet engines to dishwashers. In an organization that large and diverse, you have to give your people autonomy or they won’t be able to do their jobs well. It is impossible to manage and keep track of everything that goes on across the entire company.

In customer service, if you pick the right people and give them the opportunity to succeed, it can work out very well. Motivation and encouragement (either by recognition and/or money) can be really helpful. If those people are motivated to and rewarded for doing well, they will continue to do well. They may even encourage their friends to look into jobs at the company.

The important thing that Welch really understands is the importance of letting people grow into their positions and then rewarding them for doing well. That is a pretty simple formula that can work in almost every position in every company. There obviously have to be some limits, but if well executed, the formula can be extremely successful.

For more on this subject, see this post about public praise and public shame. What do you think of Welch’s view?

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