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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Can You Hear Me Now?

I was in New Mexico, a gem of a state, earlier this month, when the local Albuquerque weather man mentioned for a brief second that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  This is an initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, and this is its purpose.

Held each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America's workers with disabilities. (

To put this into perspective, take a look at the September 2012's employment numbers.
Labor Force Participation
People with disabilities: 21.9% 
People without disabilities: 69.3%

Unemployment Rate
People with disabilities: 13.5%
People without disabilities: 7.3% 

Back to the DOL's Month of Awareness   

How great is this that we are celebrating me! I have a disability.  It isn’t an obvious disability, but I am partially deaf.  To answer the most common questions, I was not born deaf.  It happened in my late 20’s.  The docs say that part of it is hereditary, which I have had surgery to try to correct (Thanks, gene pool!). Part of it is nerve damage that cannot be corrected (Thanks, Sony Walkman from the mid- 90s!).  The other question asked is will it get any worse. The docs tell me the loss is stable for now, and any subsequent hearing loss will probably be due to the natural aging process (Thanks, Mother Nature!).

My left ear is decent, and I do not wear a hearing aid.  My right ear without my hearing aid is, to use the phrase of the Sopranos, “Forget about it!”  Even with the hearing aid, some things challenge me in both ears.  But I still love my work, I live life pretty much the same as I did before my hearing started to go, and I feel I have much left to contribute to the world.   

How Does This Affect My Work?

In the two main jobs of my consulting business, as a facilitator and an instructional designer, overall not much.  Certainly, being in a class environment provides more challenges, but I have adapted.  One, I move around the room a lot to get close to the speaker. That helps me, and it also makes me look like an amazing facilitator with this insane level of energy as I jump around the room in order to hear the responses of the class.  Next, I ask repeatedly, “What was that?”, which a full hearing person would ask as well in a large room with large group of people

As an instructional designer, it doesn’t matter at all. Instructional design works requires me to research the subject matter, formulate teaching strategies, and finally capture them in usually some electronic form.  These are typically one-on-one conversations or individual work.  Sometimes when working alone I wear those darn headphones again.   I just seem to get more done when “You Should Be Dancing” plays on the iPod.

But I wouldn’t say that it hasn’t affected me at all in the workplace.  I definitely had a more challenging time when I worked in the corporate world.  Meetings were difficult for me.  In meetings the expectation was to speak up immediately to react to something said.  That was difficult for me to be in one physical spot in a room of 6 to 10 people, so I was quite quiet in that environment.  Also, whispering is impossible for me to hear, and there is much of that in the physical space of a cubicle farm.  I don’t tend to react to something said under a certain decibel. 

I believe my professional reputation leaned more towards aloofness and introversion, and many times it was mostly I did not hear things in real time.  I cared deeply about what I did, and had opinions, but to answer within a few seconds to something said wasn’t something I could do.   Also, with deafness, I don’t know what I miss, so I might have not heard something critical, but there was no way for me to know that until it showed up in the future. (Yikes!  The few times that occurred.)     

But Enough About Me

I think of the many talented people who are not participating in the workforce facing similar challenges.  I have a friend with autistic children.  Their disability is not Rain Man severe, just to use a common frame of reference,  but it does affect them.  They are smart, funny, gifted girls, who have some cognitive challenges with reading and processing information.  What is going to happen to them when it is time for them to work?  If someone doesn't hire them, then what are they going to do with their days?  For income?     

For me, since my disability can't be seen, most people did not realize I had a problem, and no one treated me differently. On one hand that is what I wanted, but then on the other hand that was a problem in itself.  Then I think about the people with disabilities that are easy to see, making employers more cautious of hiring them.  They look different with a physical disability, or they act different because of a mental disability.  We all come to the hiring and promoting process with biases, and it is unrealistic to think we do not.  Legally, we cannot overtly discriminate (this is a good thing), but we do so subtly. 

My question to you, what does your leadership team look like?  Do you have anyone with a disability, or something that makes them different? We tend to hire and promote people like ourselves, and if you do not have a disability or know of someone with one, it is only natural to unconsciously bias ourselves.  I am not saying it is done maliciously, we are simply human.  We must fight this.  

We at The Customer Service Gurus support the Wounder Warrior Project ( and The Adult Literacy League ( ) primarily because of the work both organizations do to help people with disabilities increase their chances of employment, and of course all the other amazing work they do.   We encourage you to also support these organizations.

Final Thoughts 

I cannot speak on behalf of all people with disabilities, but in general I think the desires are the same as anyone without a disability.  We want to fully participate in life to the best of our abilities, which includes working.  It isn't something special being looking for, but it is a sense of partnership between employee and employer to work together.  That whatever can be done is done to make a person with a disability no different than any other employee.

My opinion is employers see the ADA (American Disability Act) as one more thing that is a nuisance to their organizations, instead of seeing it as a way to access a credible and dedicated resource of talent.  If it takes a wheelchair ramp to have a successful long-term hire, then why not do it?

Also, this is the right thing to do because of karma.  It is very possible at some point you will be the person with the disability, or it will affect someone you care about.  A car accident or illness could change your ability to function in an instance.  Your cognitive and physical abilities may deteriorate with age, and you won't be able to perform your job exactly the way you do today.  Shouldn't we live in a world where accommodations are made to help you make a livelihood as long as possible, and as long as you choose to do so?  

This year's theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month is "A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?"  So what can you do?  What will you do?  Decide today to something.  If you have any questions about my disability or I can help in anyway, as always I am happy to. My email is 

Take care until next time!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

You've Got (Poor) Mail

Business at The Customer Services Gurus is moving along extremely well this summer season.  It is going so well in fact that it has put a snag into my blog writing schedule, but it is definitely a good snag to have, and I am happy to have it.  As I am sure with all of you,  my first focus is always to give one hundred plus percent to my clients or role.  But if I really look at it a case of lack of self-discipline, which I will go in to more depth in another blog because the whole idea of self-discipline fascinates me as much as customer service.  (But kudos to me for my self-disclosure :)).
For this month I did what any smart professional would do when she finds herself not where she wanted to be with her tasks, she asks for help. I asked my trusted friend, CSG Advisory Board Member, and former colleague Pieter Douw to be our guest writer for this month.  Pieter has a wealth of international customer service leadership experience working in management roles for some of the most recognized organizations of hospitality excellence, such as Holland America Line, Intercontential Hotel Groups, and Walt Disney World Resort, just to name a few.
Pieter is Dutch and currently lives in the Netherlands, even though he has traveled and lived around the globe.  His blog speaks to a challenge that should worry all customer service leaders as we frantically move forward to a more technology oriented customer service experience.  But I will let Pieter tell you the rest. 


London 2012: The Olympics. With great admiration I am watching all these athletes, who have dedicated years and years to practice their sport. Who gave up many of the pleasures life has to offer just for that one perfect performance, to become the successful number 1. Imagine the disappointments many athletes must experience for not winning any medals. But also imagine the euphoric feeling the must get from actually winning a Gold Medal! Realizing that all the effort was really worth something! It must be a magical feeling.

A Disappointing Anniversary Celebration
I am a true fan of amusement parks in general, and of Efteling in particular. Efteling is a unique and very successful park in the Netherlands, which has won numerous international awards for best European/International Amusement Park.  (Editor's note, aka Stacey,  Theme parks are everywhere!)

This year it celebrates its 60th anniversary with a new attraction Aquanura, the largest fountain spectacle in Europe. The company that built the Bellagio-Fountains in Las Vegas and the BurjKhalifa Fountains in Dubai also built Aquarnura. I was completely thrilled with this new attraction, since I loved watching the fountains in Vegas and Dubai. The movement of the water to the music, the sounds of the water, I just cannot stop watching. I LOVE IT!
A week ago I visited Efteling with my family, and there were nine of us in the party. In other words, it was an expensive day. As it was a very crowded vacation day, we stood in a long line just to get our tickets. When we finally entered the park around 11am, we immediately noticed the lake where the fountain show would take place, but with no sign of the show-times only a reference to a website.
I immediately went to my smartphone, and to my great surprise I found out that the show would only take place at 7:30pm and 8:15pm. Unbelievable! Why would a company invest 17 million euro for a 2-times-a-day show? Granted, the show uses many colored lights, but I know it is still as impressive during the day without the lights. Since my 1-year-old nephew was with us, we left the park around 5pm without seeing the show. Those of you with small children know what that is like. Trust me, I was not a happy customer at all.
Since I still felt disappointed the day after our visit, I wrote a comment on the Efteling website to express my feelings. I asked two questions. The first one asked them why they don’t show the fountains during the day, and the second asked why was it so difficult to find out the show times? The computer generated reply I received a few seconds later thanked me for my response, and informed me that Efteling would do its utmost to reply to all questions within 3 weeks! And since I don’t expect to wait so long, and won’t,  I resent my complaint 5 days later. This was a successful approach because the next day I received the following message.
Translated from the original Dutch.
First of all we would like to thank you for your message. We appreciate all responses we get from our guests, as it gives us the opportunity to continuously improve our product and service.
In your message you indicate that you haven’t received a reply yet. As we informed you, we do our utmost to respond within 3 weeks.

Aquanura has daily shows at 7:30pm and 8:15pm, and these show times are indicated at the entrance. We regret to realize that you apparently missed this display.

Hope to have informed you enough.
Efteling – Customer Service
I got even more upset when I received this reply, because it gives me that impression that I am impatient and rude for expecting a quick reply. Further, it doesn’t give me an answer to my questions. And to top it off to me the final sentence just translates into, "Too bad for you!" 
The Guru’s Solution
This one is obvious, reply to complaints in a timely manner! It’s never ever acceptable to, "Strive to reply within 3 weeks." (Editor's note, 3 weeks is not something to strive for. You should be ashamed, and call the Gurus immediately, if that is really the best you can do.)  Show that you really appreciate all comments and complaints by a quick response. Also, give an answer to all questions. No matter how obvious, stupid or strange a questions seems to you, show that you respect the person for putting the effort in to write them down, and try to answer the actual questions asked. If you truly cannot answer it, at least acknowledge that you read them.
Most important, make sure that you come across as sincere. Don’t ever create the impression that you don’t care. This is your opportunity to take away any bad feelings, service recovery, and to avoid people talking bad about your company and causing negative publicity. Think about this, you wouldn’t have read about this in a blog if Efteling had sent a proper, more thoughtful, reply.

Final Thoughts
Providing excellent customer service is like the Olympics. First of all it takes great continuous dedication from your entire team. Everyone should work towards that one goal: satisfied customers. Of course things go wrong in the process, and it’s a bumpy road with hits and misses. Not everyone is an instant gold-medalist.
Sometimes we indeed fail. However, we should acknowledge the mistakes we made, sincerely apologize, refocus, and again aim to be the number 1. All our continuous efforts will definitely be rewarded. If you respond well to complaints, your customers will feel like they won a Gold Medal. It works to your benefit too, seeing your customer change from a grumpy person into a happy and satisfied one will give you the same euphoric feeling an athlete must experience while listening to their national anthem. Just do it; it’s worth it!
Editor's Note
Thank you, Pieter, or Dank u wel, for your column.  I encourage all of you to think how technology is changing your responses to customers.  Please, please, please move away from the copy and pasted paragraphs that were the infancy of this type of communication, and move to do what you do in real-time interactions: make them personal, accurate, and sincere.
If you are looking to expand your international customer service, be sure to get in touch with Pieter.  I know no one better to help guide you in the best methods of global customer service delivery.  He can be reached via Linked In.
I look forward to writing the next blog soon (I swear!). 



Thursday, August 2, 2012

The World Needs The Customer Service Gurus - Part 2

Summer usually seems to be the season of relaxing, enjoying the outdoors, but we have been especially and gratefully busy at The Customer Service Gurus.  There is much to accomplish before we ramp up for the fall. 

But before we get to all of that, there are still service adventures to report from my spring trip to Europe.  As promised, here is part two of The World Needs the Customer Service Gurus.

Come Fly with Me, but Shop with Me not so Much

We island hopped in the Mediterranean during EuroTrip 2012, as I like to call our spring itinerary.  Chania is a city in Crete, the Greek island.  It is a beautiful place, and surprisingly the harbor looks like a smaller version of Venice because of the Venetian occupation at one point in their history.  We had a wonderful time during our week there.

As we waited to fly out, as typical we had time to kill at the airport.  The airport is primarily a military base, but in the tourist season it also services a few daily commercial flights.  Let’s just say it is more functional, than hospitable.  My husband went to browse the various stores, which were only three in the entire airport, to stretch his legs before our flight. 

He ventured to a shop not very far from our gate, maybe less than 100 feet or approximately 30 meters for my non-US readers. It was in the late afternoon, the store seemed to be open, but a sales clerk rudely informed my husband he had to go to another store with the same exact merchandise because he, my husband, was flying out of a different gate. Remember, we are talking less than 100 feet and no more than 7 gates.   It seems the last flight of the day just left the store’s area and clerk did not want to wait on anyone else, but the store was clearly not closed because my husband could easily walk in to the shopping area.

The Guru’s Solution

This one is common sense.  Well, at least I think it is.  If the store is physically open, then it is open and customers should be serviced.  If it is not open, then put up a barrier for customers not to go in the door.

Some of this could be culture related as well.  Not all cultures work on the premise of the customer is always right, so sometimes it is necessary to readjust our norms.  I have worked in retail in the US and remember nights when we left late because of a customer walking in the door three minutes before closing time.  But I have also worked retail in France, and when it was closing time, it was closing time.  It is not good or bad; it is simply a different norm.

My advice to Chania is, especially since they are having a difficult time with public relations due to the overall impression of the Greek financial crisis, it would be worth mentioning to workers that without tourist euros they will have no job at all making things much worse in an already fragile world.  It may be quitting time, but every sale is important. 

Train Station – Who’s on first? 

Here is the last story, even though there are more, but you need to get to work!

Poland and Ukraine hosted this year’s major soccer tournament Euro Cup. This tournament takes place every four years and equates in US terms to the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA finals and Stanley Cup wrapped up into one event.  It takes almost a month for the tournament to complete, from group play to the finals.

Emotionally, this is huge in Europe and it is very prestigious for a country to put on the tournament. Many Europeans believe this tournament is even stronger than the World Cup because it is restricted to the overall stronger European teams.

Breslau is one of the larger cities in Poland and hosted some of the group games.  We arrived in Breslau a week before the games started to visit extended family.  When it was time to leave we found ourselves at the new train station still under construction.  More of it was built than not, but the new signage was not all in place.

We needed to buy an international ticket from Poland to Germany.  The new train station had no window labeled, “International Tickets,” among the 10 or so windows labeled in English, “Domestic Tickets,” but it was unclear if where we could buy our tickets.
We were lucky that our extended father-in-law, who speaks Polish, came with us for our send off.  He first asked other passengers in the train station where to buy international tickets.  Strangely, he received a different answer from every person.  This was absolutely confusing so he and my husband went to the official information desk.  The information agent said it could be bought at the labeled domestic windows. 

They waited in that line for at least 15 minutes, but when they get to window the domestic ticket agent said an international ticket could not be bought at that counter.  My husband was within sight of the information agent that instructed them to the domestic window and said so.  Waving him off with no concern at all, the agent said, “The new train station is not complete so you have to go to the old train station to buy an international ticket.” 
Forty-five minutes later we find the international ticket counter in the old train station and roughly make our way through the transaction.  The agent only spoke Polish, so luckily we had our relative translator.   Very frustrated, but finally with ticket in hand, we said good-bye to our family and head to the train. 

The Guru’s Solution

This would not take much to fix.  First, any agent working an international counter should speak at least one other language or there should be other accommodations to combat language barriers.  I thought a form would help.  The passenger would complete the form in their language and hand it over to the ticket agent.  It would be a small upfront cost, but save a huge amount of aggravation for both passenger and agent.

Secondly, the management could write a simple memo, and then supervisors could conduct quick team meetings to explain where international tickets could be purchased.  We bought the tickets in the old station, but actually caught the train at the new station.  It was confusing even to the most seasoned of travelers.

I think what upsets me the most, from a service perspective, is the information agent not knowing the right place to buy the ticket.   What is the point of an information desk if the information cannot be trusted?

Final Thoughts

That wraps up my look at service abroad.  As I said in the first blog, these were a few incidences in an overall wonderful trip full of many people providing excellent service.  Travel frustrations come with the adventure of being out of one’s comfort zone, and much of it is relative.   For example, my international friends get just as frustrated in the States with our tipping customs and road rules.  So I encourage you to experience the world.  It will certainly provide you with an interesting perspective on the value and importance of delivering excellent customer service.

Now get out there and enjoy this last month of summer!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The World Needs the Customer Service Guru - Part 1

The Customer Service Guru feels like the Johnny Cash song, “I’ve Been Everywhere.”  I spent my spring on the road in seven countries across Europe.

What I discovered is delivering excellent customer service is a worldwide challenge.  Many of us experience this working with Asian call centers, but I think there is a general American perception that Europe is on a more sophisticated plane than the United States.  Yes, there are many things that are wonderful about Europe, but as with any country or region, getting people to perform at their best is a challenge. 

I must preface my blog that whenever life involves travel, domestic or international, it brings as many thrills as challenges.  Please do not take my words as a warning not to travel overseas.  Traveling overseas is an experience everyone should have, and I mean traveling beyond the Caribbean on a cruise ship.  Get out there, reach beyond your comfort zone, have fun, and most of all enjoy life!  

These are some of the most interesting and frustrating experiences my husband and I had over our seven weeks aboard, and as always my professional advice how to improve the situation. 

England – Days Inn Technical Issues
In Bristol, England, we stayed at a Days Inn located on the motorway.  My friend asked the front desk if they could print her train ticket.  She had it on her smart phone, but needed the physical ticket.  The common lobby computer did not have a printer, which was her original plan to print the ticket.

She asked the afternoon clerk, who was extremely polite – to an American ear there were many pleases and thank yous, but the clerk obviously had not a clue about technology and said she couldn’t do it.  Instead of the more honest, “I am not sure how to do it.”  Her solution was to find the local library, which we were miles away from and had no idea how to get to, to print the ticket.

My friend returned with the ticket on a USB stick and this completely floored the hostess.  Although she was extremely kind about it, she was consistent she could not print the ticket.

The next morning my friend asked a second hostess.  This hostess again was extremely pleasant, but said those dreaded words, “We’re not allowed to do it because of viruses, etc.” I really hate that excuse.  It is like employees are children, and they are not.  The kicker of all this is the clerk said if Lucie emailed the ticket to her that she could print it.  Technically speaking, this is the same difference as uploading the USB stick, as their virus program would scan both documents. 

The Guru’s Solution
This cannot be uncommon in England, or really anywhere in the world.  The hotel should develop a blanket policy on printing any documentation as now travelers need to proactively print almost all travel documents. 

This I lean towards the company to eat the printing and toner costs and print it for the customer.  This is a small, but important, convenience for travelers.  Most travelers have their documents, but when one doesn’t it is a real challenge.  

The other piece of that policy needs to state what cannot be printed.  I can imagine guests wanting to print emails, which I don’t think again is such a big deal, but it is better for the company to set the guidelines and clearly state the policy so employee’s can communicate it rather than the employee state, “We’re not allowed to do it.” As the English would say, “Bullocks!”

Budget Airline Baggage Inconsistencies
We traveled with several European budget airlines because they make travel ridiculously affordable. When I say budget airline in Europe this is my frame of reference: our flight from Cyprus to Crete was 19 euro per person, roughly 25 USD.  Traveling on such airlines come with restrictions and bare bones service. For example, there are no complimentary drinks of any kind, not even water. It is understandable, because the airlines operate on a tight budget.  

As in America, a major source of revenue is a baggage charge for checked-in baggage, but carry on luggage is not charged.   There is a difference that hand luggage also has tight restrictions in dimensions, and some airlines include a weight restriction.  Most airlines in this class have a rule to truly one carry on item. That means a purse is a carry on item and any type of additional baggage would be considered a second item, which the passenger needs to check and pay the fee. 

What annoys me is the inconsistency the restrictions are applied either to different parties or from different airports.  Many passengers clearly do not follow the carry on baggage rules to avoid the fees, and they are not called on it to check in their bags or repack to meet the rules. That means the baggage rules are simply arbitrary, and operationally have no impact to the airline.  As a customer who follows the rules this frustrates me.

The Guru’s Solution
The most effective airline I saw manage this was UK’s Monarch airlines.  They weighed all carry on luggage when checking in for the flight.  At that time the desk agent tagged the carry on baggage as meeting the weight and dimension standards.    

That flight had the smoothest boarding process of the six flights we took within Europe.  By having this policy there wasn’t a ridiculous dance at the boarding gate of people hiding their small purses behind their jackets, or the boarding agents making some people repack their bags right before boarding, delaying the entire line.  But then others who were obviously over the weight and dimension restrictions were not asked to repack or pay, causing a decline in good will in those who did follow the rules. 

Pathos Hotel Check In

In the Cyprus city of Pathos we checked into a hotel for three nights.  Cyprus is a beautiful ancient island in the Mediterranean.  The clerk at the desk said, with no hint of hospitality displayed verbally or non-verbally (I wanted to say, “There is a reason it is called the hospitality industry. You are supposed to be hospitable.”) “We have that you are a party of four people.” 

This puzzled us for a minute.  Then we realized we made the reservation hoping to have friends join us.  They could not come, so it was only my husband and myself.  My husband answered, “It is only the two of us.”  Clerk, frustrated and arrogantly responds, “But you said there would be four of you.”  My husband, “But there is not.  We thought there would be, but they could not join us.  That shouldn’t matter as the price was the same.”   Clerk, maintaining arrogant attitude, “But we made up the room for four.”  My husband, “But there are not four people.  Is that a problem?”  Clerk, attitude not improving, “But if we would have known we would not have made the room for four.” 

The other piece is I can’t really call what the clerk did as registering us for the hotel.  She handed us two pieces of paper, told us to fill them out in our room and bring them back at a later time. Next she gave us a key and walked us to the room about 30 feet away from the desk.  I swear she was ticked off she had to do this. 

The kicker, once we are in the room we discovered the hotel’s idea of making up the room for four people was leaving extra sheets for the two futon like couches. 

The Guru’s Solution
If you work in hospitality, then you know the simple answer.  Coach the employee to drop the attitude.  If we were not violating any policy or pricing structure, and we were not, then drop it.  It’s not worth anyone’s time or trouble to pursue it any further.   It only makes the guest think they booked a poor hotel.

I am always curious with employees in the hospitality industry who have attitudes is why did they choose to work in the hospitality industry?  Some people just aren’t designed for service positions, so why pursue a service job at all?  There are plenty of jobs that do not require people contact.  Also, what did their interviews look like?  Hmmm…

But there were other employees at the hotel who were beyond friendly and hospitable.   The unit came with a gas stove, which I had no idea how to use, and the front desk person on duty came to our room and showed us how to use it.  The hotel was small and slow, so it was no operational impact for her to leave her post for a minute.  The hotel bartender was very friendly and open to discussing the culture, history, and current conflict on the island.  (Political lesson:  Cyprus is partially settled, or occupied depending on whom you talk to, by Turkey. It is not a amiable separation.)

Final Thoughts
There are more fun and frustrating situations, but this is already long in a world of short attention spans.  You can look forward to part 2 of my adventures in the next blog. 

Take heart that the challenges you face are faced by leaders and managers all over the globe.   If you are interested or curious about traveling to Europe and have questions, my husband and I are happy to help.  My husband is European and makes all of our travel arrangements. Please just send me an email at .

Wishing you adventurous travels! 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Build a Cathedral

Three guys laying bricks are asked why they’re doing it.  The first guy says, “I am doing it for the wages.”  The second guy says, “I’m doing it to support my family.”  The third guy says, “I’m helping to build a cathedral.”

Changing organizational culture is much like building a cathedral.  It is a slow long-term process and not everyone is on board with the cathedral idea.  Many employees go to work as the first two bricklayers, “I am doing it for the wages,” or “I am supporting my family.”  They are very real concerns, and let’s be honest it is the bottom-line why we all work.  But to build a cathedral requires fundamental change your workforce, one brick at a time.

Where Service Culture Initiatives Go Wrong

This has been my experience with major culture changes.  There is a kick-off meeting with beautiful new snazzy collateral, a catchy slogan, and the executive leaders telling the team something to the effect, “Today is a new day.  We will now provide X (transaction of business), at a superior level than yesterday.  You will attend a training class and all your leaders are on board. It’s a great time to be at X.”

Inevitably, there would be a training class for a couple of hours, again accompanied by said beautiful new snazzy collateral and this time a way too many power point slide presentation that had little to no real world relevance to my normal day-to-day work life.  It sounds like a wonderful idea, but not followed with many details.

So I would put the new promotional product on my desk, do what was asked of me, but did my heart change?  Did I behave differently?  No, and neither did my fellow team members or leaders.  We jumped when a big person wanted us to, but it was all for show, i.e. not to get yelled out.  We were not building a cathedral. 

In my opinion, and I have many performance reviews to support my hunch, I was pretty good at providing X service before so, was what I was doing yesterday so bad we needed to rewrite the book today?  I think in general it confuses the team, the people in fact whose hearts you need to change to start building that cathedral. 

How Would The Customer Service Gurus Change a Culture?

One word, slowly.  It’s ideal, and yes I know this isn’t always possible, but I am stating how I think you truly change the culture of an organization.  Using this format superior customer service becomes organic, not something that needs a new logo.  Behavioral change takes only three things, application, repetition, and positive reinforcement.

The approach I advocate is taking one small change and hitting it using multiple methods for a designated period of time, but at least one month.  For example, almost every customer service program starts with creating an effective greeting.   Typically in a traditional in class event, about 20 minutes is spent on the subject. First the facilitator demonstrates an effective greeting. Next he or she will lecture why it is important, and then give the class a few minutes of practice time. 

But the employee will go out of the classroom and their immediate director will walk right by them without saying a word, or acknowledge their existence.  What are the overall chances of true adoption of the behavior?  Not much, because it will get muddled in with the other points of the eight hour class and by an environment that does not ‘walk the walk.’

Using the Customer Service Gurus method, the organization first would only focus on the greeting of any transaction for one month.  This might also be provocative, but I would only quality control the greeting through formal or informal monitoring for that month.  

The next piece to create it in the environment is make everyone, executives on down, use a warm friendly greeting in the office.  Emphasizing positive reinforcement, give everyone a token of some sort to hand to other employees, and all are empowered to reward a genuine warm greeting.   It’s possible to offer an incentive, whoever has the most tokens wins a prize.  The key here is it has to be everyone!  Promote the greeting concentration in all employee communications, in all your meetings, and I just might tell my customers too.  There is nothing wrong telling your customers you are building a better tomorrow, one brick at a time.

Why would this work?  As we all know, if your greeting is sincere and friendly, then the likelihood of having a successful transaction increases exponentially, either in an office meeting or with a customer.  

Imagine what your culture would look like if all truly embraced this? 

Now the organization is ready for month two to start again with another small, but a repeatable positive behavioral change that involves everyone.  It will take time, but in even two months the change will be meaningful and long-term.  Your customers will truly feel the difference and not feel as if they are simply participating in a checklist. 

This could work with other initiatives besides service.  Think of whatever is the desired change in the workforce and break it down to small detailed actionable behaviors.  Then use the approach above, enacting a specific repetitive campaign for change.

And that’s how you build a cathedral.  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Learning After a Certain Age

The Guru has had writer’s block the last few weeks. Perhaps it is the time of year, the excitement of a new year has faded as we return to more normal routines after the holidays.  But I think it is more than that.  Lately, I have been on quite a thought of how we, as adults, change or do not change professionally as we age.   Can an old dog learn new tricks?  Old being the over 40 age protected class that I find myself in too.

What if, as your leader, I submitted to you that you must attend a workshop on subject X?  I emphasize the must because you have no choice in the matter.  It’s not that you will be tested on the behavior after class, but I need you to go because you are not doing something well, or I need you to be better at something that you are already doing.   I have not expressed it to you exactly as such, but that is my motivation of signing you up, or in other words ponying up the money, for the class.

What would your reaction be? 

If I had to guess, if it is not something that will keep you out of trouble, by trouble I mean legal or ethical bad stuff, yes fancy HR term, or something you are interested in, or something that will make your job easier (even though I have seen participants resist this as well), then you will go because you are required.  But you will spend most of your time thinking about what you are missing back at the ranch.  

You will go because I said you had to go, but your engagement with the material or the openness that maybe there is something that could help improve your performance, will be small. 

So what is the ROI when this happens?  Of course, almost 0. 

As a learning professional, I see this happen a lot.  I also think it is why training departments usually have bad reputations.   It is not that a training event is poorly designed or delivered in or itself, as I have rarely seen a poor facilitator or developed class once a certain level of professionalism is reached.  It is the value added component is completely lost on the participants, especially those of seasoned managers, directors, or above levels.

I certainly understand the point of view and have found myself in classes saying, “Hey, I have heard this before.”   But I almost always hear something new or a new idea that makes it stick better in my head.  I ask myself too, was it a waste of my time to get those one or two ideas?  The answer is yes if I did not change my actions afterwards.

The Point

The point is we seem to expect different outcomes of the people we send to mandatory training than we do of ourselves when we attend mandatory training.   If leaders tell a team member they are registered to go, then we expect change, regardless if the person wanted to attend or not.  

I would argue we rarely expect that same change out of ourselves.   We rationalize that we somehow already know this information, that we are doing X behavior well – even though we have no metric to prove it one way or the other, or that we are so busy getting through the business of the day that we have no time.  Our time is important.   Now when our time became more important than our employees, I will leave that for later.  We have been profiled, assessed, educated, but do we change?

The Customer Service Guru’s Solution for Leaders  

When you are sent to training, someone wants a ROI from you.  Your challenge is to find out what it is.   Training is an expensive business, so no one would approve the dollars spent without expecting something from you. 

Sometimes the improvement is quantitative, such as employee surveys, turnover rates, reduced mistakes in dollars lost on projects.  I think sometimes the score is emphasized so much that we miss the bigger picture.  The score is a measure of something that we are doing.   The score is never as important as the behavior it measures, and that is what should be driving us to do better or get better at whatever it is.

Many times it is something more qualitative, which is more difficult to understand because we live in a business world driven by metrics.  For example, team members are not getting along well and your job is to improve those relationships.   That is a murky, but very real, objective.

As a leader, you set the example for your team by your actions. Let them know that you respect the training and development function.  Let them know what behaviors you are attempting to change or enhance.  Let them know that training is not something to simply check off, but an opportunity to truly improve performance.

Also, when you send anyone to training, mandatory or developmental, explain thoroughly why they are going and what you expect when they return from class.  As an HR partner, my job will be more valuable to everyone if my participants come in with clear expectations from their leader, not just objectives I present on a power point.  Make it personal!  They see me for a few hours, but they see you every day.  Trust me, they will be more inclined to make you happy than me.

I have seen individuals make very significant change, personally and professionally. It almost always starts from a seed planted in that individual.   It is either a seed they planted in themselves, or an idea someone put in them.  As a leader, be the person to plant the seed of change in your employees.   Find that seed too in yourself the next time you are required to attend training.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Assuming Makes a You know What out of You and Me

Happy New Year from The Customer Service Gurus!  How have you made a difference with the first two pebbles of 2012?  (Click here to see the previous blog on time management).

I recently read the article below on CNN and it made me think in addition to the assumptions we make about work based on what Hollywood shows us, I also think we make assumptions on our own about the work environment.  These assumptions come from the traditions of our culture, our families, and what others say, but eventually they become our inner thoughts.  The business world operates at such a breakneck speed we hardly have time to reflect on what we are actually doing or thinking and the impact we are making.  In other words, are we making a difference and if we are not Whose Darn Fault is It?

Click here to read the CNN article.

Assumption 1 - I am not compensated adequately.

The CSGs theory is we in America may not sign formal contracts for the most part when to begin to work for an organization, such as most Europeans do, but we do subconsciously enter in to a mental contracts with our employers.  This mental contract is how much we decide to ‘give’ to an employer in relation to how fairly we believe we are being compensated. 

Again theory, I believe it is because we are so hush hush about compensation and this puts up a natural barrier of dishonesty in the relationship, and a false sense of how much can each party ‘get out‘ of each other.  The employer in terms of quantity of work for as little dollars as possible.  For employees, it is how little can I get away with at work and not get in jeopardy.  No one knows what anyone else makes, which creates suspicion, but it also creates an opportunity for false assumptions.  “Well, I am sure John is making more than me, so I will spend more time making personal calls, etc.  It is only fair.”   Fair means personal judgment and that is a dangerous, or at least unproductive, position for a leader to be in.

Assumption 2-  The people I work with (customers/clients/direct reports/managers/leaders) are idiots.

The problem with that is people are people (apologies to Depeche Mode fans).   People make honest mistakes.  People honestly do not know what they want or need when they begin a relationship with you.  They have a need, and they need you to fulfill that need.  It is not a bad thing, but it is human thing.  About the only thing that can be counted on in a project is someone, at some point, will change their mind.   Now whether that is a huge costly change or addition to the project depends much on the relationships developed during the project life cycle.

Also, we all should be better about giving benefit of the doubt.  I have heard of older workers being skeptical of younger leaders.  I have heard of those with formal educations be weary of those without one. I have experienced people being suspicious of transfers from other departments, “They don’t know my business.  What are they doing here?!”  

All of these examples could be reversed too, and there are several other forms of this basic complaint, “I am better/smarter than they are.”   The bottom line is you have not walked in the other person’s entire career path.  Give them benefit of the doubt they are in their position for a valid reason.  You may have no idea what it is, but if you don’t have that trust in your leaders, really what you are doing still working for that organization?

Assumption 3 - There is never enough of X (time, resources, labor) to do things right.

I have seen some amazing projects, products, developed and deployed under the craziest of circumstances.   Somehow, even under the most duress and lack of everything, it gets done.   We find the inner strength, intelligence, moxie, to make it work (apologies to Tim Gunn).

Much of this is we are terrible unrealistic planners and we are quick to deal with fires first, because fires are sexy.  Also in some weird way fires are fun.  They make your adrenaline rush, make you think on your feet, make you be a probably better leader or employee than you are in everyday life.  Also fires get you and your team noticed.

But when we start a project, it is almost always with the mindset, “There is not enough of X.”  I think we all know that project nirvana is just never going to happen.  Also we think if we have 4 weeks, then we will take four weeks to do it.  It we have 2, then amazingly two will do.  But what if we embraced that and say, “All right this is what needs to be done, this what we have to make it happen, so how are we going to do it?”  Remember in the movie Apollo 13 when the NASA engineers pulled out only the materials available to them on the pod and from those limited resources they figured out how to get the astronauts home safely?  Perhaps that would be a mindset to bring to the table when starting a project.   

The Customer Service Gurus Advice

My advice is to acknowledge these biases that exist in the workforce and in your own thought patterns.  I am not saying that we have these thoughts every single day, but I am saying that realistically they pop up from time to time, and you need to mentally develop a mindset to combat them. 

If you think you are not adequately compensated, then change it or shut up about it (I mean that lovingly).  Either ask for a raise or start seeking other employment, but be real if it is about money or it is something else.   Don’t use compensation, or lack thereof, to excuse other poor working behaviors or habits.

When you enter into relationships with anyone, absolutely give them benefit of the doubt and respect for the position they are in.  Even if you believe that the person is in the wrong position, it will do you absolutely no good to operate with a rebellious or disrespectful attitude.  As you work with clients, give them respect that even though they do not have your expertise (after all that is why they are hiring you, right?), they do have intelligence in important aspects of their business.  Listen to them!

Finally, with timeframes and lack of resources, do a daily check with yourself if you made progress on projects.  This does not need to be long.  A few minutes of reflective, “Hey, what the heck happened today?”  can give you insight if you are handling sexy fires or operating in balance. 

The perfect work environment is probably beyond our reach, but being conscious about what we say to ourselves and to our employees can make a huge difference in the impact we make to our organizations.

Wishing you many impact pebbles in 2012!   Let The Customer Service Gurus know how we can help.