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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Coaching, Tom Hanks, and Trust

The ability to coach is the key to successful leadership.  The model used does not matter as much as the individual's ability to communicate the message and obtain positive action afterwards.  After observing hundreds  of managers, being a manager, and being managed, I believe the most important element in a successful coaching relationship is trust. 

Do your employees trust you, and why should you care?

Most decent coaching models approach the discussion from two sides, the administrative and the emotional.  Administrative loosely means the paperwork and brainstorming what is to be said.  The coach gathers information to share with the employee on true observed behaviors and develops how to lead the discussion with the employee to adjust to desired behavior.

The second is the emotional side.  There are multiple emotions to consider, but the foundation to all relationships is the degree we trust the other person.  Think politicians: would you vote for someone who sounded competent, but on some level you don't trust them? When my mom corrected me as child, I trusted she had my best interest at heart.  It doesn't change all that much as we age.  The person giving us correction, whether expert, peer or authoritative, needs our belief in them.

If trust is not established, cultivated, or is lost, a coaching discussion has little chance to create change.

The Gurus' Solutions to Build Trust 

1. Have Technical Knowledge Expertise or Humility Plus a Development Plan  
Believing the person coaching us knows a better path is critical.  Many times this happens because the direct supervisor was promoted to the job because of technical expertise.  If you do not have this expertise, humble yourself to acknowledge it and work on getting enough.  Enough is determined by industry and jobs to be supervised. Ask peers for advice.  Create your own development plan.

2. Individually Coach the Good and Bad
Tracking of positive and opportunity situations for an employee signals you are looking at them holistically.  You simply care about the big picture, and that translates into her overall best interest.

3. Handle Problem Children Quickly and Effectively
When you have a poor performer, deal with it.  Dealing with it shows your leadership integrity and employees trust you have the overall performance of the team at the center of your coaching practice.

4.  Treat Employees like People
If you only speak to employees when you are coaching, that is not treating them with respect.  Try to connect to everyone on the team, especially ones you have share less commonalities.  On the other end of the spectrum, understand the division between engaged supervisor and BFF.  This line should be clean for the group to trust you do not play favorites.

So what does this have to do with Tom Hanks?  According to a Reader's Digest Trust Poll, Tom Hanks is the most trusted person in America.  Who knew?  (See the entire list here.)

Additional Resources 

Bruce Tulgan's It's Okay to be the Boss.  It is an easy practical read for all levels of leadership, especially good for new leaders.  It has evolved my thoughts on effective leadership. I have no relationship with Bruce or his company, I just enjoyed the book.

Continue reading at our blog on Coaching Howm' I doin' - Giving and Receiving Feedback

Friday, October 2, 2015

What Training Gets Wrong with Difficult Customers

Frequently, I am asked by leaders how to deal with difficult customers.  The higher one gets in an organization, the tendency is to want a fail proof formula to help with these difficult situations. It makes sense as they tend to cost the business more to service, and have a greater impact on their brand. But leaders want to believe customers can be calculated like EBIT, and there is blanket solution.  

I hate to be the one to tell you, but there is no perfect formula.  And this is where many training programs go wrong, and why most service recovery programs are a disaster.

Many programs I have participated in and have taught from other vendors focused on either trying to throw empathy at the problem, or introducing a complex customer emotional matrix of action. 

Why this doesn’t work?  Explaining an abstract concept like empathy is haphazard at best.  I doubt many service professionals can honestly say, “I understand why you are upset, as I have had something similar happen to me.”  Even if they could, as a customer, I don’t care if it is happened to you, because it is happening to me. Now.    Frankly, the employee’s experience is irrelevant. Also, society is not as empathetic, making empathy not the tool it once was. 

The customer emotional matrices (Side note: what a great word?!)  imply humans work like math problems.  We simply don’t have the same shared experiences to make this true.  If customer expresses A emotion, agent does B action or gives compensation, and then C should occur and customer is back to neutral.  There are so many nuances that create an individual transaction.  It is in those details that determines the appropriate response.

The Gurus Solution
Let me preface, these solutions are for most service businesses, where you are providing a service or product.   These do not address the big events of life like moving, death of a loved one, or legal action.  The solutions below are a good start, but there is more to add with life events. 

1. Immediate Take Action Now Solution – Help and Train your Employees to Understand Fear makes Customers act emotionally.
People act out emotionally because of fear.   Customers begin to yell, cry, or are unresponsive, because something is scary to them.   It could be a financial implication to the situation. It could be fear of an expectation not being met.  It could very possibly be something that has nothing to do with the business at hand, but something else occurring in their life.   

When an employee understands an upset customer is at the core a scared individual, he can also understand he is the professional to reassure this frightened individual and get them to a better spot.  If you are in the service industry at all, you naturally want to help others. Wow, that is empowering!

Phrases we teach to help customers get past their emotions, “Tell me what happened.”   “I am sorry to hear you crying. What happened?”  “I hear you are upset.  What can I do to help?”  “What would fix this for you?”  “I will fix this for you.” This sounds similar to Service Recovery, but who cares what the label is.  It’s good stuff.

2. Longer-term Organization Health Solution- What are your problems?
Examine what is root cause for your top 5 emotional calls.  What is making your customers the most upset?  Is it a policy?  Is it a defect in your product? Are your employees rude?

Once you discover that valuable information, for goodness sake, fix them as best as you can. If it is something like a raised fee, which is very common, empower your employees with the clearest language why the change occurred.  Do not hide behind vague explanations and then be puzzled why customers get upset. “It is an administrative fee.”   Customers are smarter than that. 

For example, you have a fee increase.  You practice with your employees to say, “The fee increased 5% as the great vendors we use to help you have increased their prices.  We want to continue to offer these benefits, and that is why the increase was put in place.”  Still people could be upset, but at least it will be fewer people.  And it is certainly better than, “I don’t know.”  Worst. Answer. Ever!

The Customer Service Gurus offers an innovative and customized training on Servicing Difficult Situations.  Call 407-495-0846 or email for details.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Are you Assessing for Success? Guest Blog on Behavioral Assessments

Note from Stacey

Many of my professional friends and clients swear by behavioral assessment tools.  I wanted to learn more, so I asked Gurus' friend Dolly Penland from Predictive Results to give us a peak into the tool she supports Predictive Index (PI).  Curious for more information, Dolly's contact information is at the bottom of the blog.

Take it away, Dolly....

By Dolly Penland - Predictive Results

The cause of most customer service problems is often related to one of two things. Option 1 is a lack of clear customer service standards with measurable, actionable strategies. Option 2 is having the wrong people in those customer-facing positions.

The latter is a disconnect in many organizations.  They go to great lengths to establish guidelines and procedures, but they fail to develop sound hiring and talent training processes. A behavioral assessment tool, such as the Predictive Index (PI), can help ensure the best customer service every time a customer interacts with your business.

The idea is to fill important talent gaps with “rock stars” to ensure the right cultural fit for your company, and ultimately, your clients. Businesses cannot afford to make hiring mistakes and be stuck with the wrong employees.

And, even if you hire rock stars, they must be placed with managers who have been trained to effectively motivate and communicate with them every day. Extraordinary customer-facing employees provide extraordinary customer experiences, and only when they are led by managers who truly know how to work with and motivate their people.

How to do this? First, visualize and define what the ultimate customer service rep is for your company. Great customer service is delivered by companies that build it in to their company culture. Do you need people who are fast? Attentive to details and accuracy? Perhaps someone who is genuinely friendly?  What makes YOU different from your competitors?

Turning that vision into reality means defining what the ideal is using a behavioral assessment tool, and then conducting a fit/gap analysis to understand exactly who candidates are for customer-facing roles in your company.

For your current employees, behavioral assessments will coach existing talent in a way that improves performance. Everyone has strengths, but you must know what they are to best use them. What you want to do is understand what truly motivates your people, hire the best and train them in the way that will ensure your customers enjoy that ultimate customer service experience.

There are many benefits of using a behavioral assessment tool. First, placing the right employees in the right jobs means higher customer service ratings and increased sales. Second, knowing exactly how to effectively manage those employees leads to higher job satisfaction and productivity.  Finally, more engaged employees lead directly to improved customer loyalty.  The cost of acquiring a new customer is five times that of retaining an existing one. It all comes down to great customer service.

  • Behavioral Assessments Drive Results
  • Decide which metrics you want to improve
  • Choose a tool that has proven success in that area
  •  Make sure you can customize the target pattern to your cultur
  •  Ensure that it is EEOC compliant
  •  Use it as a pre-interview screen to get the best results

Dolly Penland is a business adviser and speaker with Predictive Results who works with organizations helping them to hire and manage their talent to their highest potential. Dolly specializes in multiple areas including helping businesses grow sales, reduce turnover and develop leaders.

She can be reached at (904) 374 9914 or

Stacey's Final Thoughts

I am an unashamed HRD geek! 

I love to learn what is available and how to help organizations work better, smarter, faster, and happier.

One aspect of my geekness is reviewing the many exciting tools available to help hire and manage talent.  It is striking how the world changes, adapting to new technologies and research.

I have done the Predictive Index assessment twice, and it was eerily spot on.  The first time 6 years ago, my corporation administrated the test to our entire team, as a quasi-team building event.  But there was no follow through and it left me feeling deflated. 

We did the analytic debrief as a group, I had areas I would have liked to develop, but nothing, nada, happened.  (To be clear, this was not the awesome Dolly helping us). 

So lesson learned, when you use such tools, be sure your plan is comprehensive and dedicated to completing the experience.  That is the key to the maximum ROI.   

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Language and Service Part 3 – It’s a Small World: Serving All Your Customers

This is the last part in our series on the impact of language in the service industry.  

The first blog explored how service improves when the customer and service professional truly comprehend each other.   It’s not just basics of grammar and vocabulary, but a heartfelt connection.  (Read Here)

The second blog offered tips to help offshore call center representatives or non-Native English agents when they cannot understand the customer, if it is a USA based business. (Read Here)

Today’s blog covers when a call center agent cannot understand the customer because the customer does not speak the main language of the business.  Businesses are now global. Customer populations are diverse, and have to be for businesses to grow.   But how do we effectively serve this diversity?

Keeping It Real

I have a difficult time understanding anyone with accented English.  

It is no one’s fault.  They try, I try, but it unexpectedly extends any conversation by several minutes.  Part of it is I am partially deaf, and sometimes verbal communication is difficult for me.  Partly, it is easy to live in the United States only speaking one’s native language because of limited interaction with people outside of one’s cultural circle.  

But in this beautiful modern world, at some point when working in the service industry we will have to serve people we do not fully understand.

This is much easier in face-to-face interactions with the use of nonverbal gestures, and a smile goes a long way.  In a call, visual hints are unavailable, and many customers use cell phones to contact call centers, which can have unstable connections.  What can agents do to still create a successful service experience?  

The Gurus’ Training Solution to Serve English as Second Language Customers

1.       Immediate Take Action Now Solution – Be Nice first, and then Be Right

Always Be Nice.  Train your agents to be sensitive and have patience to this situation.  An agent’s job is to service any call, the easy and the complex.  Your organization has marketed to this customer that you will serve them with excellence, so it is up to the agent to deliver on this.
Ask the customer to gently slow down, and listen for key words.  When asking them to repeat information, be respectful.  There is nothing more frustrating for a customer than being asked to repeat information they believe was said crystal clear. 

It’s Critical to Be Right.  The agent must clearly recap to the customer what they said, and what action or information is being requested.  This is the only way to ensure both parties understand each other, and the agent is delivering the correct service.   Practice this repeatedly in role plays.  

2. Longer-term Organization Health Solution

Some companies strive to hire native speakers of all languages they serve.   Geographically, they are in a labor pool of international diversity and can do so.    

If you can do this, then do it. You will also need to investigate if a language pay differential is available.  In my Central Florida market, it is getting less common to pay for Spanish, but less available languages like Mandarin may still pay a compensation differential. 

Also understand as a business  who are your clients and customers.  If it is multinational, it would be an exercise to help your agents understand a little about different cultures.   Some cultures believe it is rude to ask questions, which can make a service interaction difficult.  Some cultures are very direct, and that can put an agent on the defensive.    Awareness can go a long way towards high customer service survey scores.

The end desire for customers and employees is to have a positive and effective service experience.   Challenges come in all sorts of wrappers at a call center.  This challenge is an opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competition, by paying attention to niche segments of your customers.  This will only help you in the future, because it is a small world after all. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Language and Service Part 2- Let’s Be Honest, We’re not talking Thai Here

People tend to complain to me about poor customer service since I am The Customer Service Guru.  I have heard the ugliest racist descriptions slip from people’s mouths when they have to deal with an overseas contact center, or speak with a representative who does not natively speak English.  Let’s be honest, I am not talking about Thai here. 

The true problem isn't where the representative comes from; the problem is the customer not being understood.  That leads to misunderstandings, frustrations, and a waste of time and money for the customer and the business. 

If you remember from the first blog I wrote about language and service (Read it Here), I have been the service professional on the other end that did not speak the language of my customer.   After being yelled at in French a thousand times, I built up an armor to ignore it. 

I was doing my best and did not want to disappoint my customer, but yelling at me did not improve my French skills.   Yelling or insulting me didn’t turn on an interpreter super power in my brain where I could instantly suddenly comprehend the customer.   I could have used some strategies to effectively service my customers in the reality of my environment.

The Gurus’ Training Solution to Help Non-Native Speaker Employees

The Gurus 3B Service Mantra is Be Nice, Be Right, Be Here™.  Customer Service organizations can still Be Nice and address the issue of language mismatch between customers and employees.

1. Immediate Take Action Now Solution - Train your contact center agents to confidently and kindly say, “I truly want to help you, and I am having trouble understanding what you mean.  Would you help me and please slow down just a little then I can figure how to best solve/assist you?”   The key here is a sincere and calm tone from the representative.   It is very difficult to stay upset with someone who is genuinely trying to help, despite language obstacles.

2. Longer-term Organization Health Solution - Circulate through internal communication platforms common complex issues and the common phrases English speakers could use to explain them.  Customers do not call contact centers anymore for simple problems.  Help upskill your employees to handle the difficulties and nuances of service recovery language. 

Always reinforce with your non-native speaker staff what a wonderful skill it is to be bilingual.  It is an essential part of your operation, so celebrate the diversity, but be respectful about the realities of working with US customers.   The world has changed a lot for customers in the last 10 years, have a touch of empathy for that.

The goal is not fluency, but kind comprehension and sincere effort coming from the heart.  That can be accomplished in any language.    

Friday, August 7, 2015

Metrics Can Kill - Part 2 - How to keep the mojo going?

We made it to the finish line!   

Another Tour de France ends, and the winner of the intense endurance event was British cyclist, Christopher Froome.  After 2,000+ kilometers, full of tragedy and triumph, it is done.

So what were the Knappe results of our annual fitness challenge?  Week 1: Two days after I wrote the first blog, I did well.  My husband, Rolf, achieved phenomenal results.  Week 2: I maintained and the hubby?  Again phenomenal.   Week 3: I went down a tiny bit more, and the hubby, phenomenal again!!

If we were a contact center, Rolf would receive the $50 AMEX gift card, and I would get to keep my job.  He was rightly excited, and I was unenthusiastic satisfied.  The worst part, since I did not achieve a prize (the big weight loss), my motivation to keep going waned even though there are still results to achieve.

The Business Lesson

My husband took an aggressive path, achieved his well-deserved results, but it would be difficult to continue his steep upward swing over time.  Eventually, he will be at  his goal weight.  I took the slow and steady road and although my results weren’t wow, I was solid.

As an employer, it’s tricky what achievements to recognize.  Rolf’s achievement deserves celebration, but I still desire recognition too.  In a short contest, almost anyone can make magic happen for a few weeks, or sometimes contest are designed with unintentional bias.  Long-term contest can get tedious to administrate and keep the motivation going.

Your Action Item

Mix up the length of contests for your employees, and plan the schedule early in the operational year.  Some contests can be short sprint in nature, just like the daily prize of the Tour.  Others can last a business quarter.  I like the business quarter idea for the added bonus it improves the team’s business acumen.   I would not go past a quarter simply because business fluctuates too much throughout a given year.

Now I have 50 weeks to prepare for 2016! Go, Stacey, go!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Metrics Can Kill - Handle with Care

Every July my family creates a fitness challenge to coincide with the Tour de France cycling race.  We take inspiration from the cyclist to reset our year.  Think of it is a resolution reboot.

My goal, i.e. metric, is always to lose a set number of pounds.  Part of the Knappe challenge is to weigh ourselves only once a week, but I felt good and weighed early.   The result was solid, but it wasn't a WOW.  Frankly, it killed my motivation for a bit.  Immediately, I thought, "Should I change my methods to increase results?"   It's only been 5 days!  This is a strong reaction and expectation with little data.

I've seen this happen in my consulting business when metrics arrive and much is read into them.  High, leaders are getting a bonus, the employee's a pizza party, and let's raise the bar for higher!  Low, companies tend to get reactive and institute change.  It can kill morale.   This happens with customer service surveys, employee engagement surveys, agent performance metrics, pretty much anything that is measured.

The highs, lows, and middle scores tell a bigger story.  Before any changes or celebrations, ask smart questions behind the numbers.  Bad - Was it the market?  Did something happen in the world to put customers/employees in a poor mood?   For example, if you raise your service rates, no one is calling you to say, "Thank you." 

When adjusting policies or procedures do so based on trends versus anomalies.  Metrics are helpful in running a business, but they have their place.   Understanding where they fit best in your organization will help you finish strong, every race.  

Friday, May 29, 2015

Language and Service Part 1 - Literally Speaking to Your Customers

I have had an epiphany when it comes to language fluency and the ability to serve customers. For most of my career, I believed that as long as an employee can execute the transaction itself, the language comprehension of customer and service professional could be minimal and all would be well.   This already has a hole in the theory if you have ever had contact with a non-US call center, but I digress.

The trend in customer service is to deliver exceptional  experiences, to create situations that are unexpected and ‘wow’ the customer.   Certainly, my clients are moving away from transactional to extraordinary service.   It is an admirable goal, and one worth aiming for.  But if your service professionals and customers do not conversationally speak the same language, this is difficult to do.  

Stranger in a Strange Land

I had the opportunity of a lifetime to work at Disneyland-Paris in the mid-90s on Main Street USA as a merchandise hostess.  It was my first job at Disney World in Orlando, so I felt confident my French experience would be a success.  Call it youthful arrogance, or optimistic adventurer, but it was especially something that I did not speak French.   I could say, “My name is Stacey,” “Where is…?”  But for anything nuanced, I was lost.  (J'├ętais perdu. :( )

The result: my work days were mostly uneventful and transactional.  I scanned merchandise, stated the amount in my stumbling highly American accented French. This was not an easy thing to do in French with what seemed sixteen syllable numbering system. Pleasantly, I would say my best, “Au revoir,” and be done.

Technically I did my job, but I can’t say I enjoyed it or was even good at it from a hospitality experience.  It was also a lonely day. I could not engage with guests to the same degree I could at home.   But if the guest spoke English, it was completely different for them and for me. The relief of being understood and connecting changed a short transaction to an experience.  

Do you speak…

On the flip side, as a customer, I have spent many nights on cruise ships.  100% of the time housekeeping staff is not from the US, and many times English is their second or even third language.   The steward is typically pleasant and professional, but the relationship is formal and sometimes strained when I ask for something or need assistance.  

But one time our cabin steward was from Asia, and his English was completely fluent.   We could share our stories and laugh with him and he with us.  It made the experience of service so much fuller.   In our mind, we believed he was a better steward.  In hindsight though, I bet his raw housekeeping skills weren’t among the best those many professionals who have served us in the past. 

The Take Aways for Your Organization

  • Sharing nuanced stories and detailed information is critical to delivering excellent customer service.  This requires beyond basic language proficiency.
  • Helping employees learn the main language of your organization or customers is in no way discriminatory.   It is helping them professionally develop.  In my experience, most companies completely ignore their non-native speakers for development for anything except compliance training.   That is sad, insulting, and certainly companies are not maximizing their talent.
  • There is a difference between comprehension and understanding.  Comprehension is the two parties get what the other needs.  Understanding is when the parties can hear what is been said, unsaid, and implied. 

This is an important topic as it relates to customer satisfaction, staffing strategies, and talent development.  There is also much more to say about this in regards to call center operations.  I will leave that for another blog, on another day.  Until then au revior et bonne chance!

Friday, May 1, 2015

How to Deal with the Psychology of Service Recovery

Our story begins on an unseasonably sunny hot spring day in the Port of Miami.  In the chaos that is embarkation, my family dumps two pieces of luggage to a porter to begin a welcomed gorgeous cruise on the Atlantic. Our porter physically writes our cabin number on the tags, attaches said paper tags to our bags, and places them in the cage with hundreds of other pieces that belong to our new best friends, aka fellow travelers.  We next queue with several thousands of passengers to begin the check-in process.  Moooooo!  

Normally, this is end of the check-in story, but of course it was not or there would be no blog. :)   Our one suitcase with ALL of our clothes for 2 weeks did not arrive.   By midnight the first evening, we are not sure it made it on the ship.   The next morning my husband and I analyze, strategize, theorize what to do about our missing bag.   I am almost frantic with worry.  So much for being the Customer Service Guru. 

Luckily, our bag was found by noon the next day after an extensive cabin by cabin search by the housekeeping team.  Our cabin number ended in 78, but the handwritten tag on the large piece looked like 18, which was unoccupied this cruise.  There was no passenger in the room to say it didn’t belong to them.

We were fortunate to have a happy ending.   What was more interesting was the psychological experience my husband and I had during the 24 hours we did not have our bag and the actions of the staff.   If you are in the customer service industry, read on for three tips for three easy service recovery tips.  

Number 1:  Rarely is the Issue Presented the Real Issue

As hours passed and it seemed more realistic the bag will not be found,  I became increasingly upset.   It wasn’t mad at the cruise line, per se, it was the unsure feeling of “What are we going to do?” 

Yes, clothes can be purchased and yes, there are bigger problems in the world.   The question that stressed me the most, “Can I purchase in 2 days on a floating vessel all the items I had accumulated over years, to enjoy this cruise experience?”   The answer was a flat out no.   Could I have got by? Sure.   But this was not a situation I created!  I followed the company’s luggage policies.  This was highly stressful and made our first 24 hours onboard semi-miserable.  

It is not the lost bag truly bothering me.  I am scared what is in the bag is simply gone and how that will affect my vacation.    Instead of focusing on this once in a lifetime experience, I am thinking insurance claims, arguing with front office managers, and laundering the same underwear for 12 days.  None of this is appealing.  

TIP 1:  To any employee attempting to help me, understand the underlying fear I have about the situation.  I don’t need empathy, I need understanding.   The customer is usually upset about something deeper than the situation presented.  When solving, first define the problem presented and second define the core issue bothering the customer.  
Number 2: Pumped Up for a Fight

Since I am in the customer service consulting business, my mind was instantly racing how difficult it would be to get the cruise line make this right if the bag was gone.   It seems companies are trying to wiggle away from responsibility when issues arrive, so I was preparing to present my case like I was arguing before the Supreme Court.  Does this sound like a great vacation?  What do you think I would tell my friends and family about this trip?

I prepped for my interrogation and cross examination.    Did I use a luggage transfer company?  No.   Did I ride in a cab or taxi to the port?  No.   Did I put the bag in the porter’s possession?   Yes.  My husband was asked these questions when he first approached  guest services about the bag.  

TIP 2:  Customers train for a fight when trying to resolve service issues.  Perhaps it is our cultural, perhaps it is their history with the company, or perhaps it is the tone of the employees.   When solving, first employees or managers must assure the customer you want to help and blame is secondary to the solution. 
When asking questions use a tone that communicates you are solutions oriented.  Do not sound like the police or look for holes in the customer’s story.   The best approach is question the guest with a positive 50/50 mindset.   Fifty percent could be their fault, because people do all sorts of silly things or simply make mistakes.   But critically, 50 percent could be the organization’s fault due to poor procedures or employee mistakes.   Until you know, do not place blame, and whoever is at fault it doesn’t matter, it is in the organization’s best interest to fix it.

Number 3:  At a Loss for Words

I felt bad for the employees we asked what should be a simple question, “What is the likelihood you will find our luggage?” Or “What happens if it wasn’t found and left in Miami?”  This must happen all the time, so I was surprised there wasn’t a concrete answer or procedure.  Employees truly felt bad for us, and we never raised our voice, but they had no skills how to respond.

TIP 3:  For your top 5 service issues, put procedures in place and communicate it to all employees.    Have them practice saying the proper response in the most common language of your customers. 

It would have made all the difference to our anxiety level if anyone, including the housemen had said something similar to this:

 “We have a procedure.  Please check with guest services for unclaimed bags.  Sometimes tags accidently are pulled off the luggage with so many bags coming on board.   If it is not there, and another guest does not put it out of their stateroom by tomorrow, we will have the housekeeping staff do a cabin by cabin search.  95% of the time, the luggage is found this way if it made it on the ship.  If it is not found, then you will talk to our guest services manager and they will do everything we can to help you still have a great cruise.  We have some clothing and toiletries available for you to sleep tonight, …”

Relief is Underrated

After an hour alone watching a cooking demonstration, mostly to distract me, I returned to the cabin.    Our clothes were on the couch!  I was in such disbelieve and complete relief, I started crying.  Seriously, balling like a baby. 

Companies underestimate the negative affect on customers when something goes wrong.   Yes, there is the loss of business, company loyalty, all the formal impacts addressed in other blogs.   My theme is the psychology your customers go through during any service recovery situation.  It is deflating, bothersome, and emotionally draining.  It will affect your long-term relationship with this customer.

If your customers could articulate what they are really trying to say when a problem occurs it would be this, “This situation is temporarily ruining my life.  Simply help me.  Use your skills, resources, and talents to do your best and make this better.”

If that can become your service recovery philosophy, you will have calm seas in the storm of any service issue.

Friday, April 3, 2015

How to Create the Perfect Employee

Before I opened a training company, I worked on the front lines of customer service. I have had positions with direct face-to-face customer service in hospitality, retail, and food & beverage positions. There was a period where I answered phones in a call center. This real world experience, coupled with my formal training, enables me to offer you a few tips on acquiring the perfect customer service representative.

Hire the Perfect Person
This is the number one requirement for any position, but it is easily overlooked in the service world because of the volume of service professionals needed.

After preliminary screenings and a basic behavioral interview, look for the candidate who engages in some way with your product or industry. It does not have to be your company; a competitor works as well.

For example, for a position in a hotel: ask the candidate if they go on vacation. What has been their experience when dealing with employees at a hotel? This helps you understand if they can define excellent hospitality service. If they know it, they more than likely have the skills to deliver it.

If you need to hire a utilities call center representative, ask the candidate if they currently have a utility company they call for service. Can they describe a positive and negative experience they have had engaging with the organization? For a negative experience, ask the follow-up question, “What would have turned it from a bad experience to a good experience for you?” This reveals problem solving capabilities.

If a candidate does not have specific experience with your company or a competitor, it does not necessarily make them a poor hire. But you will need to concentrate more on our next topic: training.

Training the Perfect Person
After you have hired the perfect candidate, it’s now time to give them the knowledge and develop the skills they need to serve your customers. This is a balance. The new employee needs to be functional as soon as possible, but if you put them with customers too early, they become a liability to your organization.

Whether hiring a group of people or individuals, creating a detailed training plan is a must. The first week must be planned hour-by-hour, including meal breaks. The purpose of training is not only to up-skill the employee, but to assure the best candidates that they chose to work for a successful company. Share the training plan with the new employee, and with anyone who is responsible for the training function.

Day one should be pleasant, warm, and welcoming, with time to introduce them to their fellow employees. Do not make the insensitive mistake that has the new employee only complete personal paper work, and then throw the new person directly on the job. This is overwhelming, and highly ineffective.

A successful detailed training plan has entry and exit dates, and possible testing or milestone checkpoints. The complexity of the job does not matter. Adult learners need to know the plan of how they can expect to progress. This step alone can save your recruiting budget many dollars in new employees quitting during the training period. New employees will feel respected, welcomed, and know the company’s expectations for their success.

Once they have been on the job for a given time, the final step is to not forget the new employee. Continuous education and development turns a solid new employee into a respected long-term service professional.

Keeping the Best
The world rapidly changes. Technology now evolves at an exponential speed. New policies can adjust service procedures overnight. Companies do a decent job educating employees on new procedures or technologies, but they forget to give employees time to practice the skills they currently possess. Like a professional athlete, employees need to practice challenging situations, or a specific skill that challenges them, in a safe environment.

This is somewhat coaching, but coaching can have a punitive tone. This is simply a practice time to be away from customers, and work on skills that will help the good develop into the best. This is not the time to introduce new materials, but to review, clarify, and polish existing techniques or policies.

Perfection is the Goal
Perfection is a lofty, and perhaps unrealistic, goal. But what should be the goal if not perfection? No one wants to engage with a service organization with a mission statement, “We aim for mediocrity.”

Perfection is difficult, but if you hire the best candidate, implement a detailed training plan that begins their first few minutes of employment, and continue to develop this employee, you just may get very, very, close.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Spring in to Employee Development Action

Annual performance reviews are just that, reviews.  I mentioned in our last newsletter it is a chance to look in the rearview mirror, with ideally objectivity, award solid performers, and note those who lack.

The other piece of the review cycle is the forward looking Performance Development Plan (PDP).  We complete these with vigor and optimism at the beginning of the corporate New Year.  We celebrate our employee’s strengths, and seek strategies to help him or her grow.

Well, it is March, and have you forgotten it already?  One of the biggest employee disengagers is when big plans are put in place and no follow-up occurs.  I teach many customer service classes and ask, “How can we make a customer’s experience special?” The class almost always answers, “Follow-up.”   That extra touch lets the customer know you care.

When PDPs are not put into action, you send an employee a signal that you don’t care about her.  Absolutely, business needs run concurrent to being a manager. But just as you could not tell a customer, “Sorry, I didn’t do my best, I got busy,” the excuse doesn’t work with your employees either.

It is tough, but keep focused.  At every one-on-one meeting, have the PDP on your desk and talk about it for a few minutes.  Some questions to discuss:  has any movement occurred with the plan?  Can a learning event be scheduled to gain new knowledge?  Is there a project or tasks to test this knowledge?  One of the most powerful questions you can ask, “How can I help?”

Inspiring leaders keep on top of their employees’ PDPs.  Make this an important part of your leader practice and watch those engagement scores soar!