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Friday, December 29, 2017

Viva la Resistance! The Resistant Participant

I was teaching The Secret to Customer Service Excellence for a client and had this exchange with a participant.   For context, this client worked with families dealing with end of life issues.

Me: “I encourage you to not use the word ‘Unfortunate.’ It implies that you are not in control, so it gives your power away as a representative and a company.”

Participant: “But we have to use the word ‘unfortunate.’”

Me: “There is no word you have to use in customer service.  Especially using ‘unfortunate’ in your line of business, as the entire situation is unfortunate and difficult.  You saying it doesn’t help.”

Participant: “But it does.”

Me: “How do you know?”

Participant: “I just know it.”

This went on for a few more minutes, and then for the sake of the class, we had to move on.

This is the classic resistant participant.   This participant wasn’t rude or insubordinate.  She was resistant to the idea that I was presenting.   It isn’t uncommon in a customer service class for there to be a few employees who are ingrained with habit and tradition, and believe the class is for others in the room and not them. They are not open to the idea there could be a different, and possibly easier, method to help their customers. 

Why does this happen?  The root of this type of resistant participant typically is from a lack of consistent feedback on their current performance.  It is difficult and costly to put in place a quality assurance or mystery shopping programs that monitors an employee frequently enough to give them a true picture if they are tanking, are average, or excelling.  I get that. 

However, if an employee doesn’t receive critical feedback often, say at least two times a month, they are developing a skewed self-view of their performance.   They are not encouraged to seek or embrace change because they believe they are doing well enough.   The key phrase with my participant in this exchange was when she said, “I just know.” 

Do you really want to run your business based mostly on employees’ self-evaluations?  I didn’t think so, and I am happy to help.   

The Gurus’ Solutions

1.  The Easy Fix - Start a simple peer quality assurance program. 

Don’t overthink this.  It can be simply one agent gets 15 minutes to double-jack with another agent and offer the classic, “What went well” and “What could be better next time.”   They need to take notes and give it to the supervisor afterwards so they take the task seriously. Operationally, decide what makes sense for frequency.  

This can also happen in hospitality face-to-face customer situations, especially when it is slow.   Have servers or front desk folks partner with the one of them waiting on the guest and the other observing.   The same type of feedback is offered, “What went well,” and “What could be better next time.”

Result:  You create a continuous improvement culture that is not always dependent on leadership or a quality program.   Every employee is on the quality team and giving feedback.  How great is that?!

2. Less Easy, but Critical – Increase the number of mystery shops for face-to-face or call monitors.  

I know this is a bite to the budget, but the return on investment is worth it.  If you are relying only on social media to gather data, then you are letting others determine what your level of service is.  Social media engagements tell you, organizationally, what you can get away with as a service minimum.    You should set your bar, it should be high, and you should verify it is happening, not your customers.

Result:  You are controlling and setting your standards of excellence by monitoring employee service behaviors.   Employees are on their best performance more frequently, as they know the possible shop or monitoring could happen more frequently.  

3. Take it to the Next Level – Check their product or service knowledge more often.  

Most of the time service recovery situations occur because an employee gave incorrect information.   Organizations are running so fast forward, many times they forget it is important to consistently review current information.  This can be done through paper quizzes, in one-on-ones, team meetings, and there are electronic ways to do this too. 

Result:  You create the most intelligent service workforce in your industry.   You also create a learning culture, one that incorrect answers are not accepted.  However, you support employees to gain the necessary knowledge to perform the job to the best of their ability. 

Back to our Story…

Would these strategies have helped with my resistant participant?  I believe yes, for this person. If she had a better vision of her current performance, she might have been open to other ideas.   People come in to class resistant for all sorts of reasons, but my experience shows the most resistant are those who don’t realize I have been brought in to help them individually improve. 

As always, if we at The Customer Service Gurus can help, we are at your service.  Visit us at or write us at   

Wishing you a fantastic and successful 2018!

Friday, November 3, 2017

The School of Hard (Maybe Just Life) Knocks

Recently, I participated in a 10 day business challenge blitz from Spiritual Bada&* Entrepreneurs, and one of the challenges was to share three personal stories. The sponsor of the blitz, Amethyst Mahoney’s idea is these stories not only shape us, who we become as adults, but as entrepreneurs, it also fuels our motivation for why we do what we do, and serve who we serve. (Don’t you just love the name Amethyst?)

Part one of the challenge was to share the stories within the group.   Sure, I thought, easy peasy.

Part two of the challenge was to share one of your stories with those who you serve, through your business channels.  WHAT??!!  Ah, this is not so easy; it is scary; and it is Daring Greatly time (cue the lovely Brene’ Brown).    

The one story I know it is time for me to share helped me understand why I love the hospitality and call centers industries, and the larger customer service industry.  It does fuel the “why” I do what I do, and my respect for employees who do these important jobs.  So without further adieu…

I am a high school drop out

There I said it.  It was a badge of dishonor I wore for a very long time.  

High school was a difficult for me.  It was a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows, and I had several family events happen over the same 2 to 3 years.  There was more to it the story, but overall this once highly aspiring young person turned into a sad, lonely, overweight, and clinically depressed teenager. 

According to National Institute of Mental Health, “In 2015, an estimated 3 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.”  So I was probably in good company with other teens at my school.  But at the time, all I felt was a deep loneliness with no hope, or sunshine, in her life. 

I attempted to make up for lost time senior year with almost double course load after flunking my junior year.  It became too much.  In my mind, I couldn’t add more failure on to my overwhelming sense of failure the previous year, so I cut my losses and dropped out March before graduation.

I was devastated and lost.  This was not how my story was supposed to go.  I had no Plan B.  I earned my GED in August of that year, but it took me ten more difficult years to find the mental health assistance I needed and my path back to college.  Most importantly it was a journey for me to learn to love learning again.   My passion has become helping others love workplace learning.   

But What to Do For Work?

This is why I love the hospitality and call center industries.  During those 10 years, I worked 8 years in hospitality, primarily hotel operations, and 3 years as a call center agent, and I mostly loved it.  (Of course no job is perfect. J)  People who don’t go to college, for whatever reason, still need a job to support their families and contribute to society.  These industries offered me solid jobs, and developed a strong foundation set of skills that have served me well.  

Those positions, and the leaders I was fortunate to have, taught me about integrity, having pride in accomplishing a task to the best of my ability, working on a successful teams, conflict management, defining problems and developing solutions, just to name a few. 

They are those precious soft skills that everyone needs to be successful, and they aren’t taught so much in college.  No one even every asked me about my school experience, either, which was a huge relief.

As for the hard technical skills, many employers sponsored me to take classes, either informally through their learning ‘universities’ or formally.  Most of them had college tuition programs that eventually lead me back to school.

Good People Doing Great Work
My experience in those roles showed me that intelligent and talented service employees and leader are all over the spectrum with their educational backgrounds.  People don’t go to college for all sorts of reasons: some had children unexpectedly young; some had medical issues; some didn’t want the burden of enormous debt; some people need to help their families; some like me, had a challenging high school experience so continuing wasn’t their goal. 

The reasons are all over the place, but rarely is it lack of intelligence. 

Knowing this, when I teach my classes, I teach them as true skill building, like a mini university class.  The people I teach are smart, regardless of their past education history, and they do incredible work.   

To Finish
I eventually earned my associates, bachelors, and master’s degrees.   I am one of the few people I know who actually work in the field of my master’s, which is adult education, training and staff development.   Does it make me better at what I do?  In somethings, I think so.  But would I be a poor training manager without all the initials?  It would depend on my professional experience.   

When I was in the corporate environment, I felt many soft skill programs, especially customer service programs were insulting and talked to service professionals like they were children.  I hated it!  That’s why I went out on my own to develop an intelligent class that speaks to the real experience of working with customers.

So that is why I do what I do, why I passionately serve those who hire me, and I am grateful I have the opportunity to do so.  

Lucky me!   

Friday, June 9, 2017

Flying the Unfriendly Skies - Flight #3411 - A Solution

It has been months since Dr. David Dao was physically assaulted to leave United Flight #3411.   I wonder what happened internally at United since April 9.

I tried to write about this when it first occurred.  Those blogs didn’t seem to add to the conversation.  My rant wasn’t about the employees, because they were following policy and not trained in alternatives.  And because the employees were following United’s policy my rant was with the executive leadership team who created the policies. 

Specifically, there was a rant about CEO Oscar Munoz’s response to customers.  Being a United loyalty member, I received his email explaining the situation. It sounded more, “Oops, we got caught.  We have a poor unfriendly customer policy, and now we realize it.”  If there had been no video of the altercation, as three other customers peacefully left the flight, this poor policy would not have changed.   

That’s not helpful and adds to the negativity that currently circles the service industry.
The Gurus’ Solution

What I believe happened at United is there was a policy written on overbooked flights, but there were not practical procedures written to enforce it, or procedures that encouraged creativity what to do if no passengers took the highest incentive offered.

Short-Term - Train Employees on Creatively Solving an Overbooked Flight  

If the incentive went high enough, someone would have left the plane.  Alternatively, how could the United employees on the flight been rerouted, if truly no passengers would leave?   The classic Service Recovery solution is to simply ask the customer, “What do you want?” 

What misses so many times in Service Recovery situations, the employees are not put through “What If” scenarios.   United’s operation leaders should write several “What If” scenarios, with the company’s ideal response, and distribute them through their normal communication channels.  It doesn’t have to be a proper in class training, although ideal, but just communication is a huge help to employees unsure what to do.

Long-Term - Rewrite Policies with Employee Input

Rewrite your policy and procedures WITH the employees closest to the situation's input.  Policies tend to be written by the leadership team who rarely deal with customers.  Their considerations are more financial or quantitative driven, and not always practical when handling customers.  It is one thing to write a policy, it is something different to tell a customer to their face they are not getting what they want.   

The gate team is the subject matter expert.  They have seen it all, and have smart ideas how to solve it for next time.  Use their knowledge to create smart policies and procedures that are fiscally responsible and customer friendly.  It is absolutely possible to have both.

Final Thoughts

To develop strong policies and procedures is a good practice for any service industry.  Seriously, in my career, I have never seen an employee who didn’t desire to do the right thing by the customer or the company.   It always came down to lack of knowledge and lack of training for the “What if,” situations. 

It’s a relatively easy fix, and it saves your organization embarrassment and certainly a huge pay-out.

Do the right thing.