In today’s world, besides a face-to-face encounter, customers primarily use a telephone or email when they want to reach a Customer Service Representative (CSR). The focus of this article is on basic telephone etiquette with the understanding that there is only one difference between communicating face-to-face and communicating over the telephone. You are heard, but not seen. I will leave the e-mail and the CSR for another time.
Telephone communication is one step removed from face-to-face communication in that the CSR cannot see the individual and hence will not get the full impact of the communication process. What is missing is an appreciation of the demeanor, look and body language of the customer. However a critical listening ear can certainly detect the level of feelings projected by the customer. A CSR should be able to determine if the customer is angry, anxious, concerned, frustrated or inquisitive by listening to the tone of the voice.
Smile as you talk. Although the customer can’t see you a smile somehow comes through the telephone. Physically smiling forces the CSR to speak clearly so you will be better understood. A smile often reduces frustration and has a calming effect on the customer.
It is common practice among many businesses to place people on hold. Customers are often peeved about this particularly if they are on hold for lengthy periods of time while ‘canned’ music or “company advertisements” are played over and over again in their ear. By the time the CSR comes on the line, the customer is frustrated and if they are mad about a product or a service they become more irate. Recognize the frustration and apologize sincerely for having to place the customer on hold. Your apology does two things: 1) you immediately give the impression that you understand the customer’s frustration; 2) you reduce the potential for a tense conversation about “being on hold.”
Control the length of time you place a customer on “hold.” If you have identified your name and the name of your company – you can hold indefinitely; if you have not, place the customer on hold for a maximum of 15 seconds.
Breathe and Pauses
Use short sentences when you talk. This lets you breathe easily so you can control your voice. For those of us who tend to ramble talking in short sentences takes practice. As you speak keep the microphone end of the phone away from your mouth so that your breathing doesn’t project over the phone.
Pause after each point you make. This allows the point to sink in and gives some time for the customer to respond.
Turn sentences into questions whenever possible. This makes the customer more ready to respond and give you feedback during your conversation. Ask what, how, why, when and where questions. These tend to be more open-ended and give the customer a chance to explain in more detail their concern. After the response paraphrase your understanding of the customer’s response. This allows the customer to agree with your understanding or correct your understanding. Once there is mutual understanding ask for agreement.
One of the advantages that the CSR has is the customer often uses their name at the beginning of a conversation. “This is Richard speaking.” If the customer doesn’t use their name, then ask as well as give your name. During the conversation use the customer’s name frequently. This shows that you are interested in him/her rather than just another number. Using names perks up the person to listen more attentively and initiates a closer bond between the customer and CSR. Whenever possible, close the conversation with your name and thank the person by name. Indicate that if there are further questions later to ask for you by name or indicate that you have made a note of their concern to file so that when the customer calls back another CSR can pick up the conversation from where you left off earlier.
Whenever the CSR is conversing with the customer, basic etiquette is always in order. Keep three words in your head at all times: respect, polite and tact. A CSR does not have to accept telephone bullying, swearing and disrespectful behaviour on the part of the customer, but the CSR never bullies, swears or disrespects the customer. Respectfulness, politeness and tactfulness projects a CSR that is in control, wants to listen and adheres to the dignity of others. All customers are different, but all share certain characteristics. One of them is they want to be heard with respect.
Listening is an absolute critical telephone skill. The CSR not only has to listen to what is said, but also what is not said. This takes a special skill. Often what is said is the presenting problem for the customer. What is not said is the ‘real problem.’ By listening to both what is said and what is not said, the CSR can assist customers in clarifying their request and the CSR gains an understanding of the customer’s real issue. To learn more about listening to understand read this article.
Paraphrasing and listening go hand in hand. It is the skill you use to check to make sure what you have understood relates to what you have heard. It is a useful way of giving you some time to think of what to say next. It is your assurance that what you have heard is interpreted correctly. It is also a way to show the other person that you have understood them and gives them an opportunity to add to or clarify their statements. When you paraphrase you usually end with rephrasing what the person has said.
Sometimes we use jargon, complex sentences and unclear logic when speaking with customers. Jargon is useful shorthand for us, but if customers don’t understand what it means then we do not serve them appropriately. Use words that translate the jargon. These will improve the chances of customer’s understanding the message.
Tone of voice
Ever wonder what our customers might be thinking when they hear our voice? Usually if they like what they hear they will more likely perceive you as confident and professional. If they don’t like what they hear they may “tune out.” During in-person conversations your voice is one of the vehicles we can use to build trust. This is more true when we are speaking over the telephone. Our voice tone conveys more than words - it places emphasis on what we say and how it may be understood. Connected with voice tone is voice profile - how fast we speak, the pitch we use, the loudness of our voice and the clarity of our words. To be a star customer service professional your voice must always sound
This may sound silly, but it works. Use gestures as you talk. The customer won’t be able to see you, but it will help you make your point. We often use gestures when we speak face-to-face. We use them to: help us with our presentation, provide emphasis, express our thoughts and communicate emotions. Since gestures often come naturally to us and can be interpreted as conveying warmth, energy and affability, they become a useful technique even when they are not seen.
Leaving a Message
A final reminder: when leaving a message make it short, give your name and telephone at the beginning of the message and at the end, and speak slowly.
Thanks for Reading,
Richard P. Fontanie
The fourth article in the Radiating Customer Services Series.
One of the key ingredients to Radiating Customer Service is to project a positive customer attitude. Our attitude is not something that can be bought. It’s ours and how we project it makes all the difference in our relationship with our customers. This article focuses on two things: 1) claiming the importance of your work as customer service representative, and 2) managing your attitude.
The importance of your work, a positive image, and personal self-esteem coupled with personal knowledge, skills, abilities, experience, values, attitudes and habits (KSAE’VAH), bring the “I” factor to customer service.
The importance of my work
The ‘I’ factor is really you at your core self. How the “I” aligns with your work is critically important to your success. Alignment with work really comes about when you see yourself fully alive in mind, body, and spirit and steer yourself with a personal focus (purpose), a sense of discipline and sound interpersonal relationships. You then can have a sense of passion about yourself and your work and contribute to the organization’s strategies, structure, culture and values. (Based on the work of Stephen Covey)
Once your “I” recognizes the “power” you have within yourself, which comes from a deep spiritual connection to a spiritual source, and how that connects with what you do, then purpose, passion and values become truly alive for us in our everyday action. When this occurs, you can then move from just “doing the job,” to being “fully alive in my job.”
The sense of pride and accomplishment comes from doing the best work you can do – no matter what the job happens to be. A sense of confidence comes from having product knowledge and the skills to do the job.
We are who we are because of our KSAE’VAHs all of which may be strengthened or weakened by what we do, who we associate with and what we say. Studies show that people respond positively when they encounter a positive attitude, respect and self-regard. To become a “star” in customer service we need to be knowledgeable and skilled in our work and to err on the side of positive values, attitudes and habits.
Our feelings make a difference in the customer service profession and the quality of our work. Sometimes we are reluctant to talk about our feelings and the significance they have in our daily activities. We need to understand that our feelings are easily telegraphed to others, just as we pick up the attitudes and moods of others. We really can’t hide them.
We all have bad days and they affect the way we approach our day. When we are in a bad mood sometimes we have a tendency to try to hide it and not tell others what is bothering us. The reality is that the way we feel is often telegraphed to others through our demeanor and body language. We think we are camouflaging them, but we are not. People often see through the façade.
Bad moods don’t go away automatically we have to work on them. We can talk to a trusting person about them and garner their support as we work through difficult moments. Other times we may need expert help. Don’t be afraid to seek ‘help’. Other times, we can deal with them ourselves by facing them head on and reinforcing our own mood behavior. The first step towards dealing with mood swings is viewing ourselves as ok.
First, Feel good about yourself.
Our success in dealing with others comes from our success in dealing with ourselves. We can give positive vibes if we feel good about receiving positive vibes ourselves. We can compliment people if we can handle them ourselves. The reverse is true as well if we are uncomfortable receiving compliments we will be uncomfortable giving compliments. Take the time to:
Second: Add a Smile
A smile is a simple thing to do. It doesn’t cost us much yet enriches those who receive it. A smile takes a moment to give and nourishes relationships in business and in friendships. Often customer service personnel meet people who are weary, seem discouraged, sad or troubled. They can recognize this because of the customer’s body language or from their tone of voice. A warm smile brings those people comfort and a bit of cheer. The customer service representative can give away a smile freely and adds value to the person receiving it.
Sometimes our customers are too tired to give us a smile, give them one of yours. Sometimes we are too tired to give a smile, turn to a colleague and receive a smile from them.
“A smile of welcome calms a worried or harassed customer.
A smile reassures customers that a problem can be solved.
A smile leaves a pleasurable glow when people take their leave”
Third: Present a Professional Image
How we present ourselves relates to our self-confidence, attitude and feelings of self-worth. Simply put, how we project ourselves outwardly reflects who we want to become inwardly. If we have a sense of low self-worth we project ourselves accordingly; if we have a high regard of self, we project that demeanor. Customers want to deal with customer representatives who project themselves as knowledgeable, positive and helpful. Here are seven hints to presenting yourself appropriately:
Remember: It’s not your customers job to remember you, but your job to make sure they don’t have a chance to forget you.
Pilot to co-pilot please run down the check list before we take off!
Before a pilot takes off down the runway, he confers with his co-pilot who runs down a check list to assess whether everything is in order before take off. Here is your check list before you pick up the telephone or step in front of a customer.
Thanks for reading,
Richard P. Fontanie
Author: Sherry Knight, President and CEO Dimension Eleven
When you present you may know exactly what it is you want to say and hopefully you have practiced your presentation a number of times. You might think to ask.
Tami is not too tall and quite thin – wispy some might say! Yet when she takes the stage in front of an audience she’s bigger than life. Why you might ask do we see her differently than she really is? It’s not difficult, much of it is how she moves towards her audience and how she presents herself.
Let’s look at this a little closer. Before she ever gets near the stage she has found out the colour of the backdrop. If you are presenting in a school classroom your backdrop may be a green board or a white board. Thus, you would not want to wear green or white or you disappear into the background.
Once I saw a Ted Talk with a very polished presentation from a very knowledgeable woman, or at least from her head. All we could see was her head – the background was black; her suit was black and she had black hair. Do your homework and find out what colour will be behind you.
Then, choose a contrasting colour for your outfit. There is nothing much you can do about your hair but you can about your clothing.
Some people choose a look that becomes part of their brand – think Johnny Cash and his black or Patricia Fripp who always wears hats when she presents. To make it easy on myself I often refer to a colour wheel so I can look for contrasting colours without having to worry about making an error. And, for all those out there who have been colour coded – remember, there are generally tones of every colour for every season.
Have a look at the internet, there are so many colour wheels to look at – choose the one that works best for you to see what colours go best with which colours and which ones contrast.
Tami also strides to the front of the room when she is introduced. She looks like she is excited to see her audience. She moves fast, she shakes the hand of her introducer and then she turns to you, her audience.
She turns forward, she plants her feet shoulder width apart, she looks throughout the room – from one side to the other and begins. Everyone sits and pays attention waiting, waiting, waiting.
Why does she stand with her feet shoulder length apart? Because it gives her more stability – se will not be knocked over by a puff of wind, an unnecessary challenge or something strange happening like a loud noise from the close by kitchen. As well, the audience recognizes this strong person can accept any question or comment from the group. Nothing will phase this presenter.
Perhaps this presenter wants to turn left or right. When this is needed, move the feet in the direction you want to face, not just the body.
To make a point you will at times want to lean into your audience. Standing strong allows you to lean forward enough to bring your face closer to the people immediately in front of you. Your stance is solid so as you lean slightly forward to make your point there is no possibility of you losing your balance.
When you want to show fast movement, you might move across your stage quickly and choose words that suggest speed (hipitty-hop, zoom, accelerated). Or if you want to suggest slowness you might put one foot in front of the other very slowly with language implying slowness (turtle speed, snails’ pace, creep along).
Sometimes you will need to walk up and down steps to get to the stage or to leave the stage and get close to your audience. Once again it is important to keep the balance – thus the need to keep your feet shoulder length apart as you climb or descend.
Do you sit while you deliver? Some do. This is fine – best though if you sit in a higher chair or stool than your audience is. If you are already on a stage above your audience your choice of a seat may be negligible.
If you are a tiny person you might consider sitting in your chair at an angle. You will take up more “space” and as such you will appear to be a bigger presence.
If, however, you are a large person, you might want to sit facing straight forward as you will take up less space. Tall people and those with a large girth may want to be conscious of their impact on some people in their audience.
In presenting we often focus on the topic and the content. This is only a portion of your presentation! Equally as important is the WAY YOU PRESENT. That is why you want to pay such close attention to how you are presenting. The way you present and carry yourself can quickly undo the content which may be strong and help people a great deal. You may remember the words, “It doesn’t matter what you say as much as it matters how you say it.” There is such truth in those few words.
Do you use props – things like glasses, flip charts, slides or displays? Glasses are great props! You can remove them, point them, look intently over them at a critical time. These gestures have impact. Your listeners are focusing on everything you say and do so do it with intent – what is it you want your audience to take away from this?
Many use flip charts – remember to write or print if you are not a great writer – ahead of time you may want to take a ruler and draw light pencil lines on the pages so you can write in a straight line. Write with dark colours such as black and blue and light colours such as reds, yellows and oranges for impact. Remember, red bleeds – be very careful what you have behind the page you are writing on. Always stand to the side of the flip chart when you are writing. Do not stand in front of the chart as people cannot see what you are writing and if you speak, your voice will go into the chart paper rather than out to your audience.
Slides are helpful. They help to reinforce what you are trying to say and sometimes you might put in cartoons or fun sayings or pictures that relate to your topic; yet lighten the situation. One thing to refrain from doing is to put something on your slide that cannot be read by the person sitting the furthest away from the screen. Always ensure you have the screen angled slightly towards the audience – this prevents key stoning – a strange way for the page to look.
Displays are great – for small groups of people. This is the epitomy of a visual – thus people WANT to see it. So, if you have a large group a display is probably not your best bet. Displays have different purposes. Some need to be to scale and thus you will want to address the scale. Others are there for the creative element and you will want to explain the creativity that went into the display.
Regardless of the type of display you choose to show ensure a few things:
Your stance is important, right from the beginning to the end. Pay attention to your body and how it can assist you in building your story.
And, above all, have fun with your presentation.
The third article in the series Radiating Customer Service.
A Customer Service Charter clearly outlines a company’s approach to customer service. It sets the expectations for everyone in the organization and what customers can expect from them.
We have learned that customer service involves everyone one in the organization and all have responsibility for: shared ownership, total customer management and a positive impact.
A charter for customer service usually includes these four elements:
1. Organization’s purpose for customer service
2. Principles or values within which service personnel are expected to operate
3. Standards as a benchmark against which actual performance may be measured
4. Measurements for success which give the basis for performance accountability
Customer Service Purpose
A customer service purpose gives everyone in the organization or in a team a sense of direction and a rallying call for action. Once understood each customer service personnel can then take ownership and translate the statement into their day to day practice. Here are a few examples of customer service missions:
• “To take ownership of each call, manage each request correctly, dispatch efficiently and communicate to ensure the customer’s complete satisfaction” A Call Center
• “To provide a positive, seamless, accurate experience for all internal and external customers; we do this to ensure the safety of the public.” A Professional Regulatory Body
• “The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit.”
• “At Sit ‘n Sleep, we believe that you, the customer, are our greatest asset. We are dedicated to creating positive experiences for you – both inside our stores and out….”
• “Irvine Scientific is committed to provide courteous, professional and superior service to our customers and internal departments that we are privileged to serve.”
• “Employees solve customer puzzles.” Best Buy
Customer Service Values
Values are statements of beliefs which we hold as having intrinsic worth and want to preserve. They are qualities we want to live by. Customer Service values express the way we treat customers. They are also the way we want to be treated. Here are some examples:
• Treat customers with dignity, respect and courtesy.
• Listen earnestly and objectively to the needs of customers.
• Respond to customers in a timely, efficient and responsible manner.
• Provide excellent customer service.
• We are committed to achieving the highest customer satisfaction.
Customer Service Standards
Customer standards are established to provide consistency in providing service. It is essential for delivering a product or service where quality is number one. The question is: How rigidly should customer service personnel follow the standard?
There are usually three types of standards:
• Rigid standards which allow for no deviation, for example: all telephone calls must be returned within two hours.
• Flexible standards which allow employees to adjust the standard based on guidelines, for example: all telephone calls must be returned within two hours however if time doesn’t permit because you are serving other customers then use your discretion in returning the call.
• Total discretion which allows employees to decide on the spot a best service solution, for example: the timing of returning a telephone call is left up to the employee as long as customers are satisfied
Writing down standards of service provides consistency in approach for all those involved and gives a basis for performance discussions with individuals as to how they are adhering to them.
Measurements for Success
Successful companies have developed dashboards to monitor customer service outcomes. They collect raw data and know how many customers were served, what they bought, what the return rate was on each product, where they live within their marketplace, whether they purchased on-line or in a brick and mortar retail outlet.
They also have developed systematic ways of measuring customer satisfaction for example: using surveys, focus groups, round table discussions with customers and employees, on the spot requests (i.e. stopping customers they shop and asking about their level of service satisfaction).
Successful companies also ensure employees receive on-going customer service training. Customer service training usually entails a review of the company Customer Service Charter, approaches to different types of customers, telephone and email etiquette, listening skills, dealing with difficult customer situations, dealing with customers with different cultural expectations, use of body language, and professional image.
Questions to Explore
Does our company or organization have a Customer Service Charter? If not, should we have one? Do we measure our customer service outcomes? Do we have a dashboard of raw data pertaining to customers? Do we have customer service standards? Does everyone know what they are? How do we know our customers are satisfied with our services? Do we have a consistent and regular customer service training program?
Thank you for Reading,
Richard P. Fontanie
This article is a second in the series on Radiating Customer Service. Let’s begin
In our last article we learned that every time someone meets an internal or external customer, customer service begins. Fundamentally, customer service is about forming relationships. The skills we use to form a relationship with a customer are like those we use to from all interpersonal relationships. In this sense, the title of these articles “Radiating Customer Service” could just as easily be “Radiating People-centred Service.” However, there are specific types of relationships that relate to the CSR (Customer Service Representative) and the external customer.
Types of Relationships We Have With External Customers
Our contact with an external customer usually operates at two levels: 1) the need for information about a product or service, and 2) the resulting relationship that binds the customer to the CSR and the business as a brand. Customers have a need for something and they come to a place where they hope that need is fulfilled. It is within these two levels where we experience the exchange between the customer and customer personnel. The extent of that exchange and the relationship that is formed is either transactional, incremental, formative, or formal.
Quick Information Exchanges That Lead to a Transactional Relationship
A “quick information exchange” is usually straight forward. It happens when a customer knows what she wants e.g. “Here is what I want. Do you have it?” "I have a headache. Do you have any aspirins?" In this situation there is limited need for information and limited interest in developing a close relationship.
Although the customer knows (information) what she wants (product), the CSR still must show respect and be available for any questions the customer may have. Here the customer is usually seeking speedy service and convenience. The customer has already decided to pay more for a quality product, or is willing to pay less and is not concerned about product brand, or wants quality at the best price. If the customer has a good experience with this type of exchange, they remember and will return, and branding to the business begins. A “Quick Information Exchange” results in what is called a “Transactional Relationship.”
When customers know what they want, and the product isn’t available, they often do not want a substitute or an up-sell. In fact, they get turned off when a CSR, in all good intention, attempts to substitute brands or up-sell.
An example of a potential transactional relationship gone haywire occurred when Max went shopping. Max went into a menswear store to buy a suit. He knew the style, colour and brand he wanted. He was prepared to sacrifice brand if the style and colour was available, but he wasn’t prepared to give up his colour and style. He told the CSR this. The suit stock did not include the colour, style or brand. The CSR offered a substitute and became persistent that the change of color and style suited Max. Max became frustrated with the CSR and walked out the store. He didn’t want to deal with this CSR again. He told several people about this exchange. In his eyes and in the eyes of others the store brand was diminished by the actions of the CSR.
Supplemental Information Exchanges That Lead to an Incremental Relationship
A “supplemental information exchange” occurs when the customer has some clarity about the product or service he wants but requires additional information. In this case the customer may request, “a pamphlet about the service or product” or say something like, “point me to your website.” This type of need is often expressed over the telephone, by email, or after some discussion with the CSR. Again, just as in a transactional situation, there is limited necessity for a lengthy exchange between the customer and the customer representative, but there is potential for forming or strengthening a future relationship
Supplemental exchanges provide the CSR with an opportunity to follow-up on the request to determine if the customer is satisfied with the information or requires more information. A follow-up shows an interest in the customer outside of the brief exchange and may be the beginning of a more extensive relationship between the CSR and customer, or the customer and the business. In the latter case the customer begins to relate more closely to the business, and the business becomes a brand for the customer. This gets translated as “I go to FACSi Drug Mart (business brand), because the pharmacists (CSR) provide great follow-up service.” The more the customer is satisfied with the information he receives the more he will remember both the CSR and the business. (Note: FACSi Drug Mart is a fictitious name). Supplemental exchanges provide an opportunity for what I call an “Incremental Relationship” as there is an opportunity to incrementally strengthen the bond between the CSR and business brand.
Resolution Information Exchanges That Lead to a Formative Relationship
In a resolution exchange the customer requires more information than in the first two types of exchanges and a closer relationship with the CSR. In this type of customer exchange the customer has a need such that she can’t resolve it by herself. She may not even be able to clearly explain her need, and/or how to resolve it, and/or whether the company provides the product or service to meet it. Here the CSR requires: sound product or service knowledge, where to get the information if he doesn’t know, keen listening skills, and an ability to explain the product or service information in clear and simple language. In the end the CSR wants to ensure the customer has all the information she requires to make an informed decision. The customer will usually remember the CSR as knowledgeable, helpful and respectful when she experiences a positive resolution to her need.
Again, the second stage of the relationship is set. This time the information and the positive customer experience brought about by the closer relationship, binds the customer to the business. I call this a “Formative Relationship” because the CSR is developing or has developed a more lasting relationship with the customer.
Formal Information Exchanges That Lead to a Partnership Relationship
“Formal information exchanges” are extensive and lengthy communications between the customer and CSR. They usually occur at senior/owner levels of the organization and in these cases the owner or senior leader become the CSR. Here the organization and customer establish a bond where each works to achieve a common end. These exchanges reflect a relationship where there is extensive information sharing about products and services and result in a mutually beneficial outcome. Often the exchanges end in a strong legal bond between the business and customer whereby they form of partnership. Hence, I call the results of this exchange a “Partnership Relationship” Partnership arrangement don’t happen that often, but they do occur within the range of customer service relationships.
Companies strive for relational exchanges with their customers through their CSRs. They know the stronger the relationship, the stronger the tie with the business. During all encounters the CSR should: get to know the customer’s name and use it in his explanations; dig to find out more about the customer’s situation that he may use later as a touching point with her; and, keep in touch with her via email or telephone whenever possible.
During each type of relationship exchange we find “moments of truth” discussed in my first article. (LINK) A primary intent of all our relationships, is to strengthen customer loyalty. This means as a CSR we continually strive to raise the bar in our relations with others, not just because it is good for the company, important as that is, but also for ourselves. The more we do for others in a respectful, kind and helpful way the more people reciprocate in the same way. Everybody wins.
Thanks for reading
Richard P. Fontanie
Our next article will explore the importance of a Customer Service Charter.
Since customer service is such an important aspect of business, I will be writing articles over the course of the next several months on this topic. The articles may be a refresher for some, and I hope will provide new ways to improve service for others. Let's begin.
Businesses need customers. Yet, experience suggests that customer service is not always right within businesses. We hear complaints from customers concerning: poor face-to-face service, negative telephone etiquette, inappropriate handling of complaints, and bored customer service personnel. However, when quality customer service is provided we learn that customers are happy, moral is enhanced, the business is well regarded, and the business's bottom line is improved.
When I facilitated customer service workshops business owners consistently told me, after customer service training and after all other factors were eliminated, their revenue was increased by 6-12 percent. This suggests Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) can turn negative approaches to customer service into positive ones.
Who are our Customers
Customers come to us in two ways. The first and most obvious way is through our doors, the internet, emails and over the telephone. These are our coveted external customers. The second way, and not so obvious, is through our organization. They are people we work with daily. They are our internal customers including our boss, manager, team leader, and colleagues. When we relate to customers whether internally or externally our responsibility remains the same which is to treat them with kindness, respect and dignity.
We are all customers as each of us purchase goods or services from others. When we, as a customer, enter any type of business, we want to be treated fairly, respectfully, and honestly. We expect those who serve us know something about the products, listen to our needs and wants, and approach us with a positive and optimistic attitude. We remember these people. The same is true for customers who enter our place of business. They remember the CSRs who treated them well. This exchange between the customer and those who serve is one of the heart – it touches the level of feelings. Maya Angelou put it this way, “People will forget what you said...People will forget what you did...But people will never forget how you made them feel."
So, what we do, how we do it, and how it makes us feel, influences our relationships with customers; and, it appears there is little difference between what we expect as a customer and what our customers expect of us. When FACSi(a) researched what customers expected from CSRs it found they wanted: quality service, a listening ear, an optimistic attitude, positive approach, and solutions to their problems or at least a referral to where service may be obtained. It also found that customers expect service providers to be knowledgeable, well organized, honest, and fair.
There is something else going on with today's customers, and that is their relationship with the internet. With the advent of the internet customers have access to information about the products they want and hence are more knowledgeable about them. Sometimes because of their "Google" search they know more about the product than the CSR. They often know where the products come from, what they are made of, how they are made, whether they are ethically produced and how they compare with other products.
Customers are also more discerning in their choice of service and are looking for a positive customer experience, want a personal touch, seek quality products and value for money. They will go where their needs are met, so it is increasingly important for businesses and CSRs to meet these evolving customer requirements. (For more on this see my article on "The Emerging Retail Experience.)
As businesses provide better service expectations increase and in turn customers expect an increase in the level of service. Someone once said: “Every experience we have as a customer sets a benchmark against which the next experience is judged. This means that we expect better and better service." Darrell Rigby put it this way, "Each wave of change doesn't eliminate what comes before it, but it reshapes the landscape and redefines consumer expectations, often beyond recognition. Retailers relying on earlier formats either adapt or die out."
This suggests that each time businesses improve the customer experience, customers will come back to the business. It also suggests the businesses must consistently up-grade everyone in the organization to meet new and emerging customer expectations..
What is Customer Service
Now we come to the basic question: Just what is customer service?
Customer Service simply refers to managing all those points of exchange between the customer and the business. These exchanges are often called “moments of truth”. They determine whether the customer will be pleased or not. So, every time someone meets an internal or external customer, customer service begins.
The CSR, in whatever position, is the conduit through which the organization is known, and is for the customer the ‘face’ of the organization. Every time an individual meets a customer the stage is set for an impression of service and a “moment of truth” (first coined by Jan Carlzon, president of the Scandinavian Airline SAS). The complete sequence of “moments of truth” – all those acts performed by those who contribute to the customer experience- become known as the full “cycle of service”.
Moments of truth may occur hundreds of times within the cycle of service, for example the cycle of service could include: the customers perception of how the manufacturer packaged the goods and how they are showcased on the shelves; how the customer relates to the store environment and how the CSR treats the customer over the telephone, when he browses for items, approaches the counter, refers the customer to someone else, or when the customer pays for the goods. The cycle of service covers the whole of the customer experience. The Scandinavian Airline discovered more than 50,000 occasions when staff interacted with customers. Each interaction became a “moment of truth.”
In any given day of service, the CSRs can enhance moments of truth by: wishing someone a “nice day,” paying attention to detail, making the most of a bad experience, saying "thank you" as if they mean it, and remembering a regular customer's name. This is common courtesy and just being kind to people, one person at a time.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie
My next article will explore the types of relationships we have with customers
Problems force us to make choices, however, often the choices we make resonate with our present thinking. And, our present thinking reflects our life experiences that form our identity, our sense of self and our own personhood. If this true, then when we face a problem which suggests we choose a different path, or a different way of doing things, the decision to choose that path becomes hard.
The act of solving a problem forces us to choose, to seek alternative ways to the way we think about or do things. When we work through this process we often choose a solution that re-enforces our present way of thinking and acting. Thus, we think inside the box rather than outside the box. It’s not a breakthrough choice. We become trapped within our own world and keep doing what we always did. We don’t want to change, because change takes us out of our comfort zone.
When we are asked to move out of our comfort zone, we often resist. Sometimes we fight, flee or acquiesce in a passive aggressive way by not really accepting the new path and may, consciously or unconsciously, work to undermine the process of moving forward.
This is why, when leaders see a need to take a different course than what people are used to or are comfortable with, they often meet with resistance. On the one hand, leaders see a need for change and on the other people through time and experience have engendered a sense of “fit” with their work and their present way of doing things. They have clothed themselves with a sense of comfort with what is. They are not ready to take on the unknown and the ambiguity of it all.
So how do we as individuals get comfortable with choices that don’t seem to fit with our way of thinking? And how do leaders help others choose a different path?
As individuals we can:
As leaders we can:
Quote: “When you change the way you look at things and the things you look at change” Wayne W. Dyer
Author: Richard P. Fontanie MSW, FCMC
We often hear and tell others that communication is the glue that keeps us together whether that be among teams, businesses, organizations or couples. Just what is this glue we are talking about?
The process of communications has many dimensions. We learn about techniques for listening, talking, writing and understanding body language but, as important as these are, they don’t get to the shadow behind communications.
A shadow projects our image when a light shines upon it. Sometimes the shadow is distorted and other times it clearly outlines the shape of our body. A shadow follows us around and is often attached to us in some way. And, there are times when we can identify someone just by seeing his or her shadow.
How does all this relate to communication? When people communicate with each other they hear words, see body language, hear tone of voice but often don’t understand the shadow behind the expressions. The shadow is the profile of the person out of which communication is filtered. That shadow reflects the make-up of the person.
When we communicate, we communicate out of the context of who we are. Who we are is continually informed by our culture, family, positive and negative experiences, education, religion, relationships and so on. This is the backdrop or the shadow from which we communicate. In turn those who we communicate with also have their own shadow which continually informs them.
When we think about communication in this context - outside of the technical aspects of listening and speaking, as well as the sensory aspects of hearing, seeing, smelling and touching - we can begin to appreciate some of the difficulties we have when we communicate with others.
At times we express our frustrations, either directly or indirectly such as “I don’t know where you are coming from” or “I just don’t understand your point of view,” or “why don’t you understand.” One of the factors underlying why we don’t understand relates to the shadow. Particularly if that shadow is not similar to our own.
Perhaps our communications with others would improve if we took the time to understand “where the person is coming from” - to try and understand what is going on within the person's communication shadow? This means taking the time to learn and reflect upon the person's shadow and how it impacts the way we communicate with each other. This is the basis for empathetic communication - we begin to walk in the other’s shadow for a while, and in turn share our own shadow with them. At the root, we get to know others as individuals and they get to know us in the same way
Understanding an individual's communication shadow is extremely important given today's diverse workforce. Most businesses are populated with people who come from a variety of cultures. They are often expected to immediately fit into our businesses and organizations without us spending the necessary time to appreciate the milieu from which they gained most of their first experiences.
This unknowing complicates our communication. And, that complication may find its expression in several ways, such as: misunderstanding words, gestures, family practices, and religion, or, not accounting for awful experiences as a result of war, poverty, persecution or discrimination.
So how do we uncover the shadow of our colleagues, employees, bosses, friends and associates? Here are a few hints:
Find opportunities to explore each other's shadow such as when you are with other person:
Our communication shadow is with us daily and is behind every conversation we have with others. Shine a light on yourself so that you can understand it and don’t be afraid to share it with others. It just may be the opening you need to understand and appreciate your co-worker, employee, friend or partner.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie, MSW, FCMC
It sounds strange but we do need resistance if we want to change. Resistance is that force which pushes against moving ahead. Yet without resistance we will unlikely go forward. Positive resistance to change uses force to propel us forward, negative resistance to change uses force to push us back or hold us in a place where we don't move forward or backward. During the change process there is always force to push us forward and counter force to push us backward or to remain in a static position.
Whenever we problem solve we also experience force and counter force, because solving problems is all about change. A problem is usually something that gets us stuck in time and somehow we need to resolve it in order to move forward.
When we attempt to resolve problems we often use "push" force to move forward and when there is resistance, a counter force or push back, we attempt to remove the resistance by more push force. This pushing may erupt into physical clashes or angry outbursts. Great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, based on Gandhi's example, changed the resistant dynamic by countering physical push force with peaceful "pull" force.
Our sphere of influence isn’t like that of Gandhi or King, but it is important none the less. Most of us are wrapped up in small to medium size businesses or organizations where people often resist change. Resistance to change plays out when a new leader enters an organization with a different vision for its success than the prevailing one; or when there is a slump in the marketplace and drastic change strategies are needed for the business to survive; or when an organization's Board gives direction to shake up the organization because in its view the organization is stagnant, atrophied or no longer meets current market place realities.
One approach to resistance is the use of "dictatorial" push force. In such instances we hear statements, often based on fear tactics, that go something like this: "you better change or you no longer work here," or, "let's move resisters to innocuous positions," or, "let's make things as uncomfortable as possible so that people leave." This method is based on dual thinking: it's "my way or the highway." In essence it's an either-or proposition. There's no third way - there's no breakthrough thinking about alternative ways to deal with resistance.
It appears from a distance that this type of dictatorial force is emerging within in the Trump administration. The same "push" force is experienced in smaller organizations where employees are displaced or moved out in an undignified manner. In these situations I have even heard language similar to that used in war such as, "they are casualties" or "we have a lot of collateral damage."
There may be times, however, when the force of "push" is necessary. In these circumstances "push" methods should maintain the dignity and respect of those being pushed while at the same time maintain the integrity and ethical standards of those doing the pushing. One CEO I know calls this "benevolent" force.
In a previous article I suggested that the skills for breakthrough thinking as it pertains to problem solving include empathetic listening, patience and dialogue. These same skill sets are also key to implementing "pull" strategies.
My preferred approach views resistance as an opportunity to find a third path arising not as an either/or choice, but as a way to resolve the problem using a balanced push-pull force. A balanced approach suggests combining the "benevolent push" force with the "pull" force ,or, using them in "tandem." However, there are situations when it's best to use the forces separately. In other words, I mostly "pull", other times I benevolently "push" and still others I use "push-pull" forces in tandem. Moving through resistance in this way isn't easy but it does generate positive engagement and buy-in from those affected with far fewer "casualties," while at the same time supports the dignity, respect and integrity of everyone involved.
Questions to ponder: Do you understand "push" and "pull" as methods of "force" when dealing with resistance? What is your experience regarding "push" and "pull" forces when you encounter resistance in resolving organizational or personal problems? Should we use "push" and "pull" methods deferentially? Are there times when "push" should be the preferred method of force? If so, how should we use it?
Let me know what you think.
Many years ago, I learned that we solve problems not by focusing on opposites but by finding opportunities for breakthrough solutions. We often think in two-way or duality terms such as an "I'm right, your wrong mentality." One solution to this dual thinking is to pose a win-win solution. That somewhere between the two positions there must be a middle. The result usually means each gives up something to obtain a resolution, and in finding that resolution each loses something in the transaction. The other solution to the win-win scenario is win-lose, or lose-lose. I win, you lose or we both lose. In these situations, we go head to head and negotiate a middle ground, lose, win or walk away.
Win-win, win-lose, lose-lose are strategies where people often leave the situation feeling unsettled. They give up something to gain something, or don't give up at all. In a breakthrough resolution approach, we are not thinking with a win-win mentality, we are thinking opportunity, something new, a third dimension or a new creative outcome. For breakthrough solutions to reach full fruition dialogue, collaboration, empathetic listening and transparency of thought are necessary.
Finding breakthrough solutions belies the more conventional approach of individual competitiveness. Rather than competing, a breakthrough approach relies on mutuality and collaborative effort. The process of coming to a solution each empowers the other. In this way, a solution benefits both while at the same time expresses something new. A new entity arises from the two positions but different from them.
If we can resolve problems using this method perhaps we can begin to transform injustices in our workplaces, engender greater respect for each other, strengthen mutual high regard, and in the end, find more enduring solutions.
To become "breakthrough" champions we need to learn how to become less selfish and egotistical, or another way of putting it, we will need to learn how to become more adult in our approach and less of the righteous and petulant adolescent.
One of the keys to breakthrough thinking is to blank out the way we usually solve problems. Rather than framing a situation from one's point of view as a position to defend we suspend all judgement and approach it with new set of lenses. We look for mutual opportunity without the resistance of personal positioning.
Does this mean we suspend our experience? After all, we are who we are based on our experience - it forms our world view about how we approach others and our problems. The short answer is no. It is how we frame the situation and our response that becomes the basis of our breakthrough. An example of this often occurs in meetings when people say such things as 'this is the way we handled this issue in the past," or "we tried that back in 2002, and it didn't work." This is not breakthrough thinking, this is rear view mirror thinking.
Breakthrough thinking draws on our experience without specific reference to the past and looks for new opportunities in the present that will lead to a better outcome in the future. Too many good solutions get shelved because people shut off the flow of creative thinking by dwelling on the past rather than using that experience to explore opportunities which lead to solving today's problems.
When we seek a breakthrough solution we don't think in dualistic terms such as right and wrong, black and white, this way or that way, but rather in triangular or ternary terms. What flows from this and that, black and white, right and wrong, past and future, produces a third opportunity. What flows from black and white is gray, neither black nor white; what flows from right and wrong is situational choice based on conscientious discernment, and what flows from past and leads to the future is the wisdom of the present. Each is a distinct entity different and unique from the other, but flows from the energy of the two to make a third opportunity or result.
At times breakthrough thinking seems to come from a force outside ourselves. It is one of those "ah, ah moments," where a bolt of creativity strikes, and we ask, "where did that come from?" It presents itself not in dualistic terms but as something new and fresh. It may be a result of our subconscious working on the issue, or may be a force beyond ourselves, which many refer to as their Spiritual Source. It is Archimedes in the bathtub or Mary in the last meeting who said, " I just had a unique idea that I think will break our log jam."
It is not easy to arrive at a breakthrough because we seem to be wired to think in opposites and defend our positions rather than seek a third, different course. It takes discipline, energy, collaborative effort and a mutual commitment to go beyond our present world view.
Let's take a couple of typical examples from my own consulting practice:
One of the challenges with breakthrough solutions is that it leads to change because the solution is different from what exists; and this is the rub, because people are often resistant to change (see articles on change). However, if they are engaged in finding a breakthrough the change is embraced as a natural flow from the solution; if they are not engaged then preparatory work is necessary. An edict will not work but a process of open communication, encouragement, empathetic listening and engagement from the ground up will.
What to do: Breakthrough solutions are not always easy, nor are they always possible. However, if we strive in good faith to seek solutions outside of our constricted thinking we may discover better solutions, or at least be clearer about the problem at hand and possible opportunities they present. In any event when approaching breakthrough solutions:
Keep ego in check.
Be open to all possibilities.
Listen deeply and empathetically
Communicate and collaborate openly.
Wait for, and discover together, the "Ah!Ah!" moment.
Prepare self through meditation and work with others unselfishly.
Think opportunity, not in dualistic terms but in third-way and creative terms.