Sometimes I don’t know which tab to place certain articles. This is one of those times. This topic could fit under the Spiritual Discovery tab or this tab. I have chosen both. Why? Because strengthening our spiritual muscle takes effort, focus and personal work. It takes a certain psychological skill to develop spiritual awareness. Spirituality matters. However, it is a personal journey and may mean different things for different people. What I do know is that often my past work bordered on the spiritual, especially when I focused in on one’s sense of purpose and values. Often people would grow silent and then tentatively approach some of their inner feelings about how they carried out their values. Some conversations uncovered a broken spirit that cried out for healing, others stimulated deep spiritual thoughts about personal growth and development.
In general spirituality has certain qualities that reflect: a sense of purpose, inner peace, joy, humility, religious observance (not religiosity), and, an openness toward a greater good, compassion, mercy and forgiveness.
Ways to develop our spiritual muscle
Nature walks: Getting in touch with the beauty of nature touches our spiritual core. A beautiful sunset in the evening, a gorgeous sunrise, the colors of the leaves in the Fall or the budding of trees and the rejuvenating ground flowers in Spring often bring a sense of awe within us.
Walking is not only healthy for our physical body but also for our spiritual wellbeing. A friend suggested she captured a sense of her smallness and a touch of the divine as she walked under a canopy of trees on a dusty trail. She was struck by the beauty of the moment. In my book, Eternal Unfolding, one of the scenes goes like this:
“Julech took in the silence of the forest, broken from time to time with the harsher sounds of magpies, blue jays and crows and with softer songs of the chickadees, wrens, nut hatchers and juncos. Joining the bird songs were the rat-a-tat-tats of woodpeckers, the fluttering of the grouse and the occasional trill of a grosbeak.
His olfactory nerves were tingling with the smells of spruce, firs, pines, junipers and alders. There were the aromas of fallen acorns, pine needles and rotting logs…As he walked, he reflected on the spiritual insights…”
Gratefulness: Ancient wisdom people, philosophers, religious leaders and spiritual writers tell us that gratitude is the basis for strengthening our relationship with God (or a power greater than us) and one another, as well as improving our wellbeing. Intuitively they knew this and speak eloquently about it. Today we have a growing body of scientific evidence that supports what appeared to be naturally known. In the past I had identified a number of scientific findings about gratitude and how we can apply it in our places of work, business and personal lives. If so inclined you can read the article here.
Volunteering: In religious parlance we often say share your time, talent or money to those less fortunate. I know too many people who don’t have two nickels to rub together but they are the first to volunteer their time and talent. They often say that it feels good to help others less fortunate. How ironic. And, I know many who have several nickels to rub together but don’t share time, talent nor money with those who they consider “beneath them.”
Volunteering within one’s community lifts others up and in return lifts the person up. In giving one receives, perhaps more than what he or she has given. We know this by the comments we receive from those that give within their communities. In the process there is something spiritual going on within them, a link whether they know it or not, with the love that is universal and beyond them.
Listening to a religious messages: Some people have difficulty with listening to a homely or a sermon as they view the person (preacher) as a bit of a hypocrite. They don’t see the person’s behavior reflecting the message. In a sense they are saying the medium is the message. I have yet to hear a true religious message that suggests that one should go against principles that are considered universal truths. The message is usually about avoiding those things that hurt us spiritually, mentally and physically, encouraging compassionate behavior, forgiving one another, strengthening one’s better self. Religious messages are most often positive affirmations of caring for one self, neighbor and community. All of these messages should cause us to ponder how they could apply to us individually and collectively and in the end strengthens our spiritual core.
Spiritual reading: In many ways our modern technology encourages us to dart from one thing to another. Our emails, ease of access to information, and internet explorations, text messaging, Facebook, Instagram and the like shortens our attention to small bites of information. We flit, where as spiritual reading causes us to stop and ponder our deeper selves and our connection to someone or something beyond us. Books that explore men and women of spiritual conviction and purpose and carry that out in their everyday lives become role models. Wisdom found in ancient and modern writings give food for thought and provide profound insight to what we may consider improbable solutions to what ails us, our community and our world. Taking some time to read something spiritually everyday will tend to slow us down, reduce our stress and in the end strengthen our spiritual muscle.
There are many other ways to strengthen our spirituality including meditating, having healthy relationships with others, taking compassionate action, engaging with a spiritual adviser, having coffee with a friend while exploring spiritual matters, joining groups that encourage spiritual discussions, and working at being non-judgmental. In short, we have ample opportunity in our everyday lives to go beyond the ordinary and touch our spiritual core.
Thanks for reading,
Richard P. Fontanie,
Have you ever wondered why some people work in a cluttered environment? I have viewed offices where the desk is filled with an array of papers, tape dispensers, paper clips, staplers, pens, pencils, sticky notes, and files while their side tables or chairs have little room to place items on or for a visitor to sit down. I have also looked at their virtual desk-top and viewed a cornucopia of files, word documents, photos, PDF files that filled the whole window. Why do people do this to themselves? Does it make them feel comfortable? Or does it lead to distraction?
For over 30 years I had helped people organize themselves, reduce their level of distractions so that they could focus better, improve self-discipline, and reduce self-induced stress. I employed a number of techniques such as spending time with them as they cleared their desk and surroundings, given them methods for prioritizing daily, weekly and monthly tasks and showed them how to draw up a personal vision and a set of goals for themselves as well as ways to achieve them. All valuable in and of themselves. Yet, I still wondered “why” do people develop ‘habits of clutter’? My reflection on this question has identified four possible answers:
1. Emotional Patterns: Some people get emotional gratification from accumulating stuff around them. Perhaps they have been brought up in an environment where they didn’t have much or have lost much and consequently have a subconscious need to have things around them. Perhaps they subconsciously want to fill a void for things they didn’t have; or they have a fear of losing the things they do have. It really doesn’t matter what those things are as the clutter becomes the stand-in for the things they didn’t have or for those things they have lost.
2. Collector Patterns: Some people just like collecting things and often they have a favorite item in their collection. That could be art, trinkets, pottery, figurines, books and the like. It could also be files that shout out, “Someday you may need me!” or articles that cry, “Someday, you will read me!” So they collect them and then discover they never need or read them. I have dealt with people whose offices are like their basements, full of stuff they will never use and work from the premise that “Someday I may need this, so I will keep it.” The problem is not that they are collectors, but that there is no organization to their collection or real rationale for their collection. Consequently when and if they need something, they can’t find it or can’t remember where they put it.
3. Keeping up Patterns: Some people have a tendency to accumulate stuff just in order to keep up with their neighbor. It’s not that they ‘need’ the item; it’s a ‘want’ prompted by a subconscious need to compare themselves with their neighbor. “Joe or Susan has all this, so I want it too,” they say.
Marketing campaigns feed into this need to keep up. We are bombarded with stimulative ads which push “You must have this,” or, “You need this.” “Afterall look it all the people who have it.” Items are subliminally pushed onto our psyche – whether we need it or not and soon we think we have a need but basically, we just want it to keep up with those around us. We fear being left behind. This need must be so ingrained in our ego that we seem to naturally compare ourselves with the other.
4. Control Patterns: Some of us have a need to control. There is a certain degree of comfort in ensuring we have control especially when most things are outside of our control. Control often caters to our ego that has a fear of letting go, of being comfortable within one’s own skin or just going with the flow. So what do we do? We surround ourselves with stuff and that stuff gives us a modicum of control, except that it doesn’t. The stuff often distracts, disrupts our thinking pattern, takes us off focus, and triggers stress. As we look up, we see items that we still need to do, or fiddle with the stapler because it’s not working right or look at the file that isn’t a priority right now. The outside mess negatively impacts our inner need for control and in the end causes us to lose the control that we seek.
Getting to “why” we clutter supplements the tools we use to reduce the clutter. It’s better et to “why” first then use the tools. Here is an example, “I have a hammer but if I don’t know why I need it, for instance, to bang a nail into the wall, then it’s not much use to me.” The same is true about reducing all the stuff around me, if I don’t know why I have the clutter– the underlying motivation – then the tools may not have a lasting effect, and I dare to say will not have a lasting effect. We will tend to fall back to our old habits that provide comfort for us - those that fall into the four categories of emotionality, collecting, keeping pace and controlling.
I’m not passing judgement as to why people clutter by outlining these observable patterns. I’m pointing them out as potential ‘markers’ to ask: “Why do I have the clutter? What effect is it having on me? and What can I do about it?” And, for those who help others clear their desks and offices of clutter to ask the question: “Why do you think you have all this stuff around you?”
Thank you for reading.
Richard P. Fontanie
Note: Erica Layne Nielsen in her book “The Minimalist way: Minimalism strategies to declutter your life and make room for Joy” references similar avoidance patterns as described in this article.
Image from Unsplash
Paul Petrone, editor of Linkedin Learning has listed the skills companies need in 2019. The skills were determined by "looking at skills that are in high demand relative to their supply. Demand is measured by identifying the skills on the LinkedIn profiles of people who are getting hired at the highest rates. Only cities with 100,000 members were included." Those listed were both soft and hard skills. In this article I will concentrate on the soft skills confirmed both Petrone's findings and my own experience.
For thirty-five years Fontanie Associates in collaboration with their training partners have developed, delivered and promoted the necessary soft skills for small, medium and large companies, non-profit organizations and government agencies. I'm pleased to learn that these skills are still in high demand. They are skills needed in today's workplace and in life. Although my list of skills is similar to Paul Petrone's, they differ to some degree. They include:
There are many on-line one or two hour sessions giving insight and tools to improve the skills mentioned above. However, I remain convinced that face-to-face workshops that last one or two days are a better way to strengthen skills. Don't get me wrong, self-learning whether that is through reading or participating on on-line training is helpful, but our experience shows that effective face-to-face workshops with follow-up coaching has more lasting results. Look to LinkedIn learning if you are a member of LinkedIn or Human Resource learning for short one to two hour session. For results oriented one to three day sessions I recommend Priority Management Skill Training. Find one of their offices near you.
Thank you for reading,
Richard P. Fontanie BA, MSW
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