25 Jun

Networking, the new customer service

What is the difference between mediocre customer service and great customer service?

This question has been asked and discussed ad nauseum over the years and when broaching the subject of customer service with employees, quite often you can see their eyes glaze over, their minds wander and their hearing suddenly becomes impaired. Customer service has somehow become a swear word for so many people.

So how do you avoid your employees turning into robots that present fake smiles and rehearsed sales pitches to your customers? How do you wake up them up to out-perform your competition?

Well, firstly the term customer service has gotta go! Let’s call it customer networking from now on? The objective behind this change is to equal the playing field. There is a very confusing cliche “the customer is always right”, which causes people to automatically create an employee-customer hierarchy with the customer naturally receiving a more superior status than the employee. This is a recipe for disaster and automatically places your employees on the back foot. If their mindset is not right and they engage with customers with an inferiority complex, the customer’s experience will either be mediocre or a disaster, but never great.

Secondly, start apply networking principles to customer service training. This will help to create a balance between employee and customer relations, where they interact on an equal level.

Carol Ross, a career coach talks about 8 principles of networking in her article 8 Principles of Networking Naturally.

How could these networking principles be applied to customer networking?

Principle # 1: Successful networkers are relationship-based, not transaction-based. 

People buy from people they like. So teach your employees to first build a genuine relationship with the customer. After establishing this bond then only  try the sales pitch. An extremely effective, but easy example is to get to know the customer’s name and use it in future interactions with them. People like to be recognised and made to feel good about themselves. Being greeted by your name is often a point of difference which the customer will not forget.

Principle # 2: Successful networkers have a genuine interest in people, as people. 

Teach your employees to not “read a book by it’s cover” Every customer is just a person, whether they are having a good day or a bad day. Whether they seem extremely intimidating or “look” like someone who is not going to buy. Everyone should be treated equally and should always be given the benefit of the doubt.

Principle # 3: Successful networkers listen more than talk.

Customer’s like to be heard. They like to know that someone is genuinely interested and cares about them. Disinterested, rushed and overly self-absorbed employees are very quickly noted by the customer and this type of behaviour is soon shared with potential customers.

Principle # 4: Successful networkers offer up value before asking for anything. 

Teach your employees that confidently giving of their time without strings attached and genuinely asking “How can I help you?” is part of creating that first impression, which the customer will always remember.

Principle # 5: Successful networkers know that networking happens anywhere, anytime, not just at “networking events.”

Employees need to be aware that customers identify them as “John, the sales assistant from x company”  even when they are outside of the working environment. So when employees  bump into one of their customers whilst off duty, they need to remember that  their behaviour influences the company reputation. So ignoring or pretending to not see the customer is not an option and can result in uncomfortable consequences. On the other hand a positive encounter outside of the business could lead to additional sales and creating a customer for life!

Principle # 6: Starting out, successful networkers treat everyone equally.

This one is focused rather at how employees treat their fellow internal customer than the external customer. Teach employees to keep their egos out of the working environment. Teach them to acknowledge the fact that every person working within the organisation plays a specific role and brings a unique skill to the success of the business.  The results of this type of positive internal networking shines through and is noticed by the external customer.

Principle # 7: Successful networkers focus on building trust.  They keep their word, act with integrity, and treat the relationship with care.  They create trust by being authentic and trustworthy.

This principle should be applied as is. We should all strive to follow this principle in our personal and business lives.

Principle # 8: Successful networkers are gracious. They give others the benefit of the doubt and don’t take things personally.

As you may know working on the front line has it’s ups and downs. Working with different customers with unique personalities, needs and attitudes can be challenging at times. Teach your employees that customers are human beings just like them.

As Carol so beautifully stated in her article, “...successful networking requires each of us to be the type of person that we would want to meet: someone with a generous spirit, an open mind, and an authentic voice. “ 

This should be the advise for customer networking. All employees should think about how they would want to be treated. Then be that person.

18 Jun

Change?

They say that human beings are creatures of habit.  Whether we are content or dissatisfied with our current situation, we generally stick with the status quo. It takes a huge amount of effort, dedication and energy to move through a change process. Hence the reason for joining support groups or working with coaches.

What I find quite interesting is that we like to talk about change. We like to dream about what could be. We actually get extremely motivated and excited about what the change could bring to our lives. All this talk however is done from the comfort of our “comfort zone arm chair” and sadly the majority of the time we revert back to what we know. We go to where we are safe. Even if it is literally causing us extreme pain and suffering. The saying “Better the devil you know” comes to mind.

Logically, we all know deep down inside that the best way to deal with change is to embrace it. Work with it, instead of against it. However getting to that point of welcoming change into your life is easier said than done, and for most of us it takes time to open ourselves up to the reality of change.

So when do we arrive at “that point” when we are ready to change? Well, one critical piece of the puzzle, that I believe  is so often missed out on is the grieving process. Whatever the change, whether we are moving away from good or bad,  we need to give ourselves time to grieve. With change comes loss. How do we deal with that loss properly? Do we open ourselves up and acknowledge why we are giving something up ? Do we find peace in the fact that we will change?

So the final question here is, are we really anxious about the changes ahead or are we avoiding the “stuff” we have to deal with before moving on? The feelings, emotions and life which we have so conveniently been swept under the carpet and forgotten about.

Whether you welcome or shun it, change is one of the very few constants in our lives. How we manage it, defines us. How do you want to be defined?

11 Jun

The secret to working smarter, not harder

I am sure you have heard the saying “If you want something done properly you have to do it yourself”. Have you noticed people’s reactions to this saying? Most of them smile, nod, agree whole heartedly and recall stories of undergoing huge personal sacrifices in their own heroic efforts of implementing a project single-handedly . This behaviour is somehow seen  as acceptable and even admired.

What is wrong with this picture? Have we been so severely brainwashed to think that to be seen as productive, successful members of society, we have to be totally self-sufficient in our lives, and that asking for help is a sign of weakness?

Well, whoever originally said “If you want things done properly you have to do them yourself” should be shot!

We are not islands. We do not function to our optimum on our own. In order to achieve even the most simplest of goals we need to interact with people around us. We need to rely and trust people to do their part. We need to ask people for help.

This topic comes to mind as I see this issue over and over again. The following question is relatively common in a coach’s  tool box and one I personally ask on a regular basis. “What type of resources do you have available to you?” 

People automatically think of resources such as finances, materials, time and knowledge. It is quite interesting that the least common resource listed when asked this question is, people.

If you identify with this type of behaviour try reflecting on the following:

  • If you saw someone else in your situation, what would you suggest they do?

Funny when it is someone else. I am 100% certain that your  immediate advice would be: “Ask for help!” Perhaps we should listen to our own advice?

  • Who benefits from you completing the project single handedly?

I don’t believe  this point needs additional explanation. In this situation, there are no winners. You just end up worked harder.

  • What will you lose if you ask people for help?

Strange but true, but most people want to be asked for help. We have this innate need to help people around us. Our friends, families and even strangers sometimes.

The last two questions I will leave to you to reflect on:

  • How would your life be transformed if you asked people for help?
  • What would you gain if you asked for help?

Overcoming the urge to not ask for help can be hard, but putting your pride and ego aside can be extremely liberating and definitely brings a great sense of relief. You’ll wish you had asked for help earlier.

As Sandeep Jauhar said, “The only mistake you can make is  not asking for help.” 

04 Jun

Are your employees sabotaging your business?

Within the first 21 days of starting in your business, how vulnerable are new appointees? Can you, with absolute certainty confirm that these newbies are receiving a genuine warm welcome from your existing employees?

I recently watched a fascinating Ted Talk, A thrilling look at the first 21 days of a bee’s life, shared by photographer Anand Varma.  Anand’s captivating story describes how the first 21 days of a bee’s life are the most crucial. This is where they develop, grow and become the new generation who inherit the reins of the existing bee colony. Sadly, what scientists have now discovered is that these vulnerable bees are being attacked by tiny mites, hiding deep within the hive, causing the young bees to become  weaker, less productive and inferior adult bees. This is subsequently causing a worldwide honey shortage.

You are probably asking yourself what on earth this has to do with new employees? Well, a beehive could be likened to a business, and the bees to employees. We know that businesses are only as strong and successful as the people they employ. So, is your business setting your new employees up for success or failure? Through hiring new people, is your business growing stronger or weaker?

What strategy have you got in place for new appointees? You might place them into an orientation programme, or buddy them up with an experienced employee to be “shown the ropes”. That is all good and well, but what about the rest of the employees within your business? How are they treating and interacting with this new employee? Do you have mites, hidden deep in your organisation that slowly work behind the scenes, for whatever reason, to make the new person feel uncomfortable and not perform to their potential? Or even worse, resign?

Here are some questions you could reflect on that might help to create a smoother transition and better retention of new employees into your business:

  • What is your new employee turnover rate within their first 6 months?
  • Who is involved in the hiring process? Are direct team members involved with the initial vetting of potential new hires?
  • What is the actual culture or attitude of the business when it comes to interacting with new hires?
  • Does your orientation programme involve all current employees?
  • Who is held responsible for taking care of new employees?
  • Are new employees asked to provide feedback on how they were treated in their first 21 days or are they only asked about their work?

All businesses know that the cost of hiring a new employee is exorbitant. After expending all the time, effort and energy of bringing a new person into the organisation, will your efforts be sabotaged by nasty little mites? What is your strategy to build your team and to promote a happy, productive start for new appointees?