presentation skills trainer

Great Ideas for Communication

Great Ideas for Communication

presentation skills trainerLaurie Brown

Laurie Brown has over two decades of experience as a trainer, coach and speaker, helping her audience improve their leadership, presentation, sales and customer service skills. 
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The Super Power I Really Don’t Want

gg64127970When I was a kid, my best friend Eileen and I spent hours talking about what super power we wanted. Eileen wanted to be able to fly so she could soar over the rooftops and see our neighborhood below her. I wanted to be invisible. I thought the super power of invisibility would allow me to sneak into the dining room when my parents and aunts and uncles would stay up late telling (mostly dirty) jokes. Then I could listen without any adult being the wiser.

Sad to say, Eileen never did get her super power, but, not to brag, I did.

Yes, I do have the super power of invisibility, and to be honest, it is a super power I wish I didn’t have. Now I can walk into stores and be totally invisible. No one acknowledges me, and in fact I can roam around some stores for hours and no one can see me at all.

I know that this super power is not mine alone. Too many of us walk into businesses without anyone saying “hi, “welcome,” or “how can I help you?”

Actually, this is a bigger problem for these businesses than it is for me. I have choices, usually a lot of them, and I often exercise these choices—as I imagine you do.

Invisibility isn’t a problem only at retail stores. I have been invisible at doctor’s offices, libraries, and dealership service departments among many other places.

If you want to make a huge difference for the success of your business, make sure that none of your customers have the power of invisibility.

What can you do? Be sure that each and every employee acknowledges each and every customer within seconds of being in their presence. Even if they are busy with another customer, or on the computer completing a work task, they just need to say “hi” or “welcome, give me a minute and I will get right to you.”, and if they are on the phone, a simple nod or raising of a hand that signals “I see you, but please give me a minute” will let your customers know that they are not invisible.

Remember, only YOU can prevent invisibility!

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When Good Customer Service Rules Go Bad

rules 1752415 1920Tony did exactly as he was trained. He sent a hand-written thank you note to his customer. However, when his customer received it she was furious and tore it up into little pieces before throwing it out.

How could something as well intentioned as a thank you note (hand written, at that) create such a negative reaction?  As it turns out, this customer was still in the process of getting a serious issue resolved with Tony and his company. The thank you note arrived before this issue was dealt with, he never mentioned it, and he never apologized for the problem. Even though the thank you note was handwritten, it was as impersonal as a mass produced letter that starts with “Dear Customer.”

If you only train your employees to routinely do things without understanding the subtleties and context of their actions, you run the risk that they’ll do the right things but in the wrong way.

Here are some of the most common customer service rules, when to break them and best practices to apply instead.

Rule One: Always Use the Customer’s name

Dale Carnegie said “The sweetest sound in any language is the sound of one’s own name.” Though it may be true that using a customer’s name can create a sense of intimacy, it can also have the opposite effect. Watch out for the following mistakes:

  1. Using the customer’s name too often.

“Well, Bob, you can see that this is the perfect solution for your business, don’t you agree Bob? After all Bob, studies have shown this to be true. And Bob….” Overusing your customer’s name may make them uncomfortable, seeming like an insincere gimmick rather than a true connection.

  1. Mispronouncing your customer’s name.

Some people have names that are hard to pronounce or have an unusual pronunciation.  In either case it is always good to ask the proper way to pronounce their name. Once you’ve heard the proper pronunciation, it’s essential that you pronounce it correctly. Customer’s may forgive you for not saying it right, but it will still grate on your customer’s nerves to hear his or her name said wrong repeatedly.

  1. Being too formal or too informal when using your customer’s name.
    Some people prefer to use their first name; some prefer an honorific such as Mr., Miss, Ms, Mrs., Ma’am, Sir, etc. It is far more respectful to start off by being formal letting your customer tell you their preference.

Best Practice: Use your customers name in a way that shows respect and begins to build rapport.

Rule Two: Always Shake Your Customers Hand

For decades salespeople have been taught to shake hands in order to connect and build trust and rapport with their customers. However, there are a number of situations where offering a handshake can create more tension than trust.

  1. Cultural Issues.

There are many cultures and religions in which handshaking is either forbidden or considered rude. If you are dealing with a multi-cultural customer base, learn all you can about the appropriate ways to greet and welcome them.

  1. Social Anxiety.

For some people, the mere thought of having to shake hands creates a level of tension that can ruin the entire interaction.

  1. People with compromises immune systems.
    In 1918 the town of Prescott, Arizona outlawed handshaking to attempt to slow down the spread of the flu epidemic. Many people have been told by their doctors that they should not shake hands in order to protect their fragile immune systems. There are also perfectly healthy people who are afraid of the germs that can be transmitted by a handshake.

Best Practice: Instead of initiating the handshake it is better to wait until your customer makes the first move. Keep your arms relaxed but ready to respond. If they start to shake your hand, you can easily reach out and grasp their hand in return.

Rule Three: Always Send a Handwritten Thank You Note

In this impersonal business world a handwritten note will help you stand out and make a great impression, but sometimes a note can have the opposite effect.

  1. Sending a thank you note before a problem is successfully resolved

As in the opening story, don’t send a thank you note if your customer has an unresolved problem. Don’t send a note unless it’s an apology, not a thank you.

  1. Impersonal note

A perfunctory “thank you for doing business with us” can fall flat like a form letter, ruining whatever connection you may have with your customer.

Best Practice: Although a handwritten note is still somewhat personal in its nature, you need to take it a step further by writing something unique that relates to each customer. Your note should include references to what you have spoken about with the customer (i.e. Their kid’s baseball game; the health of a loved one, etc.)

Rule Four: Follow the Golden Rule

From the time we are children we have been taught to follow the golden rule. “Do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” Following this rule can create a number of problems:

  1. Treating your customer in a way that makes them uncomfortable.

It is somewhat egocentric to assume that your customer always has the same wants and desires that you do. For example, if you are a gregarious person who likes lots of conversation and connection, you risk pushing your customer away if that kind of treatment makes them uneasy.

  1. Missing an opportunity to surprise and delight.
    When you only use yourself as a reference about what would impress your customer you lose the ability to be nimble and creative. When you listen carefully to your customer he or she will give you clues about what you can do to go the extra mile.

Best Practice: Use Tony Allesandra's PlatinumRule; “Treat others the way they want to be treated.” This ensures that your customer will be treated in a way that meets his or her needs.

The bottom line to all these rule breakers and best practices is to keep your customer service personal. Don’t just follow the rules, choose the best way to apply them to meet and exceed  your customer’s needs.

About the Author:

Laurie Brown is an international trainer and consultant who works to help people improve their communication skills. She is the author of The Teleprompter Manual, for Executives, Politicians, Broadcasters and Speakers. Laurie can be contacted through www.lauriebrown.com 1.248.761.7510

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Stop Spouting EMPTYthy Provide great service by turning over a new LEAF

leaf 3359614 1920

After waiting an hour for my food to be delivered to my hotel room—late by 30 minutes according to the delivery time promised in their email confirmation—I called the company. Then I had to wait another 30 minutes just to talk to a customer service representative.

This is when things went from bad to much, much, worse. The customer service representative told me he was sorry but that he couldn’t do anything except refund my money. When I expressed my frustration, he responded (seemingly from a customer service script on how to sound empathetic with an upset customer), “I understand.”

The problem was––he didn’t. If he truly understood, he would have expressed true empathy for a very hungry and upset customer in a strange city.

Simply parroting “I’m sorry” and “I understand” over and over only added to my frustration. It strikes of “EMPTYthy” –– words without meaning or genuine concern. I’m sure this company trained its people to “sound” like they care, but it’s not the same thing as actually caring and it just doesn’t ever work.

So, what does work? Empathy over an "i'm sorry" apology would sound like this: “Wow! We sure messed up. That’s terrible. You must be so hungry. Here is what we are going to do to resolve this now.”

If you want a more effective way to deal with upset customers try turning over a new “LEAF”.

Listen: Use active listening techniques. Acknowledge by repeating or paraphrasing to check for understanding. Let the customer finish telling their story to you. Even if you know you can fix their problem based on what you’ve heard early in the conversation, don’t. If interrupted, the customer will just keep repeating themselves until they feel heard.

Empathy: Stop using meaningless phrases such as “I understand.” Instead, use language that shows you “get it”. “That’s terrible,” “How frustrating,” “You must be besides yourself” are phrases that let your customer know you truly understand how they feel.

Act: Take ownership of the problem and fix it as soon as you can. Get creative with your solution. And if you can’t fix it immediately, show that you are urgently trying to.

Follow up: Check in with the customer and make sure that your solution satisfied them.

Try LEAF with your next unhappy customer—and please, no more EMPTYthy.

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Five Words That Could Kill Your Business

iStock 000020489513 Double 350 Joe left a message with a store about an order he had placed a month ago. “Hey, I hate to bother you, but are there any updates on my order?”

These words may seem pretty innocuous. However, they include the five little words that could really hurt your bottom-line. Anytime your customer initiates a call, email or text AFTER the promised delivery time, and ask one of these questions:

“Is my ­­­­­_________________ready yet? Or “Any updates about my_____________?” you may have damaged your relationship with that customer.

By not keeping your customer up-to-date on the progress of their order or service, you are telling them that they are not a priority to you. This may not be the case and not the message that you mean to convey, but it may be what it is understood by your customer.

Granted, if your response is “Yes, Joe, I was just about to give you a call. Your _________ is ready.” you may stem the bleeding. But if you say, “Oh, let me check… No, we haven’t gotten to your_________. Boy, have we been swamped today,” you are adding insult to injury.

Think about it from your customers’ perspective. They are busy people already inconvenienced by the wait for their _____________. If they feel the need to call you, you have compounded that inconvenience. They are worried about when they can get their ______________, AND now they had to take time from their day to check on it. From your customers’ perspective your lack of consideration has just added more cost to the bill.

You probably know that for customers to continue to do business with you, value has to exceed price. By respecting your customers’ expectations regarding time commitments you are taking a step toward building value for them in doing business with you.

Examine how much consideration you demonstrate for your customers’ time and convenience. Managing expectations and good communication are two big factors that show respect for your customer and are a major part of your effort to keep them coming back.

Manage Expectations

Maybe you didn’t promise your customer a specific time, so you might think that you’re not being held to one. Unfortunately, this is not true. When the customer gives you their order they are creating a promised delivery time in their own mind. Unfortunately, you have no idea what that time is, and so you are much more likely to be unable to meet that unspoken expectation.

Start to manage your customer’s expectations by providing a specific date and time. Tell them EXACTLY when they will hear from you. Even if the work hasn’t been completed, simply keeping that promise will build trust.

Provide Updates

Call your customer BEFORE they call you. Your promised time is just that... a PROMISE.

In your customers’ mind, you have broken that promise when you haven't called them. When you can’t meet your promised time, make the first call. Give the customer an honest reason for the delay and make sure you provide an updated completion time.

If the delay is caused because you are providing extra care and service, be sure to let your customer know.

You are the face of your business and need to let your customers know that they are not just dollar signs or numbers—they are real people with busy lives—who you respect. Simply by communicating and keeping your promises, you will boost the likelihood of their coming back time and again. Loyal customers make your business.

Laurie Brown, CSP works with organizations that want to use compelling communication skills to influence and persuade.

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The Importance of Being Known

Waitress_with_cake.jpgYou walk into your favorite diner and your waitress Judy, says, “I saved you a piece of your favorite chocolate cake”. Or your mail lady, Sharise, says “How’s Danny?” (your son who moved away from home 8 years ago). Or your bartender, Sam, calls out “Your regular?” Or your dry cleaner, Mark says “Hey Eric, hows it going?”

As a customer, there is nothing better than to be known.

Every time a service provider remembers your name, your favorite food or drink, your kids, or anything else about you, they are saying “You are important to me. I appreciate your business, and more importantly, “I know you.”

Often we do business as strangers with strangers, so that when we are known, it really stands out.

If, as a customer, you are known by a business, do all you can do to help keep them in business.

If you are in business, do all you can do to “Know” your customer. If you have a good memory you are in luck, if not, use a crm (customer relationship management) system to keep important information about your customer at your finger tips.

What do you do to let your customers know that you know them?

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Can a Banana Make a Difference?

When we’re talking about exceptional customer experiences, a banana certainly can.


 FullSizeRender1I dined at Parker’s tonight (yes, they invented the Parker House Roll) in the Omni Parker House in Boston. The service was perfect, the food, chosen from the pre-theatre menu was delicious. They even served me mixed berries instead of a dessert from their menu and packed it up for me to go.
 
Everything met my expectations for a fine dining experience and I was completely satisfied, but, truthfully, as much as I enjoyed it, it was not an experience I would write about.
 
However when I was walking out with the berries in hand the whole evening changed. Michael, the maître d, stopped and chatted with me for a minute. He noticed the fruit and asked, “Would you like a banana with that?” Well, as it turns out, I did. So Michael went to the kitchen and came back with a banana and a bottle of water. He remarked that bananas are a perfect fruit—no need for silverware!
 
I’m not sure if bananas are the perfect fruit, but Michael was the perfect maitre d. He found an opportunity to surprise and delight. I won’t soon forget the kindness he showed me.
 
I often say, “Exceptional customer service is created through small acts of personal kindness.” Michael understood this and achieved it through the gift of a banana.
 
How can you delight your customer? What is “the banana” that will surprise and delight them? Make sure you give a little extra so that your customers will talk about your great service.

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Be a Human

 

no robots please small Standing at the front of the line at my city’s office to pay my property taxes. Next to me at the counter was a man who was also paying his property taxes. The woman behind the counter working with him had her nose buried in her computer. He said to her “My mother just died and I have her house. I will need to pay her taxes also.”

 As you picture this scene, what do you imagine the city worker said in response?

 “Oh my, I am so sorry to hear that.”, or, “I lost my mother last year, it was really hard for me”, or “I hope you are okay.”

 If you thought she offered any of those kind, thoughtful expressions, you would be wrong.  She never even looked up from the computer. She merely said “Well there will be other paper work you will need to fill out.”

 The man who had just lost his mother looked shell shocked by her lack of human kindness. Not only was this lacking in basic humanity, it demonstrates what is lacking in customer service today.

The secret to great customer service is “be a human.” There are many ways to “be a human.” When you are a human rather than a worker drone you have the opportunity to connect with your customer. You may want to notice when a  customer mentions something personal. All you need to do is pay attention and respond appropriately. Our customers drop information at our feet and all we need to do is pick it up and respond. Consider these examples:

A customer says, “My dog chewed up my bill, I will need another.” You might respond, “What kind of dog do you have?”

A customer says “ I have to go pick up my daughter at dance class after this.” You might respond, “What kind of dance does she do?”

A customer says, “The traffic is terrible out there. It took me twenty minutes to get here” You might respond, “I know the traffic just seems to get worse and worse these days.”

Great customer service comes from small acts of kindness.

Remember, all it takes is to “be a human”.

 

 

 

 

 

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Save Your Customer Money to Save Your Customer

blog-giftRecently I decided that I no longer wanted to pay for a service that I felt was overpriced and I also under utilized. When I called the business to end my contract with them they asked "Would you be willing to stay if we could give you a lower price option?"

Now, this might have been a welcome offer, but instead I found myself getting angry. This business tracks usage so I know that they knew I was under utilizing their product. They also knew that they could serve me more affordably  with a different package. In my mind they were taking advantage of my not knowing all the options that were available to me. I didn't take their offer. I stopped doing business with them totally and I will not go back. Perhaps it makes good "business sense" if you remember that they made a lot of money off me for five years. But whatever "extra" they made off of my ignorance, they lost my business in the future and maybe more importantly my good will.

Compare this to Sprint. I have a Sprint Card that I only use sporadically. It too was expensive. I was thinking do I even need this anymore? But before I cancelled I got a card from them that explained that I might be eligible for a lower rate. As it turns out it was about 1/3 the cost. I felt that Sprint was looking out for my best interest. I jumped at the lower rate.

Interestingly enough, I still barely use it, but I feel so loyal to Sprint that I will keep it. I felt that Sprint was being loyal to me and I wanted to return the favor.

Could you be saving your customer money? If so, do you let them know about it? Let me be clear I don't mean the "We can save you money if you buy or phone service along with our cable internet and tv." I mean I looked at your account and I see ways that I can save you money.

Think of it this way:

When you save your customer money you often save your customer.

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The Year of the Customer!

As you greet your next customer, remember that 2012 is going to be the year of the customer. What does that mean to you? It means that now, more than ever, you will need to do everything you can to make sure your customer is happy. We will share tips and techniques on how to make sure that you win and keep your customers.

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