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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Don't Make Your Customer Work Hard to Get Help

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Every time I speak with a business owner, a general manager or president of a company, they say with great pride “If a problem gets to me, I make sure that it is taken care of.” They believe that the customer deserves to be helped and that their needs are met. It sounds good, doesn’t it?

Well, it is NOT a good practice, and in fact, may be creating more problems for your customers than good will.

Think back to a time when you were a customer and asked your customer service representative, whether it was a cashier, sales manager, waitress, service department representative, librarian or a myriad of other people who you do business with to help you. Perhaps you want to return a meal that you didn’t like, get a refund for a faulty product, remove a late fee, provide compensation because a problem wasn’t fixed correctly or took too much time, and their response is “I can’t”, or “it’s not our policy”, or “I’m not authorized”, or simply, “No”.

You don’t want to take no for an answer, so hoping to find someone who both cares and is empowered to help you, you ask to speak to their manager—and even this takes a fight. When you finally do, they just shrug and say no.

You keep taking your complaint up the ladder until you get to speak to the boss, the big cheese, the great and powerful Oz. And in a blink of an eye, he or she says “sure.”

Happy ending, right? Wrong! By the time you have clawed your way to the top, you have become increasingly angry and frustrated. In fact, you are probably angrier now than you were before you started this process.

If having the head of the company say “yes” is not the best thing, what is?

The best way is to empower your frontline people to say “yes.” If ultimately, you were going to say “yes”, why make the customer fight so hard?

Some of my clients are afraid that an inexperienced person might give away “too much”.

In that case, empower them to say, “let me get a manager for you. He or she will be able to help get this resolved.” Generally, no customer minds being sent to a manager. What they really mind is having to demand a manager. Your customer will also know that their issue is important to your business.

You may also try training your frontline people with the “red rules, blue rules” method. Red rules are rules that cannot be broken under any circumstance (legal, safety, ethics etc.). Blue rules are everything else. Blue rules can be broken, and this gives your frontline people the flexibility to be responsive so your customers will leave happy.

If an issue eventually came to you and you would say “yes”, why not have your people say “yes” early and often?

The customer you save may be your own.

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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

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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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Exceptional Customer Experiences

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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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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