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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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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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The Golden Rule is Killing Customer Service

as-you-wish“Do onto others as you would have others do unto you.” That’s the Golden Rule. Seems like an unarguable truth for customer service. In fact, when I am helping people improve their customer service, I frequently hear this quote as an example of how to provide great customer service.

In reality, if applied verbatim, the Golden Rule can kill great customer service.

Think about it from your own perspective. Do you REALLY want people to treat you the way THEY want to be treated? Most likely, not. For instance, if I was treating you the way I want to be treated, you might get a big hug from me and be followed around and chatted you up until you leave. (Which for some of you would be sooner rather than later, I imagine.)

If my husband was providing the Golden Rule, he might ignore you until you asked him a direct question. Again, this would work for some of you but certainly not all.

The Golden Rule is somewhat self-centered. It assumes that the way YOU want to be treated is THE way to provide great customer service for everybody. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work, because as humans we are so very different from each other in style and preference.

Tony Allesandra has it right. He created the Platinum Rule "Treat others the way they want to be treated."

This outward focused philosophy guarantees great customer service by making each customer interaction uniquely personal.

Here are some personal differences you should consider:

Pace. Is the person someone who needs time to process, or are they quick to respond?

Task or Relationship Based. Does your customer want to spend time chatting about the weather or do they want to get right down to business?

Eye Contact. Does your customer prefer eye contact or do they avoid it? If they don’t like eye contact don’t stare at them with the hope they will suddenly start giving it back.

Body Language. Does your customer have their arms folded or is their body language open?

Proximity. Is your customer a “close talker” or do they keep their distance?

There are millions of ways that we are different from one another. Make it a goal to minimize the differences between our customer’s preferences and our own. Sometimes I get the pushback “I don’t want to be a phoney.” Think of becoming a Communication Chameleon. Chameleons match their surroundings without becoming a different animal. You can dial your style up or down to match your customer without being untrue to yourself.

The more you live the Platinum Rule "Treat others the way they want to be treated," the better service you will provide. Being observant and modifying your behavior to match your customer will ensure your customer perceives that they have gotten great service. Start using the Platinum Rule today.

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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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