Saturday, December 30, 2006

Wisdom from Dr. Dan

I was interviewed this morning by business expert Dr. Dan Strakal, host of the syndicated radio program “Business Buzz”, ( about techniques for managing customer situations. Dr. Dan prepares very well for his shows, and at the beginning of our program he rattled off a treasure trove of statistics from various sources about the impact of high service quality. For example:

-Customers are 5 times more likely to leave a business over service issues than they are over price or product issues.

-Firms with measurably higher service quality are able to charge substantially higher prices for their products or services.

-High-service organizations increase their market share by an average of 6% per year.

One of the most fascinating things he mentioned had nothing to do with growth or profits, however: namely, the strong correlation between high turnover and low service quality. In other words, bad service doesn’t just chase away paying customers; it also chases away the people who are cashing your paychecks.

This makes perfect sense, in that people who lack the communications and leadership skills to handle service situations invariably experience a lot of customer anger and resentment in their daily jobs – and probably feel like they are being left to twist in the wind by their management. And in my experience, all the pay raises and benefits in the world won’t fix the problem.

The irony is that this problem can usually be easily and cheaply fixed by investing in solid, skills-based training on communications techniques – and the impact on your morale, turnover, and bottom line are often nothing short of incredible. Make sure that whatever approach you choose focuses on specific techniques rather than platitudes, and can be customized to the unique customer scenarios of your business. (P.S. If you don't know where to start, check out Put this on your business shopping list for 2007, and watch what happens in your organization!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Do what you love - for a long time

Recently I was waiting for my connecting flight on a business trip to San Francisco, when an elderly man shuffled slowly into the boarding area. I didn't pay any attention to him, until he pulled out a dusty folder with drawings of steel bridges, and I caught a glimpse of his name engraved on the cover. I went over to introduce myself, and sure enough, he was one of my professors from engineering school 30 years ago!

We sat and talked, and I listened with amazement as he described life in his mid-80s - jetting all over the world as a consultant on steel suspension bridges, and flying to San Francisco this day to work on earthquake modifications for the Golden Gate bridge. As we spoke, he pulled out a picture of a man climbing precariously to the top of the highest cable of the bridge, and when I asked who that was, he said matter of factly, "Me, two years ago. I wanted to inspect the cables, and they let me go right up there."

It turns out that this man - who to this day, has never used a computer (as I tapped away on my laptop in-flight, he asked, "You say you put words in that thing?") - has been awarded some of the highest honors of the engineering profession, at an age where many of us would be playing shuffleboard in a retirement home. That, to me, is the epitome of a great life - to have a purpose, and enjoy doing it so much that your age becomes irrelevant.

My old professor is far from alone here. As I write this, I am listening to Al Jarreau scat-singing at 100 miles an hour on his album "Accentuate the Positive”, which he recorded well into his seventh decade. Peter Drucker wrote best-selling books and held court with business leaders well into his 90s. And I remember motivational speaker Norman Vincent Peale still packing them in at stadiums not long before he passed away peacefully in his sleep, on Christmas Eve, at age 95.

For those of us who are gifted with a long life, I have always felt that the road to happiness lies in what you are passionate about in the present moment. Even though it isn't unusual for me to put in 50-60 hour work weeks nowadays, I feel like I am already retired at age 51, in the sense that I am doing what I hope to do for as long as life and good health permit - writing, speaking, and waking up every morning with the same beautiful woman I met when I was 18. May we all find our own personal equivalent of that view from the top of the Golden Gate bridge, that carries us for the rest of our lives.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

There’s no such thing as a free panty

Of all of the credit card bills I’ve had to pay in my life, the one I probably least expected was … a lingerie bill. Still, there I was, making out a check for a three-digit sum to pay off my wife’s Victoria’s Secret card. But what was even more fascinating, and a good business lesson for all of us, was how that balance got there in the first place.

You see, Victoria’s Secret regularly sends its credit card holders a little envelope containing something that is small in size, but devastating in its impact – a card good for a free panty, no strings attached.

On the face of it, it makes no sense at all to be giving away free merchandise. But think about it for a moment. Victoria’s Secret is a chain of small specialty stores. You don’t go there every week, like you go to the grocery store. And since sexy underwear isn’t exactly one of life’s necessities, it’s all too easy to forget about the place entirely – which Victoria’s Secret, of course, doesn’t want you to do. That’s where the free panty comes in.

Once this little card motivates you to get in your car and go to the store, people get tantalized by all the other sexy-looking merchandise in the store – and combined with their ever-so-helpful staff doing their best job of suggestive selling, they often emerge with their free panty and a lot more. And what’s more important, they feel good about it. Everybody wins, except perhaps the person in our household (that would be me) who has to pay the bill.

This got me thinking about my own business. I make my living doing training and freelance writing, and I am always giving things away free. When I do a free talk or marketing event, for example, I don’t tease them about material in my books or training programs – I let them have it right between the eyes with important skills they can take home with them that day. And you know what? I’ve probably earned more money from giving away content, and having people come back for more, than anything else I’ve ever done.

This trend of giving away things of real value for free seems to be taking hold in the public consciousness as well. For example, it used to be common practice for hucksters to give quote-unquote free seminars that were little more than teasers for their paid products. While those types are unfortunately still around, I’ve noticed that the people I respect most in my sphere of communications skills give away tons of great information for free. They have content on their website, free newsletters, free teleconferences, live chat sessions – and it’s all good stuff. And plenty of people, myself included, often come back and cross their palms with silver after coming in for their “free panty.”

So, if there is one lesson I am taking away from paying this big underwear bill, it’s a newfound respect for the company who has built a business empire out of turning so little fabric into so much profit. Take a look at what you can start giving away for free, and see what it does for – sorry, no pun intended – your bottom line.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

The recent furor over Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks about Islam raises some important issues in the relationship between major religions. But for me, it also raises an interesting point about the psycholinguistics of how we apologize to each other.

After Muslims reacted strongly to the Pope’s citation of a historical passage that offended them – one that he has since stated did not reflect his own opinion – he first said that he “sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful.” As protests continued, he added a day later that he was “deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries” to his address.”

Translation? “I’m sorry that *you* were upset about what I said.” Not the worst sentiment, but a far cry from “I am sorry that *I* did something that offended you.”

This brings up the deeper issue of why, sometimes, our own apologies aren’t good enough. Here are two reasons that I see:

1. You have to make it about you and not about them. When someone is upset at you, human nature is to defend ourselves. So we try to justify ourselves by making the other person seem too sensitive, or painting them as being part of the problem. This, in turn, makes them even more defensive and angry. That’s why apologies like “I’m sorry you reacted so badly” or “I’m sorry I overreacted to your provocation” almost never work.

There are two sides to every story, but if you are apologizing to someone, it simply isn’t the time and place for your side. Keep the focus on what you shouldn’t have done and what you will change, and you are much more likely to soothe the other person.

2. The phrase “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean what it used to. I often tell audiences that they should banish the words “I’m sorry” from their vocabulary? Huh? Really? Yes, really. Look critically at how the term is used in most conversation, and you will see that it has become a self-protective catch-phrase that conveys no regret whatsoever:

“I’m sorry, we can’t/won’t/don’t do that, sir.”
“I’m sorry. You should have been more careful.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to (fill in the blank).”

As a result, most people don’t react to these two words themselves quite the same way anymore. Instead, use the term “I apologize”, and then be specific about what you are apologizing for – for example, “I apologize for causing this problem.”

Of course, I hope and pray that the Holy Father and the Muslim community will soon resolve their differences with respect and civility on all sides. But in the meantime, there is an important lesson in this incident for all of us: how to apologize more effectively.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Thanks everyone!

As of this morning my new book Great Customer Connections reached an sales rank of 8,259 - ranking third among customer service books in the United States.

While Amazon sales ranks are notoriously volatile, it is still a great achievement to reach Amazon's top 10,000 out of several million books. The news is even better overseas - so far it is actually selling as well outside the US as here, and McGraw-Hill, who distributes the book worldwide, recently ranked it as their 26th top selling trade book. Kudos to my publisher AMACOM Books, who have done a truly amazing job of getting the word out about this book - over the last few weeks it has been featured in nearly every major sales, customer service and training publication. Here is a sample of some of the glowing reviews:

"I didn’t expect to learn much from a book on customer service. I’ve been developing and facilitating award-winning customer service programs for nine years. Surprisingly, I found Great Customer Connections took customer service to a new level by presenting strategies that can empower employees to handle even especially difficult situations. (Gallagher) suggested solutions for scenarios that could stump even the most expert among us ... Although the techniques are indeed “simple” (Gallagher’s quote), they are not universally taught or practiced, and they are strikingly effective."
-Kim Neubauer, Training Director, The Franklin Institute Science Museum, in Training Media Reviews, August 2006.

"Not only are his suggestions easy to adapt, they are largely simple changes. He analyzes everything from first impressions to the toughest situations. If you’re ready to wipe out customer complaints and keep your employees for years, it’s time to read this book."
-Claire Patterson, NICHE Magazine, July 2006

"Great Customer Connections provide(s) lessons in basic behavioral psychology that can translate into good service and increased business."
-Alan Caruba, Bookviews, July 2006

"Given the competitive sales landscape today, (Great Customer Connections) offers some essential strategies on how to build connections."
-Michelle Nichols, Business Week, June 2006

Finally, and most important, a big thank you to all of you who have purchased this book! (And if you haven't yet, click here to check it out on Amazon.) Always happy to hear your comments - contact me anytime at Thanks!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

You go, Jim Leyland!

Long ago, when I used to live in Pittsburgh, I spent four years as a season ticket holder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Those were great years to be a Pirates fan, with an all-star lineup that won their division three years in a row.

But ironically, my greatest pleasure wasn’t sitting in the stands taking in the game. It was driving to the stadium and listening to manager Jim Leyland’s pre-game show on my car radio. He was so refreshingly different from the in-your-face, win-at-all-costs types of sports coaches that I grew up with. Leyland, more than just about anyone I’ve ever heard in the sports world, seemed to understand that winning was a matter of doing the fundamentals well AND respecting and motivating your team.

This meant that when the Pirates lost a game, he could dispassionately talk about what went wrong in terms of mechanics, rather than criticizing people – and when they won, he could still see where the basics needed to improve. Never once did I ever hear this accessible, plain-spoken man say anything uncharitable about a player, even if he had just given up seven runs in an inning. More important, the way he talked about the interaction between him and his team, there was clearly a bond of respect on both sides – and he consistently got the best out of everyone, from nervous rookies to prima-donna All Stars.

Today, of course, Jim Leyland is the manager of the once-lowly Detroit Tigers, who have gone from nearly setting a modern-day loss record in 2003 to the best record in baseball today – and to listen to him talk following a recent losing streak, it’s clear that his approach hasn’t changed: “I haven't been ranting and raving. We're not going to panic. What's been happening to us is what happens to every team in baseball. … We're not going to have meetings or all this urgency. It doesn't work that way."

Even with the playoffs temptingly in sight over the next month, his perspective on winning is refreshing, "Either we're good enough or we're not. You have to keep playing. If it's good enough, we'll still be playing in October. If not, we'll go home. We'll find out."

A fitting postscript to the Tigers’ success story comes from Lloyd McClendon, one of Leyland’s players during the Pirates’ glory years who now serves as one of his coaches in Detroit. Recently, he was honored by Little League baseball for hitting a record five home runs in five at-bats as a youngster in the 1971 finals against Taiwan – but his speech focused on another situation, namely being on the mound as Taiwan scored seven runs in the 9th inning and beat his team. "It was a very defining moment in my life when I had my coach and my dad say, 'It's OK, you did the best that you could do and we're very proud of you,"' he said, and went on to say that moment "should be a model for all coaches, all parents and all communities."

So, if you manage people in business, how do you react when they mess something up – even very badly? How much time do you spend coaching them on the mechanics of what they do? And how much respect do they feel from you when they walk in the door each morning? If the attitude and morale in your workplace could be better, take a page from some of the best minds in baseball – currently to be found on the bench at Comerica Park in Detroit – and see what happens.

“Tigers Slam Four Homers in Rout of Indians”, AP Sports, 8/27/06
“Tigers' McClendon Honored for Homer Feat”, AP Sports, 8/26/06

Monday, August 21, 2006

The solution to world peace? Ask your spouse.

As a relatively apolitical communications skills author and trainer, one thing sticks out for me in the latest Mideast conflict: how everyone talks past each other and can’t acknowledge the other person’s agenda.

If I’m to believe what I hear in the media, you have a group of insurgents – no, make that freedom fighters – no, make that scummy terrorists – pitted against a government that is defending itself … or overreacting … or wiping out the scourge of terrorism … or invading a sovereign country. And as I listen to this endless parade of partisan pundits, I have one question for all of them.

How did your last argument with your spouse or partner turn out?

When you argue with someone close to you, you try to convince them how wrong they are. Right? And, let me guess – you both get absolutely nowhere until at least one of you starts acknowledging the other person. And then, only when you actually start engaging each other, can you find a way to settle your differences and move on.

I teach workshops on this all the time to people who work with customers. When a customer tells you that your product stinks and that you’re an idiot, most of us defend ourselves – at which point things usually go completely down the tubes. But when you learn the mechanics of acknowledging other people with statements like, “I can tell you’re really frustrated about this,” or “Let’s explore what options we have from here,” magic starts to happen. It’s all simple behavioral psychology.

So now, I turn on the television and hear Jews – whom I like a great deal – and Arabs – whom I also like a great deal – saying things to each other that would never, ever work back home in their own bedrooms. And it would be comical to watch if it wasn’t for so many people getting hurt, killed and made homeless on both sides in the process.

We’ve been here before, of course. I grew up in a Cold War world of “commies” who “hated freedom” and “only understood force.” But then we all started talking, and now suddenly it’s no big deal to visit these places – when I went to China soon after the “Iron Curtain” opened up in the 1980s, I was almost surprised to find myself surrounded by very nice people who didn’t eat their young. And long before that we dealt with another insurgent group who burned ships, incited mob violence, disregarded the conventions of warfare, and were publicly committed to the violent overthrow of the government – but then we settled our differences, and the faces of those people now adorn our currency.

So how will this conflict end? I don’t know. People smarter than me are going to have to figure it out. If it were up to me, I’d probably invite them all over for a barbeque and get them talking – and I’d tell them to bring their spouses. What do you think?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Getting serious for a moment …

Most of the communications skills I talk about, in my books and here on this blog, help you work better with customers and each other. Today, I want to share one from personal experience that could save a few people’s lives.

First, the backstory: This summer, I went in for a routine physical, and a couple of tests came back with very frightening results. I’ll spare you the personal details, but for the past month, I have had to go through a battery of tests to rule out several different kinds of cancer. (Thankfully, I now have a clean bill of health.)

Now, back to the communications skills. Like just about everyone these days – or at least anyone computer-literate enough to be blogging – I went to the Internet to research what was in store for me. What I found was a smattering of official medical information, several postings about how horrible these tests were, and some very scary statements about my prognosis.

I went through the tests anyway (because, as I tell my wife, I have an “un-dying” love for her), but with no small amount of trepidation. In reality, these tests were no big deal at all – even the most invasive one, a prostrate biopsy, was completely painless and over with in a few minutes. Moreover, the doctor was quick to reassure me that my own prospects were far less grim that what I was reading on the Internet.

So now that I’m OK, I want to turn my attention to the people who post messages about their own health experiences. It’s human nature to dramatize the things we go through, once they are over with. It’s like when we were kids at summer camp, and everyone in my tent breathlessly tried to top one another about who had the biggest fight, or the worst bee sting. Except that now, as grown-ups, the stakes are higher. Sadly, I read too many stories on-line about people who dreaded these tests so much that they put off having them – in some cases, waiting until their cancer had spread and their prognosis was poor.

So, if you are one to share with the world what your last fill-in-the-blank-oscopy was like, just remember that real people, making real decisions about their health, are reading your words – and just like I prescribe for customer situations, do your best to reassure people and word things to the other person’s benefit. And finally, a word to everyone, particularly my fellow males – if you aren’t getting regular physicals with blood work and urinalysis, DO IT. Much of the reason that human life expectancy has increased by over 50% over the last century can be summed up in two words: early detection. Take care and be healthy.

On a lighter note, the “hat” picture is gone. Tiring of the typical middle-aged-bald-guy-in-a-tie business author photo, I decided to go the stylish route – open collar, light sport coat, and a white Panama hat. Some people thought it was great. Some people thought I looked like a real character. One brave person even ventured that I looked like Colonel Sanders.

So anyway, cooler heads have now prevailed, and a new picture of what I *really* look like (on most days, anyway) is back online at my website of and my new book’s website at

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The most profitable thing I write

I take a great deal of pleasure in being a writer and an organizational development trainer – particularly because I am fortunate to make this my full-time livelihood, and have done so for much of the past dozen years.

As you can imagine, this means that I do a great deal of writing – books, articles, presentations, editorials, client projects, you name it. And I love every minute of it. But this week, I was struck by how one kind of writing, ironically one of the shorter things that I do, has probably been more profitable for me than anything. What is it?

Thank you notes.

Long ago, I started following the advice of leading sales trainers to send thank you notes to people, and this has been my personal habit for many years. Anyone who invites me to write or train for them, brings me in for a speaking engagement, hosts me on their radio show, or connects with me in any meaningful way will usually find a thank you note from me in their mail or e-mail less than 24 hours later. And looking back, the connections that these thank you notes have built have grown over time to become the bedrock of what I do.

Ironically, I do not treat thank you notes themselves as a sales opportunity. I never ask for more business, suggest follow-up work, or hint that I’m available for future projects. Instead, the focus is on them – how much I enjoyed working with them, crediting the people who helped make our project a success, and the mentioning the good things I observed about them during our time together. They are simple and come from the heart. I’m doing what our mothers taught all of us to do when someone does us a favor, and take great pleasure in it.

The response to these thank you notes is often very direct. Many people write back and suggest new ways to work together in the future. One radio host in Boston told me that I was his first guest in years to send him a thank you note, and had me back on his show again soon afterwards. And many years ago, a visiting colleague responded to my thank you note with an invitation for an all-expenses-paid trip to teach in China as they were opening up to the West – the experience of a lifetime. Response or no, every single note helps me build better relationships with people I genuinely like and respect.

So, if you don’t do it already, try working more thank you notes into your repertoire, and see what a difference it makes. Oh … and by the way … thank you for reading this!


For my friends in the Capital District of New York - come meet me in person this Tuesday, August 8 at Borders Book Store in Saratoga Springs! I will be presenting a free lecture and booksigning at 2 PM, courtesy of the great folks at Borders, who told me that they expected a big crowd because it was a "dark Tuesday". (And I finally figured out what that means - there is no horse racing at Saratoga's famous track that day.) See you there!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Why your service stinks

If you manage people who work with the public, and their attitude and service quality with your customers leave something to be desired, I’ll bet I know why that’s happening. Take this simple quiz:

1. What to you say to an employee who snaps back at a rude customer?
2. A new employee doesn’t reply or make eye contact with people. How do you respond?
3. An important customer is upset because one of your employees dropped the ball. What do you say to this employee afterwards?

If, like most managers, you criticize these people – even in genteel terms – you probably foster an environment where people are much more interested in “covering their assets” than pleasing your customers. And I completely understand why you both act that way. You are following human nature, they are following human nature, but the results lead you both to a place where neither of you really wants to go.

My new book Great Customer Connections covers many novel and effective communications strategies with customers, but one of its most important chapters is on how managers can communicate much more effectively with their own “customers” – e.g. their employees. Here are just a few of its tips:

Speak to the other person’s benefit. We all hate being corrected, but we love learning new skills. Instead of saying “You shouldn’t have talked back to that customer,” try saying things like “I can tell that person was getting under your skin. Tell me about it” and “I know some techniques that can help that go easier next time. Let’s role-play this.”

No criticism. Working with the public is hard enough without the burden of defending yourself. If you create a blame-free zone in your workplace, people will suddenly become very open about what’s happening with customers, and work with you to improve it.

Use the “I” technique. When you put things in your own terms, they become much less threatening. “*I* used to get really frustrated when *I* dealt with customers like that. Here is what *I* learned from it.”

All of these techniques spring from classic behavioral psychology, using techniques with lofty names such as “social cognition” and “modeling”. But more importantly, they really work – and the impact on your service quality, morale and turnover will be profound and dramatic.


Special note to my friends in New York state - the Great Customer Connections world tour is coming your way soon, with free lecture and book signing events in cooperation with the great folks at Borders Book Stores. I'll be in beautiful Saratoga Springs on August 8, in Ithaca on August 31 and in Syracuse on Sept. 7. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

One of my pet peeves

We all have little things that drive us nuts. Here's one of mine - the phrase "You'll have to."

Yesterday I walked into a store, politely asked for help, and was told, "You'll have to wait for one of our technicians to be free." I didn't mind the wait, but it got me thinking how often we hear that statement in public - and how abrasive it is to hear as a customer. (Excuse me, but I don't "have to" do anything, especially for a stranger!)

Most of us probably don't say "you'll have to" out of rudeness. We say it because we are trying to protect ourselves, or set expectations with a customer. But when you examine the meaning of this statement literally, you can see where it breeds a lot of customer resentment right off the bat:

-It tells another person what to do.
-It implies that you have the power in this transaction, not them.
-It doesn't give the customer options.

The irony is that, just by changing a few words, you can turn a curt brushoff into a great customer experience. Let's try a few examples:

Before: You'll have to fill out this form.
After: I'd like to get a little information from you so we can help you better.

Before: You'll have to wait for a technician.
After: I'll have someone out to help you in just a few minutes.

Before: You'll have to wait in line.
After: We're helping people in order in that line, and it shouldn't be more than a short wait.

Perhaps the best example of an alternative to "you'll have to" came when I tried to go to a sold-out Philadelphia Phillies baseball game last year, while I was passing through town. Instead of saying the obvious "We're sold out - you'll have to come back another time," the ticket clerk said, "We'd love to have you see the game. Even though we're sold out, here's what I'd suggest - if you'd like, feel free to check at each of our gates to see if there are any extra tickets. Good luck!"

As it turned out, there were no tickets at any of the gates and I eventually left empty-handed - but every person I dealt with at the ballpark was so polite, upbeat and helpful that it was still a great customer experience. I'll bet you anything that these people were trained about what to say to fans, and it works!

So look critically at times where you are tempted to say "you'll have to" to customers, and start rehearsing new responses that speak to your customers' interests. The difference will be amazing!


The Great Customer Connections author tour starts in a few weeks, in cooperation with the delighful folks at Borders Book Stores. The first stops are close to home in my native upstate New York, on August 7 in beautiful Saratoga Springs, August 31 in Ithaca, and September 7 in Syracuse.

These free lecture and book signing events will feature a one-hour workshop that will show you some real, actionable ways to change your communications skills with customers - and you'll have a lot of fun in the process! More dates and areas are coming in the future, so if you'd like me to come to your city, drop me a line at Hope to meet a lot of you over the next few months!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Stop saying no to your customers!

Customer service is all about treating people well. But what about those times when you feel you have to say “no” to a customer? I have a novel way to handle these situations – permanently strike the word “no” from your vocabulary!

You see, saying no to customers is part of our natural survival instincts, because we are naturally programmed to defend our turf. But a simple technique makes it easy to make your customers an ally, even when you can’t do exactly what they want. I call it the ‘can-can’, because it involves focusing on what you can acknowledge and can do for the other person.” Here are some examples:

Before: That isn’t my department.
After: I’m glad you came in. I know exactly the right person to handle this.

Before: You can’t get in to see the doctor for two weeks.
After: I’d like to get you in as soon as possible. We do have an opening on Tuesday the week after next, and if you’d like, I can also let you know if there is a cancellation earlier than that.

Before: We don’t give refunds.
After: I’d love to see you to take home something you like. Even though we don’t take returns, I’ll be glad to give you a discount on another item.

Even in the most extreme situations, you can use the can-can to change the way people react to you. Let’s say, for example, you just towed away someone who is illegally parked, and they aren’t happy about it! Compare these two responses:

Before: “Sorry, you shouldn’t have parked there, and you’ll have to pay a fine.”
After: “I get frustrated when things like this happen to me, so I know how you feel. If you have a credit card, we can charge a small fee and send you on your way right now.”

In almost any customer situation, you can dramatically change your customer’s reactions by changing the mechanics of what you say – which, in turn, will make a real change in your business’s bottom line.


Hello to everyone in England! My new book Great Customer Connections has now been released in the United Kingdom through AMACOM and McGraw-Hill, and is available at major outlets including Tesco, W.H. Smith, and of course As you say over there, hope you're all "chuffed" with it!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Good customer connections help you sell more - a *lot* more!

So sayeth Business Week magazine, who just reviewed my new book Great Customer Connections in this week's issue, alongside another great book The Art of Connecting by Claire Raines and Lara Ewing.

In her article "Connections that Close Deals," Business Week's sales columnist Michelle Nichols ( makes the very accurate point that sales skills aren't enough nowadays - to stand out in today's multi-channel world, you need to make personal connections with people. Between the first book's focus on finding ways to build bridges with other people's wants, needs, and interests, and my book's techniques for speaking to a customer's agenda in even difficult situations, she makes it clear that personal relationships help you close a lot more sales. It's a great article, and you can read it here.

There are a couple of truly master salespeople in my own family, and connecting with people is their mantra - one constantly reads magazines ranging from the far left to the far right, so he can empathize with everyone's views, while another even donated blood when his client's wife needed surgery. Neither looks at their connection skills cynically as sales techniques - they genuinely like and respect everyone who crosses their paths, and the result has been extraordinarily successful careers.

So, the secret to sales success is really simple: (1) build connections with other people, and (2) buy my book!


P.S. A special note to my friends on the other side of "the pond" - Great Customer Connections is being published in the United Kingdom next month, with a release date of July 1, through AMACOM and McGraw Hill. It will be available in all major outlets including Tesco, W.H. Smith, and Amazon UK. Enjoy!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Are we getting ruder?

I looked through an interesting book this weekend, by a bestselling author who makes the case that society is rude and getting ruder. She paints a picture of a world where people can’t say “please” or “thank you”, don’t apologize for anything, and drop f-bombs at will.

It’s a funny book, and I enjoyed reading it. But I don’t agree with her.

Do rude people and bad service experiences still exist nowadays? Of course they do. They have since the dawn of time, and every single one of us can rattle off a few choice examples of our own. But think critically: what is your typical, everyday experience with most people you encounter with your bank, your grocery store, or out in public? I’ll wager that if you show these people at least a modicum of respect, most of them probably treat you professionally and courteously.

Unlike this author, I’ve managed large service operations and trained thousands of service employees, and one thing is clear: when you teach people how to handle customer situations, and reinforce it with positive coaching, most quote-unquote average people soon develop fantastic customer skills. Reacting with class in customer situations – where, even on a good day, people are constantly challenging you – is a skill that anyone can learn if they are taught the proper techniques.

Statistics actually bear me out on this point. Metrics like the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) have actually been trending upwards over the past few years, and leading companies continue to leverage the “science” of good service to build their market share. If you call Southwest Airlines to book a plane reservation, check on your package with FedEx, or return a shirt to Lands’ End, it is highly unlikely that anyone will act disengaged or utter the F-word – and companies like these take their service training and workplace cultures all the way to the bank. Meanwhile, Darwinism continues to weed out the ruder siblings of these businesses, as they keep learning that it is hard to run a business without any customers.

One last point: find me a place where employees don’t respect their customers, and I will bet you lunch that it is also a place where management doesn’t respect their employees. In my experience, it’s really simple – with respect, communications skills training, and coaching, the world is suddenly not such a rude place after all.


As you can see, these blog entries are back, which can only mean one thing - my new book Great Customer Connections has now been released by AMACOM, and is available everywhere! GCC is unlike any other customer service book ever published, in that it teaches specific communications skills, based on known principles of behavioral psychology, that have dramatically changed the service quality of many of America's leading organizations.

To celebrate, for a limited time I am offering a free electronic business library, including some of my past nationally-published books, if you purchase Great Customer Connections at (it's easy - click here) and then send an e-mail to I_BOUGHT_IT -at- (If you aren't a spambot, you probably already know to replace the " -at- " with the requisite symbol. :) Thank you and enjoy the book!

Friday, April 07, 2006


Once in a while, the good things you do come back to you. A couple of years ago, I was asked to teach a special version of my Great Customer Connections training program for a large, offshore call center, via videoconference. It was a great experience – I was set up in a video studio, with an image of the Manhattan skyline behind me, and for eight hours a day over the course of a week, I and a fellow guest speaker taught our own unique blend of communications and coaching skills to a broad range of customer contact teams. It was like being Jay Leno and hosting the Tonight show for a week straight!

What made this a particularly fascinating experience was its cultural context. These agents lived and worked in a country where it was often considered rude to acknowledge another person’s emotions, because this was seen as a loss of face for the other person. So when I monitored their sample calls before the training, I often heard exchanges like this:

Customer: Help – my pants are on fire!
Agent: OK sir. What is your serial number?
Customer: Ummm … it's 12345. Now about my pants ….
Agent: You just explained to me that your pants are on fire. Is that correct, sir?

During the training, I made no attempt to undo several thousand years of culture. Instead I worked with these teams – whom I respected as polite and technically knowledgeable people – on several specific techniques to bridge the cultural gap, such as paraphrasing customers and using my “staging” technique (outlined in my book Great Customer Connections) to calmly handle difficult situations. In addition, I taught them a technique known as “phrase substitution,” where they replaced stilted offshore English phrases (like “Yes, sir”) with enthusiastic North American equivalents (like “Absolutely!).

The results of the training went quite well – about 2/3 showed improved customer skills, and 1/3 improved substantially. More importantly, the best agents now sounded indistinguishable from their counterparts in the USA. I was pleased with how things turned out, and moved on.

So today, two years later, I found myself calling this same company for customer service. I recognized the agent’s familiar accent, but instead of the robotic and perfunctionary service I once took for granted, this person was unfailingly upbeat and helpful. He quickly clarified what I was asking for, acknowledged my concerns, and every time I asked if something was possible, he replied, “Absolutely!” with great enthusiasm.

I got off the phone, thinking, “Wow, this company really has good agents these days!” And then I realized something interesting – he was simply using the techniques that I taught everyone two years ago. But I didn’t stop to think that during the call. I just felt like I was getting a great customer experience!

I know from experience how specific techniques –that you learn and practice – have a near-magical impact on how people interact with their customers. But it is still refreshing and life-affirming for me to be a customer myself, and see first-hand how real and tangible the difference is.


What happens when you plant a tree in the middle of a very deep forest? The same thing that happens when you start a blog two months before the release of a book - the lights are on, but no one is there. So, because I'd love people to actually *read* these entries, this blog will go into quiet mode until the release of Great Customer Connections in late May, at which point I plan weekly updates similar to the bon mots you see here.

In the meantime, you can keep up with up-to-date news about the new book, my customer skills, coaching and leadership training programs, and my own comings and goings at the book's easy-to-remember website of - and of course, you can contact me any time at Thanks and see you soon!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Introducing the Phooey Awards

I make a profession of teaching people how to communicate honestly with each other, in ways that benefit everyone. In keeping with this tradition, I’d like to announce the launch of the Phooey Awards – where I periodically “honor” organizations that seem to do exactly the opposite of what they say. This month, our inaugural award-winner is (drum roll) … US Airways.

US Airways recently merged with America West Airlines, and now bills itself on its web site as “the world’s largest low-fare airline.” As the primary air carrier serving my small hamlet in upstate New York, I recently checked their roundtrip fare from here to Philadelphia – a scant 191 air miles away – and was quoted a fare of $725.00. (Or, put another way, roughly the same price as a round trip from New York to London plus a three-night hotel stay on the same dates.) So, the world’s largest low-fare airline? I say Phooey.

To be fair, I am really glad to see US Airways emerge from bankruptcy, join with a new partner, and start hiring back a lot of their furloughed employees. They are a good airline with a long history, particularly here in the Northeast, and I have always been happy with their service. But to paraphrase Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, you’re no Southwest Airlines.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the prestigious Phooey awards – and until then, if you are a business that doesn't communicate honestly with your customers, Phooey to you!

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On the personal front, even though my new book Great Customer Connections won't be officially released for more than two months, it is already climbing the charts at Its sales rank is already close to 50,000, the day after doing my first radio interview about it. (Being in the top 150,000 out of their 4+ million titles roughly equates to selling well at major bookstores.) Want to join the party and pre-order a copy? Click here.

Amazon sales ranks seem to involve a complex, proprietary formula that only the CIA could love - for one person's view, check this article. My best sales rank to date was 2019 for my previous book The Soul of an Organization, at which time it was also one of the top 10 books on corporate culture in the US. Yes, it's just a number, but checking your sales rank on Amazon remains a pleasant addiction for most authors.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Television can be hazardous to your wealth

I recently drove back to my home in upstate New York from a business trip to the Washington DC area and, for a change of pace, listened to a simulcast of CNN Headline News on my car’s satellite radio. Over the next couple of hours, I heard:

-Nancy Grace deep-sighing her way through a couple of recent true-crime stories, seemingly blaming everyone within 100 feet of these crimes, and angrily blasting guests who dared bring up piddling details like who did and didn’t actually break the law.
-An hour-long entertainment show whose host kept promising to tell us “why Paris Hilton’s 15 minutes of fame were up” – with the answer ultimately being, well, because they said so.
-An interview with a quote-unquote Mafia expert on why Tony Soprano would make a lousy mobster in real life, because he is “too sensitive.”

What we’re all hearing on television these days may be entertaining, but at another level I feel it is pure, unadulterated poison to being successful in your own life.

Why? Because psychologists tell us that we often “model” what we see around us in our own behavior. And when you feed on a steady diet of watching Bill O’Reilly interrupt and talk over his guests, or Sean Hannity scream about people being traitors, or people like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter insult everyone who doesn’t share their political beliefs, you start to accept a level of incivility and divisiveness that, if you stop and think critically, has also gradually been creeping into our lives and workplaces.

In my own books and training courses, I devote a lot of attention on how to speak to another person’s interest, in ways that ultimately benefit you as well as them. This style of communication will never get me a gig on a major television talk show, but it creates more happiness on a day-to-day basis than you can possibly imagine. And when I see entire groups of people speaking and interacting that way, with customers and with each other, the results are nothing short of magical.

More important, the people who know how to connect with others are often the ones who succeed in life, while the ones who mimic their favorite TV hosts tend to stay mired in hard feelings and limited opportunities – which, of course, they never understand because in their minds, it’s all someone else’s fault. And in a sense they are right, because the most highly-rated media figures seem to fail miserably as role models for success.

So, turn off your television once in a while – curl up with a good book (I can recommend at least one :) – and look thoughtfully at what you say to each other. The results can change your life.

Friday, March 10, 2006

What this is all about

Most people feel that good communications skills are a matter of being a "nice person" - and by corollary if you go out, hire the nicest people you can find, and lock them all in a room together, you will have great service. I strongly disagree with this view.

In my experience, good service and good communications revolve around specific skills that you learn and practice, until they become habits. It is a craft, much like carving wood or playing football.

Here is a quick example, from my new book Great Customer Connections: What do you say to someone after you have just towed their car away?

I once had the pleasure of doing this exercise with a campus parking and traffic bureau who did, in fact, regularly tow people's cars away - and even though they were all certifiably nice people, they responded to this question with statements like "You were parked illegally," "You shouldn't have parked here," or "You need to pay a fine to get your car back" - just like 99 per cent of you would.

Now, tell me how someone would react to these statements. Not well, right? So, I challenged this group to do something completely different - think of things to say that *benefit* the other person. After a lot of hemming, hawing and squirming in their seats, the ideas started to flow:

"Your car is in a safe place."
"I can help you get your car back."
"It's really frustrating when something like this happens."

Guess what? When we role-played using statements like this, the other person found it impossible to stay angry! Even with their car towed away! So just imagine what a similar approach could do for your daily interactions with customers or co-workers.

I didn't just make up this idea - it is based on a powerful principle of behavioral psychology known as social cognition, where we subconsciously identify friends or foes within seconds of meeting someone, and react accordingly.

My new book is chock-full of specific, named techniques that will dramatically change the way customers react to you, all based on well-established concepts from behavioral psychology. And in this blog, I will regularly share real-life examples of what happens when you change the way we communicate with each other. Stay tuned!

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On a personal note, I am starting to ramp up the promotion for Great Customer Connections, which will be released in May by AMACOM Books. Over the next few weeks I will be starting to do radio interviews, publish print articles, and plan a visit to Book Expo America in Washington, DC (the annual publishing convention, during which I am always like a kid in a candy store!). Promotional work is always a labor of love for me, and one of the things I enjoy most about having a new book published.

Check out my upcoming activities on the book's website at (how's this for easy to remember!) - and I always welcome your feedback as well. Contact me anytime at

Monday, January 23, 2006


Welcome to my blog! This is a forum where I plan to share hints, tips and advice on the science of how we interact with customers, and with each other. Check back regularly to read my new posts!