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!