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!