Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Thanks everyone!

As of this morning my new book Great Customer Connections reached an Amazon.com 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 rich-at-rsgallagher.com. 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 www.rsgallagher.com and my new book’s website at www.greatcustomerconnections.com.

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!