(Note: I first published this as a "note" on my Facebook page in late 2011. Somehow, it never made it to my blog - and two years later it still rings as true as ever. Enjoy!)
This is the time when people start thinking about their resolutions for the coming year. They decide to do things like lose weight (always a good one in my case), save more money, or be nicer to people.
Here's mine: I am going to spend more time in front of the mirror.
No, this isn't about my looks (especially at my age :). Standing in front of the mirror actually has a much more personal and spiritual meaning for me. Allow me to explain:
Many years ago, when I was 28 years old, I stood in front of my mirror one day and said to myself, "OK, Rich. Right now you're an overworked software engineer in suburban Los Angeles. But what do you really, really want to be in another 28 years?" I was surprised at the answer that popped out, almost without thinking. "I want to write, teach, and work with people."
This answer bothered me. I had spent all this time earning an engineering degree, like everyone else in my family, and my career was humming along nicely. And, I quickly reminded myself, how many people get to program supercomputers, create computer graphics, and have lunch in Newport Beach whenever they want? So I pushed this thought back into the "pipe dream" corner of my mind and went back to shaving.
A few years later, now living in New England, I was still restless, changing jobs, and not what I would call particularly happy. So I asked myself the same question. This time the answer was a little more detailed, but it didn't bother me any less. "I would really like to be one of those author-speaker-psychotherapist types that I see on television. Not that I want to be famous. I don't, really. But I bet I would have a lot of fun, and help others in the process."
Once again, I quickly summoned the forces of reality: Don't be ridiculous. You have a wife, a car payment, and a mortgage. You have reached the leadership level of your profession. You serve on government advisory committees, and chair conference sessions. Everyone will think you are nuts if you ditch all of this and "follow your bliss." So forget about it already.
Except this time, I didn't forget about it. I started brainstorming about what life could look like, even if I still wasn't quite sure how to make it happen. I thought of all things that excited me when I was younger: writing and acting in my fourth-grade play; wanting to become a Catholic priest and help people when I grew up; my inexplicable dual major of psychology in engineering school. And it struck me that somewhere along the way I had traded all of it for someone else's idea of success.
Soon, after another job change and a move to Pittsburgh, I started consciously shifting gears away from my technological world. I read about Carl Rogers and spirituality. I started writing seriously, sketching out book projects, and even getting published. And then when rumors started to swirl about layoffs at my large company, I did the unthinkable – I went to my management and said, "Me, me, please pick me!" and left with a modest consulting retainer.
So here I was at age 40, moving back to my native Ithaca and starting my life completely over as a freelance technical writer. And you know what? It felt surprisingly good. Instead of fear, there was a delicious sense that life went on, there were always doors to knock on and temp agencies to work for, and that I was still waking up with a beautiful woman every morning. And ironically, as I slowly started building a platform as a writer, a speaker, and later a therapist, the biggest surprise of all started to dawn on me – I was much more successful than I ever was as an engineer.
Recently it struck me: nowadays, in my 60th year, I am finally living the life I described in the mirror to myself at age 28, more than half my life ago. And if I had simply done a better job of listening to myself back then – or for that matter, in fourth grade – I probably would have been living this life a very long time ago. But better late than never. I frankly felt old back then, and feel much younger now. And I still have a lot more to learn.
God speaks to people in many ways, and in my case He sometimes uses a mirror. So what is your mirror telling you?
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Friday, December 20, 2013
I just got an e-mail today from a self-published author, announcing that he is quitting his newsletter, and railing about how real people have almost no chance of getting published. He points to everything from the growth of electronic self-publishing, to the number of "charlatans" out there who sell services to wannabe writers, to people not showing up at his book events. His conclusion seems to be that most people have no chance of ever succeeding as writers, and that they may as well give up.
I hear things like this all the time, and it saddens me because most of it simply isn't true. I am not going to respond personally, because I don't want to call him out - or get involved in a back-and-forth exchange I really don't have time for. But if I were to respond, I might say something like this:
"Dear Wannabe Author,
I hear your frustration with the publishing industry. And I wanted to share my thoughts with you, as someone who does write a fair number of royalty-published books.
Personally I have seen a lot of fiction and non-fiction writers get published over the years - usually mere mortals like me. I have also seen a lot of people struggle to become authors and eventually self-publish or give up. I do NOT believe that the deck is stacked against them. But I do, however, see a huge difference between the two groups.
The first group almost always works backwards from the market. They study what sells, first. Then they adapt their style around what sells. They write tight queries, good "hooks," and intelligent competitive analyses. And they keep at it until they smell like published authors. I was always the guy standing in the bookstore deconstructing top-selling business books to see how they tick. I don't copy other people, but my writing has always been informed by what people are buying right now.
By comparison, the second group is usually focused on themselves. They don't vet either their ideas or their writing against what sells. They aren't necessarily bad writers, but their end product is almost always out of step with what people are currently buying. Inevitably they rail about what a poor chance anyone has of ever getting published. Except it isn't true.
A good litmus test is to read other self-published books in your genre, then pick up some popular royalty-published books. For those who see a difference, there is hope. For those who don't, less so.
I had an interesting discussion about this with my literary agent a couple of years ago. You are probably aware a typical query has about a 5% chance of getting accepted by a given agent. What you don't know is that more than half the queries these poor agents receive are *horrible* - completely out of step with the market and/or any sense of good, readable writing. Get rid of those queries, multiply these odds by the number of agents open to submission out there, and my experience is that a serious, professional writer who studies the marketplace is looking at a much more realistic 50/50 chance.
Trust me, I've had more than my share of no-show book signings, and even though I coach non-fiction writers myself, I share your disdain of most paid services. But when I hear people say that normal people can't get published, I have to politely disagree. I know way too many who do. But they do act differently.
I completely respect whatever you decide to do with your own writing. But if you try again, I hope you decide to think like an agent or an editor, and become a student of the marketplace. Good luck!
Your friend, Rich Gallagher"
Monday, August 26, 2013
Note from Rich: Shep Hyken is the dean of customer service speakers, and a New York Times bestseller with multiple #1 customer service books. And a prince of a guy. Few people are as on-target about how to succeed through excellent service as Shep. This guest blog shares a taste of his brand-new book Amaze Every Customer Every Time - check it out, and buy a copy today for some great free gifts!
Building the ideal corporate culture doesn’t happen by chance. If you are a leader of a company or organization and you want to instill a customer service culture, how do you make it happen? To become a customer-centric company requires first building an employee-centric workplace.
If you want your customers to be amazed – and loyal, and refer their family and friends to you, etc. – what you need to do first is amaze the employees.
If you want a real-life example that proves this concept, look no further than Ace Hardware. If I asked you to think of a word that describes the Ace chain of retail hardware stores, chances are your response would be “helpful.” And there’s good reason for that. Ace stores are billed as The Helpful Place and they work hard to truly operationalize the word helpful into their culture. That is their version of customer service and what gives them a competitive edge, even when faced with competition from much larger hardware and home improvement stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot. They attract customers by living up to the promise of being the most helpful hardware stores on the planet. Not just nice, not just friendly – helpful. By delivering that level of service, they are able to win in a very competitive industry.
And, as I mentioned earlier, the secret – for Ace and other successful companies – is that they don’t begin by focusing on the customer. To truly become a customer-focused company, they first focus on their employees.
This is not a new concept at Ace. It isn’t a temporary customer service theme. It has always been part of the Ace philosophy. Ever since the first Ace Hardware store opened in 1924, it has held to this belief that serving the customer begins by first serving the employee. They hire the right people and train them not only in the technical details of the job, but also to deliver the Ace brand of helpful service. As management and employees treat each other with respect and dignity, they have a model for how to treat the customers.
Other companies understand and live by this philosophy as well. I have always been a big fan of Southwest Airlines Chairman Emeritus Herb Kelleher, and one reason why is that he believed in putting employees first. By doing so, he said, the employees will in turn treat the customers (or passengers) well. And what happens when customers are well taken care of? They are happy, and they reward the company with repeat business. And who else is happy? The shareholders! And it all goes back to the idea of focusing on employees first.
You want to aim for alignment in your company. Ever been in a car whose front end is out of alignment? It causes the entire car to shake. In business, if the employees don’t experience the same treatment, promise and value that you want for the customer, then the customer experience can be shaky and the entire company can suffer.
Shep Hyken is a customer experience expert and the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. He is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and has been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in the speaking profession. Shep works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. For more articles on customer service and business go to http://www.hyken.com. Shep’s new book is Amaze Every Customer Every Time.
Monday, August 12, 2013
Many years ago, after purchasing a vehicle, one of my co-workers sourly observed, "You'll never get rich buying new cars."
But actually, he was wrong. Years later, when I was starting my consulting business, getting a new car - at a time when I had no income whatsoever - turned out to be one of the smartest financial moves I ever made. And perhaps one of the smartest moves YOU could make too. Allow me to explain.
Here's the backstory. In 1996, after a pretty good first year as a consultant, everything came to a very hard stop. All of my projects and clients turned into a pumpkin at nearly the same time, and my income came to a screeching halt. From there, I couldn't get myself arrested. Three months later, adding insult to injury, my wheezy old car with six figures on the odometer needed major repairs.
With my tail between my legs, I went to my local dealer to try and trade for a passable used car while I got back on my feet again. Instead, the salesperson wheeled out one of the most gorgeous vehicles I'd ever seen - a brand-new, full size car with metallic paint, a sunroof, and a premium stereo system. And explained how leasing it for two years would only put a small amount of my assets at risk.
His numbers actually made sense. And so I will never forget the feeling of having had no income in three months, no idea when I would ever work again, and driving off the lot in the nicest car I had ever owned.
Here is why it actually made good financial sense. Every time I got behind the wheel of this beautiful car, I FELT like a successful person. And ACTED like a successful person. Which made a real, tangible difference as I started knocking on doors, lining up gigs and clients, and planning my future. Soon I was back in business again, and I proudly paid that car off early and kept it for seven years.
Think about it. If you are selling your ideas or services to someone, what would give you your best chance of succeeding: feeling hot, sweaty, and dirty, or feeling freshly showered and clean in a nice suit? Either feeling transmits itself to other people, and the same thing is true for the rest of your self-image. And what they perceive, in turn, ultimately governs your success.
So I am not suggesting that you start taking stupid risks, or drive your cash flow into the ground. But I do want you to rethink what the hair-shirt types often tell you about scrimping and sacrificing in the early stages of your business. What works for them frankly wouldn't have worked for me - and I feel strongly that you should do whatever will make YOU most successful.
Nearly two decades later, I still drive around in a nice car, because I firmly believe that how you FEEL and how you ACT are major determinants of success. (My current ride is pictured above.) So whatever it takes to make you feel awesome - and then share that awesomeness with the world - seriously consider it as part of your business plan. Invest in yourself and your self-image, and I believe the rewards will often come back to you many times over.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Note from Rich: Today’s guest post is an excerpt from the #1 customer service bestseller by my good friends and colleagues Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest, “Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan” To celebrate the release of the paperback version, the authors are giving away free gifts with purchase here: www.whosyourgladys.com/paperbacklaunch
This excerpt from chapter 1 is based on interviews with Professional Movers, a world-class moving company located in Walled Lake, Michigan.
Eighty-seven-year-old Gladys has a reputation among her fellow retirement community members. She’s known as a cranky complainer who is impossible to please. But to her surprise, when she called Andrew Androff’s company, Professional Movers, to move her into her new apartment, she was treated with warmth and respect. When her sales rep, Chris, visited her home to quote the job, he noticed her prickly personality and made a conscious decision to focus on her spunk and tenacity. By the end of his visit, Gladys had bonded with Chris and booked the move.
On moving day, there was a mishap. One of the movers accidentally cracked Gladys’s marble tabletop. Andrew knew that she would be furious. Determined to set things right, he prepared himself to let her vent before she could even think about possible solutions. As predicted, Gladys had steam shooting out her ears.
Andrew felt compassion for her while she vented and assured her that his company would have the table repaired, and that if she wasn’t satisfied with the results, he would replace it. Although he continued to reassure her that things would be set right, she was still spitting mad. Gladys wanted to talk to Chris, who had sold her on the company in the first place, and Andrew promised to have Chris call her as soon as he came into the office.
Chris arrived dead tired after a long day filled with meetings with potential new customers. When Andrew told him about Gladys and asked if he’d be willing to call her, Chris responded, ‘‘No way. She’s going to need more than a phone call. I’ll stop by her house on my way home.’’ Chris arrived at Gladys’s house ready to comfort her through her anger and outrage. Then he assured her that he would personally oversee the repair of her table. This calmed her down, and she thanked him for coming over.
Unfortunately, the repair was less than perfect. Andrew knew that he had to set things right, even though doing so would be expensive. He called Gladys and promised that she could meet Chris at the marble store and personally pick out her new marble tabletop. Since Chris knew that Gladys didn’t drive, he called and arranged to pick her up and take her to the store himself.
Gladys is now living at one of metropolitan Detroit’s premier retirement communities with her new marble table. While it cost Andrew and his employee Chris extra time and extra money to make things right, the payoff was outstanding. Gladys tells everyone moving into or out of her assisted living complex that they have to hire Professional Movers if they want to work with the best movers in town. High and persistent praise from such a hard-to-please person attracts attention. As a result, Andrew’s company is now the number one choice of movers for Gladys’s retirement complex. By creating a culture that values compassionate connection with his customers, Andrew has built a referral base that has helped his sales grow by over 40 percent in two years.
This culture of connection has been particularly effective in building a strong business with senior citizens. Seniors often move from their homes to be nearer to their children or to retire to a senior community. Professional Movers has found this population to be a good fit for its particular style of customer service, so it put a great deal of effort into developing the market segment. Everyone at Professional Movers makes a practice of creating a human connection with her clients. The staff members show respect for their clients’ wisdom, experience, and opinions. They also know how moving affects their clients, both physically and emotionally. It isn’t easy leaving behind the security of their homes, their friendships with neighbors, and the familiarity of their routines. Andrew’s employees are trained to be sensitive to the unique issues of downsizing. They are sensitive to the emotional connection to their precious family heirlooms that senior citizens feel as they leave behind the past. Professional Movers strives to give seniors the sort of service they would receive if their own family were doing the job.
‘‘It’s like we’re their sons,’’ Andrew said with a laugh. ‘‘We get very close with their families. We interview their caregivers and their social workers. It really helps us develop a customized process to address their concerns.’’ This needs-based approach to both customer service and sales has helped the company become the top provider of moving services in metropolitan Detroit’s retirement market.
Enjoy “Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan” - available at most online booksellers, or purchase it from Amazon.com here.
Monday, April 29, 2013
Some people's midlife crises involve sports cars or beautiful women. Mine involved deciding, in my 50s, to become a practicing psychotherapist.
Today I am proud to announce getting my New York State clinical license in marriage and family therapy. As long as I behave myself and pay my renewal fees, I am now officially a therapist for the rest of my life. (Until now, I have been practicing under a supervised "learner's permit" that expires for good this year.) This marks the end of a long journey, and I couldn't be happier.
For me, this was always the path not taken, and one that called to me even as I pursued a seemingly more practical career (and my family's tradition) in technology. I even had a dual major in psychology as a Cornell engineering student in the 1970s, and was genuinely torn whether to become an engineer or a therapist. It was a heady time when people started to explore human potential and inner space, when I thought psychotherapists were the coolest people in the world. And I still do.
When I first started down this road in 2005, volunteering as a crisisline counselor, this was my dirty little secret - a Walter Mitty life I didn't tell most people about. When I started graduate school in 2007, videotaping my first counseling assignment, I felt like a rookie football player walking into an NFL locker room for the first time. And by the time I started my clinical practicum in 2009 - by which time I was seeing clients two days a week, as I do now - my secret was finally out.
So how do I feel after finishing graduate school and close to four years of supervised practice? First of all, I enjoy doing this as much as I thought I would. Ever since I was a young child wanting to become a Catholic priest when I grew up, my real goal in life was to help people be happier - not just write software and feed the cats and pay the mortgage. So for me this is an affirmation of life, as I transition to retirement in a few short years.
People often tell me, "I couldn't do counseling. Who wants to listen to other people's problems all day?" While it does have its moments, my experience is generally the opposite. Good therapy is a process of happymaking, and most people leave feeling better than when they came in. At least with me, a surprising amount of laughter takes place in session, even in some very serious situations. Even though this is very secular work, it often feels like we are creating a sacred space for people to be heard and understood, learn new skills, and make positive and fundamental life changes.
This work helps me too. It has introduced me to a larger community of therapists that has been incredibly generous of spirit with me, including three clinical supervisors (for my practicum in NY, my internship in PA, and my postgraduate clinical work) who have been the best and kindest mentors I could ever ask for. It dovetails nicely with my "day job" writing and speaking about communications skills. It opens up a whole new world of fascinating conferences and workshops. And yes, the things I have learned working with others benefit my own mental health and wellness.
From here, I hope to keep learning and growing. I already have a bucket list of things to explore further, ranging from my current specialty of treating anxiety disorders (my colleagues joke that I've become the "anxiety guy" at my current clinic) to going on retreat and exploring the nexus between psychotherapy and spirituality (another interest from my wannabe-priest days). Above all, I hope to keep doing well by my current and future clients, because that is what this is really all about. My sincere thanks to everyone who has supported me on this journey.
Friday, March 29, 2013
Wednesday we kicked off the launch campaign for my new book The Customer Service Survival Kit with a webinar sponsored by Citrix GoToAssist and industry portal site (and longtime partner-in-crime) SupportIndustry.com. The energy level was incredible: we had over 1700 people signed up, almost 800 attending live, and enough questions to keep us running well past the top of the hour. And a truly amazing number of them went out and purchased the book afterward.
All of this tells me that people have a real hunger to learn how to handle their most difficult customers - especially today. Life is more stressful and fast-paced than ever, customers are more demanding, and sadly many people live in fear of being on the receiving end of a meltdown. But the good news is that by learning the same kinds of skills used by hostage negotiators, crisis counselors, and others, people can learn to completely blow away this fear and walk confidently into any customer situation. I wrote this book to take what I've learned as a former customer support executive - and practicing psychotherapist - and create an actionable game plan for mastering your very worst situations.
Some of you may know that this is actually my second #1 customer service book on Amazon.com, the first being my 2008 book What to Say to a Porcupine. (And I will never forget that taste of electricity in my mouth when it first hit #1.) But this new book had a very different vibe. First, Porcupine hit number 1 several months after its release, and its webinars drew barely half the audience of this new one. Second, it benefited from a good run in the bookstores and excellent press coverage, including being a finalist for 800-CEO-READ's business book of the year. By comparison, The Customer Service Survival Kit shot to the top right out of the starting gate, on the strength of a very timely topic.
This book also succeeded on the wings of a truly generous community of fellow authors, speakers, and thought leaders who helped me out in ways too numerous to mention. New York Times bestselling author and CNBC host Carol Roth, for whom I am a contributing blogger, not only wrote a great foreword but even offered up her cousin, an airline manager whose touching story of grief counseling after the 9/11 tragedy helped lead off the book. (Check out a great interview we just did on her midday show on Chicago superstation WGN, right here.) Countless others posted, tweeted, wrote reviews, offered launch gifts or cheered me on in ways I will always appreciate and cherish.
Above all, I want to thank you! The rave reviews and support I have received this week from the public has been overwhelming. If you haven't checked the book and its free gifts out yet, visit us here. Together, we are making the world a little nicer and a little safer from our very worst customer situations.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
One thing never ceases to amaze me: big companies whose responses to customers sound like they were written by robots.
Here is a recent example. At the risk of TMI, I recently wrote to one of my favorite big-box department stores about their men's underwear - or lack thereof. Here is what I wrote:
"I'll be brief - no pun intended.
Check out the men's underwear department at (my local store) sometime. You will find rows and rows and rows and rows of boxer briefs. And maybe two forlorn packages of briefs, of any brand - none in my size and colors, of course.
According to AskMen.com, 57% of men wear briefs, and 18% wear boxer briefs. Someone oughta clue in your underwear buyer. Thanks!
My note was short, to the point, well researched, and even a little humorous. It was not the least bit impolite. I even avoided the technically accurate groaner of signing off with my work address of Brief Therapy Associates (where I do actually practice as a therapist).
So here is the gist of their response -- with my thoughts in bold:
Thank you for your comments regarding the current selection at your local store. At (insert name of big box store), our goal is to offer our customers a wide assortment of merchandise. In most cases, we offer a broad selection in our merchandise.
(Why, oh why, do most of these letters start by saying "Our goal is to do exactly the opposite of what we actually do"?)
We are continually looking for ways to best meet the needs of all customers and in turn, improve customer convenience.
(I am writing about something you do poorly -- and often -- and you respond by telling me how you are always busy improving? Methinks you've been looking under the wrong rock.)
Therefore, your feedback is very important and will be taken under consideration for any of our future buying decisions. We apologize for any inconvenience our current selection may have caused. We appreciate the time you took to contact us and look forward to serving you again at (insert name of big box store again).
(So my request has been put on the suggestion pile. Whoop-de-doo. I am thrilled, I tell you, thrilled.)
So how should people react to this? Well, picture this. A mother catches her son with his hand in the cookie jar. He responds, "My goal is to only eat cookies at the appropriate times. I am always looking for ways to improve our supply of cookies as well as my dental health. Therefore your feedback is very important, and I will take it under consideration." Think this would work?
This is why the average six year old is smarter -- in fact, much smarter -- than the average big-box retailer. Meanwhile some corporate weenie is actually drawing a paycheck for penning words like these, for their customer service departments to cut-and-paste, thinking they will actually help.
Here is the response I was really thinking about: "Hey Rich. Sorry about that. We really should do a better job of stocking men's underwear. It's a hassle going all the way to a store and not finding something that basic in stock. We'll let you know when we fix this. Meanwhile, here's a five buck discount for your trouble. Thanks!" Now, would that be so hard?
Friday, January 25, 2013
I've been grumbling all day today. And for good reason:
· First, I'm grumbling because I am busy. Really busy. Late-nighters and all-nighters all week busy. And I'm going to be busy for a while yet.
· Second, I'm grumbling because I am in the middle of a 10-day-long course of antibiotics. One of its listed side effects is irritability. No fun.
· Third, I'm grumbling because it's cold outside, and the walls seem to be shrinking in by about a foot a day.
So what's wrong with this picture? Here's what's wrong:
First, there are people out there who would give their right arm for the great workload I usually take for granted. To have a regular income coming in. To have the world validate their talents. To be self-employed and happy. I should be jumping for joy to watch the clock turn 2 AM. After all, I'm home, I'm safe, and I love what I am doing.
For some people, their days stretch sadly and endlessly ahead of them. But for me, I look ahead and see guest lectures to give, therapy sessions to hold, lunches with cool people, client projects to finish, even a new book to launch soon. Busy is way cool.
Second, what about the antibiotics? They are the greatest news in the world. At the risk of TMI, I had a health scare this fall when my PSA started climbing after a routine physical. Last week I just learned that I don't have prostate cancer - I have prostatitis. Prostatitis is awesome. It's fantastic. It's fixable. My doctor doesn't even want to see me for another six months. (And my PSA is returning to normal levels.) So I should be wolfing down these antibiotics with glee, irritability and all.
Third, about the cold: I am in a warm house with a beautiful woman, good food, great music, and a picture window that looks out over acres of rolling hills. I live in a great town. I am happy, healthy (prostatitis notwithstanding), and in love. And March is only five weeks away.
What I have just used here is a powerful technique from psychotherapy known as reframing. It is not the same as positive thinking. Rather, it takes reality - keeps it completely real - but frames it in terms that are much less scary. You can use it to describe life events, other people, or the way you are thinking. You could think of it as positive grumbling.
Reframing is very powerful. I've watched it change relationships and lift depressions. Today, it even made me stop grumbling. Try it yourself, and see what it can do for you!