Tag Archives | customers

Rules of Engagement: 3 Disciplines of Exceptional Customer Service

For most of my 32-year business career, I have been a student of customer service. I’ve read numerous books, listened to countless podcasts and recently attended a workshop entitled “Memorable Customer Service” by Ritz Carlton, one of the world’s top customer service organizations.

In distilling all the content I’ve consumed together with the real world experience of operating our automobile dealerships, I’ve discovered there are three key ingredients–three solid pillars upon which exceptional customer service is built. Regardless of size and scale, from “solopreneurs” to multinational corporations, creating a true customer-driven organization rests on these foundations.

1) Conspicuous Hospitality. Have you ever walked into a place of business–perhaps your favorite restaurant, grocery store or cafe–and immediately felt like you were at the home of some close friends? As I shared in a recent post, there’s a difference between service and hospitality. Good service has become a consumer expectation, but hospitality goes much farther by making an emotional connection with customers. Conspicuous hospitality sends the signal that says, “We are so glad you’re here,” laying the groundwork for a lifetime relationship. World class restauranteur Danny Meyer goes so far as to describe his eateries as “hospitality boxes.” “We’re not selling food,” he says. “We’re selling happiness and emotional comfort.” That’s conspicuous hospitality.

2) Genuine Curiosity. I recall a well-known sales trainer saying,“The most interesting person in the world is the one who makes you think you’re the most interesting person in the world.” That’s a great description of curiosity. Genuine curiosity begins with looking outward verses inward. Psychologists refer to this as “social awareness,” or the ability to sense the feelings and perspectives of others. One of the most important examples of genuine curiosity is simply noticing things. In my business, it’s the service advisor who, while checking his customer’s car, notices a bumper sticker or another detail that indicates the customer has children in dance, is a military veteran, loves to fly fish, etc. Or it’s the salesperson who remembers the dream vacation her customers were planning the month after they picked up their car—and calls to see how it went. The best way to measure your own level of genuine curiosity? After your next social engagement, compare the amount of time you spend talking verses listening. (That can be very convicting for most of us!)

3) Radical Responsiveness. How many times have you been on the receiving end of broken promises or unmet expectations from service providers? From missed deadlines or unreturned phone calls to a feeling of indifference you often sense from untrained customer service reps, a lack of responsiveness can sabotage even the most loyal customer connections. True customer service pros, however, give off a perceptible but subtle sense of urgency in their communication, sending the signal, “I know how important this is to you, and you can count on me to do what I say I will do.” Radical responsiveness is keeping your customers consistently informed, checking in unexpectedly, and anticipating your customer’s unexpressed needs.

Great customer service organizations have an intuitive understanding of these three behavioral attributes. One of the best in the world is Seattle-based retailer Nordstrom who built their iconic brand around amazing stories of customer service heroics. Check out the Nordstrom video and as you watch, notice how each of these three customer service skills are displayed.

How would you rate your business–or yourself–in practicing these three skills of great customer service? What would it mean to your success to radically improve the level of customer service you currently provide?

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Power Talking: Get Those “Buts” Out Of Your Mouth

I’m always looking for new customer service training ideas. Whenever I’m out in the marketplace–in restaurants, retail stores, community events, etc.–I’ve got my radar on for real life examples (both good and bad) that I can use for future sessions. And one of the simple behavior patterns I’ve noticed that separates exceptional customer service practitioners from their mediocre counterparts is vocabulary.

True customer service pros are what I call “power talkers.” They deliberately refrain from using weak, indecisive words and phrases and instead respond to customers with language that injects clarity, focus, and positive expectations into their conversations.

Words have power | Power talking

For example, consider how one simple, everyday word can weaken communication:

“We can schedule your car for service this afternoon, BUT we won’t have it done until tomorrow.”

“We received your request BUT the person who handles your account isn’t here today.”

“Robert is an excellent communicator, BUT his computer skills are weak.”

Notice how the word “but” negates everything that was said before it. This weak word saps all the energy from the conversation. How many times have you heard, “Yes, but…” and felt deflated knowing that your idea or comment is about to get a rebuttal?

Words have power | Power talking

A more powerful and energetic alternative is to replace the word “but” with “and.” Notice how it changes things:

“We can schedule your car for service this afternoon AND we will have that for you by noon tomorrow.”

“We received your request AND I will have the person who handles your account call you when she returns tomorrow.”

“Robert is an excellent communicator, AND he is developing his computer skills.”

If you’re seriously committed to building a strong personal brand, delivering exceptional customer service, and continually sharpening your leadership skills, the words you use matter. “Power Talking” is based on this simple but powerful truth: The words we use shape the outcomes we create in serving customers–and in everyday life.

Try it: I guarantee these simple changes in language will add substance and impact to the perceptions you create.

“Power Talking” is based on three principles of human communication:

1. People judge you–and you judge them–based on the words and phrases you use in your everyday communication. Consciously eliminating negative, powerless expressions and projecting a more positive, resourceful image will cause people to respond more positively to you.

2. The people you want to influence–your customers, co-workers, children, etc.–take cues from your language when deciding whether or not they will cooperate with you. While some words or phrases unconsciously sabotage our efforts to work with other people, others are extremely effective.

3. The words you use when talking to and about yourself help to shape your own self-image and they translate to your actions and behaviors.

Here are some examples of each of these principles from my own experiences:

At a recent auto retailing conference, one of the presenters–a successful car dealer–opened by saying, “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not much of a public speaker.” Can you guess how his presentation went? It was awful.

Overhearing a phone call from an employee to a late-paying customer, she said, “I was wondering if you could send in your payment sometime soon.” A better way to get cooperation would be to simply ask, “When may I expect your payment?”

Responding to a “When will my car be done?” inquiry from an anxious customer, a service advisor said, “It should be done sometime tomorrow afternoon.” Instead of projecting such an unclear expectation, a better response would have been: “It will be done by 3pm tomorrow.” (Then have it done by noon and exceed the customer’s expectations.)

Although each of these examples seem simple, becoming a “power talker” is not easy. Years of cultural conditioning can weaken our diction, corrupt our clarity, and suck the life blood out of our communication.

Words have power | Power talking

Finally, together with “But,” here are five more popular powerless words and phrases to eliminate from your vocabulary:

1. Try. Known as “the king of wimpy,” try carries with it no commitment at all. As Yoda said in Star Wars, “Try, no. Do, or do not. There is no try.” Instead, be clear…and be firm. Candor and honesty will go much farther to build trust with your customer than “trying” ever will.

2. Have to. In customer service, saying “I’ll have to…” implies that serving your customer is going to be a burden, as in “I’ll have to check the availability and call you back.” Replace this negative line with the hospitable phrase, “I’ll be glad to…”

3. Basically. Together with “like,” “you know,” “well,” and a host of others, “basically” is what I call a “filler word” that serves no purpose; eliminate it–just say what you plan to say.

4. To be honest with you. When you hear this from someone, doesn’t it make you wonder, “Does this mean he is usually not honest?” Remove it–and simply say what you’re planning to say.

5. Should. When someone in customer service tells you, “I should have it done by…” how confident are you in such a weak commitment? Be decisive–say, “I will have it done by…” then over-deliver on your promise.

Remember, people judge you–and you judge them–based on the words and phrases used in your everyday communication. Regardless of your line of work, consciously eliminating negative, powerless expressions and projecting a more positive, resourceful image will welcome people to respond more positively to you.

Which powerless words and phrases do you encounter most often?

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Seven Deadly Sins of Mediocre Customer Service – Part 5

The fifth “sin” of mediocre customer service is something all of us, as consumers, have experienced from time to time.

George Walther, author of Power Talking: 50 Ways to Say What you Mean and Get What you Want, provides a perfect illustration of this all too common customer service breakdown in a story he shares about trying to get window screens installed in his home.

Most of us, I presume, have had an “Ed’s Screen’s” experience that left us frustrated over poor follow-through, nebulous promise times, undisclosed charges, etc. Or perhaps you’ve been guilty of the same “sin,”in serving your customers due to excessive demands, time pressures, supplier problems, etc.

While there is no simple technique or word track that can compensate for personal accountability or process integrity, here are two simple habits that will help you do a better job at managing the expectations of your customers:

Develop the Habit of “Under-Promise and Over-Deliver.” The best at customer service understand that unforeseen time delays, additional costs, and other events beyond their control will inevitably happen, so they build in buffers that reduce the chances of letting customers down. It’s as simple as a delivery company promising that something will be dropped off by noon and then telling the driver to make sure that the object is delivered by ten in the morning, thereby exceeding the expectations of the customer. Furthermore, learning to under-promise and over-deliver not only improves the customer’ perceptions, it also reduces the stress so often associated with serving people.

Eliminate the word “should” from your customer service vocabulary. As George Walther pointed out, he really had no right to criticize Ed’s failure to fulfill his many promises. By using the word “should” instead of “will,” Ed never really promised anything. I know there’s a strong temptation to use this word, as it has become reflexive in our communication, but there’s tremendous power in being decisive. Learn to replace the phrase “I should” with “I will.”

Manage Customer Expectations | iStockPhoto

When you think about it, managing people’s expectations goes well beyond customers; it includes coworkers, children, family members — anyone you engage with on any significant level. Learning to communicate like this will improve any relationship.

Have you ever been the unfortunate recipient of an “Ed’s Screens” experience? Are there any specific tools you use to better manage your customers’ expectations? I’d love to get your feedback.

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Seven Deadly Sins of Mediocre Customer Service – Part 4

Sister Cecilia, my seventh grade teacher at St. Bede Catholic School in Holland, PA, was, at that time, a very influential person in my young life. Tall and remarkably athletic for a nun who wore a full habit, she could defend the post in playground hoops as well as any high school kid. She could be charming and vivacious when we behaved ourselves, but if one of us so much as giggled, belched, or looked cross-eyed during class – especially Catechism – one menacing look or penetrating glance from her was all it took to scare us back to folded hands, straight posture, and rapt attention.

Sister Cecilia, it turns out, was an expert in body language.

In our everyday communication, when the words we use don’t match the signals we send through our posture, facial expressions, gestures, and voice tone, people always believe the signals. That’s why body language is so important in making genuine connections. And yet, I’ve notice how few customer service professionals attach any importance to this fundamental human relations skill.

Bad Body Language is #4  in my Seven Deadly Sins of Mediocre Customer Service series.

To illustrate how we communicate our feelings and intentions through our body language, watch this fascinating – and funny – TED Talk clip from behavioral scientist Amy Cuddy:

How to become a “pro” at using body language to send the right signals

Image via iStock Photo

Pay attention to some simple “body language basics.”

1) Make Direct Eye Contact and Smile. A warm, inviting smile can put anyone at ease, and it also makes you look winsome and approachable.
–  Smile with your eyes (I mentioned this in my last post.) When you do make direct eye contact, soften your eye expression and make your eyes “smile” or “twinkle” to show that you’re friendly and genuinely interested in making contact.

2) Open up. When people are uncomfortable or standoffish in a situation, they have a tendency to display closed body language – crossed arms, folded hands, etc. In essence, they are subconsciously trying to look “smaller” verses opening up and inviting others into their personal space.
–  Display your openness by pointing your heart toward other people, sitting or standing with an upright (but not stiff) posture, and uncrossing your arms.
–  Posture: Hold yourself with a tall, open stance. Smile when you make eye contact with your customer. Hold your body in a relaxed and easy manner with uncrossed arms. You will convey much more approachability than slouching or leaning with arms crossed or hands in your pockets.
–  Avoid your phone. To look approachable, you must be accessible. Be careful not to check your phone in the presence of guests – it makes you appear distracted.
–  Beware of nervous or self-comfort gestures, such as touching your hand to your face, especially putting it over your mouth, biting your fingernails or tapping your foot, all of which signal boredom, impatience, or distraction.

3) Practice Mirroring. Babies do it even before birth; their heartbeats and body functions take on a rhythm that matches those of their mothers. As adults, we do it when we are talking with someone we like, are interested in, or agree with. We subconsciously switch our body posture to match that of the other person – mirroring that person’s nonverbal behavior and signaling that we are connected and engaged.

When done with intent, mirroring can be an important part of developing trust and rapport. Mirroring starts by observing a person’s body posture and then subtly letting your body reflect their position. If their arms are crossed, then slowly begin to cross your arms. If they lean back, you do the same. You will know that you have developed mutual rapport if your partner begins to mirror you in return. I know it may sound manipulative if you’ve never heard of it, but mirroring is based on the simple truth that we are attracted to people we perceive are like us – even on a subconscious level.

Have you ever thought about the non-verbal signals you send when you engage with people? If so, how would you rate yourself? If you could change one body language behavior, what would it be? I’d love to get your feedback.

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