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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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The Seven Deadly Sins of Mediocre Customer Service – Part 3

How long do you think it takes for someone you meet for the first time to decide whether they like you or not?

First Impression | iStockPhoto

According to research by the Harvard School of Health Sciences, it takes less than two seconds. In one study, students seeing a two-second video clip of a teacher with no sound came to the same conclusion about that teacher as students who had spent an entire semester with them.

Similar studies in behavioral research reveal similar conclusions about how quickly people form impressions. Consider these findings:

In a Tufts University study, subjects were shown thirty-second video clips of physician-patient interactions. They found that people’s judgments about the physicians’ “niceness” was the biggest predictor of whether or not that physician would be sued.

A Princeton University study found that a one-second view of political candidates’ faces has a 70% accuracy rate in predicting US Senate and Gubernatorial races.

While it’s not especially revealing that people form first impressions quickly, the “stickiness” of those impressions and the resulting implications for how they influence outcomes, from malpractice suits to political elections, is powerful — with big implications for anyone in customer service.

And it is primarily driven by what we see.

In dealing with people, your skills, intentions, and your willingness to solve your customers’ needs all take a back seat to your ability to get them to like you within the first few seconds of meeting them. Failing to pay attention to this ubiquitous human relations principle is the third deadly sin of mediocrity in customer service.

Here are two simple but effective behaviors to help you make the most of the all-important first few seconds of customer contact:

1) Smile with your Eyes. Also known as the “Duchenne smile” from French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne’s research, which found that engaging the muscles around the eyes (the orbicularis oculi muscle) and raising the cheeks verses simply raising the corners of your mouth produces positive emotion. It is the most sincere type of smile. When you engage your eyes instead of just your mouth, your smile has the power to charm other people. The tricky thing about smiling with your eyes is that it’s very difficult to fake. When you smile with your eyes, you’re really feeling happy. Channeling good thoughts when you smile can help you appear more genuine, and when you get really good at it, you can smile using only your eyes.

2) Eye Contact. For many people, making good eye contact is surprisingly difficult, but if you want to be a better listener, better talker, and increase your chances of creating an instant positive impression, learn to practice making better eye contact.

Here’s a simple tip from Nicholas Boothman to help you make better eye contact right now:

What a new car launch taught me about the power of first impressions

As a Pontiac dealer from the early 90’s until the franchise’s demise in 2009, I remember the much anticipated relaunch of the Pontiac GTO back in 2004. Riding the wave of the super-successful relaunches of classic 1960’s muscle cars like the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro, we were excited for the debut of one of the real icons in Pontiac’s storied past.

But the launch was a complete disaster — and after two years of dismal sales, General Motors ceased production.

Why? Interestingly, the automotive press — Motor Trend, Car & Driver, and others — gave the car high marks for its power, performance, and handling. The real problem was what critics called “anonymous” styling. Instead of evoking the nostalgia of the muscle car era, the new GTO looked like a re-badged version of the Grand Am or Grand Prix, disappointing legions of muscle car enthusiasts and further eroding the Pontiac brand.

Here’s the point: Just like the GTO, you may have a lot under your hood, but if you’re unable to make a great visual first impression and make it quickly, you may never get the chance to show people what you’ve got.

Think about the impressions you form of others when you first see them or meet them. What are the visual cues that trigger a negative reaction? A positive reaction? What is one thing you could do to improve your first impression skills? I’d love to get your feedback.

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The Seven Deadly Sins of Mediocre Customer Service – Part 2

The theme of this series, like the 1999 Monster.com Super Bowl ad highlighted in the first post, is that no one sets a course for mediocrity; instead, it creeps up on you and is reflected in small compromises and lazy decisions that compound over time, leading to cynicism and disillusionment.

Bill Marsh Customer Service | Allen-Kent Photography

In customer service, one of the telltale signs of compromise is the words you hear, even from experienced professionals. Powerless words undermine good customer service by projecting negative expectations, weakening your company’s image, and leaving customers annoyed, confused, and indifferent. Here are the five most popular words and phrases guaranteed to place you squarely in the mushy middle of mediocrity in sales, customer service, or any other people-related endeavor. Use them at great risk!
1. “I Don’t Know.”

One of consumers’ biggest pet peeves, this mediocrity-laced response is often followed by an equally lame follow-up, such as “I’m new here.”  When combined with no offer to find the answer, this is a direct invitation for your customer to go elsewhere.

A better response:

Eliminate the negative: “Gee, that’s a good question.”
Replace with a positive: “Let me check and find out.”
Never make lame excuses such as, “I’m new here.” Customers don’t care!

2. “We can’t do that.”

Never, ever tell people what you can’t do; tell them what’s possible.

A better response:

“Here’s what we can do.”

If the customer makes an impossible request, respond with, “I’m sorry, (request) is not an option we have available.” Notice how this softens the tone. Then re-state what you can do.

3. “You’ll have to…”

Since, in the customer’s mind, the only thing they have to do is to die and pay taxes, using this forbidden phrase is the quickest way to start an argument. And once you commit to arguing with a customer, you may occasionally win the battle, but you will always lose the war.

A better response:

Simply replace “have to” with “need to.” This simple word replacement turns your response from a demand to a request. Remember, great customer service people take orders, they never give them.

4. “Just a second.”

This is a common, reflexive response to telephone inquiries during busy times. It is a gross under-estimation that conveys nothing but mushy mediocrity if not callous indifference. Nothing ever takes “just a second,” does it?

A better response:

Replace with: “Are you able to hold? This may take a few minutes.”
Or provide a visual: “The information you need is in the next office which may take me a few minutes to retrieve.” Then give the customer options. “Would you like to hold or can I call you right back?”

5. “No.”

Similar to “we can’t do that,” the last thing a customer wants to hear is “no.” Although avoiding using “no” may not always be possible, never use it at the start of a sentence. There’s no reason to. Why intentionally frustrate a customer? You tell your pet or your two-year-old “no,” but if you’re a true customer service pro, you never use this dis-empowering word at the start of a sentence.

A better response:

Always respond with what you do have… and what you can do.

Remember, when it comes to customer service, words matter. The words and phrases you use in your everyday communication not only shape the outcomes you produce and the level of cooperation you get from others, they shape your own attitude as well.

To illustrate the impact of changing the words we use in serving customers, check out this short video from customer service trainer Jeff Mowatt:

Which of these words or phrases resonate with you? Which ones do you hear most often? What is one new habit or behavior you could adopt to communicate with more clarity and confidence?

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