Managing Your Reputation Starts at Home (Repost)

reputation conceptual meter“I’ve had it with major companies that take advantage of their young employees…..telling them to go home after 2 hours; unscheduled days off at the last minute; accusing them of ‘not being sick’; telling them, ‘school doesn’t matter, work comes first’; short changing them in pay, etc….ENOUGH ALREADY!.”

This is a status update posted by a Facebook friend recently.  Unfortunately, there are still some companies that just don’t get it. They treat their employees poorly, as disposable and replaceable and then wonder why employee turn-over is high and why the employees who stay have “bad attitudes”.

People tend to give what they receive.  When companies provide poor service to their employees, how do they expect those same people to turn around and provide good or great service to customers?  Progressive companies put their employees’ needs first, knowing that if employees are taken care of, then the customers will be taken care of.

Southwest Airlines demonstrates the success that a company enjoys when a commitment is made to employee satisfaction.    Southwest’s motto is “Our employees first, our customers second, and our shareholders third”.  Southwest consistently receives the lowest ratio of complaints per passengers of all major U.S. carriers.  In March 2011 they ranked fourth on Fortunes “World’s Most Admired Companies” list, topped the list of the 50 best U.S. places to work by, and in a 2010 November poll of Smarter Travel readers, were recognized as having the “Friendliest Flight Attendants and Crew”.

It makes financial sense to treat your employees with respect, integrity and fairness.  Reducing turn-over saves on recruitment and training costs.  Being recognized as a “best place to work” means potential employees come to you first, giving you the first chance to hire service stars. It might also turn your employees, their friends and their families into ambassadors and loyal customers.

What I didn’t include in my opening paragraph was a follow up comment made by a mom whose daughter was fired from a sports bar because she needed to attend the funeral of a good friend.  I’m not stating the name of the sports bar, but she did. How many people are going to read that post and make the decision to either never work there or never go there as a customer because they don’t value their employees?

Your reputation for service excellence starts with the value you place on the contribution your employees make.  If you want to be known for excellent customer service, take care of those who take care of your customers.

What’s your Leadership C.A.R.E. quotient?

The ability of service teams to consistently meet and exceed customer expectations is, in large part, dependent on the person leading the team. While each and every individual on the team is ultimately responsible for their personal commitment to ensuring they show up to work each and every day with a positive, customer focused “I am here for you” attitude, it’s the leader’s responsibility to create the climate that makes that attitude much easier to achieve.

When leaders have an “I am here for you” attitude for the people in their service teams, the likelihood of the people on their team owning their role in increases.  Productivity, efficiency and customer satisfaction rates all improve.  Leaders that C.A.RE. understand that leadership is not a right; it is a gift given freely when people believe they are valued for who they are, not just what they can accomplish.

Leaders that C.A.R.E.:

Create Connections: Most of us want to part of something bigger than just us. We want to believe we are a contributor.  As the leader of a service team, find ways to create connections, internally and externally. When every person on your team understands how the gifts, talents and experience they contribute helps their team and the company they work for achieve success, a community is formed.  When accounting, sales and marketing recognize and respect individual and team responsibilities, accountabilities and contribution, communication and perhaps even camaraderie result.

In addition to creating connections internally, identify ways to create connections with the community.  Are there local causes you can support?  How can the people on your team become involved with these causes and the people that benefit from them?  Creating connections outside of work, within the community, provides your team members the opportunity to contribute to the well-being of the community they live and work in and be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Are Authentic: People may obey a title, but they won’t become loyal to a title.  People don’t offer to stay a little later or take on another project because of a title.  People become loyal to and are willing to take on extra responsibilities (within reason, of course) for a person they like and trust.  Trust is based on authenticity. Leaders who refuse to admit weakness or uncertainty are not authentic.  Leaders who refuse to ask for help or for the opinion and input of others do not gain the same trust and loyalty as those who acknowledge they are not infallible.  Employees want to work for a human being, not a robot.

Recognize Relevance: Meaningful work and the recognition that what we do matters is important to most people.  The phrase “Because I told you so” does nothing to help understand why a role, task or responsibility matters.  When people understand why they are important and why what they do is important, a sense of purpose is created.  Every single person on your team is there for a reason.  Be sure they all know exactly what that reason is.

Exhibit Enthusiasm: Enthusiasm is contagious. So is lack of enthusiasm.  If you want your team members to show up excited about the day, you need to show up excited about the day. Enjoy what you do and share that with others.

How do you show you C.A.R.E.?


How to Hire Amazing Customer Service Staff

sleepinfrontofboxesAmy is on the move again. She left Lochinver, Scotland on Thursday and arrived in London, England yesterday evening.  She overnighted in Inverness, which meant trying to find a place to stay last minute.  Amy got off the bus and started looking for a hostel. The first hostel she walked into was full, but that is where any similarity to her experience in Amsterdam ended.  (You can read that post here if you missed it).

Instead of just saying “Sorry, we are full”, the lady working the desk picked up the phone and called another hostel to see if they had a room available. They didn’t but then she said “If you can wait just a bit, I might be able to find a place for you here.” Turns out the manager was away and her (or perhaps, his) room was not being used.  The room was combination place to sleep and storage room. Long story short, Amy ended up staying at that hostel for one night.  The front desk agent found her a spare set of linens and a quilt. She saw how tired Amy was.  She commented on the nasty cold Amy was dealing with and she took steps to make her customer comfortable.

Finding service professionals who are willing to go the extra mile, who are able to look beyond the obvious to find a solution in order to meet their customer’s needs, is not easy.  There are a lot of people that apply for customer service jobs, but a small number of those applying and in many cases, being hired, are ready, willing and capable of putting the customer first.

So how do you do find those people?  Below are links to articles I’ve found that attempt to answer that very question. There are some great ideas and suggestions here.  If finding the right person to fill that all-important customer service role is a challenge, perhaps some of the tips and suggestions will help:

How to Write a Magnetic Job Description for Customer Support

Embrace Customer WOW

Eight Tips for Hiring Talented Service Staff

Hiring Awesome Customer Service Staff in Four Simple Steps

Hiring Questions List for Employers


What are some things you do to hire and retain the best of the best? 

Is the Feedback Sandwich Full of Baloney?

bologna in a vacuum packageQuick show of hands … how many of you were taught to use the sandwich method when delivering negative (or as I like to call it, constructive) feedback?

Many of us have but I must admit, I’m not a fan.  Here’s why:

  • Surrounding the message regarding the behaviour that needs to change or the performance that needs improvement (the meat) in between two slices of praise (the bread), takes the focus away from the change needed.  If the last thing your team member hears is that they are doing well, chances are that is what they will take away from the meeting.
  • The feedback sandwich doesn’t support the intention of the meeting or discussion.  If you expect a change in behaviour or performance, focus on that instead of beating around the bush.  Honest, truthful, respectful feedback inspires trust.
  • It’s a little condescending in that it sends the message “you are not strong enough to hear this”.

The sandwich method may help ease the task of delivering constructive feedback, but it’s not particularly effective.  Instead of using the feedback sandwich, try the following:

  1. Before entering into any discussion, know exactly what behaviour or performance standard is not being met.  How often? When? Avoid using words like always or never.
  2. Focus on one improvement at a time.  Sometimes, those baloney sandwiches were so loaded with meat, it was overwhelming.
  3. Don’t ignore areas of success or excellence. Include them in the natural flow of conversation, instead of just in the beginning or at the end.
  4. Be specific about what change is required and why.  Involve the employee by asking why they think the change is important or who is impacted when a behaviour or standard is not met.  Identify the positive results that will occur when the change is complete or even in process.
  5. Don’t compare one employee to another.  Nobody likes to be told they should be more like so and so.
  6. Don’t use judgmental words like lazy or slow.
  7. Involve the employee in discovering the ‘why’ and ‘how’.  Perhaps more training is required.  If so, how will it be delivered?  A workshop?  Partnering with a workplace coach or another team member?
  8. Develop a plan. How will you assess or monitor change and when will you next meet to review progress?
  9. End the meeting with an expression of confidence in the employee.

When feedback is delivered respectfully and with the intention of helping someone be better at their job, it makes the message easier to hear.  While many people would much rather hear how amazing they are, instead of their shortcomings, most of us also realize we are not perfect and appreciate an honest, sincere offer to help.

What do you think? 


A Towel Would Have Been Nice

Rainy dayMy daughter Amy recently spent a few days in Amsterdam. She arrived at midnight in the pouring rain.  Amy walked into the first hostel looking for a safe, dry place to stay.  No empty bed was available.  She walked back outside into the rain and on to the next hostel. Again, no bed.  Three more times she tried with no luck.  So she got in a taxi and went to another area of the city where there were more hostels.   It took two more tries before she finally found an empty bed.

Now call me a crazy customer service lady, but wouldn’t it have been nice if just one person had said “You look tired and soaking wet. The weather is lousy outside.  We don’t have any beds left but how about I make a few calls to see if I can find you one.” And then, maybe, just maybe she could have been offered a towel to dry off  a little bit and a hot cup of coffee or tea before heading back out into the nasty weather.

The second to last hostel she tried did at least recommend the name of a hostel close by and gave her directions on how to get there, so that was better than all the others.

None of the first hostels Amy tried could give her exactly what she wanted .. a warm, dry bed and a roof over her head.  I imagine if the people working had taken a moment to ask themselves ” If this was me, what would I like?”  they would think:  I’d want someone to recognize that I am tired and cold.  I’d want someone to try to find me a place to stay.

Sometimes, customer service is nothing more than looking up and really seeing the person in front of you. Has anyone provided that kind of personalized, caring service to you lately?  



Looking at the World Through the Eyes of Robin Williams

Robin Williams was an incredible talent and will be missed.  Perhaps it’s a little weird that when I learned he had died, Sesame Street popped to mind.

Almost two years ago, I shared a Sesame Street clip with Robin Williams and the two-headed monster talking about conflict.  (Find it here.) Recently, I discovered a different Sesame Street clip (an old one!) with Robin Williams and Elmo.  Watch at all the different uses Robin William came up with for a stick.

Very often, we get stuck on one right answer, one right way of doing things or or one way of seeing the world.  What exciting changes could we bring to the world around us if we all opened our mind up a whole world of possibilities?

R.I.P.  You left a legacy and will be missed.

Watch Out for Customers!

  • Breaking News: Customer tries to get freebie AGAIN!vintage newsboy
  • This just in: Reports say number of cranky customers on the rise.
  • Business Bulletin: Customers are clueless.
  • In the News:  Customers the highest cause of stress in service professionals.

As humans, we tend to focus on the ‘bad stuff and forget about the good stuff or the normal stuff.  When an anomaly happens, it makes the headlines. Big, bold letters and dramatic language sell papers, encourage clicks and create huddles around water coolers.  Just think of all the headlines and intense media coverage last month regarding the safety of air travel.  The loss of life is tragic.  I cannot begin to imagine the depths of pain and suffering felt around the globe because of that. Too often though, that’s where we get stuck. We forget about the millions of people who got on a plane and arrived safely at their final destination.

I see this same perspective in the service industry.  Sharing stories about unreasonable, cranky customers is common.  Some people go on and on about the cranky, rude, or “out to get a freebie” customer. After a while, they start to perceive all customers as cranky, rude and out-to-get something.  Their attitude towards customers tends to bring on more stress than the actual customer.

Yes some customers will lie to get freebies from you. Some are crankier than others.  As for clueless – the customer isn’t the expert. They’re not supposed to be, so don’t expect them to be.

Here’s an idea.  Instead of sharing stories about the “bad’ customers, share stories about the good to great ones. Count how many good to great customers you serve in a day instead of how many ‘bad’ customers.  Focus on the many positive customer interactions, instead of on the small percentage of cranky, rude and out-to-get something people.  You’ll be happier, and when you’re happier, your customers are happier.

Do this on a regular basis and in no time, you’ll be watching for the customer instead of watching out for the customer.


How to Create Customer Focused Voice Mail Greetings

telephoneI left a voice mail last week for someone who promised to call me back at his earliest convenience.  His voice mail greeting didn’t ask me to leave a time when a return call would be convenient for me.  He didn’t say he would call back within four hours or one business day.  My call was going to be returned when it was convenient to him.

Now, in the grand scheme of customer service, this type of greeting is not a deal breaker.  I’m not sure anyone would slam the phone down in disgust and refuse to do business with someone because of that.  But being the nit-picky customer service person that I am, I believe that even seemingly insignificant customer touch points like a voice mail greeting is an opportunity to make the customer or potential customer feel important.  And I don’t mean adding the cheesy “Your call is important to us/me” line to your message.  That line probably causes more eye-rolls these days than moms and dads do when they speak to their teenagers!

Creating a customer focused voice mail greeting means taking into consideration the person who is calling you.  Here are some tips:

  1. Don’t speak too quickly, too loudly or to softly.  The caller needs to be able to understand what your greeting says.
  2. Change your message if you are going to be away for an extended period of time.  Don’t forget to change it back when you return!
  3. Let the caller know when they can expect a call back or better yet, ask the caller to leave suggested times when he or she will be available.  It helps avoid the dreaded telephone tag.
  4. If possible, provide an alternate contact name and number if immediate assistance is required.  The alternative “press 0″ is appropriate if you also provide the name of the other person. This saves the caller from having to explain what is needed to the person at front reception.

By the way, the message I left last week has still not been returned.  It has been four business days. While the message may not be a deal breaker, no response to the message could be.  Perhaps he is away on holidays, forgot to change his message and will call back with an apology when he returns.  Perhaps something unexpected is keeping him away from the office.  It happens.

When thinking about your voice mail greeting, also think about who can change your voice mail greeting for you (create an outline or script for that person) and pick up and respond to messages left prior to the greeting being changed.

Getting the voice mail greeting right costs nothing except the time it takes to record it, but it can make the difference between a positive or negative first impression. In customer service, we need to create as many positive impressions as we can, so don’t leave that all important first one to chance.

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The Power of Humility

Humility gets a bad rap.  Humility is not meekness or submissiveness.  The act of being humble is not a result of low-self esteem.

Humility is strength. Humility acknowledges and is grateful for personal strengths. Humble people recognize and acknowledge when others are better, faster or more knowledgeable than they are, not because they feel weak, but because they don’t feel the need to overshadow everyone around them.

Humility acknowledges personal weaknesses, but not with a sense of shame. Humility is strong enough to ask for help or develop a plan to become stronger.

It takes courage to be humble, because humility translates to vulnerability. But those who are brave enough to be humble, to be vulnerable, create an opening, an invitation to trust. Trust is the power of leadership. Obedience may happen without trust, but loyalty won’t.

Humble leaders don’t consider themselves better than other simply because of rank or title. They don’t demand special privileges for themselves.

Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Ghandi were all humble leaders leaders. They changed lives. Their contribution to bettering our world was immense. They garnered admiration and respect worldwide. They were humble AND powerful.

A modern day humble leader is Arthur T. Demoulas, the popular ex-CEO of Market Basket.  He visited stores, he attended weddings and funerals, he fought to better the lives of the people who worked in the stores.  And those people are standing behind him. Some are walking off the job. Some have been fired because of their vocal support.  Many who do show up are joining the picket lines when not on the schedule.  This is pretty much unheard of in today’s climate where general distrust of CEO’s is pretty high.  The company is losing millions  and are considering selling the company. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.


power of humility


Humility is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of great strength.  Are you strong enough to be humble?


Do You Let Efficiency Get in the Way of Great Service?

Multi-ethnic business people sitting holding clocks over faces.Which is more important?  Completing a customer transaction in’ x’ number of minutes or having the customer walk away feeling valued, respected and cared for?

Too often, bowing down to the gods of efficiency and effective time management get in the way of building and creating relationships with the people we live with, work with or serve.

When service providers are expected to process ‘x’ amounts of call or customer interactions per hour, will they take the extra step of anticipating customer needs or responding fully to questions?  When the focus is on process and not service, customers feel like a number (because they are!), not a person.

Yes, more transactions can be processed when we don’t take the time to answer questions our customers may have before they ask them. Yes, transactions take longer when we stop, put down the papers or lift our head up from the computer, face our customer and give them our full attention.  It may mean we have to answer a few more questions or be asked to provide additional detail.

There are ways to become more efficient. Cut down on red tape, policies and procedures that slow tasks and activities down.  Bundle activities by task or location.  Know the answers to the questions most often asked so team members don’t need to search for the answer. When a search is required, note the answer down and share it with team members.  Ensure your team members have received the training they need, which may not necessarily be the training you are providing.

Efficiency is important. Effective time management is important. But when they become more important than the customer, you may end up having more time on your hands than you’d like when the customers stop coming.

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