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 customer’s stop coming.

14 Reasons Training Fails

” Training is a waste of time and money.” Businessman Looking At Colleagues Sleeping During Presentation

“It didn’t work the last time we did it.”

There are times when training is a waste of time and money.  I’ve found that when training does not produce behavioral change, there are generally some underlying reasons to that. Here are fourteen.  What other reasons can you think of?

One:  When everyone must take the training, not because everyone needs it but because it’s easier to put a whole bunch of people in a training session than deal with the individuals who are not performing to standard.

Two:  When the participants have no idea why they are there, what they are being trained on or how it will help them be more successful at their job.

Three:  When you’re being over-zealous with training.  Training is good.  Too much training, especially when the participants don’t understand why they are there, is exhausting.

Four:  When it’s boring!

Five:  When the principles taught are not backed up or supported by the executive and management team.

Six:  When the training is not in alignment with organizational realities, current or future.

Seven:  When it’s not tied to a specific goal or objective.

Eight:  When a toxic, negative work environment exists.

Nine:  When the learner doesn’t have the necessary skills to process or apply the learning.

Ten:  When the learner’s current knowledge, skills and abilities are not acknowledged and recognized.

Eleven: When it is rushed, either by packing  too much information in a session or not allowing participants time to absorb and practice before introducing the next level or topic.

Twelve: When there is no clear statement as to what a successful training session will achieve.  If end goals are not clearly stated, it is very difficult to measure success.

Thirteen:  When the training doesn’t address the real issue.  For example, a full-day of customer service training won’t improve customer satisfaction scores if the real problem is skill or knowledge based. When team members don’t know HOW to do job tasks, they become frustrated and customers become frustrated.  Or perhaps the team leader never provides any feedback or only provides negative feedback, so morale is low and the “can do” attitude has died.  In that case, training one supervisor how to be a strong leader will be more effective.

Fourteen:  When short-term thinking prevails.  Sometimes, results are immediate.  If a safety policy is not being followed, new behaviours, such as always wearing a harness when working on a roof, should be seen immediately. Mastering time management takes longer which means increased efficiency or productivity will be a more gradual change.

 

Training, when done well, is not a waste of time or money.  There are numerous studies that show training improves employee morale, productivity and the bottom line.  The key lesson is, before planning any kind of training, whether with an internal trainer or an external trainer, be sure you know why you are training and the end result you desire.  If you can’t clearly articulate that, go hang up the phone and go back to the drawing board.

 

When is Firing not the (first) Answer?

Woman fightingI’m sitting here watching an old CSI episode.  One of the characters, Sara, is lashing out at others on the team, losing her cool during person-of-interest interviews and directly defying the boss.  He wants her fired and is angry when her supervisor, Grissom, refuses to do so.

There are three reasons Grissom refuses to fire her:

  1.  She is damn good at her job and a valuable part of the team.  Her insubordination and bad attitude is a relatively new development and out of character for her.
  2. He allowed her behaviour to continue instead of addressing it immediately.
  3. He took the time to talk to her (finally) and discovered long-buried trauma brought back to the forefront from a previous investigation was the reason for her change in behaviour.

Insubordination, lashing out at others, must be dealt with.  It can’t be ignored or it will worsen and team morale will suffer.  However even direct defiance, if a new behaviour, does not necessarily warrant immediate firing.

Before taking that drastic, final step, leaders will take a good look at themselves to ensure they did not contribute to the problem.  Were they in any way unclear as to expectations?  Did they say or do anything that gave the impression of favoritism?  Did they ask too much from the employee and not provide the support or training to meet the new demands?

Leaders will also take the time to look beyond the behaviour and try to discover a reason for the drastic change.  It’s not that they can or should take on the role of counselor, but when an employee is struggling emotionally or mentally, find a way to help them get past that barrier and back to being a productive, valued member of the team.  Giving an employee the opportunity to resolve their difficulties so their performance and behaviour can improve  is good for team morale, the organization as a whole and is bound to create a strong sense of loyalty.

There are times when the damage is too great or the necessary change in behaviour does not happen.  In that case, it’s time to part ways. If that happens, be sure your documentation is in place, call the employee in, break the news professionally, firmly and compassionately and then move on.  It’s not that firing is never the answer. It’s just not always the first answer.

Book Review: Challenge the Ordinary

ChallengetheordinaryIn my post, Upright and Breathing Are Not Key Qualities, I shared two reasons why some employers hold on and keep less than stellar performers on their payroll.

Reading ‘Why Evolutionary Companies Abandon Conventional Mindsets, Challenge the Ordinary, Question Long-Held Assumptions and Kill their Sacred Cows’ confirmed another suspicion I had as to why some employers let them stay.  It’s easier to settle than create the environment where exceptional thrives.

Being the kind of company exceptional people want to work at and then want to stay at, demands a commitment to exceptional and a whole lot of hard work.

There is a wealth of information and wisdom in Linda’s book. I have tabs stuck on numerous pages and lots of highlighted information. Here are notes from just four of those tabs:

1.  The Competitive Advantage quadrant outlines four ways companies operate.  Some companies have a clear vision of future but no clear plan on how to get there. Others rest on the laurels of previous or even current success. Because they are successful now, they continue to operate exactly as they have always done and therefore, quickly fall behind.  Some companies look for instant gratification. They have short-term goals which are successfully implemented, but those goals are without long-term focus. Companies in the competitive advantage quadrant have a proven track record of success, but unlike those resting in their laurels, they ask the question “Is this still working  Can this be done better, differently, more exceptionally?”  Companies in this quadrant also have clear direction and take the time time develop strong execution plans.

2.  A change-oriented, learning culture is needed to achieve exceptional.  This really ties back to willingness to ask “Is this still working? Can this be done better, differently, more exceptionally?”  Providing training and coaching support is critical and exceptional leaders ensure their teams get that support, but a learning culture goes beyond that.  A learning culture also includes the assumption that positive change, improvement, happens when there is a pro-active approach to problem-solving.  It means an understanding of and willingness to take on the inherent risk of trying a new approach and perhaps failing. It is through trial and error that better solutions are found.

3.  Setting, sticking to and living  high standards.  Exceptional companies expect so much more than good or great companies. They set their standards high and they don’t let them slide. Mediocre or ‘good-enough’ is not accepted.   The leaders of exceptional companies understand that they must be the living, breathing example of what they expect from the people on their team.  They do not demand or expect more from others than they themselves are willing to give.

4.  A one-size-fits-all approach to coaching doesn’t work.  Some of you will know how much I dislike the one-size-fits-all approach to anything, so I couldn’t help but love this statement.  Coaching, rewards, recognition .. they all need to be done with the individual in mind.  What works for one individual won’t work for another.  Too many companies have approaching coaching, training, rewards and recognition with a one-size-fits-all approach and then abandon them because they don’t work.

These are is only four quick take-aways from Linda Henman’s book. If I kept writing, and I could, you would all need to go and get another cup or two of coffee.  In short, if you want to be the kind of exceptional company that draws star performers to you and then keep them with you, create an environment where stars flourish and shine.  Stars ditch companies that tolerate mediocrity and companies filled with mediocrity don’t attract stars.

Now go, work hard and shine!

(Thank you to Career Press for the opportunity to read and review Linda Henman’s book, Challenge the Ordinary.)

A Question of Right or Wrong

Businessman taking oath.If you had to choose between what is right or what is right for the company, which would you choose?

For example, you are at lunch with a friend.  Your main competitor is sitting at the table next to you with a new contact you are meeting with next week.  It sounds like he is trying to get the same business you want.  Do you stay and listen in on the conversation, hoping that specific details are discussed, allowing you to better his offer or do you excuse yourself knowing that you will have your chance next week?

Your boss has implemented an incentive program based on selling x amounts of widget B, a higher priced alternative to widget A.  The extra money would come in handy. Do you push widget B even when widget A meets all your customer’s needs?

And if you are the boss, what would you do if you found out your sales person walked away instead of trying to get the inside scoop on a competitor’s pricing proposal or continued to include widget A as an option when speaking with customers?

In the first case, that insider information may be just what you need to secure the contract and in the second case, revenues are slightly lower when a customer chooses widget A over widget B.

Do we add a couple of dollars on to the blank tax receipt the cab driver hands us? Do you go back to the store when you realize the cashier forgot to charge you for the eggs?  Do you look for things to keep you busy even when the boss isn’t looking?  Do you wait until the very last minute to tell employees about layoffs to prevent people starting their job search immediately?  Do you tell the customer the flooring will be in by Thursday in order to close a sale even though you know full well it will take at least a week longer?

Our integrity is tested every day.  Integrity means doing what is right even when no one is looking. It means doing what is right regardless of the consequences.  It means being willing to lose a sale if the only way to get that sale is to lie, cheat or steal.

In today’s “the end justifies the means” world, it can be very tempting to start looking for loopholes or the excuse “but everyone is doing it”.  ‘The end justifies the means’ is an example of short-term thinking. It takes a long time to build a reputation for honesty and integrity, but that reputation reaps rewards and creates relationships that cross the line of competitor, vendor, customer, employee and boss.  A commitment to honesty and integrity is an example of long-term thinking.

Upright and Breathing are not Key Qualities

Tired businesswomanIn the last four years, I have facilitated over 100 customer service training sessions.  By far, the majority of people in my sessions want to provide their customers with great service.  They are excited to learn about the concept of internal customer service; they want to learn how to present themselves as professionals and how to effectively manage unhappy, disappointed customers.  They are eager to share their experiences with others in the group.

But every once in a while, someone will show up in a session who simply does not understand why they should provide some of the basics, never mind go out of their way to make a customer feel valued.  They believe that unhappy, disappointed customers are rude and demanding and refuse to consider using techniques to manage difficult situations.

I had one participant openly admit to spitting in a customer’s burger when it was pointed out to her that the burger wasn’t cooked as ordered.  (I must admit to thinking that was an urban myth.  Nobody would do that, right?  Wrong!!)  Another participant told me he had absolutely no intention of ever apologizing to a customer or trying to find a solution to a problem because “Customers get what they get and if they aren’t happy, they can just deal with it.”

Each time this happens I am astounded at the negativity.  We need customers. Customers pay our bills for us; they pay for our new car, our dream vacation, our children’s education.  Yes, sometimes customers come to our businesses with unrealistic expectations.  Sometimes the customer is “wrong”, but that does not give service professionals the right to treat the customer with disdain and disrespect.

Why do some employers put up with this type of behaviour?

Here are two reasons I’ve been given.

1.  The employee is great at everything else. Because they are technically proficient, they are allowed to get away with atrocious behaviour.

2.  They fill a time slot in the schedule.  Sometimes labour shortages result in the “hey, a living, breathing person who shows up for work at least 80% of the time is better than nobody.”

I understand the temptation to let high customer service standards slide a bit in those situations, but don’t give in!  The reality is that an employee with this type of negative attitude damages your business.  Having toxic, negative, people-haters showing up for work damages your reputation, your current customer leave and potential customers stay away.  Not only that, but the work environment becomes increasingly toxic as the negativity starts infecting previously positive attitude employees who see bad behaviour not being addressed.

Attitude truly does count.  You can teach someone HOW to complete a task, but you can’t train them to complete it with professional and personal pride or to care about their co-workers or their customers.

Upright, breathing and technically proficient isn’t good enough!   Hire people that want to succeed.  Hire people that would not dream of settling for “barely good enough” .  Hire people that actually care about and like people.

 

An Example of Above and Beyond Service

Woman shopping at the supermarketThe last time my mom went for groceries, she was having trouble finding an item. One of the employees saw her and asked her if she needed help finding something. She said yes, told him what it was and he led her to the aisle he believed the item was in. My mom had been there already but knew it was possible she had just missed it. Turns out it wasn’t there.  The product wasn’t a make or break item on her list, so she thanked him for trying, found the rest of her items and went to stand in the check-out line.

She had been in line for just a few minutes when the same employee tapped her on the shoulder.  He had found what he thought she was looking for and then took the time to look for her and bring it to her.  It wasn’t exactly, but was a close enough substitute that she said yes. He then went one step further and asked if she needed more than one, because if she did, he would quickly run and get some more.

This service professional went way above and beyond what my mom expected.  But the story doesn’t end there.  According to my mom, she has yet to be served by anyone in that store who is not professional, friendly and focused on the customer. That kind of consistency does not happen by chance.  That kind of consistency happens when there is a strong service culture in place, instead of a culture of apathy and doing just enough to get by.

I would venture to guess that the people responsible for leading the entire team have been known to go above and beyond with their internal customers. They have created service standards and provided their team members the tools, resources, support and personal example to live up to those standards. Their laser sharp focus on service and on their customers, both internal and external, create an environment where service flourishes.

Each and every service individual needs to own their own role in the customer experience.  Bad management and lack of support is not an excuse to perform at a lower standard. At the same time, management needs to own their role.  When service levels are low or inconsistent, everyone needs to look in the mirror and ask “What do I need to do to change our environment from a culture of apathy to a culture of service?”

Moving Past Fear

ParachutistAs I shared in a recent blog post, I used to be terrified of flying.  I’d get nauseous and cranky days before I was supposed to fly. The day I was supposed to actually get on a plane, I couldn’t eat and everyone knew to stay far away from me because the possibility of me breaking down into tears or going off on some horrible rant was very, very high.

For some dumb reason, I decided to watch ‘Final Destination’ two days before I had to get on a plane.  For those of you who don’t know the movie, it starts off with a school trip gone horribly wrong.  A student boards a plane to head off on this exciting adventure with his school friends.  As he sits down in his seat, he notices that the latch that is supposed to keep the tray up in front of him is broken. Very next thing … he has a vision that shows the plane blowing up on take-off and everyone dies. He freaks out and runs off the plane.  It taxis down the runway without him and blows up on take-off.

I swear, my palms were sweating and my heart was racing for forty eight solid hours.  But I went to the airport anyway.  I stood in line to check my bag.  I went through security.   I sat at the gate for an entire 45 minutes convincing myself that all would be fine.  Then I got on the plane and found my seat.  It was an aisle seat of course, as far from the window as possible.    I pulled out my book and, as I leaned over to tuck my bag under the seat in front of me, my head bumped the tray in front of me.  I sat up. The tray fell down.  My heart stopped beating.  I took a deep breath, spoke very sternly to myself .. “Laurie, chill out.  You bumped the latch. That’s all.”  I lifted up the tray and went to secure it with the latch. It was a little loose, but after watching ‘Final Destination’, I was pretty sure it was an omen … the plane was going to burst into flames and we were all going to die.

As much as I wanted to run screaming from the plane, I didn’t.  Instead, I sat down and gripped the arm rest a little bit harder.  At that moment, I knew that if I got off the plane, chances are I would never get back on one again. That would mean losing my job and giving up on my dreams of overseas travel.

We all have fears.  Many seem irrational to us and those around us.  Some fears are small and don’t impact our lives significantly, but some can.  There are people whose career stalls because of their fear of speaking in public, either in front of a room, around a boardroom table or in a face-to-face meeting.  There are people going to jobs they hate because they are afraid to step outside of what they know and are comfortable with.    Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of what other people think about us, fear, fear, fear.

Fear has the potential to hold us back from realizing dreams. It keeps us from exploring the unknown, taking chances and realizing our full potential.

Whatever your fear, the only way to get past it is to find your own, very personal reason to do so.  It was not statistics on the safety of flying that kept me on that plane. It was my very real desire to one day get on a plane and visit the little town in northern Italy where my grandfather came from.

Moving past fear is a journey.  It took a lot of flights before I became so comfortable that I forgot to grip the armrest at the slightest hint of  turbulence.  Truth be told, I will probably never love flying, but I love planning and arriving at new final destinations and that helps overcome any sense of discomfort that still lingers.

If there is a fear you have, big or small, that is keeping you locked in a place you don’t want to be, take a deep breath, hold on tight and start the journey.  You will be glad you did.

Negative Self Talk and Stress

Last week’s blog “7 Tips to Manage Stress” spoke about recognizing and addressing imagined dangers.  One rather common imagined danger is our negative perception of ourselves.  It reminded of a blog posted almost three years ago.  Here is a revised and slightly updated version of that original post.

train“I’m not smart enough.”  “Someone else can do it better.”  “I’m just going to fail.” “I am so stupid!” “What made me think I could do this?”

When we tell ourselves we can’t do something, we are usually right!  Not because we are not capable, but because we have convinced ourselves that we can’t.

My daughter was the victim of bullying in middle school.  I was shocked and appalled at the cruel things that some of the girls in her school were saying.  I did not understand how anyone could speak to another person that unkindly.  And then one day, I caught myself “being mean” to me.  I was struggling with a project, had missed a deadline and started berating myself for not being smart enough, driven enough, organized enough, blah, blah, blah.  Of course, once I started the negative self-talk it quickly spiralled out of control.  If only I was taller, younger, older prettier … well, you get the picture.

At that point I realized that I had spent way too much time and energy finding fault with myself and instead needed to start giving myself the pep talks I regularly gave my daughter.  I needed to learn how to shut off that negative voice and replace it with positive messaging.

When I was little, I loved the story “The Little Engine that Could” and I realized that story still had significance to me. Instead of chugging along and saying “I think I can, I think I can”, I decided to up the ante a bit and instead chug along and say “I know I can, I know I can.”

Negative self-talk is by far a larger contributor to failure than lack of knowledge or experience.  The next time you find yourself doubting yourself, calling yourself down or focusing on the reasons why you think you can’t … stop …. and toot your own horn.

“What we think, we become.” …  Buddha

Never Smile at a Monkey

AmyMonkey

Amy and the monkey … just before the toothy smile and quick evasion from a monkey attack.

My daughter, Amy, escaped a monkey attack.  As Amy put it “Evolution won again and I got out of the way before it bit me.”  It turns out smiling at monkeys is a BAD idea as they interpret the sight of teeth as a sign of aggression.

Amy is about eight months into a year-long adventure and she learned this valuable lesson recently in Indonesia.  She had been warned not to smile at the monkey but was so completely thrilled, she couldn’t help it.

Her story got me thinking about some of the unknown dangers lurking in the workplace.   Here are some of the dangers I’ve met … names changed of course to protect the guilty!

  1. Nasty Nellie:  Approach Nasty Nellie carefully. She is likely to bite your head off if you ask a question the wrong way or at the wrong time. Oh wait. All questions are asked the wrong way at the wrong time.  Nellie slams her phone and door a LOT!  Put on protective armor before going to Nellie.  You are going to need it.
  2. Condescending Charlie:  Charlie doesn’t yell, swear or call anyone names.  Instead he looks down his nose at you from a position of superiority.  He will answer your questions, but not before clearly pointing out why it was a stupid question with an obvious answer.
  3. Jocular Joe:  Joe laughs and laughs and laughs. He’s got lots and lots of stories to tell and pranks to pull.  He’s fun, fun, fun … which is great at staff parties but not so great when you and your team are in a meeting or trying to come to some sort of decision.  Joe is the class clown all grown up.  If he could wear the red nose to work, he would.
  4. Chatty Cathy:  Cathy is kind of like Joe.  Do NOT go and talk to Cathy if you need a quick answer or are short of time.  There is no getting away from Cathy quickly once she has you in her clutches.  She will talk, talk, talk and talk some more. And just when you think she’s is finally wrapping up and getting to the point, she’ll go back to the beginning and tell you the story again because she forget one tiny detail in the original telling.
  5. No Way Ned:  Ned is your go-to guy if you want an idea or plan to die on the vine.  He quickly and easily comes up with lots and lots of reasons as to why any new idea will fail.  If you don’t want your idea to die on the vine, one idea is to approach Ned first. Find out all his whys and then either ask him how they can be overcome or if he refuses to do that, do your own research and be prepared to address them when he brings them up in front of others.
  6. Back stabbing Betsy:  Betsy loves to have deep chats. She asks lots of probing questions trying to find out what you really think or feel.   Betsy has also been known to volunteer to help others, so that she can then go to the boss and demonstrate how she is soooo much better than the person she supposedly ‘helped’. And all that information she is getting from you?  She is looking for dirt, for one little negative she can share with others to spread misery and hard feelings. Be very, very careful what you say to Betsy.
AmyMonkey2

Getting along just fine now that the boundaries have been identified and established! It’s ok to smile … just not when the monkey is looking!

It’s easy to judge the Cathys, Betsys, Neds, Joes, Charlies and Nellies in the workplace and to assume that we are somehow nicer, smarter and better than they are.  One of the many lessons I learned throughout the years though is that judging them turns us into Judgmental Judys, which means we then play a role in inter-office drama, conflict and miscommunication.

Our role is not to judge but to instead find a way to communicate with them.  A lot of the negative behaviours we associate with people (and perhaps display ourselves?) are protection mechanisms.  They are habits put in place to feel stronger, smarter or perhaps more truthfully, hide feelings of insecurity.  If we can get past our own ego, we increase the odds of successful communication.

 

 

 

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