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  • feedwordpress 14:26:37 on 2018/04/06 Permalink
    Tags: , customer satisfaction, , , ,   

    Are you hearing me? Listening Skills for Leaders 

    A few years ago, my husband and I bought a kitchen table from a reputable furniture company. Within a week, we noticed a few flaws in the finish. I called the help desk and was instructed to buy an extended warranty policy. They said I would get priority treatment, have a direct dial in line for assistance and would be entitled to additional maintenance past the standard time period. So, we purchased the policy.

    A repairman came to our home and touched up the flaws. A few months later, more of the finish started peeling off. I called again. Another repairman fixed the problem. It happened two or three more times. Each time, someone came to touch up the table. At that point, I should have insisted that the company replace the table, but I didn’t. About two years later, the problem re-surfaced. This time, the company said my extended maintenance contract had expired so there was nothing they could do. They advised me to go buy furniture finishing sticks.

    Fast forward to today; I use those furniture sticks often, but now the table is warping. I contacted customer service. We exchanged multiple e-mails. A representative called me. She was responsive, apologetic and said she was forwarding her notes to management and would have someone call me. She did, and it went something like this.

    “You have a problem with a table?”

    “Yes,” I said. Did you read the notes from the emails and the person I spoke with?”

    She didn’t see any notes. I described the saga again.

    “Well” she responded, “we sent people to your house and everything was fine.”

    It wasn’t fine I stated. If it was fine, I wouldn’t have kept calling back.

    “What” she asked?

    I repeated myself.

    “I’m looking at your file and everything was fine.”

    Now I was annoyed. Again, I explained the situation. Again, she told me everything was fine. “Are you listening to me?” I asked.

    “Yes, she said. I see that every time we sent someone to your house, everything was fine”.

    Tired of talking to someone who wasn’t paying attention and didn’t seem to care, I told her I would never shop at her furniture store again. She said that’s unfortunate. I said it was fine and hung up. I don’t blame this company for failing to replace a table that is out of extended warranty. I do blame their management for failure to listen to their customers. I blame them for lack of empathy. And I blame them for not making communication a priority.

    There are several ways to tell if someone is really listening to you. In person, they will maintain eye contact, so you know they’re listening. They often angle their body toward you which signals they are in the conversation. Engaged listeners typically don’t fidget, tap their fingers or shift in their seats.

    When you can’t see someone, there are verbal clues that will signal if they’re paying attention. Ask a question or ask for their opinion. If they respond with “what” or ask you to repeat yourself, they probably weren’t listening. Then ask them if they’re listening. If they’re caught off guard or continue to repeat the same thing over or over, that’s a good clue that they’re not really listening.

    At work, poor listening skills translate to poor performance, poor relationships and poor productivity. That’s why listening is such an important skill for leaders to master. It actually takes more concentration and focus than speaking. When you listen, you show interest in others and make them feel valued.

    We worked with a candy company that manufactures and sells products in more than eighty countries around the globe. Despite the enormity of running this company, several times a month the CEO joins employees for lunch in the cafeteria so he can listen and stay in touch. It’s not a complaint session because most of his employees are happy. While they talk shop, much of the conversation focuses on families, current events and what’s happening in their lives.

    Employees feel that the CEO really cares about them, because he really does. They feel their voices are heard because they are. There is a big difference between leaders saying they want to keep the lines of communication open and leaders who really do.

    An article published in the Harvard Business Review lumped listening into three categories:

    1. Internal listening which is when you are focused on your own thoughts and concerns but pretend to focus on others.

    2. Focused listening is when you focus on others but are not fully connected to them.

    3. 360 listening is what they term “the magic”. Not only are you listening to what someone else is saying, but you are paying attention to how they say it.

    Listening improves productivity in the workplace. If you are truly engaged in a conversation, it is natural to ask probing questions such as “can you elaborate” or “will you share an experience that led to your thought process” or “how can this help our team achieve their objectives?” These are questions that show you are fully present and genuinely interested in understanding and learning more.

    Over the past two decades, we have worked with hundreds of executives. Those who are sincere listeners have several traits in common. They come across as caring empathetic individuals. Employees tend to want to work harder for people that seem to care about them. Leaders who listen embrace people’s differences and try to understand how those traits can be utilized instead of trying to mold them into someone they want them to be. These leaders also tend to be open to new approaches and ideas, rather than thinking they have all the answers.

    Yet, published articles report less than 2% of all professionals have any formal training to help them understand and improve listening techniques.

    The furniture company I mentioned is a textbook example. After I hung up with the manager, I e-mailed a note of thanks to the original customer service representative who tried to help me. I said a manager did call as promised and then briefly recounted the conversation saying she was not helpful.

    The service representative e-mailed me back immediately, but to my surprise she wrote: “Thank you Karen. Did the manager resolve your problem?” At first, I thought I read it wrong. Then I realized, she didn’t read what I wrote. Chances are, her attention was challenged by multiple tasks other than my problem.

    Unfortunately, her failure to read my comments only further cemented my opinion that this company doesn’t really care about its customers. Because service representatives are the front line of many companies, they have a unique opportunity to shape reputations and forge relationships.

    Empowering employees with on-going education and training to improve listening and communication skills will surely reap great returns on your investment both inside the company and when dealing with important customers.

     
  • feedwordpress 02:02:19 on 2017/04/20 Permalink
    Tags: airlines, , Business reputation, customer satisfaction, , , , Op-Ed   

    Op-ed: What United Airlines should have done – What everyone is missing 

    A lot has been written about the recent United Airlines public relations disaster and most of the so-called Monday morning quarterbacks are correct in their assessments of what should have been done. After a video of 69-year-old Dr. David Dao being violently dragged from his seat went viral, I agree that United CEO Oscar Munoz waited far too long to apologize to the passenger and take responsibility for what happened.

    When he finally did speak publicly, it was about United when it should have been about passenger safety and making sure something like this doesn’t happen again.

    And even though Munoz stepped up to the plate and announced that all passengers who unfortunately witnessed the upsetting behavior of Chicago security on United Express Flight 3411 will get a refund, his public relations people have completely missed the boat on this one.

    If I was advising Mr. Munoz, I would have told him to get on one of his planes and apologize to Dr. Dao in person. Immediately. It would not have eased the turbulence, but it would have made re-entry a little less bumpy.

    Very public snafus are nothing new.  The speed at which they unfold in the digital age makes early response more critical than ever.

    However, early response alone can’t dig a company out of sinkhole. What you say first is equally important. In United’s first statement, Munoz said: “This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United.”  That makes it about United, not about the passengers.

    Perhaps he should have learned a lesson from former BP CEO Tony Hayward’s terrible handling of the Gulf coast oil spill in 2010. Yes, he apologized, but that was followed by “There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.”

    Apologies, even when heartfelt, do not make everything okay, especially when the words you use signal that you are sorry for yourself.

    In times of crisis, people want leaders who take time to genuinely understand what it feels like to walk in the shoes of those affected by whatever happened. They want the truth, not some legalese version designed to protect the organization. They want to know how companies will fix things moving forward. Like an experienced pilot, trusted to navigate the stormy skies, people want leaders they can trust to make things right.

    When I was little and tried to apologize my way out of bad behavior, my mother used to tell me that “actions speak louder than words”. In this case, actions speak louder than PR, which stands for public relations. True PR however, is personal relations. A personal visit to Dr. Dao should have been a top priority.

     
  • feedwordpress 19:11:12 on 2017/01/18 Permalink
    Tags: , , , customer satisfaction, , people skills, , soft skills   

    Sharpening your soft skills 

    The letter from the local tax collector’s office said we were being penalized for failing to pay school taxes last year. It threatened if we didn’t send money by a certain date, there would be additional consequences.

    I looked at the letterhead and didn’t recognize the name of the tax collector, which seemed odd as I’ve known her for years. The tone of the letter was also terse; not at all like Patti, who was sweet and understanding. A long-time popular public servant who had been re-elected multiple times, she was a fixture in the township building who always greeted you with a bright smile. A letter from her would have a much softer tone and say something like “perhaps you’ve overlooked the due date of your last school tax payment”. This made no sense to me. So, I called the office.

    Imagine my surprise to learn that Patti had suddenly died.  The letter we received was from the newly appointed temporary tax collector. After my initial sadness over Patti’s loss, anger set in. Instead of a threatening letter, why didn’t this individual introduce himself and share that his predecessor had died? Why didn’t he say something nice about her and offer to help people during this surprising and upsetting transition?

    We did miss our tax payment, but not purposely, which Patti would have understood. Even if she couldn’t forgive the penalty, she would not have made us feel like slackers trying to get away with something.

    There are hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are job specific. These are technical skills and expertise required to do your job. Soft skills are people skills. It’s about relating to others. Think of it this way.  Let’s say you have a choice between working with two different accountants. One is slightly more qualified than the other, but can be short tempered, rude and not easily accessible. The other is warm, friendly, always picks up the phone and seems to care about you. Who would you choose? Most of us would choose the latter. A person’s expertise might bring someone in the door, but their ability to communicate and relate is what will keep them there.

    It’s those soft skills that help us problem solve, collaborate and build constructive relationships with others. When organizations encourage development of these skills, they create positive environments where people feel valued. That goes a long way toward strengthening relationships with customers, colleagues and other stakeholders. In fact, a national survey conducted by the Harris Poll found that 16 percent of hiring managers believe soft skills are even more important than hard skills.

    So, which soft skills should we develop and why? Let’s focus on four:

    • Empathy
    • Communication
    • Self-Awareness
    • Non-Verbal

    Empathy, especially during difficult times, conveys caring and understanding. During very public situations when a company has done something wrong, it’s most important skill a spokesperson can develop if it’s genuine. While facts are important, it’s how those facts are communicated that form perceptions.

    Your ability to communicate clearly, concisely and openly speaks to trust and credibility. There may be times when you can’t share information. Instead of shutting people out, listen to their concerns and let them know you will share information as soon as you are able.

    Becoming more self-aware of your short-comings will help you change and improve behaviors. People who are self-aware are perceived as open and willing to learn new skills.

    Lastly, never underestimate the importance of eye contact and body language. Making direct eye contact suggests you consider someone important. Open gestures, facing the person who is talking to you and a smile when appropriate positions you as approachable.

    There is also the issue of tone whether intended or unintended. Recently, I inquired as to when we would receive a deposit for an upcoming program. The contract office shot back an email that said: “As I stated in our original email, the deposit will be sent out on x date.”

    I wondered why the nasty tone.  Were they mad at me? Were they annoyed that I didn’t see or remember the date? Were they trying to let me know who is in charge? Or, maybe the sender didn’t realize how they sounded. Maybe they meant nothing at all.

    Maybe, the tax collector didn’t realize how harsh he sounded, especially so close to his colleague’s death. Tone can be very misunderstood when someone can’t see you or hear you. Tone conveys attitude.

    Winston Churchill once said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Attitude is a soft skill. Whether writing a letter, sending an email or speaking in person, an upbeat positive attitude is contagious and can patch up misunderstandings.

    If you just take an extra second and proceed with caution, you might prevent misunderstandings that can sabotage relationships and convey a negative impression you never intended.

     
  • feedwordpress 20:20:11 on 2016/12/09 Permalink
    Tags: , customer satisfaction, , , doing business, , internet, , , , Xfinity   

    Make it easy to do business with you 

    It was in the crunch of early morning emails when I realized the internet wasn’t working. I immediately started trouble shooting. I rebooted my computer, turned the internet router off and then back on, and pushed a few unnamed blinking buttons on the box. Nothing worked, so I took the next measure. I texted my husband who was away on a business trip.

    Me:                    The internet isn’t working and I don’t know why.

    Husband:         Turn the power strip off, wait a minute and turn it back on.

    Me:                    What about the button that says WPS?

    Husband:         Don’t touch it.

    Me:                    Oops, I already did, now what?

    Husband:         I don’t know, call Xfinity.

    So I did and immediately got a recording saying they were aware of internet outages and were working on it. Then the voice advised me to log onto www.Xfinity.com to check for updates.

    Seriously? Did they really say that after acknowledging that the internet was down? I could probably log on from my phone or iPad, but not everyone has an additional device. If the internet is out, then why would you direct people to your website for additional information?

    Communicating robotically or thoughtlessly is almost as bad as not communicating at all. Part of your job as a service provider is to make life easy for your clients and customers. Given the wealth of competition and options, I would think you would strive for people to tell others how easy it is to do business with you.  When it’s not, it’s frustrating and sometimes, hard to keep your cool.

    As another example, earlier this year we were awarded a contract with a corporation that attempted to simplify complicated billing procedures by hiring a third party to process vendor invoices. However, this required completing multiple forms, submitting pages of documentation, completing numerous questionnaires and being bombarded by e-mails from a variety of different company departments. When we finally received approval to bill through their on-line-system, their system wouldn’t accept our invoices.

    It turns out the so-called simplified process required many more steps, approvals, signatures and actually made the invoice submission even more complicated than the original process. Unfortunately, the client, who clearly has more pressing tasks than navigating a new invoice approval system, had to spend months digging through the corporate maze to file additional work statements so she could continue to work with us and so we could get paid.

    In an effort to shed some light on the issue and help the third party become more customer friendly and efficient, I called and made a few suggestions. Instead of listening or trying to understand my frustration, they defensively rattled off a bunch of IT jargon as an explanation as to why a cumbersome system was necessary.

    If that’s not frustrating enough, when we were directed to re-submit the additional information through yet another new improved portal, the system rejected it again. Back to the phone, a young woman, clearly confused and bewildered, finally diagnosed the problem.

    “You can’t submit the exact amount you’re owed” she observed.

    Now it was my turn to be confused and bewildered so I asked why.

    “You have to round off numbers when you submit your invoice” she answered.

    I explained that when expenses are added to professional fees, numbers don’t always round off evenly. She said other vendors had also complained, but if we didn’t do things the way the system is set up, we’d have to call the client and have them start the entire process over.

    Why would a customer want to continue to do business with us or anyone if it’s complicated and time-consuming? It doesn’t matter that we’re victims of a cumbersome system. To the client, it’s just one big hassle. It’s like calling a customer service number and being asked for your account number three times by three different people after you’ve already punched the number into phone. Annoying. Frustrating. You want to hang up. To me, this says the company’s priorities are out of whack.

    According to a Customer Experience Board survey, meeting and exceeding customer expectations is not enough. The survey found minimal customer effort impacts customer loyalty more than anything else. So, if you want to make it easy to do business with customers or their customers, start by asking how you can make things easy for them?

    Technology is a good place to start. Just because you put an on line system in place to keep up with the times, doesn’t mean you’re making things easier for your customer. Like you, your customers are busy people. They value time. Complex multiple-step technology makes them work harder and robs them of important hours. So how do we make life easier for customers so they want to keep doing business with us?

    1. Pay attention. If numerous customers are complaining, listen. It doesn’t mean you need to throw out the rules and do everything they say. It does mean being flexible so you can make changes that make things better for your customers.
    1. No excuses. Instead of being defensive or making excuses, focus on fixing the trouble and being a problem solver.
    1. Sit in their seats. If the customer is clearly in pain, ask questions to better understand the issues and make them feel their opinion truly matters.
    1. Nix the biz speak. Instead of rattling off internal jargon to sound smart, help customers through the process. That means speaking their language, not yours.
    1. Replace “I” with “you”. When we continually use the word “I”, it’s about you. When we use the word “you”, it’s about them. Focus on the customers needs, not your own.

    Finally, communicating is not about talking. It’s about connecting. That means being empathetic to your customers concerns, even if you don’t have an immediate solution. Most of us simply want our feelings acknowledged. When someone makes a true effort to understand the customer, that customer feels valued. A valued customer is likely to hang in there with you because ultimately, they believe you will do what’s best for them.

     
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