The “Customer Experience” – What Does It Take?.

After teaching World Class Customer Service In Rochester, NY, a flight to Philadelphia on USAir gave a number of examples of how to create the customer service experience and how not! A Customer experience differs from customer service in that the customer walks away with a memorable experience. They feel cared for and important and the organization providing the service goes out of their way to make it happen.

The flight from Rochester started out with a delay in boarding. Not significant – about 10 minutes, but at a gate across from the one advertised on the overhead boards. Upon boarding, the flight attendant was not very engaging. A woman boarding the plane saw that the overhead bins were all full in coach class and started to put her bag in the overhead bin in First Class. The flight attendant in first class said, “No, these are for First Class.”

I would agree except first class was already full and there were spaces for about four bags in the overhead. She worked her way toward the back of the plane and as suspected there were no more overhead bin spaces available. She was told to take her bag back to the front of the plane ‘to be checked through to the destination at no charge!”

This now meant she would have to go to baggage claim when she arrived. In addition, the flight attendant in coach was chomping on gum and her appearance was less than stellar. I perceived the flight attendant in First Class as disinterested until she overheard me tell another passenger that I teach Customer Service.

That should not be an issue and every flight should be made as memorable as possible, whether or not a person teaches customer service. There was also no beverage service offered. The attitude of the flight attendants gave off an energy of discontent in my perception.

The next leg of my journey had a very different experience. Many flights in and out of Newport News, VA are on small planes and today was no different. Although the plane was not as new, the flight attendant made all the difference in the world.

This segment of my flight on USAir was on Piedmont airlines and upon boarding was greeted by an illuminating smile of Heather our flight attendant. Throughout the flight her tone of voice was engaging. As she conducted the beverage service, she smiled and chatted with passengers. When she finished the service she offered me the rest of the juice in the can instead of discarding it. During the flight she kept us abreast of the flight status as did our pilot. People make all the difference in creating a customer experience.

So, what are the elements that make the customer service experience?

  • Attitude: A cheerful greeting, with a smile goes a long way toward making a person feel exceptional.
  • Appearance: Every aspect of appearance goes into the customer service experience. From the appearance of the personnel to the look of the surroundings including written material.
  • Communication: Both verbal and nonverbal communication goes into creating the experience for the customer. At tone someone determines whether they are for or against them.

As stated, it is the people who make a difference in creating a customer service experience. Ironically about 90% of people who have a poor customer experience, never complain, they just no longer do business with an organization. In most instances it is the behavior of one employee who turns someone off and they generalize it to the entire organization. With a little additional effort, employees can not only support their organization, but secure their futures.

I Know What I Saw or Did I?

It happens all the time, someone says or does something and we believe we know exactly what they did and why they did it… or do we?

Every day we spend our time assessing our environments and the behavior of others. A person says something and we immediately put meaning to what they said.

Problems occur however, when we do not take time to check out our perception for accuracy. You see, the meaning you put on a situation came from within you and often it was not the intention of the person doing the behavior. That is why 4 people can witness a situation and walk away with very different perceptions of what they saw.

Let’s take a closer look at this phenomenon. Every time we interact with another human being, we bring to the conversation every life experience we have had up to that point. Our education, upbringing, religious beliefs, and our memories of all our other interactions, and then we filter what we see based on those experiences.

For example, if you had a bad experience with someone of a particular race or ethnic group, it will often influence how you would interact with others from the same group. This is the basis of prejudice, when we generalize the behavior of one or a few to an entire population. In addition, if you had a bad experience with someone who looks like the person you had the difficult time with, it may influence your perception of any individual who looks similar.

This became evident in a story of a woman who was sent to treatment for addictions. She called a few days later saying she wanted to leave and she hated her counselor. The woman said she was a terrible therapist and she hated being in the same room with her. She had signed a release so the facility was called and they reported that the counselor she had one of their most experienced and gifted counselors. She was encouraged to stay and a few days later she called to say she realized that the counselor looked very much like her aunt who had abused her as a child. She went on to make major breakthroughs and loved her counselor.

Every day we filter every interaction we have with others and come up with our perception of the situation. To ensure you have correctly perceived a circumstances, you need do a perception check.

First, determine your perception of what took place. Next, force yourself to determine what else may be going on. Third, and most important, check it out with the other individual. Approach then and ask to check something out with them then in a respectful tone inquire as to their intent.

Even if you took something sarcastically you can say, “When you said _____________, I felt confused because it sounded like you may have thought I ____________.

Is that accurate?

It is a good way to clear up misperceptions or address issues that may be brewing before people get resentful and communication totally breaks down. Checking things out can clear up problems before they start.

Is Seeing Believing or Not

A survey of most organizations finds one of the top three issues to be poor communication in the workplace. With the growing diversity of our workforce coupled with different communication styles, communication at a basic level often is the fault of most workplace issues. Steven Gaffney wrote “The average employee loses seven weeks of productivity every year because of troublesome and unresolved communication. Lack of open, honest communication is at the root of 80 percent of problems at work.” Many of these problems occur due to a difference in perception.

Differences in perception

We often wonder how 3 people can witness an incident and walk away with different perceptions of what they saw. Do we question who is being dishonest? The reality is the meaning in any conversation or situation lies in the person, not in the words or event. We all filter what we see and hear based on every life experience we have had up to that point. These filters bring into play any previous or similar incidents we have experienced. There are many ways in which perceptions result in problem communication.

Inference –observations confusion

One of the most prevalent problems in perceptual differences is when a person fails to distinguish between what is actually observed first hand and what was only assumed, then acts on the inference as if it were fact. For example, a person you were helpful to walks by and appears to ignore you. The first time it happens you may not think much of it other than, “That’s odd?” Say it happens again the next day and not only does the person ignore you, it looks as if they stick their nose up in the air. How do you respond, or do you just become offended and take it personally? What would you think if later you found out that the person or a loved one was just diagnosed with cancer and they were emotionally absent and did not even see you? Every day, we put meaning where there is none or our meaning is off base because we filter it based on our life experiences.

Confirmation Bias

Another communication problem occurs when we selectively remember things based on our preconceived notion about a person or situation. People tend to view ambiguous information as supporting their beliefs. This can be illustrated by thinking of a good friend saying something that could be misconstrued as mean to you. Often we would think, “Gee, they must be having a bad day. I better check in with them.” Ironically if another person had said the same thing to you, it may have been perceived differently.

Let’s look at another situation. You interact with someone you do not like very much and they complement you. What do you think? Do you think, “Gee that was nice,” or “Okay, what do they want. I better watch my back!”

Bypassing

A third problem occurs when we assume that meanings of words are the same for all people. This causes many issues where people assume they have communicated accurately only to find a misunderstanding has taken place. While teaching a class on communication skills, the question was posed, a manager comes in and says they need a report as soon as possible. “What does “as soon as possible” mean? Some people responded they would drop everything and do it immediately, but others thought they would work on it as soon as you finish what you are working on. Still others thought it was fine if they finished by the end of the day.

With poor communication causing a dramatic percentage of the problems in the workplace, many issues can be resolved by merely creating a feedback loop for understanding. Let the person know you want to make sure you have communicated clearly and have them repeat the expectation. Frequently problems can be cleared up before they occur.

Another option is to make sure you select words to describe clearly your expectation. Instead of as soon as possible, you may say, “This project has become the number one priority could you please have it completed and on my desk by noon?” You may also want to clarify with the individual that you realize this will effect the project on which they are working and establish some clear guidelines for that project as well. By clearly communicating you can reduce stress and minimize misunderstanding.

Finally, when you experience an interaction with another person, instead of just developing your perception of what occurred, follow up with the person to create a shared pool of understanding. Inquire in a manner that will allow the person to hear you without becoming defensive.

With a little extra attention, many of the problems that occur due to poor communication can be resolved and positively influence the bottom line of your organization.

Leading for Results

Have you ever had a “difficult” supervisor? Did they discuss things with you or just give orders? Did they compliment you for a job well done, or did you only hear from them when you made a mistake? How did this impact your ability to come to work and be productive? What feelings did you have regarding this supervisor?

Recently, while consulting with an organization, individuals were asked to close their eyes and envision their difficult person in their last altercation. They were asked to see a door open at the end of a hall and their difficult person walking toward them. All of their senses were to be used. What did they hear, see, smell, etc.?

After this brief exercise, the discussion turned to the feelings held by those who had envisioned a “lousy boss.” Even though individuals had not worked for these people in some time, several got red in the face, anxiety increased, and they became stressed, and angry. They discussed hating to go to work and how difficult it was to be productive under those conditions.

Your success as a manager depends on your people. Although leadership is necessary to coordinate activities and direct others to a goal, you need your employees to get the product out the door.

Effective leaders understand this and have learned to act more as a coach than a dictator. They know communication is the thread that holds an organization together and some believe the “real” organizational structure actually emerges from communication. In writings on leadership, effective communication surfaces as the most important skill to cultivate.

Supervisors who tend to be more “communication-minded” have learned to include their employees in the operation of the business through open and honest contact. Communication in an organization has to be consistent and focused on the goals of the organization.

Accountability

The first step is to communicate the organizational goals and mission, and then it is important to hold your people accountable for reaching the goals. The employees must have not only the responsibility to meet goals, but the authority to accomplish them. In addition, holding people accountable does not mean that you abuse them in any manner.

Your organization will gain far more if you use the experience of a problem to analyze what systems failed or were not present and need to be constructed. By developing an organization in which people do not filter their communication, you are building a culture that will bring out the best in individuals.

It is also imperative that you, as a manager, hold your self accountable to the same standards. A leader knows that they are the link between their team and the bigger picture. It is your job to lead your group toward a set of objectives that are in line with the mission and vision of the organization.

If you micromanage, you are not leading. By putting the right people in positions that match their skill set, then you can facilitate the process. While monitoring your team’s progress, if you see areas that need attention, it is your job to develop your team members by providing the tools and skills they need to complete the task. At all times communicate to employees the accomplishments they have done well.

Trust

Once you communicate the company’s mission clearly and consistently and have held yourself as well as your employee’s accountable, trust will develop. Steven Covey makes a strong business case for trust, and calls trust “the one thing that changes everything. Trust affects two outcomes – speed and cost. When trust goes down, speed will go down and costs will go up … When trust goes up, speed will also go up and costs will go down.

Think about it in your own experience. Have you ever worked with someone you did not trust? How did it effect your communication with that individual? How much time did you waste watching your back? Did you walk on egg shells? Where there is a lack of trust people create politics, or slow things done.

When people trust one another, work gets accomplished more easily. Covey (2006) said when you trust people you have confidence in them, in their integrity and in their abilities. In order to develop trust, a leader must communicate in an honest manner at all times.

Once your organization is built on trust and respect, the delivery of any information is made easier. When people are satisfied with their place of business and you, the manager, have dealt with all employees in an open and honest manner, you have laid the ground work for a win-win situation and have increased the chance that your organization will recover and thrive throughout any circumstance.

Dana Bristol-Smith – Used with permission. Taken from “Taking the Pain Out of Delivering Bad News – http://www.speakforsuccess.net/team_dbs.htm

 

Jerks at Work

Today’s workplace is full of challenges, but none is more frustrating than working with individuals who are dramatically different than you. They either have different work ethics or just do not seem to see the world the same way you do. No matter how hard you try to get along, they just rub you the wrong way. What will it take for them to get it right?

I remember hearing an old saying, “Everyone is weird but me and thee and thee is a bit weird too.” Isn’t that the truth, anyone who does not see the world as we do must be weird! We often argue to have people see our point of view, yet they just don’t seem to get it. Ironically, it may not be that they are trying to annoy us, but they just see the world differently, and there are a number of reasons for this.

First, Myers-Briggs is a personality preference indicator which measures how people perceive the world and make decisions. This indicator, based on work by Carl Jung, asserts that there are 16 different personality types as indicated by the abbreviation of four letters.

The first letter Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I) indicates where the person gets their energy. The second letter Sensing (S) or iNtuition (N) designates how an individual takes in information and interprets it. The third letter Thinking (T) or Feeling (F) specifies how an individual makes decisions and the final letter Judgment (J) or Perceiving (P), indicates how a person relates to the world.

The combination of these four letter results in 16 different personality preferences which dramatically see and experience the world differently. When you argue with someone and try to get them to see the world as you do, it may be a waste of time unless you can find some common ground.

Add to this the fact that for the first time in history, five generations now inhabit the workforce. Historically, there have been 3 to 4 generations in the workplace with little difference in their work ethic and how they saw their role in the workplace. Starting with the Millenials or those born between 1997 and 1997, things started to change.

The newest generation named Gen 2020 or 9-11’s and the Millenials were raised with technology and see the world dramatically different. The oldest generation’s dedication to work is in distinct contrast with the youngest generations who try for a more work/life balance.

All of these differences in perception and work ethics cause many sources of conflict in the workplace. The key is to try to understand that different life experiences coupled with differences in perception cause people to see the world very differently.

These barriers in the workplacet can only be overcome if we take time to try to understand each other. Try to find common ground or understand why something is important to another person. By learning about the differences and why they occur, you can take a huge step towards resolving conflict. Even creating an awareness of the differences helps to reduce the animosity between people.

Instead of getting upset with someone, try to understand how they see the world.

Eight Keys to Creating World Class Customer Service

Customer Service, the mantra used by many organizations in their mission statements, is often merely words on a wall. One client, when asked about his organizations’ mission, poured through the papers on his desk in search of the statement. When I interrupted his search and encouraged him to just give me the essence of the mission, he replied, “I don’t know, it is just something we did for the brochure!” In order to serve your customers well, the mission statement and vision must serve as a road map for the entire organization.

The leadership must intentionally focus the organization on unparalleled customer service driven which is driven from the top. When done right, mission and vision statements can give an organization an incredibly powerful sense of purpose and direction.

In order to serve customers well, many qualities need to be present in an organization.

  1. The culture of the organization must be structured in a manner that helps everyone know that customer service is the main priority. Many organizations look for ways to differentiate themselves from their competition and yet it is the experience that customer’s get at your organization which determines whether or not they will return.
  2. Impression Management is the attention paid to the perception outsiders have of your organization. Businesses need to focus on the impression they hope to give customers starting with the person answering the phone. Everything from your website to printed literature must reflect the image you hope to develop. Dixon-Schwabl, Fortune’s 2010, Best Small Business in America calls their receptionist “Director of First Impressions” to highlight the importance of the position. In addition, the appearance of the organization, as well as the staff, makes a huge difference in the credibility others give you.
  3. Implementation Plan: Once a customer service strategy is developed, there must be an implementation plan so every employee understands what observable behaviors are required to meet the needs of their customers. Also, each member of the team must recognize how their job works in concert with the overall mission of the organization. The key to job descriptions is they must be periodically reviewed and updated to make sure they meet the current needs of the organization, and ultimately the customer.
  4. Training: Once you recruit the best applicants for the position you must provide ongoing training and tools for them to accomplish their work. This includes not only job specific training, but interpersonal skills as well.
  5. Employees must get to know their internal and external customers. This include creating a feedback mechanism to help them not only understand their client’s needs, but help them to develop relationships. The time spent on relationship development is often the characteristic that keeps customers returning time after time. Think of a great customer experience you have had. Did it have to do with a product or the interaction with an employee that made it memorable?
  6. Role of managers: Supervisors must not only know the products and services of the organization, but how to clearly communicate with employees in a motivational manner. This includes coaching employees to reach higher competencies and empowering them to make decisions commensurate with their ability. The aptitude to make customer service decisions once guidelines and organizational goals have been established, will go a long way toward evolving employee ownership in the business. By empowering employees, customers are not frustrated by the “Run and Check” protocol that wastes time and leaves a bad perception in the eyes of the customer. Supervisors must be visible to employees and encourage open communication of both problems and potential solutions.
  7. Communication Plan: The leadership must develop a communication plan which keeps all employees abreast of challenges and information influencing the organization. This can be accomplished through regular communication practices which keep the entire organization abreast of any changes which would effect how they serve their customers.
  8. Measurement: The organization must develop a measurement system which helps the group understand if they are progressing toward the ultimate goal of world class customer service. This includes not only communication, but recognition for jobs well done. Progress should also be communicated to customers, so they understand their feedback was not only heard, but acted upon.

Creating an organization in which all members are focused on customer service allows employees to understand their key roles. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos wrote of the near failure of his organization when they focused on selling shoes. The shift toward “WOW Customer Service” has led them from near bankruptcy to 1 billion dollars in gross revenue in 10 years. By being proactive and developing sound customer service strategies, any organization can increase its ability to compete in today’s global marketplace.

Disengaged Employees – A Drain on the Bottom Line

“What is wrong with them? They have a good job, with good pay and benefits and they act as if they are doing us a favor coming into work!” Many of the organizations complain that their workforce is disengaged and they need help getting them back on track.

Coffman (2002) states a Gallup poll estimates that actively disengaged workers cost the American economy up to $350 billion per year, and that was the cost 9 years ago. Right Management (2009) says” a new survey shows that many workers are unhappy with their present jobs.

Sixty percent of employees intend to leave when the economy rebounds and an additional one-in-four are networking and updating their resumes.”

An upturn in the economy will send shudders throughout organizations which experience massive turnover in their ranks, and this will have a negative influence on the morale and engagement of those who choose to stay. Think of the impact this would have on your organization.

“The study provides a barometer of employee engagement in the workplace, with results that might alarm and surprise many employers,” said Douglas J. Matthews, President and Chief Operating Officer at Right Management.

“Employees are clearly expressing their pent up frustration with how they have been treated through the downturn. While employers may have taken the necessary steps to streamline operations to remain viable, it appears many employees may have felt neglected in the process. The result is a disengaged and disgruntled workforce.”

Employee disengagement does not transpire overnight, it is a process that happens over time. Who is responsible for engaging employees? I see responsibility on the part of organization, the managers as well as the employee!

First and foremost, this starts with the culture of the organization. Is there constant focus on developing a culture which communicates consistent goals and objectives to all employees? This process begins by getting the management team on the same page to create a vision and mission in which all understand their role. Many organizations have mission and vision statements but:

  • They are just words on a wall
  • The employees do not understand the company’s business objectives
  • Employees do not understand how their position fits in the overall goal of the business
  • Communication within the organization decreases during turbulent times when it should be increasing

The mission and vision of an organization must be threaded through every communication and behavior of the leadership team. If the words are spoken, but the behaviors are incongruent with the mission, employees will believe the behaviors 100% of the time. Once the leadership understands their role in creating the culture, managers and supervisors need to understand how to cascade this information throughout the organization.

An employee needs consistent, quality feedback on an ongoing basis for them to understand their value to the organization. For this reason:

  • Has the leadership team developed behaviors for each person that is aligned with the company’s goals and objectives?
  • Is there an effective communication process to communicate the progress toward the business goal
  • Do managers understand how to coach employees in a manner that meets their needs and the requirements of the organization?
  • Are there ways to recognize and reward employees for their efforts?
  • Has the organization removed barriers to communication and led by example?

The culture needs to allow for employees to communicate openly and honestly regarding their needs and professional development requests. Lencioni (2005) found that “no quality or characteristic is more important than trust,” so for this reason, cultural change will take time.

As employees begin to experience a change in the culture, they may feel safer to change the way they choose to interact. Once a culture is defined and reinforced daily through leadership behaviors, it will be up to the employee to take a chance and alter the way they interrelate and look for opportunities to move the organization forward.

Reinforcement by senior managers will help employees to understand the new expectations for the workforce, and much like any relationship, it must be cared for and maintained over time.

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