Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sack the Sad Sack!

The other day I went to the grocery store. It was a quick stop to pick up a handful of items. I’m sure the cashier was tired … but still. I went through the line with no eye contact and not even one word. He didn’t tell me what my total was, I was expected to look at the screen and figure it out for myself. Of course, at the end of our exchange (if you want to call it that), I got no, “Thank you” or “Have a nice day.”


Those little things can make the difference between a mediocre experience and a great one. I didn’t need a toothy grin and a whole lot of small talk, a simple, “Did you find everything?”, a total at the end of my order and a “Thank you” would have sufficed. Okay, truth be told, I could have done without the Sad Sack expression, I didn’t need a slap-happy smile but something a little better than the dead man walking expression could have been good.

The little things mean a lot to a customer but they also can do wonders for the customer service rep. My first job was as a cashier at a supermarket. It can be a long, grueling, and thankless job.

I’ve actually been that same cashier. I was miserable and probably made a few customers miserable (or at least annoyed). When I was the Sad Sack, my days were long and it seemed as if I had one bad experience after another. The time passed so slowly!

However, I had a few co-workers who had another experience. They had irate customers, messes in their lanes and price-checks that took way too long, but they weren’t Sad Sacks. Their experiences were different.

I decided to drop the Sad Sack and embrace a more positive attitude. All of those annoyances still happened but they weren’t so bad anymore. In fact, there were more positive people and experiences in my lane than I’d had before. Most importantly, time seemed to go by faster. It didn’t fly but it didn’t crawl or limp either.

I think the more positive experiences I had were based, in part, on the fact that when I dropped the negatively, I also started investing more in the little things. I made eye contact and small talk. I said “Thank you” and “Have a nice day.” Basically, I connected with my customers. Did I connect positively with each and every one? Of course not, but I did connect with most and usually behind every negative or trying customer was a pleasant one.

Sacking the Sad Sack made all of the difference.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

These Boots Were Made for Walkin'

I am a cable customer. I have been with the same cable company for over five years now. Yet, on a daily basis, I see commercials for great deals my cable company is offering to new customers. Five years of faithful service obviously doesn’t mean much to them.

I met a business owner who had the same philosophy. She had opened a new restaurant and was bending over backwards to court new customers. As a new business that made perfect sense. But, what about the customers who had found her business and started making repeat visits? What about us? When I proposed the question to her, her response was simple (rude but simple). She told me I didn’t know a thing about running a business. Funny, she’s no longer in business.

As important as new customers are to a business, keeping existing customers is just as important. Customers can and do leave. I recently left a pharmacy that filled a difficult (and expensive) prescription for my dog. Marty is a toy poodle with Cushing’s disease. He’s too small to take a pill (even a scored pill) so his medication has to be mixed into a liquid suspension. It’s pricey.

Over the last 18 months, the price has gone up three times with no notice. The first time represented a 27% increase and the second was a 33% increase. When I asked, after the second increase, for an explanation, there was none. However, I’d been a faithful customer so I don’t think anyone thought an explanation was warranted. After all, there are only so many local pharmacies that do what they do.

Well, I called around and found a pharmacy that would do it for a lot less and they were exceedingly polite and customer-focused.  Maybe they were so nice because I was a new customer, only time will tell.

However, there are a few lessons to be learned.

1. I’m no longer a customer of the original pharmacy. They lost my business. After that first, and last, discussion on the reason for the increase, there was no further communication on my part. They will never know why I left.

2. I will leave the new pharmacy too if I don’t get the service and price I’m looking for. Will I tell them why I’m leaving? Probably not. I’ll just vote with my feet.

3. Most faithful and unhappy customers are like me. Loyal customers are often taken for granted but we will only be pushed so far. Many of us stay because it’s convenient and leaving would be a hassle. Yet, we all have limits; the pharmacy exceeded mine (the cable company is coming close!).

Keeping ALL customers happy should be a priority. Retaining customers is just as important as attracting new ones.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Stress Busters!

Customer Service work isn’t easy. In the face of downsizing, many CSRs that have survived the cut are facing increased workload and expectations. The job itself is stressful, but nowadays it’s even more so. So here are some tips for managing stress.

Take Lunches and Breaks: You need that time to rejuvenate and recharge and it doesn’t take a lot of time to do either. To have a true break , you have to step away from your desk. Even if you just go to the break room, get up from the desk and take a real break.

Photo Finish: It’s a clich├ęd customer service technique to keep a mirror on your desk to remember to smile. I say, have a family photo to remember why you are working so hard. Maybe even have a humorous cartoon or photo to remind you to keep things in perspective. Change your photos and cartoons every so often, so you don't get bored.

Have a Talk: This one is tricky. Don’t necessarily talk about work (or co-workers) but at your lunch break talk to your co-workers about a favorite TV show or music. Talk, laugh, put a little fun into your breaks.

Take a Walk: Smokers have the right idea. They go outside to smoke. I’m not saying you should smoke, but getting outside for even five minutes can make a difference.

The Rear View Mirror: You don’t want to take your stress at work home with you. So at the end of the day, before you pull out of the parking lot, put on a favorite CD or radio station. As you head out of the parking lot and down the street, glance in your rear view mirror and notice your workplace getting smaller and smaller as it fades into the background. Your stress should go with it. Begin to turn your thoughts to: the music on the radio, the evening ahead, the rain on your windshield, … anything but work!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Conducing a CSR Coaching Session

Coaching is a two-way street but there is a lot more traffic coming from the CSR to the coach than from the coach to the CSR. In fact, during my coach training, we discussed that in a coaching session, the coachee should be speaking 80% of the time. That’s a lot of listening for the coach!

Here’s how I conduct a personal coaching session. Before we begin a coaching relationship, I have an initial session where we discuss what the client wants to cover and what goals they want to achieve during our time together (usually three month increments).

As for the individual session, we start by discussing last week’s homework assignment (more on this later). Next, I ask the client what they want to focus on this week. We spend the majority of the time discussing that topic. It is my job to ask questions and get the client to come up with their own answers. It is not my job to dole out advice or instructions. As I listen, I reflect the salient points back to the client, make observations, and give acknowledgement. At the end of the session, the client and I determine together what the homework assignment for the next week will be.

Here is how I would tweak that for a CSR coaching session.

Normally, there are goals already established for individual CSRs as far as productivity. However, as a manager or supervisor, you also know what each CSR’s strong points and challenging areas are. Your coaching sessions should incorporate both of those.

If you don’t know what your individual CSRs strong or weak points are, ask them! I would send them an email and ask them for two to three strengths and two to three areas where they could use improvement. Ask them to send this to you at least one day before the session.

Since they will, hopefully, be your employee for a long time, give a set time frame to work within. In other words, what will you focus on for each three or six month increment? Set goals that you will want to achieve during that time frame. It’s important that you set goals together. This isn’t you dictating what you want, you want more than just their input, you want them to drive this discussion.

For the discussion:
  • Discuss any homework from the previous week. This creates accountability. If you give an assignment and don't follow-up, very soon, your employee won’t take the homework seriously.
  • Ask about successes or challenges from the previous week. Often times, you will find the subject for your session here, if not, ask what they want to discuss. If there is something you need to cover bring it up here.
  • As you discuss your topic, let the employee do the majority of the talking. Offer your observations and any encouragement as you go along.
  • At the end of the session, you can suggest a homework assignment or ask them what they think the homework should be. It’s important that you agree on an assignment. If the CSR thinks it might be too much (high work load or taking several days off), allow them to come up with a counter. Once the assignment is agreed upon, you will expect them to complete it and follow up on it.

Things to keep in mind:
  • You focus on the what, let the CSR focus on the how. If you have a goal, let them control how they want to reach it. Don’t micromanage.
  • Respect confidences. Coaching only works in an atmosphere of trust. Do not share anything that occurs within a coaching session without the CSRs approval.
  • Listen with intention. Be engaged. Make eye contact. Occasionally paraphrase what has been said to show that you are listening and hearing what’s being said.
  • Be balanced. Offer criticism when needed but do it constructively and let them help determine what can be done to improve the situation. On the other hand, give credit and praise when credit and praise is due.