Customer Service – Are You Even Listening?

customer service reading a script

The customer is not always right.  The computer is not always right.  They system is not always right.

But do you know how to make it right if your clients or customers have a problem?

I have been a business owner for several years.  There is one thing that drives me every morning rain or shine, weekend or week day, feast or famine.

It is not the benefits of setting my own schedule, the ability to choose the clients I work with, the freedom to explore new opportunities or the control of my finances; although these are all great perks, they are not the driver. There is only one true core to my business:

It is a privilege and honor to provide service to my clients.

I remind myself of this after each win with a client – and when there is a challenge.  This week is a great example.  I spoke to two different clients who were thrilled with our work.  I spoke to three others who are beginning new opportunities.  I also spoke to one who was not happy.

I do not always get it right the first time.  I let my clients know this and encourage open feedback.  Bless my client, he is a very polite, respectful gentleman.  Yet, he was not happy with the initial direction.  He was kind in attempting to relate his thoughts.

I encouraged him to give me open, straightforward feedback, even if it meant he hated it. This allowed him to be more honest with me which allows me to zero in on exactly what I need to do.  I encouraged the negative feedback and then thanked him for providing it to me.

Not all companies have the luxury or desire to be selective in choosing their clients.  Some offer services that cater to a wide range of markets.  Some want to be so big that the more clients the merrier the company.  The revenues and conquering of markets and competitors takes a backseat to that fundamental core of having the privilege to serve. Clients take a backseat to expansion and profits.

I personally experienced this today.  I have a service provider that is huge.  I am just one little guppy in their ocean of customers.  I noticed two errors and called to have them corrected.

Long story short – the computer made two mistakes.  The first was reading the system wrong and showing a bill for twice the amount owed.  The second was a reconnect charge when service was not interrupted.

I spoke to three representatives, two initial level and one the next level up.  I was told that the system made a mistake on the billing but not on the fee.  Each one was staunch in telling me that since it was showing on the system that the service was interrupted, than it was true, nothing could be done, pay the fee.

I was told, “I am verbalizing to you that the system says this happened.” I have to admit, that is the first time I have ever had someone tell me they were ‘verbalizing’ something to me.  Where I come from, we normally said, “And I am telling you…”

I was also told that the only solution they could provide is that I would have to pay the fee. In what world is that a solution?  I will admit, I am very impressed with the wordplay used by this organization.

I walked away from this experience feeling that I had just experienced three conversations, no, not conversations, three sessions of reading from a script to a blank wall – and I was the blank wall.

More importantly, I walked away grateful.  This was a wonderful reminder to me to remember my core guiding principle: it is a privilege and honor to provide service to my clients.

Back to my original question: do you know how to make it right if your client has a problem?

No matter the size of your company, your customer base or service you provide; here are three things that will help make it right for your clients when there is a challenge:

Listen

Recognize

Bend if Possible

 

My biggest frustration is feeling as though with the three individuals I talked to, no one listened.  They spoke to me, but not with me.  If one person had said, “let me make sure I understand this” and reiterated what I had asked, I would have felt like a client – not a blank wall.

Listening is not, “I understand you are frustrated and I am sorry to hear that.”  No you are not.  That is a script.  When a client explains a frustration and you respond with a canned line, that is not listening.  That is responding.

My second biggest frustration is the refusal to recognize that there might be an issue with a system, process or program.  If it screwed up one thing, is it not possible it screwed up another?  If one of those three people took the time to say, “There is a possibility that our computer screwed up more than one thing” it would have validated my thoughts. Even if there was not a darn thing they could do about it.

My last frustration, and most minor, was the ‘solution’ was not a solution.  Since they had not heard me, no recognized that there might be an error there was no reason to attempt any type of solution.

The bottom line is, I am paying a fee – no matter what the discussion.  Perhaps I would not have such a bee in my bonnet about it had I been treated like a person.  Validating frustration, recognizing the potential for an error – even if it cannot be corrected – will go a long way in keeping clients.

Sometimes a solution is not possible; however, there are times that it is possible to bend – offer an alternative to bridge the gap even if you cannot repave the road.

In customer service it is paramount to remember that behind each account name and number there is an actual person, not a revenue source, for whom you have the privilege to serve. You may forget this, but they will not when they choose another service provider.

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As the Founder and Principle of Career Polish, Inc., a national career coaching and practice firm, I am an Executive Brand Strategist, Resume Writer and Career Coach. I work with individual clients, companies, leadership and teams to identify, strengthen and effectively communicate their brand, engagement, commitment and most importantly – their value – by learning and leveraging LinkedIn, resumes, networking, communication, relationship management, presence and influence.
I help people get from where they are in their jobs to where they want to be in their careers.

Click here – CareerPolish.com – to find out more about how we can help you.

 

Dad’s Advice for College Turned Out to be a Key to Customer Service

dad and daughterMy dad gave me great advice, adages and tidbits of wisdom. One of my favorites is, “If you are never sure what to do, imagine me standing next to you.”

He told me this before I went off to college and considering he was the dad that scared the heck out of all my high school dates, I know the primary intent of this little tidbit. It worked. There is a certain filter that comes with being around your parent, even if you just imagine them there.

I kept this little tidbit in the back of my head throughout my career and as a business owner. I find it very helpful with customer service, good or bad. This week I experienced a contrast in customer service.

The transmission in my car when out. We called several places, priced many options and decided upon one company. Initially it looked as though all would be taken care of in less than a week. Then the transmission goblins stepped in – it is close to Halloween you know. Long story short – three bad rebuilds lead to the company sending it to a dealership for a new one and nearly a month later I (according to the manager) had hit the transmission lotto with a perfectly running car.

I was not happy that each week there was a problem with the newest install; however, this was not the fault of the company, it was a bad transmission from their supplier. Even though I was not happy, I could not blame them; I did suggest they find a new supplier.

In the end, they kept us apprised of what was going on and held true to the original cost and increased the warranty. Things that were out of their control they handled on their end and upheld good customer service to us.

There were plenty of opportunities for great customer service and they kept them front in mind.

This weekend, we stopped in to a McDonalds to grab a quick breakfast. We had a lazy day planned so we were not in a hurry, thank goodness. There were only two young people in front of us and several people waiting on their order.

After we got our drinks we sat down and got engulfed in conversation. At one point we realized we had not heard our order and I saw the young girl still standing near the counter that ordered before us so I knew it had not been called. That is when I looked at the receipt to see what time we ordered. 10:47. Our order was called at 11:15.

It also had to change because one item we ordered were hot cakes, when they handed us the food they told us that they were out of syrup. Well, that would not work. So we asked for something different and got it immediately.

The young girl in front of us who also waited over a half hour for her food – she ordered a cinnamon role and hash brown.

As we ate we tried to figure out what went wrong. Why did it take over a half an hour for these things. That is when dad’s adage came into my head.

The young man at the register never smiled or greeted any customer. He simply took the order without ever moving from his spot. When one angry customer made the comment, “Thanks, a half an hour later!” he made a snarky remark under his breathe. Would he have acted like that if his parent were standing next to him?

The backup crew were busy but without urgency; often standing in front of the screen waiting and watching. If what they needed was not there, they just waited. If their parent were standing next to them, perhaps they would have looked to see what else they could be doing before the order came up.

The woman who called out the orders was brisk; calling out the food and leaving it on the counter. Not once did I see her say, “Thank you for your patience” or “I’m sorry about your wait”. Would she have done so if her parent were next to her?

The thing I realized is that the tone was set before we even walked in. One gentleman walked in and let out a loud groan looking at the line. We told him they were a bit slow today, taking about a half hour. He remarked that they always took that long. I could not understand if he thought this then why was he there and why was he complaining?

Yet the tone was set. There was no customer service. There was no friendly. There was no “we are so sorry for the wait” there was no urgency or energy.

Perhaps they were short staffed, or just had a huge run and obviously the stocking and ordering were not done properly to account for a weekend. Yet, even with these things, there were opportunities for great customer service. They were all missed.

Most customers do not care about your short staffing problems or rushes that you just handled. They care about their experience only. Each and every one is unique and an opportunity to prove yourself all over again.

You cannot always handle or predict what happens during the day; however you have complete control over how you treat each and every customer or client.

My dad worked hard all day on his feet. It did not matter how bad his day was, he always came home and was a great dad. It did not matter what happened five minutes before, it was the immediate interaction that counted.

Putting this with the adage of what would I do if he were standing next to me, I realized that customer service is about that moment. Not the one before or what comes next, just that one moment of interaction.

Perhaps the transmission place got it right because of their advertising or tag line. After all, their commercials are done by the “owner’s mother” and ends with the line, “My Edward, he’s such a good boy.”

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I hope you enjoyed this article and it provided value for you. If so, please click on the follow button so I may continue to share valuable content with you or the share buttons to share with your network.

I help people identify and set a path to achieve their career goals by using the V Formula:

Your Value + Your Voice = Visibility

Visibility is the leverage to move in, move up or move on in your career; expand your book of business or territory, grow your company and strengthen your team.

–Lisa

Lisa K. McDonald, Owner and Principal of Career Polish, Inc. is a favorite speaker and seminar facilitator at companies, professional organizations and colleges speaking to leadership, sales, teams, transitioning/downsized employees and networking groups about career mobility, personal branding, networking, creating executive presence and achieving career movement success. To find out more, visit Career Polish, Inc.

Customer Service- Yes That Was Your Out-Loud Voice

shoutingOver a two day time period this week I was presented with many examples for this article.

I was asked to wait at a store because the employee was checking something on their personal phone.

My best friend works for a bank. She noticed a discrepancy on her online statement so she called the appropriate number to discuss it with them. The first woman she talked to could not pull her up by her account number. After several attempts it finally pulled up and the agent told her, “Oh, there you are, you must have read your number to me wrong.”

She was then transferred to another agent, who she explained again that she was an employee and had seen a discrepancy. He asked why she was calling now; why not wait until she got her statement – that is what most people do. My best friend is not most people. Then he began asking her a list of questions. One was “employer”, she said she was an employee of the bank and he responded, “Yeah, I heard you the first time.”

I asked her if her issue ever got resolved after all this fun and she said she was not sure. Almost 40 minutes on a call being told she was reading numbers wrong, calling at the wrong time and even being a bother for answering a question and she did not even know if her problem was resolved.

A family member of mine had medical issues this week. We had to go to the doctor to get two medications and received directions to take one Monday evening and come back Tuesday morning to take the other.

Now, let me say this, this family member is a cancer survivor and has been dealing with medical issues for 14 years. We are no stranger to medication, instructions and doctors’ offices.

When I went to get the prescriptions filled I was treated to a tremendous amount of conversation at the pharmacy. One tech ignored a customer standing right in front of them and held up their hand when the customer said, “Excuse me”. Another was complaining about a customer not understanding her id card and what a pain it was to explain it. It was a hodgepodge of disrespecting customers and a general feeling of not wanting to be there.

Tuesday we arrived at the doctor’s office and handed the technician the medicine as instructed. She looked at us and said it was the wrong one. The instructions she had were completely opposite of what we were told. When the practitioner came in and the technician apprised her of the situation, her response was, “I knew that was going to happen, I would have put money on it. You misunderstood what I said.”

Throughout all these adventures my best friend and I wanted to scream out, “I CAN HEAR YOU! You’re using your out-loud voice!”

It is so easy in an age of being able to talk anywhere, any time with anyone that we tend to forget two things in having this amazing technology: space and professionalism.

We tend to forget that not only can the person on the other end of the line hear you, so can everyone else in the general vicinity. This then lends itself to one on one conversations. The technicians at the pharmacy, I believe, thought that because they were talking to each other no one else could hear them in that big open space.

The advantages to technology is you can attend business meetings remotely, even dressed in your pjs – not that I have ever done that. But that relaxed environment flows to our in person interactions. Responding to a customer with “Yeah” instead of ‘yes’; blaming, dismissing and forgetting the most common ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are more prevalent.

One side note: normally this behavior is attributed to young people. I am in my mid 40s, I officially get to say young people when talking about 20-somethings, yay me.

But in every one of these instances, no one was under mid 30s. We cannot blame bad behavior on the young.

The difficulty is we are not consciously aware when we are behaving in such a manner. Don’t think anyone can hear you? Try sneezing. That is a phenomenon that I love, you can sneeze in a store and people three isles away will chime out, “bless you”.

The bigger issue is this: each customer service agent, no matter what profession or title is a representative of not only themselves, but their organization. The results can mean lost customers and revenues.

There are lots of banks, pharmacies and retail stores to choose from – why would I go back to one in which I felt like a bother or burden to those being paid to provide service? Who wants to feel disrespected or under-appreciated?

As a manager or leader it can be quite difficult to address these issues, as stated before, we are normally not aware of our own behavior. You also do not want to come across as a micro-manager.

One thing I found most helpful and impactful when working in an office with individuals that exhibited these behaviors was to address it immediately, in a non-confrontational and quiet manner by saying, “That was your out-loud voice.”

They were normally caught off guard and I would explain that someone else could hear the comment or that I know they were probably thinking the comment in their head, but it was said out-loud. It was gentle enough to not be confrontational; quiet and directly to them with no other employee hearing so as not to be embarrassing and with a touch of humor to allow them to accept the concept without feeling berated.

We need to reclaim our space and our professionalism. I am not throwing stones; this is something that I am very mindful of because I have also made a slip in judgment about being in a public area thinking no one was around but me. There are even times that my boyfriend or best friend will tell me, “That was your out-loud voice”.

I believe detaching from personal technology can do wonders. Few companies do not allow personal phones in their work space so it is up to us to limit and monitor ourselves. We need to put down our phones now and then.

My best friend and boyfriend have made an incredible difference for me in this area. When we spend time together, the phones are put away. It makes us more conscious of the time together, our location and space. Conversations are better, events are more fun and interaction with others more enjoyable. It helps remind us that we are all in a shared space.

Challenge yourself to keep your phone put away during an event, lunch, dinner, shopping or our running around. Be fully engaged with where you are and see if you do not notice the disconnect in others and their interactions. Then ask yourself, “Am I doing that? And more importantly, am I doing that to my customers?”

The Lost Art of Listening

listeningOne of the most vital and under-utilized skills of business leaders is the ability to listen. This skill is imperative to those in a position of leadership to those providing service to clients. It is the foundation of engagement.

Yesterday I had to call my cell phone provider, my phone and I have a love-hate relationship. It loves to do funky things like not show calls coming through or registering voicemails and I hate it. Just to preface this, I am not a highly functioning technical phone person. When I got my phone, I handed it to my son so he could explain it to me.

I talked to a very nice technician who was extremely knowledgeable about the phone and systems but I wanted to pull my hair out during the entire conversation. Each time she would ask me a question I would begin to answer and she would cut me off midstream.

There were several times that I had to repeat myself because she assumed she knew how I was going and would take it in a different direction. When she asked me for my phone number for the fifth time, I knew the problem: she might have heard me to a point, but she was not listening.

I used to drive my son crazy, in so many ways, but on this topic frequently. If I asked him to do something the follow up conversation would sound something like this:

Me: “That’s not what I asked”
Son: “Yes it is”
Me: “No, did you listen to what I said?”
Son: (with exasperation) “Yes, Mom, I heard you”
Me: “I know you heard me, but I need you to listen to me”
Son: “It’s the same thing, Mom, I listened to you”
Me: “Then what did I say?”
Son: (eye roll)

There is a difference in hearing and listening. Too often we “listen” only to respond, not to engage or learn. In the middle of a response there is something that triggers our brain to prepare a response and we stop listening.

One way that I have found to improve my listening skills is to ask questions, with a twist.

Sometimes asking questions can be taken as being challenging by the other person. Therefore, I add a clarifier and modify it depending upon the audience.

Working in partnership with someone or gathering more information when providing service, starting the question with, “I want to make sure I understand…” can demonstrate your interest in the person and what they are saying and build upon the communication.

When talking to your boss or an alpha, you do not want to come across as though you are not challenging their authority or being submissive. Sometimes it is best to state flat out, “I am not challenging, I am clarifying because I can see this from a couple of different perspectives…” This also demonstrates that you are not only listening, you are thinking on a deeper level about what they said.

In networking it is normally a more relaxed environment and therefore with an understanding of a shorter engagement period, saying, “What does that mean…” in a nice tone can encourage the other person to elaborate and demonstrate interest.

In a personal or casual conversation the simple words, “Tell me more” can demonstrate to the other person that you are not hearing to respond, but care enough to let them have the floor.

One phrase that I think is a conversation and engagement killer is, “I hear what you are saying.” For one thing I anticipate the word “but” after that statement which totally invalidates the listening aspect and for another, it reminds me of Stuart Smalley.

I would also caution against the phrase, “Could you repeat that” as a standalone phrase. It can imply that you were not listening when in fact you perhaps could not hear or understand the person or you did not understand. Simply stating that you did not hear them and then ask them to repeat what they said will not disengage or disrupt the flow of conversation.

The lessons, most of the time, had paid off in our house. My son and I have gotten to the point that we acknowledge when we only hear and will say something like, “I heard you but I have no idea what you just said.” I do not recommend saying that to your boss, staff or clients.

One last suggestion: pause before answering. When someone response as soon as you finish that last word it is a trigger that they were preparing their answer instead of listening to you.

Listening is a skill. It needs to be practiced, repeatedly, to hone it. Keep practicing because it can always be improved upon. This morning I was talking to a client and I caught myself immediately responding. Once I recognized what I was doing I immediately shifted focus to asking questions rather than responding. It resulted in a much more rich conversation.

What are some ways that you have found that improve your listening skills? I would love to hear them, I’m listening….

Reasons to You are Excuses to Your Clients

I visit a lot of doctors’ offices.  Not for me, but with a member of my family who is a cancer survivor of 13 years.

Good news, he survived cancer; bad news, the chemotherapy caused severe neuropathy in his feet and hands.  It also destroyed his intestinal track and immune system while causing major havoc with his eye sight, balance, strength and ability to walk.  We go to a lot of doctors’ offices.

We have been to Neurologists, Oncologists, Pain Management Specialists, Gastroenterologists, Dermatologists and Ophthalmologists just to name a few.

Oh, let’s not forget the Orthopedic surgeon!  A few months ago marked his ninth foot surgery – yes, nine major foot surgeries.

I now have a whole new level of emotion and passion for insurance companies, and not in a good way.

The point being, I have been to a lot of doctors’ offices, dealt with a lot of healthcare professionals and am recognized by sight at the pharmacy.  Over the past 13 years I have dealt with a lot of healthcare professionals.

Let me reiterate that this is a member of my family.  My family is my core.  I give whole new meaning to the phrase Momma Bear when it comes to my family.

One thing that brings out the Momma Bear is when someone in my family is treated with disrespect.  A few of the times Momma Bear came out due to poor customer service from healthcare staff:

When a new treatment facility ignored all the documentation that we and the original provider gave to them and double dosed him on some major meds.

Reasons:
They didn’t see the paperwork the other facility sent over.
They didn’t see the copies of the meds and dosages that we provided.
The list we provided didn’t make it into his chart.
My favorite was it was his fault, he should have known not to take what they gave him.
The woman who told me this was fired shortly thereafter, again, Momma Bear.

When the surgeons office did not contact his employer about him being on sick leave for the most recent surgery thus causing him to have his pay severely delayed.

Reasons:
They didn’t know.  (This was his 5th surgery with this group – not new)
No one told them. (I personally handed the paperwork to an assistant and it was faxed by his employer)
The nurse didn’t know (I left her three voice-mails that day)
Oh, well, she did get the voice-mails, but the information was not provided (I left detailed messages, my son explained this to her as he was with me when I made the calls).
They never got the form (confirmed sent by the employer and again, I gave it to them)
Oh, they got the form, but the woman who takes care of it is super busy doing three jobs and doesn’t have the time to go through the 2 inch stack of paperwork coming through the fax.  (ok, seriously?)

Yesterday, Momma Bear came out again.

He contacted the doctor’s office last Wednesday to tell them he was out of one of his scripts.  Friday, I left two voice-mails.  Monday I paid a visit to the office.

Reasons:
The person was out of the office, come back tomorrow (I don’t think so)
They didn’t see the original communication. (and yet had record of the two other communications)
They are going through a transition.
They are short staffed.
They wanted to look it up. (This could have been done Wednesday, Thursday or Friday).
Their staff is really overbooked.

As a person who tries to generally look at the bright side of things, give others the benefit of the doubt and in general strives to be a kind person I just have three words for the providers and their reasons:

I don’t care!

Every single reason can be valid.  It can be a true and genuine statement.

But they all turned into excuses because:

There was no ownership
There was no accountability
There was blame
There was no apology

You are accountable to your clients, not for them.  There is a line there; however, there is defiantly accountability.

There are life events that at times hamper us from fulfilling commitments. That is understandable and unavoidable. These events represent a reason, not an excuse.

An excuse is blaming for not doing the work; a reason is a delay with the work completed.

I have the best clients, they are amazing human beings.  When I had an event transpire that caused a delay, my clients were compassionate, which I appreciated deeply.  But on some level I also knew they don’t care.

They don’t care if my dog passed, my kid is sick or there is some major event going on in my life.  They may empathize and truly feel bad; but bottom line, they still want the service I promised and they deserve it.

When an event happens that makes you break your promise to your clients, it is your responsibility to take immediate action.

Communicate: let them know what is going on.  If it is going to be delayed they want to know sooner rather than later.

Apologize: do not blame, do not try to get sympathy, simply apologize.

Own it: let them know what you are doing to make it right, right now.

Follow through: thank them for their patience or understanding, deliver the goods and continue a professional relationship.

The next time you find yourself explaining a delay to a client, ask yourself, “Am I giving a reason or an excuse?”

The answer will be in what you have done since the event and what you do next.

One last thing, you may not like it when the patient/family/customer turns Momma Bear on you, they most likely do not like it either.  I hate the fact that I have to go into that mode to get proper treatment!  I do not know anyone who enjoys being mean to get what should be a given: proper service.  If the service is continually below par, your client may feel this is their only resort.  That should speak volumes to you.

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Brand Strategist & Career Coach

Certified Professional Resume Writer

www.CareerPolish.com

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