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?”

Great Leaders Know Their Mics Are Always On

microphoneOne of the greatest leadership and management lessons I ever learned was to know when to shut up.

That is no easy feat.

To stop talking is hard enough – but to know when to stop talking, that is a whole new ballgame.

The best time to stop talking is just before you are about to say something negative. Keep in mind the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

This sounds simple enough, but how do you stop that mind/mouth connection from firing at all pistons?

Act as though you are wearing a microphone that is always on and broadcasting to everyone.

I heard a speaker tell a story the other day that was a great aha moment. She was talking about walking down the corridors with her assistant on the way to a presentation where she was the featured speaker.

Right before she got to the room her daughter called her cell phone and told her, “Mom, your mic is on – we can hear everything you are saying!”

What would you say before and after team or individual meetings if you were wearing a live mic?

I have yet to meet a leader or manager who has not had to have a dreaded meeting. These could range from meeting with an employee to give an unfavorable performance review to meeting with a higher up to tell them that a project is not going as well as planned.

They might be able to pull off a positive spin in the meeting, but perhaps before or after they let out an exasperated sigh and thank some higher power that the meeting is over. What if the employee or the boss heard those comments?

What about joking with team members? Oh sure, you all know that the comments are not serious and you are all just letting off a little steam. Harmless, flippant comments not meant in seriousness or malice. Yet, what if you were wearing a live mic streaming to the people involved in whatever it is you are talking about? Or live streaming to your clients. Would they think it was harmless?

As a leader, you are held in a different light; to a different set of standards. All the positive encouragement in the world can be torn down in a single moment by one wayward comment. Words are powerful: they can inspire or destroy.

Your mic is always on.

Office walls are thin, cubicles are not sound proof and voices carry in open environments outside the office. Your audience extends beyond your visual, people who overhear you may be connected in some way right back to the person or event that you are discussing.

Your mic is always on.

Walk around for a day with the thought of wearing a live mic and you might just be surprised at how much you say in your “out loud” voice.

Leadership: It is All About You…For Them

Last night I had the privilege to attend the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association panel discussion “Women in Leadership: The Challenges, the Victories, the Strengths”.

Although the event was through a women’s organization (the second largest in Indiana) and the title specified women, one of the most important messages was not gender specific.

And yes, there were men in attendance.

The panelists were Tiffany Olson, President of Nuclear Pharmacy Services at Cardinal Health; Colleen Hittle, Managing Director at Navigant and Jennifer Zinn, Vice President of Strategic Affairs at Roche Diagnostics with moderator Dr. Cheryl Beal Anderson, Sr. Director at Lundbeck. Talk about a powerhouse group!

Throughout the discussion there was a wealth of information presented, such great insight, humor and wisdom, just a few tidbits include:

  • Being a leader can be lonely, careful what you wish for; but it is a privilege.
  • Not all paths are straight and narrow, sometimes the broken path leads to the greatest destination.
  • Eliminate the word “balance” in work/life, it is an equation; and one that you must calculate to fit you, not anyone else’s expectations.
  • Learn to literally sit at the table and be comfortable in your seat.

One message that resonated with me and that I continue to go back to today is leadership is all about you in order to be a better leader for your team.

When I say it is all about you, my meaning is this: know yourself – your strengths, weaknesses, values, motives, goals and boundaries.

When you come from a place of honesty, integrity and transparency, you are able to perform at a higher level for your team. That is when the shift comes from all about you (knowing yourself) to all about them – providing direction, inspiration, encouragement and sometimes, a little butt-kicking.

Leader’s must make difficult decisions, the buck stops with them. What the panelists shared in making these decisions easier is to know yourself, trust your intuition, act with integrity and make the decision that is in the best interest of the group.

Communication is key. Learn first how to listen and then paint the long term benefit picture for the team as a team. Learn how to communicate in the way your team will best listen and understand.

You will never be right 100% of the time, you will make mistakes and you will tick someone off. One panelist made a difficult, but right, decision and her co-workers ‘voted her off the island’ for a few weeks. That is when being right can be lonely; however, knowing you acted with integrity and honesty will make it a bit easier to get through and much easier to look back upon.

Knowing your priorities in personal and business will allow you to keep what is important front and center and not be overrun by the priorities of the day.

Allow, no encourage or just short of demand, people to challenge you. One panelist said it wonderfully in stating mentors should push, inspire and challenge you. If they are just encouraging and agreeing, they are not providing much value. Not all mentors will be your mentor throughout your career. Some come in for specific purposes at specific times and once they have provided the value you need, it is time to let them go. Allow them to help others and allow yourself to bring the next level in to meet your needs.

Honesty is vital. Honesty with who you are, what your value is, what you are good at and where you can improve allows you to grow as an individual and a leader while providing a strong base for others to follow.

Each panelist had different viewpoints, experiences and I would hazard to say leadership styles; but the common denominator in them all: self-awareness, honesty, integrity and continual progression. It is something we can all learn from in being better versions of ourselves and better leaders to our teams.

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW
Brand Strategist & Career Coach
Certified Professional Resume Writer

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