Posts Tagged ‘Team Management’


Anticipatory Customer Service In Action

7-02 training wheels smallWhat I call “anticipatory customer service” is the fastest, most direct way to create customer loyalty. The power of anticipatory customer service, of serving customer wishes that they haven’t even yet articulated, that they don’t even yet know they have, is this: While customer loyalty can be built through repeated iterations of merely satisfactory service, that’s a dangerous way to build a business. Every time someone has a satisfactory (but not extraordinary) experience at your property, it’s fine, and far preferable to that experience being unsatisfactory. But satisfactory service isn’t enough to draw you into a category where you’re not at the mercy of someone switching to get points from another brand, or because–when booking a return trip– they notice another hotel with a tripadvisor rating that’s .01 percent higher than yours in the same town and they’ve forgotten why (actually they haven’t been given a “why”) to return to you over checking out that other property. You’re in the dangerous, deadly realm of “who cares,” in other words.

What anticipatory customer service looks like

Tonya is a house attendant at The Inn At Palmetto Bluff, a strikingly picturesque inn-and-cottage institution nestled among ancient, Spanish moss-draped live oaks along the May River thirty minutes from Savannah.

What’s a house attendant? It’s the hospitality position that used to be called a “houseman”: part of the housekeeping team, with duties that include ensuring housekeepers are stocked with towels and waters, helping them to flip mattresses and the like, as well as helping with the cleaning itself. House Attendant is an essential position in hospitality, but one that is invisible to guests under normal circumstances and, like other housekeeping positions, at the low end of the hospitality org chart.

(Although intelligent hoteliers understand that housekeeping is the most essential department in a hotel—as Diana Oreck from The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center pithily puts it, “if the housekeepers didn’t come to work tomorrow we’d have to shutter our hotels,”—housekeepers, due to low socioeconomic status and the challenge of meeting with/socializing with the rest of the hospitality staff when you’re in a position that is as mobile and labor intensive as housekeeping, can get the short end of the respect stick in many hotels.)

Tonya pulled up outside our rooms in her golf cart–a necessity on the sprawling Palmetto Bluff campus–bringing supplies such as bottled water, towels and sheets to the housekeepers working inside. On her way in she greeted us cheerfully. (The three of us–my young son and his youngish parents–were out front of the cottage getting my son seated on one of the bikes The Inn provides to guests.) A minute or two later, on her way back out, Tonya again looked our way, took in that we were still more or less in the same positions where she’d left us, having not made any progress down the road as my son teetered atop a bike he clearly wasn’t ready to handle.

After Tonya [whose last name I’ve redacted, by the way, at her manager’s request] took in the details of the scene in front of her, she announced, “Your boy needs a bike with wheels,” by which she meant “training wheels.” “I’ll be back in five minutes.”

When she returned (in four minutes) with the newly equipped bike, she also brought Angella, a manager from Palmetto Bluff’s recreation department, with her to ensure our son was properly fitted and instructed in how to get off to a successful start with the new training wheel-equipped bike. (Tonya also brought a helmet, which showed further mind reading on her part, as we’re the kind of parents who would make our kids wear helmets even in the back seat of the car if we could.)

Her observation and anticipatory action that morning transformed the rest of our stay at Palmetto Bluff. Our son, on his now-appropriately equipped bicycle (more a quadricycle, I suppose), could range all over the gorgeous trails of Palmetto Bluff from that point forward. It was, if not life-changing, at least vacation-changing.

What Tonya did wasn’t just making an extra effort. It was making the right extra effort. Contrast how appropriate and on-point she was compared to the restaurant that messes up your check and then tries to give you a free dessert in compensation–the last thing you have time for at that point, after the 8 minutes it took to get your bill adjusted. Or the young lady at the Panera register who I just saw offer a roll “for just an additional 25 cents” to the gentleman who had just asked for no croutons in his Caesar salad. Or the hotel where five or six employees in succession ask you “how was your trip in today?” because they’ve all been told to ask that by a management that hasn’t calculated how grating that sounds after the third identical query.

Assistance like Tonya gave us didn’t cost her company anything, directly.  What this kind of service does cost is proper hiring, proper training, and proper reinforcement. When Tonya was hired (or, the term I prefer, “selected”) to work at Palmetto Bluff, she was selected not for her water-carrying, towel schlepping abilities, but for what is inside her: her natural affinity for people and for service.

Then she was trained, including a two-day onboarding with Palmetto Bluff’s current management company, Montage Resorts, that they call “morés,” which goes far beyond teaching brand standards like “answer the phone within three rings” to encompass how a talented employee like Tonya can make use of her innate empathy: to combine it with her senses, including her peripheral vision, to ensure she is picking up on issues and opportunities that are meaningful to her guests.

Finally, she is celebrated for it, and held up as an example to her co-workers of how things should be done. When I recounted to David Smiley, Director of Guest Services at Palmetto Bluff, the full Tonya saga, he reported back to me later the same day that he had set Tonya’s accomplishment to be the centerpiece of Housekeeping’s “lineup” the next morning: a celebration of Tonya’s work and a teachable moment for her co-workers.


To Fix Your Service, Fix Your Systems

Man working with electrial componentsLet’s imagine you own a body shop.  Some of your customers start reporting (in person if you’re lucky; on Yelp if you’re not) an unsatisfactory customer interaction with one of your cashiers.  Your first impulse is to bite the young lady’s head off, but I hope you’ll hold that impulse in check and look at the situation dispassionately.  You may see something like the following:  your cashier’s disorganized, doesn’t have proper change, doesn’t have her computer turned on at the beginning of her shift–in time to serve you, the first customer who walks up to her–and can’t find a pen for you to sign the credit card slip.

What you’ll discover, in other words, is a failure of systems.  Including some or all of the following:

• Onboarding: why wasn’t she prepped on what the necessary supplies are for starting a shift?

• Training: has she been instructed in one of the workplace organization systems, perhaps 5S, which is a component of Lean Manufacturing methodology?

• Scheduling:  Was she told to show up at the minute the body shop opens rather than a more realistic 30 minutes earlier so she could both mentally and physically prepare, get her terminal switched on, get her bank ready to make change, and so forth?

• Hiring. Saying that there was a failure in hiring is sort of like saying it’s the employee’s (cashier’s) fault, but not really.  If she is wrong for this position–too shy, not detail-oriented enough, etc.–it’s not her fault, it’s the fault of the system (or hunch, in far too many companies) that is responsible for selecting her, in error, for this position.

So, when the customer service at your business goes bad, it’s almost certainly because one or more of your customer service systems are broken. (As the founder of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has often said, if something goes wrong once, it might be the fault of the employee.  If it happens twice, it’s definitely the system.) And that’s what’s most important to understand about customer service systems: Gaps in organizational performance are almost always the result of a breakdown or lack of an appropriate Service System.

In my cashier example, it’s clear that a system needs to be developed to ensure that all supplies are stocked before each shift. This could be in the form of a small checklist or a job description that clearly defines the role of each employee. However the organization chooses to deal with the situation is fine – as long as it solves the problem for good. The absolute wrong thing to do is to yell at the cashier for not stocking the items. Not only is this demoralizing for a good employee who is trying her best, but it also doesn’t solve the problem systematically–in other words, in a sustainable manner.

So, how do you discover the systems that are missing or mis-designed? There are systems for that, but it is first and foremost dependent on building a culture where mistakes are embraced as learning opportunities, and guest complaints as opportunities for improvement. Turning every issue that comes up into a witch hunt will make your service team timid to the extent that they’re more focused on covering their, uh, assets than on providing service. You need your employees to tell you when they’ve made a mistake – so that it can be fixed in the future–systematically.


Call Recording: Why Your Business Needs It to Improve the Customer Experience

6-11 Call Recording smallDoes your company interact with customers over the phone, either by selling your product/service or providing support? If you’re like many businesses, a significant portion of the customer experience is conducted over the phone. If you’re not already recording your calls for training and quality assurance purposes, it’s a good idea to implement call recording with your phone service.

Recording calls is valuable for training purposes, coaching team members on the best way to handle customer questions and concerns, and identifying areas of opportunity that can improve the customer experience. While we would all love for our customers and employees to be happy 100% of the time, the reality is people are human and make mistakes—both employees and customers. By recording your phone calls, you have a record of these interactions that you can reference. Think of these recordings like your business safety blanket.

In the past, utilizing a call recording service for your business phone service was expensive and complicated, but cloud phone systems, such as Nextiva, have changed the game. Cloud phone systems have simplified the process and dramatically reduced the price—a win-win situation for businesses. If you’re a current Nextiva customer interested in utilizing this feature, it can be easily added to all of our Nextiva Office plans for a small monthly fee.

Also, with a cloud phone system you have more control over when your calls are recorded. Below are the recording modes available to you:

  • Always: automatically record all your calls in their entirety
  • Always with Pause/Resume: To automatically record all your calls with the ability to pause and restart recording during the call
  • On Demand: Record selected calls
  • On Demand with User Initiated Start: This mode differs from all of the other modes in that the recording of the call is not started until you record the call. Once the call is being recorded, the pause/resume and stop functionality become available

Nextiva keeps all of your call recordings for six months in your dedicated call recording portal. If you’d like to save a message to ensure it is not purged, simply download the .wav file or store it in a cloud storage system such as Nextiva Drive.

An important thing to note, if you plan to take advantage of the benefits of call recording for your business, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you are adhere to the law and properly notifying your customers. Many states require that you notify a customer when a call is being recorded, with a friendly reminder such as, “To ensure Amazing Service, this call may be recorded,” so make sure to check the call recording laws in your area. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

If you’d like to learn more about Call Recording and our business cloud phone service, give us a call at (800) 799-0600 or visit nextiva.com, and we’d be happy to discuss the benefits to your business in more detail.


Stop Treating Your Customers as an Interruption

Barbeque: Customer Unhappy with FoodI want to encourage you to look at the ways that you, your business, and your employees may be making your customers feel like they’re interrupting your business, rather than that they are the point of your business.  If you make them feel like an interruption, they’ll get a pretty clear message that their patronage as a customer doesn’t mean that much to you. A feeling that they’ll ultimately reciprocate, by not forming much of an attachment to your business, either. 

Here are specific behaviors, some general and some specific to particular types of workplaces, that are guaranteed to make a customer feel like an interruption, rather than central to your company’s existence.

• Foodservice workers: Remember to yield at any potential collision point within your restaurant. In fact, not only should you be yielding if a collision is otherwise imminent, you should be using your senses to allow you to yield before the guest even realizes that there is a potential collision point.

• Physicians, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners: Stop standing in the exam room while talking with (seated) patients. And please, please get your hand off the doorknob (making it seem like you wish that you were already out the door).

All customer-facing employees: Never talk with your co-workers—never—without situating yourself in a way that allows you to use your direct or peripheral senses to allow you to stop when a customer approaches, before the customer is made to feel that they’re taking you away from how you’d rather be spending your time.   (To put this bluntly: Your customer probably won’t appreciate coming in contact with your backside before your face.) When you do talk with co-workers, never—even for a minute–make a customer or potential customer wait for you to finish your conversation, even if your conversation is work-related. Drop that conversation mid-sentence, assist the customer, and then come back to it after.

*****

To summarize what these points have in common: You make your customers feel like an interruption when you fail to serve them with speed and enthusiasm.  In many business situations, of course the customer will, eventually, be served; there’s no way to definitively ignore them.  If a customer’s standing at a counter awaiting service, they’re not going to be flat-out turned down. But will they get served after the nearest employee puts down her cell phone with a tiny accompanying grimace? After she finishes the note she is writing? After she finishes the sentence or paragraph she is sharing with her co-worker? Or right away, and with a smile?  The difference here is a matter of seconds, or even just milliseconds. But that brief time span, and the attitude it evokes, makes all the difference in how the customer feels about your company.


Mondays with Mike: 7 Tips For Improving Office Morale

3-16 Employee Hapiness smallEvery office goes through cycles – from motivated, focused productivity, to the doldrums of boredom and complaints.  When you see the need for a collective boost in spirits, try out these tips, guaranteed to get your staff back on track.

  1. Daily Huddle.  Try conducting brief, daily meetings designed to keep your team collectively focused.  Identify challenges and goals, then get right back to work.  I like to conduct these meetings with the entire team standing, so there’s no temptation to get too comfortable.
  2. Schedule change-up.  In nearly all cases, there’s really no reason to require every single member of your staff to work the same set hours.  If it makes sense for some folks to work unique schedules and manage their personal lives better, you’ll discover they’re more focused and ready to be productive when they’re on the clock.
  3. Focus on the Why, rather than the What.  Remembering why you started your business – and reminding your staff of your purpose – can help employees redirect their energy toward accomplishing big picture goals.  Look at the benefits you provide your community if you need inspiration to keep going.
  4. Say thank you.  It doesn’t cost you a cent to express your appreciation.  Make sure your staff knows how much you appreciate them, and they’re more likely to go the extra mile for you and your customers.
  5. Listen.  Just like dealing with an irate customer, you need to provide a private way for dissatisfied employees to air their grievances.  Getting the problem out in the open lets you manage office problems, and it keeps your employee from spreading dissatisfaction to the rest of the staff.  If your staff thinks you don’t care about their concerns, their productivity and morale will inevitably suffer.
  6. Take the bullet.  While you don’t want to fall into the trap of being the number one troubleshooter for your company, sometimes the very best thing you can do is swoop in to save the day.  Letting your staff know you’re prepared to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work will inspire them to greater heights.  If they know you have their backs, they’re more willing to be creative and innovative.
  7. Provide a change of scenery.  Monotony is the slayer of creativity.  When your staff tires of staring at their cubicle walls, take a field trip!  Whether you reward your employees with a day at the baseball park, or you band together for a community service day, sometimes giving your staff a change of scenery is all you need to reinvigorate them.

Most of us are operating on a budget and have more work to do than we have hours in a day, but you’ll be surprised at how effective an investment in your staff’s collective happiness can be for your company.  Keep ‘em focused.  Keep ‘em on track, and you’ll reap the benefits. 


How to Win Against the Biggest Time Wasters In Your Business

3-13 stop wasting time smallMany small business owners confuse being busy with being productive. You are busy, but are you always productive? Are you getting done what you want to complete every day? Wasting time is a luxury small business owners literally can’t afford. Interruptions typically dominate the workday and it becomes difficult to get anything done.

Here are the biggest time wasters in every small business and how to defeat them:

1. Meetings

Meetings are a huge drain on small business efficiency. It’s easy to fall into the habit of holding meetings on every subject and getting stuck in them back-to-back until the end of the working day. What is actually being gained in a particular meeting? What can only be accomplished by getting people together face to face or by phone?

Stop wasting time in meetings:

  • Have an agenda and stick to it. Begin and end on time. Make sure there are stated objectives and review follow ups before the meeting adjourns.
  • Stand up. For quick updates, don’t even give your team the chance to sit down and get comfortable. Hold a stand up meeting for a maximum of fifteen minutes.
  • Leave the phones outside (or turned off). Don’t allow distractions of these rings, buzzes and beeps.
  • Keep it lean. Carefully consider how many people really need to be involved. Too many people drain time and productivity, but a lack of key decision makers at the meeting will ensure that nothing gets accomplished.

2. Social Media

Business owners frequently spend little time on the marketing side of their business. Social media can be a huge time waster reading feeds, crafting tweets, Facebook updates, and writing content for their company blog.

Stop wasting time on social media:

  • Schedule with care. Invest in tools that will allow you to schedule what’s going out weeks in advance and keep track of your company’s entire social media presence in one spot.
  • Narrow your focus. It’s better to be really strong on one platform (hopefully the one where your customers spend the most time) than average across all platforms.

3. Email

Emails are never ending; your inbox seems to go from 0 to 60 unread messages in 3.5 seconds. New email notifications pop up or you check it a hundred times a day.

Stop wasting time with emails:

  • Just turn it off. Automatic email notifications are an interruption and absolutely kill productivity. You really don’t need to reply to every email that hits your inbox within five minutes. It sets the wrong expectation with clients and can mean tasks take twice as long. Only check your email intermittently throughout the day (e.g. first thing in the morning, lunch, before you leave).
  • Set expectations. Let your clients know you only check email certain times throughout the day and direct them to call or text you if they need a quick response.
  • Handle each email once. When reading an email, immediately reply, delete, file or set a follow up time to deal with it more fully. Distribute your emails into folders as soon as you read them. Save documents to your computer with appropriate names and file folders.
  • Unsubscribe. Most emails are subscription-based and now is the time to unsubscribe. Be honest with yourself about which ones you never ever read.

4. Administrative Tasks

Too often, small-business owners waste time on tasks they don't like or stink at. A lot of these tasks are accounting related—invoicing, payroll, and chasing down bad debt. If you’re spent three hours reconciling a bank statement, you’re making poor use of your time.

  • Outsource. It may seem counterintuitive, but hiring out these tasks can actually be less expensive. How do you value your time? Put a price on it and compare it to the price of paying someone else.
  • Use an online tool. If you’re not quite ready to entirely outsource, make sure you are using online tools to ease your burdens. Accounting tools, for example, generate invoices, follow up with overdue invoices automatically, and give you fast overview of debits and credits so you always know what’s happening in your bank account.
  • Use one system. Use a unified communication solution (voice, video, mobile) like Nextiva so you never miss a customer interaction wherever your staff is located. Get all your messages coming to one place.

Most importantly, the evening before, pick your two “must completes” for the next day. Do those tasks in the morning before anything else and you can call the day a success!

Did your biggest time waster make the list?


The Importance Of New-Employee Orientation – And How To Do It Right

3-6 employee orientation smallDo you know—for certain—what the first day of work is like for your employees? Is there a chance you’re frittering away orientation–a key part of building your corporate culture–on inconsequential details? (‘‘This is the break room. We clean the employee fridge out each Friday.’’)

Each day, all around the world, careless orientations like this one are creating lasting negative expectations among employees. And executives and managers typically have no idea it’s happening. Be sure your precious first moments with an employee aren’t squandered (or worse). Institute a careful, effective orientation process.

Use Orientation to Instill New Values, Attitudes, and Beliefs

Employees are especially impressionable during their first days—and especially their very first day—on the job. This is because beginning any new job is disorienting, and psychologists have shown that during periods of disorientation, people are particularly susceptible to adopting new roles, goals, and values. Those new values and beliefs might turn out to be destructive ones, or constructive ones like you want to seed. It depends largely on your orientation program.

With this in mind, I recommend that you focus your orientation process not on instilling practical know-how, but rather on instilling the most useful attitudes, beliefs, and goals possible. Keep the focus on what is most crucial for your business: core customer service principles, your company values, and why and how your employee is an essential part of the company’s overall mission.

Involve the highest leadership level possible, ideally the CEO, to personally provide the orientation on values, beliefs, and purpose. Sound impractical, even impossible? Consider this: The CEO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company conducts, personally, every single Day One event at every hotel and resort Ritz-Carlton opens, no matter where it is in the world.

So, figure out a way. You only get one Day One.


7 Creative Team Building Exercises

Soccer players celebrating a goalPerforming at a high level of productivity demands breaks from the daily routine. Take 30 minutes or less to try one of these seven team building exercises at your next company or department meeting to improve a certain skill.

Improving Communication

1. Two Truths and a Lie. Time required: 20 minutes.
This popular college game can be adapted for business when certain boundaries are used. Divide the group into teams and have each person introduce themselves and states two truths and one lie. Within the team, have a quick 30 second discussion to come to a consensus about which one is the lie. Award points to each team when they guess the lie correctly.

2. Classification Game. Time required: 10 minutes.

Split the room into teams of four. Instruct the participants to spend a couple minutes introducing themselves and quickly discuss some of their likes and dislikes. Then reveal to them that they have 60 seconds to classify themselves into two or three subgroups. Examples of subgroups can include night owls, morning people, or sushi lovers. Teams present more of their likes and dislikes in these subgroups to the entire room.

Problem Solving
3. Zoom. Time required: 30 minutes.
This activity requires the wordless picture book entitled “Zoom” by Istvan Banyai. Hand out one picture to each participant, making sure a continuous sequence is being used. Give participants time to privately study their own picture. The participants must then place the pictures in sequential order by discussing what is featured in their picture and how it fits the overall pattern.

4. Sneak a Peek Game. Time required: 15 minutes.
Build a small structure out of Legos and hide it from the group. Divide participants into teams of four. Hand out building materials to each team, being sure to include enough to recreate the structure you made. Place the structure at the front of the room (but still hidden). One member from each team can come up at the same time and look it for ten seconds. They then have one minute to instruct their teams how to build a replica. Repeat with a new member and continue until one of the teams successfully duplicates the original structure.

Planning

5. The Paper Tower. Time Required: 10 minutes.

A quicker version of the Marshmallow Challenge, each person is given a single sheet of paper and told to construct the tallest free-standing structure in just five minutes using no other materials. Review the structures and discuss what worked well and what didn’t.

6. Lost at Sea. Time Required: 30 minutes.

Divide room into groups of four. Read each team the lost at sea scenario in which a boat catches fire, leaving you with only 15 items to survive. The group’s chances of survival depend on their ability to rank the salvaged items in relative order of importance. After the teams rank the items, reveal the rank of the items according to expert coastguards and determine the winning group.

Developing Trust

7. Eye contact. Time required: 5 minutes.
This exercise requires no special equipment, just an even number of participants. Instruct participants to find a partner. Have them sit or stand 2-3 feet away and face each other. Tell them to stare into their partner’s eyes and start the timer for 60 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times. There will be giggles and some will feel awkward at first, but this exercise will help co-workers become more trusting of each other.

Do you have others you want to suggest? Which one will you try?


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Do Your Employees Have Emotional Intelligence?

Business Team Chatting at Their OfficeIn my recent post 5 Things to Look for When Hiring Customer Service Reps, I mentioned the concept of “emotional intelligence.” Since emotional intelligence is a very desirable quality in a customer service employee, I wanted to explore this topic a little further.

In the workplace, emotional intelligence (sometimes called EI or EQ for “emotional quotient”) means being able to identify, understand, manage and use emotions—your own, and others’—in positive ways to build teams, lessen stress and communicate more effectively.

There are four aspects of emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-awareness: Understanding one’s own emotions is the first step in EI. By paying attention to their own emotional reactions, employees can learn to recognize the physical, mental and emotional signs of emotions such as stress, anger or sadness that can hinder good customer service.
  2. Self-management: Self-aware employees are in a better position to manage their own emotions. For an example, an employee who recognizes that a stomachache is a sign of stress can take steps to ease the stress before it becomes overwhelming. When they realize that emotions are interfering with their job, employees can make positive choices to defuse these emotions.
  3. Social awareness: The third part of emotional intelligence is being able to understand what others are feeling, empathize with them and react appropriately. For instance, if a customer is sighing heavily during a customer service call, an employee with social awareness will recognize this might indicate growing frustration, and “check in” on the customer’s emotional temperature.
  4. Managing relationships: Employees who possess the three other aspects of EI will be more successful at managing their interactions with other people. By being aware of their own emotions, managing them in a positive fashion, and responding appropriately to others’ emotions, these customer service employees can defuse conflicts, improve customers’ moods and build customer loyalty.

Want to assess and improve your employees (or your own) EI? Here are some emotional intelligence exercises and an emotional intelligence toolkit to assess and improve EI. 




 
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