Take A Break

Oh, Twitter, how you give us a glimpse into the mind of the everyday office worker and how they feel about their day to day activities. Usually, that mild mannered office worker has a conference call to attend, from updating a team on procedures to going over financials.  Everyone is using conference calls to make their staff meetings go a little smoother, stay more productive, and save money on travel.  Most of the time, conference calls can go pretty quickly, but there are always those times when you know it’s going to be a long one – due to the topic or even the person who’s doing the presenting.

As the leader of a conference, you can do a lot to plan ahead for a conference call and have things in place to keep the attention of the attendees. However, nothing is fool proof and there’s always the chance that you are going to lose the audience. What can you do during a conference call to bring them back to attention? Here are a couple of suggestions to try on your next conference if you sense everyone is drifting.

Ask a question. Don’t call anyone out but throwing out a blanket question and pausing for a few beats afterwards can help pull everyone’s brains back into the task at hand. Don’t answer the question, just ask it.  A lot of times when people “zone out” hearing something new or that could require a response will draw them back in.

Take a break. Have a long conference planned? Schedule a break about halfway through. I would suggest this for any conference that is going to be an hour or longer. It doesn’t have to be a long break, maybe five minutes. Let people get up from their desks, stretch their backs and arms, and maybe get a refill of coffee. Then they come back and it’s like the call just began.

Switch speakers. Even if you’re talking about the same subject throughout the length of the conference, you can still bring a different voice on the call to finish up.  Not only does it help relax your vocal chords, but it will be a new sound and tone for your attendees to react to.  If you’re used to a sound or voice, it’s easier to drown it out, and bringing a new voice to the call can refocus everyone.  

There are some quick suggestions that can help you bring everyone back down to Earth during a conference call. Do you do anything differently? Have you ever tried these before? How do you prepare to refocus your group mid conference?

Unexpected Service

It's Friday morning -- which around here means breakfast time. It's sort of a time honored tradition. This morning, we decided to hit up one of the major fast food chains and I volunteered to go pick it up. Two things happened:

1. I got to hear a very irate man get all peeved because the nice lady asked him to hold on for a moment."I don't have time to wait". (Well, you'd be waiting if you were in line, sir. Behind me.)
2. I learned that customer service is not lost in the fast food industry --- at least, not yet. The nice lady wrote the order numbers on each of the bags, even though she was juggling drive through at the same time.

Thanks for reminding me that customer service is still everywhere Dorothy. You made my day extra nice... and super delicious.

Know When To Fold 'Em

Anyone who works in customer service knows that it's not always the easiest job in the world. While it can be very rewarding, it can also be very frustrating. You know your product, you're familiar with your services and how it works. Most of the time, you can translate what you know to your customers in a way that makes sense to them. The reality of being a customer and being in customer service is that there is going to be a customer/rep that you just can't connect with. Whether you're trying to explain the services, answer a question, or help trouble shoot a problem, somewhere along the way it just seems to get lost.

As a customer, you can feel like you're asking the right questions and as the rep on the other end of the phone, you feel like you're not doing a good enough job in answering the inquiry. Your customer is getting frustrated, you're getting frustrated, and this has all the makings of being a bad situation soon.

The question is: are you able to admit that you're not going to be able to help?  It doesn't mean that you are bad at your job; it just means there's someone that you can't connect to.

How do you determine when it's time to ask for help? Do you have a time limit that you give yourself when a customer is upset that you try to get everything resolved? Passing a customer along to another person in the office doesn't necessarily mean you're passing the buck or can't do your job. It just means that you're going to send this customer to someone who can answer their questions in a way that they can understand.

If you find yourself speaking "at" someone and not "to" them it's probably time to step away.  When you sense a customer is getting frustrated, there's nothing wrong with offering to transfer them to someone who can give them better clarification.  Most customers would be happy to be transferred and then get their question answered or problem resolved.

What are your thoughts? Should a customer ever have to ask to be transferred or should you take the initiative to handle that for them? As the customer in this situation, is there a way to ask to speak to someone else?

Do you know when to hold em, and know when to fold ‘em? (Thank you Kenny Rogers)

It's a Bird… It's a Plane… It's Your Customer!

Spot Light

In customer service, we all tend to think of ourselves as the "problem-solvers". That's what we are here for. To field questions and make sure that our customers walk away feeling informed or like their concern or situation had been handled quickly and efficiently. For the most part, companies create policies and programs that benefit their customers, crafting together services that can help to defeat all manner of villains. When you really think about it, customer service agents are a lot like the heroes that you remember from your childhood. They could solve any problem or mystery, always coming out on top in the end. We wanted to be like them because they helped people and saved the world, one bad guy at a time.

Commissioner Gordon turned on the Bat Signal to let Batman know Gotham City needed his help. As customer service reps, we wait for our phones to ring so we can swoop out of the dark and save the day. Have you ever given any thought to taking control of the signal and letting your customers save the day?   They have great ideas that come from using your service every day and knowing it well. Here are some ways that we have found to fire up the signal from the rooftops and send out a call for help.

Spam, no. Email yes. Run some reports and pull a database of clients that have open accounts, but haven't taken advantage of your services for a while, if ever. Send them a friendly email to let them know you're still here for them and make sure that everything worked out to their expectations.  There is nothing wrong with a follow up email or phone call, but don't abuse the privilege.

Testify.As a rep, I love to hear from customers that are enjoying using the service. Don't be afraid to reach out to some of your clients that you know are using the service and enjoying their experience and ask them to see if they would be willing to give you a short testimonial on why the service has worked so well for them.

Research. Knowing who your clients are is one thing but it's another to actively seek out their opinions.  Put out a newsletter and direct them to a short list of questions (no more than 5) about their experiences so far. You could also invite them to a monthly or quarterly conference call where you can field questions and suggestions. If you're rolling out a new product, you can invite some clients to help you test the product.  Knowing the use and functionality to a client can help you to know if you should continue developing it, or scrap it all together.

Those are just a couple of ways that you can let your customer be the hero.  What are some other ways you've been using? Who knows? You may be on the verge of the next breakthrough.

A Wrinkle in Time

Hour Glass

The English language is full of clichés about "time". What is time? I looked it up and there are a lot of different definitions and I came to realize the word "time" stretches across a lot of variants. It's a word that has a lot of power but in my opinion, not a lot of substance.

I have a theory about the "value" of time. It has a value because we have given it one.  We use it as a way to define getting out of a situation ("Oh, look at the time! I have to go") or a reason not to do something ("Oh, gee, I'm so sorry, I haven't had the time to call you back"). We wear watches and check our phone to see what time it is, gauging our lives out in precious minutes and seconds. While it is important to know if it's 6 AM or 10PM, because we are human and we do need to sleep and eat at proper times, we have a tendency to blame time for everything.

Oh I'm sorry, I didn't get to that, and I've been so busy. Oh, wow, I ran out of time today. Did you really? If you have a customer that you failed to call back, get a hold of, what do you tell them when they finally have to call you and then you're fumbling for excuses as to why you didn't get back to them? As a customer, we want to feel like we are number one when it comes to our potential business partners. When you tell a client "I'm sorry I just ran out of time", it means that that you, as the business, don't value me, as the client. Telling me that you didn't have time for me is like a slap in the face, instantly placing me down at the bottom of your list. If you wanted my business that badly, you would have made time for me.

The same goes in your personal experiences. I will admit that I am guilty of using this excuse with personal friends when I am just not in the mood to be chatty. Sometimes, it's a true statement. Sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day to fulfill your commitments as well as find time for yourself, and that's okay.  It's what you are telling those waiting that matters.

The question to you is, instead of "I'm sorry I just ran out of time" what's a more viable reason for not following through completely?  Is there something you can say in place of "I ran out of time" that will mean the same thing but sound better? Comment your opinions here and let's redefine the value of time.

Don't Be Critical, Just Critique.

Momma always said that you’re your own biggest critic.  In my later years, I’ve learned that this is true.  No matter how many times I've been told, "No worries, it's not a big deal" it always is to me. Making mistakes, even though they are an important part of the learning process, isn’t any fun. I’ve come to realize that there are all kinds of people in the world when it comes to mistakes, how they make them, and how they deal with it. If you’re like me and you want to learn something, you internalize it over and over in your head.

What could I have done differently? What should I do differently in the future? At what point does your personal critique become personal criticism? What is the point that you think you’re “critical” and not just "critiquing"? When you realize that you’re crossing that line, how do you reel it back in?

I draw the line at anything that involves the phrase "How could I have done that" reverberating in my brain. It's negative and all it does is make you think about the mistake.  Instead, think "how can I do better next time?", instead of just beating yourself up, you're taking what happened (no matter what it is) and learning from it. It always helps me to take a negative thing and spin it to a positive. Try that next time you think you’re being too hard on yourself.

What are some of the things you do to reel yourself back in? How do you take a negative experience and learn from it, rather than just letting the experience keep you down? Everything can help you grow, are you finding the area where you can grow and learn?

How Do You Thank Your Customers?

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog about thanking your customer service or technical support agent, and why it was important. The same philosophy applies when dealing with customers and making sure they know that their loyalty to your company is valued. Here are some things we do in our office to make sure our customers know that we consider them not just a subscriber of our company, but a part of our family.

Send a Thank You Card – For a customer there's nothing better than something that makes the interaction with their customer service representative more personable.  Since the majority of your interaction with the customer is going to be over the phone or via email, the thank you card can help to feel more connected to the person on the other end of the phone. Make it personal; why did you and the customer speak? What was the outcome? Tell them you're happy to have been able to work with them.

Use Words that Evoke Emotion – Saying thanks for being a great customer sounds so generic, doesn't it? Expand your vocabulary and expand into words like 'family', 'value', and 'loyalty'. Each customer is an important member of your business and the verbiage you use should reflect that.

Don't Be Afraid to Say It – It's always so easy when you're emailing back and forth with a customer to attach the “Thank You” to the end. Here's a thought:  even if you've been emailing with the customer, why not pick up the phone after everything handled, and give them a call to say thanks. Even if they aren't by their phone, you can still leave them a message to thank them and see if there is anything else you can do. 

Reaching out to your customer, even after a good resolution has been reached, can make a huge difference when it comes to whether or not your customer keeps coming back. There's a lot to be said for going the extra mile, so tell me—how have you, or how do you plan to go the extra mile for your customers?

Is There a Smile In Your Voice?

Smile in Your Voice

I know, I know, how does one smile with a voice? Dismiss the sheer mechanics and physic failures of that sentence and think about the underlying meaning.  We all deal with customers on a daily basis and no matter what you do, who you are, or what your job title is, you still have people you have to deal with. 

Since you never know what opportunities are lurking around the corner, when faced with a situation that you could be dealing with your next client, that smile should always be in your voice.  Sure, we have all fallen victim to the bad day syndrome, where we just feel like we're going through the motions. How so we kick that feeling and get a smile back in our voices? Here are a couple of things we do in our office to get the smiles back:

-We have this board on the door to the office that we use to remind everyone of important calls that day.  When the call is over, it becomes a place to write down funny things we over hear in the office or some of the silly things that come out of our mouth when we're talking to customers. Right now, there's a message from the boss men telling us to be happy.

-Don't be afraid to take a break from your desk. Sometimes, when I need to get up and detach for a second, I'll just slip over to the window and look down at the cars. Sure, it's the same cars every day, but at least it's not my computer screens burning into my eyes.

-We laugh. Everyone here in the office gets along really well and we don't have a problem taking a break to tell funny stories about things our kids have done, things our spouses said, anything really.  That little bit of laughter helps you to decompress, even if just for a second, you can let loose. 

It's always been said that laughter is the best medicine. What are you doing to stay healthy?

Music is My Inspiration

Getting inspiration can be difficult. No matter what you're doing it always seems like there can be a road block.  For me, one of the hardest things that I do is writing.  Don't get me wrong, I love writing, and I'm pretty much doing it 95% of the time, both at work and at home.  There are times though, when you just get stuck. There's never been anyone in the world that hasn't experienced that. So, how to get through it?

MusicWell, there are things that work differently for each person, but I have found that music is my inspiration. I have my iPod on me at all times. Different kinds of music can spark different kinds of reactions in you as you work, too. For me, if I have an idea that blindsides me and I need to get it out, it's usually something fast. I'll slow it down when it comes time to edit. 

I have a habit of going for the same song over and over again, for a while it was "Hysteria" by Muse, right now, it's All American Rejects. (In case you haven't noticed, I have a wide array of musical choices). I've seen more and more authors giving credit in their published works to the bands that they listened to while they composed their story. Blog writers have started to do this too, by tagging their posts with current music playing information.

I only get my musical suggestions from what's recommended to me, since I rarely listen to the radio, new music escapes me sometimes until someone asks me if I've heard this song. Music can be the thing that opens the doors to communication with a potential client or even a new friend.

Are you sharing your current musical choices with the people around you?

Did You Thank Your Agent Today?

Did you have to call a customer service or technical support agent today? 

Did you thank them?

It seems like such a strange question but have you ever thought about it before? They really try to answer what question you might be having or what issue could be occurring. When you hang up the phone with them and they have solved your issue or answered your questions, thank them and tell them why.

I was thanked today by a client that I barely spent three minutes on the phone with. Their question was easy and they were in a hurry, and he was off the phone in a couple of minutes. When he hung up, he said, "Thanks, you were a big help." It's so small, but it's made me smile all day.

Sometimes the nicest thing can go a long way and just letting someone know that they are doing their job well can brighten their day. Think about that little surge in your chest when a client or a manager pulls you to the side and tells you what a stellar job you did closing the deal or that your presentation was great. You can ride on that for days. Customer/Tech support agents are no different and we like to hear that too.

Don't be afraid to ask for someone's supervisor to say something nice.  In our office, when that happens, it gets emailed out and passed around for everyone to see so that we can all get that little boost. Since most jobs are team efforts, we share our excitement and good comments with the whole office.

A little bit of kindness goes a long way so telling the person who helped you today, "Thanks a lot, you were a big help" can be the thing that makes them smile and put a little extra pep in their step.