The Perfectionists Procrastination

A few weeks ago it was suggested I check out The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron. Naturally, I hopped on over to Amazon to see if I could get a good deal on it and got to take a peek inside.I skimmed the first part of the book and one of the first words that stood out to me was procrastination.

I balked. Procrastination, me? Impossible. I am on it, together, and always getting things done. I feel busy most of the time and I would think that’s the opposite of procrastination. Isn’t procrastination more of a conscious thought of letting something slide so you can do something else that you feel more desire to do? When I was in college, I used to put off my Rhetorical History projects because I would rather do something for another class. That, I’ll admit, was procrastination, but I didn’t think I fell into that category now.

According to this, I am one big procrastinator. Do I fill my day with “low-task” priorities? Sometimes. Do I wait for the “right mood” to strike before tackling things? I would have to admit yes I do. I don’t believe that procrastination is a symptom of laziness, as I am sure that many procrastinators are highly skilled and successful. In fact, many perfectionists are often the ones out there procrastinating, in fear of doing a project wrong the first time.

According to the folks over at MindTools, there are a couple of things I can do to help detour my trip to procrastination town.

•  Figure out why I am procrastinating. If I can determine why I don’t feel inclined to complete the task right away, I can figure out how to tackle it. By focusing on figuring out some inspiration for what I’m working on, I might stumble on the motivation to tackle that project first.
•  Reward myself. When I do finish a project I should give myself a little treat – like a quick break from my desk or something horribly bad for me for lunch. (I’m thinking Chipotle when I finish this post.)

I am defiantly not lazy, not in any sense of the word, but I find that I procrastinate due to my perfectionist streak. What makes you a procrastinator and what do you do to rise above and get things done?

The Extra Mile

A few days ago, I took a call from a customer who had a lot of questions. After burning calories running back and forth to Rob’s office to get the answers, the customer told me a story that stuck with me.

The long and short of it goes like this:  There are three men with the same job description working at a ship yard who are all paid differently.  The dock manager is explaining why each man has a different salary when a ship comes in and each of the three men go to meet the new ship.

The first worker comes back an hour later and tells the manager the ship is from Russia and has some kind of plastic toy on it.

The second worker comes back three hours later and tells the manager that the ship is from Russia, has baby dolls on it, and the dolls are 50 dollars for a bundle.

Two days later, the two workers and the manager find the third worker asleep on the floor in the office and wake him up, “Where have you been?”

The third worker tells the manager that the ship that came in was from Russia and had plastic baby dolls selling for 50 dollars a bundle. He also let the manager know that he had called a buyer in New York that he remembered was asking about plastic dolls and negotiated a selling price of 200 dollars a bundle. He also prepared a proposal that was waiting for the manager’s approval. The third worker makes nearly twice of the first, even though they all have the same “job title.”

What’s the moral of the story?  Well, those who go above the call of duty are ultimately rewarded. Whether you are doing it for a customer, or simply because it’s what needs to be done, it’s noticed and appreciated. How are you going to go above the call of duty today?

Free Your Mind

As a married woman, I often feel that my husband and I differ in our tastes in television and music. I guess Paula Abdul was right about opposite’s attracting. One thing that we can agree on is that I am a music freak and he loves trying to find new things he thinks I might like. Often he comes to me with a proud smile and tells me that he found something he thinks I’ll love.  

I usually stare at him skeptically because with him, you never can tell what you’re about to get. Sometimes, he brings me a song that I listen to and immediately make a face. However, there are many times when he brings what I would consider to be some of my favorite songs to me.

If not for him and his somewhat strange musical tastes, I would not know the wonders of Muse or Sneaker Pimpz (“Destroying Angel” specifically).  What’s the point of saying this? I would never have known some of my favorite bands if I didn’t have an open mind. I would have just scoffed and told him that I wouldn’t like it, rather than give it a chance. Now, there have been plenty of times that I’ve listened to ten seconds of a song and turned it off. But at least I gave it a shot.

Having an open mind is essential to business. It can be something like considering a new process or even defining a new way of thinking. “Innovators” in their business would not have been such if not for having open minds. People like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and even Henry Ford would not have an impact on the world if they weren’t able to look at things openly.  What about the first company to go “green”? They had to have open minds to even embrace a new way of thinking – one that has spread like wildfire.

When someone in your company comes to you with a new idea, it’s important to listen, consider, and then make a decision. Saying no right off the bat will get you nothing but an employee who thinks their contributions aren’t appreciated. No matter what the suggestion is – from different creamers in the break room to trading in expensive conventions for conference calls, it’s important to consider every idea that comes across your desk.

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?