A Line Drawn in the Sand

So let’s talk mindsets people. Because it’s so very important to have a positive one these days.  Mindset is what makes all the difference when it comes to achieving goals. Mindset influences our actions and behaviors. It influences our ability to move forward. And in these times, it’s paramount for us to be extremely selective with our thoughts.

Can you think back to less than 90 days ago?  2020 was going to be thee year.  But, we’re social distancing.  Working remotely.  COVID 19 and speculation for when these uncertain times will end are the topics for every conversation.

For some, right now it may feel like an NFL game with less than a minute to play and the score is 23 to 3. Question. Which team are you on?  That response alone puts a spotlight on where your mindset is.  No matter the score, how do you continue to play with all your heart?  I asked this very question to an individual who emulates focus and an unwavering dedication to health and mindset. During a recent dialogue, NFL Super Bowl champion and FitSpeed owner Darcy Johnson provided insights into how he sustains a positive mindset, dedication and perseverance to his professional and personal goals.

I first met Darcy last summer after I saw a Facebook ad offering a six-week health challenge.  Weary of my scale going in the wrong direction, and eager for a change, I submitted my info and made an appointment to visit the gym. That gym was FitSpeed.

The day of my appointment, I met Darcy and he walks me through the program. His positive energy was instantly infectious. I’m intrigued but as I looked at my calendar said, “There’s no way I can do this. Six-week commitment? I’m a road warrior. I travel too much.”   Darcy looked me dead in the eye and asked me “When will you decide you’re worth it? When will you decide to make yourself and your health a priority?”

It was a line drawn in the sand. And I signed up that day.  In that moment, I took the step to make myself a priority. Now a member of FitSpeed, I love the community I’ve found with my 5:30am workout crew and the strength and endurance I’ve gained from a commitment to fitness.

Darcy is dedicated to fitness and well-being.  His viewpoint:

“Health is so important. It’s our bodies. A healthy body is positive. It keeps us going. It’s like they say on a plane, help yourself before helping others. That’s what health is all about. Help your body support your life.”

And when I reflect on my journey, I wonder what would have happened if Darcy hadn’t challenged me.  If he hadn’t drawn a line in the sand.  So, I question: do we need that? Do we constantly need a line drawn in the sand to influence action? What is that motivating line that sparks action?  What does it look like? Once that line is drawn, how do we keep momentum? How do we sustain the excitement and the initial rush to withstand the journey?

For Darcy, the NFL influenced an unwavering mindset to play with all your heart.  He said,

“You’re always being graded in the NFL. No matter the game, your performance is always being evaluated. You’re not thinking about just that play, but the next game, the next season, the next draft.”

Dedication was further sparked by his wife, Carissa.

“She is my partner and I know how lucky I am for her to be in my life. Before I met Carissa, I didn’t realize that people could live such a positive life.” 

Now the love for God, his wife and family motivate Darcy to live positively every day.

Last month I addressed Mindset and goal planning. Psychologically, I’m intrigued with how we react when faced with challenges.  I find the fight or flight conversation captivating.  How is one sparked to act when faced with a challenge and another not?  So, in these uncertain times, will you fight or flee?  The score is 23 to 3.  Which team are you on? Which team do you want to be on?  What if right now is a line drawn in the sand for our communities? Our cities? Our country? Ourselves?  What if we took this time make ourselves a priority? What if we stopped talking about how we’re powerless and look at the blessings around us and start planning? What if we started to play with all our heart? Intrigued? Here’s how.

Steps to Increase Mindfulness & Emotional Investment.

1 – Know your WHY? Your purpose. Your passion. What we love takes little effort, it’s just what we do and who we are. We’re inspired and motivated. We crave the adrenaline for doing it. We “lose time” in these productive moments. If we live in our ‘why,’ we can easily build more of these moments into our day. **Note: Master this step. It makes the next steps easier.

2 – Build awareness of your internal dialogue and then shift as needed. Are you being supportive or negative? Are your emotions and thoughts past focused or forward focused?  Micheal Hyatt in his book Free to Focus writes:

“We reserve the word discipline for those things we don’t want to do. Thoughts can be limiting. Example:
Limiting belief: I don’t have enough time. 
Shifting: I have all the time I need to accomplish what matters most.”

Are your thoughts sparking and inspiring or limiting? As Ford once said,

Whether you think you can or can’t you’re probably right.”

3 – Plan. If we don’t plan, we’re leaving room for distractions. If the goal isn’t written down with a timeline or plan of action, it’s only a dream. Find your triggers (time of day, after a meeting, after a specific task) and create diversions and alternative space to alter your behaviors. I find planning tasks during specific time frames of the day increases focus and productivity. For example, I won’t allow myself to check email during “writing time.”

4– MOVE.  Movement sparks energy. Walking. Journaling. Actions that release tension and build momentum.  There will always be bad days. Acknowledge them. Release the tension and let it go. Keep focused on the goal – your WHY – and make your goals a priority.  Action is required for any goal attainment.

5 – Find accountability. Find support.  Reach out to a friend or colleague. Hire a coach. Schedule a weekly touch base call with a mentor or individual who will spark more action. Read something funny. Be playful.  Breathe. Keep a quote or song that will get your juices flowing in sight.

6 – Live in Gratitude.  Find appreciation in the little things. Tell someone how they inspire you. Focus outward. Lastly, remember that joy on the journey is what it’s all about. If we we’re waiting for the end result to feel happy, or accomplished, we’re missing out on all the special moments that make us who we are.

Would love to hear how you’re using this time to achieve your goals. Please leave your ideas and thoughts below.

 

Mindfulness for a Penny

We waited an hour for our daughter to visit with Santa the other night. The queue filled with families emphasized the stress of the season. Overheated parents holding piles of coats. Eager children fidgeting in their holiday outfits; taffeta dresses and patent leather shoes, glittering shirts, matching pajama sets. An endless procession of anticipation waiting to visit St. Nick.

As we neared the front of the line, my daughter had eyes only for Santa. She gazed at him awestruck, grabbed my hand and said, “I get so nervous to speak to him.”

She approached Santa, rehearsing her Christmas list in her mind. The photographer snapped a photo and like every parent, my husband and I beamed with joy in the moment. Because it’s these moments that make the holiday. It’s these moments that I wish I could bottle and distribute to the masses. And I ponder why is it so difficult to sustain them?  I called it the fresh paint smell in a previous blog.

There comes a moment every December when I look at the calendar and become frantic. There’s an endless list of tasks to complete before year end. Shopping, holiday celebrations, sales calls, meet n greets, presentations, final reports, planning for the year ahead, buying presents, wrapping presents, shipping presents, baking. What should be joyful, even spending time with friends, can feel overwhelming.

In these flashes of overwhelm, I have to stop and breathe and remind myself to be grateful and to focus on others. My takeaway for 2019 is this: I’ve realized that when I become stressed and inundated in the day to day, my thoughts are selfish. My needs. My schedule. My agenda. Me.  Yet when I focus on how to help others, the tension goes away. This is the space I cherish. This is the space I mean to live in; to focus on others and impact their day.  Even the most random act can leave an impression.

This year while traveling, I had an experience that I try to keep close to mind. During a hotel stay, I requested more towels from housekeeping by leaving a gratuity and writing a brief note.

“More towels please. Make it a great day.”

The response has forever shifted my viewpoint.  Although I never crossed paths with the housekeeping staff, the colossal tower of towels left in response was astounding. The impact of the gratuity was overwhelming. It was as if my monetary request had gifted the world to this individual.  The response was the following:

“Thank you so much. Have a blessed day.”

You could feel the appreciation from the note.

It made me realize unintentional random actions can be perceived as actions of greatness.  It emphasized how we all place different values on money, time, and space.  Five dollars to one person, could be viewed as a routine cup of coffee. Inconsequential. Nary a second thought. Yet, for some significant. Life changing to others.

I now carry a penny in every one of my coat pockets to remind myself of the moment. Somedays I’ll randomly place my hand in my pocket and feel the penny, and it centers me. It prompts me step back and observe my surroundings; to be present in the moment. To feel grateful for all I have. It was a penny I felt in my pocket while my daughter sat on Santa’s lap.

Other days, when I feel the penny in my pocket, I’ll toss it on the ground hopeful the person who finds it, will feel as if their day has turned for the better.

My wish for you throughout the season, is to experience wonder in a random moment. Step back and look at your team, your space, your family.  My wish for you is to find a penny, that keep it in your pocket and randomly come across it during a hectic day.

May you find endless joy and wonder this holiday season and prosperity in the new year.

 

 

Creamer, please?

Sometimes I’m amazed and perplexed by the simplest customer service interactions.

We can become so engrossed in routine, that numbness sets in; resulting in systematic procedures where staff lack insight to provide the basics of customer service.  

Recently, I wrote a blog titled Deviating from the Process. From recent interactions, perhaps shifting the dialogue to training and development may prove more productive.

I love Starbucks. I love Starbucks coffee, chai tea lattes with soy, a peppermint mocha, an iced tea with a pump of sugar. They have so many delicious offerings, and they tailor to it my needs.  I can only imagine the training the baristas must endure to create our personalized caffeinated treats. To start my day, I prefer coffee.  My coffee orders are simplistic; the bold blend with room for cream.

On this particular day, the drive-thru line extended past the ordering lane and encircled the building.   The parking lot offering a plethora of spaces, I decided to venture inside for my bold blend.  The cashier greeted me enthusiastically and prepared my grande coffee leaving room for cream. I then approached the buffet offering cream, sugars, and mixing sticks. I lifted the creamer canister to pour into my coffee and drip, drip, drip.  Empty.  Instant despair.      

I took the canister to the counter to ask for creamer. The staff were focused, concentrated.  A busy drive-thru triggered frenzied team-members to fulfill orders; each with their own station and focus of operation. After a few fleeting moments of eye contact, my imploring looks registered with the cashier and she approached with a smile. Extending the empty creamer canister, I asked, “Would it be possible to have cream for my coffee? The canister is empty.”

There were four dairy jugs on the counter next to the drive-thru window. FOUR.  Two appeared to be milk, one half and half, the other skim or soy. The Barista took the half and half canister from me and vanished to the back-storage area. She was gone for two minutes.  Emerging from the back-storage area, she was flagged by a new guest and stopped to assist with the order; placing the creamer canister next to her at the register.

Now forgotten, I made eye contact with a different employee.  As he approached, I queried, “Could I possibly get some creamer for my coffee?”  This employee nodded yes, pivoted on his feet and vanished to the back-storage area. I stood there in disbelief.  He passed four jugs of dairy in his pursuit. Did they have special cows in the back?

A third employee made eye contact and recognizing my imploring look, approached. This now my third plea for creamer, I tried a different method of inquiry.

With a smile and eye brows raised, he asked, “how can I help?”

I looked at the barista. I glanced at the dairy gallons on the counter. I glanced at the barista and then back to the dairy gallons, at this moment feeling like a puppy looking for food. 

I am looking at your plate of bacon. I am looking at you.

I am looking at your plate of bacon.  I am looking at you.

While looking directly at the gallons of dairy on the counter I began, “could I possibly have some cream,” and I looked back at the barista “for my coffee,” and looked down at my cup. Lid off.  Cup extended. The barista instantly grabbed the gallon of creamer and poured it directly into my dark roast.

I heard angels sing as the creamer filled my cup.

The cashier continued to process the new order. The creamer canister remained at the register.

The second barista never returned from the back-storage area.

As I exited Starbucks, I pondered how two staff when approached with a need for cream, instantly pivoted and vanished to the back-storage area; passing four gallons of dairy on the way.  Two staff who had been trained efficiently on process.  This made me realize; to differentiate the client experience, training for awareness should be exercised in concert with training procedures.  

Do you have a process that inhibits the client experience?

Are your staff empowered to deviate from the process?

How do you communicate client engagement expectations to the team?

What are those expectations?

Are you celebrating exceptional client engagement?

To different your client experience, reach out to Slone Solutions, LLC.

Deviate from the Process

Recently, while excelling as a road warrior, I touched base with my husband on the day of my return to discuss my ETA and any plans for the evening.   On this day, my husband offered to pick up dinner.  At my suggestion of the regular, “just grab chicken and a vegetable,” I was shocked to arrive home to find Sea Bass. Sea Bass was the protein purchased for dinner. I looked at my husband and asked, “who are you and what have you done with my husband?” His response was simply, “thought we could do something different.”

Discussions on flexibility and versatility are rampant lately. In a world where technology is constantly changing, information is readily available at our fingertips, and studies supporting that we, as a society, are evolving faster than ever, it’s becoming paramount to show versatility and the ability change.  Darwin’s theory of evolution is reinforced in business cases that failed to deviate from operations like Toys R Us, Circuit City, Sears and Blockbuster.  These businesses either didn’t see the need for change or adapt to market changes fast enough.

Then we see the success of Netflix whose versatility is the paragon of change in the business world.  Think about your most recent conversation about favorite TV shows and what you may be watching or binge watching.  More than likely a show from Netflix was a part of the dialogue.  A business that once had us skipping with excitement from our mailboxes over the arrival of a red envelope, now has sitting for hours while streaming movies, sitcoms and original shows.  From mailing Blue Rays and DVDs to streaming, talk about a change mindset.  Netflix could be the poster child for change.

Yet, if we step back and analyze the success of Netflix, it’s because an individual within that organization suggested the change.  How often do we encourage our teams to think differently? How often do we foster innovation and creativity?  As a consultant, differentiating and embracing versatility is a consistent conversation with many of my clients.  So, I ponder:

If we expect our teams to change, do we find more success when we practice this personally as well?

There are studies that support the benefits of patterns, processes, and routines.  A plethora of books have been written and interviews with the world’s most successful communicate how daily structure influences productivity and impacts efficiency.  Other research argues how a deviation from process can build attentiveness, increase innovation, and enhance creativity.   There are findings that confirm an increased awareness when we deviate from our daily routines.  Considering all things in moderation, it’s the awareness to deviate or to stay the course we often lack.  While we do like our patterns, we should ask; when to do they help us and when do our routines hold us back? When do processes impact the experience?

Two years ago, I attended a conference with the resounding theme of change.  From the open, the days’ schedule was thrown off when the keynote speaker ran long. Very long.  Over an hour long.  By mid-morning attendees could tell the days’ schedule was off.  Yet sadly, those who had produced this ‘conference of change’ did not deviate from their own process and scheduling to demonstrate what versatility may look like to the attendees.  Indeed, a missed opportunity.  People were hungry and tired, and they wanted lunch. 

Nope, sorry, here’s another speaker and a tour!

Deviating from the process is a leadership cascade.  We must demonstrate what we expect from the team.   There should be conversations on expectations and encouragement for innovative thought, entrepreneurial spirits and proactive mindsets.

What happens if that leadership mindset is not in place? 

Most recently, while checking in to a hotel at the end of a travel day, I found myself in a lobby with a line at check- in. It became humorous to listen to the front desk attendant. No doubt trained eloquently on client engagement and customer service, he rattled his scripted greeting and communicated the features of the property to every single guest as he prepared room keys. Yet as I became the final person to clear the line of late arrivals, rather than a smile with a “welcome” or “did you happen to over hear about our hotel amenities?” he continued to spout the same monologue I’d heard three guests before.  I smiled in wide-eyed amazement as he completed his speech and wondered:

Why was deviating from the process such a natural conclusion from my perspective, yet acutely absent for this front desk attendant?

The next morning while eating breakfast, I overheard a group of business women discussing frustrations over process deviation. From their dialogue they were in the medical field of some sort.  What resonated most was their inability to stray from process. One woman interjected,

“He became frustrated that I didn’t approve the next round of testing, but we can’t approve that until we get the green light from the other team.  That’s the system. That’s how it works.”

I thought in that moment, (warning extremely dramatic thought follows) this is how people die.  Their procedure could be impacting someone’s life, and they were focused on a process.

I ask again, why is deviating from the process so difficult for those in the operational role, yet so clearly transparent to those on the receiving end?

If you think about it, there are processes and routines around us at every moment of every day. We are wired for them. We rely on them. These systems support the very structure of society, and we flow with them like a machine. We become the machine.  We become the patterns that impact client engagement. We become the monologue to welcome guests at a hotel. We become the late lunch at a conference.  We delay a patient’s next step in testing. We become Sears.  Toys R US.  Blockbuster. We lose the ability to adapt and flourish.

Unless………..we deviate from the process.

I believe that building awareness is key.  Processes can be good, but we always need to ask:

What is the goal?

Is the process helping or hindering?

Does the process support and sustain or stifle and limit? 

Are we differentiating? How?

What would happen if we did it differently?

What will you do differently day?

How will you deviate from the process?

Emotionally Charged

Valentine’s has passed. The shortest month of the year is coming to an end.  Every day we are closer to Winter’s end and the days grow longer with additional sunlight. Green decorations, anticipation for Spring and thoughts of March Madness are on the horizon.  We’ve stopped greeting each other with “Happy New Year.”  Yet……..have you made any strides on your resolution or Q1 goals?  Are you implementing?  Or, has the adrenaline rush for a magnificent 2020 tapered as daily routines absorb your attention? Have priorities shifted? What are you doing to keep momentum?

Do you find planning and talking about goals intriguing?  Get excited talking about the future and what it could be. You can feel the heartbeat accelerate. Envision the dream.  Yet implementation falls short? Is it only the resolution?  Or is there a pattern to the lack of follow through?

I recently spoke at the Corn Belt Seed Conference in Indianapolis, and the focus for the event was client engagement, customer service and the member care they provide to their suppliers, vendors, and teams. Agriculture – the industry that feeds and sustains the world’s population is focused on customer service. Goals to impact the client experience. Goals to leave a thumb print, cultivate teams, and differentiate a field typically not associated with hospitality. Client engagement is truly transcending all industries.

Drinking by fire hydrant, there was a multitude of information presented to these attendees.  Suggestions from myself and other industry professionals on what they could implement with their teams; their own “conference resolutions.”  I challenged the attendees to take out their phones and plan a cascade. To schedule in that moment, a team meeting and at that meeting to plan how to implement. Because, when we attend an event, we can become infused with excitement.  We drink the “kool-aid” and we’re sparked, inspired, on fire. We find genius in simplistic thoughts.  “A-ha!  That’s how it’s done!” But, when we return to our regular environment, the spark fades to a glowing ember. Normal routines and business operations take priority.

I call this The Fresh Paint Smell. You paint a room.  It’s clean and organized. You can smell the fresh paint. You love it. You feel the happiness when you walk in. Two days later, it’s still a fresh room, but the new paint smell has faded and the excitement of it has passed. Over a week or so, it’s the room we love, but the newness is fading. A month or so passes, and it’s just another room in the house.

How do we sustain momentum?  How do we increase our resolve?  What makes one person or business succeed, where another fails to take the first step? We need to look to the emotional investment.  In truth our emotions hold the key to it all.  So, this blog will provide insights into how our momentum is impacted. In March, we’ll reveal insights into HOW to sustain it.

 

EMOTIONS

Keep in mind that client engagement is all about emotions. We talk about our experiences because there’s an emotion attached to it. We live reactively.  We observe and an emotion follows.  We get excited. Angry. Happy. Motivated.  But to act on it, here is why it’s a challenge.

As human beings, we are unable to sustain a positive or negative emotion for an extended period of time. The elation we initially feel when we receive the praise, the achievement, the inspiration – cannot be replicated.  Same for the frustration, the anger, the adrenaline rush. We can reflect and feel a similar emotion, but not the initial emotional experience.

In a study, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, it timed emotions and how long they last.

“Sadness is the longest lasting of all emotions taking on average 120 hours to pass.

Hatred is the second most enduring emotion followed by joy which lasts an average of 35 hours.

Guilt lingers longer than the hot burn of shame; and fear tends to pass fairly quickly compared to anxiety which generally lasts much longer.

The stay-around power of sadness is likely due to its tendency to be associated with events that have a major long-term impact on people’s lives, such as bereavement.”

We observe. Have a thought to determine our feeling and then an emotional response.  Then we act or refrain from acting. Ever notice when implementing a goal, it’s the emotional passivity that triggers the action or inaction?  Thoughts like:

“One brownie today is ok,” or

“Skip the workout.” 

“I’ll reschedule that meeting with the team tomorrow.”

“It’s not like we need to shift our customer service overnight.”

“Our competition isn’t that far ahead.”

These passive thoughts are laced with an underlying element of fear and complacency.  Yet dive deeper and it’s a fear of change.  Fear is the emotion, disguised as complacency.  And frankly, I’ve never seen any business thrive with a mindset of “We’ve always done it this way.” The craving we give in to, the complacent thought, becomes the goal we do not achieve.

Simplistically – it’s building mindfulness. Changing our attitude and behaviors to take consistent action towards our goals.  Intrigued? Eager to learn more? Stay tuned for next month when I interview Superbowl champion & FitSpeed owner, Darcy Johnson on dedication, perseverance and achieving a goal mindset.

Greater Than, Less Than, Equal To

Happy New Year! If you haven’t given up on your New Year’s resolution, bravo! How we fail at accomplishing our resolutions is the topic of every media outlet lately.  Listen to the radio, watch the news, scroll through Facebook, and you’ll find a new statistic of what percentage and when we falter from our self-proclamation of personal and/or professional development.  Recent studies suggest by mid-February 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail.  So why do it? I addressed this in a previous blog; Waiting for the New Year Resolution.

What I find ironic about New Year resolutions, goal planning, and professional development is the judgement we place on ourselves, and the negative dialogue that follows when the objective is altered or abandoned.  It can incite a downward spiral of negative self-talk. Self-deprecating thoughts that fill our mind with incessant dialogue that ‘we’re not good enough.’  Thoughts like, “When have you ever?” “Did you really think you could do that?” “Figures.”  We rarely, if ever step back and ask, “What did I learn?”  Or objectively think, “This isn’t the direction we want to move.”

Whether a goal or a social interaction, we are judging.  Every interaction becomes an assessment. We judge the client. The client is judging us. We judge ourselves.  It’s building awareness of the thought and how we speak to ourselves within the thought that sparks a response or action.

In her research professor Brene Brown found that when we make a goal or have a positive thought, a negative thought instantly follows. It’s in our nature.  We are able to identify the hurdles, obstacles, and speedbumps in our way.  The thought often goes something like, “This year, I’ll lose 20 pounds and I’ll start after this weekend.” Then we glance at the calendar and see that Super Bowl or a birthday party is on the calendar and we waiver in our belief for attainment. “That won’t happen, I’ll be eating pizza on Super Bowl. I’ll start later.”

We’re always thinking, analyzing, evaluating, judging. In truth, we can’t turn it off. Our minds are wired to think; right or wrong, yes or no, 60 – 40. This is anything; social interactions, team goals, customer service experiences or the weather. When we hear a song, watch TV, sit in traffic, or eat at a restaurant, we’re thinking to ourselves, “I like this,” “I love this,” “The service seems slow,” or “This is terrible.” We evaluate every interaction.  How we analyze is the differentiator.

We are trained and influenced to judge at our youngest at school.  My daughter’s first grade math illustrates this.  A year ago, while reviewing her homework, I realized the math terms were all about greater than, lesser than, or equal too. It was a huge a-ha moment. Introductions to terms we utilize in our daily life. Evaluation. The self-chatter begins.

During a 2019 networking event, Stacy Nadeau delivered The Confident Mindset: Why Your Internal Script Matters. She said, “We wouldn’t talk to our friends or worst enemies the way we talk to ourselves.”  The self-judgment and berating can be relentless, ongoing, and unproductive.

With all this negative thinking, how do we achieve our goals, company initiatives and New Year resolutions?  How do we build awareness of our thoughts and increase mindfulness to keep them present?  Even more, how do we commit and make the goal a priority?

Suggestions to retain and attain the New Year resolution.

  1. Reflect – Be present and aware of your thoughts. Listen to how you speak to yourself. How did you talk to yourself today? Were they kind words? Encouraging? If you’re berating yourself, stop. Reflect on WHY the goal is important.  Ask what obstacles might prevent achievement. Reflection helps to build awareness of the patterns we have. Once we know the pattern or identify the consistent doubting thought, we can schedule diversions to support our resolve.
  2. Create Reminders – Set alarms on your phone or throughout your calendar. Create reminders with a quote or photo. Adding a question to an alarm can center you and bring your thoughts to the present. It could be a simple alarm on your phone that reads; “Commit to the New Year resolution” or “Have you taken action on your resolution today?” Keep a visual reminder in a spot that will constantly keep you focused on what the end goal looks like; a trip, an outfit, a house, etc.
  3. Measure Effectiveness –  What’s the benchmark? The lowest you will go? The end result? What does it look like? Feel like? Having a benchmark tells you where to start.
  4. Build Accountability – Work with a coach, friend, or colleague to support you. Be upfront as to how you need to be coached for accountability. It it a text? A phone call? How frequently will you need follow up?

Know this.  If we decree any resolution, initiative, or goal, it means we want to better ourselves, our teams, or our company culture. The intent is to be more than we are. Greater than, not less than, not equal to. Think kind thoughts to yourself. Your thoughts are things. And what you consistently think, you become. If you continuously think about your goals and resolutions, you will achieve them.   Be the 20% that the media doesn’t talk about.

Living in Gratitude to Deliver Exceptional Customer Service.

Why is it that when we start talking about customer service that everyone perks up with a story?  And whether the experience is about a product or service, it’s the experience with that product or service that we discuss.  “Oh my goodness, listen to this one…..”

People are so willing to communicate their most fabulous or most horrendous experiences. We find solidarity in our customer service moments; those of neglect, lack of courtesy, ineptitude of training. We rave of exceptional experiences and speak with passion and dramatic flair, “You simply must go….” 

In conversations, the essence of customer service seems simplistic, even elementary in nature.  We can express eloquently how we want it delivered and how others should provide it.  We want to receive it. We agree there is a need for it. And yet, when lacking, sub-par, inconsistent and non-existent, we become personally affronted.

I recently spoke at FABTECH on How to Deviate from the Process to Deliver Superb Customer Service.  The dialogue suggested a proactive approach; establishing processes and knowing when a practice might be hindering business operations or the client experience.  During the workshop, one of the attendees communicated, “my company believes whole heartedly that they are customer-centric, when in reality they are production driven.”

For an automation trade show, this statement didn’t come as a surprise.  Developing product is what these companies do. We typically don’t associate manufacturing with hospitality or client engagement.  It was refreshing to converse on how to humanize production.  I was impressed by the exchange and the intent to enhance their customer experience; the distributors and suppliers that move product to the shelves we shop.  How to provide deliberate communications and set expectations were the most prevalent concerns.

It reinforces, no matter the industry, customer service is a hot topic.  It’s like food and water. We want it. We crave it. We need it.  But, how do we provide it? How often do we forget why we are in business?  Why is it when it comes to customer service, we often forget that the guest, the client, the customer; however, one might label their patrons, that these purchasers of goods and services are the life blood and the reasons our companies exist?

And I love to have this conversation near the holidays because as Q4 comes to an end, no matter the industry, we try to squeeze in as much production, shipment, services, or sales as possible. We push for a year-end number. We’re wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the season. We’re in a rush. Expediting operations becomes the concentration, and we can forget why client engagement is so paramount. We become “me” focused, and the goal becomes to move the line. Yet, are we grateful the line is there in the first place? (Business plug, if you’re relating and need help, let’s connect.)  How are we expressing gratitude to our clients?  How do we show appreciation to the teams who deliver those exceptional moments?

Operations and client engagement work in concert. The businesses that operate with this in mind, creating positive interactions and memorable moments, discover a sustainable path to success. As the holiday season arrives, consider this:

Does your team focus on being customer-centric or production driven?

This season FOUR STEPS to provide consistent customer service.

  1. Review Your WHY.

Does your team know your company mission? Do you talk about it? Do you consistently operate to keep the mission in mind? The company values should be the backbone and artery for every operational decision. It should be a force that makes client engagement thrive. Know your purpose. Never stray from it.

  1. Communicate the WHY to the team.
    Consistent client engagement is the result of consistently communicating the mission and expectations to the team. Our staff cannot deliver great experiences unless we train, provide the resources to deliver, set expectations and hold the them accountable. Be specific on expectations. Make customer service a non-negotiable and a MUST Do.Exceptional client engagement happens when we connect on a personal level. The exchange is remembered because what was delivered exceeded expectations.  There’s emotion attached to it.  Encourage your staff to be in-service for the client. How? Give eye contact. Tailor the experience to the client. Learn about a client need and go above and beyond what’s requested. Add a special touch that communicates, “I’m looking out for you. I’ve got your back.”3. Be thankful (to your team and your clientele).
    When you see any team member deliver on your WHY, express gratitude. Thank them for building your brand and creating an avenue for client loyalty. Celebrate it. Reward it. Then pat yourself on the back for training your staff appropriately.

Remember that we are in business because of the client. Show appreciation to your clients. Thank them for their loyalty. Thank them for their patience. Thank them for referrals. Thank them for future patronage. Let them know they are valued. Show them how they are valued through consistent and exceptional client engagement.

4.  Live in this space.
Stop making it because it’s Thanksgiving or 4th Quarter.  Stop restarting or making resolutions to start at the new year or when it feels right or might be a better time. Decide. Commit. Live in Gratitude. 

This season may you discover the power of gratitude and appreciation in all things. This season be thankful for the vendors and suppliers that support your business. Be thankful for the clients, the customers, the guests who support your income. Revisit your WHY to remain client-centric. Remain ever thankful to the frontline staff who make those memorable moments happen.  This season discover the ability to live in this space.

May you have a season of blessings this holiday and throughout the new year.

Client Engagement Found in Fall Fables

One of the things I love best about living in the Midwest is the change of seasons. The transition from summer to fall is stunning.  There is apple picking and pumpkin lattes. Fall foliage explodes into a kaleidoscope of colors. Cool nights turn to warm days, challenging one to creatively dress for arctic morning commutes with the ability to peel layers from the afternoon sun. You can feel the expectation of the holiday season. You can smell the change of seasons in the air.

Fall is a favorite because we prepare for it.  We prune perennials, shrubs, rake leaves, mulch, guess how many times the grass will need to be cut before dormant winter arrives.  We prepare for Fall and the winter season ahead. We become the ants in Aesop’s fable of The Ants and the Grasshopper.

If you’re unfamiliar, the fable provides a lesson for balancing work and play.  The story illustrates how a spirited grasshopper experiences the perils of a harsh winter because he didn’t prepare for it. As he plays his fiddle alongside a parade of working ants he asks:

“Where are you going with those heavy things?” asked the grasshopper.

 Without stopping, the first ant replied, “To our ant hill.  This is the third kernel I’ve delivered today.”

“Why not come and sing with me,” teased the grasshopper, “instead of working so hard?” 

“We are helping to store food for the winter,” said the ant, “and think you should do the same.” 

The ants are diligent in their seasonal preparations. When winter arrives, the grasshopper is homeless, hungry and starving because of his lack of planning. So, whether you experience the shift in temperatures or not, as Fall arrives, is your team thinking like the Ant or the Grasshopper?

What is the team doing to prepare for consistent customer engagement? What resources are available to make the best of every client and guest experience? Developing efficiencies for our teams is paramount.  With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season on the horizon, this is the time to create a plan.  The holidays and year end rush seem to arrive earlier every year. Do you have methods in place to meet the timely demands of the season?  Are you Deviating from the Process to deliver superb customer service?

Time is a limited commodity for everyone; especially near year end as we scramble to meet deadlines and year end quotas.  We feel a necessity to pack in as much as possible before the new year begins. Daylight savings and earlier sunsets bring more urgency to our day.  For the Midwest, we drive to and from work in the dark.  The loss of daylight emphasizes the race against the clock.  Time becomes the essential we need more of.

To provide the best client engagement experience this season, a gift of TIME.

TIME

Tell the team the purpose and focus for client engagement. Tell them how, tell them when, and tell them often. Whether it’s reinforcing the company mission or implementing a process for the busy season ahead, be certain it’s clearly communicated to all staff on a regular basis. When teams know the WHY; the intent, the motivation and purpose for operations, they can produce and provide memorable moments with impact. Most importantly provide the tools necessary for staff to be successful.  Brene Brown writes in Dare to Lead:

“When you have a value printed on posters, hanging in the halls, but you don’t dig into the behaviors that support it and teach people those behaviors, you’re in BS territory.”

Implement every day.  The initiative, whether a new process, service recovery plan or new enterprise should be considered a MUST DO; a non-negotiable for operations.  When we make exceptions, “misplace” consistent efforts, slack off because “we don’t feel like it,” we cheat our staff, our brand, deplete our leadership credibility, and the client experience suffers.  This is when accountability becomes an issue and sustainability is lost. Consistent implementation is the only path to sustainable success.

Measure Results. Implementation without measurement is folly. Adding metrics to initiatives supports sustainability, team focus and provides insights for future enterprise.  After a month, 45 days, a quarter; was the process faster? Did it increase guest satisfaction? Was there a profit? Increased gross? Increased sales? Increased social media presence? Client Inquiries? Website hits, etc. Know your WHY to identify the proper metrics for success.

Extend Appreciation.  When you see your staff implementing and making an impact on the client experience, provide feedback. Show appreciation.  Appreciation builds momentum, impacts culture, and increases employee retention. It’s a skill every leader in an organization should master.  Simple truth, people want to know they are contributing.  They support the world they help create. Be certain express gratitude for the team members who service your clientele.

May this gift of TIME impact your team’s operations, provide consistent client experiences and add credibility to your leadership style. Happy Fall!

For more details and workshops dedicated to leadership development, visit www.slonesolutionsllc.com.

The Mountains We Create

When you set a goal for yourself, do you listen to your internal dialogue?  Are you aware of how you talk to yourself? Is your glass half full? Half empty? Refillable? Do outside elements influence you? The weather? Traffic? The clock?

When you set a goal for yourself, what self-talk or limiting dialogue happens in your head? Are you aware of it? Do you let it go on and on? Do you ignore it? Squash it? Do you wait for some outside source or sign to validate the thought?

“Traffic is heavy. I shouldn’t go to that networking event tonight.”

“Need to start that diet after the holiday.”

“See, I always mess up at this.”

“Do you really think you can……”

How many speed bumps or hurdles do you create to make that goal or milestone unattainable?  A mountain to climb.

It’s a scientific fact that when we set a goal for ourselves, we instantly identify obstacles to prevent its achievement. It’s a human protective element. We do this to ourselves and we do this to others. When we tell others our goals, they respond and offer insights; either encouragement or detailed insights into the challenges and obstacles on the horizon.


It was dance banquet night and as I sat at the table with one of my fellow and cherished dance moms, she announced to the table her 12-year-old daughter intended to start a car fund.  The mom communicated, “she want to purchase her own car when she turns 16.”

The table responded with affirmative and supportive comments.

“Good for her.”

“Love that”

“Great Goal.”

Then the mom communicated the vehicle of choice was a Tesla.  For some reason, this announcement completely changed the goal.  The reactions and responses instantly changed. The hilarity of such a lofty ambition. The comments became:

“Did you warn her about the cost of insurance for a luxury vehicle?”

“How’s she gonna afford that?”

“Oh, that’s choice.”

“Well maybe a used one……”

“A tesla?  She can get a Fiat. Fiat’s start at $17,000.”

As with most conversations the conversation diverted to new dialogue and we never revisited the topic.  But the conversation resonated with me. Why did the model of the vehicle impact the ability for achievement?  Who were we to place judgement on this goal? How often do we do the same to ourselves?

I can lose 5 pounds, but 20 is a huge endeavor.

I can run a 5K, but not a marathon.

I can make $75,000 in a year, but $100,000 is a reach.

Insert your limiting belief.

The next day I called my friend and told her to play my voice mail to her daughter on speaker.

“I was thinking about our table conversation last night and your daughter’s goal for a Tesla when she’s 16.  Please let her listen to this message.

You want to buy a Tesla? I say go for it!! I hope you find a way to fund this purchase. I hope you have a massive brain spurt that will give insight into how to make the money. And don’t feel like you have to settle on a pre-owned one.  Go for it, because it’s good to have a goal. Go for it!  Be the only 16-year-old at your high school who purchased their own Tesla.”

CLIMBING the MOUNTAIN

To jump the hurdle, overcome the obstacle, go over the speed bump or climb the mountain, consider these tips to achievement.

  • Keep a picture of what the end goal is: a photo of the car, the vacation spot, the dress, the house, the diploma. Some visionary prompt in a prominent spot like your phone or computer screen saver image, your office, or your nightstand so that you see it every day. Create a vision board. Look at it daily and believe that you can achieve it.
  • Work with a life or business coach to help keep you on track. No budget? Is that a self-imposed obstacle? Find a friend who is loyal to the death, believes in you and your goal as much as you do and will hold you accountable to timelines.
  • Ask yourself the following:
    1. Why do I want to achieve this? Knowing your “why” is key and has momentum in itself to you propel you forward. What’s the reason behind the goal? Go deep on this one. It’s not simply “to be debt free.” Keep asking yourself why again and again and again.  When that a-ha moment arrives. You’ll know it.
    2. What are the three steps needed to get there? Breaking down a goal into chunks creates a pathway and identifies the road to get there. Can you place a date on the steps and call them milestones or targets for achievement? If you plan to create a new website, by what date would you have the domain name, write the content for the pages, and then launch it? Then you can add detail to each of the steps to break those down into chunks.
    3. What realistic date could I achieve this? Placing a timeline on a goal means you will need to take action.  What would make you start today? Tomorrow? Keep pushing the date out on the calendar?  Return to your “why.”
    4. Celebrate your successes! Not necessarily with chocolates but tell your friends and neighbors. Post it on social media. Share photos.
    5. Practice these daily. Know that there will be bad days. You will doubt yourself.  You will question yourself.  Revisiting your “why” and reflect on your successes will propel you to more action.
  • Find a quote that resonates and inspires you towards your goal. Read it every day when you get up and when you go to bed. Some of my favorites:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?

“All Limitations are Self-imposed.” 

“Yesterday, I really wanted a burrito and today I’m eating a burrito. Follow your freaking dreams.”

“Dream becomes reality when passion and persistence meet.”

When you set your next goal, consider the obstacle that comes to mind as a gift helping you identify steps towards the target. Those thoughts are enabling, supporting, and encouraging a proactive mindset to prepare for the journey to achievement. And remember that the obstacle is merely a speed bump.  Not a mountain.

Dream It. Believe It. Achieve it.

The Death of Customer Service or Human Decency

Recently I had an acquaintance tell me, he expected bad customer service because it had “gotten so bad out there.  I just don’t let my expectations run high anymore.”

I suppose there’s good and bad in that thought practice.  Setting low expectations means that one’s needs should be met.  It could remove an element of frustration or disappointment that might otherwise occur with hope. In essence one is protecting them self from being let down. But it also means we’re not getting excited.  There’s no eager anticipation, butterflies in the belly, or optimistic outlook……and that has me troubled.  I believe the expectations we have are fulfilled in how we perceive the world around us.  If we expect good things, good things happen. If we’re looking for the worst, it will appear.  Call it optimism. Call it pessimism. Pragmatic thought. People usually deliver what you anticipate.

So when I speculate how expectations impact customer service, I ponder if it is a client engagement discussion or if we could generalize it to human decency? Is there a difference?  Is one or the other, or both on the decline?  Multiple articles and conversations recently spark this communication.

Are we so caught up in our own personal vortex that we don’t think about how our actions impact others?  Simple example, I’m lost so I’ll stop here just as I exit the down escalator and completely pause and disrupt the flow of people behind me.  I’m not implying that all actions are intentionally rude, yet I see a deterioration in insightfulness, and I echo Brigette Hyacinth’s sentiments from a recent Linked In post and ponder the decline of human decency.

The professional HR Space

Brigette frequently posts about interactions in the Human Resource space. She is a bestselling author, and an international keynote speaker on leadership, management, HR, and a multitude of other topics.  Her posts usually discuss the human resource experience from the applicant’s view point.  Lack of follow through and communication were the core of her recent post.

Brigette illustrated the breakdown in communications when an HR rep tells a candidate: “We’ll get back to you,” with weeks passing and no response or updates.

Ok, I can foreshadow the HR replies:

“We can’t reach out……..

What if we want to keep the candidate as a backup?

What if the candidate thinks we’re promising something?”

OK, when did we lose the ability to communicate and set expectations???

Are we fearful of a litigious society? In my previous blogs Deviate from the Process and Held Hostage by Customer Service, I suggest this very thing. Set expectations. I’m dumbfounded why this is such a challenge.

So, when one considers this example as it relates to expectations, human decency and customer service, I find the HR space runs parallel to other industries.

The Sales Galaxy

No matter the product or service pitched, any sales professional can find solidarity in feeling a genuine enthusiasm for initial conversations with a client only to later be ostracized like the plague.  The relationship during discovery conversations appears to be a great fit, but then communications turn sporadic. Emails go unanswered. Voice mails become the norm.

The successful sales consultant will follow a timed cadence to follow up; diligently attempting to sustain the pipeline.  Yet this rhythm is perceived as relentless and harassing by the client. This feeling could be eliminated if we picked up the phone to communicate,

“I’m no longer in the market.”

“It’s not the right time.”

“Our financials have changed.”

“Thanks for the follow up, we’ve gone a different way and we’re not able to provide any additional feedback.”  (that one sucks, but we don’t always get the closure we want.)

Yet, when a client calls for an update about a product or service, results must be provided, or a social media assassination ensues.

The Customer Service Universe

Persian cat lying down on table

Human decency is most lacking when a customer, guest or client feels inconvenienced.  This universe is the most subjective.  What one individual may perceive as phenomenal client engagement; another may interpret as sub-par service. When customer service is found lacking,

timely and prompt responses from the supplier are necessary and should exceed any remedy suggested by the patron. Dependent on the perceived severity of the situation, emotional and turbulent dialogue becomes the norm. Human decency can be lacking from both parties in this scenario. Customer Service and human decency collide from both parties in this circumstance.

The Personal World

And here is the verity. What happens professionally bleeds into our personal life.  In our quest for human interaction, to belong and flourish within a community, we bond exclusively.  We judge and compare from our secure circles of influence; critiquing and assessing those outside of our known.  In our quest to connect with others, we add value to that connection and then create criteria for others to join.

Show me the person that likes to be excluded, who thrives on being left out, loves isolation. In her book, Daring Greatly Brene Brown calls out a culture filled with critics and cynics.  She writes,

“We are constantly judging, so as much as we need human interaction, we avoid it when there is conflict or a perceived issue.”

Yet we create these issues and shirk responsibility from its creation.

A bit ago, my husband and I hosted a cookout at our house. We invited all our social circles to the same party.  It was time to integrate our friendships.  A particular group sat on the patio and positioned their chairs in a circle, leaving a visual message that “we’re closed to those we don’t know here.”  The other guests who might have wanted to interact observed the visual barricade and moved on to find camaraderie with other attendees. I felt shame and discomfort for this interaction.  When I brought attention the group’s actions, they were oblivious.

Connecting with Others

fluffy gray cat

And here is the reason I write this. Be it customer service or human decency, at the core it’s simply connecting with others.  The Saratoga Foundation did a study years ago that measured the amount of people we could reach out to in times of need. Sadly, the study showed that people had two thirds less connections to ask for help than 5 years prior. Which means, if I had a flat tire, lost power after a storm, needed help picking my kids up from school, we’ve had a family emergency, so could you please let the dogs out….that if you had five people you could completely rely on, that today you might have two. To me, this is disturbing.

Social media implies that we’re connected.  Instant updates of our happiest moments suggest our lives flourish with utopia. Sadly, we measure our worth based on the number of likes, follows and comments on those posts. “It was such a great moment, how come more people didn’t like it?”

When faced with an opportunity to follow up, when the phone rings and the urge to send it to voice mail ensues, when you have judgmental thoughts as to how that person wouldn’t fit within your circle – answer the phone, communicate an update, provide eye contact, simply smile and engage.    Whether one labels it customer service, kindness, or human decency, there should be more of it.  Observe and find patience when interacting with others. Peel back the onion, because we all have so many layers.  Your interactions could be a person’s primary point of contact for the day.

If you like this article, follow more of my blogs by subscribing.

And because this message is so paramount, please share with your circle of influence. Together we can impact someone’s day.

A big thanks to Brigette Hyacinth and a multitude of friends and neighbors for the inspiration for this article.

Brigette’s original post provided once again below:

https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6549245861501685760

 

Held Hostage by Customer Service

They simply don’t make things like they used to.  After 6 years of operation, my washing machine took a dive.   The transmission blew, but before that could be official, I needed to have a repair technician provide an accurate diagnosis.   The machine wouldn’t spin or do anything. It just loudly clicked. I called multiple places. I asked for referrals on our neighborhood Facebook page. I asked new contacts at networking events of any appliance repair man they knew.  I was looking for “the guy” to fix my washing machine as a mountain of laundry developed by the moment. 

The first referral provided from by the neighborhood Facebook page never returned my call.  The first blind call to the most reputable spot found on Google, tried to upsell me 10 times before actually confirming the appointment. With instant trepidation in my gut, I cancelled that appointment 20 minutes after scheduling it. Seriously, if you’re training your call center attendants to upsell before the appointment, how have you trained your technicians? Will they be able to fix it the first time or is this a money pit dive? 

I called the second most recommended Google source and was given a window of arrival for the technician.  That window was originally 8am – 11am, but when I mentioned that I had to get my daughter to school at 9am, they suggested a 9am – 12pm window.  I thought, “wow, you’re looking out for me.”  That is the last moment this thought would be entertained.

I provided my credit card information to hold the appointment, and moments later, I received a text notification with appointment details, arrival windows, the name of the technician and his cell phone number. I was impressed with this use of technology.  I was told that the technician would call or text me when in route to my house.  

Two days later while at a networking event, I was given a referral for an independent appliance repair guy.   His name was Dave. Dave’s contact info was texted to me with his first name and a phone number.   And although grateful for the referral, the hassle of trying to re-arrange schedules combined with laundry piles reaching new elevations, I refrained from reaching out. I was intrigued and decided to keep Dave as a backup.

At 10:30am on the day of the appointment (now in the middle of the time frame window), I called the appliance repair offices for any updates or ETAs for arrival.  I was told I’d be given an update and the line went dead. Expecting to be placed on hold, I dialed the main line once again and the phone was answered by a different customer service agent.  I provided my name and advised the operator that my call had been disconnected. Rather than being placed on hold and connected to the original customer service agent, the operators began discussing my name and updates with each other as if I wasn’t on the call. The agent soon returned her attention to me, and I was told they would call back with an update. 

An hour passed.  No update. 

At this point, I felt like a hostage in my own home. My dogs were pacing back and forth at the front door; anxious for their daily walk. Incessant whining from two Wheaton Terriers who knew that their schedule had also been altered on this day.  Their whining echoed throughout the house and empathized the fact that I was confined to my home and held captive by customer service.

At 11:30am, I texted the company from the original text thread received the week prior.  I asked if I should be concerned because I had provided my credit card information to confirm the appointment and no one was responding to my request for updates. No response.

So now I need to vent. I call my sister. I communicate my frustrations, and she advises: “It’s what they do. That guy will roll into your drive at 11:59.” 

Turns out he would be late. But my sister’s statement hit a nerve. “It’s what they do.”  Why do we accept this as the norm?

At 11:58 I called the referral provided to me from the networking event. Dave immediately answered the phone and diagnosed the washing machine’s condition:

“It’s the transmission. I won’t take your money.  It’s not worth my time or yours for me to come out and try to repair. Visit my website, I have machines that I recommend there.” 

Instant trust.

At 12:13pm while finalizing my conversation with Dave, guess who arrives at my house?  You guessed it. The man who held me hostage all morning long. There was no text or communication to advise that he was in route as the initial confirmation email suggested. No true apology or acknowledgement that he was late. In fact, all customer service promises – broken. His diagnosis the same as Dave from the phone.

washing spilling out of washing machine

How could one person diagnose over the phone and the other need an ineffective call center that failed at communicating the appliance issues in the first place? What if the call center could relay the initial concerns to the technician in advance?  Why not charge a phone diagnostic fee? Why keep me hostage in my home for three hours? 

Which brings me to the essence of “the window.”  I find that most clients when given a window of time believe and assume that the supplier will arrive at the top of that window.   

Supplier: “It could take 30 – 45 minutes.”

Client thought: (so 30 minutes).

Supplier: “It could take an hour or two.”

Client thought: (One hour.)

When did communicating expectations become a challenge?  Advising the time frame of “the window” would eliminate any frustrations from the start.  If you tell a client, “hey our guys run late,” or “here is the window and you’re the first or third appointment of the day,” then the client can guestimate. Use of technology to provide text updates is also encouraged.

Suppliers consider this. When you are called for a service need, it’s because there is a pain point attached to it. Life and routines cannot be performed because the car, the washing machine, the air conditioner, the heater, etc. does not work.  We desperately hope for a prompt repair and for life schedules to return to the norm. Mountains of laundry depend on you.

Simply communicate expectations and capabilities. Under promise and over deliver and you will find loyal clients and advocates for your business even when things go wrong.  

Companies have been purposely omitted from this blog.  Want to learn who the customer service offenders were? Respond below and I’ll reveal the businesses from this post.