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?

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.

Slow Down to Speed Up

I’m in my kitchen. It’s after dinner, and I’m cleaning up. Exhaustion sets in.  We’ve all helped clean plates and wash dishes, but I feel the need to ensure that every pot and pan is returned to its rightful place so that counters are clutter free.  I feel fatigue from a long day. I look to see my husband sitting on the couch, snuggling with our daughter.  My first reaction is jealously and judgment.  Then I pause and ask myself, “why do I feel the need to clean? Why am I not resting and taking a moment with my family?”  This a goal for me in 2019. I stop and leave the dishes on the counter, but my compulsion to finish up is overwhelming. “Just a minute more,” I think, “and everything is in its place.”   I recall my December blog and sit with my family.

What is your focus for the year? It’s late January and many of us may have dropped or forgotten our resolutions (side note:  you don’t need a resolution.  Visit my December blog). Yet, any time is a good time to pause and review goals. What will the remainder of the year look like?  What does it look like to make my goals happen?

There are moments when we each feel pumped up and vigorous.  The energy level is soaring, and our goals feel like, “Wahoooo, let’s do this!!!”  At other moments, we can get in to a world of overwhelm and the self-talk that ensues becomes a downward spiral of reasons why we can’t.   What mind set are you?  What are you doing for YOU to keep the mindset positive and focused?

They’re always telling us when we fly on airplanes to place the oxygen mask on ourselves before helping our fellow passengers.  Do we take care of our mind and bodies on a regular basis to ensure we’re able to help those around us? How often when we make goals, are we budgeting time to rest and recharge?

Our body is a physical machine that supports our actions.  We often take for granted how it helps us live.  If you think about it, the magic of reading and comprehending is crazy cool.  Right at this second, your body is breathing, and you don’t have to tell it to do that.  It just knows how to function on its own. We are able to read and comprehend.  We can get up and walk across the room without first telling our mind: ‘ok, stand, and now right foot, left foot.’ It just happens.

If you talk to any specialist, that specialist will tell you how that body part supports the rest of the body. That specific body part is the most paramount. Your eye doctor will tell you it all begins with sight. The podiatrist will proclaim your feet are the foundation.  The chiropractor will tell you it’s the back because it connects the nervous system and the brain. 

One thing is for certain, as much as we are told to take care of our bodies, very few are proclaiming, It’s all about the sleep. Yet, rest to recharge, to regroup, to maintain and sustain our physical and mental capabilities is paramount.

There was a study I heard about years ago on worker productivity during construction of the Hoover Dam. I don’t recall if it was during a tour of the facility or during a training session, but they split two crews into two separate teams and measured productivity and injury levels.  They offered one group lunch and breaks throughout the day, and the other team a working lunch and minimal breaks.  Not surprisingly, the team with a lunch and breaks was more productive, and the team without breaks was not only less productive but had increased injuries.  This same study was recently performed during a bridge construction in Queensland, Australia and the same results ensued.

Slow Down to Speed Up is a phrase I first heard from Doug, a current colleague and a word wizard.  His phrases are often a paradox to make one think deeper.  Slowing down to speed up is one of my favorites. Basically, sometimes we have to slow down & stop and look at current operations, so we can see where, or if it needs tweaking.

Recently, I attended a networking event and the discussion was sleep and how it impacts our productivity.  The rep from Edgewood Clinical Services gave insights into how our bodies work in concert; how rest and better sleep result in better health.  So impactful, I reconnected with the presenter, Debbi Del Re, APN, PMHMP-BC, at Edgewood Clinical Services for further insights. 

Deb is a board-certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner who has worked in mental health and psychiatric nursing for more than 25 years.  Her insights and suggestions for the mind and body are key as we look at new year resolutions and 2019 goals. Deb said, “taking care of the whole body and mind is key.” 

She communicated that many people have challenges sustaining new year resolutions and goal setting.  “We often set goals and resolutions for the new year, but too many changes all at once can set you up for failure.  Focus on two good habits for the next 30 days.” 

When asked to rank diet, sleep and exercise she said, “All of them are important.  What are you doing to move more? Enhance your mood? Eat better? Sleep better?  If you are good to your body, and listen to your body, your body will be good back to you.”

Deb emphasized that rest and good sleep are keys to help re-energize. 

“It helps hit the re-set button. Our bodies need time to rest and they need the down time to fuel it to move forward. What are you doing to tell your body it’s time to sleep?”

Below are a few additional tips to help you hit the re-set button when it comes to sleep.

TIPS FOR SLEEP HYGIENE

  • Napping during the day?
    • Limit naps to a 20-25 minute power nap
    • Take naps before 3pm
  • Evaluate your nighttime routine
  • What are you snacking on before bedtime?
    • Limit evening snacks to lighter foods like pretzels, popcorn, or crackers
    • Limit sugar and caffeine 4 to 6 hours before bedtime
  • Exercise is good but limit heavy cardio 3 to 4 hours before bedtime
  • Warm showers can help relax before sleep
  • Read a good book
  • Work late, so dinner is late? Choose lighter foods. Try to avoid fast food.

Deb concluded, “Everyone is different.  Find what works for you. Be Mindful.”

Sooooooooo……..What mind set are you?  What are you doing for YOU to keep the mindset positive and focused? Are you budgeting time for downtime

Give your brain time to rest.

Slow Down to Speed Up.

Slone Solutions, LLC provides hospitality solutions through customer service consulting, process improvement, and keynote speaking.

Edgewood Clinical Services offers a multitude of services including health assessments, counseling, behavior management, sleep studies and therapy to name a few.  Many thanks to Deb at Edgewood Clinical Services and Doug Fielder for their insights and inspirations for this article.

Waiting for the New Year Resolution

Christmas is tomorrow, yet I hear the murmurings of New Year’s Resolutions beginning. 

Next year I’ll be more organized.  I’ll start my own business.  2019 will be the year of professional growth. Next year, I will eat healthy.  In 2019, I will stay in contact with people more.  I’ll use social media less. 

As I reflect on 2018, and look toward the new year, I ponder resolutions, and wonder why we need them. The resolution is a fresh start to a new year. Yet, why do we need a new year to make a commitment to ourselves? Here’s why I ask. In October of this year, my uncle passed.  Now, we all have instant reactions when we hear of a loss, and I write this blog not because of the loss, but because of our reactions when those that we cherish are no longer with us.  In a way, it’s like a new year’s resolution. 

My uncle passed this year. I personally don’t do well with any type of death. I become a ball of emotions and tears well up instantaneously. Yet, if I’m honest, I should disclose that I didn’t know my uncle very well. He lived in Texas and that side of the family, well, we never got together as much.  I went to the funeral to support my dad.  The two had a brotherly love and I learned more about my uncle at his eulogy, than any family interaction could have ever provided.

The memorial was standing room only.   To keep it on “Tom Time” as my uncle was huge on time elements (to this our DNA proves relation as I’m huge on time organization myself) the long list of those who wished to speak on his behalf and how he impacted their lives became too long to complete before the end of the service. Oh my goodness the stories, the words of tribute; the impact this man had on people’s lives was incredible. On social media, people proclaimed that he had saved Pakistan. PAKISTAN!!!!  And one person who stood before the crowd communicated, “he had an ability to see people not for what they were, but for what they could be.” Those words continue to impact me. This was a life lived of purpose.  Why do we need a loss or a new year’s resolution to make a change or a commitment to ourselves?

In these moments whether of loss, or an adrenaline rush to avoid catastrophe, a celebration of life, or planning for the new year, we often reflect and gain moments of insight and clarity.  The light bulb pops on and the a-ha moment looms.  We find our purpose and eagerly proclaim our objective with passion and unknown tenacity to the world.

I’ll think twice before I judge.

I will make certain I stay in touch with you more frequently.

I will take more time to be with my kids.

I’ll tell my sister sorry.

I’ll cherish the little moments.

I’ll call my mom and just listen.

I’ll tell my dad I love him.

But over time, it dwindles. The emotional rush fizzles. The sense of urgency and passion and movement stop. Like a poorly planned new year’s resolution, it fades. We don’t stay in touch.  We judge. We’re too busy for the little moments. We don’t call. We forget to say I love you.

I call this the Fresh Paint Smell effect. My husband prefers new carpet smell. So whichever your preference, the analogy works both ways.  Here’s how it works. 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.

It happens with paint and new carpet. It happens after our life changing moments.  It happens every January 31st, or for some, earlier in the month.

How do we keep these insights effervescent? How do we sustain the momentum and clarity found?   My suggestion is simple. Decide and MOVE!  Stop waiting for the new year.  Don’t wait for that life changing moment. Make a decision and move!  Let every day be a resolution to yourself.  Set a reminder on your phone.  Place a quote in a visible spot so you see it every day.  Change your mind set and find a way to make an impact on someone’s life every day.  Don’t let yourself get comfortable.  Live for someone other than yourself. Be the person that sees others not for what they are, but what they can be.   

In loving memory of Tom Slone.

Too Many Thank You’s

Too many thank you’s?

In this season of thanks, and with the hustle and bustle of the holidays upon us, a conversation on customer service and customer service expectations should be addressed.  We share stories about our customer service experiences when it’s surprisingly amazing or when our experience goes horribly wrong.  We retell our encounters to friends and family and post our reviews online and throughout social media.  We speak in awe over the amazing heart felt interactions of exceptional staff or relay our bafflement over the lack of common sense and insight of staff who simply do not care.

Recently during a live chat with an online customer service consultant (Can you tell where this conversation is headed?), every single response to my comments began with “Thank you, Holly.” (not what you were expecting was it?) The experience made me wonder; in a world of inconsistent customer service, is there such a thing as too many ‘thanks you’s’?

I was on line with a tech company because the heart rate monitor on my device was no longer working after two months of ownership.  It was gifted for my birthday.  It could still tell time, and perform basic functions, yet the essence of having this particular watch and the accuracy of calories burned were all impacted by the heart rate monitor function. I had attempted to call their 800 number for support, but the endless circle of options and selections for pressing 2 or 3 to speak to a specialist became ridiculous.  After 10 minutes of pressing 2, and eloquently speaking my request for “AGENT” and then hearing, “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that,” I opted for the online chat specialist.

The specialist became available after two minutes of waiting.  This time frame was the exact estimate the queue provided.  (Client expectation met.)  The initial hello and thank you for reaching out was appropriate.  The agent introduced herself and then asked how she could be of service. I responded with a friendly salutation and provided a brief description of my challenge; something along the lines of “Thank you for helping. My watch is two months old and the heart rate monitor is not working.”

The agent responded with, “thank you for telling me this Holly.” The agent then asked the make and model of my device.  Once provided, the agent again responded with “thank you for this information Holly.” I was beginning to see a pattern to this company’s customer support. Every…. single…. chat began with ‘thank you.’ As a consultant who specializes in client engagement, I continued on intrigued to see how far the ‘thank you’ would continue in the process.

Although from my perspective this was an obvious warranty issue, what followed was an inquisition, several hoops to jump through, and multiple steps to reboot the device to verify the gadget’s guarantee. At every step, the agent’s reply began with ‘thank you’. By the 8th thank you, it became awkward and irritating, and it read as disingenuous. The responses suggested that this company followed a set process for client responses.  It also implied the team did not consider how the response could escalate client frustrations when providing service recovery.

Often, the reason we connect with customer service through a live chat or call center is because there is an issue.  We have questions about product use, its malfunction, lack of parts, or billing.  I advised the customer service agent during our chat that although I appreciated her thank you’s I would be more appreciative if she deviated from the process because I was finding it frustrating.  I explained, “I know it’s part of your process, and I know you’re doing your job. All I need is one or two.”   Kindly, the agent complied.

For myself, too many ‘thank you’s’ is the equivalent of repeating someone’s name too often when you first meet them to remember it.  “Great to meet you Ted. Ted, how’s your day? Thanks for coming Ted.  Are you enjoying yourself Ted?”  It doesn’t sound right.  Intermittent use is always best.

Happily, the process and interaction eventually resulted in a device replacement.  Although in hind sight, I think the little bubbles that show that the agent is typing were a tad longer as she was habitually typing ‘thank you’ and had to go back and delete it before hitting send on the chat. A survey requesting “how did we do” immediately followed. The same comments I communicate to the agent were provided in my survey.  I hope they are reviewing their response processes.

In the hospitality industry, any complaint or guest concern is considered a gift.  A client, guest, or customer communicating suggestions for any process improvement is an opportunity for dialogue and service recovery.  Clients who leave a hotel, restaurant or venue who do not communicate their service frustrations during their experience are more likely to share their poor service experience to friends or post poor reviews on social media.

Just as there are countless avenues for one to express their satisfaction or lack thereof for a guest encounter, there are a multitude of organizations tracking your feedback for measurement on your experience. JD Power and Associates is known for measuring customer satisfaction and suggests, “It (customer service) is a moving target.  You never get to declare victory.” This global marketing services firm is considered the expert on measuring client satisfaction including: how a client responds to frustrating experiences, how soon a client will shop the competition and how soon a client will defect entirely from shopping your brand.

Every business is trying to master the art of client engagement.  Think back to your last purchase of anything.  Was there a survey at check out?  The challenge is that expectations grow faster than our ability to meet them. And sometimes, we simply have the wrong processes or training in place to provide the very satisfaction the client needs.  If your business provides any essence of customer service, know that it’s not too late in the season to have this critical conversation with your team. Focus on the client.  Give eye contact. Acknowledge and say, “Thank you for your patience,” if it’s a long line.  Do what’s right.

If a consumer, preparing one’s mindset prior to venturing out to the world of commerce can also contribute to one’s experience. The retail industry during the holidays is brutal.  In our hurry and hustle and bustle to get through traffic, there will be moments of frustration, irritation and disbelief.  Traffic will be heavier.  Lines will be longer. Your personal space will be invaded. Try not to berate the retail associate for their lack of engagement. Maybe it was poor training. Maybe, like yourself, they are tired and having a bad day.  Be kind to those cashiers working minimum wage while you shop.  They are working to support their family holiday too.

No matter your part this holiday season, whether shopper or customer service associate, let’s all remind ourselves to step back and remember why we celebrate. Look around and find joy and wonder in the season. And (shameless business plug to follow) if you find they really need help, pass along my name.

Slone Solutions, LLC

Impacting the Client Experience from the Inside Out

 

 

 

 

 

The Awkardness of Networking

courtesy google images

Social interaction is necessary for human health.  Studies support that it enhances mood, brain development and can decrease blood pressure along with a plethora of other health benefits.  Studies also support that social interaction is necessary for business development. Making memberships to chambers, support groups, private clubs and networking ensembles a necessity to thrive in business.  Social interaction may decrease blood pressure, but the anxiety of finding common ground during a 30-second elevator pitch can trigger nervous knots for any professional attending the initial networking gathering.

When attending networking events, not to mention the primary reason for joining professional groups, the end game is to schmooze; building awareness of one’s business and services offered for commerce, building a client base,  increasing profit. And of course, we all want instant gratification, acknowledgment, instant love and sales from that one interaction.  Yet our basic human need to belong to a “tribe” (please don’t get me started on that buzz word) and social interaction with others becomes awkward and almost inhuman during networking gatherings.  If you ever sit back and watch the interactions, it becomes quite comical.  This is a typical network event.

One enters, registers, and walks in to a sea of unfamiliar faces.  We glance the room like the Terminator.

Subject identified.

Subject unknown.

Continue scanning.

 

We are looking and searching for the individual that we visually assess is most like us.  Because when we want to be a part of a tribe (oh that word), we want to fit in. That’s simple human nature.  When we first meet someone, we are looking for who we relate to. Think about it.  At a cookout, a social networking event, a wedding.  We arrive to table 9, assess the people, and sit accordingly based on who we feel at first sight we can connect with.  Then the social awkwardness of discovering that common bond occurs.  That bond can happen instantly or painfully, never.

We will “engage” in conversation, stand with our head tilted, ear closest to the person speaking yet our bodies are angled outward, and our eyes will scan the room for the people we want to meet next.  When we do this, we are non-verbally sending a message that we are not committed to the conversation.  Shameless business plug follows.

Slone Solutions specializes in leadership and communication development. We provide consulting services to enhance leadership messaging and employee engagement. We often don’t realize how we effect our own messaging. What we say and how we say it, with tone and body language, impacts our message significantly more than the words we speak. The non-verbal element influences our message more than words or our tone.

Our message and how we present ourselves is key. That first impression is why someone walked over to say “hello” in the first place.  Yet, when we first meet someone that message can become discombobulated because we are so worried about ourselves, our agenda, our message, and if we are going to connect with the person in front of us.  There are countless thoughts that occur within milliseconds when we first meet someone, which is also why we forget a person’s name within 5 to 7 seconds of meeting them.  In my book, “How to Suck at Leadership: You are Nailing This” (release date TBD), I go into further detail about how our personalities and emotions can impact our communications.  Yet for the sake of blog brevity, let’s return to the image of a networking event and look at the bubbled thoughts over people’s heads.

If you recall, we’re standing, angled, open body language; communicating that others are welcome to join the conversation, while scanning the room for the next person to meet.  If there were thought bubbles over people’s heads they would read, “please, please join this conversation.  I don’t know how to exit.” Or “how do I step away? Not connecting here.”  “Did I forget to feed the dogs? This is so awkward.” “I’ll just check my cell phone for texts.” Yes, I just wrote that out loud!

So, for myself when attending network events, I like to lean on the personal element because if we only talk about business, the conversation feels like a sales pitch.  It becomes the road to a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. Shouldn’t networking be about connecting with people?

I read a study from the Saratoga Foundation a bit ago that said, compared to five years ago, we have 2/3 less people to connect with in times of need. That means, 5 years ago, if you had 10 people to call if you had a flat tire, needed help picking up the kids, flooded basement, lost electricity; that today, you’d have 4 people to call. That touched me deeply.  When we network, you could be the positive interaction for that person’s day.  Your conversation could add humor and influence on someone’s life. That’s why I like to ask where people live and what they like about the networking events.  I try to learn personal things about them because people will eventually do business with people they trust.  When we connect with people on an emotional level, we are remembered.

Consider on how you communicate with your friends and family. The very things you talk about with them are the instances you speak about because there was an EMOTION tied to it.  You were happy or sad or frustrated or irritated.  The emotional element is what made that experience stand out.  We don’t talk about the random drive through experience at Starbucks or Panera unless something emotional happened when we did it.  It’s the same for us when networking.

That 30 second elevator pitch doesn’t do you justice, so stop worrying about it.  Yes, being able to succinctly communicate what you do is good, but why do we define ourselves so much by our careers?  What if coming together to network wasn’t solely about the sale? What if we considered how to help that business grow?  Can I refer you to anyone in my tribe? (had to use it one last time – a blog on “the tribe” coming soon). That’s when the network expands.

If it’s not your cup of tea, I understand.  If staying on the professional side of conversation topics is more appealing, consider asking if they like their line of work or how they got into the field.  Because, within our human nature, we are selfish, and we love, love, love to talk about ourselves.  You might even hear some pretty cool stories on how they emerged into the field or arrived at their current occupation.

So, the next time you head to a networking event and you feel anxiety or nervous knots building in your belly, remember to focus outward and on the other person.  Focus on the personal questions.  Asking, “What do you do?” and “Who do you work for?” are such simple and obvious queries. Why don’t we start with more interesting ones like,

“Whadija have for lunch?”

“How’s your week going?”

“Did you see the game last night?”

“What’s your favorite dish at Thanksgiving?”

“If you were a superhero, what power would you have?”

“If there were a zombie apocalypse, would you be a zombie or a survivor?”

Have fun and begin the conversation.  Then, and this is an art, keep the conversation going.

Add comments and add your favorite topics for conversation starters when networking.  Visit  https://slonesolutionsllc.com/ for more blog posts.

Thanks for sharing and remember to make a difference in someone’s day.

 

 

 

The Spotlight Effect

While traveling and going through airport security, I watched a mom and daughter interaction. Visibly setting the stage:  a frantic mom was clearly frazzled by her three-year old’s attachment to her baby blanket while attempting to go through TSA pre-check.

Traveling by plane can be cumbersome. Once viewed a grand experience. Now a dreaded, line-filled, ever-waiting, unpleasant means to get from point A to point B with both rude and helpful staff, often grouchy passengers, lost bags, bags that won’t stuff into overheard bins, terrible smells in airports, planes, delayed flights.  The list can go on and on.

When one travels frequently enough, the TSA pre-check line becomes a blessing.  It expedites one through security without removing shoes, taking computer bags out of cases, or placing travel liquids and toiletries on display.  The need for security bins is removed because your bags and briefcases are scanned as a whole.  The flow of the line can be smooth. It operates like clockwork.

On occasion you’ll see the traveler who has TSA pre-check who’s unfamiliar with the process.  The shoes beep or a belt causes a traveler to go in and out of the scanner.  And in these moments, there are fleeting thoughts and judgements from other travelers thinking, “Hurry up already.  You’ve stopped the flow of the line.”

I’m not completely certain what the hurry actually is, as most people go through security to then saunter off for beverages and snacks, bathroom breaks or on a very, very rare occasion; break into a full-on running sprint for a departing flight.  Yet the majority of the time, TSA pre-check becomes an underappreciated privilege and convenience for expediting one through airport security.

On this particular travel day, I see a mom traveling casually with her three-year-old daughter.  That vision in itself could trigger stress for any parent. The TSA line was moving smoothly.  Travelers zipping satchels and briefcases and, placing phones in computer bags to quickly go through the x-ray machine.  The mom placed their carryon luggage on the belt and turned to find her child clinging, clinging to her baby blanket.  When the mother advised that the blanket had to be screened, the child clung to it for dear life, holding it close to her chest as she pleaded, shaking her head adamantly, “No mommy, no!”

This interaction continued for moments, but to the mom must have felt like days. The TSA line stopped. The mother was visibly flushed, and she cast frantic eye movements back and forth to catch any judging looks from passengers stalled in the line.  The child protested again, and the mother bent down to her daughter’s eye level and said, “You are making us late and people are staring.”  She actually spoke her stressed thoughts.   She continued, “and we cannot go on the plane unless they screen your blanket.

I marveled at this moment. I was emotionally captivated and felt empathy for this mom and charming little girl.  Baffled that the TSA agents wouldn’t let this child walk through the x-ray machine with the blanket in tow.  I mean come on, who can’t relate to a favorite blanket or stuffed animal from childhood?  Clearly the child and the mother were not a domestic threat.  The mom was so flushed and frantic.   I wondered why the mom didn’t create a story for the child like:   “Your blanket has a special mission and it needs to go through the machine to make certain our plane is on time.

And, I so badly wanted to interject and tell the mom, “Hey, no one is judging you. Take your time. And mom, traveling solo with your three-year-old, you’re doing a great job.”  (Those comments shared after we passed through security ;o)

Yet in this moment, I realized that when we are emotionally stressed, and laser focused on the experience at hand, our clear thinking can become muted, clouded; a downward spiral of negative thoughts.  We can think and imagine the worst. Even speak our fears out loud for others to hear, “people are staring.”  Isn’t that crazy?  That in moments of stress & worry we can easily conjure the very worst thing that can happen in a moment? We can envision catastrophes, build emotions, conflict and dialogue with people we don’t know, project self-judgment that doesn’t exist, create obstacles to solutions, and impart additional stress and worry to situations all in our head.

There are lots of reasons for this. There are endless psychological studies that showcase how our brains are wired for fight or flight.  There are studies on how when we have a thought or a doubt that our mind can trick us into the safe choice for survival.  For the brevity of blog’s sake, we won’t go into detail, but there’s also an even more intriguing element called the Spotlight Effect which is the feeling of being noticed more than you really are.  In our moments of stress and worry, we project what we think others are thinking and experiencing on ourselves in these moments too.

So, on some levels, it’s cool that our brains are looking out for us, but why does it need to find only the negative pieces? Ok, the survival thing, I get it.  But it’s when we step back and take a breath, that we can find clarity, the ability to laugh at ourselves, see the humor in the situation, the courage to speak up, to provide the compliment, or just embrace the moment.

If the mom had taken a moment, taken a deep breath and looked around, I think she would have seen a multitude of empathetic eyes and appreciation for a child’s attachment to a blanket.  Our self judgements can hold us back or propel us forward.  Recognize those self-inflicting judgements and look around.  Give eye contact and smile. You’re likely to find a line of TSA travelers smiling with encouragement.