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Management Skills Do Create Customer Experiences

When leaving a recent late lunch with a good friend here in Houston, Texas, we witnessed something that I personally had never seen before. The manager of the restaurant was loudly chewing out a waiter – right in front of customers! My friend and I were both taken aback by this behavior. What level of service did the manager expect the waiter to deliver after receiving a public tongue lashing? In continuing our series on tangibles that create customer experiences, let’s identify a few ingredients for successfully managing others and how a set of management skills can shape customer experiences.

Communicate Respectfully
In the above mentioned example, the manager’s behavior was most disrespectful to the waiter. Managers must be mindful to remember that employees are people and not machines. Heck, if you disrespect a machine by not recognizing its need for maintenance or adhering to proper operating procedures, it too will soon cause anguish via being less productive and eventually becoming non-productive! Humans are the same. Strive to always preserve their dignity as people. When it becomes necessary to issue a reprimand, do so in a manner which allows the employee to receive it. Stick to the facts of the situation. Never, ever reprimand an employee in front of peers or customers. Doing so is sure to result in a decreased level of service provided to customers.

Take Responsibility for Employee Success
It’s often been said that employees must be responsible for their success within an organization. In my opinion, managers are responsible for the success of those over whom they have authority. Being in this mindset is critical when those one is responsible for interacts directly with customers. Make sure that your management skills repertoire includes the ability to create skilled employees. Are they receiving adequate training? How much time are you spending with employees to insure they are able to successfully apply the training to their everyday tasks. Now I can hear some managers say “I’m too busy to spend time with my employees.” My response to that is – Take a look at what is keeping you busy. Are you busy putting out fires? Are you busy returning calls or visiting with upset or unhappy customers? Perhaps spending time with your employees might result in a decrease in your firefighting duties. These are opportunities to insure tasks are handled properly as well as to identify additional training needs. In addition, your employees will appreciate the personal attention!

Recognize and Reward Excellent Service
Make it a point to identify and celebrate the positive aspects of employee performance. Customers are the beneficiary when managers take the time to let employees know how they are positively contributing to the success of the company. When employees are recognized for their positive actions, high morale is usually not too far behind. An atmosphere of high morale results in customers receiving a high level of service. Develop performance standards that encourage employees to provide great service to both external and internal customers. Make sure that speed is not the primary factor in your standards as this will surely encourage a lower quality of service received by customers. Take all of the factors that are important to customers into consideration when developing performance criteria. Doing so insures that you are rewarding employees for creating great customer experiences vs meeting a speed goal. Make a big deal out of rewarding excellent service!

As a manager, always remember that you are ultimately responsible for both the customer’s and your employee’s experience. Think about Communicating Respectively with employees, Take Responsibility for Employee Success and Recognize and Reward Excellent Service. These three simple steps for employee management will certainly create great customer experiences.

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Performance Appraisals Do Create Customer Experiences

During my corporate customer service career, I learned very early the importance of a having a system in place for fair performance appraisals. Believe it or not, providing objective performance evaluations does impact the level of service received by your customers. When employees feel the performance appraisal process is objective and fair, morale is positively impacted. This can surely lead to customers receiving a great customer experience. Let’s talk about a few ways to ensure employees receive a fair appraisal.

Job Description
This is where the performance appraisal process begins. Every position within your company should have a job description as it’s the framework of the performance evaluation. When provided with a job description, employees are made aware of the primary tasks for which they are held responsible. While most job descriptions carry disclaimers which state that the tasks listed are not all-encompassing as employees may be asked from time to time to perform tasks not listed, one is still aware of one’s primary duties. Providing a job description sets the tone for the employee experience.

Performance Standards
Once a job description is in place, it’s time to add performance standards to the appraisal equation. In other words, once an employee is made aware of their position tasks, you want to provide them with information regarding how their tasks will be measured for evaluation. The key in establishing performance standards is to properly establish the standard. If the standard is number based, determine what the right number should be. Okay, so how do I do that Errol? I suggest spending time observing employees performing their specific tasks or even performing them yourself. Doing so gives one a good idea of what’s the right number should be. Also remember to think about the level of quality that is necessary to meet the customer’s (both internal and external) expectation when performing the task. This is also important when establishing a numbers based standard. What should that product look like when the customer receives it? How many quality installations can be done by an employee in the time allotted for his/her shift? How many minutes is the right number of minutes in order for an agent to provide a quality experience on the phone or when web chatting with customers? Remember to include quality when establishing numbers based standards as this will surely help to prevent rework – additional phone calls from unsatisfied customers or perhaps a return trip to a customer’s home or place of business. When the number is set unrealistically high, quality usually goes out of the window as employees are more focused on “getting that number.”

The Period Performance Appraisals
It always a good idea to meet with employees periodically during the appraisal period to talk about where the employee is in regards to the performance standards. Most employees want to know where they are in regards to meeting performance expectations. Periodic communication provides the opportunity to let the employee know where they are currently meeting or exceeding performance standards and perhaps identify areas of opportunity for improvement. These conversations are crucial as employees feel that they have been provided ample time to correct certain behaviors prior to the actual performance appraisal. Make it a practice to spend time with employees and offer coaching and guidance to insure employees know that you care about their success.

The Appraisal
Now if one has taken the time to develop job descriptions, performance standards and provide periodic updates during the appraisal period this should be the easiest part of the appraisal review system. There should be no surprises as this stage of the appraisal process. Employees should be fully aware of where they stand in regards to their performance. The appraisal meeting should be conducted in the most positive manner possible. Highlight the good performance and then provide feedback on the areas requiring improvement. Get agreement on a plan to address these areas as this requires the employee to buy-in to the process. Allow the employee to express his/her opinion in regards to their performance rating. Always refer back to the periodic reviews when addressing an employee’s disagreement with a performance rating. Doing so will assist in keep the appraisal review on track.

When employees feel that they are held accountable to reasonable performance standards and provided with objective evaluations, they are more inclined to provide a higher level of service to customers. Remember, it’s critical to develop Job Descriptions and Performance Standards, provide periodic updates during the Appraisal Period and conduct objective Appraisals. Happy employees create happy customers!

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Option Awareness Does Create Customer Experiences

During my career in the customer service industry, I felt most effective when I understood the available options for handling customer requests or inquiries. It’s important to be able to confidently provide service as customers and employees both enjoy the experience so much more. Here are a couple of things to consider to establish option awareness.

The Play Clock is Running
I like to look at customer service like the game of football. American professional football has a 40 second play clock. It’s required that the team in possession of the ball start a play prior to the play clock expiration. Failure to do so results in a delay of game penalty. It’s the same in customer service. When approached, in receipt of a web chat request or called by a customer, the play clock begins to run at that moment. Customers expect to receive timely service. Just as in football, the failure to do so might result in a penalty – an upset customer. It’s critical that customer facing personnel are equipped with options in order to provide timely and efficient service.

Option Awareness
Most of the great quarterbacks spend time studying various scenarios that might be faced during an upcoming game. This helps him in determining which option is best for particular situations. It’s also necessary to know your options before interacting with customers. Customer service managers must ensure that customer facing personnel are aware of the options available for delivering a great customer experience. Make it a point to inquire about the typical scenarios that front line personnel face on a regular basis. Work with customer facing personnel in developing options for handling these situations. When the quarterback is equipped with options, his confidence level increases as he feels equipped with the right tools to handle the situation. It’s the same in customer service. Customer facing personnel are able to perform at higher levels when they are aware of available options and can make application in a confident manner.

What’s the Correct Option for This Situation?
In American football, the quarterback is primarily responsible for insuring that the chosen play is the correct one. When surveying the opposing defense, he has to make the decision as to whether or not the chosen play will be successful. Often, he has to switch to an option (another play) to increase the chances for success. It’s the same in customer service! Customer facing personnel must determine which option is best for the customer s situation, whether it be in meeting a sales or service need. One’s ability to utilize the best option creates trust from the customer in your ability to provide what’s best to fit their specific situation. The better the quarterback gets at choosing the right option the longer he gets to stay in the game. It’s the same with customers. When trust is gained, the customer will usually return again and again for additional services or products. The ability to choose the right option is crucial to success in customer service.

Customer service requires customer service personnel to always be ready and equipped to work at maximum efficiency and with maximum effectiveness. One’s ability to know that the Play Clock is Running in your customer’s head, understanding that there are solutions available via Option Awareness and possessing the knowledge to Select the Right Option will lead to creating satisfied customers and confident customer facing personnel.

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Don’t Do This in Front of the Customer

Once upon entering a fast food franchise (yes I know it’s not healthy, but oh well) I witnessed a verbal altercation between if you can believe it – two employees! From what I could gather, there seems to have been an error on a customer’s order and one employee was trying to place the blame on the other. I was somewhat dumbfounded as both employees seemed not to notice that I had entered or that all of the attention of the eat-in diners was upon them. Finally, I moved closer to the order station and whispered to get their attention – “Hey – you really shouldn’t do this in front of the customer.”

I don’t know how many of you have witnessed similar encounter, but I do know it’s not the way one should represent their respective company to customers. When errors happen, they should be discussed out of the customer’s sight. It’s important to work as a team – not to place blame, especially in front of the customer! While it is necessary to determine how the error occurred it’s probably a good idea to not allow it to become heated. Employees should be trained to continue to work as a team, even in the midst of an employee induced issue.

The fast food as well as other industries require employees to quickly provide a great customer experience through producing a quality product in a timely manner. This means everyone working in tandem to make sure the customer’s order is fulfilled properly. Rarely will you see the person taking the order actually preparing the order. Each person is relying upon the other to properly complete their portion of the order fulfillment routine. As with any process where we humans are involved, errors will sometimes occur. When they do, it’s important to quickly resolve the issue for the customer. When discussing the error with the team, one should look to the system first for the breakdown and strive to preserve the dignity of the employee who contributed to the error. Moreover, employees should strive to preserve the customer’s perception of the company. As we all know, customers have smartphones with cameras and recording capabilities. One could unknowingly become a social media hit!

Remember when errors occur in fulfilling customers orders, especially in a public setting, choose an opportune time to discuss the situation. Just don’t do it in front of the customer!

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