Listening

One of the biggest problems people say they have is communication.  What exactly is the problem?  Humans are blessed with a brain that allows for some of the most complex communication possible in the animal kingdom yet it seems to be one of our biggest challenges.

Think about how many interactions you have where you give every possible detail only to find the person who was supposed to be listening misinterpreted or missed some vital point.  I have read that in 80% of customer interactions, the customer is given a solution before they completely describe their need.

Why is this?  Why do we have such problems with communication?

I believe it starts with how poorly most of us listen, certainly my wife can tell you how poorly I do it.  But what is it we need to do to listen better?

  1. Get rid of distractions. Don’t try to do something else while interacting.  Put down your damn phone and focus on the other person.
  2. Don’t assume you know what the other person is going to say or how they feel.
  3. Stop thinking about how you are going to reply. Rather, begin making a mental outline of what they say and prepare to repeat back the key points.
  4. Ask the other party if your version is what they meant. Don’t think you know what they meant; this is where communication problems typically begin.

Once you both agree that you really “heard” each other, you can begin to find solutions to whatever problem exists.  Whether it is family or business, better communication can heal many wounds and solve many problems.

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Details, details…

Details, details, it’s all in the details.  I’ve heard that so many times in my life but it is never clearer than when we are dealing with customers. Over and over, I have experienced times where a little more attention to detail would have made an experience better.

Example:  I was golfing recently and found myself driving the cart around looking for the next hole.  For about 6 or 7 holes, there were signs pointing the way to the next tee box and then it all stopped.  No more signs.  What was so interesting was that the signs stopped at a point where the most confusion could happen, the convergence of several different paths.  Why?  Why did no one think about this?  Why did no one drive carts around the course as if they were playing it?  Who missed this detail?

Details are stock in trade for customer service giants like Disney.  The number of details at Disneyworld is staggering.  Things like the red, white and blue flowers outside the Hall of the Presidents to the wider walkways where cast members have witnessed logjams of guests trying to get somewhere at the same time.  This attention to detail makes the experience a joy…or at least much less of a hassle and serves to make Disney a leader of service best practices not to mention a wealthy company.

How can you make attention to detail a focus for your company?

  1. Listen to your employee’s observations. Where do they see pain points in the customer experience?
  2. Take time to walk through what your customers have to deal with and look for details that have been missed.
  3. Listen to your customers. Ask them what details could be better.
  4. Make note of things you see in other businesses that you might adapt to yours to make the customer experience better or less arduous.

Details, details…you can either pay attention or not but your customers do and they want ease and enjoyment not hassle and pain.  Continually find ways to make it easy and nice and you will find more service success.

Change the World…Sure

I fly a lot and see a fair number of nasty people, or at least they’re nasty when traveling. Although I can be a pretty big jerk as far as airlines are concerned (mostly because I see them largely as tools of the devil), I try to be as nice as possible even when I’m delayed, treated with indifference or pushed around like a second-class human.  However, not everyone is so enlightened.

I was once in the check-in line to check a bag (I rarely do this but I had to take a big bag on this trip) and the guy at the counter was giving the agent a pummeling.  I don’t know what it was about but he was only a few words away from being hauled away by TSA I am sure.  Anyway, I was watching the ticket agent throughout this confrontation and it seemed like it was a toss-up as to whether she was going to blow up or cry.

To make a long story short, angry-guy got or didn’t get what he wanted (probably a window seat) and went along grumpily harrumphing to his gate.  I was next up and just stood there for a moment kind of stunned.  I crept up to the counter with a smile and calmly asked the agent if she needed a minute.  She looked up with a tear in her eye and said she was okay. I then simply said I needed to check my bag and then engaged in a little banter about how some people are just miserable and can’t see beyond their own world.  She looked up, nodded and seemed to be in a better frame.

What happened next is where I learned a great lesson.  She checked my bag and handed me a ticket.  I explained that I had printed my ticket at the hotel and she didn’t need to print one for me.  She then let me know that she had to in this case.  I was confused.  She told me to look carefully.  I looked down at a first class ticket with drink vouchers.  I asked what was going on and she simply said, “You made me smile.”

What had I learned?  No matter how I feel about airlines or a variety of other businesses (TV, internet and phone providers are good examples), the people who work there are people and they deserve to be respected as much as I want them to respect me.  A simple act of kindness, a smile and a gentle word, ended with me getting a bonus – a five hour first-class, legroom, champagne, and hot towel bonus. Karma it would seem had worked.

I often hear people say they want to change the world.  Here’s my advice. Practice some karmic kindness with someone today.  This is how it’s done. This will change not only your world but someone else’s too, and maybe, just maybe, it will spread like some sort of good virus. We can hope.

How Can I Be Nice?

“How can I be nice when people are so nasty?”  How often have you heard an employee say this or something like this?  It would seem this is one of the biggest challenges to managers trying to influence their people to deliver courtesy and kindness.  How do you get people to be nice when they’re getting yelled at?

The road to being Mr. or Ms. Sunshine isn’t the easiest thing but I believe it starts by considering what I like to call the Iceberg.  You see, the customer we see yelling at us is the tip of an iceberg, and, as we all know about icebergs, there is a big piece we cannot see. That piece we cannot see is all of the things that are part of their lives that preceded the encounter you’re having at the moment.  All of us have problems, challenges, worries and concerns that weigh on us and can cause us to blow up at what to others might seem minor.  A consideration of this reality is one of the best ways to make the challenge of angry or upset customers easier to swallow.

So what is a manger to do?  I suggest this exercise.  Get your team together with a few pads for writing and ask them to imagine the life of a customer.  Ask them to list all of the typical things their imaginary customer might have to deal with.  What is their morning like with getting kids off to school and then getting ready for work, sitting in traffic, getting yelled at by their boss for being a little late, etc.? Once they’ve got a pretty good scenario together, have them share these scenarios.  Then have them try to get into the mindset of this “customer,” have them become the customer so to speak.  Then demonstrate an indifferent employee attitude to them and ask them how they feel.  Discuss how iceberg of “life” changes things and magnifies the indifferent attitude.

This simple exercise can make it easier to understand and even have more compassion for people who get a bit out of control over something that would seem minor.  Perform this exercise periodically so that people don’t forget that there is more to people than what they see at the moment and some compassion can go a long way.

Six Practices of F.I.E.R.C.E. Service

Okay the picture is a bit much but I thought it was “fierce.”

I’ve been working lately on pulling together several fundamental principles for making service to others consistently more successful.  As I have researched service and leadership, I have found a dizzying wealth of acronyms, matrices, diagrams, charts and methodologies, all guaranteeing better performance.

The problem is that I have not been able to find simplicity and consistency.  What I have found is everything from complicated systems to rote tasks which are scripted. My problem here is that few seem to speak to practices which change fundamental behavior and thinking, and I believe training systems and tasks without changing behavior and thinking is destined for failure in the long term.

This frustration has led me to research a variety of things related to behavior and brain science with a focus on the workings of the limbic system in the brain and concepts like Maslow’s hierarchy. I must admit that I am not a psychologist or neuro-scientist and have no serious background in this study, I only have years of experience in the workplace, as a teacher, and as a husband and parent, so do not think I am speaking as an expert, rather, I am an itinerant working to start dialog and influence positive change.

With that in mind, all of my research has brought several things together to form the basis for what I call F.I.E.R.C.E. Service.  Please note that this F.I.E.R.C.E. moniker has no relationship to Susan Scott’s excellent work with Fierce Conversations and Fierce Leadership.  Quite frankly, it is a word that works and has an ironic fit; that is all. You are also probably saying to yourself, isn’t this guy just adding to the acronyms he decried earlier? …yeah, I know, sorry.

Anyway, the F.I.E.R.C.E. acronym stands for Fair, Inclusive, Empowering, Respectful, Confidence building, and Easy.  It brings together the perfect storm of concepts and ideas from Maslow to David Rock’s SCARF neuroscience findings to Stephen Covey’s Speed of Trust to the Golden Rule.  So, by using the F.I.E.R.C.E. acronym and Covey’s 13 Trust Behaviors as a foundation, I have put together these Six Practices of F.I.E.R.C.E. Service.  If you are bold, share these with your employees and start a dialog on how you might practice them in leadership and service to your customers.  My belief is that practicing these six things will open more doors and lead to less resistance between managers, employees and customers alike. I would love to know about any discussions and your thoughts on these practices.

SIX PRACTICES OF F.I.E.R.C.E. SERVICE

  1. Demonstrate Fairness By Showing The Nature Of Your Character

Be honest. Don’t manipulate people, distort facts, spin the truth, or leave false impressions.

Tell the truth. Be open and authentic and err on the side of disclosure. Don’t have hidden agendas or hide information.

In addition, say what you’re going to do and do what you say you’re going to do. Make keeping commitments the symbol of your honor.

When you’re wrong, make things right by apologizing quickly and making restitution where possible. Don’t cover things up and let personal pride or fear get in the way of doing the right thing.

  1. Include Others

Welcome and encourage people’s input. Listen more, talk less, and listen to understand rather than just to respond. Find out what’s most important to people and don’t assume you know what matters most to them. Don’t presume you have all the answers—or all the questions.

  1. Empower People To Achieve More On Their Own

Extend trust abundantly and empower (guide and encourage) those who have earned your trust. Empower conditionally those who are working to earn your trust. Learn how to appropriately empower others based on the situation, risk, and competence/confidence of the people involved.

  1. Demonstrate Respect

Genuinely care for others. Show you care. Respect the dignity of every person and treat them with courtesy. Be compassionate, be patient, and never fake caring.

  1. Build People’s Confidence That They’ll Be Successful

Demonstrate your competence and be aware of and honest about your weaknesses. Continuously improve. Increase your abilities by constantly learning. Don’t assume your knowledge and skills will be sufficient for tomorrow’s challenges.

  1. Make Things Easier

Confront challenges head on and remove obstacles. Don’t bury your head in the sand and hide behind policies or standard procedures. Find ways to make things easier for people.