How to Provide Exceptional Customer Service in These Tough Times 1

Your customer’s buying habits are changing. Today’s consumer is a much more informed consumer and a much more demanding one – especially in these economically challenging times. Customers are tired of feeling like they have been taken advantage of and are less likely to be fooled by slick advertising campaigns that make unsubstantiated claims about the prowess of your product or service. They want their needs met and are willing to take their business elsewhere if you fall short. To ignore this trend would be to do so at your peril. I believe the only advantage that you have left – to set yourself apart from your competition – is the level of customer service that you provide.

Providing customer service, let alone exceptional service, is challenging at the best of times. And to make matters worse you are under attack on two fronts. First: The cost of doing business continues to rise – and – Second: Your competitors are reducing their retail prices in an attempt to entice shoppers to spend what little disposable income they may have left. If you are forced to lower your retail prices in order to compete – it will put tremendous pressure on your margins and your ability to stay in business. Can you afford to offer exceptional customer service in order to maintain or grow your market share? Or will so-so service do?

Exceptional customer service is difficult to define because it’s all about perception. (Perception is the new reality) It doesn’t matter what you think. It only matters what your customer thinks. If your customer thinks you are providing exceptional customer service – then you are. (Of course the opposite is also true) Your challenge is to figure out how to use the customer’s perception of exceptional customer service to your advantage. What type of customer service is the consumer looking for? The other question to ask yourself is – what aren’t they looking for? Perhaps the answer to these two questions can be found in a survey conducted by Eticon Inc.

According to 1,281 consumers who participated in a customer service survey, what isn’t exceptional is rude telephone behaviour, especially unreturned phone calls. A “don’t care attitude” was listed by 55% of the respondents as a good enough reason not to do repeat business. Another 35% cited ignoring them to carry on a private conversation with another employee in person or on the phone was not exceptional service. Asked how they would respond to rudeness, 58% said they would take their business elsewhere. Here’s the kicker. In 42% of the replies, respondents said they would go out of their way to do business with where they got polite, respectful treatment. How much does it cost to be polite and to treat your customers with respect?

What is your perception of exceptional customer service? I don’t think you have to train your sales people to run up and down the aisles looking for customers. I believe all you have to do is teach your staff how you want them to react when your customers find them. (And trust me they will find them.) Companies spend thousands if not millions of advertising dollars a year to lure customers into their place of business but then allow their sales people to ignore them when they show up.

Here’s the key. All you have to be, to be exceptional in the eyes of the customer, is to be better than the last shopping experience that they had. All you have to be, to be exceptional is to be better than your competition. According to that survey, it’s really not that tough at all.

You Can Have an Extraordinary Life – The Art of Creating Possibilities 2

You don’t have to settle for same old, same old. You can have an extraordinary life. You just need to learn the art of creating possibilities. The journey starts with your internal dialogue. (the things you say to yourself) Your attitude isn’t just something. Your attitude is everything! If you think you can or can’t, you’re absolutely right. You need to believe that you deserve to be happy. You need to believe that you don’t have to feel guilty about all the good things that come your way. I know this sounds like tree-hugging and cappuccino drinking; but it’s true. You are what you repeatedly do. The more you do of what you’re doing , the more you’ll get of what you’ve got. If you’re not satisfied with where you are in your life, then you need to change your behaviour to change the result.

“The good Lord gave us mountains so we could learn how to climb” is a lyric from the title track of Lonestar’s CD, “Mountains” (if you don’t have the CD yet, go out and buy it. It’s a must have for all serious music lovers). Every time I hear that song, it lifts me up. It opens up my mind to the world of possibilities. It helps me to stay focused on what is important to me, and reminds me that I am on a journey and that there will be obstacles to overcome. As long as I stay committed to my goals, I will overcome those obstacles. It helps me to remember that where I am at this moment in time is not where I am going to end up.

I am a graduate of the Larry Winget School of Thinking. “Shut-up – Stop Whining – and Get a Life” is my theme song. Larry is absolutely right. Your inner dialogue – those things that you say to yourself – will either propel you forward or hold you back. You need to realize  that you are the only one who gets to decide what success, and being successful, looks like to you. Don’t settle for anything unless it is what you really want. Don’t set out to maintain the status quo unless that’s what you really want. Success in life (and for that matter success in any undertaking) is choosing not to settle for anything other than what you truly want.

I am a behaviorist by training so there are two things I believe for certain about people: Life is all about ‘WIIFM’s’ (what’s in it for me), and ‘Attitude is Everything’. People are self-motivated; they are motivated to action based on what they think they will get, or what they would like to get out of the exchange. In other words, you do things for your own reasons. You need a reason to get out of bed in the morning. You need a reason to get off the couch and put down the remote.

If you want to change what you’re doing to get a more favourable result, then you must decide what it is you want. “You need to name it, to claim it”. After you’ve named it (which includes writing it down on a piece of paper and posting it in a location where you’ll see it every day) you must put together an action plan outlining the steps you need to take in order to achieve your goal. Getting what you want out of life is a series of SMART targets (specific, measurable, action-orientated, realistic and time-bound) strung together. Life is a planned event.

What I’m talking about here is not easy to do. But trust me, “wishing and hoping will not make it so”. Going about changing how you do what you do is difficult. (likely the most difficult thing you will ever do) . Your attitude and how you react to any given situation is 100% in your control. How you act and react is the art of creating possibilities. You can have an extraordinary life by acting and reacting in a way that is going to get you what you want. Remember: it’s never too late and you’re never too old to start a new beginning so you might as well start right now. Go out and live your dreams!

Human Resource Management – Whose Job is it Anyways? 3

An  MBA Student from Australia recently asked me – “Is HRM (Human Resource Management) only practiced by top officials like CEO’s and other policy makers of an organization, or is it – can it – also  be practiced by employees at some other level lower than upper management?” I thought it was a great question and very topical in light of what’s happening in the corporate world today.

Whose job is it? Who is responsible for hiring and training in your organization? Right sizing in recent years has put added pressure on an organizations management team to ensure they have the right person doing the right job. With the constant roll-out of new technologies, rapid change is becoming the “new normal”. In the past – HRM – was a function of the human resource department. In some respects HR was seen as a necessary evil. They completed the paperwork, walked the new hire through the orientation process and then passed him or her over to the Department Manager. Today, HR is seen as an equal partner – often given full status afforded all Executive Vice Presidents, including a seat around the board room table. HR must play a key role in an organizations long-term strategic plan because they need to understand where the organization is headed to ensure that the workforce has the skill set capable of reaching that goal.

However, it’s a catch-22. Here’s the billion dollar question; How do we as a company provide the training that our workforce will need to ensure its long-term viability, yet do it in the confines of a limited budget? Answer; Become a learning organization. Make training everyone’s responsibility – not just HR’s. Managers, supervisors and team leaders need to become coaches. A portion of every managers’ compensation package needs to be tied to training. It shouldn’t be – “What have you done for me lately” it should be “What have you learned lately”.

Jack Welch – legendary retired CEO at General Electric – felt that part of his success at GE was attributed to what he called the “Vitality Curve”. His managers had to promote the top 20% of their staff annually. They got to keep 70%, but they had to terminate the bottom 10%. I make it a point to talk about Jack’s 20-70-10 rule in all of my management and leadership development workshops. It always makes for a great debate. Whither you agree with his policy or not – it certainly drives the message home that your role as a manager is to teach someone something. If you’re not teaching someone something – then you aren’t doing your job as a manager. I think it also sends a message to the employees that they best hit the ground running and keep learning if they want to be part of GE’s future.

Shareholders need to realize that generating profit for short-term gains doesn’t guarantee the company’s long-term viability. Employees need to understand that their only guarantee of job security is their level of knowledge. The more they know the more value they are to the organization. The question management needs to answer is – “How much of your company’s future are you willing to give away for short-term gain by not spending the training dollars needed to ensure long-term sustainability?” Human Resource Management – Whose job is it? Your company’s or yours? A great question indeed. I hope you know the answer. Your future depends on it.

Living a Life of Purpose – Living a Purposeful Life 6

How will you know if you have succeeded in Life? How do you keep score? Do you believe you have an obligation to give back so others can have the same opportunities as you? Why are we here? What is your purpose in life? We’re not immortal – we won’t live on this earth forever. What legacy do you want to leave behind? How do you want to be remembered?

I must admit I hadn’t given much thought to any of those questions until I read President Bill Clinton’s latest book, “Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World”. Clinton’s main premise is that we can all give in our own way. He’s right. It doesn’t have to be money. It can be something far more valuable than money, something even more precious than gold – something that will outlast our lifetime: We can give ourselves. We can donate our time.

“Try not to become a person of success – but try to become a person of value”

Be a Mentor: – A mentor is a wise or trusted advisor or guide. Do you know someone who is just starting out in his or her career? Someone you could build a relationship with – who could trust and confide in you? Someone who would benefit from your years of experience?

Be a Coach: – A coach is defined as a trainer or instructor; someone who coaches or instructs a pupil. Teach someone else what you know. Coach them. Most often we equate coaching with athletics. But coaching can also mean working with Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, or with your local Boys and Girls Club.

Be a Volunteer: – A volunteer is a person who freely offers oneself or one’s services for an undertaking without expecting compensation or anything else in return. You and I may not have the financial resources of a Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey or Warren Buffet, but we can volunteer our time. It may only be an hour or two a week, or five hours per month, but spending time working for a non-profit organization may be the greatest gift you can give. Go to your local hospital, long-term care facility, or retirement home and lend a hand. If volunteering with an organization is not your thing, then start your own volunteer group.

Be an Advocate of Change: – Don’t be satisfied with the “same old, same old”. You have the power within you to decide if you want to maintain the status quo – or draw a line in the sand and do what you feel is right. Stand up for what you believe in. Be an advocate of change. Be that change you’d like to see in the World. What are your enduring principles? What are your core values? What will you not compromise, no matter the circumstance, no matter the outcome? Do you believe in honesty? Integrity? Loyalty? Being true to yourself? Will you sit idly by witnessing injustices, or will you stand up and come to the aid of those in need? Will you help tear down those walls of ignorance and build a bridge to understanding?

“Real riches are the riches possessed inside.” – Bertie Charles Forbes

Living a life of purpose is a choice that only you can make. Choose wisely. Do what you think is right. Leave a legacy by turning your values into every day actions.