We always tell communicators ‘less is more’. Learn how to edit yourself so people listen when you talk. Simply put, it’s about simplicity!
Maybe it’s me.
I called my provider to order a new phone for my son. They asked what color he wanted. I said black. The customer service representative said “we also have orange, blue, green, yellow and red.” I said, I’d like black.
He said we’re running a special. You can get a free phone if you install another line. I said no thank you, we have enough lines.
He said, “But this is a really good deal, you’ll get another phone too.” I said, no thank you, I don’t need another phone.
He said, “Would you like to save some money?” I said, sure, but not at this time. I just want to purchase the phone.
He said he could save me some bucks if I installed their streaming video service. I said I wasn’t interested. I only wanted a phone, black please.
He went on to explain the features of the much-improved Direct TV service and even as I repeatedly said no thank you, he kept talking, letting me know he could have installers out at my house as early as tomorrow. I said, I just want the phone.
He asked, what color? Again, I said black. I only want one phone. Black. No additional lines and no other services.
Maybe he wasn’t fully listening. Maybe he struggled to comprehend. Maybe he was instructed to upsell. Maybe I wasn’t being as clear as I could be, so I tried not to get irritated at him.
Then as he was processing my order, he said, can I have a number to call you back? Why, I asked. I’m having a problem and have to reboot the system.
When he did call me back, we had to start over because his computer lost my information. Fortunately, he remembered the color I wanted was black.
I read an article that proclaimed good customer service is about being judged by what you do, not what you say. The writer believed if you give something away for free or throw in an extra, you’ll score points with the customer.
Wouldn’t it be great if it was that simple? It’s not. True, people appreciate extras and freebies. The phone guy waived activation and shipping fees which I greatly appreciated. However, I believe the root of good customer service is good communication skills.
RULE #1 LISTEN BEFORE SPEAKING
There are few things more exasperating than telling someone what you want and then have to repeat it because they weren’t listening. Even if you’re trying to ‘sell’, listen first, talk later. Don’t interrupt.
RULE #2 REPEAT TO REVIEW
To show you are really listening, paraphrase or repeat what the customer has said. As an example, the representative could have said, Ms. Friedman, I understand you would like a black phone. Can I interest you in additional cost saving services? I still would have declined, but I would know he heard me.
RULE #3 ASK IT DIFFERENTLY
If the customer tells you no thank you, respect that. Instead of asking the same question again, ask it differently. My customer service rep might have said, yes, black is a popular color. Are you familiar with our new line of colors?
This morning, I called my car dealer to speak to the general manager. I told her I knew Jerry wasn’t in which is why I’d like to be connected to his voicemail. She said, “Jerry isn’t in yet.” I said I know, which is why I’d like to leave him a voicemail. She said, “do you want me to connect you to his voicemail?” I said yes. She said, okay, but he’s not in yet.
Maybe it’s me.
Or maybe her morning coffee hadn’t kicked in. Whether speaking by phone or face-to-face, failure to effectively communicate can rob you and your company of opportunities.
Recently I called my bank to dispute a charge. The local branch referred me to the corporate offices. They said no one was available to help me so someone would call me back. Two days later, I received an email from a customer relations manager saying he tried but had not been able to reach me by phone.
However, there were no voicemails, no texts and no record of him calling on any of our phone lines. I e-mailed him back, no response. I called and reached his supervisor, who apologized and said he’d get back to me. He never did.
Putting poor customer service aside, this bank is missing huge opportunities to turn negatives to positives. Even if the rep was reprimanded, his supervisor should have followed up with me. While the bank has thousands of employees who may be caring customer centric people, to the customer, both the representative and his supervisor became the face of the company. The failure of these people to show concern can reflect on the entire company.
It only takes one negative encounter with one person to spread like wildfire. She tells her family, friends and colleagues what happened. They tell people they know. If she posts on social media, no telling how many will see it. Not only do you have a potential PR crisis, but you risk losing prospects, customers and revenue.
Communication works two ways. It can promote great reputations or spread bad ones.
So, whether ordering a phone, trying to leave a voicemail or dispute a charge, remember communication is a two-way street. It requires a speaker and a listener. Either one can be misunderstood.
Sometimes you are at fault. Other times, even if we hate to admit it, maybe it’s me.
I’ve often wondered the true meaning of the words “how are you”? When someone says, “how are you”, do they really care how you are or are they just being polite?
For example, I received an email from an acquaintance that started with “how are you”, then went right into her request. I don’t think she really cares how I am.
As a contrast, I ran into someone in the supermarket who asked me how I was. Then she followed up with questions about work, summer plans, and made me promise to give regards to my family. I think she actually cares about how I am.
The phrase “how are you” was first recorded in the late 18th century, when it was used to mean ‘something very small and insignificant’. According to Psychology Today, whether or not you are actually interested in someone depends on a number of factors:
- How well do you know this person?
- Does the individual seem ill or have a history of being ill?
- Are you aware that something has been troubling this person?
As an example, every day I grab a cup of coffee at a local shop. Over the past year, I noticed the normally chatty checkout woman seemed unhappy. Her typical contagious smile was replaced with a silent frown. I didn’t know her well enough to ask if something was wrong.
Fast forward about a year, her personality changed back again. She also looked different; lighter, happier and was sporting a new hair style. So, I said “you look great, I love your hair. How have you been?” I was truly interested.
That’s when she told me she had been ill but was doing much better now. The hair wasn’t hers, but she was glad I liked it.
Many people are private. Some don’t want to burden you with their problems. Others don’t follow up with questions to indicate that they are truly interested in what you’re saying.
I wondered how this translates to our work lives and two very different situations came to mind.
Situation One: We were providing leadership communications coaching at an automotive company where the sales director felt disrespected. He said he was tired of playing therapist and didn’t want employees coming to him with their personal problems. Sales were down and he blamed his subordinates. During role-playing which was videotaped, he was gruff, failed to make eye contact and was often multi-tasking instead of listening. When he spoke, he barked orders and rarely asked questions. He didn’t appear to value the opinions of others and told me, he was the boss so they should do what he says and not question his authority. Wow.
What was apparent to me, but not to him, is that his employees didn’t like him. More importantly, they didn’t trust him. Trust and communication are centerpieces of all relationships whether professional or personal. If employees don’t trust leadership, it affects productivity and morale. When communication is one-sided, employees are less engaged which typically leads to poor performance and job dissatisfaction.
Situation Two: I work with a global CEO I greatly admire. He’s a people person. He says all business is personal and the more interest he takes in his employees, the more committed and productive they are. Even though he can’t personally interact with 600 employees, he tries to meet with as many as possible. He said their opinions drive innovation and change. He makes it a point to have lunch in the employee cafeterias when visiting different job sites and invites employees to join him. His company boasts very low employee turnover.
Back to the sales director. After the role-playing, I played back the tape. At first, he was defensive. Defensiveness turned into embarrassment. He said he knew he cut people off, but never realized how negative he looked and sounded. He asked how he could improve. These are the tips I shared with him.
Tip #1: Be empathetic. It’s important to recognize that employees have personal lives and personal problems can spill over to the workplace. If it’s serious like a health condition, divorce or death of a loved one, cut them some slack and choose your words carefully. Ask them if they help, a temporary schedule adjustment or time off.
Tip #2: Listen to understand. If someone disagrees with you, instead of shutting them down, ask questions to better understand their perspective. Perhaps they were passed over for a promotion or they’re upset over the way a project is being managed. You don’t have to change your decision but listening signals respect. You may also gain insight that could be helpful moving forward.
Tip #3: Be present. While your responsibilities may prevent you from being present in person, the more visible you are, the more connected people will feel to you. Technology such as video conferencing has made interacting remotely easier than ever. Look for ways to engage your employees face-to-face.
So, the next time you’re about ask someone “how are you”, think about what those words really mean. If you genuinely care, then be fully present and listen to their response. If it’s simply a nicety or expression, perhaps a simple hello will do.
Moving with purpose is important when speaking and presenting. When done correctly, it can spell the difference between engaging and distracting listeners. The next time you have to give an important talk, try these simple tips.