If you want people to truly care about what you’re saying, then it’s critical to move the make me care meter. Learn how and you can change outcomes.
When customer service is like speaking a foreign language
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.
My husband and I have been loyal to the same dry cleaner for nearly three decades. Run by a husband and wife, we’ve discussed local issues, cars, the weather and then some. The owner’s son and our son are the same age and went to school together. We refer to them as Mr. and Mrs. Sparkle because their business is called Sparkle Cleaners. Yet, recently it occurred to us, that after all these years, we don’t know their real names.
I find this a bit embarrassing. How can you interact with people for so long and not know their names? It would easier if we recently met and couldn’t remember their names. Or, if we saw them infrequently, perhaps we could just ask them. Since that’s not the case, asking would be very awkward not to mention insulting.
I recently read an article suggesting that forgetting someone’s name can send a signal that you aren’t interested enough to bother remembering them. A psychologist quoted in the article says it’s like telling someone they’re a zero.
Now I really feel bad.
So, I started to think about how this spills over into the work world. For example, my husband isn’t very good at remembering names even after he’s met people a few times. How does that make someone else feel? At work, could he be perceived as not interested or not paying attention?
Interestingly, he’s not alone and the experts agree it’s not his fault. Psychologists say name recall isn’t a strong suit for everyone. Because names are random and not always associated with something visual, some brains struggle to remember them. Mix that up with health issues, lack of sleep and whether or not you were fully attentive all play a part.
At work, people can be less forgiving than in social circles. Even though you felt like you were paying attention while someone was speaking, clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow says it’s likely you weren’t really listening to what was being said.
“You were looking at them, observing them, noticing them and your visual senses were overriding your auditory senses,” says Klapow. “You heard the name, but it didn’t commit to memory the way the person’s facial features did.”
Not to mention how busy our brains are. They get so full of information that we push the so called less important things aside.
What happens if you don’t work at freeing up space in that brain to remember names at work and get to know a little about your colleagues? For example, where did they grow up? Do they have kids? Hobbies? Where did they last work? What types of projects are they interested in?
This is far more than small talk. It signals that you are genuinely interested in team members, employees, customers and others you may interact with. There is a difference between asking prying questions and personal questions. Prying questions about intimacy, family problems or your financial picture can be too personal. Questions that help you learn about someone’s likes, dislikes and interests help you learn about people. Taking an interest in colleagues can help build trust, rapport and foster a sense of community at work.
That seems to be true at Sparkle Cleaners. I’ve noticed those who work there seem to care about me. If I have a tough stain, they want to know how it happened and then they go the extra mile to remove it. If a button is missing on an article of clothing, they sew it back on without charge. Even in the heat of summer working in unairconditioned shop, they never complain. Instead they enthusiastically ask about our family, activities and how we’re holding up in the heat.
They can certainly teach us a few things about communicating in the workplace.
A good attitude goes a long way. Being friendly, pleasant and helpful even on a tough day is a lot nicer than greeting people with a cranky scowl.
Tackling an extra task, staying late or taking time out of your jammed schedule to help someone else and not expecting anything in return shows that you care. It also tells colleagues and customers that they are a priority.
It’s easy to complain about circumstances or make excuses for why you can’t get something done. It’s more rewarding to accept responsibility and put the emphasis on your customers.
As a leader or owner, you’ll benefit from increased business and referrals. You’ll also reap a great deal of respect because you’ve respected others by prioritizing their satisfaction. That makes them feel valued.
As I was writing this article, I decided to take my own advice and make the Sparkles feel more valued too. So, I drove to the dry cleaner. They were surprised because I had just been there so there was nothing for me to pick up. That’s when I came clean. I told them after all these years, I was embarrassed that I didn’t know their real names.
They introduced themselves as Young and Sung Suh. As we started talking, I learned they named their business Sparkle because they want to make your clothes sparkle.
I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t asked and listened. When you communicate and take an interest in others, you also gain a better understanding of your customers and colleagues.
Young and Sung Suh do far more than make clothes sparkle. They make their customers sparkle as well.
I play pickleball. For those of you not familiar with perhaps the fastest growing sport in America, it’s a cross between tennis and ping-pong played on a badminton-sized court with a tennis style net that’s about a quarter of the size of a tennis court.
However, this is not tennis, not even close. Unlike tennis, it’s played with a small, solid paddle and plastic whiffle ball. And, unlike tennis that typically requires reserving court time and bringing others to play, pickleball is a meet up game. That means in communities where people play, there is open court time. You don’t have to know anyone and don’t have to bring anyone. You just show up and play.
It’s also incredibly addictive. Picklers like myself, will go to great lengths to rearrange their schedules to be available for those meet up times. Additionally, some people, especially retirees play every day. I would if I could, but I’m not there yet, though I do play often. My husband has started calling himself a ‘pickleball widower’. He plays a bit too, though I’m more of a pickleball addict.
There are a lot of nice players in my group of neighborhood picklers. Robin takes her time returning the ball, strategically aiming for the far corners. Gary is tall, so he’s worked on perfecting his lob shot. Greg is very safety conscious, clearing leaves and debris from the court and always arrives early to squeegee away any puddles that may be left over from the rain.
Then there’s Andy. Andy is a nice guy, but he hasn’t mastered the art of the game, specifically the dink. That’s a pickleball term for trying to position the ball just over the net, which can give you an advantage. Instead, Andy continually slams the ball, sometimes yelling ‘kill it’. The end result is many missed points and lost games as he hits the ball into the net or out of bounds.
Andy reminds me of the guy at work who makes his own rules. Instead of focusing on a long-range goal that includes teamwork, strategy and the basics needed to maximize outcomes, he is short-sighted and focused only on the moment at hand.
When you concentrate on ‘I’ and not on ‘we’, you’re setting yourself up to fail.
In pickleball, advanced players will tell you to prepare for the slam by keeping your paddle up. You have no way to return a fast slam if your paddle is below the net or down by your knees. At work, you need to prepare, plan and anticipate the needs and reactions of prospects and clients or you’ll be caught off guard.
In pickleball, experts will tell you instead of making the game more complex by trying to slam winning shots, keep it simple by going back to basics, such as getting it over the net. At work, it’s not that different. As your expertise expands, you will become more valuable to those around you.
In sports or in business, it’s natural to focus on our selves. We want to develop skills to improve our game or get promoted at work. However, we shouldn’t do so at the expense of our teammates or co-workers. When we focus on executing shots more effectively on the court or in the boardroom, we have a better chance of hitting them where we want them to land.
Comparing sports to business is hardly new. You can google endless articles, books and videos on the subject. However, the excellent examples I see inside corporate meeting rooms every day is not that different from what I used to observe when my son first played soccer.
He was four years old and his team played against a girl who lived across the street. They were best friends and wanted to be on the same team but were not. She used to tell him that when she grew up she was going to marry him. (she married someone else). On this particular day as my son’s team was moving in one direction and her team was moving in another direction, their eyes met, they grabbed hands and began skipping down the field together. When you’re four, it’s cute.
We can also learn from these four-year old’s, specifically what I call the three C’s.
Collaboration, interaction and building relationships with the other side goes a long way. When you interact with people who are different than you, you’re exposed to new ideas, insights and opinions. This can stimulate productivity, enthusiasm and unique approaches to problem solving.
Every office has a cast of characters. Some are leaders while others follow. All have different backgrounds. What’s most important is to respect their quirks and personalities. We don’t all approach issues the same way. There isn’t always a right and a wrong, but there are other ways to accomplish goals.
The importance of communicating on the field or in the office can’t be understated. Communication allows colleagues to build trust, credibility and permits people to speak openly without fear of being judged. The more we communicate, the more approachable we appear.
Whether playing pickleball, soccer or negotiating a deal, to do it right takes hard work, preparation and perseverance. As we know, it doesn’t always go smoothly. It’s okay to hit hard and slam it out of bounds once in a while. And, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to win.
However, in order for us to score points, we have to rely on others.