• Bill Leinweber

  • About Bill Leinweber

    Bill Leinweber's mission is to help businesses and organizations grow by combining efficient processes with great customer and employee experience.

    Bill is the Chief Experience Officer & Owner of Landmark Experience LLC, a consultancy, where he loves to help business leaders walk in their customers' shoes and devise memorable and meaningful experiences for both customers, guests, visitors, employees and business partners. After all, have you ever heard of customer loyalty and business growth without GREAT customer experience?

    Bill's 30 year career spans retail and office products distribution operations in both small, family-owned and global mega-businesses. He has managed customer service operations, sales support, customer on-boarding and business intelligence teams while also serving as an internal consultant and subject matter expert. Bill has helped his past employers improve their customer engagement processes and achieve their goals of customer experience excellence and loyalty.

    Bill loves to talk and speak about customer experience as well, so don't be afraid to ask!

    Bill Leinweber
    Landmark Experience
    513-227-9037
    www.LandmarkExperience.com

Why Not Leverage What Your Employees Enjoy?

In a recent training I conducted for a technical support team, the questions I asked of participants when we began were, “Why do you do what you do? Why did you accept this position? What do you like aboHands Raisedut your job?” The purpose of these questions in a training context is to be able to tie the training content to what is important to the participants. It answers the participant question, “What’s in it for me?”

The answers were pretty cool and included:

  • I like to help our customers
  • Solving a challenging problem for our customers is very rewarding
  • I like creating a happy outcome
  • Educating our customers is gratifying
  • I enjoy when our customers think of us as a resource and a partner

Keep in mind, I didn’t ask, “Why do your customers buy from you or why do your customers like you?” My questions were solely focused on the employee experience, the experience of these technical support specialists. Once I had their answers, I was able to explain how the training would help them to fulfill their role and help to support the “why” they like doing their jobs.

It Gets Handed Down

The quality of your customer experience is inextricably linked to the quality and enjoyment of your employee experience. Many companies just don’t get this. Now, I’m not saying that you have to spoil, pamper and baby your employees. What I am saying is that if your employees enjoy their workplace and if they enjoy serving your customers, that enjoyment will permeate the customer experience. In other words, customers will FEEL it in their experience. It’s as simple as that. And isn’t it only logical that when we enjoy a task, we complete it just a little bit better, more thoroughly and with more enthusiasm then tasks we don’t enjoy?

Conversely, when you are the customer, you can always tell when the person serving you really doesn’t care or enjoy what they’re doing. The sentiment usually comes across loud and clear!

Translated To Your Team

So why not leverage what your employees enjoy to further enhance their experience and that of your customers? When was the last time you asked your team members why they do what they do and why they like what they do? If employees do their work well AND enjoy their work, then that is the definition of a strength.

  • If employees say they like to communicate with customers – then what can you do to improve and facilitate that communication?
  • If employees say they love to solve customers’ problems because it makes them feel accomplished – then what can you do to make problem-solving easier and faster?
  • If they say they enjoy educating customers because they have a teaching mindset – then what can you do to train and educate your staff to further support their desire to educate your customers?

Some companies focus a lot of energy on “corrective action” and on trying to improve employee’s weaknesses. Instead, take the bulk of that energy and magnify what employees enjoy and do well. Your employees will be more satisfied and loyal and your customers will be too!

I help businesses improve customer service, sales support and employee experience through analysis, feedback and implementation. If you have a business problem you need help with, let’s talk.

Bill Leinweber
Bill@LandmarkExperience.com
(513) 227-9037

Photo courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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How to get your Sales Reps out of Customer Service and back to SELLING!

In my last post, I wrote about how and why it hurts your business when sales reps spend too much time doing customer service tasks and not enough time selling. If you missed that post, click 5 Reasons why your sales reps should not be order managers.

In this next post, I promised to answer the question, “How do you move from a culture of sales rep as part-time customer service rep to a culture of sales rep as full-time sales rep? I’ll start by saying; it’s not going to happen overnight. I’ve been there. It’s going to take commitment but it will be well worth the effort in greater efficiency, a bigger sales funnel and a culture of cooperation. And full disclosure – my background is strong in B2B so I do see things through that lens. However, this advice will work in a B2C environment. There is more that is similar than is different.

But before I get into some of the cool things to put in place, you need to understand this one point:

Sales people will stop selling the moment they lose trust in your business.

Need Help PhotoThe moment you jeopardize the sales reps word (promises they made to customers) or their income (commissions), they’ll take their eyes off the sales ball and move into babysitting and triage mode. They’ll hand-hold orders and customer setups, they’ll double-check accuracy and process steps and generally poke their noses into every other department’s business. They’ll insist on being the sole communication point between the customer and the business. You’ll see them in the office more often rather than visiting or on the phone with customers.

And frankly, I can’t blame them. Your sales reps won’t let go of the reins and go out and sell more until they trust that everything works as it should and that customers will receive the service they expect. The sales organization has to TRUST the operation, trust your quality, and trust that people will do what they say they’re going to do. They need to believe that customer service and other support staff won’t only do what the process says to do but will also make good decisions on the customer’s behalf when the process doesn’t fit the situation. If a culture of trust doesn’t sound like your company, start there. Otherwise, nothing else I share here will matter.

It’s the Numbers after the Decimal That Really Count

A word about quality. If you tell me your order accuracy is great and that 99% of orders are accurate, then you’re in big trouble. That’s because it’s the digits after the 99 that really matter. If you ship 1000 orders a day and only 99% are accurate, then every day 10 orders go out wrong. If I’m your sales rep, I’m losing sleep. That’s 50 orders a week that go out wrong and how many of them are for my customers? You’re pushing your sales reps to butt-in and hand-hold the order process because they won’t trust it. You don’t need Six Sigma or some big complex quality program for this one. When gauging accuracy, look at the digits to the right of the decimal and put something in place to get those digits into the 9’s. You’ll also be saving your company boatloads of money in re-work.

Develop a Customer On-Boarding Program

Formalize your customer on-boarding. When you get a new customer, every department should know about it. When the first order ships, everyone touching that order should know it’s the customer’s first order. Internally, everyone needs to handle that order just like the sales rep would because remember, your sales rep is now out selling and not babysitting orders. If I’m the shipping dock supervisor, I want to know it’s the customer’s first order. If I’m the billing supervisor, I want to know it’s this customer’s first invoice. There are many ways to implement an on-boarding program, from automated to manual. Code the customer as “new” for 90 days. A formal customer on-boarding program does the following:

  • The extra attention ensures new customers have the best experience possible
  • You build trust with the new customer at the most critical stage in the relationship
  • Sales reps will have confidence that their co-workers have their eyes on new customers
  • And not the least of which, you celebrate new customers with your employees!

Integrate Sales Support Into Customer Service

When your sales reps call with a customer issue, they shouldn’t call your admin or the warehouse manager. They should call customer service just like the customer would. After all, the sales rep is really calling on the customer’s behalf, aren’t they? Otherwise, the customer would be making the call. Channel sales rep calls into customer service so they follow the same process with the same people who have access to the same information. Within Customer Service, you could even establish an “elite team” who handles sales reps calls. Whatever approach you use, integrated sales support accomplishes the following:

  • All customer issues follow the same process flow and tracking
  • Prevents duplication of work
  • Ensures a faster more efficient resolution
  • Gives the sales rep the same level of “service” as you give your customers
  • Builds on a culture of collaboration between customer service and sales

Establish a 2-way Communication Channel

Sales reps can focus more time on getting sales and less time micro-managing the operation when there is 2-way communication between customer service and sales. If customer service encounters a customer issue or question that warrants the sales rep’s attention, they need a consistent way to get that information back to the sales rep. If I’m a customer service rep and a customer just told me they were talking to a competitor, I want our sales rep to know that. Perhaps you can use your CRM, case management system or something as simple as email to get word to the rep. Train customer service when and how to recognize what should be communicated. The payoff is:

  • Sales rep (or Account Manager) is proactively alerted to possible issues. Better for the rep to hear it from an internal source than from the customer later.
  • Gives the sales rep confidence that co-workers are alert to potential customer issues.
  • Builds on a culture of “these are OUR customers” not “your customers.”

Flip the Switch

Finally, to get the sales rep out of the customer service kitchen, you may have to simply limit system access. If your sales reps can enter or modify orders, override pricing, change addresses and perform other system maintenance, you may want to give that a hard look. It’s not only a good idea from a process control standpoint (can you spell Sarbanes-Oxley?). It also removes the temptation to spend time in the system. You’ll have to overcome the sales rep’s objection that, “It’s just quicker if I do it!” View-only access should do the trick in most cases and it removes the last excuse for, “I don’t have enough time to sell more!”

When your existing sales reps can spend more of their time on sales tasks, your business has the opportunity to grow sales and profits with existing staff. If your sales reps are spending any time being order managers, shift their focus by giving them confidence the business will live up to your brand promise.

If you would like to discuss this topic, give me a call (513) 227-9037 or email me at Bill@LandmarkExperience.com.

Learn more at LandmarkExperience.com

Photo courtesy of pakorn and FreeDigitialPhotos.net

Who’s Your Objective Outsider?

Photo by estimmel

I think every business needs an objective outsider. Or two, or three. What’s an objective outsider? I mean someone from outside the company, who doesn’t live the day-to-day of your business but who can give you, the business owner a fresh perspective from another vantage point. Many times, the people in the business are just too close to the business to notice, to see, or even to hear what’s wrong.

We’ve heard recently about all the changes going on at JCPenney. First, they’re doing away with coupons and confusing pricing. Now their makeover is getting a makeover. Everyone is ticked off at the CEO. Customers are confused. Then JCP announces that by 2014 they’ll do away with the checkout counters and cashiers and move to mobile check out options using Wi-Fi and radio-frequency technology. I applaud all the reinvention. However, I offer this – they’re forgetting to feel what it’s like to actually be inside the store.

I stopped by a JCPenney today to buy some socks. Mundane, yes but I needed socks and was driving by JCP so there you have it. About half way to the men’s department, a bellowing voice came over the loud-speaker system barking out a page of some kind. “MARIE, CALL EXTENSION 227. MARIE, 227 PLEASE.” I actually don’t recall what the announcement was but it was something along those lines. I can tell you this. The volume of that loud-speaker system was so loud, the sound was actually distorted. It was difficult to make out the actual words. Once the announcement stopped, the speakers went back to playing background music at a very low, barely audible level. Then another page, “BOB, PLEASE COME TO COSMETICS, BOB TO COSMETICS.” Again, I don’t recall exactly what was said. Nonetheless, I’m standing there thinking, could I really be the only person noticing that those speakers are turned up way too loud? Do any of the employees notice? Doesn’t the manager or assistant manager notice?  Do they usually have jack-hammers or buzz saws running in the store that these speakers have to be so loud?

Next, as I’m looking through the sock choices, a polite sales clerk approaches me asking if I needed assistance. Hanging from his belt loop is some sort of walkie-talkie phone communication device. As I’m chatting with this gentleman, his phone speaker is blurting out a conversation between other  employees, “TERRY, DO YOU HAVE THE TIMESHEETS?” “NO SUE, I’M IN WILL CALL.” “HAS ANGELA HAD HER BREAK YET?” And again, the volume on the phone was ALL THE WAY UP. When the sales clerk walked away to resume his conversation with two female employees in the aisle, I noticed that all three had these two-way radio devices hanging from their waists, each one barking out the conversations taking place between employees. I frankly got distracted wondering if Angela would ever get her break and where the heck were the timesheets? Now, I’m all in favor of giving employees technology to make their job and the customer’s experience better, easier, more efficient. But this is technology being mis-used and ill-executed.

I couldn’t wait to get out of JCPenney. I wondered if it would ever occur to a manager or employee that the high decibel announcements over the loud-speaker and the banal employee conversations blurting from radio speakers in the aisles just make for a downright unpleasant shopping experience? In a store like JCPenney, wouldn’t you want customers to be relaxed and take their time browsing? I would think so but no way. My nerves were shot from all the noise. The real question is, how does it go unnoticed?

So who do you use as your objective outsider? Someone who will tell you, “Hey bud, the volume is way to loud on that. You’re bothering your customers.” Or, “Just between you and me, your customers really don’t need or want to hear about timesheets or breaks. Just ask Disney, the nuts and bolts are underground and only the Magic is visible on Main Street, USA.” If the management and employees at JCPenney are deaf to all the unnecessary in store noise then what are you and your employees too close to? Are you too close to notice?

So, you want to train your employees? Don’t miss these key steps.

Company budgets have been tight these past several years and that typically means businesses have cut back on training. Not always a wise choice. However, if your business has decided to invest in some form of training for your employees in 2012, that’s a positive sign for your company’s growth.

Whether you’re planning to train customer service, sales people, delivery associates or any other group, make sure you include the following key elements in order to increase your success rate and get the most return on your investment:

 In your next training endeavor, here’s what to look for in 5 key areas:

1)      Know Your Audience:

Adult learners are a unique breed. Understand what motivates adult learners and how to ensure the training is effective. Adult learners want to know “what’s in it for them” and how the training is going to help them with their goals. The focus is sometimes weighted too heavily on “here’s why this training is good for our business” rather than “here’s why this training is valuable for you in our business.” Subtle but important difference. Be sure the training starts with a) Here’s what you’re going to learn and b) At the end of this training, you’ll know how to do X. This clearly sets expectations and also establishes responsibility with the adult learner.

2)      Subject Matter Experts Aren’t Trainers by Default:

A PowerPoint and a projector don’t constitute training! The tendency in many companies is to say, “Hey, Bob’s a whiz when it comes to our SmartOrder program. Let’s get Bob to train the new customer service team.” The problem with that approach is this – Knowing how to use the SmartOrder system is one thing. Knowing how to effectively train other people to use it is something different entirely. Why do you think the teachers teaching your kids have to be trained to teach? Teaching is a vocation in and of itself. Bob showing up at your door with a PowerPoint deck is not training! It’s a presentation.

Understand the difference between a subject matter expert and a training professional. A training professional is a subject matter expert about learning. Consider hiring a professional to develop curriculum and to deliver your training.

3)      Plan Ahead:

Be sure to prepare handouts or guides as takeaways for participants. Class participants will typically take notes in class but don’t expect them to know what points are key concepts. Handouts and guides draw attention to the most important concepts so participants aren’t left guessing and the learning is more consistent across your group. A participant manual also gives the student something to review later to brush-up on the material covered through self-study.

A word about application training. Application training is unique – don’t skimp here. Some people learn by seeing, others by doing and still others with a combination of both. If you’re training employees how to use a new computer application, blend presentation training with “computer lab” activities so participants can first “see” and then “do.” If you don’t have a training room outfitted with PC’s, have participants bring their laptops or rent laptops for the training. During the lab activities portion of the training, participants can ask questions while actually performing work in the application. This ensures they’ll retain more of the learning and your program will be much more successful.

4)      Environment and Experience:

The success of your training content is directly tied to the training environment and the training experience for participants. Be sure your training room is comfortable and free of distractions. Have water and healthy snacks to keep participants energy and engagement up. Effective training includes a mixture of elements including clearly stating objectives, communicating what participants will learn, lecture, discussion/activity, debrief and assessment. Variety will fight distraction and boredom. Simple things are important like making sure everyone can see and hear the presentation, especially for larger groups of 15+ participants. Set expectations for how questions will be handled then repeat questions for all to hear. Pause periodically to validate with the class that concepts are understood. And finally, make it fun!

5)      Successful Training Is Not An Event:

The most successful employees have regular training integrated into performance management. Follow up on learning retention rates by implementing training evaluations and refreshers. Don’t make the mistake of having a 1-day training and never following up again. Include an assessment immediately following the training and then again 2-4 weeks later to measure what participants have learned and what they remember. Use assessment results to tweak ongoing training for improvement.

Training and teaching others, helping them grow and make a bigger contribution is some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

If you have comments about this article or questions about a training initiative you’re putting together for your company, please contact Bill Leinweber at 513-227-9037 by email at Bill@LandmarkExperience.com.

What’s the Cost of Voices Unheard? – Part II of II

[This is Part II in a two-part series.]

In my last post, I “came out of the closet” about my childhood stuttering. It’s not like it was a big secret. But most of the people who know me today may not realize I stuttered terribly as a child.

Over time, I came to realize the impact that stuttering had on my life in business, as a manager, a leader, a facilitator, a mentor, a teacher. In short, I like hearing from everyone at the table. I want all voices to be heard. Not merely to be polite. When I’m trying to solve a problem, I want to have as much information as possible so the solution will serve the broadest audience. In turn, there’s a huge benefit to a business and to customer and employee experience when all the voices are heard. But all the voices aren’t always audible so, what to do about it?

On Which Side of the Table Are You?

I’d like to share an experience with you that changed the way I see group interaction. A few years back, I participated in a 2-day management workshop sponsored by our Division President. 20-25 managers gathered from various locations and departments around the division. The workshop facilitator led us through a group exercise where we lined-up around a U-shaped table, with the most extroverted person at one end of the table and the most introverted person at the other end. This would be really difficult to do with a roomful of strangers but thankfully, most of us had worked together a sufficient amount of time. We all stood up and proceeded to move around the table and drop ourselves into place based on our perceptions of where we were in the extro/introversion spectrum.

No Surprise, There Were Surprises

Once we settled into our positions at the table, we all stood there and looked around the room. At the “extrovert” end of the table stood our Division President, an uppercase “A personality;” vocal, bold, aggressive and confident. No surprise to any of us.

At the opposite and “introvert” end of the table stood our Purchasing Manager, a loyal, quiet, and diligent leader who is content to observe, plan and execute her responsibilities with the least possible fanfare. Again, no surprise to any of us.

I stood smack-dab at the half-way point, with the extroverts to my left and the introverts to my right. At my immediate left stood my Customer Service Manager, “one degree” more extroverted than me. My position in the line-up was no surprise to me, although most of my friends and colleagues peg me as more extroverted that I say I am. Half of my success and enjoyment comes from stepping out in front and leading a team, training, speaking to a group. The other half comes from stepping back, observing and formulating strategy and improvements. So it made sense to me that I straddle the extrovert/introvert threshold.

When It Comes To Solving Problems, Is Halfway Around the Room Far Enough?

The big surprise to me is this: Are we hearing the voice of only half the room?

Think about it. You can do the “line-up around the table” exercise with a room full of card-carrying extroverts or a room full of quiet, demure introverts. And yet in any group, it’s possible half to a third of the people in the room may not be comfortable speaking up, and not because of any speech impediment but simply due to their personality.

But surely the introverts are not without great ideas, observations and suggestions. The mere fact that they speak less and listen more might suggest they’re better equipped to arrive at brilliantly simple solutions. I know this to be true from simply talking to front line employees one-on-one. Some of the best ideas for improvement came from simply asking someone who otherwise wouldn’t have volunteered them.

Listen to What You’re Not Hearing

As a business leader, you owe it to yourself and to the business to ensure your teams arrive at the best possible solutions and outcomes. That won’t happen when only half the room is heard. So, what can you do?

  1. Assess
    > How do your managers interact with one another and with their own teams?
    > Do a few people monopolize the discussion and the solutions?
    > Do your managers recognize personality differences and adjust their behavior to fit the situation and the individual?
    > Are changes in your business implemented only to find out later that some aspect was missed or not considered by the group?
  2. Advise
    > If the more introverted team members remain quiet in group meetings, encourage and ask for their feedback but don’t demand it.
    > Circle back. The more introspective among us may not be comfortable with “feedback on demand” in a large group. Give the person a some time to digest the information and then circle back to ask for their thoughts and suggestions.
    > Sometimes the most extroverted need to “zip it!” Remind them when it is time for someone else to speak.
  3. Improve
    > Consider group activities such as the one above that teach your team members about personality differences and that diversity is a good thing.
    > Focus on strengths. Every team member can’t be great at catching the fly ball. But everyone is great at something. Focusing on individual strengths will build confidence in all of your team members.
    > Make sure your reward systems aren’t biased toward the extroverts. When everyone has a chance of being recognized, individual participation will remain higher.

Look Around Your Table

Are you listening to everyone? Are you hearing everyone?

Little Billy Leinweber Breaks an Old Habit

Yes I had hair back then and the typewriter weighed more than I did

Nobody likes change. Well, at least very few people I know. Yet, one of the worst things for a business is to stay the same. Sure it’s easier to keep things just as they are and it’s certainly more comfortable. We like routine. Don’t rock the boat, right?

Business leaders, I want you to venture out into your front lines and pick a process or procedure and ask your staff, “Why do we do this? And why is it done in this way?” If you hear anything at all like, “We’ve always done it this way,” then you’ve just stumbled on a huge opportunity. An opportunity to improve and do things better. “We’ve always done it this way” is the worst reason in the world to continue doing something. I know. And just to show you how committed I am, I’m going to stop doing something I’ve done for the past 43 years. I’m going to do something differently.

I learned to type at the age of nine. It was summer school between fourth and fifth grade. I think it was a punishment because I don’t remember volunteering. I just remember I went to summer school and had Living Science (like outdoor biology) and typing class. That was the first and last time I ever went to summer school. Yeah, I can hear you laughing but how many of you have the courage to put a 4th grade photo of yourself on the internet? Anyway, I remember the day the News Herald photographer and reporter came into the class to take the picture. Definitely a slow news day in Mentor, Ohio. The newspaper story begins, “Little Billy Leinweber didn’t even look big enough to reach the typewriter keys…” And for those of you who can’t remember, that big metal object in front of me is called a typewriter. It’s what we used to type letters and envelopes and other documents before computers. You can stop laughing now.

The really cool thing is, by the time computers did become commonplace I already knew how to type and I mean using all my fingers and without looking at the keyboard. And all these years, I thought I was doing it right because “I’ve always done it this way.” Then about a month ago, I read a blog post somewhere and the author was saying, “Anyone who puts 2 spaces between sentences is doing it wrong!” What? Are you kidding? That’s the way I was taught to type 43 years ago. One space between words and two spaces between sentences. What the heck was this guy talking about?

As it turns out, the two-spaces-between-sentences thing was because typewriter characters were monospaced, meaning each letter took up the same amount of space. If you typed two sentences one over the other, the letters in the top row would line up in columns with the letters in the row beneath. A computer produces proportionally spaced characters (unless you use a font like Courier which mimics a typewriter font). With proportional spacing the letter “i” for example takes up only 1/5 the space of the letter “m.” With proportional spacing, there is no longer a need to put two spaces between sentences. Hmmm… I don’t remember getting the newsflash.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to change a habit that you began 43 years ago? Well, it’s not easy but I’m going to do it. I’m going to re-condition myself to type only one space between sentences. Why? To be cool and “with it?” No, because it actually does look better in print and on-screen. It’s more pleasing to read. It’s a better way. Oh sure, I could say the heck with it, I’m going to just keep typing the way I’ve always done it. It would be much easier for me to not change a thing especially because I don’t even have to think about it. My thumbs automatically go tap-tap on the space bar every time I get to the end of a sentence so, it’s going to take some effort. But isn’t it good practice now and then to make a change for the better and not use “We’ve always done it this way” as an excuse to stay comfortable?

Customer experience in your business and your business in general will never be at its absolute best if you continue doing things as you’ve always done them because it’s simply easier. Take a look around your business. Be open. Turn on your peripheral vision. Why do we do this? Why do we do it this way? If the reason is “We’ve always done it this way” then start digging. Is it the best way? Are you willing put forth the effort to make your business better? You CAN do it. Take a hint from Little Billy Leinweber. If he can change something he learned when he was nine, you can make a change too!

The Language of Customer Experience

Watch your language.”  In my mind’s ear, I can hear my mother’s voice speaking those words if, as kids, we got a little too rambunctious with our vocabulary.  Mom also had a great way of making sure we could imagine being in the other person’s shoes.  That’s probably why, in part, I have such a heightened sense of the spoken and written language in the spectrum of customer experience.

I often wonder if people actually stop to think about the meaning of the words they’ve chosen when addressing customers.  The nuances are subtle. (Is that redundant? Can you have an obvious nuance)?  Let’s put a bit more thought into the language we use with customers, shall we?

A phrase comes to mind, spoken by Queen Marie of France in the movie Ever After – A Cinderella Story. Choose your words wisely, Madame, for they may be your last.”  The Queen is speaking to Rodmilla (played by Angelica Huston), as she stands before the court after Rodmilla’s lies and deceit have been exposed.  Okay, it’s true that customer experience isn’t usually that dramatic a life or death situation.  However, the Queen’s point is that words elicit emotions within the listener.  So in customer experience, shouldn’t we choose our words wisely and positively touch the customer emotionally?  It may be our last chance to impress them.

I’ve gathered a couple of examples for your consideration.  However, before I get to those examples, after reading this please don’t go writing my sponsors about “Bill’s total disregard for colloquial speech,” —  Y’all.  I do also understand that different regions and parts of the country and the world have their own unique words and phrases but, let’s set that aside for a moment.

I’m Sorry to Hear

The scenario for my first example is this.  You’ve just received a shipment for something you ordered online.  The contents of your shipping container were poorly packaged and the product got smashed to smithereens in transit.  You call the vendor and, to the customer service agent, you explain both the unfortunate situation as well as your total displeasure that the product has been rendered useless to you on the very day you had hoped to begin using it.  The customer service person says, “I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had a problem…”

Do they actually regret that you had a bad experience OR are they just sorry to hear about it?  Is that agent saying they wished someone else had heard about it?  I don’t like “sorry to hear.”  Either be sorry, or be regretful or be apologetic but don’t be sorry that you heard that my carton got smashed in transit.  If you hadn’t heard of my malady, you wouldn’t be able to help me resolve it, right?  Now, I’ve heard some people claim that you shouldn’t say you’re “sorry” unless you were deliberately responsible for causing the mishap but I think that’s hogwash.  (Is hogwash the solution prepared in advance to wash the hogs or the runoff afterwards?  My money is on the runoff.)  A better response is, “I’m sorry your order arrived damaged…” or “I regret that you had this bad experience…

You get my drift.  Show a little sincere empathy.

At My/Our Earliest Convenience

In this next example, you happen to be calling your janitorial service to compliment them on the great job they’re doing and you reach their general voice mail after hours.  You listen to the recorded greeting before leaving your message and you hear, “Thanks for calling ABC Janitorial Service.  The office is now closed.  Please leave your message after the tone and we’ll return your call at our earliest convenience.”  A variation on this theme would be, you’re calling “Mary” and Mary’s greeting says, “I’ll call you back at my earliest convenience.

So, you’ll call the customer back when you’re good and ready?  You’ll return the customer’s call at a time that is most convenient to you?  Shouldn’t convenience be on the customer’s terms?  Of course it should.  This is a distortion of the message you, as a caller, would leave on the customer-recipient’s voice mail such as, “Hi Mary.  It’s Bill Leinweber calling.  I’m sorry I missed you but I would love to discuss your responses to our recent customer survey.  Please call me at your earliest convenience.  My number is…

Defer your messaging to the customer’s convenience for the optimum customer experience.

You doing okay?

We were in a restaurant the other day and had just each taken a couple bites of our food.  The restaurant manager started making his way, table by table, across the dining room and when he arrived at our table he said, “You guys doing okay?

I’m willing to bet this restaurant chain’s management training program has a half-day module where they tell the managers how important it is to get out on the floor every hour or so, greet guests and schmooze and make guests feel welcomed.  On the surface, it’s a great idea.  Here’s the restaurant’s chance to have yet another positive, face to face interaction with a guest.  But if “You doing okay” is the best the manager can muster, they have a huge opportunity here.  “How are your meals, gentlemen” or “Have we made you feel welcomed and comfortable” or “Is there anything else we can bring to you?”  I can think of a hundred things better to say than “You doing okay?

Coach your managers and supervisors on what to say then let them personalize the message to their own personalities.

Your Call Is Important To Us

You’ve probably heard me talk about this one before because it is a pet peeve and I cringe every single time I hear it.  I’m not sure which call center industry prodigy coined this phrase and why it seems every business on planet earth has copied it.  “Your call is important to us” is both condescending to the customer and unimaginative.  I cringe further when “Your call is important to us” is followed by “Your wait time is approximately 7 minutes…”  If your customer’s call is truly important to your business, then don’t just say it is important – demonstrate it! At what point, after how many minutes on hold, does the customer begin to believe despite the claims, that their call is in fact unimportant?

The customer assumes their call is important to you.  Otherwise, why would they even be doing business with you in the first place?  Simple rule here – don’t say stupid things to customers.  Instead, say something like, “We’re glad you called us today” because aren’t you really glad the customer called you and not your competition?  Or “We’re looking forward to speaking with you shortly” or even “An agent will be available soon.”

What are you saying to your customers?

Re-read what you’ve written.  Listen to the words you’re choosing when speaking to your customers.  Of course, you should be doing more listening to customers than talking.  But when you do speak, the words you use are an important part of the customer’s experience.

Now, (as my mom would say) I can get off my high horse.