Jacky Leonard's blog

Category: Delivering Authentic Customer Experiences

Are you listening, or waiting to interrupt?

Categories:  Effective Communication, Delivering Authentic Customer Experiences

Constant improvements in technology mean you can communicate with almost anyone you want 24/7. A ring, beep, or buzz can get you reaching for your mobile phone quicker than a gunfighter at the OK corral. Does this come at the expense of your personal and professional relationships? How good are you at being ‘present’ and in the moment with your friends, family and business associates? Are you really listening, or waiting impatiently for your chance to talk?

Developing the important and underrated skill of listening can have a massive impact on your ability to positively respond, influence and interact with others. However, it’s not as simple as it may seem. Effective listening skills can be difficult to acquire and here’s why… Did you know, you talk at a rate of around 125 words a minute, yet have the ability to listen at a rate of 400 words a minute? The result is, you can find yourself way ahead of the person who’s speaking and get easily distracted, by your own thoughts, internal dialogue, or external factors.

These barriers, distractions and noise can be categorised as physical, social and psychological and include:

• Language, vocal tone, pitch and volume

• Location, distance and environment

• Disability, impairment, or tiredness

• Cultural and religious differences

• Different interpretation of what’s being said based on age, gender, class or your opinion of the person speaking

• Personal values and attitude

• Beliefs about yourself, others and the world around you

It’s natural for your mind to wander and you either end up thinking of something else; or the words you hear trigger a connection to something you’d like to share. You’ve now stopped listening and are waiting to interrupt. When you consider all the potential barriers, you’d be forgiven for wondering how you ever manage to communicate effectively. So, it truly does take commitment, effort and a genuine interest if you want to be an effective listener.

Here are 4 simple tips to help you on your way:

1. Put down the device

Technology is here to stay. You’ll probably use numerous devices such as a mobile phone, tablet and laptop to connect with your with friends, help run your business more efficiently and keep you entertained. All really useful, however, if you’re not careful, they can be detrimental to having meaningful personal interactions. It’s almost impossible to focus completely on anyone, if you’re face down in your phone, or answering emails while your colleague is trying to initiate a conversation with you.

Social networking is great, but can leave you being completely unsociable and unapproachable with people standing right in front of you. If you really want to make meaningful connections, put down the device, turn away from the screen and take a few minutes to be in the moment and give that person your full attention. Next time you meet up with your friends, family or colleagues, give it a try.

Agree to leave your phones in your bag or pocket and have a conversation where you really listen to each other. You’ll find you get a better understanding of the topic and appreciate other people’s perspective.

2. Tune in

Everyone’s favourite radio station is WIIFM…What’s In It For Me? Tuning in to them, puts you in their space and makes meaningful interactions more likely. This requires you to completely listen, so you make every person feel they’re getting your full attention. In Geoff Burch’s book Resistance is Useless…the art of business persuasion, he says “It’s not the gift of the gab you need, it’s the gift of the earhole.”

3. Be interested, rather than trying to be interesting

You can only tune in effectively if you really show you’re interested. There’s an old adage, people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. It may sound corny, but it’s true. Be curious about your colleagues, suppliers and clients. Ask open questions and really listen to what the other person has to contribute.

Machiavelli said “if you’re talking your giving information and therefore giving power away; if you’re listening and asking questions you’re gaining information, the raw material of knowledge, and therefore gaining power.”

People often talk a lot without getting to what they really want to say, so asking questions, reflecting back and summarising what you hear will help you to find out exactly what the other person thinks and feels.

4. Listen with empathy

One of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is, Seek first to understand, then to be understood, which means listening with empathy. Covey refers to this as the 5th Level of listening. It’s much more than just keeping quiet; it’s about getting within the other person’s frame of reference and tuning in, without interrupting or preparing your reply. You might have very different opinions, values and beliefs…that’s okay, as long as you learn to listen without prejudice and acknowledge their point of view before presenting your own.

Truly listening to someone is an underused, underrated and powerful skill that will improve the effectiveness of your communication and enable you to understand the motives and actions of others. If you want to win friends and influence people, go and give someone a good listening to.

Square pegs, round holes?

Categories:  Business Coaching, Training & Coaching, Delivering Authentic Customer Experiences

"...the right person, in the right place, at the right time.”  CIPD

One of my consistent observations is the power of people within an organisation…and I’m not just talking about the suits.  Staff at all levels of the organisation have their own specific role to play.  However, like parts of the human anatomy, if one piece is neglected it doesn’t take long before it breaks down and needs attention.  The medical profession can do marvellous things to put you back together again and repair the damage, but sometimes your body will reject the implant, treatment or medication, simply because it’s just not compatible. 

So what has this got to do with your organisation?

Well, you may have tried, or be trying to do the same thing i.e. ‘implanting’ the wrong people who you later have to reject because your culture and their values are incompatible, or neglecting those people within your organisation who are doing a great job because your focus is on the 20% who are underperforming.

Because time is tight and you’ve got your own job to do driving the business, these underperformers are sometimes not dealt with quickly enough and before you know it they’ve infected others with their inappropriate behaviour.  Pretty soon you have an epidemic of demotivated and poorly performing staff that will cause you a lot of wasted time, money and energy to put right.  Dealing with performance management issues eats away at these precious resources.

So where do you start?  Right at the beginning.   You must recruit the right people; the ones that share your passion, energy and drive.  Your organisations culture and their values must be aligned at the start or you’ll end up with an unhealthy cultural fit.

According to Gareth Roberts, author of the CIPD’s (Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development) Recruitment and Selection publication, "Recruitment and selection is the foundation of all other HR activity. Get it wrong and it doesn't matter how good the development programme is, how well an employer motivates their staff, how well they manage their performance, or even how well they reward them - they are always making up for that one bad decision.”

Regularly reviewing the work required within your area of responsibility will enable you to identify any shortfall in your team’s knowledge, skills and competence and allow you to fill the gaps by selecting the most appropriate intervention e.g. training, mentoring, coaching etc.  Continually developing team members offers opportunities to promote from within, however this still needs to be achieved through a fair, equitable and non-discriminatory process.

Regardless of how good an employer you are, there will be times when a vacancy arises.  Making a prompt decision about the most appropriate option i.e. restructure, replace or job share, will help you to start the recruitment process swiftly, avoiding any unnecessary drop in service.

The best candidates will be able to demonstrate the right balance of technical expertise and behavioural skills for the job role. However, it's up to you to provide a fair, unbiased and equitable recruitment process so you can make the task of finding the most suitable candidate as easy as possible for job seekers and interviewers.

Over the next few months I’ll be running Recruit & Retain Staff Workshops in collaboration with CIMSPA.  Using practical tools, models and learning activities, this 1-day workshop will help you to successfully navigate the stages of the recruitment process and put the right person in the right place at the right time.

Forthcoming dates include:

23 June in Rochdale

06 July in Cwmbran

28 July in Belfast

13 October in Rusden

For specific details on venues, times and cost just follow this link to the CIMSPA website http://www.cimspa.co.uk/en/events/cimspa-events.cfm and book your place.

I hope to see you soon.

 

 

Engaging with your customers

Categories:  Business Coaching, Effective Communication, Delivering Authentic Customer Experiences

Here we are for the third and final Blog on the topic of engagement. 

This time it’s about the people you do business with…your customers.  Your staff (if you have them) and your end users are the most important people you’ll deal with.  Like them, or loathe them, the simple fact is, without them you don’t exist.  These days’ clients are very discerning; they want a personal service; after all, who wants to be treated like a number?  Transacting is not enough, you have to create exceptional experiences and positive interactions that WOW your customers into returning and leave them desperate to tell their friends how fabulous you are.

The thing is, your clients don’t owe you anything, especially their commitment, unless there’s something in it for them.  The essence of any interaction is mutual exchange.  You’ll find it much easier to sell the benefits of your service if you find out what interests, excites and motivates your clients.  So how can you do this consistently?  Do you, and every member of your team deal respectfully with all customers treating them as a person, not a process, and an individual, not a collective?

Here are 5 simple tips to engage effectively with your customers:

 

1. Say my name

What’s in a name? Well a lot actually!  Destiny’s Child, had it right, it’s so important to use someone’s name as it makes your interaction far more personal and friendly.  Exchanging names is even better.  Don’t wait to be asked…give them yours early in the conversation and let them know you’re available to help them whenever they’re ready.  Knowing and using your customers’ names and remembering something about them helps build rapport and develop a more positive relationship.  Be sincere and genuine in your approach. Good manners cost nothing and a “please” and a “thank you” go a long way too.

 

2. Be interested

Yes, I’ve mentioned this one in previous Blogs and I make no apologies for highlighting it here again.  I can’t emphasise it enough; it’s really that important.  You’re not there to entertain them…unless you’re an actor, comedian or circus performer.  Your role is to provide a service, or better still an exceptional experience.  To do that you must ask, before you tell, or sell i.e. find out exactly what their challenges are, what they want, or don’t want and how you can find a solution that’s the best fit for them.

You can’t possibly provide a personal service that meets the customers’ requirements unless you take some interest.  Follow these simple steps and you’ll be well on your way. 

  • Ask questions and listen to what the client has to contribute
  • Summarise, so you’re sure you understand
  • Ask more questions to clarify if you’re not sure
  • Listen for what they want, what they don’t want and their possible objections 
  • Tell them how you can meet those specific needs

You can’t do this effectively unless you really show you’re interested in them. There’s an old adage, peopledon’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  It may sound corny, but it’s true.

3. Tune in

This leads us nicely on to my third tip…tune in; I mean really listen and make every customer feel their getting your full attention.  You’ve probably heard of every customer’s favourite radio station?  WIIFM…What’s In It For Me?  You have to tune in to it before you begin any interaction and try to put yourself in the customer’s space.  If you’ve done your market research you’ll probably have a very good idea who your ideal client is, where they’re based, what’s their pain and what they’re about. That puts you on the same frequency, but you will still need to tune in and eliminate the static before you can get a clearer sound bite of specifically what they want. 
Be attentive, ask relevant, open questions and focus on their response, without pre-empting it.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’ve heard it all before, particularly if you’ve been in the same business for a long time.  Remember, every customer is different, each have their own challenges, budget and outcomes.  You just need to take the time to listen without prejudice, preconception or pride before you reveal how you can help. 
Removing that third P, pride is particularly relevant when dealing with complaints.  If you find yourself thinking I’ve heard this all before, stop and ask yourself why you haven’t addressed it earlier.  If you don’t bother listening, your clients they’ll spend their money elsewhere.  Many won’t even bother to tell you what they want unless you ask and if they’re dissatisfied with your service they’re more likely to whinge and leave than complain. 

4. Keep your promises

Most customer complaints come from a failure to meet their expectations.  They’ve seen your promotional material, read your website, or even had a recommendation from a friend.  This and their past experiences of similar services have coloured their perception of what they should expect from you.  Imagine how disappointed they’ll be if you fall short of these expectations.
Review your promotional materials, listen to your customer interactions and check if they match the service you provide. You want customers to at least get what they’ve expected so they continue to choose you as their service provider, leave with a good feeling and refer others to your business. 

It’s far better to under promise and over deliver, but if you really want to impress how about over promising and over delivering!

 

5. Check out the customer’s perspective

Be careful not to make assumptions about what you think your customers want; it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing you know everything your customer’s heart desires, when the opposite is quite often the reality, particularly if you’ve been in the business for a long time.  Ask and consider...

  • What’s most important to your customers? 
  • Why do they use your services rather than your competitors?
  • What one thing could you do to improve the quality of their visit?

Do an MOT; a Moments of Truth exercise.  It’s a bit like mystery shopping your own business to find out what it’s like from the ‘other side of the counter.’  Check out all the systems, procedures and stages in your client acquisition process.  How easy is it to buy from you?  Looking objectively at your own business is not as easy as it may seem, however it’s really important to keep customer focussed.  So if you can’t do it, engage someone that can. 


There are professional mystery shopping organisations, or you could brief a trusted friend, colleague or existing customer. Also, consider what opportunities you have for your customers to give you their feedback and create a dialogue with you.  Then when they do bother to comment, let them know you appreciate their feedback and remember to inform them what action you’ve taken to enhance your services, particularly if it was something that the client requested. If you receive a complaint, follow it up and do something about it.  It is possible to create a good experience out of a bad one, if you really value your customer.

So there you have it.  Which one will you start with today?

National Customer Service Week

Categories:  Business Coaching, Effective Communication, Delivering Authentic Customer Experiences

 

“Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.”

 

Walt Disney

As we come to the end of National Customer Service week I thought it might be timely to ask, “Are you consistently creating exceptional experiences for your clients or customers?”

Whatever service you offer, chances are someone else is providing something similar just around the corner.  Good clients are hard to come by and often costly to attract, so when you do get them interested you need to WOW! them into choosing you as their preferred service provider and make a consistent and concerted effort to exceed their expectations at every opportunity.

Which of the following are your customers regularly experiencing?

  1. An OW! – a miserable moment.  An experience that fails to meet your customers’ expectations; one they remember, for all the wrong reasons; one they’ll tell all their friends about...and anyone else who care’s to listen, although you’d really prefer they didn’t!

  2. A HOW – a neutral moment.  An experience that is just as the customer expected; no surprises (good or bad); one they’ll forget quite easily because it made very little impression either way.

  3. A WOW! – a magic moment.  An experience that exceeds the customers’ expectations; one they’ll remember and tell their friends about for the right reasons.

Starting off a relationship with an OW! Rather than a WOW! is never a good customer service strategy.  It is possible to create a WOW out of an OW, but would you want to risk it?

Sadly, it seems poor service is too readily accepted these days.  The up side is this makes WOWs quite easy to achieve, providing you listen to your customers and really consider your service from the customer’s perspective.  This can be a challenge, particularly if you’ve been in your business for a long time.  Complacency can creep in and there’s a tendency to start believing you know best as you’ve heard/seen/done it all before.

Failure to WOW! your customers could be costing you…

  • A loss of reputation

  • Shrinking profits

  • Low staff morale

  • Increased staff turnover 

  • Increased client attrition

  • Higher recruitment costs (internal and external clients)

  • Reduced organic growth

  • Loss of up selling and cross selling opportunities

  • Wasted time, effort and money

 

To celebrate National Customer Service week, join me in a quick review and ask yourself:

  • What are the WOWs in my organisation? 

  • Who consistently delivers them?

  • How can I capitalise and create more of these magic moments?

Download my free report which outlines 7 straightforward strategies could save you time, energy and money and help drive clients to your business rather than to the competition.

Go WOW them!

Smile! You're on Stage

Categories:  Life Balance and Wellbeing, Delivering Authentic Customer Experiences

"Everyone Smiles In the Same Language"

I came across this quote the other day and thought what a powerful action a smile can be.  I’m not talking about the “have a nice day” type, but the genuine, sincere, joyous one that you can see in the eyes not just on the mouth.  So I asked myself…

What’s the potential power of a smile?

The Oxford Dictionary defines a smile as a “facial expression indicating pleasure, or amusement, with lips stretched and their ends upturned.”  Even the definition makes you want to do it!

It is a universal sign of happiness and has the capacity to transcend the boundaries of race, culture, social status and religion.  It can truly light up a person’s face and make them seem more approachable, friendly and attractive.  It apparently even takes fewer muscles to achieve than a frown.  All damn good reasons to do more of it if you ask me!

I travel to London on business occasionally and am still amazed to observe so many apparently miserable people on their commute into the City.  Being in that sort of environment can really sap your energy.  It makes me grateful I don’t have to do it every day because I can see how easy it would be to follow suit if you are subjected to it day in day out.

The amount of activities people find to distract them from having to make eye contact or, god forbid, talk to anyone is quite inventive.  Ipods, Kindles, newspapers, books, big headphones, Ipads, PCs, mobile phones, even reading the ads on the wall – you name it and its being used in one form or another as a barrier, shielding the person from any potentially undesirable encounter with a madman or woman.  There seems to be some unwritten rule that smiling and eye contact with your fellow passengers is strictly forbidden.  You smile on a train or tube and people will either think your weird, barking mad or have criminal intent!

So what happens to these people when they get into work?  Do they step out of tube trauma, into a working wonderland?  I guess that depends on a number of factors.  One notable consideration is, if you spend the best part of your life at work you should really be doing something you LOVE.  Brian Mayne refers to it as “do the thing that makes your heart sing.”  Lovely sentiment isn’t it? 

So are you?

If you aren’t, chances are, work will excite you as much as your tube or train journey and the people who work with you, or around you will not be having much fun either.  Frankly life is too short to wake up dreading the thought of getting out of bed to go to a job you can’t stand.

If you work in a customer oriented industry you really need to be passionate about people.  Like anyone who is great at what they do; people who like people make customer interactions seem effortless. 

If you’re responsible for recruitment, employ people who have a great attitude; who smile naturally, love people and who are genuinely interested in making a difference.

If you are an owner, director or manager within your organisation you really need to walk your talk.  People respond to what they see you do, rather than what you ask them to do.  You are their role model and are on show the whole time.

Research shows that people who understand their roles and feel a sense of belonging to a team are happier in their work, more committed to their colleagues and less likely to take time off.  A friend of mine categorises people as radiators or drains; the former exudes warmth and are a pleasure to be around, the latter draws the life out of you!  Whether you’re a manager or not you still have a responsibility to support your team.   After all wouldn’t you prefer to work around life’s radiators? 

Your customers also want to feel they belong; to be somewhere they fit in, with people they like and can trust.  To achieve this, your team needs to authentically reflect your values and sincerely convey these to your customers.  People don’t leave people, so if you genuinely portray a professional, helpful, friendly environment you are more likely to attract this sort of customer.  I know I’d much rather be surrounded by positive people than greeted with a snarl, or by someone with a face like a slapped backside!

It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking yourself too seriously.  I have certainly been guilty of this in the past.  Thankfully my perspective has changed over the years and as a consequence I’m a much more relaxed individual who tries to see the humour in most things.  I’d have probably gone quite mad years ago if I didn’t!  The important thing here of course is you have the ability to choose what you think and how you feel.  You can be a “drain” or a “radiator” – entirely your choice.

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

So if you’re still not convinced her are a few reasons why you should, in the words of Monty Python, “Always look on the bright side of life.”  Or as Ian Drury once sang here are some “Reasons to be cheerful…”

  • A smile and a sense of humour costs nothing
  • When you’re happy, your brain releases endorphins, serotonin and dopamine into the body affecting your sense of well-being and increasing pain tolerance
  • It’s infectious, so you’ll encourage others to follow your lead, just check this out and see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKnY8tBLG3g
  • People will generally respond more positively to you
  • Research shows laughing reduces stress related conditions, like high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, social phobia, heart disease and headaches
  • Happy people sleep better and feel healthier
  • Laughter boosts the immune system, lifts your spirits and makes you feel better which means less sickness absenteeism
  • A good laugh is excellent exercise as it increases your oxygen levels and works the muscles involved in breathing
  • Having fun makes your day more enjoyable and will enhance your customers experience of your service
  • A happier environment will improve customer retention – people are less likely to leave people they like
  • It’s something you can do quite naturally – just try it!

And remember "Seven days without laughter makes one weak" - Mort Walker

So, it really is up to you.  Go on, SMILE! (The genuine, sincere type) You’re on Stage!    

Who’s the Daddy (or Mummy)? – your customer that’s who…

Categories:  Business Coaching, Effective Communication, Delivering Authentic Customer Experiences

“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us – we are dependent on him.”

 

If I asked you to list your company’s assets, would you reel off the items on your balance sheet, or would you put your customers first?  They really do deserve that number one slot; think about it; they are the most important people in your business; your life blood; the means and the reason for your business, not an interruption to it!

When I refer to your customer I mean both the internal and external variety; your employees as well as the paying clients.  If, like me you’ve worked in a contractual situation you may have the additional consideration of a purchasing authority to add to the challenges of managing a team and satisfying an end user.

Each of these ‘customers’ is an important asset.  Love or loathe them, you simply can’t ignore them – without them you don’t exist!

Place customer satisfaction firmly and proudly at the heart of your business so everything you do reflects a desire to provide the best service possible.  Forget how important they are and you may not feel the pain immediately, but it will hurt soon enough.  Attrition can start as a small leak; but trust me; it doesn’t take long before you’ll be haemorrhaging customers and it will take more than a sticking plaster to stem the flow. A high turnover staff can have a dramatic effect on the consistency of your service and will invariably have an impact on your ability to retain customers.  The cost of replacing them (staff and customers) is significant and can eat away at your profits at an alarming rate.

The process of exceptional customer experiences start internally.  You can’t possibly create an inviting, friendly, professional environment if your staff are at war with you and each other.  Any unrest within a team will hang over your business like a dark cloud and is about as easy to get rid of as a bad smell.   So before you consider throwing more resources at attracting new customers it may be worth checking if your internal service strategy is fully functional.

Over the coming months I’ll be focussing on how you can consistently provide exceptional experiences for both your internal and external customers.  For me, exceptional service is simple.  It’s the creation of an environment where staff can’t wait to come to work and customers can’t wait to bring their friends. Simple, but not easy; it requires a passion for people, a desire to make a difference and the energy and commitment to take consistent action.

Creating a memorable first impression

Categories:  Business Coaching, Effective Communication, Delivering Authentic Customer Experiences

We live in a world where there are too many suppliers and not enough customers…

Whatever service you offer, chances are someone else is providing something similar just around the corner.  Good clients are hard to come by and often costly to attract, so when you do get them interested you need to WOW them into choosing you as their preferred service provider.  That first impression is incredibly important so do it right.

Customer service comes in 3 distinct packages.

An OW!a miserable moment.  An experience that fails to meet the customers’ expectations; one they remember, for all the wrong reasons; one they’ll tell all their friends about…and anyone else who care’s to listen, although you’d really prefer they didn’t!

A HOWa neutral moment.  An experience that is just as the customer expected; no surprises (good or bad); one they’ll quite easily forget because it made very little impression either way.

A WOW!a magic moment.  An experience that exceeds the customers’ expectations; one they’ll remember and tell their friends about for the right reasons.

Starting off a relationship with an OW! Rather than a WOW! is never a good strategy.

It takes seconds to create that all important first impression and it will often be formed before you even open your mouth.  Consider how you personally present yourself to your customers; are you giving the right impression, or already falling short of their expectations.  Of course it’s not just you; if you employ staff to help deliver your service how do they come across?

And it doesn’t stop there…

Anytime your prospective customers come into contact with any aspect of your service you’ll be judged.  Do your promotional materials, resources, premises etc. present the appropriate image?

Remember, you never get a second chance to create a first impression.  Start well and strive to consistently deliver an exceptional level of customer service every day.

La la la…I’m not listening!

Categories:  Business Coaching, Effective Communication, Delivering Authentic Customer Experiences

In my 20 plus years working within service organisations I’ve come to the conclusion listening is an underrated, but really vital skill.  I’m often left cold by what passes for good listening.  What I frequently observe could be more accurately described as ‘waiting to interrupt’!

I was at a presentation for Investors in People a few years back where David Fairhurst, VP People at McDonalds gave his simple success formula for creating exceptional customer service.

It was:

L2 (C+E)+R

The translation?

Listen a lot to customers and employees and respond

Great isn’t it?

It’s about being INTERESTED, rather than INTERESTING!  However, as with all simple concepts, they sometimes aren’t quite so easy to achieve and require a good deal of effort and commitment from the whole organisation and in particular from the person doing the listening and responding.

So what’s the reason listening is such a difficult skill to acquire?

Well, we talk at a rate of around 125 words a minute, yet have the ability to listen at a rate of 400 words a minute.  This often means we are way ahead of the person who is speaking and as a consequence can get distracted.  Our minds can wander and we either end up thinking of something else; or the speakers words may trigger a connection in our brains to information we’d like to share.  At this point we are in ‘waiting to interrupt’ mode, rather than really  listening!  So it truly does take commitment, effort and a genuine interest if you want to be an effective listener.

Go on, give it a try.  Alternatively, you could just stick your fingers in your ears and say after me la la la…I’m not listening!!