When your co-worker is a pain

Chances are you work with at least one or two people who you're not crazy about. That's normal. After all, people bring different skills, cultures, and personalities to work. It would be surprising if everyone did want to be best friends with everyone else. That's why in my Leading a Customer Focused Team seminars, I encourage leaders to NOT refer to their group as a family. In families we need to love one another. Instead, talk about your group as a team. Imagine on pro hockey teams how many oversized egos there are in the locker room. Some players have strong dislikes for certain teammates. On the ice however, everyone has a common goal and works together, whether they like each other or not. Your employees will actually be relieved when you say you expect them to work together as a team; not love each other as a family.

Top Six Selling Bloopers (and how to avoid them)

Sports bloopers often about preventable errors that favor the other team. The classic is when players score against their own side. In the world of business, there are similar blunders – particularly during buying conversations with potential customers – that end up favoring the competition. As I explain in my seminars for sales teams, it’s not always a shortfall in your company’s product, price, or service that ruins a potential sale. Often it’s inadvertent comments that put customers off just enough for them to choose your competitor. Unfortunately, sales reps are usually unaware they commit these offenses so they keep repeating them. See if you or your team members ever make these top six selling gaffs.

1. Insulting their intelligence

Let’s assume that if a customer is in a position of authority in their company (meaning they are trusted to make significant buying decisions) they must be somewhat streetwise and smart. That means that any kind of pushy, manipulative sales approach is going to backfire. You need to enter a buying conversation presupposing that this customer is an intelligent, well intentioned grown-up. Your comments should include a healthy dose of, “You probably already know...”, “At your level, you’ve likely experienced...”, “For you this is obvious; the challenge is your staff may not be aware..."

2. Not listening

Contrary to popular opinion, the most important part of a sales pitch is not your value proposition. The most important part of a pitch is demonstrating your understanding of that specific customer’s unique circumstances. That requires asking pointed questions that help customers see for themselves where there are opportunities for improvement. Then verify your understanding with statements like, “Sounds like you...(summarizing their situation).”

3. Insulting the competition

If your potential customer is currently doing business with your competitor, it’s fine to compare your offerings, but be careful not to criticize the competition. After all, the customer decided to do business with them. So slamming the competition is tantamount to telling the customer that he or she made a bad choice. (See point #1 – insulting the customer).

4. Ignoring objections

If you propose a solution that ignores a customer’s objection or concern, you are essentially saying that you weren’t listening (see point #2 – not listening). That requires being transparent in how your proposal either addresses their concerns, or it provides extra value that could outweigh their concerns. The key is we shouldn’t pretend we didn’t hear or value their initial objections.

5. Being a know it all

It takes time and effort to gain trust. Yet it’s so easy to lose. It happens when we stray out of our own area of expertise and claim to be an expert in... politics, sports, raising kids, the weather, you name it. Ironically, one of the easiest ways to gain trust is to quickly admit ignorance about anything the customer seems to know a lot about. Showing respect by deferring to your customers’ knowledge and expertise helps them become more receptive to yours.

6. Ignoring the influencers

It’s easy to focus on the key decision maker - presumably the economic buyer. After all, they are the people who will approve the payment. And yet by focusing on that ‘bag of money’ we are inadvertently insulting the people who may have more say in the matter than anyone. The father of the bride may be paying the bill, but imagine the consequences of a wedding planner ignoring the wishes of the bride and her mother! (We all know the groom has no influence – he just needs to do what he’s told). The lesson is no one should feel like they’re being ignored.

Bottom line - Effective selling has less to do with pushiness and manipulation, and more to do with good manners and respect. Talk less. Listen more. Allow your competitors to blunder their way out their customers’ good graces and send them into your capable hands. Here’s to you not dropping the ball.

The #1 Way to be Valued as a Trusted Advisor

If you've attended my Trusted Advisor seminar or used any of my coaching tools, you may recall that my overriding theme is demonstrate that you understand your customers' unique circumstances. If you or your team members aren't convinced, consider this... I recently attended a presentation by Tanya Ecklund, leader of the #1 team at the #1 Re/Max office in the world. Pretty big credentials. During the Q & A I asked Tanya how, when she and her competitors were invited to submit proposals, she closed more deals. Her response was that she proved to the client that she knew more about that customer's unique property, that neighborhood, and that marketplace than the competition. Notice that Tanya's success had nothing to do with the way many realtors try to stand out; by creating hokey slogans or nicknames. Ironically, your brand value is less about your uniqueness, and more about your understanding of your customers' uniqueness.

Four Customer Service Trends to Boost your Business

When organizations invite me to speak at their conferences or train their team members, we start with trends that are impacting their customer relationships. Check out these four customer service trends along with some tips for capitalizing on them to boost your business...

1. Good service is wallpaper

Today’s customers are so busy with their multiple demands at home and work, and are so distracted by their mobile devices that they no longer even notice “good” service. That means your team may work all day long delivering consistent service and your reward will be zero. Today’s customer only notices two types of service: 1) poor service  2) REMARKable service – literally. They need to be so impressed that they’re motivated to remark or talk about your service. That brings us to trend number two and what they talk about.

2. 'Better' brands don't sell

When your company faces tough competition, being better gets lost in the clutter. Lots of organizations claim to have better service. That’s the problem. Customers don’t believe it. Better doesn’t motivate them to make significant changes when what they already have is reasonably good. What customers really want to know is what makes you unique. That requires you and your team members to explore options to do things differently. Get creative. Take calculated risks to test different ways of doing business. Disrupt your market. Give customers something different to talk about. Or one of your competitors will.

3. Choices just confuse

Offering a vast array of products and services is no longer considered by customers to be helpful. If today’s customers want to take the time and energy to explore choices, they can do an internet search and be instantly overwhelmed. Too many choices do not lead to customer purchases. They do lead to decision fatigue. This is where your team members can really stand out. Their role becomes to analyze customer needs, explore which options are best suited to satisfy those needs, and present two or three final candidates in the simplest fashion to make your customer’s decision easier.

4. Retain vs blame

This may seem counter intuitive - in today’s increasingly litigious society, it’s more important than ever that organizations admit fault and make amends the moment they have a service slipup. It’s not just that they could be sued and lose. Smart service providers have done the math and know that’s it’s much less costly to do the right thing for customers than to have disgruntled customers trashing your brand. Especially when social media messages can quickly go viral (an apt term since it effectively gives your brand a disease that makes other customers want to avoid you). The good news is that customers are wonderfully forgiving towards companies who quickly own their mistakes, and who do something to address the customer’s hassle.

Bottom line - make it easy

When we combine these trends we see the emergence of a theme. Growing your business with today’s customers means you and your team members need to be EASY to do business with. That means coming up with unique business processes that make buying from you easier. It means narrowing the choices so that buying decisions are easier. And it means training your team members so that – even when things go wrong – they recover your customers’ trust. Quickly and easily.

How to avoid a $255 million foul-up

You've no doubt seen the footage of the United Airlines flight where a customer was dragged off the plane. The fascinating customer service lesson is how a company the size of United was so oblivious to the ramifications of mistreating a passenger. As you know, airlines often offer cash incentives for passengers to take later flights. In this case no one took the $800 offer, so United ordered a random passenger to leave. What they didn't do was offer significantly more money. Do you suppose if they'd offered $5,000 then at least one passenger would have opted for a later flight? Me too. What you may not know is within 3 days of the social media frenzy United's stock value had dropped by $255 million! In other words, they could have spent 5k and saved $255 million. In today's world of social media, organizations can't afford - literally - to merely do what's legal. They need to focus on doing what's right.

Surviving Friendly Fire – 5 tips for dodging bullets when dealing with internal employees

Within virtually every organization, employees from different departments will have to interact with one another without having direct authority over them. That can easily create conflicts and bruised egos. That’s why, when I coach teams on how to enhance internal customer satisfaction, I remind them that it’s not just what they communicate to other departments, but how they do so. To ensure you and your team are seen less as interruptions, and more as value adding assets, keep in mind these five tips…

1. Talk in Person

Too often, we initiate communications to other departments in writing when we should opt for face to face conversations. When you have a new request or procedure that requires explaining, begin by talking in person to that department’s key influencers. Ask for their advice - literally. That word lowers their defenses and helps generate buy-in. Ask who else you should be talking to on their team – including any naysayers. Finally, when you decide upon the most likely to be accepted course of action, send a short written summary; more as a confirmation than as a proposal or directive.

2. Be a straight talker

Write the way you speak. Your communiques to coworkers should sound like a conversation; not a press release, essay, or legal document. Occasionally, sprinkle in some self-effacing humour. That makes you sound more like a real person and less like a bureaucrat.

3. Make your communications RACI

An engineer client of mine explained that on every construction project, team members from all departments agree upfront how the communications will be handled using the acronym R.A.C.I. The only people who will be copied on emails about the project will be: R - the one person who is Responsible for overseeing the project, A - the senior person who will be held Accountable for the project, C- people outside the project who may be Consulted for input, and finally, I - who should be Informed throughout the project. By clarifying how communications will be handled in advance, you reduce confusion and prevent others from becoming annoyed when you copy them (or don’t copy them) on a message.

4. Nix the self-promoting

Any announcement that remotely sounds like patting yourself on the back is going to be met with scorn and derision; the exact opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. Instead, take the generous approach when announcing a success, and go to lengths to recognize others who helped make it happen. Ironically, the more you heap praise on others while leaving yourself in the background, the more likely you are to be appreciated and respected for your generosity and humility.

5. Forget becoming a BFF

It’s sad and slightly pathetic how some employees try too hard to fit-in with co-workers in other departments. A boomer-aged accountant in a suit will have a hard time being seen as “just one of the guys” with young millennials clad in coveralls out in the field. Nor should he try. He’d be better off viewing his role as the field department’s Trusted Advisor from accounting. He should be quick to express admiration about the amazing things that operations folks are doing in the proverbial trenches. His colleagues in the field will appreciate that he respects them while he’s also comfortable in his own skin. In fact, they may even become protective of him, especially when he arrives on site to talk to them in person. Sure he’s an accountant; but darn it - he’s our accountant.

Bottom line - Providing support and advice to internal employees requires not just competence, but also some street smart communication skills. The good news is with just a bit of training, co-workers can avoid preventable battles and instead become valued – literally, as trusted advisors.

Smaller Steps to Bigger Business

If you're ever involved in putting together proposals for internal or external customers, keep in mind the value of small steps. You may have a wonderful master plan for how your team can add massive value, but it's wasted if it sounds too complex or too expensive. That's why it's so helpful to suggest a phased in approach. Phase one and two are the essential products/services that get the project done with some post project support. Give a single group price for those first two phases. Then explain that, providing they are pleased with the first two phases, then phase three and four - briefly described - would also be available as a follow-on. Don't include any price on phase three and four at this stage. This approach gives customers a sense that they are making progress - even if in small steps - without over committing.

Ask for Competitor Compliments

To be valued by your customers and by your employer, it isn't enough to merely give customers what they ask for. It doesn't take much skill or imagination to fill an order. Your more valued role - literally, is pivoting customers toward your additional products and services. Perhaps the most common challenge is when customers say they're happy with their current supplier of those additional products/services. That's the time to ask for competitor compliments. Ask, "What do you like about them?" After they've said some positives, then ask if there's anything they aren't so thrilled about. The key is, once the customer compliments your competitor, then they become more comfortable telling you the truth about what's missing. At that point, as I teach in my seminars, there are just two more questions that pivot your customer toward your other offerings. The key is start by asking for a compliment about your competition.

Talk about Customer’s Context over Content

A friend and colleague of mine, David Irvine wrote about the importance of demonstrating caring before competence. We may know lots about our products and services, and have the best mousetrap. The problem is none of those things matter if the customer doesn't sense that we understand their circumstances. That means noticing and anticipating the customer's mood and energy level. It means asking questions, and most of all summarizing your understanding of their context. It's the cab driver who says to the exhausted business traveler at midnight, "Let's just get you home." It's the IT technician who says to their coworker, "Computer down? What a frustrating way to start your day! Let's get it back up so you can take care of those customers who pay all our wages." It's less about the transaction, more about the person. Talk about context over content.

Small Statement to Create Large Loyalty

Imagine how much money you may cumulatively spend as a customer as you add up outlays on transportation, shelter, food, clothing, technology, household supplies etc. Chances are it’s easily in the thousands of dollars paid to each business. Unfortunately, too often employees who interact with you focus on that single transaction, and treat you accordingly. What if instead, the employee glanced at their record for you and said, “Pat, I see that you’ve been doing business with us for 8 years. Wow that’s great – thank you so much for your loyalty!” Suddenly you feel like you’re not just a transaction. You have a relationship with this company and they care enough to point it out. It becomes obvious that they get it. They build stronger customer loyalty simply by letting you know that they understand and appreciate how valuable you are. Big return for a little staff training.


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