Are your customer service people adding value to interactions?

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The night before a workshop I delivered last week in Charleston, SC I called the Mellow Mushroom for delivery. I removed cheese and meat from my appetizer, salad, and entree. (It sounds like I ate a lot! I did.) The man on the phone asked, “Are you vegan?” To that, I said, “Yes, I am.” “Me too,” he said. He then went on to explain that my Quinoa burger included a little egg as a binding and he wanted to know if that was okay. I was fine with that. From there we chatted about us both being “flexible vegans.”

The simple inquiry, “Are you vegan?” led to rapport-building conversation and such a friendly and unique experience for me. The man was friendly. He was genuine. He made me feel completely comfortable with my many customizations. And he gave me an engaging and genuine interaction.

Are your people adding value to your company through their interactions with customers?

Your employees can add value to the customer experience by doing 3 things: Making personal connection, Acknowledging concern, and Empathy

1. Making Personal Connection

This is what the man at Mellow Mushroom did, and it’s so easy to do. In my workshops, I tell people to look for something they can comment on, something perhaps that they have in common with the customer. For example, a customer service agent could say, “I ordered that exact same duffle for my daughter. She’s in cheer as well and she loves that she can throw all of her outfits and makeup in it and easily carry the bag over her shoulder.” This sharing helps create rapport because it’s genuine – and it just might lead to a sell or up-sell.

2. Acknowledge Concern

Continue reading “Are your customer service people adding value to interactions?”

What Call Center Agents Can Learn from Jack Nicholson About De-escalation

In this week’s professional development event, my De-escalation webinar, I’m going to open with a video clip from Jack Nicholson’s Five Easy Pieces. I’m showing the famous “Chicken Sandwich Diner” scene from the movie.

The clip shows Jack Nicholson’s character trying to customize a sandwich from the menu. I chose this scene because, as a vegan, I am ALWAYS customizing menu items in restaurants – the clip really resonated with me. In the clip, the waitress’s facial expression is sour, her body language is standoffish and to Nicholson’s request, she responds, “No substitutions. Only what’s on the menu.” Calmly, Jack explains that he doesn’t want what’s on the menu, he wants to modify the sandwich. Unwilling to help, the waitress says, “Do you want to talk to a manager?” Within seconds, the situation escalates to the point of Nicholson yelling and breaking dishes.

I’m sharing this clip to set the tone for the de-escalation webinar. I share several proven de-escalation strategies that will de-escalate volatile customers. But it would be remiss of me not to prepare my clients to pre-empt an escalation by avoiding things that are known triggers.

After we watch the video, I’ll share what went wrong in this scene. The employee made 4 big mistakes; mistakes that led to uncontrollable escalation. Here’s what she did wrong:

1. Started with a negative.

Nearly before the customer could ask his question, the waitress said, “No substitutions.” Her initial negative response put the customer on the defensive and showed that she was unwilling to help. This negative response started the cycle of escalation, which I talk about in the webinar. The cycle of escalation is:

Initial Contact —>  Employee Response —> Customer Reaction —> Employee Reaction

The employee’s initial contact was negative in word, attitude and body language. The customer responded with intensity, and then the employee became defensive and difficult. This led to an all-out explosive situation.

2. Spoke only about what she could not do.

Continue reading “What Call Center Agents Can Learn from Jack Nicholson About De-escalation”

Make Sure Your Language Doesn’t Invite Escalation

Women with headsets working at a call center

I blocked off yesterday afternoon to listen to a random sample of recorded phone calls between customer service representatives and customers (patients and providers) for my client. I’m preparing to deliver a full-day De-escalation workshop to this group in a couple of weeks.

One of the things I noticed is that some of the employees have a tendency to use language that opens the door for escalations. It’s unintentional. I’m sure of that. The workers are overwhelmed, if not stressed. Their customers can be difficult. To try to control conversations, provoking language is sometimes used. I hear things like: Continue reading “Make Sure Your Language Doesn’t Invite Escalation”

I Had to Pull the “Get Me a Manager” Card. Here’s Why.

upset angry skeptical, unhappy, serious woman talking on mobile phone

I’ve told this story on my blog before, so bear with me if you’ve already heard it. I’m standing at the front desk of a nice hotel in Baltimore. The front desk clerk is having a problem with my reservation. I wondered if it was because I had literally just booked the reservation 45 minutes prior, just as I got into my rental car at the airport. I told the hotel employee that perhaps my very recent booking was the problem.

He called hotels.com, the company I used for booking, not once, but two times, about my reservation. When he didn’t get things sorted out after two lengthy calls to hotels.com, he told me, “I’m just going to cancel your hotels.com reservation and rebook you in our system.”

I was eager to get into my room and rest up for a week of full-day training sessions. His suggestion sounded good to me. That is, until, a couple of months later when checking my hotels.com account, I get a message stating that my 6-night hotel stay in Baltimore had been removed from my Rewards Account and that I would not get credit for that stay.

The primary reason I use hotels.com is for the rewards. I travel a lot. It takes ten hotel stays to earn a free hotel night. In June I earned two free hotel nights and used both of those nights for get-aways with my husband. I travel a lot.

Now, the hotels.com call center is telling me that because they couldn’t help my hotel in Baltimore sort out a problem, they are removing my earned rewards? Pretty quickly in the interaction, I asked to speak to a manager. Here’s why I felt I needed to do this.

1. The number one thing customers want is help. When you don’t/can’t help, customers instinctively want to climb the ladder.

Trying to get my deserved hotel rewards, I called hotels.com. I spoke with an employee who put me on hold three times and ultimately told me there was nothing he could do. Literally, he said, “Ma’am, there’s nothing I can do.” This declaration certainly didn’t help me out. So, I said, “May I please speak with your manager?”

2. Customers also want acknowledgment. Another way to think of this is empathy. Without acknowledgment/empathy, it sounds like you don’t care. And if you don’t care, they might as well speak to someone else.

Continue reading “I Had to Pull the “Get Me a Manager” Card. Here’s Why.”

3 De-escalation Strategies for Angry Customers

My daughter and I were driving home from church Sunday afternoon. We were in the left hand turn lane behind another car. We had the green arrow, yet the car in front of me hadn’t started to accelerate. The driver behind me laid on the horn something terrible. I actually turned around to look at her. She let up for a second and then honked again. “Ridiculous,” I said to my daughter. In the rearview mirror I saw the lady was giving me the middle finger, all because she assumed I was the holdup at the light.

About the time I got flipped off, the driver in front of me turned left and I followed. The honking profane driver quickly accelerated and then drove side -by-side me. What? Then she literally drove into my lane, nearly hitting me!

I found myself getting heated and frankly, I wanted to cuss. But my daughter was in the car and I had to ensure her safety, as well as my own. So, I had to de-escalate the situation. In my peripheral I could see the lady gesturing at me still. I avoided eye contact, didn’t return the bird gesture and I didn’t even utter words that the driver wouldn’t hear anyway. I slowed down just a bit so that she had to pass me. And then, it was over.

My mistake in this situation was physically turning around and looking at the driver. That enticed the driver to continue and become more aggressive. Fortunately, I’m skilled in de-escalation because I teach de-escalation in my Verbal Aikido training sessions. The moment I realized my error, I moved into de-escalation. My de-escalation tactic in this situation was to avoid eye contact, so not to appear threatening or aggressive, and to choose silence as opposed to profanity. I let it go and the out of control driver was defused, or at least, the situation for me and my daughter was calm.

De-escalation is a strategic tool that your employees can use when they find themselves in a ridiculous situation with an agitated, angry or out of control customer. Not unlike what I experienced in traffic 2 days ago.

Examples of de-escalation include:

Continue reading “3 De-escalation Strategies for Angry Customers”

Sipping My Dark Italian Roast and Doing a Run-through for, “Coaching & Monitoring”

webinar-rehearsal

I’m sitting at my desk, sipping my dark Italian roast latte and doing a run-through of tomorrow’s web training, “Coaching & Monitoring” and boy, am I excited! This is such an important training because it addresses head-on the 4 biggest challenges supervisors and managers face with monitoring and coaching customer service employee:

  1. How to design the most effective monitoring form
  2. How to address problem performance in the most diplomatic way
  3. How to deal with whining and complaining employees
  4. How to hold employees accountable for making improvement

So often I find that supervisors don’t monitor and coach consistently and if they are consistent with recording calls, they aren’t always strong and confident in giving constructive feedback. Without feedback, there really is no value in recording calls.

Continue reading “Sipping My Dark Italian Roast and Doing a Run-through for, “Coaching & Monitoring””