Are Your Customer Service and Customer Experience Falling Apart on the Handoffs?

I know we’ve never met. But I have a pretty good idea of where you’re dropping the ball in your customer service delivery.I’ve seen companies like yours (probably) in my work as a customer experience consultant, keynote speaker, and customer service author.

And, odds are, you’re dropping the customer service ball on your handoffs.

It’s easy for your employee to promise something to a customer– and then send the customer elsewhere within your organization for actual results.

Fair enough: but did the details of the customer’s needs actually get fully conveyed to the person who was handed the ball?

And, did the handoffee follow through on these instructions?  Or did she hand off the responsibility again?  And, if so, was the customer support fumbled on that handoff?

Follow-through and follow up are keys to a successful customer experience.  And often best accomplished by the person who first took the request.

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Here are my four steps to customer service recovery. And note how follow-up is baked into the sequence.

How A Keynote Speaker Can (And Can’t) Transform Your Event

My View From The Podium

As a professional keynote speaker, I know that the obvious part of my job is, well, obvious: I get up on a stage, freshly showered and dressed–me, not the stage–and kick off an event by speaking. For a brief amount of time, usually about an hour.

Keynote Speech, SunTrust Retail Banking Conference at Four Seasons Las Vegas (Video courtesy of Micah Solomon)

What happens onstage during that brief amount of time is what I’d like to look at today.

In one sense, this part is obvious too.  Each keynote speaker’s content has an area of focus: keynote speakers specialize in everything from sales to global affairs to teambuilding to positive thinking. And, no doubt, someone out there specializes in negative thinking as well. (My own areas of focus — it’s so kind of you to ask — are customer service and company culture, hospitality, entrepreneurial leadership, and the changing expectations of incoming cohorts of customers, including millennials.)

Katrina Smith, Speaking Bureau President

Asking The Offstage Experts

But the more important meaning of “what happens during that time the keynote speaker is onstage,” — what the keynote speaker can do for your event and, perhaps, for your company trajectory, can be more opaque. How do keynote speakers add value to your company, your event, your conference, your corporate future–if in fact we do?

Dr. Nick Morgan

For this, while I can give you the view from the podium, I think we’d do best to check in with a couple of offstage experts:

Dr. Nick Morgan (arguably the best coach of professional speakers in the world) and Katrina Smith, peerless leader of the aptly-named Keynote Speakers Inc. (a speaking bureau with a storied roster, including the inimitable Guy Kawasaki).

Here are three questions I asked the two of them and their responses, along with my inevitable kibitzing.

Micah Solomon: What’s the point of a keynote speaker?

Nick Morgan:The point of a keynote speaker is to change the minds of a group of people, to persuade them of something they hadn’t seen, known, or believed before.”

Katrina Smith: If a company,  industry association, group of executives, or particular department “needs to understand the need for meaningful change, or see how that change has affected someone in a real life situation, or hear from someone else why that change was so valuable and essential,” a keynote speaker is the ideal vessel to relay that message. “We are social creatures, and while we can get information from books or websites, we get inspiration and social relevance and a sense of community from other humans.”

Micah Solomon: What can a keynote speaker really accomplish?

Nick Morgan “A keynote speaker is a temporary tribal leader who can move an audience to action.  A keynote speaker has the opportunity to take an audience on an intellectual and emotional journey that can propel an audience to a new place, position, or outlook.  People only take action because of other people, and a keynote speaker has a unique opportunity to do exactly that.”

Nick expands: A great keynote speaker will make the most of this situation by “asking for commitments from audiences, because speakers are uniquely positioned to get audiences to do something — thanks to the temporary authority they are granted by the occasion.”

Katrina Smith:  A keynote speaker can compel through force of personality, with material that might not have worked in another context:   “One keynote speaker can’t change the world. But one speaker, with the right message, the right tools, and the right delivery, can make an audience understand why their world needs to change, and then not only show them how to do it, but how to get inspired to do it well.” 

Micah Solomon: What do you feel is not something that realistically a keynote speaker can make happen there onstage?

Nick Morgan:  “A keynote speech is not an effective means of creating detailed next steps, plans, or high-depth strategic ideas.  An audience is too busy responding to a keynote speaker’s message to work on such details. “

Katrina Smith: “It’s not realistic to expect that a speaker can come in for 45 minutes and fix a long-standing problem the company has been facing, a problem that perhaps the executives have been struggling for years to overcome.  It’s not [going to work as] a quick fix.  But it is a powerful delivery technique for new ideas, practical explanations, memorable examples, and inspiration about why the whole thing is important in the first place.

––––––––––––––

Extending the impact of the speech

Nick and Katrina speak above about the hope of making a lasting impact. One of the most straightforward and reliable ways to ensure the message is truly brought home after a keynote speech is to have books at the event for the audience to–literally–bring home as a complement to that speech. Here’s why.  When a keynote speaker (myself for example) gets up there onstage it’s a tight, brief performance. I am, or so Nick Morgan tells us, “a temporary tribal leader.” And in this position it is only the broad strokes I can get across. I do this in the most memorable way possible, and am always gratified when the meeting planner has arranged to have books taken home afterword to serve both as a souvenir (literally: “memory”) and as an extrapolation: taking the broad strokes I can provide onstage and filling in the details.

Healing The Lame (Or At Least Just Not Hiring Them)

Finally, I can candidly say that I’ve heard a few lame keynote speeches and speakers in my time. (You, no doubt, have heard some as well.)

So, to wrap up I’d say that, to whatever extent a keynote speaker can make a difference for your event, and for your company, that speaker will make a lot more of a difference for you if she or he doesn’t suck.

Or, as Katrina Smith more diplomatically puts it, “Compelling material, delivered by a compelling individual, is so much more memorable and useful than the same material presented in a dry or rote way, by a canned or trite or disengaged speaker.”


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Micah Solomon Keynote speech (video)

“Micah Solomon conveys an up-to-the minute and deeply practical take on customer service, business success, and the twin importance of people and technology.”Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder

Micah SolomonHelping you enchant the customer of today.

Author-Speaker-Strategist-Consultant

Customer service – Company Culture – Loyalty – Leadership

“One of the very few keynote speakers who are enjoyable and informative at the same time.” – Eric Kline, The Payroll Group Conference
“Bring Micah to your organization to hear what he has to say. It will change your business. He has written the book on customer service, literally. ” – Jon Mueller, 800-CEO-READ

http://www.micahsolomon.com – Website, blog, and free chapter of Micah’s latest business bestseller, High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service (American Management Association/AMACOM Books)

 

Read This Before You Hire Keynote Speakers or other Professional Public Speakers

Are you planning on hiring a keynote speaker for a corporate event, industrywide conference, or executive summit? I’ve scored you some helpful advice for you here, because I know that hiring someone to speak can be disorienting.

It isn’t something most buyers do every day, as the process is for those of us who speak professionally.

(My personal interest in this is pretty direct. I myself serve as the keynote speaker for some 30 corporate and industry events a year, on topics of customer service and company culture, hospitality, entrepreneurial leadership, and the changing expectations of customers, including Millennials.)

The process can be a bit bewildering, and the fear of making mistakes pretty high.

Let’s clear up that bewilderment and reduce the risks of mistakes by checking in with Dr. Nick Morgan, arguably the most prominent coach of professional speakers in the world.  Here’s what I asked him, and how he responded.

1. Micah Solomon: What mistakes do meeting planners and talent buyers make regarding keynote speakers?

Dr. Nick Morgan, Professional Speaking Coach:

– Scheduling keynotes during breakfast, lunch, or dinner — or right after lunch or dinner.  If you’re paying for a keynote, don’t make it compete with food! (or digestion)

–Insisting that speakers modify their graphics to fit a particular event template for all slides.  Keynote speakers’ brands should be respected — that’s part of what you hire them for.

– Demanding to see the slides ahead of time (the best speakers are tweaking them on the plane until final touchdown) and then distributing those slides to audiences beforehand.  Don’t “scoop” your keynotes!  Maintain some suspense!

2. Solomon: Can you give me a conference-planning best practice or three?

Morgan:

– Get your keynoters to send in 30 – 60- second video clips beforehand talking up the speech. This helps with internal and external promotion.

– If it’s a lengthy program, add an emcee or host who’s lively and interactive to help the audience through the day, create opportunities for interaction, and ensure that things don’t fall between the cracks. (Note: this is someone other than the keynote speaker, and can sometimes be pulled from your own organization.)

– Build in some breaks.  Conferences try to pack too much in, and you’ll accomplish more if you create networking moments besides at lunch or dinner.  Don’t offer 6 concurrent sessions; people will just feel paralyzed by the choices, and disappointed at what they miss.

3. Solomon: How should the room be arranged?  And does it matter?

Morgan: Round tables (“rounds” in industry parlance) are the most common kind of seating at conferences — and the worst for speaking audiences. (An aside from Micah Solomon: The reason you want to avoid seating your audience at round tables is that rounds ensure a lot of the audience has its back to the speaker.  Plus, they put distance between people, which can reduce the synergistic effect of humor on a crowd.)

4. Solomon: How far in advance are keynote speakers usually booked?  How far in advance should you book them?

Morgan: The norm for booking used to be a year.  Now it can be as short as 2-3 months.  Buyers will do even better for themselves if they try booking 6 months. This way you can book the best speakers and get the most out of them in terms of promotion and preparation.

5. Solomon: What about keynote speaker fees?

Morgan: For a good speaker who has a book out, 10-15-20K and up. [An aside from Micah Solomon: I myself ask $15K domestically for a keynote speech.]  Travel is additional. [Micah: Indeed: Plus travel. I have to get there to speak.]  For a New York Times bestselling author, you can expect to pay 40K and up.

Meeting planners tend to try to squeeze the speakers, but it’s a mistake.  If you’re running a conference with 500 people, think of what you’re spending on the venue, food and drinks, rooms, etc.: trying to chisel the speaker down is counterproductive.

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Micah Solomon Keynote speech (video)

“Micah Solomon conveys an up-to-the minute and deeply practical take on customer service, business success, and the twin importance of people and technology.”Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder

Micah SolomonHelping you enchant the customer of today.

Author-Speaker-Strategist-Consultant

Customer service – Company Culture – Loyalty – Leadership

“One of the very few keynote speakers who are enjoyable and informative at the same time.” – Eric Kline, The Payroll Group Conference
“Bring Micah to your organization to hear what he has to say. It will change your business. He has written the book on customer service, literally. ” – Jon Mueller, 800-CEO-READ

http://www.micahsolomon.com – Website, blog, and free chapter of Micah’s latest business bestseller, High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service (American Management Association/AMACOM Books)

 

Don’t Forget Your Pants: Tips For And From Keynote Speakers, Professional Speakers, And Public Speakers

I’m a professional keynote speaker. (There, I said it.)

I don’t tell everyone my line of work, but there are situations where it can come in handy. For instance, sitting next to an overly chatty seatmate on a plane, “I’m a professional keynote speaker” works almost as well as “I’m a recruiter for a cult” to shut down discussion in a flash.

In my case, here’s what being a professional keynote speaker means.  I speak about the customer experience, building a customer-centric corporate culture, and related topics to about 35 industry conferences a year: throughout the U.S. and around the world.

And while this seems normal to me, the concept of a professional keynote speaker is mystifying to some people.  So this will be a little article to start explaining what’s involved, to anyone who is interested.

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Professional keynote speaking is like professional modeling (except you’re allowed to eat pizza)

Professional keynote speaking is similar to modeling, except for the dietary restrictions: It’s something that looks easy, almost not like a professional activity at all. Which I guess is why those of us who make our living as keynote speakers tend to be invested in making sure you understand that doing this is harder than it looks.

Image: Micah Solomon Keynote Speech, SunTrust Retail Banking Conference at Four Seasons Las Vegas

Being a professional keynote speaker is indeed hard work (if you’re doing it right). But it’s not digging ditches. Most of what makes professional speaking strenuous consists of tasks that are intellectually and psychologically enjoyable:

1 Research: Giving a keynote requires that you know a thing or two about your subject, and your audience. And doing this research is, to me, a pleasure.

2 Writing: You can be a walking encyclopedia, but that’s not enough: Your speech isn’t going to write itself out of your vast store of knowledge. It needs crafting and editing, and more crafting and editing, before it’s reasonable to ask people to invest an hour or so to listening to you.

3 Rehearsal: no way around this one. (The only dissenting voice I have heard on this? Seth Godin, whom I adore, wrote a controversial piece on the danger of rehearsing too much. To which I would say: Sure, you don’t have to rehearse all that much if you are Seth Godin. Mere mortals, it’s hard to think of us crossing the too-much-rehearsal line very easily.)

It’s true, this rather bookish list of what’s involved in being a professional speaker does leave out two  items that some would-be professional speakers find less appealing. Here goes:

First, the traveling. Traveling is hard on the joints and the waistline. But it’s not like we’re traveling in steerage on a steamship. I don’t find it worth whining about, most of the time.

Second, the fear of being onstage. While I’ve never died (at least not offstage) and thus can’t offer a direct comparison for you, I do know the oft-quoted “fact” that public speaking is scarier than death is a big, fat slice of baloney. No poll has ever shown that Americans are more scared of public speaking than they are of death.

The closer comparison in that survey was to spider bites, if I recall correctly. In my case, I’d rather be onstage than bitten by a spider. Though, sometimes, being onstage does feel like being bitten by a spider. You get a little jumpy, and you have itches you can’t scratch. Beyond that, I don’t think it’s all that scary.

Unless, that is,  you’re not prepared. If you’re not prepared, then being onstage is a nightmare–a true nightmare.  A lot like one of those nightmares when you show up but you forgot your pants.

And that will be my last pointer for today: If you want to be a professional speaker, don’t forget your pants. It’s unprofessional.

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“Micah Solomon conveys an up-to-the minute and deeply practical take on customer service, business success, and the twin importance of people and technology.”Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder

Micah SolomonHelping you enchant the customer of today.

Author-Speaker-Strategist-Consultant

Customer service – Company Culture – Loyalty – Leadership

“One of the very few keynote speakers who are enjoyable and informative at the same time.” – Eric Kline, The Payroll Group Conference
“Bring Micah to your organization to hear what he has to say. It will change your business. He has written the book on customer service, literally. ” – Jon Mueller, 800-CEO-READ

http://www.micahsolomon.com – Website, blog, and free chapter of Micah’s latest business bestseller, High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service (American Management Association/AMACOM Books)

 

 

What Professional Speakers Want To Tell You In Private (Before They Speak In Public For Your Event)

If you’re thinking of hiring keynote speakers or other professional speakers, if you’re selecting one right now, if you’re an event planner, if you’re preparing for an upcoming occasion and want to get the best results, even if you’re simply an audience member,  I’m hoping to give you a little insight here from my perspective on the podium as a professional keynote speaker. (I speak at about 35 business events and conferences each year, around the U.S. and the world.)

After I offer my thoughts, communications expert Dr. Nick Morgan provides additional pointers to round out this article from a truly expert perspective.

A keynote speech is a distillation, sort of a highlights reel. If we’re good, we’ll be sure to get in the most important, most inspiring, most change-provoking items, but there’s still a lot of detail that’s inevitably left unsaid in the time available. If you want more, we’re here to help (most of us are, anyway).

–So–

-Email us after the show and we’ll likely be happy to expand our discussion of a particular topic

–Or/and–

– Read our books.  In fact…

Micah Solomon Keynote speech (video)

2 One of the best ways to ensure the keynote speaker’s message lasts within your organization is to consider purchasing books for everyone in your audience. Heavens, yes, of course we will sign them.  Even though we make an absurdly small amount of money from book sales, books are important ambassadors for our message and insight.

3 We may be happy to help you with promotion ahead of time. It’s quite possible, actually, that we are better at promotion than you are.  And by helping promote the event (brief teaser webinars, mentioning you in tweets, and more creative ideas even) we keep our promotional chops fresh.

4 You probably don’t need to see our slides ahead of time. Micro-analyzing our slide deck is counterproductive. For one thing, the greatest speakers have the most obscure slides. Consider Seth Godin’s slides without Seth. They would make no sense. The reason this is is true is that good speakers don’t have much text on their slides.  No bullet point after bullet point.

–In other words–

5 You hire us because we aren’t boring. We don’t do our presentations the way you would do them. And that is the point. As the first CEO who hired me (you know who you are –thank you!-) told me, “I have plenty of employees who can go up there and be boring.  I have you as the keynote because you’re not.” And part of that “not boring” is the part that doesn’t translate to paper.

By the way:

6 We’re pretty sure you can afford our fee.  A good keynote speaker costs less than the bagel platters you paid the convention hall to put out. (And is probably less stale.)

–however–
7 We also know there are exceptions to this “you can afford our fee” generalization, and we may be happy to help.  If you’re Operation Smile, if it’s a very small  audience, if you’re in Bora Bora, if you’re our kid’s school. You get the idea.

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Professional communications specialist (which means he coaches professional speakers, CEOs, and all sorts of other people, out in the real world, at Harvard, and in his renowned books) Dr. Nick Morgan was kind enough to add the following points for this article:

8 Some speakers get a great deal of energy from mixing with the audience in some way before the speech. Other speakers need the quiet of the green room to prepare.  Either answer works; be prepared to work with your speaker to make it happen. (Micah returns with this comment: It sounds improbable, but quite a few professional speakers are actually introverts, changing from wallflowers to life of the party the moment we step up onto that podium.)

9 For best results, plan spend an hour on the phone before the speech with your speaker so that he/she can ask questions about the audience.  For even better results, put the speaker in touch with a small group of potential audience members to have that discussion.  That way, you can get some perspectives besides your own “inside” one.  Your speaker will learn something; you might even learn something.

10 Don’t insist on slides, just because every other speaker you’ve worked with has them.  Some of the most notable speakers never use them – Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, you get the idea.

11 Insisting on re-branding the speaker’s slides to match your company’s is just tacky.  Your speaker has his/her own brand, and part of the experience that you’re paying for is to get someone outside of the company to speak to your employees.  Don’t re-brand them to be insiders; the result is at least inconsistent and sometimes incoherent.

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“Micah Solomon conveys an up-to-the minute and deeply practical take on customer service, business success, and the twin importance of people and technology.”Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder

Micah SolomonHelping you enchant the customer of today.

Author-Speaker-Strategist-Consultant

Customer service – Company Culture – Loyalty – Leadership

“One of the very few keynote speakers who are enjoyable and informative at the same time.” – Eric Kline, The Payroll Group Conference
“Bring Micah to your organization to hear what he has to say. It will change your business. He has written the book on customer service, literally. ” – Jon Mueller, 800-CEO-READ

http://www.micahsolomon.com – Website, blog, and free chapter of Micah’s latest business bestseller, High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service (American Management Association/AMACOM Books)

 

 

Tips On Working With Professional Speakers: Keynote Speaker And Event Planning Tips

As a professional keynote speaker, I certainly have my own opinions on professional speaking and event planning.  I thought this might be a nice opportunity to summarize some of the advice of my recent keynote speaker-related articles in one column, and pair them with tips from another, and extremely expert, source.

So: Half these tips are from me/based on my own experiences. The rest of these tips come from the illustrious Dr. Nick Morgan (a professional communications expert, bestselling author, coach to speakers at Harvard and in the real world).

1. Dr. Nick Morgan, professional communications expert: “To get the best out of a professional speaker, live up to your part of the contract, do an interview with the speaker beforehand so that you can tell him/her about your audience, if possible, set up interviews with a few audience members, make all the logistics as easy and simple for the speaker as possible, and don’t throw last minute surprises — or technological disasters at the speaker.”

2. Micah Solomon, keynote speaker/author of this article: Your keynote speaker may be happy to help you with promotion ahead of time. It’s quite possible, actually, that we are better at promotion than you are. And by helping promote the event (brief teaser webinars, mentioning you in tweets, etc.) we keep our promotional chops fresh. For example, adds Nick, “Get your keynoters to send in 30 – 60- second video clips beforehand talking up the speech. This helps with internal and external promotion.”

3. Nick: “It matters how the room’s arranged. Round tables (’rounds’ in industry parlance) are the most common kind of seating at conferences — and the worst for speaking audiences.” (An aside from Micah: The reason you want to avoid seating your audience at round tables is that rounds ensure a lot of the audience has its back to the speaker. Plus, they put distance between people, which can reduce the synergistic effect of humor on a crowd.)

4. Micah: A keynote speech is a distillation, sort of a highlights reel. If we’re good, we’ll be sure to get in the most important, most inspiring, most change-provoking items, but there’s still a lot of detail that’s inevitably left unsaid in the time available.

5. Or, as Nick puts it, “A keynote speech is not an effective means of creating detailed next steps, plans, or high-depth strategic ideas. An audience is too busy responding to a keynote speaker’s message to work on such details.”

6. But, says Micah, If you want more, keynote speakers are here to help (most of us are, anyway).

–So–

Email your speaker after the show and she or he will likely be happy to expand on the discussion of a particular topic

–Or/and–

Read our books. In fact…

7. Micah: One way to ensure the keynote speaker’s message lasts within your organization is to consider purchasing books for your audience. Heavens, yes, of course we will sign them. The wrist cramps are well worth the ability to get our books out there; books are important ambassadors for our message and insight.

8. Nick on the traits a successful keynote speaker will bring to the lectern: “These include passion, expertise, and long experience with the topic. You can also expect a professional to be consistent, on message, appropriately dressed, having done his/her homework and able to cope with a variety of last-minute changes and situations.”

–and, approximately as importantly–

9. Micah: Great keynote speakers aren’t boring. This is a big part of why you hire us to kick off or close out your event. As the first CEO who hired me (you know who you are –thank you!) told me, “I have plenty of employees who can go up there and be boring. I have you as the keynote because you’re not.”

10.Nick on fees/what you should expect to pay: “For a good speaker who has a book out, 10-15-20K and up. [Micah: I charge in this range, currently.] Travel is additional.” [Micah: Indeed: Plus travel. I have to get there to speak.] For a New York Times bestselling author, you can expect to pay 40K and up.”

Nick, continued: “Meeting planners tend to try to squeeze the speakers, but it’s a mistake. If you’re running a conference with 500 people, think of what you’re spending on the venue, food and drinks, rooms, etc.: trying to chisel the speaker down is counterproductive.”

–and, by the way–

11. Micah: We’re pretty sure you can afford our fee. A good keynote speaker costs less than the bagel platters you paid the convention hall to put out. (And is probably less stale.)

–however–

12. Keynote speakers also know there are exceptions to this ‘you can afford our fee’ generalization, and we may be happy to help. If you’re Operation Smile, if it’s a very small audience, if you’re in Bora Bora, if you’re our kid’s school.

You get the idea. And all you have to do is ask.

Micah Solomon Keynote speech (video)

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“Micah Solomon conveys an up-to-the minute and deeply practical take on customer service, business success, and the twin importance of people and technology.”Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder

Micah SolomonHelping you enchant the customer of today.

Author-Speaker-Strategist-Consultant

Customer service – Company Culture – Loyalty – Leadership

“One of the very few keynote speakers who are enjoyable and informative at the same time.” – Eric Kline, The Payroll Group Conference
“Bring Micah to your organization to hear what he has to say. It will change your business. He has written the book on customer service, literally. ” – Jon Mueller, 800-CEO-READ

http://www.micahsolomon.com – Website, blog, and free chapter of Micah’s latest business bestseller, High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service (American Management Association/AMACOM Books)

 

 

The Future of Leadership is Already Here

Micah Solomon Keynote speech (video)

The future of leadership — company leaders who are preparing a bright future for their companies and perhaps for the world — is already here. These leaders focus not just on nuts and bolts, techniques and standards, but on culture.

A strong, consciously developed pro-customer (and pro-employee) company culture is a business advantage that will serve you for years—and inoculate you against competitive inroads.

Think for a minute about Southwest Airlines and the lengthy list of predicted category killers that have tried to imitate it: United Airlines’s United Shuttle, Continental Airlines’s Continental Lite, Delta’s Delta Express, and US Airways’s Metro-Jet. What did these companies lack: Money? Name recognition? Hardly. They lacked Southwest’s relentless focus on culture, which none of its pop-up competitors was willing to slow down to emulate. And all are now bust.

Why do great leaders work on culture first?

• Without a consciously created culture, your leadership won’t last beyond the moment you leave the building. An inevitable complaint I hear from consulting clients and at my speeches is this: “Employees act differently when there aren’t any managers around.” But with a great company culture, employees will be motivated, regardless of management’s presence or absence.

• The number of interactions at a business between customers and staff is nearly infinite, and only a strong, clear pro-customer culture gives you a fighting chance of getting the preponderance of these interactions right.

• The current technological revolution amplifies the problems of not having the correct culture: Employees not acting in their customers’ best interest will end up having their actions broadcast over Twitter within minutes.

• Business realities are continually changing, and only a strong culture is going to help you respond to, capitalize on, and drive forward these changes in order to serve customers and show your business in the best light.

How to start leading through culture.

1. Articulate your central philosophy, in just a few words if possible: a few meaningful words.

That’s right: a company’s culture can begin with words, but those words need to represent a decision—something you actually stand for, a decision then expressed in the clearest, and ideally fewest, words. Find a central operating principle. Think of the Ritz-Carlton’s “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen,” or Mayo Clinic’s “The needs of the patient come first.”

2. Elaborate on your central philosophy with a brief list of core values

Make it a list short enough that every employee can understand, memorize, and internalize it, yet long enough to be meaningful. Your core values should cover how customers, employees, and vendors should be treated at all times.

3. Include the wider world

Your people want a sense of purpose, believe it or not, beyond the ability to exercise stock options at a favorable moment. More inspirational a version of the “triple bottom line,” such as Southwest’s “Performance – People – Planet” commitment and annual report card.

4. Reinforce your commitment to these values continually

You may want to go as far as to devote five minutes every morning to stress one value, or an aspect of one value, at your departmental meeting. (This is what the Ritz-Carlton does.) If that’s too often for your business reality or sensibilities, do it weekly. But don’t save it for the annual company picnic. Annual anything is the enemy of ‘‘core.’’

5. Make it visual

The Ritz-Carlton has ‘‘credo cards’’— laminated accordion-fold cards that each employee carries during work hours. The brand’s entire core beliefs, plus shared basics of guest and employee interactions, fit on that card. (Horst Schulze, the legendary founder of the modern-day Ritz-Carlton, says people chuckled twenty years ago when he said ‘‘laminated card’’; they’re not laughing now.)

Zappos highlights one of its core values on each box it ships out. And sometimes ‘‘visual’’ doesn’t mean words at all. One way that FedEx shows that safety is a core value is via the orange shoulder belts in its vans: Everyone can see—from twenty-five yards away—that the driver’s wearing a belt.

6. Make them the focus of orientation

That way, if safety is one of your core values and you stress this at orientation, on day two, when the new employee’s coworker tells him ‘‘In this restaurant, we stack the high chairs in front of the emergency exit when we need more room to do our prep work’’ [This is a real-life example, unfortunately], the new employee will experience cognitive dissonance and work on a way to align the actions of the company with the core values they’re supposed to reflect.

7. Most of all, train, support, hire, and, if necessary, use discipline to enforce what’s important to you

A core values statement is two-dimensional until you bring it to life—with the right people and energetic guidance. ‘‘Maintaining a culture is like raising a teenager,’’ says Ray Davis, President and CEO of Umpqua Bank. ‘‘You’re constantly checking in. What are you doing? Where are you going? Who are you hanging out with?’’ And, sometimes, you have to use some tough love when that teenager is acting up in ways that don’t support the culture you’re working to build.

{ Micah originally wrote this at the request of http://switchandshift.com/  <– great site }

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“Micah Solomon conveys an up-to-the minute and deeply practical take on customer service, business success, and the twin importance of people and technology.” –Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder

Micah Solomon Customer Service Keynote Speaker headshot

Micah Solomon • Author-Speaker-Strategist • Customer Service – Marketing – Loyalty – Leadership

See Micah in action — including video and free resources — at http://www.micahsolomon.com. Or, click here for your own free chapter  of Micah’s upcoming High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service (AMACOM Books) and Micah’s #1 bestseller, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization

Who should do your customer service? (It’s a trick question.)

Who should do your customer service?

(Of course this is a trick question. The answer is “everyone.”)

…This answer isn’t as pie-in-the-sky as it sounds.  “Everyone” here is shorthand for “everyone, to the extent of their abilities, to the extent of their trainability and to the extent they interact with customers.”

The picture of customer service we need to get out of our heads — and out of our businesses — is the old, compartmentalized version: an isolated clerk on an upper floor of a venerable department store, where customers have to schlep their returns to get an adjustment.

Instead, teach Joan in Sales and Jeff in Shipping how they themselves can initiate a service recovery. Jeff may not be the right person ultimately to fix the problem, but if he encounters an unsatisfied customer, he needs to know how to do more than say ‘‘I can’t help you, I just send boxes.’’ Even Dale, who cleans the toilets, should be empowered beyond helpless reactions like ‘‘Um, you’d need to ask a manager about that.’’ Customers hate to hear ‘‘You need to ask a manager.’’

Dale will feel better about himself and your company, his customer will feel better about herself and your company, and service problems will tend to turn out better if Dale has been trained to express confident enthusiasm: ‘‘Certainly, I am so sorry. I will help you with that,’’ followed by finding the right person to solve the problem (even if that does happen to be, in fact, a manager).

 

Keynote Speaker Customer Service Speaker Micah Solomon From Micah Solomon author, keynote speaker, consultant on customer service excellence, sales, branding, and transforming company cultures in our socially connected world.
 
Visit Micah at http://www.micahsolomon.com. Or, click here for your own free chapter  of Micah Solomon’s #1 customer service bestseller, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization, co-written with Leonardo Inghilleri, in which this appeared in a different form.

 


Language Engineering: Finding the right words to use with customers

Language underlies almost all other components of the customer experience.  Yet, your company has probably given more thought to the language it uses in marketing campaigns than to the words employees use when having conversations face-to-face with customers. That’s a mistake, because
customers don’t generally get their make-or-break impressions of your
company from high-minded branding exercises. They get them primarily
from day-to-day conversations with you. And those are the impressions
they spread to others.

If you haven’t given much thought to selecting your company language—what your staff, signage, emails, voicemails, and web-based autoresponders should say, and should never say, to customers—it’s time to do it now.

No brand is complete until a brand-appropriate style of speaking with
customers is in place at all levels of the enterprise. Which is why, whether I’m consulting with a law firm on building a client service initiative, speaking to a hospitality audience on building guest loyalty, or assisting a hospital in improving customer service for its patients, one of the first pieces of work I suggest we do together is focus on achieving a consistent style of service speech.

Develop a language lexicon.

A distinctive and consistent companywide style of service speech won’t happen on its own. You’ll need social engineering: that is, systematic training of employees. Imagine, for example, that you’ve selected ten promising salespeople for your new high-end jewelry boutique. You’ve provided them with uniforms and stylish haircuts and encouraged them to become your own brand’s versions of a Mr. or Ms. Cartier, starting on opening day. But they’ll still speak with customers much the way they speak in their own homes: that is, until you’ve
trained them in a different language style.

Happily, ‘‘engineering’’ a company-wide style of speech can be a positive, collaborative experience. If you approach this correctly, you won’t need to put a gag on anybody or twist any arms. Once everybody in an organization understands the reasons for language guidelines, it becomes a challenge, not a hindrance. The improved customer reactions and collaborative pride of mission are rewarding. As a consequence, it can be a relatively easy sell companywide.

What should be in your language lexicon?

Here, for example, are some good/bad language choices:
Bad: ‘‘You owe . . .’’
Good: ‘‘Our records show a balance of . . .’’

Bad: ‘‘You need to . . .’’ (This makes some customers think: ‘‘I don’t
need to do jack, buddy—I’m your customer!’’)
Good: ‘‘We find it usually works best when . . .’’

Bad: ‘‘Please hold.’’
Good: ‘‘May I briefly place you on hold?’’ (and then actually listen
to the caller’s answer)

The specifics of the lexicon you develop will vary depending on industry, clientele, and location. A cheerful ‘‘No worries!’’ sounds fine coming from the clerk at a Bose audio store in Portland (an informal business in an informal town) but bizarre if spoken by the concierge at the Four Seasons in Milan.

An alternative approach:

If this ‘‘Say This While Avoiding That’’ approach strikes you as too prescriptive
(or too much work), if you don’t want to develop scripted phrases and specific
word choices for your employees, at least consider developing a brief ‘‘Negative Lexicon.’’ A Negative Lexicon is just a list of crucial language Thou Shalt Nots.

The Negative Lexicon is the Danny Meyer approach, the one used by that great New York restaurateur and master of hospitality. Meyer feels uncomfortable giving his staff a list of what to say, but he doesn’t hesitate to specifically ban phrases that grate on his ears (‘‘Are we still working on the lamb?’’).

A Negative Lexicon can be kept short, sweet, and easy to learn. Of
course, new problematic words and phrases are sure to crop up as time
moves on. Ideally, you’ll update your Negative Lexicon as frequently as
Wired magazine updates its ‘‘Jargon Watch’’ column.

 

P.S.  For more on language engineering, learn about the Five Words You Can Never Say To A Customer.

Keynote Speaker Customer Service Speaker Micah Solomon From Micah Solomon customer service consultant, keynote speaker, customer loyalty speaker,  and #1 bestselling author of “Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization.” Visit Micah at http://www.micahsolomon.com. Or, click here for your own free chapter  of Micah Solomon’s #1 customer service bestseller, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization, co-written with Leonardo Inghilleri.

 

Everything I Know About Customer Service, I Learned from Watching The Sopranos.

Artie Bucco, all-too-convivial host, from The Sopranos
Artie Bucco, all-too-convivial host, from The Sopranos

One day I’ll write a book called Everything I Know About Customer Service, I Learned from Watching The Sopranos.

Case in point: The Artie Bucco Syndrome, which I named after the tragicomic character who starts the HBO series as a successful restaurateur. Slowly, though, things begin to fall apart for Artie. Finally, his wife, Charmaine, has the painful job of telling him what’s going so wrong: that his customers come to the restaurant to be with each other, not with him. Their special moments are for them, not for him, and interrupting them with what he thinks is important is
driving them away.

Artie never does get the message when he interacts with customers. If he had learned to listen between the lines, he could have picked it up, as his wife did.
She was listening.

****

One thing I try to accomplish in a customer service initiative is to align your organization to the value of listening. To help your team learn to adjust the
flow of your comments to match each customer’s interests and mood.
And to practice shutting up sometimes.

Keynote Speaker Customer Service Speaker Micah Solomon From Micah Solomon customer service consultant, keynote speaker, customer loyalty speaker,  and #1 bestselling author of “Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization.” Visit with Micah at http://www.micahsolomon.com. Or, click here for your own free chapter  of Micah Solomon’s #1 customer service bestseller, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization

© 2011