“How is everything going for you?”

“Is there anything else I can help you with?”

This question has been hammered into the DNA of everyone who’s ever worked with customers and clients. Why? So that the company can make sure its customers are satisfied. And uncover more opportunities to sell.

But that phrase has become essentially as ineffective at ensuring customer satisfaction as the phrase “How are you?” is at learning anything meaningful about your friend.

When someone asks how you are, you say “Fine, thanks!” In order to get the real answer you have to dig deeper. Something along the lines of, “Everything been going okay for you lately at work/with the family, etc?”

Similarly, when a customer service representative says “Is there anything else I can help you with?” we automatically say “No.” Unless we were already planning on speaking up about something else. That question has become very bad at actually getting useful information out of customers or uncovering other areas in which clients can be helped.

Here also, we should be digging a little deeper. “Can you tell me how everything has been going with your relationship with us?” “Is there anything we can be doing differently that would help you?” “How’s your experience been with us in the last year?”

Customer surveys are a decent shortcut. But they’re just that–a shortcut–and your customer knows it. Having that conversation yourself with your customer builds more rapport and trust. Your customer feels valued, heard, and genuinely cared for.

Imagine you have a large client who regularly depends on your company for a vital service. Let’s say the client has become frustrated with a lack of promptness from your team, and it has become a big enough problem that they’ve started considering other companies to use. Finally, with no warning, they make the phone call to close out their account. You’re shocked and insist you’ll do anything to help them. But it’s too late. They wouldn’t be ending their relationship if they hadn’t already set up a new relationship with a different company to take your place. And since they’ve got that up and running, you don’t have much going for you. It doesn’t mean the relationship absolutely can’t be salvaged, but you are at a serious disadvantage.

This scenario applies to almost any business. If someone needs a bank account, they don’t close their accounts until they’ve found a replacement. If someone needs an equipment supplier, they don’t end their relationship until they’ve found a supplier they think will serve them better. If someone needs a Human Resources management system, they won’t deactivate their current system until they’ve got the replacement set up and ready to go.

That means waiting till customers bring up their concerns can put you at a huge disadvantage.

What if you and your whole team were always proactive to check in with your clients? Not “Anything else?” or “How are you?” Instead, legitimately checking in–like “What have we been doing well for you lately, and what has been causing problems for you?” or “How can we serve you even better?”

Some customers wear their hearts on their sleeves. But others don’t. And if you want to keep those customers, you have to get them to open up to you before it’s too late.

I do this and and I’ve seen my own team members try it, and I can tell you it’s a game changer for sure.

Synergy, or not being too full of yourself

I’ve learned lately to see myself the same way I diagnose other people in professional settings: “He thinks that way because…”

Each one of us is different, unique, and brings our own strengths to the table. Each one of us also has our own blind spots.

None of us see the world completely objectively–certainly not in specific situations in which we have vested interest or emotional involvement. We have no problem assenting to that idea. But then when we approach and act on a real world situation, we tend to overlook it.

“He thinks that way because… he doesn’t think about long-term consequences. I need him to understand things like I do.”

This last year I’ve really come to understand and appreciate that just as often, they’re thinking about me, too: “He thinks that way because… he’s unable to see all the alternatives–he’s too linear,” or some other thought pattern.

And it’s not bad. I have had a unique life full of ups and downs and hard work that I am proud of. It has helped make me who I am, and I am confident in what I think and do. But my life has also blinded me from certain truths and ideas. It has biased me against some possibilities and methods.

My co-worker or friend or spouse (etc) has had a different life that might have specially shaped them to have a little different perspective in this area, a little more confidence in that area, and a little more alertness in another area.

Our two minds together own more experience and perspective and capability than my mind or his or hers. On one condition: That we communicate about our different opinions, concerns, perspectives, misgivings, motivations, etc.

If we just keep quiet in hopeless resignation–“they’ll never understand!”–we rob each other of the wisdom we could have shared.

I don’t know it all or have all the answers and I’m not always right. But neither are you. Let’s talk–argue (nicely)–discuss–brainstorm–question–share. If we can genuinely embrace each other’s different perspectives, learn from each other, and allow ourselves to be balanced out by each other–then we’re far better off than if we were just on our own.

If we don’t exercise that attitude, we’d be better off alone. Strength in numbers doesn’t work if there’s not also humility and communication.

Synergy: “The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.”

Cover Up or Own Up?

When you feel you’ve done something wrong at work–made a mistake, compromised your integrity, failed to deliver, hurt somebody–what do you do?

Step one is honestly evaluating. Did I do something wrong? Did I make a mistake? How did this happen?

Step two is the one that we always screw up. Usually, we wait. Hold our breath. Brush it under the rug. Hope that nobody noticed.

When we try to cover up our own problems and mistakes, there are three possible outcomes: (1) Someone tattles, (2) Someone notices and keeps quiet, or (3) No one ever knows.

If someone tattles–you lose.

If someone notices and keeps quiet–you lose their respect, and likely the respect of others they’ll gossip with.

Think you’re a winner if no one ever notices? How much time and energy will you waste stressing about it, covering your tracks, rehearsing your contingency plan, feeling like a hypocrite, being suspicious of people, wondering if this job’s really for you…?

There’s a much better option for step two: Proactively own up, apologize, and make it right.

Leaders, peers, and followers alike will respect you for it. You’ll respect yourself for it. In fact, you’ll probably end up with more credibility than before–because everyone knows honesty takes guts.

Last time I had to own up to a big mistake at work, the leader who would have had to deal with the fallout got to the heart of the matter when she told me: “It’s okay to make mistakes. We all make mistakes. What’s important is that you show you’re willing to learn from them and move forward. Hiding or playing dumb is what causes the real damage. It makes someone hard to trust. Taking responsibility right away and committing to make it right and grow from it–that shows real character. That’s exactly what we need on our team.”

Bottom line: When there’s a chance you’ll be the subject of a tough conversation, you want to be the one to start that conversation.

 

Dissonance and a Trip to the Grocery Store

How long can you listen to this music?

What you’re hearing is called DissonanceNoun. “A tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements.”

A couple recent humorous experiences on the receiving end of customer service have gotten me thinking about the disastrous role dissonance plays in business.

 

 

Waiting in line for a cashier at a grocery store, I got to observe a two-minute sample of the manager’s style. In fact, everybody got to observe it. She was loud, as upbeat as upbeat can get, in-your-face enthusiastic. She bounced from lane to lane, calling out to customers, “I have a short wait for awesome Angela in lane 3!” Her sing-song inflection sounded more appropriate for toddler daycare. “Yay for Angela!!!” “Hey everyone! I have no wait at lane 6 for Leslie! The loquacious Leslie! Haha! Ever loquacious!” Leslie didn’t seem amused. “What does loquacious even mean?” “It means you’re always talking!”

It might not have seemed quite as strange–enthusiasm and fun isn’t bad. But all of the cashiers were quiet, calm, and formal–they even looked frustrated and a little offended. The manager just didn’t match the rest of the team. If everyone had been as bubbly as the manager, it might have been a fun experience for all us customers. Or if the manager had been positive and enthusiastic, but a little less AAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!, the whole picture might have been less weird.

 

I was sitting with a young adult friend at a big, mainstream, “progressive” bank. She was opening up new accounts and we were hitting it off chatting with our personal banker. He was a nice, genuine guy–the kind you can tell isn’t just selling “nice” to you. They were chatting about soccer–their common interest–when up walked a younger, dressed-to-a-tee manager. He jumped right in, cutting the banker off mid-sentence. “Hi! I’m Alan! I’m the manager here, and I’m very excited you’re here. John will take very good care of you!” (John was taking good care of us before you cut him off!). Alan patted John patronizingly on the shoulder.

John looked a little disgusted. But not surprised. Like he was used to his manager butting in and derailing the meeting. He had quite successfully changed the tone from a genuine, friendly one to a cookie-cutter, fake, impersonal one. “Here’s my card! Again, my name is Alan and I’m the manager, so if you ever need anything at all, please let me know! It was really great to meet you guys!” He turned and walked away. He left us feeling jarred and confused. What just happened?

It was very obnoxious. It’s like if you were listening to a calm, relaxing acoustic artist and suddenly Skrillex jumps in with a massive bass drop, throws some big electronic squawking your direction, and then turns and walks away, leaving the acoustic music to clean up after him. It just doesn’t mix. #dontask #kidsthesedays

 

Thinking back to those experiences–both managers gave great examples of general management “don’t”s: Don’t call your employee loquacious. Don’t interrupt your employee’s conversation. The list goes on.

But those mistakes wouldn’t have done so much damage to the brand on their own. What was most damaging was the dissonance. The grocery store manager didn’t match her cashiers. Taken alone, either side could have connected with their customers, but watching the intense clash uncovered the fakeness: There was no genuine team happening there. And the bank manager. Maybe he was just a more outgoing, bubbly personality. But if you’re going to interrupt a friendly conversation, make it fitting.

Do loud, crazy, fun, hilarious, intense. Or do calm, quiet, professional. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. But when you’re presenting a brand, there can’t be such a mismatch–especially all in your face, all at the same time.

It’s like unbearably obnoxious music. As a customer, I just don’t want to be around it.

How to Create Your Own Luck

“Diligence is the mother of good luck.” – Benjamin Franklin

I distinctly remember a day at the office last year when it hit me more clearly than ever before that you create your own luck. Not always. Not indefinitely. But generally–you can make yourself get “luckier.” As the old Greek proverb goes, “God helps those who help themselves.”

It’s not magic. It’s common sense. But a little gem of common sense that doesn’t seem quite so common to many an “unlucky” person.

Here’s what happened:

I was working as a team with a few sales reps of sorts who would send people my way. The more they sent my way, the more they got paid and I got paid. Having been in their position before, I had lots of tips and best practices to share. I had especially become very good at collecting leads. Since it was their place to contact leads, not mine, I knew I could benefit the entire team by sharing my leads and strategies with them.

I dedicated a lot of time to helping the most senior sales rep with gathering leads and making referrals. I even took on some of her workload so she could focus on building her sales. But she just didn’t deliver. She spent a lot of time finding ways to avoid actually making the referrals. Sales is scary.

Then there was the most junior of our sales reps. She had very recently started with the company–no prior experience, lower rank and pay. No reason to expect she would be the big producer. So I still sent some leads her way and gave suggestions here and there. But she wasn’t my focus. I started to notice, though–whenever I sent her a lead, she delivered. And then I got an email that changed the whole relationship: “Hey, I wonder if you have any suggestions for prospects I could contact?” Immediately my focus shifted. I gave her twice the help that I gave anyone else.

I started to feel a little bad: Was I playing favorites? Shouldn’t I be helping everyone equally? Was I giving the new girl an unfair advantage? So just to feel “fair,” I tried to even it out–invest as much time and energy into the more senior rep. And it just didn’t pay off. When I helped her, nothing happened. When I helped the new girl, results happened.

So I came to the conclusion: The bottom line increases more when you help those who help themselves. The recent hire was creating her own “luck” by producing results and asking for help. Her behavior attracted help.

I have always distinctly remembered her example. Sure, you need “luck.” But often “luck” is sent your way by people who see your initiative and realize investing in you will pay off.

Even if someone won’t directly benefit from giving you help, there’s just something about your having a good work ethic that makes people want to give you a leg up.

Want “luck?” Give people reason to believe in you and help you.

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” – Thomas Jefferson

I ran across something I wrote down when I got home that day last year:

“There are thousands of people around you who are watching and are impressed when you do something well. They then WANT to help you. For instance, when I see one person looking for prospects and another on Facebook, I am impressed with the first person and try to find ways to help them and encourage their behavior: e.g. sending them my own leads.”

japanese proverb