Monthly Archives: February 2015

Can a leopard change his spots?

It really doesn’t matter how much time and effort you invest in customer service training if you don’t have the right people in the first place!

Leopard lying on the treeHaving a happy, motivated and productive team is critical to delivering great customer service.

Your team can be your point of differentiation so what is the secret to having an engaged, motivated and eager to please team who will deliver outstanding customer service?

What so many people focus on when recruiting are the skills at the expense of the attitude. We then end up recruiting on aptitude, but firing on attitude.

Unless they have the right attitude in the first place you have little chance of changing it.

So recruit first on attitude then on aptitude.

There are of course times when previous experience or industry knowledge is imperative; your head chef obviously needs a combination of culinary and management skills, your maintenance engineer needs to be familiar with the technical and safety requirements, your fitness instructor needs to have the appropriate qualifications and licenses, your sommelier needs to know his or her wines.

But if you’re a tourist attraction appealing to young families then loving children (and having the ability to relate to them as well as parents) surely has to feature high up on the list of attributes.

If you’re a travel company you are selling an experience, so booking your holiday of a lifetime should become part of the experience, and the person they are dealing with has a huge role to play in this.

And whether you’re a 5 star country house hotel, an entertainments company or a sporting venue, don’t you want people who have a can do; nothing is too much trouble attitude? If so, add it to the top of your criteria.

Create an avatar of your ideal candidate

In marketing we’re told to create a customer avatar. Why not do the same for your team? What are the values, beliefs and attitudes that person needs to demonstrate to really excel in that role. If you have a particular philosophy that you stress as part of your identity and point of differentiation it’s important to recruit people who can relate to this.

Systems and procedures and basic skills can be taught, whereas an enthusiasm for your industry, product or customers can’t be.

If you use social media or your website to advertise vacancies use language that appeals to your ideal candidate. If you want someone enthusiastic, dynamic and lively make your ad enthusiastic, dynamic and lively too!  You’re not looking to attract anyone who’s desperate for a job; make it clear what you’re looking for and who fits the bill of the ideal candidate.

Build your network

Rather than waiting till you have a vacancy and you’re at desperation point to take anybody who comes along, start creating a list of the people you can call upon whom you’re confident share your values and would jump at the chance to work with you when the opportunity comes.

Don’t limit your recruitment search to people who respond to your adverts.  Use your network of business contacts, your existing team and even your customers to help you find the best candidates.

Network or socialise where your prospective staff are; this will not only help to build relationships and reputation but will give you an opportunity to see people in a more relaxed environment. Start developing a “candidate pool” rather than waiting until you suddenly have a vacancy to fill.

Develop relationships with agencies as well as recruitment officers from local colleges and universities. Allow your existing team to participate in professional associations and training where they’re likely to be in contact with potential candidates.

Might the position be suitable for an apprentice? It potentially involves more input from you, but the rewards will often far outweigh the extra effort.

Become a great place to work

Make your business somewhere people love to work, and are happy to be advocates and ambassadors for your business. That way when you come to recruit you’ll be able to do so wisely and have a steady stream of people queueing up!

Create a culture where positive attitudes prevail, and build a reputation as a good employer so you attract the best people. A prerequisite is looking after your existing team; they are far more likely to recommend you to others and spread the word it’s a great place to work.

Monitor the reputation of your business; listen to what your staff say, especially those who leave.

Put yourself forward for awards to help build your repetition as a good employer.

Measure against your criteria

If attitude is more important to you than skills plan in advance how you’re going to measure these less specific or less tangible aspects; those attitudinal things.

Know what you want beforehand, think about what might demonstrate those attributes, and then don’t take their word for it; test it, challenge them and look for real examples.

You may ask about their past experience, how they’ve handled specific situations, or ask them to describe their own examples of when they have gone that extra mile for someone, or handled a particularly challenging customer. Even with a school leaver look for examples of things they have done outside school to demonstrate taking on responsibility, working as a team, and so on.

Not everything can be measured though via traditional interview questions.  Get creative. Use exercises to measure teamwork, problem solving, or creativity if these are important to the role. Spend the first 10 minutes of the interview talking about what motivates or inspires them. I do this on training courses – it’s so simple and really helps to get people talking…

If you’re not involved with the recruitment process yourself, ensure you train your management team how to recruit. Do they also know what values and attitudes you are looking for?

Better to find out in the interview if they haven’t got what it takes than after you’ve hired them and invested time and effort in customer service training.

You won’t change their spots, so look for people with the right spots!

How to say I love you to your team

do your team feel lovedWith Valentines’ Day tomorrow everyone is talking about loving your customers. And course that’s important. But, unless your team feel valued and loved they’re not likely to give their best and to deliver the type of customer experience either you or your customers expect.

A loved team is an engaged team.

So how can you bring a smile to their face (not just on Valentine’s Day, but every day) without it costing you a fortune in bonuses or incentives?

There’s a perception that everyone is motivated by money. There’s no doubt money is a contributing factor. Pay them late, mess up their overtime or deny them the pay rise they were promised and you’re probably going to have an unhappy employee. And unhappy employees invariably lead to unhappy customers.

But how would you feel on Valentine’s Day if your loved one just gave you money? Unless it was a ton of cash or you’re saving up for something really special it’s not very exciting. It feels as if no care or thought has gone into it. It’s impersonal. It might be fine for Aunty Doris to give you money at Christmas as she doesn’t know what you’d like (and it’s better than the alternative of a pair of sock!), but if someone’s taken the trouble to find that something special and buy it for you – that’s going to have far more impact, right?

Money is a very short term motivator. And let’s face it, unless your team are on performance related bonuses few of us can be doling out monetary rewards every five minutes.

So what can we do to show our team some love?

Before you do anything…

Start by finding out what’s important to them.

Not everyone values or is interested in the same things. Whilst some love the sense of achievement, others favour doing their bit for others. Some love to have their say, whilst others are happiest when they’re learning or being stretched.

And if it really is just tangible rewards people love? Well, I know I’d rather be given a bunch of flowers any day over a fiver go and buy my own!

We should never assume what our team would like and what’s important to them. If we’ve never had the discussion, it’s high time we did!

So start by doing a little bit of homework to find out what’s likely to bring a smile to their face which they’re sure to pass on to your customers.

Here are some six things you might consider .…


1. Say thank you

I know I’m always talking about showing your customers your appreciation, but it’s just as important to demonstrate to your team that you appreciate their contribution.

The simplest thing you can do is to say thank you. Recognise and reward good performance, achievements and a job well-done. For many, that is all they need to feel encouraged.

Yes, they work for pay, but it always helps to know that their work is recognised. Not just as a routine passing comment, go out of your way to thank individuals when you spot them doing something that will delight your customers. Bring the team together at the end of a hectic day, busy shift or demanding project when everybody has pulled their weight to make sure everything went smoothly.

If you are genuine in your appreciation, and choose it for the right moment, it can work wonders. A simple but honest appreciative remark can go a very long way.

Give feedback; what have they done well and how it has contribute. Don’t dilute the message by homing in on shortfalls (but you can still ask them how this can be improved upon for next time, just as long as you don’t start nit picking).

Celebrate and share successes. And if you are going to praise an individual, don’t just leave it till you are on your own with them. Find an opportunity when they are with their colleagues, and your praise will create a buzz! Make sure it’s genuine and specific for the task carried out, or the person might be seen by their colleagues as ‘teacher’s pet’.


2. Token gestures

Become aware of what hobbies and interests your employees have. Then when you are out and about and see something that has to do with that particular interest, pick it up for them.

Coming into the business and saying  “I really appreciate what you do, and I got this for you as a small token of my appreciation”,  will make them feel they are recognised for a great job.

It doesn’t have to cost the earth; just a token. But the thought it evokes will make a real difference.


3. A treat

Give people the occasional treat. No need to be a lavish; look at ways to reward that create a win-win:

For example maybe a visit to a sister business or somewhere where they will be on the receiving end of outstanding service and are motivated to bring back more ideas that can be implemented in your business.

When your team have worked long or unsociable hours that had an impact on their personal life, extending the treat to be shared with their loved one not only makes your team member feel good but shows your appreciation of the support given by their friends and family. This paves the way for future good deeds too!


4. Time Off

For some people a little free time could be the most valuable gift you can give them.

Allowing flexibility to go home early to attend their kid’s sports’ day, have a lie in or the evening off on their birthday, or take an hour out to attend to a personal matter.

Allow the freedom for having fun too; this doesn’t mean being unprofessional, but looking for opportunities that create a relaxed and enjoyable place to work.

Simply a rest or just have a bit of fun can work wonders to their state of mind.


5. Awards

For those with a competitive spirit: Awards, competitions, even a league table. This might mean focusing on a different theme each month so that everyone has the opportunity to recognise their particular skills and strengths.

External awards are a great way to give recognition for the whole team. Keep your eye out for awards which are relevant to your business or your market. Just being nominated an award is a great booster. I remember when I worked in the corporate world and took over responsibility for sales training. Our new sales director was so impressed with what I had achieved he put me forward for the Institute of Marketing Sales Trainer of the year award. I didn’t win but I was one of the finalists, which gave me a great boost, and an opportunity to invite my colleagues along to the awards dinner which was great for my profile and for the business.

Be sure to recognise all departments, including back of house staff, or those in non-customer facing roles. They all have their part to play.


6. Opportunities for personal development

We so often think of development as solely grooming somebody for promotion. This might be one intention or outcome but even when we know that a member of our team has probably reached their peak, that doesn’t mean to say that we just let them stagnate.

Development should have the intention of making people the best they can be at their jobs, and this might lead to making the job easier, more rewarding or simply getting the job done in less time.

Identify and utilise people’s strengths, providing further development when needed to bring out the best in these areas. Delegate and give some control and ownership, such as making people champions for specific areas. This gives them pride in what they do and they will appreciate that you’ve recognised where they do a good job, providing of course you’re careful not to overburden or just dump these tasks on them.

Grow from within where possible, and give people the opportunity for career progression as well as enhancing skills to do their existing job. Think also about life skills; for example offering English lessons for migrant workers.

You may not be able to accommodate everyone’s aspirations particularly if you’re a small business, but having some kind of succession plan in place that gives people something to work towards.

However, take time to discuss people’s aspirations; don’t just assume that if someone shows potential that they want more responsibility or to be groomed into a specific position. And be careful not to make promises on career moves that you’re unable to keep.


Once we understand what’s important and a little bit of creativity there are plenty of ways we can say “I love you” and find the things they’ll love.  And your customers will feel that love too!


Empower your team to handle complaints

Complaints Concept. Word on Folder Register of Card Index. Selective Focus.

When conducting customer service training include how to handle complaints.

Getting feedback from your customers is essential to gauge whether or not what you offering is right for your target audience. Whether it’s positive or negative and whether you agree with it or not is key to your success.

But so many team members shy away from any feedback in case they hear something that they can’t deal with, or that reflects badly on them.

Of course, not being able to handle complaints is frustrating, not only for the customer but also for the employee, and ultimately for you if you get called in each and every time there’s a complaint.

So as well as training your team in how to manage service when all’s going smoothly teach them to deal with the ‘what if’ situations, i.e. how to deal with things when they go wrong, so they are confident when they need to handle complaints.

This includes giving them the skills and authority to handle complaints as they happen. Encourage them and train them how to ask for feedback and just as importantly how to respond when they get complaints or negative feedback.

This is far better for the customer because it gets a quicker solution, far better for the team member because they’re able to deal with it, which gives them pride, and far better for you because it means you don’t have to always been involved. This doesn’t mean to say that don’t want to hear about complaints particularly if there are common recurring problems that need to be resolved.

Don’t assume because you’ve told people how to do something they will be able to just go out and deliver it consistently. It’s all very well knowing what to say, but you know how sometimes when you come to say something the words just don’t trip off the tongue as you might hope! Let your team practise in a safe environment, based on different scenarios.

Agree with them their levels of authority so they know just how much leeway they have in offering the customer/guest compensation, and at what point they may need to involve a manager.

Observe how your staff handle complaints and give them feedback after the event on what they did well, what they could do more of, and give the appropriate support and guidance on areas where they need more help.

If you adopt a culture of it’s okay to make a mistake as long as you learn from it, your team will be far more confident to, not only deal with complaints, but also feedback so everybody learns, and ultimately of course to prevent the same problems happening again.

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Are complaints a good thing?