Monthly Archives: December 2018

Big Rocks

Complaint handling

Complaint handling  – It’s all too easy to wait until something has gone wrong to discover your team are not that confident or competent in dealing with complaints, only to end up with a niggling customer complaint escalating into a major problem. That’s because it’s all too easy to let these proactive (big rocks) shift down the priority list.

But, before you get onto “Big Rocks” I have a big rock of my own, and could do with your help, please.

I’m currently working on a new programme to help businesses deliver their own customer service training in-house. I need to make sure I have considered everything, and this is where you come in. If you could have a private conversation with me about developing customer service skills, with your team, what 2 questions would you like to ask me? Just click here and send me your questions. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to answer individually… But I will try to answer them in a future newsletter. Thank you.

As you plan for the year ahead here’s something to bear in mind…

You may have heard of Stephen Covey’s idea of the rocks and the jar. In case you haven’t it goes like this…

Covey takes a jar, into which he places a few big rocks. Then he adds a bunch of small pebbles, and finally some sand, which fits in around the rocks and pebbles.

The jar symbolises our time, the rocks represent our important priorities, the small pebbles represent things that matter, but that you could live without, and finally the sand which represents busy tasks that aren’t important, and are likely only done to waste time or get small tasks accomplished.

When you place the big rocks in the jar first, then put in the pebbles, and finally the sand, everything either fits in, or the only thing that won’t fit is excess sand.

The metaphor here is that if you try and do this in the reverse order putting sand in first, then the pebbles you can’t fit in the big rocks.

This holds true with the things you let into your life. If you spend all your time on the small and insignificant things, you will run out of room for the things that are actually important.

While you can always find time to work or do chores, it is important to manage the things that really matter first. The big rocks are your priorities, while the other things in your life are represented by pebbles and sand.

One such big rock is scheduling time for staff development, such as setting aside time for developing customer service skills, or any activity which helps develop your service culture.

Let’s take complaint handling as an example. It’s all too easy to wait until something has gone wrong to discover your team are not that confident or competent in dealing with complaints, only to end up with a niggling customer complaint escalating into a major problem. If team members had been trained and coached in complaint handling in advance such a situation could probably be avoided. But it’s all too easy to let these proactive (big rocks) shift down the priority list.

One of the challenges is that we see these big rocks as scary overwhelming tasks. But if your managers and supervisors have the skills to deliver training in-house (be that identifying customer needs, complaint handling, managing customer expectations). It means you can break down this training into bite-size sessions which you can schedule in over several days, several weeks, or simply make part of your weekly/monthly routine.

So, the moral of the story? As you plan for the year ahead, put in the big rocks first – the things that are important, such as staff development and training, even though they are not necessarily urgent yet, or else they won’t fit into the jar. i.e. schedule these into your calendar first.

p.s. please send me your questions- what 2 questions would you like to ask me about developing customer service skills? Just click reply to this email and send me your questions. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to answer individually… But I will try to answer them in a future newsletter. Thank you.



Don’t kid yourself you’ll remember

customer retentionCustomer Retention and Employee Retention post-Christmas

I know planning for next Christmas (or any other busy period) is probably the last thing on your mind just now.

But if we don’t take stock now of how this year has gone, we’ll be missing out on the opportunity to learn from the experience. Don’t kid yourself you’ll remember what you’d change for next year… You won’t, and only kick yourself afterwards!

Debrief at the end of each day or event and keep notes of what you’ll do differently next time. This helps you identify ways to improve both customer retention (particularly customers buying from you the first time) and employee retention, by keeping your permanent and temporary staff happy.

Customer Service and Customer Retention

  • Keep a note of what your customers have bought, so you can prompt them next time around, so they (and you) don’t forget anything. And you can deliver a consistent service which is at least as good as, if not better than this year.
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  • Capture feedback from your customers. Find out what they loved (so you can do more of the same in future) and what they were not so keen on, so you know what not to repeat. Do this now while their emotions are still running high from their experience, not in three weeks’ time when everything is back to normal.
    Build on this feedback for next year, so you can plan what you’ll add or do differently.
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  • Ask your happy customers for testimonials, and check they’re happy for you to use these in next year’s marketing. This in itself helps with customer retention, as few customers who recommend you are likely to then go elsewhere.
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  • Follow up with your customers to show you appreciate their business.  Take this opportunity to ask them what they enjoyed and tell them what you have planned for the year ahead to sow the seed for further business throughout the year or at the same time next year.
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  • Capture details of new customers so you can stay on their radar and tempt them back at other times of the year.

Employee retention

  • Get feedback from your team, both permanent and temporary staff. Involve them in the review process by asking for their ideas. Focus on 3 questions:
    1. What went well for them?
    2. What was challenging and where did they struggle to meet customers’ expectations?
    3. What can be improved on or should be done differently in future to ensure the customer experience is still a great one even when you’re busy.
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  • Identify where your team needs support, coaching or further training; all of which you might be able to address in your quieter weeks ahead.
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  • Recognise and reward your team. If they’ve put in extra hours or effort to make your busy periods a success show them how much you appreciate this, so they’ll be happy to do the same again next time. Remember, rewards don’t have to be financial; for some time off or flexibility of shifts to spend with family or friends after Christmas could be the most valuable gift you could give them
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Profitability

  • Keep tabs on your costs to ensure you have an accurate picture of your expenditure and profit margins.  If you run events or promotions include post costings for each event, to take account of uptake, wastage, and actual spend.
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Future planning

  • Bring everything together from your debriefings and summarise:
    1. what went well. What will you continue, develop or build on for future
    2. what didn’t go so well, and needs doing differently.
    3. What have you learnt.
  • Make notes which will be meaningful to you months down the line, and file these somewhere where you can find them easily when it comes to planning next year!
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Finally, take the time to celebrate your successes and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.


I don’t care how busy you are!

customer service standards when busyMaintaining customer service standards when busy

Here’s my second article related to customer service during the Christmas Season. If you’re busy in the weeks leading up to Christmas, or over Christmas and New Year itself I’ve written this with you in mind.

But if you want to maintain your customer service standards, most of the points are equally applicable to any business at any time of year when you expect to be busy or you experience peaks of activity.

So, whether you’re a hospitality, leisure or retail or business already in the thick of Christmas activity, a professional services business who knows everyone leaves things to the last minute to get repairs, renewals  or returns done on time to meet end of year deadline, or a health and wellness business anticipating a flurry of activity  as a result of New Year’s resolutions – here are a few things to bear in mind to continue to meet your customer’s expectations.

7 ways to maintain your customer service standards

  1. First impressions count.  Remember, when you’re busy, many of these customers may be coming to your business for the very first time, so don’t let the volume of customers be an excuse to let customer service standards drop. Create a memorable first impression and a reason for them to return.
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  2. Avoid damaging your reputation with your loyal regulars by lowering your standards of customer service just because you are busy. Your regulars don’t care! Busy or not, whether it’s Christmas and you’re rushed off your feet, or your staff are taking time off, your customers expect consistency. Don’t disappoint.
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  3. Most customers accept that things can go wrong from time to time. But, they are far more understanding if they’re forewarned. Keep the customer informed of the situation and give them options. Customers will appreciate your honesty which helps maintain trust and keep your customers loyal.
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  4. Avoid disappointments. When you know something is unavailable give customers as much notice as possible – through your website, when booking or enquiring, prior to travel or on arrival – to minimise disappointment. But, offer customers choice and alternatives. Being kept informed is not about making excuses!  It’s about honesty so the customer can make an informed decision.
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  5. If something they’ve asked for isn’t available; will be it be available later or not at all? What’s the alternative? What can you offer that might be as good as or even better? Take the opportunity to introduce your customers to something they haven’t tried before, or something that could be classed as an ‘upgrade’ (at no additional cost to them, of course). It’s a perfect opportunity to let your customer experience something over and above what they were expecting, so enhance their perception of customer service and value for money.
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  6. Don’t over commit. Ensure your team are able to offer suggestions and recommendations, and that they’re fully aware of what is feasible, and what’s not a practical proposition when you’re busy, so they don’t make commitments you can’t deliver.
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  7. Even out the workload. For example, if you know that you’re likely to be busy at certain times of the day, make every effort to let your customers know this. If you let them know when the quieter times are, this not only helps them, it potentially evens out the peaks and troughs for you too, enabling you to maintain customer service standards.

So whether your busy season is Christmas, the January sales, or sizzling summer days, the same customer service principles still apply…



Improving Employee Productivity

Getting the best from your seasonal team

When Christmas is an exceptionally busy time for your business this of course presents a huge opportunity for you. But if you’re left with insufficient manpower, or temporary staff who simply aren’t up to the job, this can leave your existing team stretched and unable to meet your normal levels of service.

So, not only do your regulars leave disappointed, but those first-time customers don’t get the fab first impression they need to convert them into returning long term loyal customers.

If you’re taking on extra seasonal staff for the Christmas period (or at any other time of the year), I’m sure you will want them to be as productive as possible, as quickly as possible.

Here are a few ideas, so you avoid them being thrown in at the deep end or not pulling their weight.

Before

Start the induction process as soon as possible; the more you can do before their first shift the better their first day’s experience is likely to be and the quicker they’ll be up to speed.

When confirming the job let them know how much you’re looking forward to them coming to work for you and then start with information that lets them know that they’re going to get a warm welcome.

The easiest way for you to do this is to create a standard welcome pack. This might include:

  • A short personalised welcome letter or card from you, the owner or general manager personally signed.
  • The background to your business, your service culture, your values and what’s important to you.
  • An outline of what they’ll be doing on their first shift – training, briefings, range of work.
  • Information about personal safety at work, plus travelling to and from the job. (Particularly important for those who will be working unsociable hours.) This might include information about parking and public transport, even a timetable (download and print).
  • For hospitality, leisure or retail businesses a voucher for them to come and be a customer with you so they can experience things from a customer’s perspective.
  • A short summary of the Staff Manual with key things they need to know.
  • Their terms and conditions of employment so they have an opportunity to read through this before day one.
  • Any current topical information, such as your latest newsletter.
  • What to wear and what to bring on their first shift.
  • Anything else they might need to know in advance such as time keeping, break allowance, staff meals, security, health and safety.
  • Avoid being let down at the last minute – Provide out of hours contact numbers and establish procedures for sickness reporting.

Putting all this in a smart folder with their name on it and sending it to them before they start will make them feel more welcome and they are more likely to be looking forward to the first day and getting into their job quickly.

Stay in touch with the new team member, particularly if there is a long lead-in time before they start. This will help to avoid the potential “buyer’s remorse”, and instead help to create a sense of excitement and anticipation.

During

Apart from the obvious outline of the job itself, cover the following:

  1. What we stand for: Define your service culture, what is important to you as a business and what is the type of experience you want your customers to have when they do business with you.
  2. First impressions count.  Customers don’t differentiate between permanent or temporary team members; they expect the same service from everyone. Specify your standards for welcoming and greeting customers, answering the phone. including the ordering and/or booking procedures if this is part of their role.
  3. Help new team members understand your customers’ expectations. Describe your customer profile and what they will be looking for. Why do people come to you rather than your competition, what makes you different or unique. Take people through the key parts of the customer journey and allow them to see everything from a customer’s perspective as far as possible.
  4. How we do things round here.  Every business has its own little routines, habits and traditions.  The sooner new-comers get to know these the sooner they’ll start to feel at home. How this translates into the day-to-day role might come better from a fellow employee or their buddy, rather than necessarily coming from you.
  5. Assign a buddy. Assign someone within their team they can go to for day-to-day questions, so they’re not left floundering or too scared to ask for help. This means when they have what they might perceive as being trivial questions they still have someone to turn to rather than the question being left unanswered. Choose your buddies with care, ensuring that they not only know the standards and your expectations, but they are ambassadors for your business and you’re confident they’ll be patient and supportive when asked.
  6. Teamwork is key. Introduce new team members to everyone else in the whole team. Defining everyone’s areas of responsibility so there are no gaps and no duplication of effort. Avoid any friction that can occur when someone hasn’t pulled their weight or others are seen to ‘interfere’ with your way of doing things.
  7. Play to people’s strengths. When you offered them the position, what were the key things that stood out for you about this person?  Rather than making everyone mediocre at everything, capitalise on the skills and experience this person displays. Consider allocating a specific task or project that they can get stuck into and for which they have some responsibility and ownership. This is a great way to get them involved and give them something where they can contribute early on.
  8. Provide thorough product knowledge – People can’t sell something they don’t know exists! What does your business offer – times of service, complementary products, etc.  Let your staff sample products and/or services as far as possible, explain what products are normally sold together (e.g. in a restaurant what accompanies each dish) what the price includes and what’s extra. If they have a role in up-selling what are the products you want them to promote, including any future events?  If your core team are incentivised, make sure you include seasonal staff in the scheme.
  9. Establish protocol in dealing with specific situations. Payment procedures, including any security procedures or checks needed; handling customer complaints, and awkward customers.  Define the line between handling these situations themselves and when to seek intervention from a manager or more experienced staff member
  10. Help make them feel like family. If your team (temporary or permanent) have to work unsociable hours, long nights or sacrifice personal social lives, be open to flexibility. Recognise that people may be missing out on family and friends’ events, so help make up for this in some way.
  11. Recognise their work. Just like permanent employees, let them know that you see and appreciate their efforts. If they’re there to learn (e.g. a student gaining valuable work experience) they’ll welcome supportive feedback. Schedule short weekly meetings to review progress, answer questions, and identify when help is needed.
  12. This is also a great time to get feedback from them on their ideas and observations. Often a fresh pair of eyes will highlight things we’ve missed, and they bring with them experience and insights on how to do things better.
  13. Give them something to look forward to and keep them interested for the whole season.  Involve them in any after work social activities and maybe some incentive awarded at the end of the season.

After

Set yourself up for next year or your next busy period by ensuring your temporary team members remember you in a good light and will want to return or at the very least become an ambassador for your business.

How you treat them afterwards is as important as how you treat them during their time with you, especially if there’s a strong likelihood they may work with you again.

  • Ask for their feedback on their experience so you can learn how to make your business an even more attractive place to work in future.
  • Invite them along to any post season team events. This is not only a good way to say thank you afterwards, but helps embed positive memories of their time with you.
  • Maintain communication so you can continue a conversation with potential talent, giving you the ability to hire fast when you need to. You’ll be more readily able to hire people who are already familiar with your business, (or  who help find others like them), and can easily slip back into the business with little to no extra training.
  • Show them opportunity. Some may be looking to forge long-term careers within your industry. To ensure you’re capturing the best talent, show them the opportunity and growth positions that could arise if they return or stay with your business.

Is all this effort worth it if they’re just a temp?

Absolutely.

Treat them well and you’ll be rewarded with improved employee productivity, a happier more engaged team and employee retention, better customer service, and ultimately create advocates for your business.

Maintain your reputation as a good employer; if you treat seasonal staff well, and they will be willing to come back next time you need an extra hand.

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