Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Secrets for Exemplary Customer Service

Every business is trying to stand out in today’s social economy. But how can businesses do that? Can a lower price guarantee more customers? Can a more varied product choice guarantee more customers? No, the answer is so simple that many executives won’t even think of it.

In today’s social economy, the key to standing apart from the competition is the ability to provide exemplary customer service. In fact, in the words of Jerry Gregoire, CIO of Dell Computers, “The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.”

Since customers want memorable and positive customer experiences, how often do you, as the top leader or overseer of management teams spend time in the customers’ shoes? Do you know what your customers like about your product or service as well as what they don’t like? How often does your business survey your customers? Lastly, how often do you refresh your brand?

I reached out to my 20 favorite customer service experts on Twitter and asked them, “If you could share one secret for creating exemplary customer service, what would it be?” Here are their insights.

Shep Hyken (@hyken): Don’t get caught up in technology, social media, Big Data, or any other “state of the art” way to enhance the customer experience. In the end, all of that won’t help if you don’t have the people side of the service equation. A customer service company focuses on people – both customers and employees. Treat employees like you want the customer to be treated (maybe even better), because what is happening on the inside of a business is felt on the outside by the customer.

John Freshney (@WiseCrow1): Get emotional with customers. Listen with your ears, eyes, and heart. Success is learning to walk, dance, laugh, and cry with your customers.

Bill Quiseng (@billquiseng): It’s not the one big WOW to one customer that wins the day. It is the one little WOW delivered consistently to every customer. Anyone can do it once. It's all about delivering WOW consistently.

Marilyn Suttle (@marilynsuttle): The secret to providing exemplary customer service is making it the priority and part of every employee’s job description. Commit to it in writing, measure it, and celebrate successes so service excellence becomes the expected way things are done, and a cornerstone of your corporate culture.

Melissa Kovacevic (MKCallConsult): Coach reps to engage and make customers feel valued from the start. Engage first, process second.

Jeanne Walters (@360connext): Get top brass to experience the customer service flow several times a year. Live it to learn it!

Greg Levin (@greg_levin): Treat your employees like the most valuable customer, and the rest takes care of itself.

Kate Nasser (@KateNasser): Deliver exemplary customer service. Make every word and action honor the customer with trust, integrity, and ease. Also, customer service leaders: Inspire teams to care before you teach them to smile.

Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar): The best way to improve the customer experience is to improve the employee experience.

Flavio Martins (@flavmartins): Transform generic and typical responses by delivering them in a personal, unique, and memorable way.

Annette Franz (@CXJourney): Abide by the golden rule. We’re all human, we’re all in this together. Treat others the way you want to be treated. It’s just common sense.

Denise Lee Yohn (@deniseleeyohn): Teach employees to love bringing their brand to life for customers.

Kim Garst (@kimgarst): Customer care is care driven. Showcase care, fix problems if there are any, and always lead with value.

Richard Gallagher (@gallagherPOC): Teach customer service as “skills” not “attitude.” Learning how to handle the very worst customer service situations helps people to give awesome service all the time.

Roy Atkinson (@royatkinson): Hire the heart and train the brain. Hire for qualities like empathy and train on product and technical knowledge.

Steve Curtin (@enthused): Exceptions create opportunities to deliver exceptional customer service. In most cases, when customers operate outside the norm, they are chastised (for example, So you didn't know the buffet ended at 10:00?) rather than accommodated (for example, Although our buffet ended at 10:00, I have a lovely table available and invite you to order directly off the breakfast menu).

CustomerGauge (@CustomerGauge): Start from within the organization. Understand the value that customers deserve, deliver value on all aspects, and always follow up.

JoAnna Brandi (@KeepEmHappy): When you truly believe in your ability to turn a Moment of Truth (any interaction where a customer has the opportunity to judge the quality of service you are delivering) into a Moment of Magic, you discover the power to really make a magical difference in someone’s life. When you sincerely add a little more energy, excitement, attention, enthusiasm, confidence, or appreciation in an interaction with a customer, it helps them feel a positive emotion. And if a customer feels that emotion for 20 seconds or more, it sets off a cascade of “feel good” chemicals in their body that helps them become healthier, feel happier, and even get smarter. Great customer care has a ripple effect, and your positivity sets it in motion. See yourself as a magician!

VeryGoodService @verygoodservice): Have a positive attitude.

Jennifer Moff (@jennifer_moff): I'm a huge fan of what I call "The Bookend Rule." When you read a book, you tend to remember the beginning and the end, but in life, first impressions stick out and so do your goodbyes. So, set a positive tone initially: smile, say hello, exchange names, and ask how you can be of service. Then at the end of the interaction, genuinely thank customers, ask if you have resolved all of their needs, and let them know you are always there if they need anything.

I thank all of the thought-provoking experts featured in this post and invite you to revisit this list of insights whenever you need to inspire anyone in your business who interacts with customers.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Leadership Insights for New Leaders

What is leadership? We all know what effective leadership looks like, just as we all know what ineffective leadership looks like. But can we stand back from a business situation and provide a 68,000-foot view explanation as to why leadership succeeded or failed?

According to Wikipedia, leadership is “a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task. It is also organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal.”

Every day on Twitter, a myriad of leadership experts chime in with their leadership insights. With all the Tweet chats about leadership, management, and productivity, we can thank Twitter for becoming the online version of a bookstore from the best and the brightest.

Recently, I asked some of my favorite leadership experts (who I met on Twitter) to provide one piece of advice for new leaders. While these remarks may be targeted to managers who have yet to take on key leadership roles, the truth is, we all set an example by how we conduct ourselves in the workplace. While we may not have “leader,” “VP,” or “Chief” in our titles, we have the potential to inspire those around us. All we need to do is recall the words of John Quincy Adams: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

So without further ado, here are some amazing leadership insights:

@ValaAfshar: In time of crisis, lead from the front. In time of celebration, lead from the back. Great leaders are also great followers.

@JohnBaldoni: Leaders who show vulnerability are leaders who are confident in themselves and their ability to lead others.

@KevinEikenberry: Talk to people – find out their expectations, share yours, and be willing to be real.

@MarkOOakes: Leadership isn’t a role. It’s a ‘calling’ to serve others.

@ScottEblin: Listen more than you talk.

@ChiefExecBear (MaxineClark): Know what you don’t know and always be willing to learn. It is the sign of a truly great leader: someone who wants to always know more.

@LeadToday (Steve Keating): Always be aware of your motives. If you’re doing something for the business, it’s management. If you’re doing something for your people, then it’s leadership. Leadership is about the people who make up an organization – it’s not about systems, policies, and programs.

@DanVForbes: Always be learning. Create a personal development plan that includes reading something every day to help you become a better leader. Leaders are learners, and leaders are readers.

@PamFR (Pam Fox Rollin): Never lose sight of purpose. Keep asking, “What could I do to create more value for the business and the world?”

@strategicsense (Patti Blackstaffe): Change is inevitable, it will happen without you. Choosing to grow and adapt through change is wise – but doing so collaboratively is leadership.

@PeterMello: Always be present. When you have an important meeting or casual encounter, put your cell phone away, turn your computer screen off, and give your full attention to whomever is with you. Make people feel that they are the only ones in the room with you, and it will go a long way to building the trust you need to effectively exercise leadership.

@LeadershipNow (Michael McKinney): The biggest thing leaders must remember is that it is not about you. The implications are many, but it keeps your focus on what it should be focused on.

@jellett (John Ellett): Realize you are a change agent and get aligned with your boss on the magnitude and pace of change expected.

@Lyn_Boyer: Trust yourself but continue to learn. Trust others but continue to observe. Love what you do but continue to change.

@ManagementBrad (Brad Hanson): Adapt your leadership style to the demands of the situation, the requirements of the people involved, and the challenges facing you.

@ShawneTV (Shawne Duperon): Forgive yourself quickly. People make mistakes. Leaders have the courage to self-forgive and move on.

@managemntmoment (Doug Dickerson): True leadership is not about power, position, or popularity; it’s about serving others.

@MarilynSuttle: You cannot make people be successful. However, you can set up an environment that inspires people to succeed.

@lizwebercmc (Liz Weber): Do your job – not the job of others. Let go and teach others to do the jobs they are being paid to do. Develop them.

@jamesstrock: Learn one new thing every day. Every single day.

@RoySaunderson: Make time for your people first and tasks second. Harmonize when difficulty happens. Make regular one-on-one time for two-way feedback and discussion.

@SamSilverstein: My one piece of advice might sound simple, but it’s not. Be accountable.

@ErikaAndersen: Get curious. Curiosity is that deep impulse to explore what will carry you past all your limitations and connect you deeply to those you lead.

@LeadrshpAdvisor (William Powell): Develop others as if it were your career. In reality, that is your career as a leader. Unleash human potential.

@JohnKeyserCoach: Be humble, help others.

@EricJacobsonKC: Don’t act too quickly to make changes. First learn, listen, and earn respect and trust.

@CoachingLeaders (Michelle Braden): Understand the importance of communication and that people communicate differently. Don’t expect everyone to adapt to the leader’s style – learn the preferred communication style of others.

@scedmonds (S. Chris Edmonds): New leaders need to ensure they don’t fall into the trap of paying attention only to performance. Yes, performance is important, but equally important is how leaders treat team members and how team members treat peers and customers. Emphasize civility in every interaction.

@ErinSchreyer: Here are my three ingredients for leadership success: conduct an accurate self-awareness audit, cultivate a passionate desire to improve and grow, and develop humility and a desire to help others.

@NewParadigmer (Mark Herbert): Remember that leadership is a gift, not a position. It doesn’t require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to trust and be trusted – and block and tackle for others.

I thank all of the inspirational leaders featured in this post and invite you to revisit this list whenever you need a leadership refresher.

Image Credit: Thanks to Ted Goff for use of his cartoon with this post. Check out Ted's work at http://www.tedgoff.com.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.