CSP Happenings





Tagged: skills

Do You Hear What I Hear? Skillful Listening Tips

December 22, 2015

listening skills

Effective communication cannot happen without attentive listening, making listening skills one of the most important fundamental components of customer service.

Customers today have more ways than ever to voice their wants, needs, and opinions to the companies they patronize, as well as to their fellow patrons. Customer service has expanded from sales floors and call centers to the digital cloud and social media spaces. Voice of the Customer tools like satisfaction surveys and comment cards also provide an outlet for customers to express whether their need for service is being met.

Across all of these platforms, no matter which one(s) a customer decides to use, their essential need to feel listened to remains the same. If they don’t feel listened to, they’re only a click away from Twitter, Yelp, and other public forums where they can make sure their voices are heard, and not always with the most flattering language.

Listening doesn’t just happen automatically. It requires active effort and attention. That’s what differentiates it from simply hearing. Fortunately, it’s a skill that can be trained, learned, practiced, and strengthened.

Tips for Becoming a More Skillful Listener

These basic tips apply to all customer service channels and deserve heavy emphasis in your employee training process.

Make a conscious decision to listen. Active listening is a choice, one that needs to happen at the beginning of every customer interaction. The minute you go on “auto-pilot,” communication suffers.

Let go of your own personal agenda. Focus your attention by clearing away all distractions or preconceived notions. If you’re not fully present, you open yourself up to miss key parts of the customer’s message.

Be curious. Try to see the issue, topic, or question at hand from the other person’s point of view. Ask questions that give the customer the opportunity to thoroughly explain or describe what it is they’re trying to convey.

Listen with your eyes. Look at the customer when they’re speaking, not at a computer screen, other people in the room, or your watch. Pay attention to all the visual clues that accompany a customer’s words, like body language and facial expressions. In text-based communication like email, italic and bold fonts and ALL CAPS serve a similar purpose (but can be more easily misconstrued, so use your judgement).

Be patient. Some people take longer to find the right words, to make a point, or to clarify an issue. Sometimes the impulse to “help” and finish their sentences or guess what they’re driving at can come across as a sign that you’re not actually listening to them, just trying to rush through the conversation.

Listen with respect. Listen to understand, not to judge. This means not just maintaining the right internal attitude, but paying attention to your own body language and nonverbal cues, watching out for things like eye-rolling, smirking or laughing at inappropriate moments, or fidgeting.   

Maintain calm and manage your own emotions/reactions. You cannot listen if you are defensive or angry, or if you’re preoccupied by something going on in your personal life. Remember, this isn’t about you or your personal agenda, it’s about the customer. If you can’t put them first, you might be in the wrong job.  

Listen for the whole message. Make sure you understand the entire message before you attempt to respond. If anything is unclear, try repeating the message back to the customer to make sure you understood them properly and are on the same page.

CSP is listening, too! If you have questions about customer service skills, or a story of really effective (or hilariously awful) listening experiences, leave a comment or Tweet us at @CSProfiles.

This post is adapted from an article in STARS, our exclusive library of customer experience management resources. CSP clients can download training material, exercises, and articles written around specific customer experience dilemmas and solutions from STARS. Learn more.

Leadership Skills: How to Tell if You’re Using Your Time Wisely

December 4, 2015

We start this lesson in leadership with a classic metaphor:

A professor stood before his class with some specific items in front of him. When class began, he wordlessly picked up a large empty glass jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks about three inches in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a bag of pebbles, poured them into the jar and lightly shook it. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. The students laughed. He asked his students again if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

csp_rocksandsandThe professor then picked up a bag of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous, “Yes!”

“Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The big rocks are the important things in your life —your family, your health, your friends, your favorite passions — anything that is so important to you that if it were lost, you would be nearly destroyed. These things will make you the most proud at the end of your days.”

“The pebbles are the other things in life that matter, but on a smaller scale. The pebbles represent the secondary things in life like your job, your house, your car. They give your life meaning, but perhaps aren’t the focus of your life’s work.”

“The sand is everything else—the small stuff. The sand represents everything that fills our days, but doesn’t add much value overall.”

“Consider this! What would happen if you started filling the empty jar with the sand? If you put the sand or the pebbles into the jar first, there is no room for all the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your energy and time on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are truly most important. Pay attention to the things that are critical in your life. If you start with the big goals of life, the smaller things will shift and move around to fill in the remaining space. But the reverse is not true.”

It’s difficult to be an effective leader if you’re not available to give proper attention to the “big rocks” because you’re mired in the sand.

This might sound obvious, but many leaders don’t do it in practice. There are only so many hours in the day that can quickly get eaten up by having to put out fires or burn energy on lower priorities.

Determining the Most Effective Use of Your Time

While the anonymous professor above was talking about the scale of life, you can use the big rock, pebble, and sand categories to assign weight to each of your responsibilities as a leader.

Try keeping a log of your activity over a given week, noting how much time you devote to each item that needs your attention. Take a look at the overall pattern of where the highest percentage of your energy is going, and then ask yourself these questions:

  1. What are your most important leadership responsibilities? Leaders often let critical tasks that impact the future slide off their radar. Consider tasks like: forecasting the future of your team, planning staffing needs and development, continuous improvement to processes, determining strategic direction, etc. Have you gotten sidetracked by daily interruptions that take you away from these leadership “rocks?”
  2. What “fires” are monopolizing your time day-to-day, forcing you to operate in a reactive mode? Note that these are often the pebbles and sand that we respond to, hour after hour. How can you preventatively invest more time to solve (or diminish) these issues, and consequently, free up time to address your prioritized rocks?
  3. Which goals do you dream about completing?
  4. What legacy do you want to create as a leader?

By contrasting how you’re actually spending your time with how you would ideally like to in order to accomplish your goals, some opportunities to make constructive changes might emerge. This could mean a conversation with management to make the case for how your time could be better spent, to everyone’s benefit.

When you set about reprioritizing how you spend your time, choose wisely and be disciplined. It’s not much different than starting a new diet or exercise plan – it’d be easy to slip back into old habits and let your jar fill up with sand and pebbles instead of rocks. In fact, that’s bound to happen some days, and that’s okay. Learn from it and come back the next day with even more determination.

This article is adapted from an activity in STARS, our exclusive library of customer experience management resources. CSP clients can download training material, exercises, and articles written around specific customer experience dilemmas and solutions from STARS. Learn more.

The Three Essential Steps to Engaging Customers

November 13, 2015

Customer engagement is a highly coveted measurement of a business’s customer experience. Knowing whether your customers feel engaged by your brand and employees, and which specific measures affect that sense of engagement, can reveal opportunities to build better relationships with your customers.

The goal of generating engagement has driven creative thinking in recent years as businesses look for the secret to getting and holding their customers’ attention. Much of the current conversation centers around social media and mobile devices in the endless race for more followers, likes, clicks, and shares.

While social & mobile strategies are certainly important, don’t lose sight of the basics amid all the chatter. Customer engagement on any platform starts with three key steps: watching, listening, and sharing.

WATCHING

In any interaction, a customer can reveal something about himself or herself that becomes an opportunity to engage in a conversation. Customer-facing employees should be encouraged to look out for such opportunities. Clothing or accessories might reveal if the customer is a fan of a particular sports team or musician, or a graduate of a local university. A parent or grandparent with a small child along with them may appreciate it if you engage the child – “Who’s the handsome little guy you have with you today?”

LISTENING

Just like watching, listening may give you a clue about a customer’s wants or needs that haven’t been covered yet. This applies to in-person interactions as well as over the phone or via text (like email or web chat interfaces). The most important part: being attentive. A customer can tell if the employee’s attention is divided or his/her interest is inauthentic and scripted – in other words, if they’re not being listened to.

SHARING

Conversation is, of course, a two-way street. In addition to engaging the customer with questions about him or herself, you can also use the opportunity to present information about your business, products, or services.

For example, if you know a particular customer to be a dog lover, you might mention that your business is participating in a fundraiser for a local animal shelter or cause. This is why it’s so important to be attentive in the other parts of this cycle: the more information you remember about each customer, the more the relationship can grow over time.

THE CASE FOR DISCRETIONsign-1238534-640x360

There are a few shadowy side-effects to the pursuit of engagement. It’s certainly possible to draw the wrong conclusion from a verbal or nonverbal context clue. A rep might say something potentially awkward, confusing, or in the worst case, offensive. Additionally, not every customer is going to be in the mood to participate in small talk at every interaction.

Similarly, not every customer is going to welcome the idea that your business is somehow following their personal lives, whether from their digital data or from in-person interactions. If they feel like you know things you shouldn’t know, or are disseminating information about them across the company “behind their back,” they might feel you’ve crossed the line from engagement to intrusion.

But playing it safe by avoiding Watching, Listening, and Sharing opportunities is not a way to build customer engagement. Skill, training, and practice can equip you with a service & sales staff who engage customers with grace and ease, even if a slip-up happens.

 

CSP has many resources available for training your employees to engage customers effectively and graciously, including our customized employee training services and our STARS library of exercises, articles, and activities. Contact us or call (800) 841-7954 ext:101 to talk about your customer engagement goals and questions.

Self-Awareness: The Often-Overlooked Key Quality of Leadership

September 2, 2015

Think about the traits you most closely associate with an effective manager. They might include decisiveness, charisma, commitment, strategic thinking, and the ability to engage employees. These qualities all share a common root that is often invisible at first glance: self-awareness.

Self-awareness refers to a person’s perception of him/herself and how accurately it reflects the perceptions of his/her peers. It means knowing yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, your expertise and your blind spots, your good and bad habits, and viewing those attributes through an honest and objective lens.2015sept_awareness

Leadership searches give short shrift to “self-awareness,” which should actually be a top criterion. Interestingly, a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success. – 2010 study by Green Peak Partners

Like many other so-called “soft skills,” self-awareness is most apparent when it is absent. A manager with low self-awareness might think of himself competent and motivating, while his employees think he is a micro-manager who doesn’t really know what he is doing. He misses opportunities to learn from his mistakes by not taking responsibility for them. He models poor behavior for his employees, and then criticizes them when they follow his lead. He feels threatened when others on his team have good ideas.

By contrast, a manager with high self-awareness accepts that he is not universally skilled at everything, and consciously builds his team with people who are strong in areas where he is not. He welcomes new ideas and feedback, and encourages his employees to take initiative rather than wait for his command. He owns up to his mistakes and uses them as teaching opportunities. He knows what resources, materials, and practices support him in being the best leader he can be and uses that knowledge to his advantage.

Which one would you rather work for? Which one do you want to be?

Achieving Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is better described as a practice than a permanent state. It is not something you just “unlock” or decide to become spontaneously. However, there are distinct steps or actions you can take to get to know yourself better. Follow these guidelines, and watch the results ripple out to the rest of your team:

Be mindful.

Mindfulness is the opposite of auto-pilot. It means being present to whatever it is you are doing – paying attention, observing, learning – and not letting yourself become distracted or so numbed by routine that you fail to notice what is happening. Importantly, mindfulness requires you to slow down rather than rush ahead to the next thing on your calendar or jump to conclusions. By doing this, you invite awareness and tune in with your intuition.

You can cultivate mindfulness through a number of different practices, including keeping a journal, exercising, meditating, engaging in a creative hobby, and practicing active listening during a conversation or presentation.

Establish boundaries.

Self-awareness means knowing where your abilities and capacities end and begin, or in other words, where your boundaries are. Often, people are not aware of their boundaries until those boundaries get crossed. You know when someone has stepped on your toes, when you feel overstretched or overworked, when you run into a task that’s beyond your reach, or when you’re not feeling challenged enough to stay motivated. To be self-aware means to know your limits and to guard them fiercely.

In practice, you might start with establishing boundaries around your time. Resist the urge to overschedule yourself or to commit to too many people or projects, and prioritize your need for rest and recuperation. If you notice yourself feeling burned out or put-upon, that’s a red flag that you are not honoring your boundaries.

Teach yourself about yourself.

Self-awareness is knowledge, which means you must be open to learning more about yourself – and accepting that there are things about yourself that you may be blind to. Put aside your ego and approach your own mind and personality with a sense of curiosity. No matter how well you think you know yourself, there is always more to learn.

There are a number of self-assessment tools, tests, and methodologies out there in the leadership education world, including the Myers-Briggs test, the enneagram, the John Maxwell Leadership Assessment, the DiSC profile, and many more. Each has its merits and its holes, but each is also an opportunity for some insightful introspection.

Ask for feedback.

Remember, self-awareness is not just about how well you know yourself, but how well that self-perception measures up to others’ perceptions of you, especially when you’re in charge of managing or coaching other employees. Just because you don’t think of yourself as a micro-manager doesn’t mean your employees don’t feel micro-managed. When you can see yourself through their eyes, and when that vision aligns with what you see in the mirror, your self-awareness comes into focus.

Give your team the opportunity to provide honest feedback about your managerial style, your effectiveness, and what you are like to work with. Employees will generally feel more comfortable providing this feedback anonymously, without fear of reprisal or negative attention if they have something less-than-flattering to say. But if they see you taking criticism in stride along with praise, they will trust you enough to be honest and forthcoming with any issues that may arise.


Related reading on our blog: 15 Qualities of a Good Coach in the Workplace

More articles about effective leadership and coaching techniques can be found in our STARS library, available to current CSP clients as part of our full-service delivery. Contact us to find out how we support effective coaching and training in pursuit of the optimal customer experience. 

Know the Differences between Employee Training and Coaching

March 25, 2015

Training and coaching sound like they could refer to the same thing: imparting information that someone else—in this case, your employees—can learn from.

In fact, training and coaching each serve a distinct purpose to your organization and can’t be interchanged. Knowing the differences between the two, and how and when to deploy them, is the key to affecting employee performance and satisfaction.

Training

training
Goals
  • Orient new employees to workplace standards and practices
  • Impart a specific new skill (e.g., using new software)
  • Instruct many employees at once with the same level of information
Setting
  • Often offered as a group lesson or course, sometimes digitally
  • May be a one-time session or a series of sessions
  • Few opportunities for one-on-one attention
Content
  • Standardized lessons delivered to all employees the same way
  • Content may be proprietary, owned by either the company or a third-party vendor brought in for training
Methods
  • Top-down, classroom-style teaching from one or more instructors
  • Worksheets, workbooks, handouts, or required reading
  • Activities, presentations, or projects, individual or grouped
  • May culminate with a test and/or certificate of completion

Training is best suited to new material or with new employees. Its purpose is to introduce a concept or skill and give the employee a basic proficiency with that topic, which they will then take into practice on the job. Training is often a one-time commitment per topic, rather than an ongoing process.

Coaching

coaching
Goals
  • Encourage employee development and improved performance
  • Address specific problem areas with specific employees (vs. a group)
  • Less about “how to” and more about “how well”
Setting
  • Most often occurs one-on-one, though one coach may manage more than one employee
  • Less structured than training; scheduled and delivered as needed
  • ·An ongoing process that follows the employee’s own progress
Content
  • Customized to the employee’s needs and learning curve
  • Hands-on opportunities to learn and practice, sometimes on the job
  • Worksheets and handouts less common, but coach may recommend additional material for continued learning
  • May be tied to employee performance reviews
Methods
  • Bottom-up approach built on the employee’s needs and questions
  • Encourages employee to examine and reflect on his/her own development and take constructive critique
  • Deliberate focus on specific areas of improvement, with benchmarks and goals for measuring progress

While training is skills-oriented, the purpose of coaching is to develop talent. We’ve written before that there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all training; coaching allows instructors and employees to identify and address the specific issues that training may have missed. It’s also easier to accommodate different learning styles with a more personalized approach.

Why Training & Coaching Are Essential

Training aims to establish a well-informed, high-performing workforce. Coaching works to maintain it. If employees are recurrently falling below expectations, stagnating in their progress towards their goals, or failing to grasp the skills and talents you’re trying to impart on them, the problem might lie in how they are being trained, and what kind of coaching they are (or aren’t) receiving to reinforce that training.

Together, training and coaching benefit both employees and customers. Solid training and coaching support a smooth, stable working environment and improve morale and overall performance. That trickles down to the customer experience – customers know they can rely on the quality of service they’ll get from anyone they may talk to at the company.

Customer feedback also trickles back up into educational efforts, revealing any problem areas in service that need to be addressed on an institutional level.

That’s why CSP builds in plenty of overlap between the customer research and training/coaching components of our customer experience management programs. A superior experience depends on consistent alignment at every level of the organization. If you could use a fresh perspective on effective employee education, we welcome your questions.

For more information about how CSP supports employee & customer engagement, contact us today by phone at (402) 399-8790 ext:101, via our website, or on Twitter @csprofiles