Say Yes to the Dress

Working from home. Ahh, don’t you love the sound of it? If you’ve never done it, my guess is you have this romantic vision in your head of a nice cup of coffee, the television on your favorite show or some nice music playing with your laptop where it was designed, on your lap, with your feet up on the couch sporting the new slippers you purchased in honor of being “virtual.” The day I started my business and began working from home, I too romanticized it. No makeup, doing laundry during the day, PJs until noon, being available for my kids at all hours of the day? Sign me up!

The first couple of weeks were amazing. I was able to go to my daughter’s Halloween Party at school, my house was spotless, I had everything prepared for when I got my first client and I had great ideas for the layout of my website. There was one major problem; I had no clients. As the days wore on I became increasingly less motivated, spent more time watching television, baking and other things and found I wasn’t even getting dressed or taking a shower until it was time to pick up my daughter from school. I got to a point where I was about to lose my drive when I heard about this little thing called networking.

Networking was everything I didn’t want which is why I started my own business; waking up at O’dark thirty, getting all dressed up to go to a meeting where you give a 30 second presentation, hand out some business cards and make plans for lunches to meet other people. This sounded like everything I was trying to get away from by creating a virtual environment, but I didn’t want to go back into the corporate world, so I gave it a shot. After the first meeting I had my first interested client… SCORE! I went home only to find I was more motivated than ever and began knocking things out and making calls left and right. I think someone spiked the punch.

Networking quickly became my addiction, it was my drug of choice. It didn’t matter if I had only 3 hours of sleep, only 5 people showed up, no one talked to me, the food was terrible or I didn’t get a single new business card. Every time I went to a meeting I came home with a renewed sense of purpose. But after two years of chasing that first high and drinking the Kool-Aid, time began to ware on me and I was back in PJs, lacking motivation.

During my slump I went to my husband, who had been working with his business from home for 10 years, sat in a chair in his office, with my PJs and slippers and started to cry my eyes out. I wanted to quit. I couldn’t get motivated and didn’t know how to move on. He reminded me of his advice when this all stared; “get up in the morning and go to work as if you were going to work”. When he said it, it all came to me. The reason I was so successful when I was networking had everything to do with the way I approached my day; getting dressed and preparing to give my best.

Now I get up every morning, take a shower, do my hair and put on make-up as if I’m headed into the office. I began to notice when my employees were feeling down, getting stressed, being unproductive or just “not in it” they typically were lounging in their PJs answering phones. When we implemented a policy for everyone to be dressed as if coming to the office, we not only noticed a change in productivity but a boost in moral. They were genuinely happier. Although I still have my occasional lazy Saturdays where I’ll lounge around until late morning or early afternoon, especially in the middle of winter, I always feel more productive and happier when I awake with a plan and a purpose.

Save the American Dream

There is a picture on my desk which reads “Discovery: A company that will go to the ends of the earth for its people will find that it can hire them for about 10% of the cost of Americans.” As a stateside call center, we are always competing with offshore (overseas) alternatives with respect to cost, but the only reason they are so inexpensive is because no one is holding them accountable to pay fair wages to their workers. When companies don’t treat their employees with dignity and respect, the employees feel devalued which is reflected in their work.  The sad thing is this isn’t just happening in call centers, it’s happening all over the country in every service business.

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine who owns a small business and we both came to the agreement that while corporate America has some perks, it’s equally killing the American dream. When was the last time you drove down a street somewhere and didn’t see a name you were familiar with? How often do you attempt to shop local over the big box store? While it may appear big box stores can be great for innovators who create new products, what about service businesses?

Each one of you has had a negative customer service experience with a chain store. We’ve all done it, threatened, even if it was internally, to “never come back to this store again” only to return a couple days, weeks or months later because there either wasn’t another option or the other option was “too expensive.” It’s the American way of giving in. We’ve given up making big businesses work for our dollar and given into the idea that price is more important than anything else. We’ve gotten to the point in our culture that service has lost its value but it’s all we complain about. You can scour the internet for reviews of just about anything, from restaurants to car repair shops and the biggest complaint you’ll see is in regards to service. You’ll also notice, in general, the local shops have better reviews regarding service, they work for each dollar they earn through providing the best experience possible.

What’s the big deal? If we can get things cheaper, we’ll deal with a bad experience, right? The bigger picture is, what’s more important. Every day businesses shut their doors because they couldn’t afford to service their customers. Without local businesses, the major chains and big box stores no longer have to provide their customers with an engaging and positive experience. There is no accountability where there is no competition. Case in point, in many areas of our country there is only one internet provider to chose from and when you call their customer support, it’s usually not met with a happy voice ready to serve you. Why not? Because there’s no reason for that company to spend the time and money on your experience when they know they’re going to retain you as a customer anyway.

So, the next time you’re ready to spend money you worked hard to earn, ensure you’re spending that money on the companies who are working equally hard to earn it. Life is all about enjoying the ride, so don’t continue to settle for negative experiences, voice your concerns and spend your money elsewhere.

3 Customer Service Myths

We have all had more than our fair share of bad experiences with call center Customer Service. When calling our local bank or utilities company yet having to talk to a foreign voice from a faraway land or being required to answer a bunch of questions before discussing the reason for our call or waiting on hold FOREVER and being transferred around from one department to another over and over again, it’s just incredibly frustrating when our expectations aren’t met. The most important thing to realize though is that the Customer Service Representative (CSR) on the other end of the phone isn’t the reason for your frustration and should be treated the way you want them to treat you. Positive actions yield positive results.

The agent doesn’t care about helping you
Customer Service Representatives (CSR) are only working for a paycheck, don’t care about the company they work for and are just serving their time while waiting for a “real job.” This is the common misconception that many consumers have when calling customer service. Although I’m sure there are many CSRs in call centers or offices around the world who may fit that profile, I can guarantee they are the minority.

Most CSRs are born to serve. In other words, they are most comfortable when they are helping people, which is why they joined the Customer Service industry. They want to spend their lives serving people and their end goal is to ensure you are completely satisfied. If you have a dispute, a CSR wants to help you resolve it. If you need information about a product or service, a CSR wants to answer your questions. If you need assistance with your account, a CSR will do everything within their power to help but please realize that their employer only gives them so much authority. If you are having a bad day and just need to vent however, remember, the CSR is not the enemy.

Yelling is the best option
Consumers should realize…the people they are calling are PEOPLE. Customer service or call center agents are trained to be efficient and help as many people as they can, as fast as possible while still being courteous, respectful and attentive to your needs. Think about your own situation. What would you do if someone walked up to you screaming? When you call a CSR about a problem, if you start off by screaming you’re more likely to end up in time-out like a 2 year old rather than quickly getting to the root of the problem. Why? Because the CSR must first determine how to coerce you into a rational state, determine what the issue is, then get to work on finding a resolution. Another tact might be to realize that CSRs speak with upset people all day and by you being the one person who is polite and pleasant, you might get special treatment.

The person you are speaking with on the phone is probably not the same person that caused your problem or grievance. If you take it out on the CSR, they will fall back on their training and resort to the company line, “that’s all I can do for your sir/mam” but if you are friendly and patient they will most likely go out of their way to help you. If the CSR can’t help you either because they were not empowered to do so, they were unable to understand your request or their response was unacceptable, don’t automatically assume that asking for a supervisor will bring you closer to your end goal.

Immediately ask for a Supervisor
Many people think that bypassing the CSR altogether and immediately asking to speak with a supervisor will solve their problem faster. Most people assume the supervisor has more authority than the CSR to handle the problem but honestly, the CSR probably has dealt with the exact same problem with dozens of other people and has a good idea how to help whereas the supervisor is well trained in conflict resolution and maintaining corporate policy.

CSR’s are generally more knowledgeable about the product, service or account than the supervisor. It isn’t the same as asking for a manager at a restaurant when your order was served incorrectly. In a restaurant, the manager is solely focused on just the restaurant, your experience and the productivity of the kitchen. In a call center, the manager is focused on CSR statistics, call volume, and in many cases, call escalations for multiple businesses that they support.

What it boils down to is this; treat everyone your calling with the same respect you would want if you were on the other end and you will more likely get the customer service you were anticipating… if not better.

Lorax: The American Story

As I was watching the Lorax this weekend with my family, my mind shifted to business. I couldn’t get over how the story of The Lorax correlated with America’s story over the course of the last three decades.

The Once-ler was a boy with Thneeds a great invention he developed with Truffula Trees. This boy, much like those who form corporations and manufacturing plants, started off as a good-hearted person, just trying to make something out of his great idea. The people of Thneedville were average people trying to enjoy life without paying much attention to the world around them just as American Citizens in the early 90s through early 2000s. America was on top, we were successful and profitable.

As the people in Thneedville lived their life purchasing air and living in a plastic world, they were shocked to find the barren land that surrounded them when their walls were knocked down. America holds a similar story of a “bubble burst” when the wool was removed from our eyes and what we once thought was prosperous, suddenly became a barren shell of what we once were. Why? What had happened?

Like the Once-ler who was only going to cut down a few trees but because of greed tore down the beautiful forest, our corporations and manufacturers lost site of the reason for outsourcing and began to outsource EVERYTHING. The barren forest outside of Thneedville is the great comparison to the American job market as it became bleak and hopeless. What was left of American jobs? No manufacturing…no customer service…no technical solutions… Just as the people of Thneedville who purchased life, one bottle at a time, we were losing one job at a time. What happened to The Lorax who spoke for the trees or the unions who spoke for the workers? Their hands were tied. There was no other way, right?

Ahh, but there was The Lorax, who had buried Unless, to be found by a young boy with a dream of trees. The American Dream was buried in the heart of people like me who say, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

So, what’s the moral of the story? In The Lorax, the people of Thneedville begin planting seeds to rebuild their beautiful forest. Today, business owners and executives need to begin planting seeds of new job creation in order to rebuild America. How do you think we should plant more seeds and bring back more jobs?

A Perfect Example

My family and I went to try the new Habit Burger in our town. Their marketing genius of their slightly addicting game app brought us into the restaurant but the customer service is what will keep us going back. It got me wondering about the importance of customer service in businesses. Is it as important to the consumer as the product?

We walked into a pristine restaurant (of course, it’s new), but the line was long and slightly slower than it probably should be for a quick dining experience. We ordered our food from a wonderfully friendly cashier who was happy to give us suggestions or explain anything about the menu. We wrestled through the crowd to find a seat, put the little one in the high chair and waited for our buzzer to light up signaling our food was ready. While we waited, I watched as employees would walk through the dining room, wiping down tables, asking patrons if they would like their tray taken away or if they wanted a refill. Were they really putting the customer first? Anyone with a little restaurant experience will be able to say not only does that add to the customer experience, it’s also more efficient as the quicker the table will turn around. Nevertheless, the people that were helping seemed very happy to assist and it was amazing to see genuine customer service in action. Finally, the flashing lights of the buzzer notified us our food was complete.

Ron brought the food back to the table, informing me his burger was dressed improperly and they would be bringing him another. As I was getting the baby’s food together, I realized the avocado I requested and paid for was not on the burger and made mention of it to my husband. The employee who was cleaning the table next to us happened to overhear my conversation and came over to ask what he could get me as he heard something wasn’t right. Wow…now that’s customer service! Not only did he get the avocado I requested, he also grabbed me some silverware for the baby and sent the manager over to apologize for the mistake, accompanied by a free burger for our next visit. We were shocked at the high level of customer service throughout the experience and it got us talking.

If the food wasn’t anything to write home about, would people still return? What role does customer service play in the guest experience? In our family, if the food is spectacular but the experience is anything but, we generally don’t return. It works in other aspects as well. We’re happy to pay for a maid service who treats us like family even if we could get the service for $15 cheaper somewhere else, we are happy to get our car serviced by a mechanic that is open, honest and friendly even if the service is no different than the guy down the road who is grumpy and doesn’t talk much.

I’d like to know if our family is different than most. Is the customer service the key to your return? Should customer service be the largest priority in any business?