Category Archives: Kate Zabriskie

Breaking Up Isn’t Hard to Do

Why Companies Lose Customers and What to Do About It

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate ZabriskieAlthough Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield may have been right about love relationships when they penned their hit, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” when it comes to business, that notion rings less true. Customers frequently break up with their suppliers, vendors, and partners. And guess what? Most of them don’t find it hard.

Are breakups inevitable? Not always, but businesses need to understand the four reasons customers leave and how they can avoid them.

Better Product

Sometimes customers decide to breakup because they find a better product. They discover something that addresses their needs that’s faster, easier, healthier, more effective, more enjoyable, or improved in other ways that are important to them.

Are you buying the exact same things you were buying twenty or forty years ago? Have you any use for a Walkman? Probably not. Smart companies listen to what their customers want, think beyond those demands, and push themselves to innovate and improve.

Relationship Extenders

  1. Pay attention. Know what you’re selling, what others are selling, and how your customers are using what they buy from you. What problem are you solving? What would customers buy if you weren’t around? What did they used to buy instead?
  2. Challenge the status quo. It’s easier to innovate when you’re not being reactive. Don’t wait for a customer exodus to motivate you. Challenge yourself to innovate before you’re faced with no choice. What could you do better?

Better Process

Leaving for a different product isn’t the only reason customers tell companies goodbye. Good processes count too. Without them, the customer experience suffers. For instance, imagine a movie theater with great films, state-of-the-art sound, pleasant employees, and clean facilities. So far, so good. Now pair that vision with long lines, staff members who can’t figure out to work the cash registers despite their good manners, double-booked theaters, and so forth. Would you risk taking someone you cared about to such a place, or would you choose to avoid the headache and go somewhere else? Most people would prefer to opt for a breakup and avoid potential pain and problems.

The lesson? at a minimum, doing business should not be hard. If you’ve got processes in place that inflict pain on your customers, don’t be surprised when they bolt the minute they find an acceptable alternative.With some diligence, you can avoid the break-up blues and spend many happy years together. Click To Tweet

Relationship Extenders

  1. Make doing business easy. Walk in your customers’ shoes, and experience your business the way they do. What are you making difficult? What could you make easier? Where are you wasting their time? What used to make sense but doesn’t anymore?
  2. Borrow from others. Process improvement ideas are everywhere you look if you know how to find them. When you are interacting with other businesses, ask yourself what they are doing well and what you can adopt or adapt.

Better Service

All else being equal (or even in the ballpark), customers will often break up with organizations because someone else is paying them more attention or better attention. Consistent caring doesn’t happen by accident. It requires organizations to: define great service, hire people who are capable of delivering on those promises, train them how to do it, and put a management team in place to oversee the process.

Relationship Extenders

  1. Define what you expect. If you don’t identify what A+ service looks like, don’t be surprised when your employees don’t deliver.
  2. Train people and hold them accountable. Plenty of organizations offer training, but they treat it like a one-and-done activity. After you’ve defined what you want to see and hear, you need to put a plan in place to teach people how. Once they know what they are supposed to do and how to do it, hold them accountable. Reward the good, and coach the deficiencies.
  3. Don’t get too comfortable. If you think your customers will just be there because they’re there, you’re mistaken. You must earn and re-earn your customers’ business. Look for signs you’ve gotten sloppy or lazy, and take immediate steps to get back to your best behavior and woo your customers again.

Better Price

The final reason customers will leave a business is price. If customers can get the same product and service they receive from you from someone who charges less, often they will leave. In other words, when the value to price equation gets out of whack, people look elsewhere. That doesn’t mean organizations should race to the bottom and strive to be the low-cost provider. What it does mean is businesses need to ensure they have a value proposition that matters to customers and aligns with the price being charged.

Relationship Extenders

  1. Shop around. Know what your competitors charge and what they deliver for that money.
  2. Find out what matters to your customers other than price. What do they care about? What are they happy to pay more for? What are you offering that they don’t seem to value? What should you add? What should you subtract?

Staying in any relationship requires work, and when it comes to customers, many a suiter will try to take them away from you. With some diligence, you can avoid the break-up blues and spend many happy years together.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

Satisfying a Demand for Dialog: Routine Employee Feedback is No Longer Optional

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate ZabriskieNot so long ago, most people in the workplace received feedback once-a-year during a performance review. An employee didn’t expect a development plan, a career track, or anyone to take an interest in his or her professional growth. That responsibility was often a solo activity. In fact, as recently as a couple of decades ago, there wasn’t a great deal of help on the road to career success, and most people didn’t complain. It simply was what it was.

But times change, and norms evolve. The practice of once-a-year feedback is fast becoming an anachronism and as out of place in the modern office as the fashions people once wore when holding those annual reviews.

The reason the average worker has evolved to expect a steady diet of attention and conversation is debatable and perhaps worth scholarly inquiry. In the meantime, however, a demand for dialog exists and must be answered.

So, why should managers take action, what does it take to establish and maintain an ongoing give-and-take, and how can managers balance the constant conversation with their own workplace responsibilities?

Why Bother to Give Regular Feedback

For some, accepting the new reality means moving past the fact that they came along when life was hard. Sorry, it’s time to get with the times, and get over it. Practices have evolved. If you don’t expect employees to accomplish their work with a typewriter and rotary-dial desk phone, then it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out that in addition to advances in technology, management practices have also improved.

First-class organizations have career paths, they invest in employee development, and their managers engage in regular dialog with their direct reports. Bottom line: If you want a top-notch worker, you better start acting like you know what to do with one.If you want a top-notch worker, you better start acting like you know what to do with one. Click To Tweet

How to Establish and Maintain a Dialog

Once you’ve bought into the notion that routine conversation is a must, the next step is knowing how to guide interactions.

1. Take an interest. Very little builds engagement as well as a manager who seems to genuinely care for people, promotes their success, and has the ability to develop them. This is not an annual affair. Rather, you’ve got to have a range of formal and informal conversations throughout the year. To get started, ask questions, and pay attention to the answers.

  • “What are you working on that’s exciting to you?”
  • “What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?”
  • “If you could eliminate parts of your work, what would you stop doing?”
  • “What used to be interesting to you that’s now become mundane or boring?”
  • “If you could try something professionally with limited chance of failure, what risks would you take?”
  • “Tell me a little about what first attracted you to this organization. Has anything changed about how you feel about your work here?”
  • “How do you feel about our interactions? Do I give your development the right amount of attention, and do you receive the right amount of feedback?”

There is no limit to the questions you could ask. The key is showing a sincere interest in the answers, withholding judgement about what you’re told, and taking action when you can.

2. Be observant. As a manager, your job is to focus on the work that gets done and how it gets done. When you pay attention and are specific with your feedback, you show you’ve spent time to notice what’s working and where opportunities exist. In other words, it’s important to communicate to people they matter to you.

  • “Tim, I thought the graphics you used on those PowerPoint slides were very strong. You chose the unexpected, stayed away from heavy text, and did something a little different than what we are used to seeing. I think your approach answered the challenge Roger gave us to think outside the box.”
  • “Gina, I’d like to talk with you about the report submitted this morning. Specifically, I want to discuss the proofreading process you’re following. I noticed a few errors, and I want to see if there is a way we can reduce the mistakes. If we could increase the accuracy of the reporting, I think we would improve our department’s credibility. Is now a good time for you, or should I schedule something for this afternoon?”

Finding the Time for Planned Dialog

There is no clock fairy or magic solution to time management and fitting feedback and development conversations into a regular workload. It’s an effort that requires discipline. To ensure planned dialog happens, you need to put formal meetings on a calendar, schedule them at regular intervals, show up on time, and put the smartphone away.

The Payoff

While increased levels of informal feedback and scheduled conversation can seem overwhelming at first, the more often a manager engages, the easier it is, the franker the discussions become, and the greater the understanding between the employee and the manager grows.

With whom should you be having conversations?

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

Using The Power Of “Thank You” To Get What You Want: Influencing Others Made Easier

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate ZabriskieMost of us liked to be thanked, especially when the sentiment is sincere. For that reason, “thank you” is one of the most powerful phrases in the English language.

In addition to using it to recognize past acts, you can also say thank you to influence people and steer them toward a desired behavior.

A gate agent: I want to thank everyone in the waiting area for being great travelers tonight and for your patience. Your fabulous attitudes make my job easier when we’re experiencing flight delays. Let me know if there is anything I can do to make the wait better for you. I’m going to keep checking for updates, and when I have new information, I’ll let you know. Please feel free to visit me at the counter if I can answer any questions, and thank you again.

A hotel manager: Team, I know you understand how important giving great customer service is to the success of our business, and I appreciate how hard you work to be an exceptional staff. I want to thank you in advance for going the extra mile today. In particular, thank you for greeting our guests with enthusiasm, finding clever ways to delight them, and handling any problems promptly and professionally. If we do our job right, any surprises should be kept to a minimum. Thank you again for your effort. Now, let’s get to work.

A sign at a private club: We appreciate everything our club members do to make Royal Oaks the region’s best-rated pool club nine years in a row. Thank you for placing used towels in the hamper and for alerting staff members if our facility needs cleaning or maintenance. Enjoy your swim!

Why Bother:

Some people will argue that thanking people for doing what they are “supposed to do” is a waste of time. Chances are, however, those same people find themselves frustrated by customers, clients, and coworkers who don’t behave the way they should.

For those nonbelievers, the thank-you-in-advance method of influence is certainly worth a shot.Thanking people for everything dilutes the method’s effectiveness. Click To Tweet

Why Thank You in Advance Works:

Thanking people in advance works for a few reasons.

The first has to do with a sense of obligation many people feel to reciprocate after they’ve received something.

The second explanation for the technique’s effectiveness has to do with people wanting to conform to a positive image of themselves. In other words, “I’m going to act like a good traveler because I am a good traveler.”

A third explanation for the thank-you method’s power has to do with instruction. Often, we assume people intuitively know what they are supposed to do. Guess what? Many don’t, they’ve forgotten, they’re preoccupied, or they’re simply not thinking. Offered in the right way, many people will follow a suggested course of action, because it’s the path of least resistance.

The Structure of an Advanced Thank You:

To plan an advanced thank you, Use the following framework:

  1. First, think about the desired result. “I want my employees to show up on time.”
  2. Second, identify the type of people who typically demonstrate that behavior. “Responsible and accountable people show up on time.”
  3. Third, craft a statement that identifies the people you are addressing as that group, and be specific about what you want to see.

I appreciate the fact that I have such a dedicated team. I want to thank you in advance for giving 110 percent this week. The hours during the holiday season are demanding, and it takes a true group of professionals to act upbeat and engaged with every visitor. This is why we hired you.

Tips and Cautions:

Thanking people in advance is part science and part art. The framework offered provides a method for constructing the basics of a message. The specific words you choose, the tone in which you deliver them, and your timing are the components in the process that are more subjective. The following tips and cautions should help you get the most from the method.

  1. Thanking people for good behavior should be done before you’ve observed anything particularly egregious. For example, imagine a chaotic scene where customers are pushing and shoving each other. It’s more difficult to thank them into a reverse course after they’ve gone wild. However, a little advanced gratitude offered earlier could have helped avoid mayhem.
  2. Thanking people is not a substitute for confronting inappropriate behavior. For example, if an employee comes to work dressed improperly, you can’t thank your way around addressing the problem. However, you can use thank you as part of the corrective conversation. “Mary, I appreciate you listening to me this morning, and I want to thank you in advance for taking the conversation seriously. I know you have what it takes to represent our company well. I look forward to seeing you be successful here.”
  3. Thanking people for everything dilutes the method’s effectiveness. “Bill, I want to thank you for coming in on time today. I know how important punctuality is to you, so thank you for parking in the employee lot and not taking a visitor’s space….” Too much of that, and Bill’s going to think you’ve got a screw or two loose. Worse still, he’s not going to believe a word you say.
  4. Finally, there are some people with whom this method falls flat. They weren’t behaving in a way we wanted before we tried it, and they’re not behaving after the fact either. Fortunately, this group is small.

Perfecting the science and art of the advanced thank you takes time. The more you practice, the easier it is, and the more likely it will become a strategy your brain launches on autopilot.

I know you’ll eventually be successful in getting this to work, and I want to thank you in advance for giving the method a try. Who will you influence first?

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

They Did What?

Coping Effectively With Customers Who Behave Badly

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate ZabriskiePolite Notice: When it’s your turn, if you are talking on your cell phone, we will help the next customer.

If you make a mess on the kitchen counter, wipe it up. If you use a dish, clean it. If the dishwasher is full of clean dishes, empty it.

If you drink the last cup of coffee, make a new pot. Your mother doesn’t live here.

While somewhat funny, each of those notices is a cry for help from service staff exasperated by their customers’ impolite behavior.

If you pay attention, you can see breaches in etiquette everywhere you look. For example, anyone who has ever watched people at a hotel’s breakfast buffet load up their bags with enough calories to fuel a football team has witnessed a classic guest etiquette fail.

While normal customers are enjoying a bowl of cereal or a pancake, those “other” people are squirreling away yogurt, bagels, bananas, sausage, and anything else they can get their hands on.

No doubt, the hotel staff shake their heads in disbelief each and every morning they encounter such a scene, but short of a bag search at the buffet’s exit, is there anything that can be done to change customer behavior? Fortunately, yes.

As providers trying to deliver a great experience to both external and internal customers, businesses need to identify what they want and don’t want their customers to do, and pinpoint what people and processes they can put in place to realize the desired results.With an understanding of your customers’ experience and deliberate choices, you can influence how people behave. Click To Tweet

Step One—Audit: Experience your business from your customer’s vantage point. Whether you’re serving external or internal customers, you need to understand what happens to them before you can encourage or discourage behaviors.

Step Two—Encourage What You Do Want: Next, identify the actions you want your customers to take, and put people and processes in place to encourage those behaviors.

For example, if you want dry counters in your bathrooms, look at your sinks. Are they designed well, or do they spray water everywhere?

By providing hand dryers instead of paper towels, have you deprived customers of a way to clean up after themselves? If you provide towel dispensers, does your service staff pack them so tightly that customers will destroy several dozen paper towels before leaving behind a washbasin filled with sodden confetti and hands still damp? What about your employees? Do you train your staff to wipe down counter tops—even if “housekeeper” isn’t part of their official title? Do you model good behavior yourself?

Step Three—Invite Customers to Participate in the Process: Like anyone else, most customers are more willing to help you reach your service goals if you remind them of the mutual benefit of lending a hand. Let folks know what they can do to aid the common cause, and make it easy for them to do it. Consider that bathroom with the perpetually wet countertops. Is there a sign of some sort explaining the desired state and what customers should do if they encounter something different?

Something such as, “We make every effort to keep our sink counters dry and free of debris. If they or some other aspect of this restroom is in need of servicing, please tell any of our employees so we can make it right. Many thanks!” could make a big difference.

Such a notice makes clear your commitment to customer service, and it suggests an easy way for customers to take action and help you make good on that commitment. They don’t have to find a manager or call a phone number to report a problem but instead simply talk to any employee.

Step Four—Discourage What You Don’t Want: Beyond communicating your desired end (e.g. tidy restroom counters) and encouraging customers to participate in achieving it, you need to ensure that you and your staff are not working against yourselves by inadvertent enablement. Take, for example, the over-full paper towel dispenser. You want tidy restroom counters? Then have the person whose job it is to replenish paper towels service the dispensers more frequently and restock them with fewer towels. That isn’t rocket science, but it will require close management and frequent correction for a couple of weeks until that new practice becomes a matter of routine.

Step Five—Create Alternatives: Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, customers continue to behave in ways you don’t like. While it’s not always possible to creatively accommodate these people, often it is.

Consider the problem of abandoned shopping carts in a big box store’s parking lot. Those unmanned vehicles tie up spaces that would otherwise be available, they’re potentially dangerous, and they make the outside of the store look uncared for. To solve the problem, a business might first liberally place cart return areas throughout its lot and send an associate outside several times an hour to gather any strays. The company might also post signs asking people to bring carts to the store as they arrive for shopping.

If those actions don’t have the desired impact, the company might adopt a rental cart system where customers deposit a quarter to access a cart and get their quarter back upon the cart’s return. While some people will forgo the quarter for convenience, others will gladly police the lot to retrieve a free twenty-five cents.

Whatever the solution, it should never berate customers or accuse them. Instead, keep the message positive. Here’s an exampleDue to the popularity of many of our room items, housekeeping now sells alarm clocks, sheets, towels, lamps, and other merchandise found in your suite. If you wish to purchase something, please contact the front desk, or simply take the item home with you. We’ll gladly charge the credit card we have on file. Enjoy your stay, and let us know if we can be of service to you.”

The message is clear. The hotel does not intend for guests to own the items they’re using, but if they want to do so, they can certainly be accommodated.

Left up to chance, you get what you get from customers, but with an understanding of your customers’ experience and deliberate choices, you can influence how people behave.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

Does the Virtual You Byte? Managing Your Digital Twin

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie“We were ready to make him the offer, but then I saw the domestic abuse arrests. With a quick Google search our clients could easily find the same information. I don’t need to ponder the larger risks because this problem alone is a showstopper.”

“Why would I buy from someone who chooses a middle finger shot as his Twitter profile picture? Goodness knows I made some bad choices early in my career, but clearly, he’s not ready to manage an account like ours. It’s too bad. I liked his presentation.”

“I couldn’t believe it when I came across what I did. She works for a great non-profit and I liked what she had to say, but that’s not her only career. The boudoir shots and escort activities are an interesting sideline. Call me judgmental, but I just don’t want to work for her. I can’t be associated with people involved in those kinds of activities.”

A little digging on the internet can reveal of wealth of information. Some of it is true, some of it isn’t, and all of it is out there for the world to see.

Fair? Probably not, but it is what it is. Our digital doppelgangers have tremendous power, and as long as finding information online is easy, it will be found.

So, what’s a person to do to get control of his or her online image without spending a fortune? By following seven simple steps, you can take charge of your digital reputation.

Step One: Understand Your Digital DNA: The first step in managing the cyber you understands who creates him or her. If you use social media, you’re contributing to your footprint. If you have ever owned property, had a land line, donated to charity, sat on a board, or participated in any activity where information is published in an online newsletter, that information is part of the digital you.

You need to understand your digital twin has lots of parents, and some of them are more concerned about presenting him or her in a positive light than others. Google yourself, and make a list of from where information is coming.

Step Two: Choose a Strategy: The key to an effective online presence (or absence) is planning. Without a strategy, you have no plan. To manage the online you, you must decide what you want people to find. You might choose to present yourself as a well-rounded candidate for a job, define yourself as an expert on a particular topic, or align yourself with a cause that means something to you. Whatever the choice, one should have a goal for presenting an online picture that matches your offline objectives.The key to an effective online presence (or absence) is planning. Without a strategy, you have no plan. Click To Tweet

Step Three: Remember, It’s Not All Bad: In most cases, a well-managed digital presence is better than no presence at all. Think about it; if you were in a hiring manager’s chair and could find nothing in cyberspace about a candidate you were considering for an important job, would it concern you? Maybe.

What most likely wouldn’t concern you, however, would be the discovery of a professional LinkedIn page. In fact, the existence of such a page would probably serve as additional evidence of the candidate’s qualifications and suitability for a job.

Step Four: Put the Best You Out There: A picture is worth a thousand words, and a lot of what people say about themselves when choosing a profile photo isn’t too good. The photos are blurry, old, or just inappropriate. Get a professional photo taken and use it.

Your virtual you should be congruent with the real you. In other words, don’t promise one thing and deliver something else. Update your photo every five years or after you’ve had any significant physical transformation.

Next, check your privacy settings on all social sites into which you opt in. Do you really want people knowing what you’ve “liked” online, what your following, and so forth? If your brand strategy isn’t to be political or provoking, think before you comment on anything controversial.

Also, don’t forget that privacy settings change, people share comments, and so forth. In short, what you say among friends may at some point be seen by people you wouldn’t expect to have access to your conversations.

When it comes to social media, be disciplined, and make choices that fit with your strategy.

Step Five: Manage Unflattering Information: If you’ve got information out in cyberspace you wish weren’t there, and you are blessed with a common name, your dark data is probably buried pretty far down in the search results—especially if you actively publish other information about yourself.

If you have a rather unusual name coupled with a bad PR problem, you’ll need to be more proactive. Make site-by-site requests for information removal, and start publishing. Comment on reputable blogs using your real name, leave product reviews also using your real name, publish articles, and so forth. Your goal is to create noise and push negative information to the bottom of the pile. The stronger the sites where you post “good” data, the more likely those items will appear at the top of the results.

For most people, a do-it-yourself approach is sufficient, but if you’ve tried and are still struggling, you can always hire an expert. Prices vary widely, so shop around.

Step Six: Set Up an Auditing System: Online reputation management isn’t a one-and-done activity. It’s ongoing because the internet is fluid. What’s there today could be gone tomorrow and vice versa.

As your own reputation manager, this means you must be on your toes and aware of what’s being said about you. An easy way to stay in the know is to set up a Google alert for your name. Then, as that search engine finds new mentions of you, it will let you know.

Next, search the top engines for your name once a month. Check the first two pages of results for anything troubling. Finally, once a year, do a deep dive and look at every result. It’s time consuming but worth the effort—especially if you’ve encountered problems in the past.

Step Seven: Remember Why You Care: When you work hard to make the real you great, your digital twin shouldn’t be allowed to ruin your reputation. In other words, the online you should be your advocate, not your adversary, and if you don’t manage him or her, you roll the dice and take your chances.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.