Category Archives: Kate Zabriskie

The Overlooked Management Tool

Staff Meetings Matter More Than You Might Think

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie-chatI sit right next them. We don’t need to have a staff meeting.

I used to have staff meetings, but we stopped having them. Nobody had anything to talk about.

We have enough meetings. We certainly don’t need another.

For a myriad of reasons, many managers don’t hold regular staff meetings. Furthermore, most who do don’t get the most they could from them, and that’s too bad. Good staff meetings can focus a team, energize employees, and engage them in ways ad-hoc interactions don’t.

So how do you turn a halted or ho-hum approach to staff meetings into a high-functioning management tool?Employees usually enjoy their jobs more when their organization’s leaders talk about the importance of their work. Click To Tweet

STEP ONE: Connect Daily Work with Your Organization’s Purpose

In addition to distributing information, staff meetings present an opportunity to connect your team’s daily work to your organization’s purpose. If you’re thinking, “My people know how their work fits into our overall goal,” you would be wrong. In fact, if you ask your group what your organization’s purpose or your department’s purpose are, don’t be surprised when you get as many answers as there are people in the room. (And you thought you had nothing to talk about in a staff meeting! A discussion about purpose is a good one to have.)

Purpose is why you do what you do. You connect the work to it by explaining how what people did aligns with the greater goal. For example, the head of housekeeping at a busy hotel might hold a meeting with the cleaning staff. In that meeting, the managers might recognize a team that received a perfect room score from all guests who took a survey and then talk about purpose.

The purpose of the hotel is to provide people a safe and comfortable place to spend the night. Having a clean, welcoming, and functioning room is one of the ways a cleaning staff achieves that goal.

By regularly connecting such activities as cleaning toilets, making beds, and folding towels to the guest experience, the manager highlights why each of those activities is important.

No matter what they do, employees usually enjoy their jobs more when their organization’s leaders talk about the importance of their work. They also tend to make better choices if they receive frequent reminders about purpose and what types of activities support it.

STEP TWO: Highlight Relevant Metrics

Connecting work to purpose usually works best when a team focuses on both anecdotal and analytical information. If you don’t currently track statistics, start. What you track will depend on your industry. However, whatever you decide should have a clear line of sight to the larger goal. For instance, a museum that holds events to attract new members might track the number of events held, contact information collected, memberships sold, and the percentage of new memberships that come as a result of attending the free event. With regular attention placed on the right metrics, the team is far more likely to make good choices as to where it should focus its efforts.

STEP THREE: Follow a Formula and Rotate Responsibility

Successful staff meetings usually follow a pattern, such as looking at weekly metrics, sharing information from the top, highlighting success, a team-building activity, and so forth. By creating and sticking with a formula, managers help their employees know what to expect. Once employees know the pattern of the meeting, many are capable of running it because they’ve learned by watching. Managers then have a natural opportunity to rotate the responsibility of the meeting to different people. By delegating, the manager is able to free up his or her time and provide employees with a chance to develop their skills.

STEP FOUR: Celebrate Successes

In many organizations, there is a huge appreciation shortage. Staff meetings provide managers and employees with regular intervals to practice gratitude.

“I’d like to thank Tom for staying late last night. Because he did, I was able to attend a parent-teacher conference.”

“Maryann’s work on the PowerPoint presentation was superb. I want to thank her for preparing me with the best slides shown at the conference. The stunning photos outshined the graphics others used. Maryann’s work really made our company look good.”

A steady drip of sincere gratitude can drive engagement. Note the word: sincerity. Most people have an amazing capacity to identify a false compliment. Real praise is specific. Well-delivered praise also ties the action to the outcome. Whether it’s being able to attend a conference, looking good in front of others, or some other result, people appreciate praise more when they understand how their actions delivered results. A praise segment in your staff meetings ensures you routinely take the time to recognize efforts.

STEP FIVE: Focus on Lessons Learned and Continuous Improvement

Staff meetings that include an opportunity to share lessons learned help drive continuous improvement. At first, people may be reluctant to share shortcomings. However, if you follow step four, you should begin to develop better communication and a sense of trust with your team. Modeling the process is a good place to start.

“I learned something this week I want to share with you. I had a call with a client that could have gone better. I’m going to tell you what happened and then I’ll discuss some ideas about how I would handle something similar in the future.”

The more you practice this exercise, the greater the gains you should experience.

STEP SIX: Develop a Schedule and Stick with It

Almost anyone can follow the first five steps some of the time, but those who get the most out of staff meetings hold them consistently. They publish a meeting schedule, and they stick with it. They may shorten a meeting from time to time or reschedule, but they don’t treat their chance to gather the team as the least important priority.

Good staff meetings aren’t perfunctory activities that add little value. On the contrary, when used to their full capacity, they are a dynamic management tool. Now what are you going to do about yours?

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.

Connecting with Customers Through the Keyboard: Getting Your Chat Service Right

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie-chatCustomer: Hi, I’m having a problem with my bill. I’m being charged 50 dollars more than what I expected. Could someone please help? I’m finding this very frustrating. Thank you.

Chat Agent: Hello! Glad you are chatting with me this morning! This is Matt. What can I do for you today?

Customer to Himself: Huh? Well for starters, Matt, you could read what I typed before asking what you can do! Furthermore, you can take that smile off your face

Providing exceptional service via chat involves more than simply choosing a technology platform. Chat is a distinct communication channel with its own set of rules, and organizations that choose to implement a chat system need to prepare their service representatives to use it effectively.

Step One

After you’ve chosen a chat platform or while that activity is in process, you should determine who on your team is well suited to serve customers online. Chat service providers should be able to type, and they should have a basic command of English spelling and grammar.

Step Two

Once you have a team in mind, you must identify some rules to guide their chats. The following questions are examples of basic considerations you should know the answers to before your representatives start typing.

  • How many chats should an agent handle at once? (In the beginning, nobody should attempt more than one, and even experienced agents shouldn’t divide their attention among more than three.)
  • What topics can and can’t be addressed via chat? Depending on your industry, regulations may limit what your representatives can and can’t say.
  • When will you move customers to a different mode of communication if chat is not appropriate?A good way to start thinking about your organization’s look and sound is to start chatting. Click To Tweet

Step Three

Sometimes organizations implement chat, and the tone of what’s typed takes on a stilted or off-brand look and feel. For that reason, it’s important to think about what on-brand messaging looks like before rolling out the chat platform.

How should a chat start if a customer has already shared information? What words and phrases align with your brand? What words and phrases should providers avoid?

How should representatives address angry or frustrated customers? In what way should greetings differ?

A good way to start thinking about your organization’s look and sound is to start chatting. Visits sites that use chat. Think about each experience: what you liked, what you didn’t, the brand you felt, and so forth.

Step Four

Be prepared for the obvious. Anyone who has worked in service usually starts to notice patterns. For example, if the provider is an online retailer, close to the holidays the organization may receive more inquiries about delivery times. If the provider is a utility, representatives may realize they receive more inquiries about billing on certain days of the week.

The point is to plan for the expected. Just as telephone service agents in most industries should know how to handle the top twenty or thirty customer requests without having to reference a lot of documentation, the same is true for chat. Consistency is essential. This is especially true when it comes to the basics.

Before being set loose with a keyboard, providers should go through both systems training and roleplays that address common inquiries.

Step Five

Determine the extent to which you wish to use canned responses. Pre-written text has its plusses and minuses. On the plus side, it’s quick, it’s not written in the moment, and it’s had the opportunity to be proofread by one or more people. On the other hand, canned text can sound canned. Furthermore, representatives sometimes choose pre-written responses that don’t get to the heart of what a customer is asking.

So what’s an organization to do? The answer to that question varies. No matter the option chosen, canned text should sound conversational. If you wouldn’t say what’s written in the course of natural speech, it probably isn’t right.

Chat is supposed to be a dialogue. It’s not a brochure, the text from a website, or worse still, verbiage from a policy or legal document.

One way to help maintain a conversational tone is to keep your text short. Long sentences usually equate to a longwinded or unnatural feel.

A good place to source potential pre-written responses is from your representatives’ actual chats. If your organization is like most places, some people will show a natural gift for chat. Why not leverage their strengths and skills?

Step Six

Learn from your failures and your successes. When service goes wrong, most first-rate organizations address the shortcomings. Beyond fixing what’s broken, the best organizations also invest time in figuring out what went right and why. They then replicate the good.

As with any service interaction, chat can go well, or it can go poorly. The key is monitoring, course correcting, and standardizing success.

Providers and their supervisors should regularly review chats. What can we leverage? Where are the opportunities? What was on-brand? What was off-brand? The questions are essentially endless.

The trick is to systematically ask and answer them. The more methodically you evaluate your chats, the quicker you will capitalize on what works and eliminate what doesn’t.

Step Seven

Chat training is not a one-and-done activity. Needs change, technology evolves, and staff turns over. Ideally, organizations should focus on one or two best practices a week, they evaluate the pre-written text twice a year, and they spot check transcripts daily.

Chat is no longer a novelty, and more customers expect their service providers to offer it. No matter where your business is in the chat-implementation process, there is always room to improve the way you connect through a keyboard.

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.

The Right Fit Makes the Difference

Ten Steps to Better Hiring

 By Kate Zabriskie

Kate ZabriskieI don’t understand what happened. He Difference interviewed so well. But its six months later, and it’s obvious. He’s not a good fit.

We should have known better. She’s just not detail oriented, and this job requires a lot of repetitive work. She’s a creative, she’s bored, and she’s leaving. I wish we had somewhere we could use her talents, but we don’t.

Why do we have such a hard time getting on the same page? We rarely agree on who to hire when we have a new position, and from day one it seems as if only half of us are invested in a new hire’s success. It’s just sad. We could do better. We need to do better.

When bad hiring happens, everyone suffers.

Finding the right person for a position is part art and part science. While some people certainly have gift for finding good people, everyone can improve their success rate by following a methodical step-by-step process.

Step One: Know what you want.

First and foremost, it’s important to envision what work will look like with a new person. What will he or she do? How do you envision interactions looking and sounding? What do you expect in terms of quality and quantity of work? What temperament do you envision working best? Does the person need to be creative? Is the work basically the same each day? If this person is going to interact with people other than you, who are they, and what do they want from a new hire? Knowing what you want is essential.

Step Two: Create a robust job description.

Once you are clear about the kind of person you want to hire, it’s time to put pen to paper and craft a job description. When you list the duties the person will perform, if you begin each of your sentences with a verb and write in everyday English, you’ll be well on your way to solidifying your expectations.

Step Three: Think about what it’s going to take for someone to be successful.

Experience and education are essential to success in some jobs, and for others, they’re not. If education isn’t a deal breaker, do you want to exclude candidates by making a degree mandatory? What you require can widen or narrow your applicant pool—potentially in ways that could hurt your chances of finding the right person. Think long and hard about what’s essential before moving to the next step.

Step Four: Create a strong job ad.

Just as candidates are selling themselves, you are selling your company and the position you are filling. An ad is your opportunity to attract talent. Whether you’re working with a recruiter or doing the recruiting yourself, spend time creating strong job title, telling your organization’s story, and briefly describing your essential requirements. If you have a great location, solid benefits, or some other selling point, include that information too. Your ad should quickly paint a robust picture of why you’re great, what you’re looking for, and why they should want to work with you.Great hiring is about good discipline and patience. Click To Tweet

Step Five: Promote your position.

The type of job you want to fill should dictate where you’ll promote it. Many options exist. Regardless of which you choose, it’s important to have a plan and to understand how each promotional avenue works.

Step Six: Craft your screening questions.

In tandem with crafting your ad and promoting your position, you’ll need to develop your questions for screening candidates and interviewing those with whom you eventually choose to meet. This step is essential for several reasons. First, it helps you follow a repeatable process. Second, it helps those who interview to ask relevant and legal questions. Finally, it ensures you are fair and can gather answers you can compare with relative ease.

Step Seven: Evaluate candidates and set a phone screening schedule.

Once your job closes, it’s time to review the qualifications of those who met your position’s criteria and set a screening schedule. Depending on the number of responses you get, you may choose to screen everyone or rank candidates and screen the top group. Either way, you’ll want to talk to applicants before you bring them in to meet in person. Phone interviews offer several benefits. They allow you to get an initial impression of a candidate without having people’s physical appearance influence your thinking. They are also an efficient way to address some basic questions.

Step Eight: Determine who you will invite to interview in person, and prepare your interviewing team.

After you’ve concluded your screening process, it’s time to prepare your interviewing team and invite candidates into the office. Getting ready is essential. Both you and the prospective employees are auditioning. Your interviewing team needs to be just that, a team. You should discuss the welcoming process, the interviewing order, the questions each person will ask, and how you will close your meetings with candidates and send them on their way. Leave little up to chance. You are on stage. Depending on the position you are filling, you may decide to conduct more than one round of interviews. Regardless of what you choose, you must have a plan.

Step Nine: Gather feedback, and rank the candidates.

When you’ve finished interviewing people, it’s time to rank them. Because you’ve asked each person the same questions, this should be easier than it could be if you hadn’t.

If you find your team disagrees, think before you make an offer. If none of the candidates is exactly right, again, think before you make an offer. The wrong person now is rarely as good as the right person a little later.

Step Ten: Make your offer.

Assuming there are no obvious roadblocks, it’s time to make an offer. Be excited when you do, and recognize this is only the first step in effectively integrating an employee into the fabric of your organization.

So there you have it. Ten steps can make all the difference. Great hiring is about good discipline and patience. The better you are at establishing and following a strong inclusive process, the stronger your results will be. Now go find that candidate!

 

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.

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.