Category Archives: Peter DeHaan

The Perfect Answer: The Ideal Way to Answer Your Phone and Make a Great Impression

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-answer your phone

How often have you called a company and wondered if you reached the right number? All too often, busy people answer calls hurriedly, haphazardly, or incompletely. Or perhaps the receptionist seems out of breath after spitting out a lengthy, tongue-twisting greeting. Also, it’s vital that an organization answers every call the same way.

There are three parts to the ideal phrase to answer the phone:

It’s vital that an organization answers every call the same way. Click To Tweet

1) Greeting

The greeting is simply “Good morning,” Good afternoon,” or “Good evening.” During the holiday season, “Happy holidays,” or “Season’s greetings” may be used. The greeting lets the caller know someone has answered and that it’s time to listen. If the caller lacks focus or needs to adjust his or her ears to catch your phrasing, pace, or accent, the greeting gives time for this to happen, but the phrase is also not critical if it’s missed. Lastly, the greeting serves to set a positive tone for the call.

2) Company Identity

The company identity is simply the name of your organization, such as, “Acme Industries.” It lets callers know who they have reached, thereby confirming they dialed correctly. In general, state the company name as people outside your organization typically say it. Therefore, you should generally drop legal suffixes, such as Inc, LLC, and Ltd, or other formal elements that would confuse the caller rather than clarify. For the same reason, don’t shorten or abbreviate the company name, either. Saying “AI” when everyone knows you as “Acme Industries” serves no useful purpose.

3) Your Name

The final element is your first name. This adds a valuable personal touch. It’s much easier for a caller to get mad at an anonymous voice, than a real person with a name. Using your name also allows you to build a rapport and establish a personal connection with the caller. As the last word of the perfect answer phrase, it is also the one most easily remembered by the caller. Omitting your name implies a lack of personal interest. Ending with your name signals confidence and competence, which are critical in problem-solving and customer service situations.

Avoid Unnecessary Addendums

It’s all too common for people to tack on the ridiculous phrase, “How may I direct your call?” A direct response to this senseless question is “quickly and accurately.” This is not effective communication; drop pointless embellishments.

Putting these elements together results in the perfect answer:

“Good morning, Acme Industries, this is Fred.”

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

Peter’s Law of Reciprocity

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-receive information

Too many people have a self-centered, protective attitude about knowledge. They want to receive information but are guarded, paranoid, or even disingenuous about sharing it. This is shortsighted; it is truly better to give than to receive. In this regard, I’ve developed a principle to guide me. I called it, Peter’s Law of Reciprocity, which states: “Everyone you meet knows something you don’t, so politely and tactfully learn what it is. Conversely, everyone you meet doesn’t know everything you do, so be willing to graciously share whatever you can when asked.”

Over the years, this principle has served me well. When I have chosen only to receive information, my closed mental attitude effectively limited what I could receive. On the other extreme, when I opted to only share information, I grew to believe that people wanted and needed what I had to offer. This was a patronizing attitude that I hope to never repeat.

When I freely share information that I unexpectedly receive the most benefit. Both instances lead to greater understanding. Click To Tweet

Receiving

When seeking information, exercise discretion in what you ask. Certainly, some things are off-limits. Personal information (compensation comes to mind), trade secrets, and strategic plans are prime examples. Also, it’s critical to be genuinely interested in what you ask. Insincere and devious queries serve to short-circuit the uninhibited exchange of information. Quite simply, if you don’t care about the answer, don’t ask the question.

When you ask others for their opinions and ideas, it’s acceptable to take notes; don’t rely on your memory. If you’re like me, you already have too much to remember. Some people assume that taking notes is rude to the person you are talking to; this is not so. Making notes affirms the speaker and their message. Note-taking conveys that their message is noteworthy; you demonstrate respect by writing it down.

Sharing

Likewise, there are guiding principles when sharing information. First, be careful not to betray a confidence or divulge a secret. It’s critical to use discretion and common sense to protect and respect the privacy of others—if you don’t, people will stop talking to you. It’s also important to not offer unsolicited advice. The only outcomes of giving unwanted counsel are people ignoring you or viewing you as arrogant. Lastly, it’s critical to not talk down to your inquirer but instead, treat him or her as an equal.

Networking

It’s human nature to talk to those we know. This implies we will seek information from and share knowledge with our friends. There is nothing wrong with this, except that after a time, ideas—even bad ideas—are recycled and then affirmed. When repeated often enough, people eventually accept it as fact, even if there’s no reason to do so. I call this intellectual incest, provocative, yet apt description of what happens with continually recirculated information among a small group of closely connected people. Certainly, we should talk with our friends, but we need to be aware of blindly accepting what they say without carefully considering its merits.

More valuable than interacting with our friends and acquaintances is interacting with those we don’t know. These are the people most likely to share something fresh or innovative. This, however, is also much easier to suggest than do. Nevertheless, most of my “aha!” moments have happened when talking with someone I just met.

If the goal is to learn and grow, then even more limiting than focusing our interactions on our friends is to restrict our attention to those we are with it, family or coworkers. Although this is safe and natural, it prevents us from being exposed to new thoughts and diverging viewpoints.

Co-Workers

When I have traveled with coworkers, I often set prearranged limits on how much time we spent together in order to make it easier to interact with others outside our company. Yes, we plan strategic times to reconvene and share what we learned, as well as to just relax in each other’s company, but for the most part, we intentionally split up, sitting with, eating with, and meeting with others in order to maximize our exposure to new ideas and different perspectives. As it is much easier to connect with someone by him or herself versus when they’re part of a group, this makes me more available and approachable when someone wants to talk.

The Goal

Though it’s often uncomfortable to talk to a stranger or ask a question, that’s when I receive the greatest reward. Similarly, it’s when I freely share information that I unexpectedly receive the most benefit. Both instances lead to greater understanding and enhanced perspectives, which is what interacting with others is all about—a mutual exchange of ideas and insights.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

A Shocking Experience

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

When I call a contact center, I pay special attention to what happens. I can’t help it. Over the years I have evaluated and critiqued enough calls that it has become habit, even though I no longer need to do so. Fortunately, this tendency provides anecdotal fodder for articles and the occasional righteous rant.

One call I made, years ago, indeed, shocking, not for any deficiency or appalling behavior, but because it was so good. Sadly, I have become so conditioned to sub-par and ineffective phone support, that I am surprised when professionalism and efficacy actually occur how—disheartening. This whole realization was quite shocking to me. I have spent most of my adult life passionately working in and diligently promoting an industry from which I have begrudgingly acquiesced to accept mediocrity.

Here’s my saga. A few weeks ago before that, I received a subscription invoice for a magazine I had never heard of nor received. This is not unexpected; it seems to happen often. I politely wrote “please cancel” on the invoice and returned it in their pre-paid envelope, hoping to be done with the whole affair.

A few days later, the magazine arrived. I looked at it and realized that it might be worth reading. I enjoyed it and wished I hadn’t cancelled it. (In retrospect, it is likely that, on a whim, I did request it, but I have no recollection of doing so.)

I pondered what to do. I wasn’t fair that the publisher had sent me the magazine in good faith but wasn’t going to be paid for it. I also wanted to ensure that I received future issues without interruption. Frankly, I wondered if I had the fortitude to contact the publisher in order to attempt to resolve it.

Notice that I said “attempt to resolve it.” Overall recent experience had so numbed my expectations that I was doubtful of a successful outcome. How many phone calls would I need to make? How many times would I be transferred to the wrong person or department? Would I be cut off or hung up on? Would I be told to call another number and then another, only to be referred back to the first? Would I be able to understand and effectively communicate with the agent? Would they comprehend the situation and know what to do? Could I end up making matters worse?

These questions permeated my mind, and they were all based on frustrating and fruitless experience. I gathered my resolve, actually blocking out time to focus on this formidable task.

Thankfully, things got off to a good start when I quickly located a clearly labeled “subscription number” number in the magazine. It was a toll-free call, which was another bonus. Even so, I took a deep breath before I dialed the number.

I began counting rings (an old habit). One ring, two… and it was answered! The agent was both pleasant and professional. She seemed happy to talk to me. She was easily understandable, speaking the same dialect of English as me. I explained my dilemma and she immediately grasped it. No transfer, no pondering, no delays. “I can take care of it,” she said confidently.” And she did.

Pleasantly and effectively resolving an issue on the first call isn’t hard to do, but in my experience it is shockingly rare.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

The Myth of Self-Service

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

The idea of self-service has existed in many industries for years and even decades. This includes self-serve gas pumps, checking your own groceries, buying airline tickets online, and banking.

Gas Stations

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, self-service

First, let’s consider gas stations. Unless you are a 30-something driver or younger, you probably remember the days of full-service gas stations. In fact, they were called service stations, because service was what they were all about. These service stations almost always had one mechanic—or more—on duty. For smaller stations, the mechanic was often the one who filled your car with gas.

Here’s how it worked: When you pulled into the station, a strategically placed air hose pneumatically activated a mechanical bell. This alerted the attendant that a customer had arrived, and he would scurry out to greet you.

Staying in your car, you would roll down your window and make your request, “Fill it up, please.” Often you and the attendant were on a first name basis. As he was filling your tank, he would wash your front windshield and sometimes the back. Next, he would offer to check your oil. (Unless it had just been changed or recently checked—which he remembered.) That’s not all. He would glance at your tires, and if one appeared under inflated, he would whisk a tire gauge out of his pocket and check the pressure, putting in more air if it was warranted. He would also make recommendations based on other observations, such as, “Looks like you’re ready for new front tires,” “That muffler doesn’t sound too good,” or “We better at a look at those brakes soon.”

Yes, this was a full-service operation, deftly suggesting up-sells (“Do you want to try Premium today”) and cross-sell opportunities (“When do you want your oil changed”)—though this wasn’t what it was called; it was just good customer service. Today, with self-service, we are left on our own to keep our car in good operating condition and we only see our mechanic when something is wrong.

In an apparent effort to save on labor or cut overhead, some stations began offering “self-service” pumps. In order to entice the public to pump their own fuel, the self-serve gas was priced lower. Most people weren’t too interested, at least until the price of gas jumped and the discount increased along with it. Still some people swore they would never fill their own tanks, but over time they were forced to do so as full-service pumps became scarcer. The truth is, most people didn’t want self-serve, but they reluctantly did so to save money or were forced to when it became the only option. Today, self-serve gas pumps are an expected way of life, but that merely happened because it became the only option.

There are times when self-service is the answer; there are also times when it is not. Click To Tweet

Food

Then there is the grocery store. I’ll admit that I don’t often find myself there—and when I do, it’s only to buy a couple of things—but I do gravitate towards the self-checkout. For a few items it can be faster—providing everything works correctly. Self-checkout can also be irritating, repeatedly barking out annoying instructions and getting obstinate if it thinks you did something wrong.

Given a choice between a next-in-line cashier and self-service, I will always opt for a person. I find it to be faster and less frustrating. I can’t imagine the time-consuming task of doing a large order via self-checkout. However, when the cashier lines are long, which can often be the case, I gladly duck into the self-checkout and hope for the best. In this case, self-service wins out when full-service lines (that is, queues) grow too long. It’s not that it’s preferred, but merely the least objectionable.

Travel

Nowadays, everyone books airline tickets online. It doesn’t save me time, but it does afford the opportunity to check every conceivable option, finding the ideal balance between cost and convenience. Maybe I scrutinize my options too closely, but I would gladly spend an hour researching flights, times, and airports if it will save me from a long layover, an extra night in a hotel, or a couple of hundred dollars on a fare. Still, the days of calling a travel agent, giving her my travel itinerary in a few seconds, and having tickets arrive the next day provide an appealing invitation to return to full-service.

Banking

The banking industry is full of choices. I can select from two full-service options and three self-serve options. For transactions warranting full-service, I can go to the nearest branch or phone their call center. For self-serve, I can use an ATM, bank-by-phone (using an IVR system), or access my account via the Internet. The option I select is primarily a result of what I need to accomplish, but my focus is on speed and convenience. It’s nice to have options: self-service for some things, full-service for others.

The Self-Serve Bust

The dot-com boom in the late 1990s brought the prospect of self-service to an unwise conclusion. In simplistic terms, their generic business plan (aside from burning through mass quantities of investor cash) was that they would create a scalable website, which could be quickly ramped up as demand for their product or service grew.

Customer service would not be an issue (or so they thought) as they would offer self-service options that were likewise scalable. There would be no massive call centers to build and no agents to hire. Basically there would be no people to help their customers; computers would do all that via the Internet. It didn’t work. The few dot-coms that survived did so because they realized they needed to offer more options than just self-service.

Call Centers to the Rescue

Even with this history and varying degrees of success, it doesn’t imply that self-service is the way to go, especially when responsive call centers can surpass the generally mediocre effectiveness of self-service. Yes, there are times when self-service is the answer; there are also times when it is not.

When properly implemented (which means it must be user-friendly, accessible, and reliable), people will opt for self-service only if it can increase timeliness, save money, be more effective, or is more available. If it can’t do at least one of these things, people will only do self-service if they have to—complaining about it all the while. In reality, most people don’t really prefer self-service. What they want is full-service that is friendly, accessible, and reliable. In our global economy, that often means they want a call center—a good call center.

Self-service is generally not selected because it is the superior option, but because it is the least objectionable one. So what is the ideal solution? It’s a full-service call center, not with self-service options, but with people. Think about it: who would prefer to spend an hour on the Internet, scrolling through FAQs or waiting for an automated response to an email query, if they could just pick up the phone and quickly get a response?

This means a call center done right. What does that look like? Ideally it is:

  • Calls answered quickly
  • No busy signals
  • First-call resolution
  • No transfer
  • No queue or short queue (or a creative, entertaining on-hold program with accurate traffic updates)
  • Trained, knowledgeable, personable, and polite representatives
  • Correct responses
  • Consistent experience

With that, why would anyone want self-service? Why would they ever switch to a different company? A call center, done right, will beat self-service every time.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

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The Truth about College: It May Not Matter as Much As You Think

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

It amuses me to tell people I went to college for 40 years. Their reactions vary from shock to admiration, from pity to surprise.

As a high school sophomore, I learned the local community college would admit select high school seniors. Acting partly out of youthful arrogance and partly from moxie, I met with an admissions counselor, hoping to be admitted the following year. The advisor never asked my age or my grade as he mechanically pulled my high school transcript. Mathematically challenged, he struggled to convert my school’s quarterly grades into the semester credits he was accustomed to. “Well,” he concluded, “it sure looks like you have enough credits.”

I completed my first college class before I started my junior year in high school. I took at least one class a semester for the next two years. College offered a challenge that high school lacked. Though I earned high marks in high school, I excelled in my college courses.

As my senior year in high school wound down, classmates announced their college plans. My best friend was headed to a private school to study a new field called computer science. It seemed an interesting and promising choice, and I decided to follow her there. However, despite my parents having sacrificed to make weekly deposits into my college fund since the day I was born, the amount they accumulated fell short. This reality, coupled with frequent media reports of college graduates being under-employed in entry-level positions, led me to a more practical decision. I enrolled in electronic technical school where I could quickly learn practical job skills and enter the work force at a fraction of the cost. Upon graduation, I grabbed the first job that came along: repairing copy machines.

Pursue a Practical Education

It quickly became apparent this was not the job for me. My electronic school credential read, “electronic engineering technician,” and though I fancied myself an engineer, prospective employers viewed me as a technician. To make the career change I wanted, I needed more education. I reapplied to the community college and earned a pre-engineering degree.

I transferred to a local university and enrolled in its electrical engineering program. Well before graduation, a job change took me out of state. I established residency there and resumed my education. During this time, I responded to a help wanted ad. The stated salary was three times what I currently made. I met every qualification and dashed off my resume, fully expecting to be hired. But they didn’t even interview me. I later learned the company was deluged with applications, and it summarily rejected every applicant without a four-year college degree. I resolved to never let that happen again.

A College Degree Can Be More Than an Attendance Certificate

Now being cynically convinced that a college degree was little more than an attendance certificate, I sought the shortest path to a four-year degree. I found the perfect solution. It was geared for full-time employees who had at least two years of college. By attending evening classes, in an intense one-year program, I could parlay my various college credits with documented experiential learning into a bachelor’s degree. I didn’t care what the degree was in; I just wanted that piece of paper. As the school year wound down, however, I met with a surprise at work. In my annual review, my boss told me that my management skills had greatly improved. He rewarded me with a substantial raise. Although I had been striving for an arbitrary credential, I inadvertently ended up improving my job skills.

I shared this news with my professor, thanking him profusely. In what seemed unwarranted humility he dismissed my gratitude. “I don’t deserve any credit,” he said matter-of-factly. “All we did was offer you an opportunity; it was up to you to make something of it. It’s what you have inside that made the difference.” It was years before I would fully comprehend this.

Now seeing a direct connection between education and earning power, I returned for a second major. What I had previously learned were “soft” skills (interpersonal communication, group dynamics, human resources, and so forth). Now I needed to complement this with course work in accounting, business law, and strategic planning. This major, business administration, would enhance my job skills, making me a better and more marketable employee.

It’s what’s inside that makes the difference. Click To Tweet

A Masters and a Doctorate

After a few years, missing the elixir of education and feeling inadequate as a manager, I began considering a master’s degree. Again, I found a program geared for non-traditional students. Their offer was compelling, but even more intriguing was that I could enroll in a joint masters/doctorate program. I did. I anticipated the master’s degree would make me complete as a manager, but I viewed the doctorate more as a personal milestone.

After completing my master’s degree as planned, I immediately began working on the doctorate, which I had two years to complete. Already worn down by the intensity of the master’s, I soon regretted committing to the doctoral program. But stubbornness prevailed and I plodded on, meeting the requirements only a few months before the deadline. I was 42; it was 26 years since I had gotten a jumpstart on college at age 16. There were some diversions along the way, job changes, relocations and even a few breaks, but for the majority of that time, I was attending classes—somewhere.

A Second Doctorate

Fast forward a few more years. I felt a prompting to return to school once again, this time for personal edification, picking a Bible college – again distance learning. I applied for a second doctorate but they didn’t accept me. Not caring about the credential, but the learning opportunity, I accepted placement in their masters program. However, a couple classes into it, during a routine call to the school, I learned they had undergone a change in how they evaluate transfer credits. They bumped me up to their “second doctorate” program, which for me actually required fewer classes then the masters program I was in. I switched. By graduation, I had spent nearly 40 years in college. And that will be enough college for me – unless I want to return to teach.

College has meant many things to me: a challenge, a means to a job, help with a career change, an attendance certificate, an avenue to a better salary, an enhancer of job skills, management training, and personal edification. College can be many things depending on what we need and what we want to accomplish, but it is not a cure-all.

When I worked as a call center consultant, I would do week-long business audits. I would begin the week with an overview of the client’s company and then drill down to uncover weaknesses and opportunities. In doing so, a distressing pattern emerged. On about the third day, I would often find myself in a follow-up meeting with the person who manages the call center. They sharer their common concern in different ways and with various levels of emotion, but it always boiled down to the same sentiment: “I feel inadequate as a manager. I think I need a college degree.”

This broke my heart. I was never sure what to say.

Do You Feel You Need a College Degree?

These were successful, dynamic women, who started at entry-level positions and through hard work, dedication, and a talent for doing what’s nearly impossible, rose to significant positions. These individuals oversaw the majority of their organization’s workforce, controlled about half of its expenses (primarily labor costs), and maintained virtually all of the company revenue, yet they still felt inadequate. They believed a degree would make everything right. This always caught me by surprise because they conducted their work with such great aplomb, confidence, and success.

Here’s what I should have told them: “Yes, college can help you. If you have the opportunity to go and are willing to make the sacrifices of time and money, while putting much of your life on hold, then do it. It will make you a better manager. But it is not a panacea. There will still be times when you will feel overwhelmed, inadequate, or unprepared at work. Most managers have these feelings and a formal education won’t make them go away.”

While my educational choices have, in part, enabled me to get to where I am today, I know that had I gone down a different path, the result would be no less meaningful, because as my college professor said, “It’s what you have inside that makes the difference.”

What If You Don’t Already Have a Career?

These comments about college are strictly for those who have an established career. For the recent high school graduate and those just starting out or without a career path, I always recommend college, provided they can handle the workload. Being a traditional student and going to school full-time allows one to get a degree in the shortest time, but it is not financially possible for everyone. In this case, as for me, intersperse education with vocation. Although this approach takes longer, it enhances the experience as education is magnified by work and work is complemented by education.

What If You Have No Idea What to Study?

If this is the case, be sure to pursue marketable job skills. Don’t focus on skills that will maximize earning potential. Instead look at on what will maximize your enjoyment of life—which is not money. For those who are analytical thinkers, business and computers are good pursuits; for creative minds, consider marketing or graphic arts.

And remember, most college graduates don’t end up working in the field they studied. Instead they use their education as an entry-point to the work force. Once you have successfully proven yourself in full-time employment, work history generally becomes more important than your degree—as long as you have it.

So, if you go to college, study hard, make the most of the opportunity that you are given. Just remember, it’s what’s inside that makes the difference.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.