Category Archives: Peter DeHaan

The Only Constant is Change

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

As I look back, I see how things have changed. I have changed, my family has changed, technologies have changed, my business has changed, and the industries I work in have changed.

In today’s business environment, a culture of change is essential for every organization. In my younger days, I would recommend change for the sheer fun of it. Now, older and wiser, I only advocate change when there is a real reason to do so.

To establish a change-oriented culture in our organizations, the first step is to minimize employee fears towards change. Click To Tweet

For most people, change is difficult. Change takes something familiar and replaces it with something unknown. Each organization has people who are change resistant. And each leader, manager, and supervisor knows exactly who these people are. With such folks, their aversion to change varies from unspoken trepidation to being overtly confrontational. Regardless of the manifestation, we need to be compassionate, realizing that these reactions are merely their way of responding to fear—fear of the unknown.

To establish a change-oriented culture in our organizations, the first step is to minimize employee fears towards change. Generally employees can accept change if 1) the change is incremental and small, 2) they have a degree of input or control over the change, and 3) the change is clearly understood.

The key is communication. Address change head on. For every change, employees wonder how it will affect them:

  • Could they lose their job?
  • Might their hours be cut?
  • Will they be asked to work harder than they already are?
  • Will they be made to do something unpleasant or distasteful?
  • What happens if they can’t learn the new skills?

These are all worries, worries about the unknown. As with most worries, the majority will never happen. But with a lack of reliable information and top-down assurances, these irrational worries take on a life all their own.

Successfully orchestrating change requires effective communication. Not once, but ongoing; not to key staff, but to all employees; not by one method, but by several: group meetings, written correspondence, and one-on-one discussions. A true and effective open door policy helps, too. Also, it is critical that a positive attitude is set, at the beginning, from the top of the organization, which never waivers. Celebrate milestones, generously thank staff along the way, and provide reasonable rewards at the end.

Successfully taking these steps will send a strong signal to staff. Even though the change may still concern them, they will be comforted knowing they have accurate information and the assurance that they are safe and will be protected. And for each successful change, the next one becomes easier to bring about.

We will know we have successfully created a change-friendly organization when our employees—all of them—get bored with the status quo and begin seeking change on their own. They will ask for more challenging work, seek to expand their job, and want to add new technology. At this point, the potential of our organizations becomes unlimited; the personal growth of our staff, unshackled; and the future, inviting. We don’t know what that future will entail, only that things will change for the better.

So, sit back and enjoy the ride, fully confident that the only constant is change.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

Are You Really Too Busy? Seven Steps to Reclaim Your Life

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, Editor
By Peter DeHaan

Perhaps you’ve heard this story. Imagine you’re sitting in a college class. It’s one of those big classrooms, with tiered seating, able to accommodate hundreds of students. The class is assembled in expectation; what will the prof do today?

At exactly 8 o’clock, he strides in and without acknowledging the classes’ presence, reaches under the lectern and produces a gallon glass jar. He sits it on a nearby table. Then he pulls out a box of rocks and sets it next to the jar. Finally, he fixes his gaze on his students. Garnering their attention, he clears his throat, gestures to the rocks, and asks, “Who would like to show us how much you can fit in?”

Unable to contain himself, an eager-to-impress freshman shoots up his hand. Desiring to make an impression, Mr. Eager-to-Impress carefully places rocks in the jar.

“Is the jar full?” The professor asks.

“Yes!” the students reply in unison.

“Can you fit any more in?”

“No!”

Then the instructor produces a bag of pebbles. The students gasp; a hush falls over the room. Mr. Eager-to-Impress is in a quandary. Should he cut his losses and keep quiet or attempt to salvage his bravado. Hesitantly he raises his hand and then comes forward. With greater care he places a handful of pebbles at the top and by tapping, shaking, and rotating the jar, they make their way to the gaps below. Satisfied with the results, he returns to his chair hoping for the best.

We must guard against becoming so busy dealing with life that we forget to live it. Click To Tweet

“Is the jar full, now?”

“Um, yes,” the students answer.

“Can you fit any more in?”

“No.” Their answer is guarded.

Next the instructor brings out a pail of sand. Many students smile. “How about now?” Eager-to-Impress is not so eager anymore, but feels his fate is already decided. Without being asked, he slinks back to the table and using the same technique, filters the sand through the courser maze of rocks and pebbles. Red-faced, he sits down, anxious for class to end.

The teacher gleefully asks, “Is the jar full now?”

No one ventures a response. Whatever they might say, they fear would be wrong; plus, no one wants to stand out like Eager-to-Impress.

The professor ignores their silence, “Can you fit any more in the jar?” More silence.

With practiced timing, the learners squirm in the hush of the moment. Without saying a word, the teacher reaches under the podium and brings forth a pitcher of water. Some students groan; others laugh. Unable to contain himself, the educator grins. “How about now?”

Slowly he pours the water into the jar, permeating every crevice. He fills it to the top and then overflows it. There’s no doubt whether or not the jar is full.

“What can we learn from this?”

Eager-to-Impress, wanting to salvage something from this debacle, summons his courage and hesitantly says, “It means that no matter how busy you are, you can always fit more in!”

“No,” the professor bellows, pounding his fist on the table. “It means that unless you do the big things first, they’ll never get done!”

I’ve heard several variations of this story. Since I don’t know who wrote it, I share my version with a nod to “Anonymous.”

I’m adept at handling the pebbles and sand in my life, topping it off with an abundant supply of water to make things seem full. However, I must be intentional to handle the rocks, those important tasks. Without deliberate action, I put off the big stuff until tomorrow, attending to life’s minutia, without tackling its priorities.

It’s epidemic; everyone is busy. We’re busy at work and leave to be busy at home; we’re busy in recreation and busier still on vacation, needing to return to work to rest. Our busyness distracts us from what’s important, from what really matters, from those things that could truly make a difference.

I’ve pondered my own busyness and am working towards my cure:

1) Time Management: The thrust of time management is controlling how we spend our time to allow time to do more. This doesn’t bring relief, it just means we’re squeezing more into an already full day. Turn time management on its head, using it to control how we spend our time, so that we do less.

2) Multitasking: When I multitask, I’m not really doing two things at once, but merely quickly switching back and forth. I fear my pursuit of multitasking has only served to make me ADD! Not only is multitasking counter-productive, there’s evidence it messes up our brain.

3) Keep a Time Log: I used to unintentionally irritate my managers by periodically asking them to keep a time log for a week; I’d do it too. They hated it and so did I, but the results were instructive.

Let’s look at some easy timewasters. How much TV do you watch a day? How much time do you spend online? This amounts to hours that could be put to a different use, attending to the big things, not squandered in passive activities of no real consequence. While we all need to relax, if we weren’t so perpetually busy, we wouldn’t need so much time to escape.

4) Just Say No: We tell our kids to say “no” to certain behaviors and would do well to heed our advice. Sometimes it’s wise to say “no” to good things in order to protect ourselves from over-committing and ending up too busy to do anything well.

5) Set Limits: My tolerance for work is about 50 to 55 hours a week. If things balloon beyond that, out of self-preservation I cut back until I again have a tolerable schedule. If I was self-policing to a 55-hour workweek, I theorized I could learn to limit myself to 45. It took some time, but I was able to do it. In looking at my output and quality during those 45-hour workweeks, I saw nothing that suffered. I was also more relaxed, less stressed, and had more free time.

6) Know Yourself: My tendency is to handle the pebbles and sand at the beginning of my day and attend to the rocks in the afternoon – if there’s time. This isn’t wise, as my time of greatest focus and peak energy is in the morning. Ironically, I was handling trivial stuff at my peak while reserving the important tasks for my low point. I’ve noted a similar cycle throughout the week and another that is seasonal. It takes concerted effort, but I strive to prioritize key tasks for peak times, while delegating lesser activities to my lower energy moments.

7) Then Do the Big Things: Once we take steps to control life’s activities, we can attend to the big things. Without the pressures of trivial concerns, there’s freedom to focus on the important, the life altering, and the significant, removing us from the rut that all too easily goes from day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year—all without noticeable advancement.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

False Assumptions

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

When people ask what I do for a living, I reply that “I publish magazines and websites for the call center industry.” Their responses are varied, as well as interesting. For some people, their eyes immediately glaze over, and they change the subject.

Others key in on the word “publish,” offering to submit their writing, regardless of suitability. Incredibly, I have been asked to publish short stories, poems, and even song lyrics in my trade magazines! Another group focuses on the word “website” and enthusiastically shares their latest triumph, as in, “Yea, I’m uniquely tapping Java to develop scalable websites guaranteed to revolutionize the vertical widget industry.” That’s when I change the subject.

The Call Center Industry

For those who zero in on the phrase “call center,” their queries predictably fall into one of four areas. The first is an unthinking reaction from those who wish to blame me for the dinnertime interruptions they receive via the telephone. This provides a chance to engage in some one-on-one industry PR work.

Unsolicited Calls

First, I agree with them that unsolicited calls are annoying. Then I assure them that I don’t encourage the calling of people who wish not to be contacted. These pronouncements surprise them. From that vantage, I can then attempt to educate them about the laws and their rights. Soon they’re nodding in agreement—though perhaps just to get me to stop talking.

Voice Mail

The second category of responses is from those who associate a particular call center technology with the industry. They may interject, saying, “Well, I just keep pressing zero until I get a real person,” or “Why do I have to enter my account number and then give it again when the person answers?” Again, I have an opportunity to educate.

Do Not Call

The next group wants to grill me about the “Do-Not-Call” (DNC) legislation. This response is especially prevalent after a deluge of automated political calls being made as a prelude to elections.

My inquisitors snicker with resigned acquiescence as I share that the politicians exempted themselves from the calling restrictions that they foisted upon everyone else. I am able to explain about “existing business relationships” and inform them that they can request to be added to the company’s internal “do not call” list. At this point, I’m not sure that they’re listening, perhaps they just want to vent—and I am the handy target.

Accents

The fourth response is the most common and perplexing. They make a statement along the lines of “I never can understand those people in other countries.”

“How do you know that the agent was in another country?” I probe. “Did you ask them?”

“Well, no, but I can tell ’cause they have an accent,” is their emphatic retort.

Their false assumption has snared them. They think that if an agent has an accent, they must be offshore; conversely an agent with no discernible accent must be in the United States. Ergo only offshore agents have hard to understand accents. I have never talked with an offshore agent without an accent— apparently if someone has no accent, I subconsciously assume that they're US-based! Click To Tweet

I have conversed with heavily accented agents who are US-based—some I understood and others were a struggle. Conversely, I have talked to accented offshore agents—some I acceptably communicated with, while others were a futile effort.

However, I have never talked with an offshore agent without an accent—apparently if someone has no accent, I subconsciously assume that they’re US-based!

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

Dealing with Cancellations

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

How does your company handle cancellations? Do you allow anyone to process terminations, quickly and without hassle? Or do you have a specific “cancellation” strategy, with a team assigned and trained to follow an exact protocol? Either approach has its strengths and limitations; both fall short of the customer’s best interest.

I once signed up for a credit card simply because of its rewards package. Although I built up a great number of points, I never redeemed them. Over time, my priorities changed and I realized I would never use them. I called to see what else they could offer. Was there another reward incentive I could switch to? Could I get cash back? How about merchandise? Are there other options they could offer?How does your company handle cancellations? Click To Tweet

The answers were “no,” “no,” “no,” and “no.”

“I guess my only option is to cancel the card,” I ventured.

“Is that what you want to do?” the agent replied matter-of-factly.

“Let me think about it,” I evaded, seeking to delay the decision.

It took awhile, but eventually all uses for that card were switched to another. I called again, this time to cancel. I was transferred to the cancellation department. This agent feigned shock at my intent and tried to dissuade me. She offered a lower rate, better terms, and more flexibility on the rewards package. Her arguments would have retained me as a cardholder, if not for the fact that they were offered too late. I cancelled the card.

This scenario has repeated itself on numerous occasions: with my cell phone provider, satellite and cable service, long distance, and local phone service. Each time, the agents answering the phone are not empowered to take steps to retain me as a customer. Each time I make careful plans, arranging for service from their competitor. When I call back to terminate my service; the cancellation department would step in and suddenly sweeten the deal. Often they offer the concessions that I wanted—and which I suspected were available all along—but not presented by their front line staff.

They express their regrets over my decision and ask me to call back if I change my mind. If only their solutions had been offered earlier in the process. Then they could have retained my patronage and saved me the aggravation of switching.

The solution seems obvious. Just pretend you are going to cancel so that you can get to the “cancellation” department on the initial call and obtain their best deal. I tried that and it went like this:

“I want to cancel my service.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Let me see what I can do.” I wait, expecting to be transferred. After a few seconds, the agent announces, “Okay, your service has been cancelled. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

I am too embarrassed to ask that it be reinstated, so I thank the agent and hang up.

In the first examples, the staff was trained and empowered to retain me as a customer were interjected too late into the process; my decision had been made, the alternative in place, and my call was mere formality to end the process.

In the latter scenario, the agent was empowered, but apathetic and untrained. She was highly efficient, but completely ineffective.

There has to be a better way.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

By Peter DeHaan

Key Lessons in Customer Service

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorWhen my internet service goes down, I seldom call customer service to report it. I simply don’t have the time to waste with my provider’s nonsensical troubleshooting process. Instead I usually wait in hope that someone else will report the outage and achieve a timely resolution.

This hasn’t always been my approach. When I first had internet service, I would dutifully call customer service at the first sign of an outage.

However, their agents’ poor customer service skills and time-consuming nature of their queries left me feeling angry and frustrated. The agents acted as though the problem was my fault and proceeded on the assumption that a correction would be found by reprogramming my computer or repeatedly resetting my modem. And after several years of service working, asking if I installed the modem correctly is ludicrous.

In essence, they operate on the assumption that I and my computer are guilty until proven innocent. Feeling remorse over forcing me invest up to an hour of my time before a trouble ticket can taken is seemingly beyond their comprehension. Even more astounding is that apologizing for an outage is apparently not part of their protocol.

Even if the customer is at fault, agents should back into that conclusion, assuming that there is a network problem until a contrary conclusion can be correctly ascertained. Click To Tweet

To compound the situation, in the process of “troubleshooting” they instruct me to make all manner of changes, which would result in leaving me unable to connect to the Internet once access is restored. Never once have they given any instruction on returning my computer to its original configuration. They even neglect to suggest that I make note of the original settings so that I can later restore them. Fortunately, I am wise to their foolish ways.

In a monopoly environment this indifferent attitude would be understandable, albeit untenable. However, I have options and will select the provider that irritates me the least. Notice that I did not say that I seek a provider with excellent service, or who delights the customer, or that has first-call resolution. My customer service expectations are so low that I merely desire to minimize my annoyance.

I will not even suggest that my phone company pursue customer service best-practices. They can go a long way towards improvement by merely adopting a few commonsense ideas.

Take Responsibility

The people I talk to act as though their network is impervious and the blame lies with me. Even if the customer is at fault, agents should back into that conclusion, assuming that there is a network problem until a contrary conclusion can be correctly ascertained.

Isolate the Problem

The final troubleshooting tests they perform is to connect to my modem. This should be the very first test. If they can connect and run diagnostics, then the problem resides on the consumer’s end. If they can’t access the modem, there is no need to harass the customer with needless tests and counterproductive reprogramming.

Apologize

Is it that difficult to say “I’m sorry that you are experiencing problems?” Even more germane would be to say “I’m sorry that I hopelessly messed up your computer configuration and have no idea how to put it back to the way it was.” Of course, if they followed the two prior suggestions, the first apology would suffice, and the second would be unnecessary.

Use Customer Relationship Management Software

If they had a functional Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, the agents could readily determine that every time I call it was because of an outage and never once have I called because of a problem on my end. They should be able know that I have a history of being credible and not wasting their time—even though they have a history of wasting mine.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.