Providing Quality Service

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

Growing up, I remember a radio commercial with the tag line, “Service sold it.” Even as a young kid I was able to grasp the concept that providing quality service was a great way to close more sales and gain new business.

Over the years, I have heard this mantra repeated, again and again, either verbatim or conceptually, by various local, national, and international companies. Yet I now give this platitude only passing consideration. This phrase has a hollow ring; it seems a disingenuous assurance, holding an empty promise. What was once good business turned into good ad copy and now gets lost in the clutter of promotions that we no longer believe.

In fact, the louder a business trumpets this claim, the less credence I give it and the more I assume their quality is lousy and their ad campaign’s only goal is to convince us of the contrary. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, “He who can, does. He who cannot, talks about it.” It seems that no one provides quality service any more.

Recently, I placed a series of calls to my computer vendor. They offer a quality package at a good price, provide fast shipment, and facilitate ordering. Yet the quality of their service is rotten. Two prior interactions with their customer service staff resulted in one failure and one partial success. My latest episode, requiring a dozen or so phone calls over the span of weeks, ultimately resulted in a satisfactory outcome.

But it required great patience and persistence, long hold times, being transferred to the wrong departments and back again, and talking with English speaking reps who could not effectively communicate in a language I comprehended. One humorous example was a representative who said, “Excuse please the silence while I hold you.” To accomplish my objective, I had to escalate my call, invoke their “100% Satisfaction Guarantee,” and insist that they accept the return of my entire order – not just the computer in question. As you might suspect, I deem it a waste of money to buy their extended customer support plan.

Next I attempted to resolve an ongoing problem with my caller ID. The feature that sold me on the product was the promise that, working in conjunction with call waiting, it would display the number of a second caller while I continued talking to the first. Unfortunately, it never worked. I called repair and reported the problem. The rep gave me the time and date of the repair. It was not. I reported it again. No change.

I pulled out the multi-page manual and found a small-print footnote, which said that the feature I desired needed to be installed separately. Thinking I was on to something, I called and ordered it. Again, the promised due date came and went. I called again, only to learn the desired feature was not available in my area. Four “service” people decided to take the easy way out, pushing me through their system or hoping I would give up, rather than simply check to see if the feature was available.

On to cable TV. With the escalating costs of cable, it eventually became less costly to switch to satellite. Now I get hundreds of channels and still don’t have anything to watch! The installation and support of the satellite system was excellent (more on that later), but the simple act of canceling my cable service took months. With each passing month a new bill would arrive, announcing an escalating monthly balance. I would call the cable company; they would assure me our service was indeed cancelled and they had no idea why we kept being billed. This went on for over six months. I seriously doubt any company can be that incompetent, so my cynical nature speculates they were intentionally doing this to pad their receivables.

Years ago when I installed DSL, the big challenge came in disconnecting my now unneeded dialup line. Because of a previous service debacle, my Internet line had become the billed number and my listed number became secondary. The representative, fortunately a knowledgeable one, apologized that the only solution was to cancel the entire bill and then reinstall my main line. This would only be a billing function and my phone service would not be interrupted.

However, there would be side effects. First, I would need to call their DSL division to make sure my DSL wasn’t cancelled and to update my billing arrangement. Apparently, this was common, because the DSL representative immediately understood the problem and knew just what to do. Then I would need to call my long distance carrier to make sure that when my service was “reinstalled” I would be put on my same rate plan and not their higher default plan. I had to make a third call for my white page listing. Surprisingly, each call had its desired effect. But imagine the turmoil that would have ensued had the first representative not fully informed me of all the ramifications and exactly what I needed to do. Exceptional customer service, however, would never have put me in the position to make those calls in the first place and even good customer service would have done so for me. Quality service didn’t sell it, being the only game in town did.

We all know someone who left one company because of poor quality and then subsequently left the new company for the same reason. Eventually, they try – and then reject – all available alternatives. They then have to return to a previously unsatisfactory company. Their new goal is simply to pick the least bad provider.

Does anyone provide quality service anymore? Fortunately, yes. In previous columns, I mentioned my mechanic and optometrist, both stellar success stories. In concert with this, it is noteworthy to mention that the authorized agent for my satellite television is a local company. Is being local then, the key for my satisfaction? Not entirely. My local credit union, bank, and doctor have all caused me repeated consternation. Besides, there are also good service examples that are not local.

To publish my magazines – Connections Magazine and AnswerStat – the sales, graphic design, and editing are all handled by extremely competent individuals who are not local, yet provide an exceptional level of service. The common thread here is that they are all small organizations. So then, is company size the key? No, there are many other small organizations that have demonstrated the ability to disappoint.

Although being local and being small are two elements that allow the potential to provide quality service, they are not requirements. The real key is the personal touch. With each unfavorable example I gave, I dealt with a department, not an individual – not really. The representative had no accountability to me and no stake in the outcome. With subsequent calls, I would talk to a different person. To them I was not a customer; I had no real value. I was just another phone call – a problem – one to get rid of in the shortest time, so they could go on to the next call, and eventually punch out for the day.

However, with each positive example I cited, it was a specific person who made the difference. This was someone who genuinely cared and had a real interest in the outcome, someone who was willing to make me his or her priority and do what was required.

Every company claims they offer quality service, but is this a reality or a fantasy? Is a one-on-one personal relationship provided to clients? Can you honestly say, believe, and prove that your company provides quality service? If not, what changes do you need to make?

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.

The Pursuit of Perfection

Do you want a staff of perfectionists?

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

Some managers say “yes,” whereas others respond with a resounding “no.” The informed answer is, “it all depends.” Here’s why:

Of that portion of the populace who are perfectionists, some are blindly or proudly so. Others are self-aware of possessing this characteristic and informed about it; I call them recovering perfectionists. A self-aware perfectionist understands this condition, knowing how to tap into and celebrate the many strengths and benefits of pursuing excellence. At the same time, they know to guard against its limiting, self-defeating, and even paralyzing facets.

Doing research on perfectionism reveals a host of debilitating traits, starting with compulsiveness and going downhill from there. However, knowledgeable perfectionists can tap into the positive aspects of their natural tendencies when appropriate, that is, when it is to their advantage to do so. At the same time, they can usually avoid being handicapped by perfectionism’s alluring snares.

For a perfectionist, there are many traits which provide great value in the workplace:

  • Produce quality work: Perfectionists tend to produce high quality work. They take pleasure in excellence and find satisfaction in a job well-done.
  • Exceed expectations: If the boss expects a short summary, the perfectionist will submit a report. If achieving a 99% rating is admirable, the purist will aim for 99.9 – and then 100. Being above average is not good enough; being the best is a self-imposed requirement.
  • Go the extra mile: Perfectionists often give more than asked. If a report needs to be five pages long, they will turn in six. If a product needs to have three new features, they will add a fourth and maybe a fifth. If they set a record last month, they will strive to better it this month. In sports, this results in shooting free throws while the rest of the team showers or taking 30 minutes of extra batting practice – every day.
  • Set high standards: Another trait is that perfectionists set high standards, both for themselves and others. As long as the standards are reasonably attainable, it is acceptable, and even admirable for the perfectionist to set a bar high – for him or herself. (However, foisting faultlessness on the others does little more than establish the groundwork for future frustration, disappointment, and conflict between the precision-minded and the rest of the world.)

Of course, there are counterparts to these traits. One is procrastination. It is said that the perfectionist subconsciously reasons that the results of their work will never be just right – no matter how much time is invested – so why start? In fact, the project is often delayed until the last possible moment, so there is a plausible excuse as to why it’s not perfect: “I didn’t have much time to work on it!” Taking this to an extreme, some perfectionists miss deadlines and blow past due dates, often agonizing over some trivial or irrelevant detail.

Another side-effect associated with perfectionism is having problems in making quick decisions. Sometimes, they need to “sleep on it” to be assured of the correctness of their judgment. Other times decisions can be agonizingly difficult for them to reach. They fear making the wrong conclusion, that is, a less than perfect one. They delay a decision, while awaiting more information, so they can conduct an informed analysis. Unfortunately, this mental paralysis is seldom cured by amassing more data.

Over the years I have often interviewed perfectionists during job interviews. As it becomes apparent that I am talking to a perfectionist, I segue into a special interview segment, just for them. “So,” I inquire, “Do you consider yourself to be a perfectionist?”

Their responses fall into one of three categories. The first one is shock or denial. If a person who has just exhibited several perfectionist traits is taken aback at the thought of being called one or disavows any connection whatsoever, I judge them to either be disingenuous or lacking in self-awareness. Neither are characteristics that I seek in an employee.

The second type of response to my perfectionist query is unabashed pride and total satisfaction in possessing this quality. To make sure I am not rushing to a snap judgment, I give them one last chance for redemption. “What,” I ask, “do you see as the weaknesses of being a perfectionist?” Occasionally, they will comprehend the importance of that question, using an astute answer to move them from this category over to category three. Usually, however, they give me a blank stare, as if my inquiry was nonsensical, responding that there is no downside or that they don’t understand what I asked. In similar fashion, I don’t want to work with a perfectionist that has failed to realize the turmoil and trouble they can produce by their proclivity for perfection.

The third type of perfectionist applicant smiles at this question and begins to share their self-awareness about the shortcomings of how their version of perfectionism is manifested. They openly identify the less then admirable ways that it reveals itself in them and often proceeds to communicate how they guard themselves and others from this tendency. This is a person I want on my team. Yes, they may require a bit more management effort from time to time, but doing so is worth the extra energy as the results will be an employee who produces quality work, frequently exceeds expectations, goes the extra mile, and sets high standards for him or herself. Isn’t that who you want working in your organization, too?

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.

Watch Your Attitude

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaanOn a weekend trip my wife and I found ourselves at a fast-food restaurant for breakfast. “I’ll have a number 10,” I decisively told the perky teenage girl at the counter. She acknowledged my request and smiled pleasantly. This encouraged me to make small talk while my wife contemplated her choices. Not fully awake I said something apparently mildly humorous, causing her to laugh and brighten her smile. “What a pleasant way to start my day,” I thought, glancing at her name tag; it said, “Amber.”

My wife conceded that what she wanted wasn’t part of a meal deal, nor were the items listed individually. Amber was helpful. “Tell me what you want and I will see what I can do.”

My wife listed three disparate items and Amber began pushing buttons on her cash register. After a series of thoughtful keystrokes, she announced she had accomplished my wife’s request. We paid for our meal and stepped aside to wait for it.

As the people behind us placed their order, Amber’s friendly demeanor continued to capture my attention. Suddenly she saw someone out of the corner of her eye. Her smile widened as she looked up and her face beamed, “Good morning, Jimmy,” she excitedly called out. In the split second that it took for my glance to move from Amber to Jimmy, I anticipated whom I might see. Certainly, he would be her peer, perhaps a jock or maybe a prep, possibly even her boyfriend.

I was wrong. Jimmy was an older man with a weathered face, worn clothes, and a considerable limp. He moved forward with deliberate effort, alternating between a herky-jerky lunge followed by a short shuffle. As he made his way across the room, he did not attempt to get in line but headed straight to an open space at the counter near Amber.

With considerable effort, he produced a handful of coins and cupped them in his twisted hand. He tipped his hand forward and with careful effort, gave it a little shake. Two coins spilled out onto the counter and then a third. As if not satisfied with his progress, he poked his gnarled index finger into his open hand and moved it around as though stirring a pot. Then he flicked a fourth coin onto the counter, stirred some more, and released a fifth. With the last coin still rattling on the counter, Amber was there. She picked up the change, rang up an unspoken order, pulled a dime from the cash drawer, and carefully dropped it into Jimmy’s still cupped hand.

What happened next made me curious. Amber reached under the counter and pulled out a handful of supplies. Then she turned to the coffee pot behind her and laid the contents of her hand on the table – two containers of cream and several packs of sugar. This seemed backwards and inefficient – pour the coffee first, then get the additives. Amber grabbed a coffee cup and filled it half full. Even more curious. Did Jimmy only want a half of a cup? She then picked up one of the creams, gave it a brisk shake, meticulously opened it, and carefully emptied its contents into the cup. Then she repeated the procedure with the second cream.

Amber glanced around the room to see if anyone else needed her assistance. Assured that she was not neglecting another customer’s need, she picked up a pack of sugar, shook its contents to the bottom and prudently tore off the top, so as to not waste any, pouring every granule into the coffee. She repeated this a second time, but then another customer diverted her attention from Jimmy’s coffee. She returned to the partial cup and added two more sugars. But her task was still not complete. Amber grabbed a stir stick and thoroughly mixed the contents. Upon being satisfied with the results, she topped off the amalgamation with more coffee, put on a lid, and presented it to a grateful Jimmy.

She didn’t do any of this begrudgingly or with indifference but with all the care and precision of someone making their own cup of coffee. She was there to serve Jimmy, and she did so happily and without hesitation. Her kindness touched me. Such a gesture was surely not found in the restaurant’s efficiency manual, but it was the right thing to do. Amber’s attitude established the framework for the rest of my day. If her example affected me so much, I can only guess what it did for Jimmy.

I imagine that, when Jimmy woke up that morning, there was no question in his mind where he would go for coffee. I surmise that his morning trek to the restaurant was routine. I suspect, however, that he wondered who would wait on him. He might have said to himself, “I hope Amber’s working today. She treats me like I’m special; my whole day goes better when she gets me my coffee.”

Likewise, I wonder what Amber thought before work that morning. Did she make an intentional decision to have a positive attitude, thereby producing a difference in the lives of those with whom she came into contact? She may have, but I suspect it wasn’t necessary. I think her attitude of cheerfully going the extra mile was so much a part of her that it had become habit. While I was focused on my own needs, Amber’s attitude was to focus on those around her. And what a difference she made, not only for Jimmy and for me but for the other customers and her co-workers as well.

I was challenged by all this. My attitude as I start each day, no doubt, affects how my day goes and has a ripple effect on those around me. Though it’s unlikely I will ever match Amber’s personable, outgoing disposition, I can aspire to her positive, helpful, serving attitude.

Do you have someone like Amber working in your organization? What if all your staff was like Amber? Then customer satisfaction would be exceedingly high, complaints and service problems would be non-existent, and your company would be an even greater place to work.

Whether it’s pouring coffee or doing something else, we all can have employees like Amber – and it’s not hard. All it takes is an intentional effort to have a positive attitude. That positive attitude starts with you, and it can start today!

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.

6 Trends to Watch in the New Year

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

As we make the transition from one year to the next, we typically take time to reflect and project – that is, to look at the past and anticipate the future. In embarking on this task, it is not my intent to recap the past year. Nor is it my plan to predict the next twelve months. What I will do is share recent observations and project them into the future.

Generation Y: They go by different names: Gen-Y, the Millennial generation, Millennials, and mosaics, but regardless of the label, they were born in the last two decades of the 1900s (plus or minus a few years, depending on who is doing the explaining). Generation Y is our future workforce. They think differently, act differently, and work differently than prior generations. Most likely the person doing the hiring doesn’t “get” them and doesn’t want to hire them, but if you want employees, you will have to address this. Even if you’re currently able to hire around their demographic, you won’t be able to do so indefinitely.

Now is the time to learn about this frustrating – and exciting – generation. Now is the time to change your hiring processes and adjust your culture. Fail to do so at your own peril.

Social Media: Are you tired of hearing about social media? Well, brace yourself to hear more about it in the coming years. Are you losing sleep trying to figure out how to use social media in an effective manner or monetize it? If so, you can expect your insomnia to continue. Regardless, social media is not a fad; it is here to stay.

Here’s my take on social media:

  • Most of the discussion is more theoretical than practical; this suggests that even the experts don’t yet know how to make it work for most businesses.
  • The few success stories that are loudly trumpeted are more anomaly than a template to follow.
  • From a business standpoint, the hype largely exceeds the practical utility, but even so, social media will become more integrated into our businesses, culture, and lives.
  • Social media takes time, and so far the results are questionable.
  • Not being on Facebook will soon be as unusual as not having email today.

In “Social Media: Opportunity or Distraction?” I gave some practical applications for social media that businesses could consider, both to enhance internal operations and expand external opportunities. This is a good beginning point. You don’t have to start big, but you do need to start; don’t delay. (Read more about social media.)

Texting: Parallel to social media is texting. Though I use Twitter (@peter_dehaan) daily, I don’t text nearly as much. I used to think texting was a fad, but not anymore. Consider that some people (especially the aforementioned generation Y) may fail to check their email or answer their phone, but they will not ignore a text message. The implications are huge; we cannot dismiss them.

Offshoring: Offshoring is waning. No, it’s not going away, and it will be a factor in the future, but its star is not shining as brightly as it once was. While offshoring saved many companies a lot of money, it has been a public relations nightmare. Succinctly stated, consumers don’t want to communicate with people they can’t understand and who can’t understand them. By definition this is not communication.

This is not a bash on offshoring. When done right offshoring is a financial and customer service success. This includes hiring people with the right language skills (which should be a given for any call center), providing whatever training is needed to produce effective agents, and only taking on work that is a good match for the call center. Good offshoring will survive – and thrive – whereas those that hire anyone who can breathe and take any account that can pay will fail.

Hosted Services: The concept of accessing software over the Internet goes by so many different names that I’m no longer sure what to call it. What I am sure of is that it’s a viable option and a growing trend. While there are many compelling reasons to adopt it, there is one concern: what happens when you lose your Internet connection? Certainly, pursue the hosted services option, but don’t lose sight of the risk, making sure you have a reasonable contingency plan in place. Although the Internet is ubiquitous, it is not infallible.

Specialist versus Generalist: I see a need for organizations to become either specialists or generalists – and the middle ground is not the place to be. Specialists focus on one or two vertical markets. Their intent is serving them so well and with such expertise that they become the market leaders that no one else can touch. If they specialize in widgets, they know widgets better than anyone else.

In contrast are the generalists. Generalists offer a wide range of options to their customers. Their goal is to meet any need so that customers will never have to seek a second vendor. Although generalists strive to provide any service requested, they often can’t offer the depth or specific skill sets of the specialists.

These six areas are a good starting point for moving forward into next year. In all likelihood, you’re already pursuing some of them, and I encourage you to press on. For areas that are new to you, consider what your first step should be and slowly advance in small but steady increments. Either way, the future has much to offer – if we will embrace it.

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

 

Giving Back to Your Community

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

Working in any business is challenging and demanding work. Owning and running one is even harder. Daily activity seems, all too often, to consist of reacting to the urgency of the moment. There is little time to plan and few opportunities to look beyond the confines of the company walls. Yet looking beyond is exactly what you need to do. Seeking ways to give back to your community may be precisely the action you should pursue. Some organizations have done so – with profound results.

Why Give? There are many reasons why it is wise and appropriate for a business to give back to its community. Aside from principled reasons, the practical justification is that it is good for business. Community involvement expands networking opportunities, increases corporate standing, and generates goodwill. From an employee standpoint, it builds team camaraderie as staffers serve together and pursue common non-work related goals, increases employer esteem, and provides a connection outside the workplace. These, then, have an indirect effect of improving employee job satisfaction and thereby decreasing turnover. Last, as employees see a different side to their employer, respect can increase and better understanding nurtured. With all these benefits, what company wouldn’t want to promote and pursue a philanthropic effort?

What to Give? There are two primary forms of assistance that can be provided: money and manpower. Most organizations are more in need of volunteer labor than they are of monetary donations. (Although, as nonprofits find volunteers scarcer, they seek the funds to hire the labor that could otherwise be volunteered.)

Let’s start with the manpower aspect. You can provide opportunities for your staff to volunteer. They can go in groups. It is easier to go somewhere new or try something different if it is done with a friend. Plus, there is the bonus of being able to serve together; this has its own rewards. Generally, these opportunities should occur outside regular working hours. Some businesses have a provision to take time off without pay; a few even offer paid time off when volunteering. These, however, are rare, costly to the company, and generally not needed. Setting up a simple means to allow employees to know about and pursue volunteer opportunities takes little time and incurs little cost to the company.

For many people it is easier to write a check than it is to volunteer. The same is true for businesses. If a corporate financial donation is not feasible, don’t worry about it. Having you and your staff involved is generally more important anyway. If making a financial contribution is feasible, one consideration is setting up a matching fund. This is when companies budget monies to match the donations of their employees. The employee makes the donation, submits the receipt, and the company makes a matching contribution. This, too, is quite easy to set up. Payroll deductions for charities are also an option, but more costly and time-consuming to implement. Of course, there is also the option for the business to make a direct contribution.

Where to Give? Needs exist all around your community. Find out what is already going on. Consider after school programs, food pantries, clothes closets, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens. Call your nearest school and ask how you can help. Opportunities might include “adopt-a-classroom,” reading programs, tutoring, providing back-to-school supplies, or helping with GED classes. If you have a college nearby, check with the service organizations on campus and see how you can support them. A side benefit of working with college students is that you will be interacting with potential job candidates. Just make sure that employee prospecting doesn’t become the reason for getting involved.

Who to Give To? By now, your mind is likely spinning with ideas. So many needs, so many opportunities, so much to do. It can quickly become overwhelming. Being overwhelmed leads to discouragement, which leads to inaction. The key to prevent this from occurring is to whittle down the list, identify one organization that is a good fit, and focus on how you can help them.

Start by asking your employees to make recommendations. They will tend to suggest groups which they already support with their time or money. Although only a small percentage of your staff will currently be involved with any organization, it is a great place to start. They already have a connection and an affiliation; they can acclimate others as they step forward to volunteer. You will also have some staffers who have esteem for a particular organization, but have not yet taken that first step towards involvement. Those recommendations are also worth considering. Again, their predilection towards that organization will help move things forward.

Before you make a final selection, perform a “due diligence” just as you would for an important business purchase or partnership. For nonprofits find out how long they have been in your community; check out their annual reports; ask what percentage of donations goes to overhead; see if the Better Business Bureau has a file on them or what the Chamber of Commerce may know. If things look good meet with the executive director, ask to attend a board meeting, and seek an easy way to test if you are a good fit for each other.

Regardless of the size of your business, pick just one organization to support – at least initially. It is far better to make a significant and sustained effort towards one group, then to be thinly spread to many different organizations, which will result in frustration and ineffectiveness. Once you have successfully proven your company can support one organization, then you may consider a second one, but proceed slowly and carefully. Remember that for many companies, especially smaller ones, focusing on one group is ideal.

How to Give? Once you select a group to work with and identified an initial area of service, it is time for tangible action. Ideally, company leaders should be in this first wave of volunteering, setting the example, and inspiring others to follow. As previously mentioned, it is easier to go as a group, especially for the first few times. Hopefully, there are already one or more employees who have practical volunteer experience with the organization. Let them take a lead role, comfortably easing others in and showing how things are done. In no time, everyone will be serving with practiced confidence. Then they can repeat the process with others.

It is important to remember that no matter how great the need or how rewarding the work, only a percentage of employees will take part. Also, their degree of involvement will vary greatly. This is expected, so accept it. Just make sure no one feels obligated to get involved, and remind them that volunteering is, in fact, voluntary. After all, you don’t want to serve with someone who is negative or resentful; the goal is to have fun and find fulfillment as you volunteer. Leave the naysayers at the office.

When to Give? Now! Not next month, not next year; now.

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.