Words

Sometimes the hardest thing to find
Is a way to express what is on your mind
Are words always enough to get across
Feelings ranging from love to loss?

Words come across in different ways
Depending on the type of phrase
They say things in a different way
When we laugh than when we pray.

The same word we speak or write
Can give us joy and also fright
Words can paint pictures for all to see
Or only pictures a thousands words to be?

Words whether written or spoke
Can make us rich or make us broke
They can bring us hapiness or pain
They can even control our brain.

Words of any size have so much power
Yes or no make the strongest cower
That is why as we go through each day
We must be careful in what we say.

Whether with our pen or with our voice
We are the only ones that make the choice
To use words to help and to heal
Or to express anger that we may feel.

It is in this choice we have to find
Ways in which to be respectful,  compassionate and kind
Fore as you think of the words in your head
Remember someone could say them to you instead.

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“C” is for……

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Cookie Monster has always been a family favorite. His song C is for cookie, and my willingness to try to sing it in Cookie voice, is legendary. Not sure it is a good legend or one people want to forget but legend anyways. But the letter C is t starts many other important words that seem to have been lost in the world. Maybe when they decided Cookie Monster should eat Celery we decided C was no longer viewed in the same way as before. 

Let’s look at some C words that seem to be taking a beating in the world today. Caring, Commitment, Compassion and my favorite phrase Common Sense are all ideas with which we as a world seem to be struggling. In social media these days there is a lot of conversation about the need for leadership, especially in business, to take hold of these words to create a more engaged workforce. Unfortunately that discussion seems to have been left on the table and not moved into real life. Held back by the need for more profit and investor happiness, no matter the cost to the worker. 

Let’s look at these words:

Caring: Each day when we go to work it is certainly the hope and expectation that we care about our jobs. After all for most of us our    job is how we pay the bills of life. Yet in many businesses caring is a one way street.I was once told I would never be successful because I cared about my people. I have seen demonstrated recently a “Leader” who forced a manager to come to his meeting  despite the fact the person was ill with the flu, because he didn’t want to “waste” his time repeating himself.  Another “leader” ridiculed a manager for being late on a conference call because they were helping a customer. They were told by the leader his time was more important. Employees are supposed to care about what the “leader” wants but not be cared about. A formula for disaster.

Commitment:  Many people have commitment issues in relationships. Business is relationships and for that relationship to work there needs to be a two-way commitment. Leaders certainly expect people to make a commitment to them. What they don’t see is the need to give a commitment back. Not a paycheck or even bigger paycheck commitment, a commitment to growth, learning and opportunity. A commitment to help people in their times of need, basically a commitment to caring about them as more than a number. Commit to your people as you expect them to commit to you and they will be an engaged and powerful force for your business.

Compassion:  Let’s destroy this myth immediately. Compassion is not a weakness in leadership. I had a “leader: at one time that stood proudly to tell us that when taking his Strength Finders 2.0 survey Empathy was his biggest weakness. He believed that made him a strong leader. Wrong it made him a bully. There are times in life, and business is part of life, that you must have difficult conversations. It can however be done with passion and understanding. These conversations are with a person, not a machine, Leaders by definition are working with people. Compassion is required to be a good leader.

Common Sense:  Where has common sense gone? When did we lose the concepts of common courtesy and personal accountability? Have we really created a culture in which basic human respect and caring has turned into blaming everyone else and not taking ownership of our own actions? Common sense: we control our decisions, our actions and our results.

With the power of Social Media today we have an opportunity to make a difference. We have the ability to focus on these C words. To make a difference by showing that these words are powerful positive business and life tools not weak leadership. Change is an every day business fact. We live with it everyday. Let’s start that change by bringing back one other C word, Civility

 

 

 

People are an Investment!

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The news is filled almost daily with reports of unhappy workers in the fast food and retail industries. Having been in the retail industry for more than 25 years that is not surprising. For years workers have watched hours be cut, positions be cut and received pay increases at below the rate in cost of living growth. They also read and hear about profits growing in companies at record rates and they wonder about their share. The issue is not really very complex, some would say it is a matter of greed, while others would say poor leadership and many more would say it is simply good business. To some degree these arguments are correct. To me the current model being used by most service companies lacks one important ingredient; common sense.

Every retail manager is taught almost from day one that the number one controllable expense is labor. The expectation is to maximize sales with the least number of dollars spent on payroll. While mathematically this makes sense and has certainly been a factor in the growth of profits and shareholder equity, it is the weak link of the service industry. Why? Because as we see every day customer service is on a down slide, team member engagement is at an all-time low and people are shopping more on their computers, instead of in the stores.

There are two key factors as to why this model doesn’t make sense. The first is customer service. Sam Walton reminded all of us many years ago that customers pay our paycheck. Without customers we have no business. Without having enough people in the stores or behind the counter at a restaurant we cannot take care of those customers. Without the efforts of the day-to-day worker and Manager at the store level there are no profits, no increase in stock prices and no million dollar stock payoffs for high level executives. The fact is that the people most face to face every day with our customers are the lowest paid and least engaged. And they are being asked to do more with less every day. That is not a recipe for customer service or long-term sustainable growth. It may fit the short-term need for those in the stock market, but in the long-term it will fail.

The second is the high cost of turnover. In order to have great customer service there not only have to be enough people, there also need to be qualified people.  There are millions of dollars spent every year hiring people. The industry invests time and money to find the right person to fill every position. Human Resources professionals talk about finding the right person, for the right seat on the right bus going in the right direction, when discussing the best fit possible for each opening. They spend many hours not only looking for the right people but also training Managers on how to find and hire the right people. Investing in finding people who are qualified and have the customer service skills to grow the business makes perfect business sense. What doesn’t make sense is that the current business model immediately takes that investment and turns it into an expense or a cost. People are not an expense. They are an investment in the future growth of the company and we need help grow that investment. The service industry needs to realize that people are the key to growth. They need to understand that not only are external customers important in growing sales and profits, but so are those that take care of them. Instead of spending millions to hire, rehire and rehire again because leadership thinks everyone is replaceable and somehow interchangeable, spend money to develop quality people and pay them enough to create long-term engaged teams.

Before I am called a Socialist because I want to give away profits to the “little people”, let me tell you what my experience has shown. Having enough qualified and engaged people in your store or restaurant to give great customer service will grow your sales and your profits not cut them. Customers want to be served. The trend of growing internet sales has many pieces. Convenience, discounting by companies trying to show internet growth and that many people believe they get as much service on the computer as they do in the store. Why would I want to wait in a line at Wal-Mart, while 10 register lanes are not used, when I can order it on-line and pick it up? By not providing enough qualified and engaged store level team members the industry is driving customers to the internet. By not providing sufficient people to handle customers at a fast food restaurant we drive people to another fast food restaurant. The one with the best service keeps the customer.

Let me say this; if your company is not providing a wage that is sufficient for your team members to live on and take care of their family’s shame on you. Not that many years ago these jobs were taken by part-time high school and college students that were making money to help them through school or purchase that one thing they really wanted. Now because of the down turn in our economy and the move of industrial jobs overseas, these jobs are in too many cases the main source of income for a family. Or for a single parent that is trying to make it on their own. This past four months I have been truly humbled by seeing how many hard-working people are struggling daily just to pay the rent. These are not people living on a Government hand out. They are people who go to work every day and try to do the best they can to serve other people while knowing they may not be able to afford the things they need to survive. These are people we need to make an investment in by developing their talents and paying them a good wage. That investment in people will give you all the profits you need.

 

Customer Service: Just Be the Customer

serviceI have been in a customer service since I started in business. Most of my experience has been in the retail industry along with some early experience in direct textile sales. The fact is that all of us are in the business of customer service in some way, whether it is directly with the consumer, in a business to business role, a leadership role or an advisor to a friend or family member, we give service daily. In looking at the many articles and videos on customer service that are posted on the social networks today I can’t help but wonder how the concept of customer service become so complicated. Honestly I have at times in my life made it more complicated myself. I believe it has been complicated by two factors, the need for speed and a corporate focus that has prioritized the needs of the shareholder above the needs of the customer. This blog is going to focus on the area that most of us can control, the need for speed.
The other day I was driving to visit with a customer after having read several articles on customer service and I was thinking about how complex basic human interactions have become in today’s environment. After all, at its core, customer service is a basic human interaction. I couldn’t help thinking about the movie Caddyshack with Bill Murray. At one point Murray’s character Ty, in coaching another character to hit a golf ball says “Just be the ball”. By changing one word we have a new motto for customer service, “Just be the customer.” I am often amazed by the reactions of people in customer service to a complaint from a customer about a product or the need to return something or, in my current industry, the customer’s ability or inability to pay their bill on time. Often times, those in customer service become defensive, as if they are being punished, or frustrated because the refund may hurt their sales for the day. In some instances I have even seen customer service representatives get into an argument with the customer! The unacceptable practice of passing judgment and dehumanizing a customer during a “service” interaction (sometimes accompanied by name calling and finger-pointing) frequently happens after the customer has left and serves only to create a very negative environment. Years ago a leader with whom I had the honor to work told me; “You can’t hide attitude, it flows out of every pore in your body.” You can’t hide a poor service approach either. Your customers will see it and feel it even before you do.
In customer service the first step is to put yourself into the shoes of the customer. Focus on their concerns as if they were your own concerns. Actively listen to their complaint or issue as if you were talking to yourself. It is not about speed. It is about solving the problem and having a customer for life. Think of it this way; if it takes you 10 minutes to sell the customer a product you need to be willing to take 20 minutes or more to listen to and consider their concerns. This gives you the opportunity to take care of any customer issues, and to win them over by building a relationship. You can show the customer you are trustworthy and truly interested in their needs. Is that not how you wish to feel when someone is taking care of you?
Customer service is not about you. I have had the opportunity to recruit and hire Managers and Assistant Managers during my career. During the interview process I make it a point to focus on each candidate’s experience in customer service situations. I ask several situational questions and engage candidates in role-playing. The answers tell me two things: first, how would this candidate interact with my customers and second does this individual have the qualities of a leader? Individuals capable of true customer service possess many of the same qualities as leaders. They must be:
1. Humble – your product or service is not the only one available in the market. Customers have choices and you want to earn their business.
2. Good listeners – Hear what the customer has to say without anticipating how you will answer.
3. Empathetic – understand what they are saying and put yourself in their place.
4. Trustworthy – stand behind your product or service.
5. Respectful – how you would want to be treated in a similar situation?
6. Accountable – never place blame on the customer.
You must understand that slowing down and taking the time to have an interaction that ends in a win-win solution is the goal. Customer service is not about how fast you can get rid of the customer. It is about finding solutions and building relationships. If a candidate cannot take care of your customer, will they be able to lead your team?
In too many ways we have created a customer service environment of confrontation. Customers now have come to expect an argument so they come ready to have one. Customer service is not about winning the moment, is about winning the customer. It is about giving the best service possible by leading. If you are focused on winning the moment and standing up for your business you will fail. It is your choice whether you want to get away from the issue quickly or to win a customer for life. In racing they often say you have to slow down to go faster. In customer service you have to slow down to give great service and in the end you will have less service issues and more time to sell. And, you must always say: Thank You!!!!