Re-Engineering Yourself to Serve Outrageously

Re-engineering yourself for customer-focused care is almost like getting a complete body makeover! Let's begin by taking a hard look at your body language, okay? There is a wonderful little book called Body Language by Julius Fast. In it, the author describes the messages we send through our non-verbal behavior, which includes our gestures, posture and body positioning. I highly recommend this textbook. It has been around for a long time and the content is just as valuable today as when it was written.

What kind of non-verbal messages are you sending to your customers? Do you look approachable, welcoming, interested and friendly to customers by standing or sitting in positions that indicate those qualities? These are positions where the arms are slightly flexed and outstretched with the hands held open with the palms up and kept above the waist most of the time. There is a conscious effort not to slouch or lean on objects or others. The head is held up and the shoulders back when possible and the customer is faced directly or head on during conversations.

It means frequently smiling and having eye contact with your customers and approaching them before they approach you. Wal-Mart actually has a rule that employees (called associates) are to look up, smile and ask "May I help you?" when a customer comes within three feet of them. I like that rule.

And what about your voice? Does it make a difference to your customers? Yes, it does. I suggest that you have someone tape you during a conversation when you do not know you are being taped. Evaluate your taped voice. Here is one tool you can use:

Voice Style Checklist

Yes

No

1. Your voice is easy to hear without being too loud.

Yes

No

2. Your words are clearly pronounced.

Yes

No

3. Your pacing is good - neither too slow nor too fast.

Yes

No

4. Your vocal tone is pleasant - neither grating nor nasal.

Yes

No

5. Your voice energy level shows interest and enthusiasm.

Yes

No

6. You make a conscious effort to keep a smile in your voice.

Here are some tips to help you to achieve a desirable conversational voice. Minimizing or eliminating a monotone is possible once you are aware that you have one. It involves working to get inflection into your voice. Inflection can be incorporated into your voice by putting enthusiasm into your voice. In effect, putting emotion in your voice will give you inflection. One of the easiest ways to start getting some emotion into your voice is to smile while you are talking especially when you are on the phone.

Is your voice too high or low in pitch? Moderation in pitch is pleasing to the human ear. You may have to raise or lower your voice an octave to achieve a pleasing tone. Interestingly, the elderly respond better to a lower octave as their hearing of higher tones decreases naturally with aging.

How about the pacing of your words? A moderate pace is suggested as talking too fast or too slow can either result in the customer not being able to comprehend what you say or lose interest and not hear what you say. Thirty-six words per minute is a pace that is well received and understood. Over 60 wpm or under 20 wpm results in problems for the listener. And don't forget about focusing on clearly enunciating words that end in an n, r or d so that they are not misunderstood. Again, the elderly often cannot hear those words if they are not enunciated clearly.

In the Victorian Age, young ladies received instruction in the social graces, which included learning how to walk and sit appropriately and to speak with pleasing conversational voices. I sometimes wonder if we shouldn't bring back that instruction so that we could all have positive posture, appealing stances and cultured, well-bred voices.

Once you have evaluated and practiced refining your conversational voice, have someone tape you again so that you can evaluate whether your focus on improving your voice has been successful. Good luck!

Well, now that you have achieved a pleasant and melodious voice, let's use it professionally on the telephone. Would you believe that most people say that they spend about 35% of their work time on the telephone, yet few job descriptions include phone etiquette as a critical job skill. To make it even more astounding, you may talk to customers that you never see such as someone within your organization that works in another area of the building or in a separate satellite site miles away (an internal customer). Or you may frequently converse with an external customer over the phone for any number of reasons.

Considering how much time in spent on the telephone, I think an emphasis on telephone etiquette is in order as an intricate part of providing positive customer service. Below you will find a Telephone Technique Checklist Format for you to use to self-evaluate your phone skills before we address phone etiquette.

Telephone Technique Checklist Format

In this program, we will only be focusing on the very basics of positive phone etiquette which contain the following customer sensitive elements:

Let's address answering the phone first. The best greeting when one initially answers the phone contains three elements.

1. The Greeting: saying "Hello" or "Good Morning." Because some phone systems cut off the first word of a conversation, a greeting protects the second element of the answering response.

2. The Identification Statement: telling the caller who he or she has reached. Some phone etiquette gurus feel that the caller should identify their role or title in the organization as well. This can be problematic if your title is long and contains highly technical terms such as this title: Technological Phlebotomy Consultant.

3. The Question: asking how you can be of assistance.

Note: Any ringing phone should be answered by the third ring; otherwise, your customer feels neglected or worse yet that you are not really all that interested in his business.

Telephone etiquette is an intricate part of providing positive customer service.

Below is a winning way to answer the phone combining the foregoing three elements:

"Hello, you've reached Customer Focused, Inc. This is Etta Etiquette, Customer Focus Representative. How may I help you?"

Second, let's discuss taking phone messages. There are actually four elements to this process:

1. Get the caller's full name, organization name (if appropriate) and phone number where the caller can be reached.

2. To be sure you have the correct spelling of the caller's name and an accurate phone number where he or she can be reached, read them back to the caller and ask for confirmation.

3. Date and time the message.

4. Put your full name and any other identifying credentials you feel is necessary on the message so the recipient can ask you for any needed information or clarification.

Using a pre-printed form for taking phone messages is recommended. A phone log pad and a pen should be available for use at all organizational phones where business is conducted. Remember, some organizations store phone logs, as evidence in litigation so maintaining accuracy in the foregoing four elements is important.

Third, let's explore the best way to put a caller on hold. There are only two elements tothe recommended approach.

1. Never put a caller on hold without first asking his permission to do so. Wait for his answer. It creates a positive impression of you and your organization.

2. If the caller can't or won't hold, take a number and call back ASAP.

Last, let's discuss transferring calls. This approach contains four elements too.

1. Transfer calls only as a last resort.

2. Be sure to give the name and number of the person you are transferring to the caller in case there are any problems with the connection. Do not tell the caller that you are giving them the extension in case there are problems. Doing so would give the caller the impression that problems routinely occur in your organization when calls are transferred.

3. Stay on the line until the transfer goes through.

4. Always talk about the customer in respectful terms while transferring to another person. Never assume your customer cannot hear you simply because he or she is supposed to be on hold during the actual transfer.

A winning way to transfer a call using the foregoing four elements is:

"Mr. Customer, I am going to have to transfer you to Etta Etiquette in the Service Department regarding your request on the status of your bill. She is at extension 420. I will put you through to her now."

(Transfers the call to E. Etiquette)

"Etta, I'm transferring a call from Mr. Customer to you. He would like a current update on his bill."

(Stays on the phone until she hears them talking)

As we conclude this section of our program on the basics of positive phone etiquette, I would like to leave you with some parting overall thoughts from others about using the phone:

"When you answer the phone, your organization's image is on the line." --- Headline in Video Business magazine

"If I pick up a ringing phone, I accept the responsibility to ensure the caller is satisfied, no matter what the issue." --- Michael Ramundo, President, MCR Marketing, Inc.

Throughout this program we have been alluding to the importance of one's attitude in working with customers. I think we're ready to talk more in depth about attitude now. It was Olympic skater Scott Hamilton who said that the only debilitating disease is a bad attitude (Karr and Blowiak, p.63).

We have a choice each day how we are going to treat our customers. Our words only constitute 7% of the image our customers receive from us; 55% of what they receive from us is our non-verbal behavior (Karr and Blowiak p. 63-64). With that in mind, here are some very bottom line guidelines to remember when dealing with your customers. They convey that you are glad they came to your organization for service (Karr and Blowiak, p. 68).

The tone of your voice is a dead give-away as to how you really feel about your customer.

Your gestures and actions also give your customer a clear picture of how you feel about him.

Words can help you and words can kill you.

Your customers will usually agree, collaborate and cooperate with you as long as they know why you are asking them to do something.