Take away your customer’s choice and you could be giving away a customer- 4 tips on the give and take of customer service.

customer service

Customers are fickle, temperamental and sometimes they are outright crazy! There is a fine line between “the customer is always right” and allowing the customer to take advantage of you. So is there a way to create a win-win situation? Maybe not always but it is sure worth a try because in this economy losing even one customer is a really bad thing. So how can your protect the company without alienating the customer?

1)      Like everything, communication is a key component in making sure that everyone is on the same page with your policies. Simply putting something in writing may not truly be enough if you are really interested in making sure that your customer understands. This is especially true if you are dealing with a very diverse customer population (there is no way to be sure there is a good enough level of comprehension) or if the information is technical in nature (just because it makes perfect sense to you does not mean it is intuitive to every one). Just like in marketing, it is best to get your message across using several different mediums on several different occasions.

2)      Think twice before limiting your customer’s choices or imposing your will on them. Yesterday I found out that I owe Verizon Wireless $299 for a replacement phone. Long story short, I consider the phone defective and they consider it damaged- fair enough. What is not fair is that I don’t have the choice to buy the replacement, get my “damaged” phone back and have it repaired or simply purchase a different phone. Verizon has made all of the decisions for me- and I am beyond angry. I did not realize I was giving away all of my rights…well, not all of them. I still have the right to change carriers which is likely my course of action. Seems silly that they would give up a long time customer with six phone lines because they do not want to offer their customers a choice of phone replacement options.

3)      Always strive for the win-win solution. Maybe you can’t give a full refund or offer free shipping or whatever but is there something else you can do so that both parties are happy? I will hazard to guess that 98% of the time by simply listening to the customer’s concerns you can find a solution that is agreeable to both sides.

4)      Get creative. Once, I was working as an install coordinator for a big box store. A customer’s carpet install was delayed but the installer did not let the customer know and she spent most of her day waiting on an installer that never showed. By the time she called me she was really mad (and rightfully so). The store would occasionally offer a discount for the inconvenience but I could tell that this was not about money. The
customer lost valuable time. She told me that she was working on her landscaping and could have been out getting her supplies instead of twiddling her thumbs at home. I asked her about her project and found out she was going out to get some top soil and mulch (guess what- we have that!). So I arranged for the store to deliver her top soil, mulch and a few really nice flowers at no charge. This was a lot less than the discount the manager would have given and it thrilled the customer because “we gave her back lost time” and a gift as well. Win-win!!

Most businesses want to call themselves customer service oriented. Customer delight has to be more than a motto. You always need to strive to make the customer as satisfied as possible. Sometimes this is extra work and can be a real headache but it WILL be worth it in the long run!

Why is it hard to stay cool when the ICE shows up??

ice imageImmigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has really upped its game. According to an article in USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2012/12/23/audits-illegal-immigrants/1787213/), “Audits of employer forms increased from 250 in fiscal year 2007 to more than 3,000 in 2012. From fiscal years 2009 to 2012, the total amount of fines grew to nearly $13 million from $1 million. The number of company managers arrested has increased to 238, according to data provided by ICE.”

Looks like the days of comfortable disregard for the I-9 process are over. Things are heating up and we can no longer believe it couldn’t happen to us when the truth is ICE audits are occurring at an ever-increasing and very expensive rate. They are taking a good long look at every crossed T and dotted I- missing something could mean a hefty fine. So what can we do:

  1. First thing is to make sure you and any employees that are charged with filling out the form are educated in the proper procedures. There are various ways to get the information ranging from the instructions from ICE to YouTube videos to training seminars- find what will work best for you but don’t delay because every mistake could cost you between $110-$1100 (the average employer fine in 2012 was $11,000-not including attorney fees.)
  2. Then conduct a self-audit to find as many correctable errors as possible. Once again, there are tons of resources instructing you how to handle this and once again, don’t delay. The audit period covers a three-year period so this could potentially be a very grueling and time-consuming process. Human nature makes us want to avoid anything this uncomfortable but DO NOT wait. Once you get the NOI (Notice of Inspection), it is kind of late in the game to try to get your affairs in order and it will appear that you are only complying because you are trying to avoid fines (which of course is true) as opposed to simply doing the right thing. ICE does look at employers acting in good faith through this so even if you are fined, it will likely be a lot less if you can show you made an honest effort to be compliant.
  3. If the idea of conducting an audit is just overwhelming to you, please consider hiring a professional to help. This will be money well spent and will save you a lot of headaches (and a lot of money) should ICE come calling.

Once you know you have a strong knowledge on how to properly complete the form and have cleaned up any past transgressions, start completing annual self-audits (much easier than the first time to be sure). That way, when ICE shows up, you will be one Cool Cat!

Hiring Someone Else’s Superstar Could Be an Astronomical Mistake- 3 ways to hire YOUR own Superstar!

shooting star

The big score- recruiting the superstar of a competitor! Feels like a big win, doesn’t it? Not only are you taking something from a rival but this individual is going to do great things for your company. Hmmmm….I am not so sure about that. Here is why:

Hiring for talent is easy. It is not challenging to find out if someone is good at what they do because usually there is something measurable or somewhat tangible that you can rely on to validate this. It could be past performance, test or assessment scores, education or other metric. So the big question is, why do so many hires turn out to be less successful than you hoped? Because hiring for skills is not enough, you also have to hire for attitude. This is why, although someone may be a great success at one company they can struggle with another company even if the job itself is identical.

Hiring the right fit, means hiring for the right attitude. Companies like Southwest Airlines, Google and Zappos.com (Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, won’t hire stellar candidates if they don’t fit the Zappos culture–and he fires those who don’t inspire it.) take hiring the right attitude very seriously and there is no reason why you shouldn’t either. So, where to start? Here are three steps to help:

  1. Define your culture. You can’t hire someone to fit what you have not identified. While this should be a given, I am always amazed that 5 people in the same company can have 5 different opinions of what the company’s culture actually is. Culture guides behavior and should not be left to chance. Define it, share it and live it!
  2. Determine the attitude that supports this culture and makes it great. Is it important to drive creativity (think zany and fun), to concentrate on facts and figures (try someone who is introverted and detail orientated) or to elevate customer service (think approachable and personable)? Decide who you are and you can then begin to look for the person that embodies that philosophy.
  3. Find people with those attitudes. Once you decide what the attitude of the next great employee should look like, your task is to develop a way to be able to identify it in your applicants (for a great story about Southwest Airline’s “brown shorts” test, grab a copy of Mike Murphy’s book, “Hiring for Attitude” http://www.amazon.com/Hiring-Attitude-Revolutionary-Recruiting-Tremendous/dp/007178585X).

Not only can hiring the right person with the right attitude (remember skills can be taught, attitude can’t) make a big difference in the success of the new employee, it can also help to make the rest of the team better. Putting a square peg into a round hole (poor cultural fit) just because that person was a superstar at your competition not only causes distress for that person but can easily negatively impact your whole team. So don’t look for someone else’s superstar- go out and find your own!!

Step one of your union avoidance strategy: Eliminate the “Us versus Them” mentality

fight This morning, as I am enjoying my first cup of coffee and watching my favorite news channel, a commercial came on that floored me. It was a rather lengthy spot for the Service Employee International Union-that’s right, I said Union. They were reaching out to heath care workers in retirement homes. I have never worked in health care but I have a few friends that have and I guess, given the stories they have told, the surprise should be that I haven’t seen this sooner.

On the face, they were asking everyone (workers and non-workers alike) to pay attention to the issues at one retirement center and to contact that CEO because, despite an enormous salary for him, he is looking to slash the wages of other workers- including those taking care of our loved ones.  I am sure that they are hoping to call to light this important issue as part of their Healthcare Workers’ Rising Project but even more so my bet is that they are hoping to stir the pot to see how many retirement home workers they can touch who feel underpaid, overworked and not appreciated.

This is, to me, the key to unionization…how the employees feel. Sorry, managers but here we go again with those darn feelings getting in the way of business (yes, I am being sarcastic here.) If employees feel mistreated, the only way that they can see to initiate change in most cases is to band together against the people they feel are at the core of the problem- you guessed it, the managers. There is safety in numbers so by coming together they hope to be able to make things better while not jeopardizing their jobs.  By doing this, there is an immediate Us versus Them mentality. The war has begun.

So what can you do if you would like to avoid the war and the union? Create an environment where the management and the employees work as one cohesive unit. Achieving this is not easy and there are many facets to be considered (we can look at these in depth more later) but two biggies are the company culture and management style. Deciding who you want to be as a company and what you value will determine the behaviors of the entire organization thus culture is critical (not just to union avoidance but the everything from attracting top talent to retaining them to giving your company the advantage over your competitors).

The culture has a big influence on management style- whether it is Control Management or Commitment Management. Control management is the one-sided, do as you are told style contrasted by the Commitment style which is a “everyone committed to working together style.” This, of course, in turn affects your employees’ feelings about their work and their ability to be heard as individuals. If they know they can impact the company and be heard with fear of reprisal then they will not feel the necessity of banding together against you.

The one common denominator in all union avoidance strategies is the employee…bottom line to avoid having to fight against unionization or to fight the employees period is to make sure everyone is working on the same side. There is no fight if there is no opponent!

Mirror, Mirror…why we have to look at ourselves first before trying to change our employees.

snow white magic mirrorThe Wicked Queen always consulted her Magic Mirror before starting her day. She needed to know she was the person she wanted to be before reining over the kingdom. While, of course, this is a very superficial example, not to mention a fairy tale, it does drive home a particular point. You need to look at yourself first and make sure you are the person you want to be before you can ask for changes in others (…something about the pot calling the kettle black.)

My fascination never ceases when I see executives and managers who expect others to do what they can’t or won’t do. What kind of message are you sending? One of the most difficult things to do- yet the most life altering- is to take a good hard look at ourselves and make changes to things that don’t meet the standard of who we want to be.

Unfortunately, like the Wicked Queen, that means consulting people who see us for who we are as opposed to who we think we are (or want others to think we are). Sometimes, those messages can break our hearts. Nonetheless, if we want to make real and substantial changes we have to ask the difficult questions and prepare ourselves for difficult answers. Like the Queen, we have to ask those questions of individuals who are compelled to tell the truth no matter what. Interesting that managers always want to ask their “yes men” these questions. It certainly ensures they get the answers they want to hear and can continue on their happy little path blind to reality-but that’s not gonna help, Folks! Ask the questions anonymously if necessary to get the real answers (people, in their attempt to keep their jobs, often avoid telling their bosses their honest opinion- go figure!)

It was easy for the Queen to blame Snow White for her shortcomings just as it is easy for us to blame others for ours. But with a little reflection, we can work on our areas of opportunity so that one day we will hear, “You are the fairest one of all!”

Layoff Landmines- tips for employees and employers during this troubling time.

landmineIn the rough economy we are in right now along with the escalation of mergers and acquisitions, layoffs are becoming a common occurrence. Even though it is considered “just business”, the emotional upheaval for both the employee (and the employees that remain) and employer can be quite significant. How it is handled can lessen the impact to all involved- and head off litigation whenever possible.

Employees:

First it is critical to recognize that even if you knew it was coming (and you should have if you work for a company that has a good communication infrastructure), it is important to allow yourself to acknowledge the emotions involved and how those can lead you down a path that you may later regret. It is common to feel anger, resentment, sadness, betrayal and other high energy emotions. The first instinct is to lash out at whomever you perceive is causing you to feel such pain- this is, of course, a normal human reaction. But what can you gain by negative actions (whether it is a social media blitz telling everyone what a horrible company XYZ really is, to making threats to physical violence)? While you think it will make you feel better, chances are that the feeling is at best fleeting and really does nothing to improve your situation. So what can you do?

  1. Allow yourself a few days to rest, recalibrate and recharge. Do nothing work related and simply give your mind and body a chance to regain some of the strength that this event has undoubtedly sapped from you.
  2. Remind yourself that this is not a reflection of you or your abilities.
  3. Things happen that are out of our control- layoff’s being a prime example. One thing that can help is to begin to direct your energy toward things you can impact; freshening up your resume, reviewing your professional goals, tightening up your finances if necessary, increasing your networking efforts. All of these things will return the power and the feeling of strength it gives to you.
  4. Remain cordial with former co-workers if possible. Chance are very few of them- if any- had any impact on the decision to lay you off and are most likely at some level feeling impacted by your dismissal. Treating each other as if no relationship ever existed or that there is some reason to become enemies at this point serves no purpose and can increase the stress being felt by everyone.
  5. Try to forgive and move on as soon as possible. I realize this is difficult- after all you were discarded without any consideration to your feelings- but in the end it will free you to move on to bigger and better things. I know that sounds hollow if it is something you are going through right now but if you look back over your life, I will bet that you find that there are many times when you felt like a situation was devastating only to have it lead you to a truly better place. This is no different!

Employers:

  1. Make sure that this is what has to be done. Never lay off employees unless every alternative has been explored first.  One company offered the option to the employees of across the board pay cuts or layoffs- the employees chose to accept the cut in pay to save jobs. The damage that a layoff can do to the remaining staff and the overall culture of the company must be weighed against any gain and should never be underestimated.
  2. Once the decision has been made to eliminate one or more position, do it immediately. Delaying the layoff is never a good idea as the employees are going to pick up on subtle indicators that something is going on behind the scenes. Even if they do not figure out that there is a layoff pending, they will know you are hiding something and that erodes trust. Once the layoff comes to light, it is likely that the employees will feel used and this may escalate negative feelings which can increase the likelihood of a lawsuit.
  3. Do your homework and be totally prepared for the meeting. Think ahead to how the employee may react and plan accordingly. Some tips to remember:
    • Have tissues handy. Understand how intense this will be for the employee and be ready for a flood of emotions.
    • Make sure all paperwork is in order (even if you verbally tell the employee the information they need to know, chances are the shock will keep them from processing the information)
    • Position yourself between the employee and the door (you never know when an employee may become aggressive and you will need to leave yourself an out). It is also a good idea to have the supervisor and an member of HR or other manager in the room as well.
    • Keep your message direct and to the point. Do not tell them how bad you feel about this- guess what, they feel worse!
    • Have the answers to as many questions as possible and allow them the choice to pack their belongings or have that done for them. Some feel that not allowing them to take their belongings is treating them like a criminal (of course they can be observed while they are packing); others are of the opinion that forcing them to take that “walk of shame” with all of their stuff causes undue embarrassment.
  4. You SHOULD feel horrible about doing this. It does not mean you shouldn’t do it but you need to remember that there is a possibility that the employee will now be facing serious issues- everything from depression to foreclosure. Nothing about this is to be taken lightly and if you don’t have trouble sleeping while this decision is being made- you may need to rethink your chosen profession. Leaders need to have empathy and social intelligence- these traits will carry you through this tumultuous time.

The aftermath:

The faith of the remaining employees will be shaken. Understand that there is a likelihood that some employees will look for new employment because they cannot rest easy that they are not next- especially if this was not expected. One company that had begun a merger with another company, held a meeting to reassure employees that the plan was growth- not to get rid of employees.  Once the redundant positions started to be eliminated, all trust was gone. This is tough to recover from and was an error in judgment to be sure.

Lay-off’s, down-sizing, right-sizing; whatever we choose to call it is life altering for the employees and culture altering for the company. It cannot be taken lightly and all things need to be considered before undertaking such a proposition.

Situation Sour? Let’s make some lemonade!

lemonade

Thursday was a pivotal day in my professional life; the past year has been a year of serious firsts if I really look back on it. My first time to go through an acquisition, my first time to go through a merger (sort of), my first time to be “down sized” (or whatever the vogue term for having your position eliminated is now). These kinds of things change you. But change does not have to be viewed as a negative.

So here I sit on a Sunday morning- just a few short days after losing my job- trying to look on the bright side of things. It is easy to feel sour, but I just can’t let myself go there…so loving the old cliché, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade”, I decide that is the way to go for me.

What can be considered sweet in all of this or any workplace adversity for that matter? Well let’s see if I can discover at least three things that are positive (three seems to be a good starting point when something seems overwhelming to me):

  1. In my short time there, I learned some truly valuable lessons. While it was awful putting up with certain inequities and unethical behaviors, I did learn that trust is paramount to an organization’s overall health. Once it is gone, it is gone. I have never seen this in practice in such a blatant manner before but I certainly was able to gather many “What not to do” stories that will help me bring life to my teaching and will serve as a reminder of what I never want to be. My dad says, “You have to experience the bad to appreciate to good.” So that is my first positive- I can now truly appreciate the good and can use my experience to help others improve the health of their organizations.
  2. I met some really great people. I made some very good connections- both professionally and personally- which I would never trade for the world. I know that staying in touch is difficult once you are gone from their daily life but I know there are a few people that I will work very hard to continue to communicate with on a regular basis.
  3. While free-falling is a terrifying feeling, I believe that if I had not been pushed out of the nest I would not have propelled myself forward as hard or fast to begin my own company. Not that I wouldn’t have gotten there eventually but I certainly would have taken my time and approached it in a very methodical manner. I do think that often times this calculated approach stifles our creativity. While emotionally difficult for me- the rejection you feel when you are told you are no longer wanted somewhere is painful, even if you know that to them you were not a person but a number-being laid off gives me the opportunity to let the creative juices flow free and makes me have to work extremely hard to ensure the success of my new endeavor.

If I worked at it a little longer, I bet I could have come up with a few additional blessings that this hardship has bestowed upon me. Life is messy sometimes and we can either choose to cry over the spilled milk or embrace the challenge as an open door to a bright new opportunity. I am choosing to make some really delicious lemonade and I am excited to pour a nice cold glass and bask in the glow of a sunny future- care to join me?

When employees are happy, great things can happen…3 things you must know to have happy employees.

jumpinglawyer

Happy employees matter. It is the happy people that go the extra mile, impact the culture and elevate the team to the next level. Happy employees make the difference between mildly successful and wildly successful.

You think, and want others to think, that you do care about the employees that work for you. But if you examine your actions- and this is where the rubber hits the road, Folks- are they in line with this thought or is it nothing more than lip service because you know that it the expectation?

Here are a few things that may help you determine if you truly care to impact your employee’s happiness:

1. Employees are people- not assets. You can’t act like people are things. As soon as you don’t consider feelings (I know it is almost innate in business people to want to divorce themselves from this “soft” stuff but it causes more problems than they are willing to admit), you are acting as if your employees are no different than a piece of equipment to be used by you and discarded when they have expended their usefulness to you that is how they will act. No one will be happy if they feel expendable. (Notice the repeated “you” in this section- it was not an accident. Whose interest comes first in your world?)

2. People need a vision– your employees will gladly pitch in to do whatever it is that needs done, IF they can see how their efforts will positively impact the direction of the company. Employees that have the feeling of belonging and being able to contribute to a common goal will happily do what it takes to ensure success and isn’t that what you want?

3. Trust is paramount to leadership success and good leaders are paramount to happy employees– Leaders, PLEASE listen closely…trust is the most valuable commodity you can ever hope to have, it takes time and effort to gain it and it can be downright elusive: do not jeopardize it for any reason. Once it is gone, it is gone and it will take more than a miracle to try to build that again. And guess what, you might not even realize that it is gone. Employees are NOT going to come up to you and tell you that they don’t trust you, period. So what can you do? While this is a topic big enough to fill several books, I can give you my bottom line, basic thought on it…be ”real” with your employees. You might think that employees believe the façade you have built, but I can guarantee with 100% certainty that they don’t.  So… What is real? Tell the truth, keep your word, maintain a high ethical standard, never break the Golden Rule, admit when you are wrong and be transparent. People need to know what to expect from you and if you don’t offer that “real” you to them they will not trust you.

Happiness is not going to come to your employees because you buy doughnuts on Friday mornings or throw pizza parties on occasion. They will be happy if you treat them as valuable, unique individuals that you want to be part of the team. They need to know you care and that you have their back—and they will in turn have yours. When employees are happy, great things can happen. –Tony Hsieh. CEO Zappos

Save Spontaneous for Vacation-Employees Need to See the Map

vacationSeveral years ago, I was having a particularly bad week and by the time Friday got here I was fried! My husband, in his infinite wisdom, decided the best way for me to keep my sanity was to come home and inform me that I needed a vacation. Of course I did! Who doesn’t? But this, instead of thrilling me, actually immediately added to my stress level.

Great, I thought, still one more thing to add to my to-do list…plan a vacation. After voicing this concern in maybe not the most loving tone, my husband agreed with me. So, once again in his infinite wisdom, told me to go and pack up a few things for me and the kids for the weekend- he was taking us on a spontaneous vacation.

Well, let me tell you, it was AWESOME! We loaded in the car and headed west with no destination in mind. It was crazy and impulsive and an absolute blast that my kids still talk about today (and request that we do it again). Given my story and the great result, you would think that I am going to advocate the “flying by the seat of your pants” approach but nothing can be further from the truth.

I think our spontaneous vacation was a success because we had no fixed outcome in mind other than to be together and enjoy some time away from home- easy to succeed with such loose parameters and with really nothing to lose. But let’s be honest, in our careers and in business we have a serious desired outcome that usually is attached to our livelihood giving it that extra bump on the critical scale. We have to know where we are going if we even have the slightest hope of getting there.

It seems very elementary and very cliché but I don’t know why then so many managers do not feel it is important for their employees to have a vision of where the company is headed. And I don’t just mean paying lip service to a vision statement but a real, truthful, transparent look at the future of the company. Giving them that does not reduce management’s power but shares the power with everyone who has the ability to help impact the outcome. Doing this helps everything else fall into place. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves and will work very hard to ensure the success of something that they feel a part of. Share- share the vision, share the responsibility and share the success!

Employees don’t deserve the “haunted house” approach…turn on the lights!

haunted house 2Have you ever walked through one of those haunted houses where everything is pitch black and you are kind of just feeling your way through? Scary as heck, right? Of course it better be or the haunted house would be a major flop. While intentionally inflicting fear on ourselves at Halloween is fun (at least for some), that horrifying, stumbling-around-in-the-dark feeling has no place in our work lives.

We want and need to know where we are going and how we are getting there. It empowers us to do our very best and makes us feel in control of the situation at hand. Now, I have worked with some really smart people in my career so I am forever baffled when they seem taken aback by the mere suggestion that we share information with the employees of the company.

Now, please don’t misunderstand, I am not suggesting that information that needs to be confidential is shared but more often than not, managers tend to want to withhold information that would help to strengthen the vision of the company or the ability of employee to succeed at their job and is not classified information.  For example, a company I worked for was doing some reorganization. There was a position that was going to go through a transformation (not elimination) but the managers did not want the employee to know for fear that he would be unhappy with the change and would leave. The plan was to get everything set-up and when it was time to make the change they would tell the employee.

Well, you can probably guess where I am going with this but because I no longer take things for granted, I will lay it out for you. The day came for the transition to happen and they called the employee into the office to break the news to him. After the shock wore off, a few things were apparent; 1) the employee felt betrayed that people he knew and trusted did not let him in on the plans for his position and 2) the managers, not being as intimate with the position as the employee, made a huge mistake in what was realistically able to be expected from the person and related systems.

So, there they all sat, with egg on their face. The one person that could have and should have been consulted was left out of the planning and now that there was a mess to be cleaned up they did not have the trust of the person that could help them out of the jam they created…hmmmm, you know we have all seen something similar happen. So the question that just begs for an answer is why can’t we trust our employees?

That is what this all comes down to in the end. We don’t trust them to act in the company’s best interest so we keep them in the dark until we think we have backed them in a corner and left them with no option. They have to comply with things as they are presented – as the managers want them to be- or so we think. Silly Rabbit!

The one thing the employees (especially your best employees) have that nothing can change is their ability to choose. They can choose to leave, they can choose to stay, they can choose a good attitude or they can fight the entire time…but no matter what, THEY choose. As managers, the impact we can have is giving the employees the information and support so that the trust and respect is maintained. Turn on the lights and help them choose you and everything else will fall into place.