Category Archives: Staff
Setting up and Launching a Remote Office
In the early days of my career I was responsible for setting up an operation in a different city. It was a great opportunity for me and something that I really wanted to succeed in, however looking back on that person with the experience I now have. Well, lets just say that I was very lucky that I didn’t fall completely flat on my face!
As a native Torontonian (that’s what people in Toronto, Canada call themselves for my International readers!), I’d visited Montreal a couple of times and had always enjoyed spending time there, so when my boss asked me to set up a new office in that city I thought it was a great idea! I mean, how hard could it be?
Well, it was 1998 or 1999, and while I was working for an Internet company, the many conveniences we’ve all come to expect and enjoy had yet to be invented or for that matter even thought of! Websites like Yelp! and Foursquare didn’t exist and while the multiple listing service (MLS) was there, it was really only useful for residential properties and in most cases you needed a realtor to provide the information.
I didn’t know how to promote my company – we were established in Toronto but no one outside of that city had heard of us. I didn’t know where to open the office – downtown would be great but the rents would be a lot higher than out of town, but how much higher? I didn’t know how to get new customers or even hire staff for that office.
Fortunately I was able to find a small bouteque agency that was priced right and seemed to have all of the appropriate credentials. I didn’t interview three different firms though or get competitive quotes (mistake #1?), but they seemed to know their stuff!
Over the course of the next 2-3 months, we were communicating back and forth about radio spots, billboards, print advertising, product pricing and other minutae relevant to launching in a new location. Again they seemed to ask all of the right questions so I thought I was onto a winner.
The Hiring and Staffing
Now vs. Then
You see, while the Montreal operation was successful both of my mistakes ended up coming back to bite me. My manager choice – well, without local oversight, he turned out to be a bit of a dictator and was making the office environment toxic for the other staff. He had to go and I had to find someone else. My first mistake though – the marketing company – was probably the bigger one. While the comminucation and interaction had seemed positive and enthusiastic they didn’t actually end up producing anything of real worth. Sadly, they actually ended up going out of business themselves before we’d launched which set us back several months.
What could I have done?
Hindsight is always 20-20 isn’t it? With the tools and information available to us today, most of my requirements could have been dealt with, without even leaving my office. I would have been able to search and get reviews on other companies that had done the same things. I would have been able to pick and choose marketing companies and been able to interview them remotely only after shortlisting them based on reviews and feedback from clients. I would have been able to evaluate property prices and rental costs remotely and conducted interviews remotely. Would I have had to go to Montreal at all? Yes, probably, but for different reasons – more along the lines of ensuring things are moving smoothly vs. setting up.
Things have definitely changed in only a few short years – I’m fortuntate that the mistakes I made early in my career helped me to learn how not to do things and I’ve taken that knowledge and applied it. I wonder what mistakes await the next generation though? I’m sure they are going to be doozies!
Managing Technical Teams
In most cases technical staff are those who prefer to perform their work with little or no supervision and they often view Managment “oversight” as a hinderance to their – getting the job done. They also quite often forget that at the other end of the phone line, there is a customer (or customers) that has been impacted and regardless of the fact that they “think” they can resolve the problem, there are timelines and SLAs in place to ensure that issues get escalated. Now, while “techs” are members of the team that managers depend upon heavily to resolve the problem, it is the managers responsibility to understand the “big picture” and also the challenges faced by these key members at a non-technical level.
The manager is responsible for balancing the needs of the company against the needs of these key resources and obviously directing technical staff can be a challenge. It is made even more of one, by those managers that are unable to step back and release control. The understanding between a manager and his team must be such that trust exists at either level. You trust them to get the job done in a timely manner and escalate those problems that they are unable to handle & they trust you to keep their best interests in mind, work with them to get more training
Managers are constantly expected to do more, with less resources, regardless of the economy
Work Ethic and Today
A famous quote from Thomas Edison reads –
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
The Curse of the “berry”
Are you invaluable? How about irreplaceable? Will the world stop turning if you don’t pick up the phone or
OK, so why are you ignoring your family (or friends or yourself??) to pick up the phone? It’s very easy for companies to take advantage of employees & even more so managers who feel a personal responsibility for the performance of the team and department. Now I’m not talking about those of you who get paid for being “on call” – unfortunately, I’ve found that Managers rarely get compensated for this – but rather the ones who don’t.
Companies need to understand and realize that employees lives and health are at stake and for some of you (you know who you are) … their family lives also. Staff needs time away from work and away from the stresses of the job if for no other reason than to recharge their batteries for the next day. In addition, if staff members are constantly contacted outside of regular business hours than their staffing and hiring needs to be looked at and examined.
Management needs to create and have in place a proper escalation plan for customers of course and a Manager should be included in there at the appropriate level. However a Manager should not be the FINAL point of escalation and if Customers matter (which all companies state, but few actual shows), Senior Management should also form part of that plan and in addition, perhaps appropriate out of hours coverage should be put into place!
People working the Customer Service and Helpdesk fields are often at the sharp end of having to deal with angry customers. One the one hand, some of these customers are just looking for fault or being extremely picky or even those (shudder, dread) chronic complainers who just like to hear their own voice. I’m not going to discuss those types of people in this post, as although they exist, generally, people who complain about a product or service are ones that have NOT received what they have paid for. Most people don’t enjoy complaining and find it a difficult (and to be avoided) process, so keep this in mind when you are speaking to them. They are NOT trying to just make your life difficult – they DO have a genuine issue that should be looked into and hopefully addressed.
Realizing the Issue
If you are happy with our service, please tell your friends. If you are unhappy with our service – please tell us!
This should be more than just a trite phrase that gets thrown around. Companies need to actually believe, understand and live this statement. The only way you are going to ensure that your customers are happy is by talking to them. While a customer may be berating you, you still have an opportunity to win them over. I cannot count the number of times that I have been able to do this and not only keep them with my company but transform them into my biggest advocates. Research indicates that customers who complain are likely to continue doing business with your company if they feel that they were treated properly. It’s estimated that as many as 90% of customers who perceive themselves as having been wronged never complain, they just take their business elsewhere. So, angry, complaining customers care enough to talk to you and have not yet decided to take their business to the competition. They are customers worth saving.
Turning Them Around
- Control Yourself
- Identify the Problem/Issue
- Don’t Blame Someone Else!
- Resolve the Issue
- CONTROL – The easiest way to do this is to remember that it’s not YOU!! When a person complains about something, it’s important to remember that they’re not attacking you personally. It’s the problem they’ve encountered which is causing the irritation. This correspondingly maps quite closely to the feedback you should be providing to your staff when they are not performing well and as mentioned in my review of the One Minute Manager
. Never argue with customers when they are angry, displeased or complaining. If you allow a customer to push your buttons and lose control of yourself, you’ve lost control of the situation. You can lose a good customer if you show boredom, irritation, disdain or displeasure. Remember if a customer is being abusive and difficult, it’s NOT YOU!! If you can keep this in mind, dealing with them will be significantly easier … it’s crucial you maintain a respect for the person even if you don’t respect their behavior towards you. Remember and repeat … they are NOT mad at YOU!!! Apologies for the repetition, but this fact is extremely important and more than one Help Desk Manager has gotten flummoxed by the fact that they are taking the issue personally.
- LISTENING – If an angry customer is explaining the situation to you … let THEM talk. Do NOT interrupt them mid-flow to argue a point. This sounds easier than it actually is as everyone wants to justify themselves or bring up some rationale for a fault … don’t do it! Once you’ve asked the person to explain their problem or issue to you, it’s then crucial that you simply listen without any kind of interruption whatsoever until they’ve finished. This is the only way that you will get a full picture of the issue from the customers’ point of view. Remember they are upset and in their eye’s justifiable! You cannot take that away from them – regardless of what you say. It’s your actions after that will determine how they feel at the end. More often than not, once the customer has had an initial chance to vent his rage, it’s going to die down a little, and that’s your opportunity to step in.
Say, “I can tell you’re upset…” or, “It sounds like you’re angry…” then connect to the customer by apologizing, or empathizing. When you say something like “I’m sorry that happened. If I were you, I’d be frustrated, too.” It’s amazing how much of a calming effect that can have.
- EMPATHY– OK, we’ve already touched upon this a little bit above, but let’s explore this in a bit more depth here. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes, and try to see the situation from his/her perspective. Don’t try and cut him off, don’t urge him to calm down. Instead, listen carefully. If someone is angry or upset, it is because that person feels injured in some way. Your job is to let the customer vent and to listen attentively in order to understand the source of that frustration. When you do that, you send a powerful unspoken message that you care about him and his situation. Often, as the customer comes to realize that you really do care and that you are going to attempt to help him resolve the problem, the customer will calm down on his own, and begin to interact with you in a positive way. Once they’ve finished their diatribe, it’s important that you try to look at the situation from their perspective. Having not interrupted their flow and by listening intently, it’s already sent a signal to the person that you have listened and that you care about them and the situation they’re facing.
- IDENTIFICATION – Sometimes while the angry customer is venting, you’ll be able to latch right on to the problem because it’s clear-cut. Something is broken. Or late. Or he thinks a promise has been broken. Once you have identified what the problem is, it’s important that you reiterate it to the customer so that they are sure that you have heard them correctly. If you’ve assumed correctly, the customer will say ‘yes’ and then you can move on. If not, this is a good place for some specific questions. Ask the customer to give you some details. “What day did he order it, when exactly was it promised. What is his situation at the moment?” These kinds of questions force the customer to think about facts instead of his/her feelings about those facts. So, you interject a more rational kind of conversation. Eventually, you will get to the heart of the matter and at that point, you should reiterate to them to ensure you’ve got it right and then you can move on to the next stage. However … remember this … you MUST apologize for the problem caused by the customer and the impact that he has felt. This is NOT an acknowledgment of fault or wrongdoing, simply another part of empathizing with your customer.
- BLAME GAME – I don’t know how else to say it but to be frank. This is NOT the customer’s fault. NEVER blame them for coming to you with a complaint. You should be thanking them for giving you an opportunity to excel! This might also not be your companies fault either, but it is still proper and correct for you to apologize.
- RESOLUTION – Now it’s time to try to resolve the situation. There is never going to be a successful outcome every time here and what may be a satisfactory resolution for one customer may not appease another but what is important is to go about trying to resolve the problem in the correct manner. You won’t always be able to fix the problem perfectly. And you may need more time than a single phone call. But it’s critical to leave the irate customer with the understanding that your goal is to resolve the problem. You may need to say, “I’m going to need to make some phone calls.” If you do, give the customer an idea of when you’ll get back to him: “Later this afternoon.” Or “First thing in the morning.”
You have the Power!
Exceptional Customer Service
One important thing to remember from a Customer Service point of view is that the last person you speak to (or chat with or email) is also the most likely to buy your service or product in the future. This is obviously not a hard and fast rule, but more an estimation of the impact word of mouth plays with any business!