Weekly Wisdom

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Asking the Right Question

We’re asked our opinion all the time. And when we answer, all that really happens is that the questioner simply knows more about us – they know our point of view. We reveal something about ourselves every time someone asks us to phone in our idea about something. We are almost always disappointed if they don’t take it as advice. The thing is that most people only take the advice of someone who is already on the side they are considering. The best thing to do to keep your own point of view more private is to ask the right question.

If you ask, “Did you ever think of writing an email to your vendor?” you’ve also voiced your opinion. You’ve said, “I think you should write to your vendor.” However, if you say, “What do YOU think is the best thing you could do?” you’ve put the responsibility back in their court providing them the opportunity to figure it out for themselves. Just because you’ve asked the question, you might even get credit for helping. And your ideas are still yours, quietly in private without influence.

There is an art to open-ended questioning. If a question gives a suggestion or the idea of another way, it isn’t really a question. It’s an answer – a cagy way to give advice. But the true open-ended questions can make someone a loyal friend or colleague for life because you put the powers of choice back in their own yard.

How do you think you might change your questions?

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The Delicate Balance

Customer service is key to providing the best experience to your clients. You know how it feels when you encounter a snarky person on the phone when you’ve called to get information or to get something resolved. Companies like Zappos aim to deliver WOW customer service. Part of it, of course, is that they take anything back as a return, no questions asked. Not all of our businesses can support that, especially service industries. With reviews on Yelp and the long-lasting things people say about you in cyberspace, you want everyone to feel served. The first thing for you to look at in your business is the level of skill you or your employees have at delivering excellent customer service. Here are the seven most important skills you need:

Empathy, patience and consistency. Some customers will be angry and need to vent. Some have a lot of questions or just want someone to talk to. Decide how to handle all of them and provide the same level of patient and understanding service every time.

Adaptability. Customers are different. Some of your regulars could even change weekly. Handle the surprises and try to test the waters. Then adapt accordingly. Process.

Clear communication. Ensure you convey to customers exactly what you mean in the nicest way. Use authentically positive language, no matter what. Never end a conversation without being certain the customer is satisfied.

Work ethic. Be sure you, or your staff, see the problem through to its resolution and promptly. The delicate balance dictates that you don’t spend too much time handling one customer while others are waiting.

Knowledge. Your customers rely on you for knowledge. Stay infor med but don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” Customers will appreciate the honesty and your efforts to find the right answer.

Thick skin. The customer’s always right… right? Figure out how to swallow your pride and accept blame or negative feedback. Feedback is an opportunity to change the way it goes next time. Remember that Yelp reviews are feedback opportunities to change something.

Learn. There must be a willingness to learn from things that didn’t go as well as they could have. Providing good customer service is a continuous learning process that will get you to 100% satisfaction.

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Before and After

We love to hear about people who once struggled and now have pushed through and finally succeeded. We love to watch HGTV to see the Before and the After of a room re imagined. We loved it when Oprah did a makeover on someone. We love the Before the Diet photos and the one taken 60 pounds later. We love to watch The Biggest Loser so we can see the makeover in progress. And the ads showing what that wrinkle cream can do in just two weeks shows the before-and-after of losing 20 years.

Tell your stories in the workplace and the marketplace. Your team, your clients, your customers love to hear the before and after of the things you do. Remember that the BEFORE takes place before you got involved. And the AFTER is a result of YOU. So when you’re giving examples of the successes, the ca se studies of the before and after, you’re telling your story in a way that compels your team or your customers to listen.

I had a client who always wanted to please his team. His team knew that about him. They knew that if he gave them a satisfactory performance appraisal, they could simply say that they disagreed. He would go back to the drawing board and revisit the ranking. In order to get them to feel pleased with their report, he increased the ranking just a bit. And he wondered why they never improved. After working with him and his team, we created a ranking that was very specific. When his teammates complained he said the appraisal was accurate and he was standing by it as his perception of their work. And if they were dissatisfied with the ranking, they could focus on the areas they felt has a low rank and work on that to grow and improve. In just one year, nearly the entire team has worked hard to focus on the things that had a low rank and he n ow has a dream team.

That’s my sample story – my case study. It’s much more interesting than me telling you the definition of an Executive Coach.

Tell your story through case studies – the before you and the after you. Your team and your customers will listen.

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It’s All About Choice

When was the last time something happened to you that you didn’t expect? A time when your whole world was shattered. A time when something came out of the blue and totally disrupted your equilibrium.

There are two different perspectives about how those things unfold and how they’re perceived and handled. Some people feel things keep happening TO them. Out of control. Others seem to press the Easy Button and solve, change, handle what’s thrown their way. It’s all about choice. Now I’m not real big on inspiration. I prefer to provide information instead. And here it comes – wait for it. It’s really about what you choose to do.

You can worry. You can lose sleep. You can talk about it. Obsess about it. Discuss it. Be angry about it. And meanwhile your entire present life is a mess. Everything is impacted. You lose your focus. You lose your intelligence. You lose your ability to comprehend things. And your functioning deteriorates.

OR, you can simple handle it. Maybe it’s a medical diagnosis. Or a financial commitment gone wrong. Or maybe you lost a big account or a long-time customer or a long-time friend.

You have the choice. You can either worry or move forward. Move forward with energy, thoughtfulness, drive and intention. Even if you’re only able to sustain the strength to make the call, send the email, get the appointment scheduled, you’re one step further to getting it fixed or done or accomplished.

It’s always your choice about how you react. You’re allowed to freak out for a few minutes – or even a few hours or days. But the sooner you make the choice to use the best of yourself to handle it, the sooner it will stop interfering with your daily life.

Make the choice.

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Space and Time

Some people measure everything in time – how long it will take to get there; how long will it take to get it done. If you say, “Meet me in Princeton,” they think: “I’ll have to leave an hour or so to get there. Or if you want to meet them at the movies, they think, “I can leave 15 minutes before and still have time to buy a ticket.”

Other people measure everything spatially – distance, placement, relativity. If you want to meet them in Princeton, they have to know how far it is, what roads to take, the route, the location, and if there’s parking. Meeting them at the movies is about getting there early enough so they don’t have to sit in the first row.

Time people always talk about when things happened. They give you dates, or tell you it was a month before my 30th birthday that we went to the Yankee game. Space people will think about the time they sat in the second tier overlooking home plate.

Both ways of seeing things work. What has an issue is the way Time people interact with Space people. Even though Time people measure things in Time, they’re often late or the very least they cut it close. They don’t like to wait – they think of it as a waste of time. Space people like to be early so they’re THERE, and once they’re THERE, they’re just glad they got the parking space and they’re able to be in proximity with the people they’re meeting or with.

Knowing if you’re a Time or Space person, will help explain and enhance how you behave in business. If you’re a time person and you hire a space person, just understand they see things differently – not better or worse – just different.

Are you a Time or Space person?