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Obstacles to Effective Customer Communications

How well we communicate with customers contributes a great deal to the customer experience. According to Accenture, 89% of customers get frustrated when they must repeat their issues to several representatives before getting it resolved. Here are some obstacles to effective customer communication and tools for overcoming them.

  • Poor listening skills. The key is to stop talking and just listen. It takes self-control to keep quiet and focus on what the other person is saying as they say it. Focus on the other person, stay in the present moment, and take notes, if necessary. Responding with a recap of the person’s main points is one way to ensure understanding.
  • Poor questioning skills.Open-ended questions generate discussion and add information; closed-ended questions stop conversation. For example, “Does this take care of your issue?” is a closed-ended question with only a yes-or-no answer. On the other hand, “What else do we need to consider or review?” is an open-ended question that keeps the conversation going.
  • Lack of empathy.Empathy is the ability to step into the customer’s experience and accept what they are feeling without judgement. This helps you understand the customer’s point of view, so you can better help them. It also reduces any anger or frustration the customer feels.
  • Poor non-verbal skills.Make good eye contact with the speaker and face them. Watch their gestures and facial expressions to determine if they are consistent with what they are saying. When the customer speaks, they also are watching your body language to assess your credibility, so make good eye contact, lean slightly toward the customer, avoid interrupting them, and nod to show interest and engagement.

See my blog post Your Company Needs a Customer-First Mindset for more information and check out my workshop Creating a Positive Customer Service Experience.


Managing Resistance to Change

Today, change is the only constant. While change is necessary for growth and profitability, it can be hard to accept, and you may feel fear, anger, or frustration. We like staying in the comfort zone because it’s safe. However, resisting change is counterproductive and a futile exercise since change is inevitable. Here are some tools to help you.

Mindset is a key factor in managing resistance. There are two types of mindset—fixed and growth. Those with a fixed mindset believe that the ability to succeed is based on skills, and skills cannot be improved. When they are faced with change, they resist more than others since they believe they cannot change.

The other mindset is the growth mindset. Those with this mindset believe that improvement is always possible, and when change occurs, they look for opportunities to stretch and grow. Cultivating a growth mindset when faced with change can keep you positively productive, allow you to realize the benefits of the change, and communicate a professional image to management.

Another approach to resisting change has to do with uncertainty. Resistance often comes from fear—you don’t know exactly how the change will affect you or your job. You don’t have enough information to decide whether it will be bad or good. Instead of jumping to a negative conclusion—that the changes will be bad for you—move to a neutral position of wait-and-see. Be open and receptive to information, ask questions, listen carefully to answers, and withhold judgement until you know enough to react logically.

Remember the words of Shakespeare, “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” If you don’t know the affects and are unable to view the change with a growth mindset, move into curiosity, which is neither good, nor bad.


Use Job Shadowing to Develop Key Employees

Job shadowing is a popular workforce development tool that can prepare employees for advancement. It allows someone to observe another employee on the job and experience first-hand what the job requires.

  1. Identify which of your employees would benefit from job shadowing. Generally, these employees are on a management or leadership development track.
  2. Identify a role within the organization that would expose the employee to a skill they need and would find valuable.
  3. Contact the person to be shadowed to find out if they agree and to set up guidelines.
  4. Meet with your employee to discuss this opportunity, gain their ownership of the process, and clarify expectations for the assignment.
  5. Release the employee to the job shadowing assignment.
  6. After the assignment, debrief with the employee to review expectations and personally thank the person who agreed to be shadowed.

Job shadowing facilitates true hands-on learning and gives your employees the opportunity to “test drive” a job they may be interested in. Contact me for information about my newest program Developing 21stCentury Leaders to see how you can cultivate the youngest members of your team for advancement.


Improve Team Dynamics

Team dynamics play a large role in how positively productive and successful your team is. Many factors affect team dynamics, including the nature of the work being performed, the personalities and workstyles of each team member, and their interpersonal relationships. Successful team dynamics depend on:

  • Mutual respect.Team members put aside their personal preferences and biases and work together toward a common goal. They accept workstyle differences without criticism, handle disagreements professionally, and resolve conflicts quickly. Make sure everyone on your team understands the goals that the entire team is striving to reach and their part in accomplishing them.
  • A primary goal of collaboration is to generate and implement new ideas. For the collaboration to work, each team member must feel comfortable and safe to share his or her ideas. During team meetings, create an open atmosphere by accepting all ideas using a brainstorming or mind-mapping process and then discussing each idea objectively until you find the best.
  • Value contributions and recognize people with rewards customized for each person. Acknowledge team accomplishments in ways that applaud achievement and reflect the value of the overall contribution to departmental success. Celebrating milestones and achievements can be a great way to encourage teamwork that will pay off in the long run.

Understand and monitor team dynamics to ensure you meet your departmental goals and cultivate a positively productive workplace. See my blog post Build Unstoppable Teams for more information.


Change and Your Career

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”H.P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft should know something about fear; he wrote some scary stories! While these words were penned in the 1920s, they say something about today’s workplace. Change is scary, and the workplace is constantly changing. The key to coping with change is embracing it and using it to further your career. Here are some tips to help you.

  • Stop viewing change as “bad.”Change can be good or bad, depending on your outlook and attitude toward it. You can view a reorganization of your company or department as dangerous and fear what might happen to your job, which makes it “bad.” On the flip side, you can view it as an opportunity to take on new responsibilities, either with your existing company or somewhere else. The key is to stay flexible, be open to new things, and focus on what’s best for your career!
  • Become a champion of the change.Develop enthusiasm for the change and communicate this to others. Offer to be involved on committees and teams that are implementing the change. Learn all you can about it. This proactive behavior will give you a sense of power while showcasing your leadership ability, initiative, and commitment to the organization. Attributes usually valued by management!
  • Stay positively productive.This can be hard in times of change but focusing on what’s in front of you rather than imagining bleak, future scenarios helps keep your stress level low and your productivity high.

Change can be frightening and stressful; however, having the right attitude, keeping a positive outlook, and taking actions that showcase your value can help you ride out the change and come out on top. See my blog posts Flexibility at Work and Does Positivity at Work Really Make a Difference?



Build Unstoppable Teams

With five generations in the workplace, it’s more important than at any previous time to build strong, cohesive teams. While teambuilding requires many skills—communications, collaboration, coaching, mentoring, goal setting, motivation—its main requirement is leadership! Your team looks to you for guidance, and one of your roles is to build the confidence and capabilities of your team. Here are some tools to help you.

  • Leverage strengths. Every team member brings a different set of strengths, skills, and expertise to the job. As their leader, you must understand the contributions each person is capable of and use that knowledge to the advantage of the entire team. Let employees mentor each other and transfer their skills to other team members. This alone will build a stronger team. See my blog post The Value of Cross-training.
  • Strengthen areas that need improvement. Identify areas where your team needs improvement. For example, are communication or time management skills excellent or are some team members falling short of your expectations.? Act to plug this productivity drain; your team is only as strong as its weakest member!
  • Handle conflicts and behaviors that disrupt the team. Good leaders know when to let a conflict resolve itself and when they need to step in. Using your authority to resolve conflict is not a good, long-term solution. Ideally, you want to have a conversation with everyone involved to discover the underlying cause and determine the best way to handle it. Require people to be objective and refrain from making personal or derogatory comments. Focus them on behaviors, explain how the conflict is harming the team’s ability to be positively productive, and state the need to resolve the situation. See my blog post Where Does Conflict Come From?

A strong leader helps their team focus on raising the bar and grooms them to achieve more than they think is possible. See my workshop Leading Multi-generation Teams for more information



Innovation Matters

People often use “creativity” and “innovation” interchangeably, but they mean two different things.

“Creativity is thinking up new things; innovation is doing new things.” Theodore Levitt

Productivity depends on both. You need creative team members who can envision new products, services, and solutions, but visioning without the ability to adapt and implement is counterproductive. That’s where innovation comes in.

Innovators find new ways of doing things that result in greater productivity, efficiency, and profitability. For example, someone can create a new software product, but it takes innovation to adapt the solution so that it works for the business and the environment.

  • Create a workplace where innovation is valued. Give employees time and opportunities to develop new ways of working that increase efficiency and productivity. In 1948, 3M launched its 15-percent program; 15 percent of employees’ time was dedicated to innovation. The Post-It® note was invented during 15-percent time.
  • Encourage out-of-the-box thinking, form work groups to leverage collaborative thinking, and seriously consider the ideas and suggestions they present.
  • Implement ideas that will produce positive results, but always explain why a suggestion cannot be implemented; otherwise, employees feel that their efforts were wasted.

The personal computer was a new creation, but it took the innovation of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak to turn it into a household item and Apple® into an international success. Your business needs both creators and innovators for long-term growth and profitability.




Boost Employee Engagement for Greater Productivity

How’s the morale in your office?

Morale refers to the mood of your workplace. Is it upbeat and enthusiastic or glum and dreary? One contributes to positive productivity; one doesn’t.

The key to high morale is high employee engagement. Employees who feel engaged in their work know that their work is important, and that fosters engagement.

  • Create a sense of ownership by encouraging employees to find better ways of doing their jobs. Make it safe for them to suggest improvements or present their ideas without fear of criticism or rebuke.
  • Evaluate each employee’s strengths and focus on assigning worthwhile tasks that let them showcase their abilities.
  • Recognize and reward individual accomplishments and contributions to the overall success of the team.
  • Offer employee development opportunities. One of the top reasons employees give when they leave a company is lack of development opportunities.
  • Reward key employees by sending them to conferences or conventions where they are exposed to new people and ideas. This is a powerful tool for boosting engagement, morale, and retention.
  • Consider bringing in a professional trainer for onsite workshops that improve soft skills, such as communication, leadership, influence, productivity, and so on.

When morale and engagement are high, productivity improves. Statistics from the Hay Group show that employees who are engaged are 43% more productive than those who aren’t engaged. But there’s more! Teamwork is stronger, overall performance is enhanced, and employee retention improves.

As a manager, you must stay aware of the mood in the office and jump into action if you notice morale slipping. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to turn things around. See my blog post Three Keys to Employee Retention.


Managing a Constant Complainer

Most people complain about work sometimes. Looming deadlines, conflicting priorities, and frustration with lengthy processes can cause grumbling. That’s expected and natural. On the other hand, coworkers who constantly complain about everything can damage morale and negatively affect the whole team’s productivity.

Complainers tend to have a fixed mindset—they feel a lack of control over situations and don’t believe that they can change anything. When they complain, they often speak in generalities, such as, “This process is stupid,” or “I’ll never get this done on time. This deadline is ridiculous.” Comments like these show an all-or-nothing attitude that sees everything as either black or white. It’s your job to help them to see the gray areas.

Don’t challenge them; instead, show acceptance of their opinions, but ask them to explain what they mean. Getting them to focus on specifics instead of generalities can begin to turn around their thinking. For example, say, “I know that this process can seem unnecessary at times, but I’d like to know what’s wrong with it from your perspective? Maybe it does need to be changed.”

Many complainers will likely respond that they are helpless and can’t do anything about it, or they may whine that they have tried “everything” and “nothing” has worked—more all-or-nothing thinking. If they stay in a fixed mindset, tell them you value their input and ask them to role play by pretending to be you. Ask, “What would you do about this if you were me? I’d like to hear your ideas.”

At this point, they will either shift out of a fixed mindset and start to think creatively, or they will repeat their excuses and complaints. If they come up with a good idea, encourage them with praise and recognition to reinforce ongoing positivity. If, however, they continue to complain, you may have to assess the affect the complaining is having on team morale and productivity and take corrective action. See my blog post Working with Toxic People for more information.



Obstacles to Leadership

Moving into a leadership position means that you have more responsibility, your team views you in a different light, and you are more accountable for results. Some people don’t believe they can do what’s required, so they hang back when opportunities arise.

It’s natural to pause and consider things before making the move to a leadership role, but if you want to move ahead in your career, you need leadership experience. Here are three steps to help you identify and overcome some common obstacles that might be keeping you from stepping up to leadership.

  1. Lack of information. Are you reluctant to assume a leadership role because you don’t know what’s expected of you, or you have heard stories that leadership is not everything people think it is? Address this obstacle by identifying a leader whom you admire and aspire to model. Find out if you can interview them about their role and job and if it is possible to shadow them for a day or two. Prepare a list of questions, so you don’t waste their time.
  2. Fear of failure.Taking on more responsibly requires you to move into new, unfamiliar territory. Change can be frightening, especially when it involves your job and livelihood. You worry that you might not have what it takes. A good antidote to fear is knowledge. Get information as described in the first bullet and do a risk/reward assessment. What do you gain by taking on a larger role? What is the risk if it doesn’t work out? What is the probability it won’t work out? Generally, the worst case is the least likely one. See my blog post Quick Questions for Weighing Options.
  3. Low self-confidence.Unsure if you can handle the job? Once you know what the job entails and have performed a risk/reward assessment, inventory your strengths, focusing on the ones a leadership role requires and identify where you are weak and need improvement. Decide to strengthen those areas while showcasing your strengths. See my blog post Showcase Your Skills for more information.

Your company needs people for leadership roles, especially as Baby Boomers retire. Now is the time for you to tackle any obstacles for stepping up to leadership. See my blog post Position Yourself for Leadership and my program Lead 4 Results.