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F-R-E-E Your Staff To Improve Customer Relations

By Marlene Caroselli, Author, ďPrincipled PersuasionĒ

You understand the importance of good customer relationships. After all, without customers, we wouldn't have jobs. It's as simple as that. Some of your staff members, though, may place less importance than you do in these relationships. It may be time for you to take a leadership role in improving customer interactions. Essentially, leaders are associated with change. And, with change comes fearóprimarily a fear of the unknown. Leaders overcome that fear, in part, by returning to fundamentals and moving from them to new or improved behaviors. Notre Dame Football coach Frank Leahy tried using this approach after a football game his school lost by a wide margin. He assembled the team in the locker room afterwards to explain a new strategy, basic-step by basic-step.

You understand the importance of good customer relationships. After all, without customers, we wouldn't have jobs. It's as simple as that. Some of your staff members, though, may place less importance than you do in these relationships. It may be time for you to take a leadership role in improving customer interactions. Essentially, leaders are associated with change. And, with change comes fear, primarily a fear of the unknown. Leaders overcome that fear, in part, by returning to fundamentals and moving from them to new or improved behaviors. Notre Dame Football coach Frank Leahy tried using this approach after a football game his school lost by a wide margin. He assembled the team in the locker room afterwards to explain a new strategy, basic-step by basic-step.

Weíre returning to the fundamentals men, he informed them as he reached for a nearby object. This is a football.

One of the linemen, sitting in the back of the room, was trying to take notes. Wait a minute, Coach, he implored. Not so fast!

You have a plethora of persuasion tools available to you as you work to encourage better customer relations. The football anecdote illustrates two fundamentals humor.

The following script finds you persuading a staff member to take more interest in the customer. The specific strategy is known as the F-R-E-E Approach. The letters stand for Fundamentals, Reassurance, and Excellence. Usually, the first three steps are all thatís needed to persuade. But if your employee needs extra convincing, youíd include the final E-step: Experiment.

Script

You Dimitri, itís time to talk about your #2 love again---the customer!

Staff Member Again I think I have your speech memorized from the last time.

You: All kidding aside, Dimitri. You have to spend less time programming and more time with our clients. Without them, neither one of us would have a job. We need to agree on a plan.

Summary

While the dialog begins on a humorous note, you soon make it clear that itís an important discussion. The mention of the word job helps emphasize the seriousness of your message. And use of the words need and plan are letting the staff member know this conversation will not be as casual as the last one you two had.

Dimitri opens the door to further serious discussion when he asks, somewhat apprehensively, what you mean a plan

Fundamentals Strategy Every job has some things we love doing and others we like less. But as important as your programming is itís not enough to ensure our customers will remain our customers. Maybe Sam Walton said it best: There is only one boss. ďThe customerĒ. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.

Youíve made a strong plea and an effective plea here, pointing out a fundamental fact thatís all too often ignored. If your staff member isnít yet convinced, though, youíll need to move on to the next step in the process of liberating competence.

Reassurance Strategy: I suspect you can do as well with customer interactions as you do interacting with hard drives and modems and keyboards, Dimitri. The way you energize your project-management team is proof enough for me that you have the people skills to reach out to our customers more than you do.

Competence is being liberated here with the strong recommendation that the staff member do as well with people as he does with technology. Ideally, heíll get the message and find a new medium for displaying his competence.

Excellence Strategy: Iíve thought about a couple of things you can do to combine your interest in computer with the pressing need to satisfy our customers. You could, for example, set up a series of demonstrations with each of our large customers, showing them how your programming advances will ultimately mean better service and faster cycle times for them.

If you really expect excellence, you canít just tell a staff member to make it happen. You have to show him how his excellence, coupled with your support, can be combined to achieve the mission. Be prepared, though, to offer at least one alternative for achieving such excellence.

Experiment Strategy: Iím going to make this easy for you, Dimitri. Iím going to have you attend a customer focus group that Iíve set up. Itíll only last an hour but the questions will related to the technology services we provide. Take good notes, because I will expect a written report a week after the meeting. Then, Iíd like you to either set up one of your own or else come up with another strategy perhaps a survey for reaching out to our customers.

If your staff member has refused to show some initiative, youíll have to involve him in some of your own efforts to make improvements. Here, youíre inviting him to participate in something youíve set up and to report on it. But then, he can either experiment with such an undertaking by himself or can set up some other means of improving customer satisfaction.

Further Considerations

Different people get the point at different points. If you find that the first step in the F-R-E-E approach makes the point and the person is responding positively, you need not go much further in your persuasion attempts.

Learn to read body language. Itíll help you decide whether or not you need to proceed to more directive alternatives with a staff member whose mind needs to be changed.

Sidebar

What the experts say: The mystery of excellent customer care was revealed in a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal two decades ago. Beneath a picture of Lee Iacocca ran these words: There is no great mystery to satisfying your customer. Build them a quality product and treat them with respect. Itís that simple. Use simple exhortations such as these three lines to persuade our staff to the importance or customer service or any other mission-related focus.

Sidebar

What the research shows: Anecdotes are more believable than statistics alone or policy statements regarding a companyís commitment to avoiding lay-offs. That was the finding of J. Martin and M. Powers in a study reported in Psychological Foundations of Organizational Behavior (Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1982, pp. 161-168).

Sidebar

What the research shows: Technology has facilitated opportunities for customers to make their complaints widely known. The precursors of cyberspace complaints may well have been the formation of I hate Eastern Airline clubs of angry customers that existed for well over 25 years. The modern equivalent is the story of David Felton, a 25-year-old who set up a web site that became a gripe forum for those dissatisfied with treatment they received in a fast-food establishment. The company bought his web site for an undisclosed amount an amount heís planning to use to put himself through law school! Sometimes, you have to use true-but-horrid stories like this to validate your persuasive message.


Dr. Marlene Caroselli, author of 60 business books and one e-book ďPrincipled PersuasionĒ. She is an international keynote speaker and corporate trainer for Fortune 100 companies. In 1984, she founded the Center for Professional Development, an organization dedicated to helping working adults enhance their professional skills. She has served as a consultant to many Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and educational institutions. She contributes frequently to a number of well-known publications (among them are Stephen Coveyís Excellence Publications and the National Business Employment Weekly). For article feedback, contact Marlene at mccpd@frontiernet.net

 

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