Monday, September 26, 2005

Sticky Conversations

Can you just feel the sickness in your stomach right now? That feeling when you know that you have to have a conversation that you are NOT looking forward to, but know you need to have. It plagues you for days before you have to face the inevitable and then the moment arrives when you make contact with the person, and there they are.. waiting for you to initiate conversation.

Usually, the conversations start friendly. You talk about the weather or your weekend or something work oriented that you both can agree on. This is a great tactic.. to find something that you both agree on BEFORE you attack.

Okay, attacking is NOT a good word here. That is exactly what you don’t WANT to do. But, it is going to be your natural instinct. You have probably been steaming on the inside thinking of everything wrong that your opponent has done. You’ve been thinking of what he or she is going to give you as a rebuttal and you have every cleaver answer ready to go.

But instead of attacking, you need to PRACTICE exactly WHAT you are going to say. And even though you can barely CONTAIN yourself and want to just blast the person, you MUST REMAIN CALM. You MUST remain in a place where an equal exchange of ideas can take place. You must tell yourself that you HAVE to stay calm, and agree to listen with out interrupting.

Visualizing being calm is helpful and visualizing yourself having a good conversation is even better. It can help pave the way for a fruitful conversation. Then, after you’ve finished the small talk, and that awkward silence takes place, then it’s up to you, to ask a question: “so, perhaps we should discuss this issue at stake?”

Remember at this point, whoever ASKS the questions controls the conversation. If you ask the question, “can you tell me what happened from your point of view?” then you are off to a good start. Then, follow up by taking notes and asking MORE questions. Do this so your opponent can see that you are really listening to him or her and value what you have to say. The most controlled person is going to want to JUMP in and add their two sense, but you MUST not! You must just listen, look them in the eyes with all of the sincerity you can muster up, and you must listen to his or her complaint about you.

When they are done with their 15 minute monologue that may or may not be salted with epiphanies about yourself that you were dying to know, then you HAVE to take a breath, a deep one and then… WAIT.

YES… WAIT. Let the clock tick. This is essential for letting your opponent know that you are giving serious thought to the assaults that you just endured. You are carefully considering the awful things that you instigated, and then you are thinking carefully about how to respond.

Then you do. You might want to throw in one or two more questions to gain clarity just for good measure, but more than likely, you’ll have the major complaints listed and are now ready to respond.

But.. before you respond… do you need to apologize? Do you need to tell the person that you’re sorry that you hurt their feelings, damaged their reputation, embarrassed them in front of others, or ANYTHING else. Apologizing is an EXCELLENT strategy for gaining respect from an opponent. If you don’t have any apologizing to do… then FIND something to apologize for. It’s VERY important that you take some of the blame.

Next, thank the opponent for opening up to you and sharing with you. Tell them that you want to gain their respect and trust and want to word everything as carefully as possible.

Then you start your rebuttal. Tell the person that you want to do a good job. You both have the same goal at stake of keeping the company growing and moving in the right direction. (or list a common goal that you both share) and it’s obvious that you are both passionate about the topic.

Then start slow, and talk about how you arrived at your decision. Do NOT point fingers. Just talk about the goal of making your company great.. or how you arrived at your decision. If you are giving a rebuttal to a serious allegation that is true, then confront your fears and tell the person that you are working on this issue and ask for them to be patient with you. Most people will understand human error and give you a break – if you admit it. If you defend yourself completely and take no responsibility, then you might as well hang up your gloves. You are going to lose respect and probably in the long run, you’ll lose the game.

Sticky conversations are not fun to have, but they can further the action faster than anything else. Rather than people sitting around stewing all day long, gossiping in the halls about each other, then having those conversations can challenge people to come to the table with ideas, conversations and new solutions.

Each time you have a sticky conversation, you’ll gain strength. You’ll see that it’s MUCH better to have the conversation than let it simmer underneath the surface. Facing the uncomfortable does more than just solve an issue, it can help you get comfortable with the person, and make them into your advocate.

There is no better solution to find than to transform from an enemy to an advocate. That is the ultimate and while it might not be easy, it is simple. Just prepare in advance, be prepared to humble yourself, and in the process you’ll gain respect from your opponent, and even more respect for yourself.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Making a Cold Call Fun

If you are in business in any capacity, you’ve made cold calls. If you’ve had to call anyone out of the phone book for any service whatsoever, you’ve made a cold call.

So why are cold calls so HARD for people to make? How come people DRED making cold calls and how come there are sales classes and books dedicated directly to Cold Calling?

I’ve been in a training class all week to learn the new company’s policies and procedures. Part of what we’re doing also is learning about sales. This part for me is the easy part but for many in the class, it’s the most intimidating. One of the women shared with me that she is extremely uncomfortable talking with people she doesn’t know.


Seriously, getting a script and following by that is a good thing to do, as LONG as you aren’t READING and don’t sound like a telemarketer. That is why people hang up on people, because they sound like a telemarketer.

Here is a cold call that insures that you’ll be hung up on:

Jim: “Who is the Director of Marketing”
Receptionist: “May I ask who is calling?”
Jim: “This is Jim”
Receptionist: “Jim who?”
Jim: Jim Smith
Receptionist: And what company are you with?
Jim: XYZ Company
Receptionist: “May I ask what this is in reference to?”
Jim: “It’s a confidential matter.” Or “it’s a time sensitive matter”

Possible hang up here or:
Receptionist: “Well he’s not in, you’ll have to leave a message”
Jim – hangs up

It’s not so hard people!! Don’t make it so hard. First of all, why are you hiding? If you truly have great information and a wonderful service, people are going to recognize that. If you DON’T have a valuable service and professional product, then get out of the business until you find one!

I also know that people discriminate if your voice sounds different from theirs. If you have an accent of ANY kind, then you better be one of the most FRIENDLY people on the planet, because people are going to discriminate against you. If you are a New Yorker calling the south, people are going to think you are an outsider. If you are a southerner calling New York, then you BETTER speak fast. If you are African American and have your cultural accent, then you BETTER speak CLEARLY and professionally. If you are of foreign decent, then speak SLOWLY and call with a SMILE on your face.

I do have a word for people with accents. If you are working on a phone job, then you would do best to work to minimize your accent. My husband is from Brooklyn and we worked for a LONG time to temper his thick accent. There were certain words that were distinctly New York, such as “Yesterday”. He pronounced that as “Yes-Ta-Day” Another one was “Dollar”. He pronounced it as “Dolla”

Additionally, if you have a foreign name, it’s going to be natural for people to avoid developing a relationship with you because they are going to forget your name. If you have a foreign name AND an accent, the average response to you is going to be much worse than if you have a typical American name.

I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, I’m just stating a fact. You are going to have to be 10x better than your average competitor. Because cold calling is about establishing relationships and it’s much easier to establish a relationship with someone more like yourself.

Here is a good typical cold call:

Jim:“Good morning! This is Jim! Who am I speaking with please?
Receptionist- “this is Sue, may I help you?”
Jim: Hi Sue! Yes, I’m looking for the Director of Marketing.. could you please tell me who that is?”
Receptionist ‘That is Randy Rawls” May I connect you?
Jim: “Great. Thanks Sue. Have a great day”
Receptionist- “You too!”

People want to help people.. IF they are nice people. If they sense that someone is a waste of time, then they are going to screen your calls and NEVER help you. If you aren’t nice or pleasant to the “gatekeeper” then you’ll have problems down the road.

There is a difference of opinion in this of course. There are some people who make phone calls who try to “trick” the gatekeepers or just try to get around them. I think the majority of them are smart and just doing their job when they get phone numbers instead of connecting the calls.

My best advice is that they can help more than they can do anything else, and that making them your advocate is the smartest thing you can do.

Cold calling is nothing more than meeting new individuals to see which companies are the best match for what you are selling. People are on the other end of the phone and so the same things apply when meeting friends. People want to be liked. People want to help. People want to be good to other people. People like hearing their name.

Cold calling can be fun if you let it. Just remember that when people solicit you at home, you may not always be the nicest; so do your best to understand others when you are on the other side. Be as warm and friendly as possible. Relay a sense of confidence, that you have a product or service that can really help.

Then, when you get the client on the phone, do it all over again.

Then make another call, and do it again. And again, and again and again.

For some of us, the cold calling never ends.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

How to Engage Someone in a Lively Conversation

I have found that the best way to get someone to respond positively to you is to LIKE them!

Seriously! It is so easy!!! Plus, it works.

I’ve recently started a new position as a professional headhunter. I’ve always done professional networking and marketing for individuals but now have joined a new firm. Most of what I’m doing now is COLD CALLING. UGH..the dreaded COLD CALL.

What does it consist of? Hi! My name is Mary Gardner and I’m with GRN… who is the Director of Operations? From there I ask questions and gather information until I get the right person on the phone that might have a serious interest in my candidate that I’m marketing.

The difference that I’ve seen in my first few days is that the first day I was TERRIFIED to call. I didn’t feel ready. I felt unprepared. I wasn’t clear of the procedures and I didn’t even feel comfortable with the phone. Here is what happened: the first few calls.. people almost hung up on me. They didn’t have the tolerance for a person with no confidence.

Today, I relaxed. I committed to myself that I was going to have FUN and to make the people enjoy our encounter. I’d do that by showing them favor over the phone and acting excited to talk with them, even though I had no idea of who they were and what they did. And guess what? It worked! I spoke with numerous “gatekeepers” as we call them, or administrative people who shared all of the information that I wanted about the company. I used their NAME in the conversation! I asked how they were doing and didn’t ignore them. I asked about the weather when they were in south Florida and laughed with them when they forgot whether it was morning or afternoon in their greeting. I truly just enjoyed all of the people I met.. and guess what?

They liked me back!!! I expressed enthusiasm when speaking WITH them and TO them, and they responded in kind. It was so much more fun to speak with them when I stopped thinking OF MYSELF and my nerves, and started thinking about THEM!!!

Of course I did all of the standard things you do in small talk! I asked them questions and I listened to them intently. I asked about them, or their company or the weather or if they were having a good day, but I showed interest in THEM and their lives. That was the total key today to enjoying new people and getting them to feel comfortable with me.

I liked them.

How about you? Are you expressing interest and curiosity in others? Are you excited to speak with them? Do you show interest in their response? Do you laugh at their jokes? Do you sincerely want to show that person that they are OK in your book?

You might find what I found. A day of potential stress can turn into a day full of fun.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Is it Okay to Ask Someone's Age?

I ask you the question: Is it okay to ask a person: “How old are you?”

Because of this question, I’m going through culture shock!! I even grew up here and I’m still going through culture shock!

Today was about the 5th time in a week that I’ve been asked: “how old are you?” The first 3 times I said “none of your business” and laughed my way out of it.. but now it’s getting serious… These Floridians all seem to want to know how old I am!

Why? Do I look older than I am? Do I look younger? Is it that I’m too immature to be this old? What is it?

Okay, it might be that they might be trying to see WHO I went to high school with, that is completely possible, but then again, why not ask: What year did you graduate?

I’ve lived in various places around the country. When I lived in NYC one time I think I asked a guy how old I was and he curtly replied, “oh, how AMERICAN of you”. I think I learned at that moment NOT to bring up age. Or perhaps it was when I was commenting on my friends’ luck that her husband was 16 years younger than her and she completely derailed the conversation and made me look foolish.. that I learned.. YOU DON”T ASK A PERSON”S AGE!!!

I thought it could never hurt! Oprah proudly tells everyone her age and says its horrible that women DON”T tell their age. But it DOES hurt! People are MESMORIZED by peoples’ ages! And they treat you different because of your age, and you can lose a job because of your age. Yes you can, because I did!

When the TV station found out that I was OLDER than their targeted demographic, I was immediately bumped to the anchor desk. Now.. I’m a SENIOR staff member. Sure, the 23 year old who replaced me was quickly discovered and moved on in her career but I know that the fact that I was a particular age gave them the idea that it was time to MOVE on. I liked anchoring but liked reporting a LOT more. There was a lot more freedom, but because of my AGE, I wasn’t able to keep the same position. I also know a major network anchor that goes to great lengths to conceal her age.

So me? I don’t TELL my age. Is that so bad? I think in Florida I’m looked upon as a snob and a freak! They look at me like I’m insane when I don’t divulge my age immediately.

But what I’ve learned is that people categorize you into a certain age GROUP that says.. “they’re older than me.. they can’t do as much as me” or they’re just SO overwhelmed that someone THAT old could look THAT good.

Now that I’m here and have found out that Floridians tell the world EVERYTHING that is personal, I am caught between a rock and a hard place. I’ve been “advised” NOT to share my age, but I don’t want to come off looking like a jerk. Two women today left in a huff when I didn’t tell. She said; “but you’re in FLORIDA”.

I’m curious about YOUR community!? Is it this open? Are the Floridians being nosey, or rude or just curious?

I’m sticking with the “I’m 29 and holding” statement that my mom used to say. That way, I can watch my friends grow old, and I’ll stay young forever!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bad Customer Service Turned Around

It’s all in who you know…. Or can get to Know!
(Bad customer service turned around)

Yesterday I had a customer service issue that warranted my immediate attention. I had ordered a product that I desperately needed that was now about 6 weeks overdue the original back ordered date. I had made numerous calls to both the local and the national vendor over the past few weeks and had received different answers every single time. I had gotten the run around from corporate, from the local vendor, tried to make complaints on line and their server was down, and had left phone messages that had gone unreturned. I had been strung along, lied to and ignored. I was livid by the time I got them on the phone to let me know that it would now be another 10-14 days.

I told the woman that I trained in customer service and sales and that I also wrote and spoke nationally about companies. I told her that I was able to get this organization that I’m ordering through to cancel them as a vendor, but that I heard they had been very responsive towards some of the hurricane victims which I applauded. But that their service was unacceptable and that I was appalled they’d let someone fall through the cracks like they did. I asked what they were going to do for me to help ease my annoyance. She came back to the phone telling me the manager authorized a $5 gift certificate!

WHAT?? A $5 gift certificate? You think THAT is going to pacify me after waiting an extra 7-9 weeks for this item that I needed 8 weeks ago? I told her to please tell her manager that what would make me happy would be to order me two new free items. I told her that I’m not the type of customer that will go away; that I’m the one who will make sure there is change in the company. I told the lady I knew it wasn’t HER fault, but to please pass along to the manager that I expected her to compensate me MUCH more for my loss of time and frustration.

After I hung up, I steamed for a bit. I was outraged that a national company would treat a customer in such a manor. Before long though I got my bearings and figured that the national customer service manager would be the one to call. He is located out west and so I called and politely explained to the lady who answered that I had been given the run around for the past 7 weeks and was completely fed up. I said I needed a manager because now I was past the point of no return and I needed someone to really step in and help me.

Along came Jeff. Jeff had a deep and booming voice, was friendly from the start and listened to my concerns without arguing. He apologized to me and said it’s happened before, it unacceptable and then explained to me WHY they had had such problems. He said there was NO excuse but told me about the manufacturing back ups they had had, the short staff, the new customer service telephone system and how it was working and how it was still in the trial phase. He even mentioned that I probably didn’t NEED to know all of these details but just wanted to let me know that they WERE aware of the problem but that no one should be treated like I was.

I offered some suggestions to him about changing their voice mail, to ask for people’s patience during this time of transition. I said that people are more than willing to be patient if they know that there is a problem that is in the works of being fixed. If you IGNORE the problem, then the customer feels like they’re the ones being ignored, or the only ones falling through the cracks. Imagine if thousands of customers felt like that. That would make for one UNHAPPY customer service department!

Jeff listened, thanked me for my suggestions and then offered me to credit my account. He promised that he would personally take on the responsibility of getting my items to me. He gave me his personal line and told me to call him any time I had any problems. I thanked him and felt gratified.

I hung up and felt like I had been taken seriously. I felt like someone listened, and I felt happy that he compensated me for my frustration and at least part of the time I had spent chasing down their product that I desperately needed.

I wonder what would happen if each employee had the power to do what Jeff did? I wonder if they allowed all of their employees to “personally” take care of every customer with a complaint? Better yet, what if they tried to exceed EACH customer’s expectations BEFORE the problems?

But since they were attempting to catch up with their problems and rectify them, I had to give them a break. I hope they realize though in the interim, that they can educate the customers to what the issues are, and invite them to remain patience during this time of transition.

As a customer, I was ready to go to town getting their whole account cancelled from the organization from which I belong. I know the president of the organization who I might be able to convince to change vendors in the long run. That would have been literally thousands and thousands of dollars that the company would have lost.

Instead, I got the RIGHT guy on the phone who knew how to make me happy. He quieted me down, he compensated me for my frustration and he gained my respect along the way.

Sometimes, its all in who you know, or can GET to know that matters!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Anchors are Slanting the News

I’ve had to turn the TV off! I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of hearing the anchors on the news slat the questions against the Bush administration!

“Why do you suppose the Federal Government wasn’t ready?”

“Do you think it’s because New Orleans is full of blacks and not an affluent class of people?”

The questions go on and on. I saw one reporter ask Rudi Gulliani from NYC that this administration is getting deeply criticized and he got praised during his crisis, what should they have done differently? Mayor Gulliani gave a terrific response and said that now is the time to work, not to point fingers.

If you find out the real facts, you’ll find that both Governors of LA and MS were offered assistance BEFORE the floods and both turned them down from the State of Texas. They didn’t have any of the busses in place for them to bring people out of the state. And, the mayor of New Orleans HIMSELF gave 500 police officers and their families FREE vacations to Las Vegas just after a couple of days after the flood when numerous people STILL NEEDED TO BE SAVED!

Talk about BAD LEADERSHIP. Give me a BREAK. Do you think that Rudi Gulliani ever asked the Firefighters and police officers to go take a break in the weeks following the tragedy in NYC? As a person who lived in NYC during 9/11 and saw our own firefighters around the block still work when 15 of their brothers had been killed, I can tell you they were still ON THE JOB.

Maybe no one is blaming the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi because they’re both minorities! One is African American and one is a woman. Perhaps people are treading lightly because everyone ELSE is blaming the federal government and they refuse to report the REAL news… I wish the producers at CNN, CNN Headline News, NBC and the other networks would at LEAST be fair and tell BOTH sides. Stop leading the people down a path of destruction. You’re instigating hatred in our country instead of trying to heal the wounds.

I’ve been watching FOX & FRIENDS and I find that they show BOTH sides. They have presented the failings of the local government just as much. They’ve talked about how they didn’t even have a PLAN in place. They didn’t get the bus drivers of the bus’s, they didn’t have alliances with other states. They didn’t want anyone infringing in their territory, and now they yell at everyone else. And the media continues to support them.

It’s mind-boggling!

The news media is filled with adrenaline junkies. I know, I was one of them. It’s exciting to bring controversy and to get people on edge. That’s their JOB. In the news room, it’s who can bring the best scoop, the latest dish, and the most heartbreaking story to the table wins that day. THIS IS THEIR JOB. They’re there to find people to blame, and to shock. They’re sitting at their desks calling thousands of people to find the ONES who will be OUTSPOKEN and articulate.. and have an opinion that will shock and scorn. Trust me, I know, tons of my friends are and were producers.

The news directors that okay the news are there to make sure their stations get the ratings, so they can get the best advertisers. It’s a balance they have to meet, because they can’t be swayed by the advertisers. Yet, they have to support their jobs by the sales dept. selling advertising.

If you want to truly get the real news, make sure you don’t watch just one station. And do yourself a favor and turn on Fox and Friends at least once a day to see what they are covering. They’re not a bunch of blaming anchors interviewing people who are pointing fingers. They bring stories of hope to the people of America. And they present BOTH sides, not just ONE Side.

But better yet, just turn the TV off, and find your OWN way to help the victims. By now, they are making their way into all of our communities. A few toys, some gift cards and a home cooked meal is what they need now. Not people telling them how bad off they are.

Let’s look to the future and help those who need it now. And in the long run, when we’re struck by another catastrophe, we’ll remember how we all came together as a UNITED country, and not a DIVIDED one!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Learn to anticipate your Customer's Needs

This morning I was having breakfast with my good friend Diane at one of my favorite breakfast nooks. I enjoy the atmosphere there although I’ve been less than pleased with the customer service so far.
This morning when we decided to go to breakfast, my mouth started watering for their delicious scones. They usually have 3-4 kinds available such as chocolate chip, blueberry and cranberry. I have shared these with my mom a few times and always love it with raspberry or strawberry jam and a “spot” of mint tea and honey.
This morning was no different. I knew exactly what I wanted when I got there. When it was my time to order I asked the waitress to bring some jam with my scone. Her answer totally put me off and I got defensive. She said: “well, we might have some jelly, but most people want raspberry or strawberry and I’m not sure if I can find any, so you might have to have orange”.
The hot prickles hit the back of my neck and I got ticked! I’m the customer after all, paying you and I don’t care if you have to run down the street to get the right jelly, I know you have it.. so FIND it!
My answer surprised her. I said, “oh NO, that won’t do. I don’t eat orange. You’ll have to find me some of the other jams that I like”. (I think I even said I HATE orange... to be extra dramatic! Okay, so it's a little over the top... but I didn't WANT orange! )
Long story short, she found the jelly. But we were both a bit upset throughout the process. I was upset because I’m a regular customer and I know what the restaurant offers. She was upset because I challenged her and strongly suggested that she serve me what I wanted… which meant she was going to have to work a bit harder.
Learning to anticipate your customer’s needs means that when you find out that customers like a certain service, or a certain product more than others, then KEEP IT ON HAND. If they don’t like a certain system or they don’t like something that you offer, be willing to listen to the complaints and solve the problem first if you can. If you can’t, then sympathize with the customer, explain and offer a different solution! Never just say “no” to a customer if you want to keep them coming back.
For the waitress this morning to be effective, she’d have to go the extra step and tell her management that she’s noticing that they’re running low on Strawberry and Raspberry jelly. She’d have to request that the manager order EXTRA of those and keep them on hand at all time. She would have needed to handle me by saying that she'd do WHATEVER she could to find the jam I requested, and if she was unsuccessful, she'd figure something out. (If it came down to that, then she should offer me free scone or something of that nature.)
Pleasing her customers will bring bigger tips and what else? The all important returning customer!!! The 80-20 rule is always in effect: 20% of your customers will give you 80% of their business. That means that you HAVE to learn to know what the customers LIKE so you can be ready.
What about you? Are you ready for your customers? Do you know what they’ll complain about or what they want more of? Can you prepare in advance so you won’t be caught off guard?
Learning what your customers want is important. But learning what they will want NEXT is the sign of truly outstanding customer service.