Customer Service

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The business of apologizing

During my time working for a global IT helpdesk, I received more than fifty calls on an average day. We were the first point of contact for the client’s 110.000+ employees, who called us with questions about just about anything to do with IT. Our customers were experts in their field. Our SLAs (Service Level Agreements) were demanding – as customer service experts, we were expected to have an average CSAT score of 4.7 out of 5. It’s not a success story.

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Not for lack of trying, to be clear. Everyone was happy to help, when the customers were friendly, or the problems easy to fix. Some of us, including me, didn’t mind the more challenging customers or problems. A lot of our customers phoned us in moments of frustration, with good reason. They were in the middle of something “important” and now the software wasn’t working, or the computer, or the printer, or whatever. Schedules were interrupted, money was being lost, bad impressions were being made on their clients, and so on. As customer service experts, we understood the three dimensions of service – there’s always something going on in the background. So whatever frustrations came at us, we knew that they weren’t personal.

At the same time, they didn’t help when it came to the all-important relationship building. (Who wants to do that with someone who’s always shouting down the phone?) Most of us quickly learned that frustrated people tend to want to vent and that somehow, venting is easy to a voice on the phone. We worked hard, but our CSAT was down due to a large number of factors, not all related to our ability to be nice to customers. Many other things influence customer satisfaction: long waiting times (another SLA), lack of expertise, etc. As customer service experts, we were expected to apologize, if our customers had experienced delays or when they were otherwise unhappy with something. Some of my colleagues balked at the idea. Apologize? What for, I didn’t do anything wrong. They actually refused.

I’m sorry, that’s not an apology

It’s also a difficult topic to raise in customer service training. I’ve learned that people are very passionate about the “to apologize or not to apologize” question. According to the dictionary an apology is a regretful acknowledgement of failure. Many people however, think that an apology is the same as admitting a mistake, or taking the blame. Like some of my colleagues did.  Some of them couldn’t apologize, almost like the ability to apologize was missing from their DNA. Others felt they would betray their values by handing out an apology for something that wasn’t caused by their wrong-doing. The problems didn’t end there. A few of my colleagues were handing out apologies like they were the solution to everything. Back on the helpdesk, these were some of the phrases that shouldn’t have been circling:

  • It’s my job to apologize to you
  • Yeah, sorry about that
  • I guess I should say sorry about the delay
  • I’m not going to apologize for that, I’m just trying to do my job here

Emotional vs. Neutral cultures

And, consider for a moment the intercultural aspect of complaints. A complaining Brit (who says “I’m afraid I have a problem” with only a slight raise in pitch) will not sound like something is wrong, not to an Italian helpdesk agent. British people guard their emotions, language is polite, whenever possible. The Seven Dimensions of Culture tells us that the United Kingdom (as is Germany) is a neutral culture. In neutral cultures, reason influences action far more than feelings. Italy is an emotional culture, where people tend to want to find ways to express their emotions.

Apologists vs. Non-apologists

It’s simply so: some people find it extremely difficult to apologize. Approximately 50% of my helpdesk colleagues were non-apologists. Asking a non-apologist to apologize for something they did ‘wrong’ is asking a lot. Asking a non-apologist to apologize for something that they had no influence over is asking too much.  As soon as we talk about the business of apologizing, someone in the training room will say exactly what some of my colleagues said: Me? Apologize? What for? I didn’t do anything wrong. A non-apologist. They’re everywhere.

The elements of effective apologies

According to a recent paper, called “An Exploration of the Structure of Effective Apologies”* the best-received apologies contains all six of the following elements (the researchers found that the most important, by far, was acknowledgement of responsibility):

  1. Expression of regret
  2. Explanation of what went wrong
  3. Acknowledgement of responsibility
  4. Declaration of repentance
  5. Offer of repair
  6. Request for forgiveness

In memory of my colleagues

This post is dedicated to all the apologists and non-apologists that I had the pleasure of working with. And here, to finish on a high note, are the few of the apologists’ apologies that also circled (and also deserve to be immortalized on the web). (Click here for more phrases to use in an apology.)

  • Sir, I cannot express in words how sorry I am about that.
  • On behalf of everyone on my team, I want to offer you an apology.
  • It’s absolutely our fault and for that I apologize. This should never have happened.

And our customers…

Almost all our customers were friendly professionals who appreciated our dedication, even when we couldn’t come up with the solution immediately. In no way do I want to imply otherwise. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t have made this post very interesting.

* The paper, called “An Exploration of the Structure of Effective Apologies,” was published in the May 2016 issue of Negotiation and Conflict Management Research. (You can read the abstract online.) The academics — lead author Roy Lewicki, professor emeritus of management and human resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business; Robert Lount, associate professor of management and human resources at Ohio State; and Beth Polin, assistant professor of management at Eastern Kentucky University — presented fictional apologies to 755 people.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Read more about the 3 dimensions of service and how you can use them in your business communication. In the video, Dr. Fons Trompenaars answers the question “How do intercultural skills connect to communication skills?” Please contact us for more information.


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Can a Slice of Pizza Make a Difference? – building alignment in service industries

training providerslargeAll owners and managers dread hearing “I’m just here for my paycheck”. It’s crucial for all establishments to have a culture that employees can relate to, and this means building a working environment where employees share your mission and vision. Large organizations may have a strong overall culture; but the specific cultures within each department and team are just as important. We want our staff to feel attached to the mission and vision of the company. But how do we do this?

I’ve worked with many companies working in the service and hospitality industry in the US and Asia. One problem I’ve noticed is that whenever people begin to talk about building the right culture within a department it can quickly become too abstract. This doesn’t need to be the case! Let’s think of culture as a pizza (or a “pizza pie” as we say in the States). There are several layers in developing a successful and delicious pizza and every layer is essential. Building an effective company or team culture is similar – each layer has its own role to play in impacting the work environment and the bottom line of the organization.

The Dough

The dough is our foundation. When managers and Human Resource departments hire new candidates, one criteria they should look for is the candidate’s commitment or we could say “Is the candidate passionate about what he/she is trying to achieve?” We need to hire those who are passionate and enthusiastic about their roles.

The Sauce

Dough would be tasteless without the sauce. Sauce can be described as core skills and behaviours for the organization, and one-on-one time with new hires is essential. On-boarding training is key too. I consulted a business called Reggae Bar Phi in Thailand. They wanted all new candidates to jump into the job and weren’t spending any time on induction and training. Taking the time to train new employees meant that employees knew what they were doing, why they were doing it and how their roles and actions impacted the bottom line. On- boarding should have a company-wide element plus be customized to fit the department’s objectives.

The Toppings

We’ve got the dough (a passionate candidate) and the sauce (essential training). We all have our own favorite toppings for our pizza – and this is where acknowledging and working with individual diversity is essential. For instance, in the hospitality industry, it’s important that all team members bring their own unique charm to the table to customize a guest’s experience at the hotel. Managers and Human Resources hire employees because they see the unique aspect in each individual that could impact the company. I strongly feel that leaders should build an atmosphere where employees feel comfortable being themselves and playing to their individual strengths.

I had the privilege to work for a great manager at a wonderful hotel in Orlando. One of the key characters my manager asked for was that I be myself. She told me “Bring out the charm in you and wow the guests”. This is an important statement. It’s hard to change a person’s personality and characteristic, but leaders can craft those inner talents towards the establishment’s goals. Allowing employees to bring their personal skills and assets to the table drives commitment, engagement and quality.

The Oven

Have you ever eaten pizza raw? Of course not, we need an oven to fully complete the process. Leaders and Human Resource departments should be there to support individuals and departments to achieve their goals. Employees must feel connected to the organization. One client shared her approach as “Treat employees like you want them to treat external clients”. This can be extended to treating colleagues with the same respect – after all we all need support from one another. Employees need the support from their supervisors or leaders. Front desks can’t run a hotel without the support from the housekeeping department. And a logistics team can’t function without the IT support team.

I’ve used my “Pizza Mind” metaphor to help hotels improve their Market Metrix score and ranking of the departments from the lowest to the winning department of the year. In addition, it also helped to increase staff retention and morals. The main objective of implementing the “Pizza Mind Metaphor” is to help organizations create a stronger and effective culture where employees can be the competitive advantage in the market. No competitors can replicate this recipe of building “intangible assets” within the company.

Earl DechsakdaAbout the author

I have worked professionally in the hospitality industry for more than 7 years. I am currently getting a Master degree in Human Resource Management. I’ve helped train several departments to achieve both departmental and organizational goals. I have consulted and improved employee’s engagement at various small businesses locally and internationally.

Earl Dechsakda

 

 

Are unnecessary barriers to blame for your low CSAT score?

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Customer satisfaction measures how the products and/or services you supply meet or exceed customer expectations

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keytrainingqualityissuesCustomer Satisfaction (CSAT) is based on a series of impressions that the customer has of your service. It doesn’t just refer to the communication skills of the employees who deliver the service. Customers form opinions at every point of interaction with your company – the impression they get from reading your website’s FAQ page, or the impression customers get from the process they have to get through to get someone on the other end of the line; the opinions that your customers form at each point of connecting with you are vital factors in achieving high CSAT scores.

In my opinion and experience, customer service training often focusses on communication skills. Knowing “what to say when” is important, without a doubt. The way you communicate in person with your customer has a large impact on how happy your customer is with the service. On top of that, you can make up for a lot of negative customer impressions during your interaction. But what is often not considered during the soft skills training is that high CSAT scores depend on every impression of your service.

Here’s something I went through recently…

A personal experience and the impression I formed

I cancelled a contract with a phone provider, because of moving to a different part of the country. I looked online for a way to cancel my contract. I couldn’t find anything, probably because my German isn’t great. When I called to ask how I had to cancel, I was told to send a fax. I sent the fax and received a phone call three days later. I was told I couldn’t cancel my contract as per my request because I signed for five years. I confirmed that I wanted my contract cancelled at the end of the five year period, could she please arrange that for me?

She couldn’t. I had to send another fax. I received another phone call confirming that they would cancel my contract as of April 2015 and received a letter confirming this. I thought no more of it until the end of June when I noticed that I was still paying for my contract. I made a phone call to the helpdesk (I actually made seven calls to four different numbers). I heard that my contract was still running and that there was no cancellation from me in the system. He couldn’t escalate this for me, I asked multiple times.

He asked me to send a fax.

In this particular instance my dissatisfaction was based entirely on the unnecessary barriers that stood between me and the solution I wanted (the cancellation of my contract). Whereas personal customer communication can be a barrier, this was not the case with me. More or less every person I spoke to was pleasant, knowledgeable and listened to what I had to say. Yet, based on what I had to do to get my contract cancelled, I felt that nobody really cared about anything to do with my contract. When I asked to speak to a manager, I was told that there was no manager or that he/she wasn’t available.

I understood that they were just doing their job. In fact, the only negative thing I have to say about the people I spoke to is that nobody took responsibility for my problem.

The unnecessary barriers that are to blame for my dissatisfaction

Rigid Processes

Knowing how to get from point A to point B is important for everyone involved. But if the process is not designed with all end users in mind, or if the process does not contribute to an overall positive customer experience, does the process benefit the customer, or the company? Think of it this way…Can you write down the actual benefits the customers get if they follow a process and are they the benefits your customers are looking for?

Inconvenient access to services

Why can I do just about everything online – I can order services and equipment, I can view my invoices, I can chat to the online support people. I can find information via the search function. I can troubleshoot connectivity problems myself. I can do everything but cancel my contract. To do that, I had to drive to a fax machine on 3 different occasions. As I live in the country, it’s a fifteen minute drive to the nearest post office. It won’t be difficult to guess my impression of the service at this stage in the cancellation process, especially because I had to do it 3 times.

Going back to being in the shop where I signed my contract five years ago, I had a similarly unimpressive experience. We received the equipment, which turned out to have a faulty cable. I went back to the shop before it closed (on the same day). I explained to the man who had sold me the contract that I needed a different cable because he’d given me a faulty one. He politely informed me that a new cable had to be ordered, I could have it in six weeks. No, he couldn’t just walk to the back room to exchange the equipment. That was against company policy. The next day, I bought a working cable at a different shop.

Restricting company policies

I had received a letter confirming my cancellation, but apparently this didn’t matter. My cancellation wasn’t “in the system”, which means my contract wasn’t cancelled. End of.

The customer isn’t always right and not everybody should be transferred to a manager, a teamleader, or the next level of support. But hearing “no can do” does not leave a great impression with the customer, especially if he/she is already upset. There should be an escalation path for every scenario, if one is identified as needed. As in my case, if a service breakdown occurs, at the very least, the provider should be able to say “I will forward your concern/problem/question to my manager/teamleader/colleague”, or even “I will ask someone to look into this.” (Whatever happens afterwards is something I should/will write about another time) At this point in the service, my biggest expectation was that someone took responsibility, which could only be conveyed through commitment. Asking for another fax doesn’t cut it.

To summarize, when CSAT is important, consider the following

  • All processes are user-centered: The needs, wants and limitations of end-users are considered and processes are designed accordingly.
  • Communication skills are vital but they’re not the be all and end all of customer satisfaction.
  • Expect agents to act when they detect service-breakdowns or communication patterns that lead to dissatisfaction.

An ex-customer is a potential future customer, an unhappy ex-customer rarely is

I could simply have been an ex-customer instead of an unhappy ex-customer. As a result of the service I received I will never go back to this company. In fact, I will probably tell a number of people to reconsider signing a contract with this company if it ever comes up in conversation. Because that’s what unhappy (ex-)customers do.

Finally… a cancelled contract

I do apologize for this half-rant about my unhappiness with the company that shall not be named. It’s true what they say, writing is a form of therapy. I feel much better! My contract was cancelled as per 1.10.2015. Mission accomplished. More or less, because there’s still the matter of five months of payments between April and September.

Your customer service humbug

Feel free to share comments and/or experiences below, I’d love to read them.

 

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Using the 3 dimensions of customer service in business communication

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In a previous post, I talked about the 3 dimensions of customer service and how balancing the needs of your customer in each of the dimensions is a large step towards customer satisfaction. This post focuses on how you can use the 3 dimensions of customer service in your day-to-day business communication.

A quick reminder of the 3 dimensions

  • The business dimension – the reason for contacting you
  • The human dimension – the personal need of your customer (assurance, empathy, understanding)
  • The hidden dimension – everything that is going on behind the scenes

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Focus on the person, not on the problem

Regardless of how the customer query ends up on your to-do list, and regardless of the type of query, the person most likely contacted you with a business problem. More often than not, you can tell how the customer is feeling by the tone of their voice, or the tone of their email. If you spot something in the tone of the conversation, you need to address it. You can’t ignore it.

Even if there’s nothing in the call or email that explicitly displays emotion, you should be able to address how you think the person is affected by the problem. Of course you need to solve the problem as soon as you can, but it shouldn’t be your first focus.

Here’s an example.

 

Customer query

Dear John,

When can we expect delivery of the replacement parts? Note that the order was placed almost 7 weeks ago.

Regards,

Bruno

 

John’s reply to the customer

Dear Bruno,

I understand that the delayed delivery will start causing problems for your end-client if the parts aren’t delivered soon (1). As you know, these parts are normally dispatched within 4 weeks of ordering (2).  I tracked your order. The problem lays in the manufacturing department. I have just spoken with a colleague there, and she said that the parts should be dispatched within 7 days. (3)

Leave it with me (4). I will follow up with my colleague on Monday and contact you to let you know if everything’s on schedule and when you can expect delivery of the parts (5).

My sincere apologies for the delay (6).

With regards,

John

What John did

  1. John starts the mail by saying that he understands the impact this has. (Human/business dimension)
  2. John reminds the customer how it “normally” works. (Business dimension)
  3. John tells the customer what he has done to find out about the order. (Hidden dimension)
  4. John takes responsibility for the query, assuring Bruno that someone is taking care of his problem. (Human dimension)
  5. John explains how he will follow up. (Business/hidden dimension)
  6. John apologizes for the service breakdown. (Human dimension)

 

Try it for yourself

Use the comments box at the bottom of this post to reply to this email, using all 3 dimensions:

I recently sent you a fax to cancel my contract with you. I have received no confirmation and my bank account shows that I’m still paying for your service. When I contacted your customer service department, they told me that I’d receive a confirmation within 6 weeks.

I’m still waiting.

Please let me know the status of my cancellation asap.

Thank you,

A 6 step guide to writing email apologies

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Writing apologies requires tact and a careful choice of words. An apology that accepts too much blame can lead to problems in future business dealings with that client. Equally, an apology that doesn’t go far enough, or doesn’t sufficiently demonstrate your understanding of the mistake, can also lead to future problems with trust.

Before apologizing to a customer, ask yourself these questions

  • How much of the problem are you going to tell the customer?
  • Are you accepting responsibility? How much?
  • If it wasn’t your fault do you accept some responsibility anyway?
  • What is a reasonable compensation to offer for the problem? Might this set a precedent?
  • Is the problem one that is still ongoing? (And therefore can you promise it won’t happen again?)

writing emails that people read

Once you have answers in mind for these questions, how do you ago about phrasing and structuring your apology? The following acronym and phrases should help.

 

TAP CAP

 

Thank them for taking the time to contact you

  • Thank you for your recent email / call.
  • We appreciate you taking the time to write/ speak to us about….

 Apologize for the problem

  • We are extremely sorry for….
  • Please accept our apologies for…
  • Our sincerest apologies……

 Problem is briefly explained

  •  We were forced to…..
  • We regret that…..
  • This was a result of….
  • I’m afraid we were unable to…..

Compensation or a compromise is offered in some form

  • May we offer you….
  • We would like to offer you……
  • Would you like…..?             

Apology is repeated*

  • We apologize once again….
  • We assure you again that this problem has been resolved
  • We hope that this has not caused you any inconvenience….

*Don’t overdo it. Skip this stage if the problem is small.

Promise to keep standards as high as they were previously and reassure the customer

  • We will take steps to ensure that the high level of service you expect continues….
  • Thank you for your continued business during this time
  • We appreciate your understanding during this period

An example of using TAPCAP in an email

Dear Mr. Chambers,

(TA)

Thank you for your email dated April 15, 2008. We would like to formally apologize for any delays to your shipments which have occurred since the start-up of our new loading dock system in Barcelona.

(P)

Operational delays are occurring which are then being compounded by the roll-out of new delivery schedules. Customs has also had to adapt to the new situation which is currently set up only for part of the new system.

(C)

We ask you to excuse these delays. As part of attempts to help you during this period, we have asked that a hotline is set up to give you up-to-date information on any potential disruptions. If required, we will also provide an extra truck delivery per day at no further expense.

(AP)

We expect that from the upcoming week an interference free operational sequence will once again be in place. We apologize once again and promise to maintain the high level of performance you have come to expect from us in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Ms. Turner

 

The 3 dimensions of customer service

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Do you work directly or indirectly with customers?

If the answer is yes, then you provide customer service.

In a dedicated customer service environment, like a call centre or corporate helpdesk, customer satisfaction (CSAT) is a prominent phrase. In such an environment, customer satisfaction is measured through surveys and feedback. In a non-dedicated environment, customer service is only a small part of the job, but the principles are the same. You need and want the customer to be happy with the service you provide.
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Your CSAT score – getting it from good to great

A happy customer = a returning customer. Because you are dealing with the expectations that people have of you, customer satisfaction means something else for each customer. There are many factors that can influence your customer’s satisfaction. But even though customer satisfaction means different things to different customers, all customer expectations fall in to what is called ‘The three dimensions of customer service.’

The 3 dimensions of customer service

The business dimension

The practical need of your customer. The business dimension is the reason why they are contacting you. Something’s not working. There’s an issue to solve or a question to answer. Providers who work too much in this dimension are focussing on solving the query and not enough on the person making the query. Customers feel the interaction was too impersonal or too technical and their CSAT score reflects this.

The human dimension

The human need of your customer. Customers want respect, attention, assurance. They want to feel important. Addressing customer needs in this dimension successfully has a larger overall impact on the long-term satisfaction of your customer than addressing their business need – even if you can’t answer their query immediately.

The hidden dimension

The hidden dimension is all the things that are going on behind the scenes for you and the customer. For the customer, it’s a set of expectations that they have of the service. For the provider, it’s the processes and procedures that must be followed during the interaction. Your ability to address customer expectations and the hidden aspects of your job can have a large impact on your CSAT score.

Achieve customer satisfaction by focussing on the human dimension

Although balancing your customer’s needs in each of the three dimensions is paramount in achieving an excellent CSAT score, it’s the human dimension where people feel they are cared about and listened to. The efforts that you make in the human dimension will pay off for you on their CSAT score.

A practical example

Here are two partial transcripts of identical queries that one of our clients (a corporate helpdesk) received. When the two surveys came back, one had an average score, the other received the highest mark possible. During both calls, the problem was solved within minutes.

 

Customer query:

I received an email that said I had to upgrade my software. When I clicked on the link, nothing happened. But now the program won’t start either.

 

 

Transcript 1

Customer: How am I supposed to work now?

Helpdesk: I’ll fix it for you. Just hang on for just a minute.

…(customer put on hold)…

Helpdesk: Okay. I’ve resent you the mail with a new link. It should work now. Call back otherwise.

Customer: Thank you.

Transcript 2

Customer: I don’t believe this. I have an important deadline.

Helpdesk: I need to put you on hold for a minute, while I check XYZ on our end. I’ll be right back.

…(customer put on hold)…

Helpdesk: Thanks for waiting. Within the next few minutes, you’ll receive an email with a new link. This time, the upgrade should work just fine. Do you want me to wait on the line while you try it?

Customer: No, that’s okay, I can call back if it doesn’t work.

Helpdesk:  I’m very sorry about this. I understand this is the last thing you need when you have a deadline. In any case, I hope it’s all sorted now.

Customer: Me too. Thanks.

What is good customer service, in your opinion?

Think about excellent customer service that you have received. What sticks in your mind the most – is it the time it took to solve the problem, or how the provider addressed your human need? What specifically did the provider say or do that made you a satisfied customer?  What does someone have to do for you to score a “perfect 10” on a feedback form? For some it is the effort the provider took to make sure the problem was solved. For others it’s the fact that it wasn’t a complete hassle to get someone on the line.

What is good customer service in your opinion? Let us know.

Handling Complaints Quickly: Phrases to Help

Communicating difficult news

Avoid having small issues escalate into big ones

Handling complaints quickly can help your company avoid having small issues escalate into big ones. This summer I had the pleasure of taking my five year old to a well-known fun park on a beautiful, but scorching hot August day. For those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to share this experience and the hours of standing in line it includes, let me tell you this, tempers can fray quickly.

On the bright side, standing in line means that you have lots of time for people watching. I particularly enjoyed one incident where the officials staffing the line decided that it was getting too long. Their solution: change the direction. What happened was that the line simply reversed its order, so that those who had just arrived went to the front and those who had been waiting for over an hour got to go to the back. I felt really sorry for the young French official being eaten alive by the customers – she looked pretty scared. The decision to change the line hadn’t been her decision, but what could she have said instead of just “sorry, sorry, sorry.”? A basic structure for handling complaints along with some suitable language certainly could have come in handy.
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3 Common stages of handling complaints

1.  Listening and empathizing

You might not agree, it might not be your fault personally, but the customer is angry and needs a chance to vent their anger. Don’t keep butting in, let them have a bit of a rant, make some sympathetic noises and try some of these phrases:

  • I see your point / I understand.
  • I can appreciate that.
  • Thank you for pointing that out.
2.  Apologizing and accepting responsibility

Angry customers need to be calmed down – a simple “sorry” goes a long way. And “It’s not my fault” or “there must be a misunderstanding” is never going to improve the situation – avoid both of those phrases at all costs.

  • I’m sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.
  • I’m / we’re terribly sorry about that.
  • Please accept my/ our apologies.
3.  Promising and taking action

You’ve said sorry, now the customer wants to hear what you’re going to do about it. Here are some phrases that might have worked well in the above situation.

  • I’ll let my manager know how you feel, and let’s see if we can find a solution.
  • I’m going to see how we can make this better for you.
  • Here are some vouchers for lunch for any trouble we may have caused you.

3 Possible outcomes of not handling complaints well

1.  Loss of sales

Your competitors may benefit. The customer may decide to take their business elsewhere. This means a loss of sales.

2.  Damaged reputation

The customer will badmouth you to others. Social media means that this is so much easier to do than it used to be. Thousands of people could hear, and you have no way of defending yourself – you just look bad.

3.  Unhappy staff

It isn’t fun having people shouting at you. If there is a clear structure in place, however simple it may be, it will give staff confidence in unpleasant situations. Handling complaints in another language is that much harder, so having some key language up their sleeves will also contribute significantly to how they feel about dealing with the situation.

Why not share your ideas on other language that would be useful or other simple steps that you feel could be taken when handling complaints?

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Customer Service – How do you RATE?

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Customer service can mean a lot of things

All of us have “customers” of one sort or another. Whether we are working on a B2B or B2C basis, with internal or external customers, our customer service skills will make or break us.  But what does good customer service look like?  And how can we raise it?

Understanding customers

Understanding what customers expect is a must.  That individual expectations differ is a customer satisfaction fact. However, all customer expectations fall within the same five dimensions. Topping the list are a positive customer experience and a resolution to a problem or query. I’m sure we all believe we give our customers the former but realistically it may not always be possible to resolve problems exactly the way your customer desires.  This makes your interaction with them even more crucial.

The RATER model

Customer service training commonly uses the RATER model, developed by Zeithaml, Parasuraman, and Berry (1990 – Delivering Quality Service; Balancing Customer Perceptions and Expectations).  Based on the SERVQUAL model, RATER defines five dimensions that customers value when assessing service quality.

Ask yourself 3 key questions:

  1. Do my customers want this?
  2. Am I doing this?
  3. How do I know I’m doing it well enough?

The essences of good customer service

  • Reliability –  Do you do what you say you will do? Do you perform consistently and in a timely and accurate fashion?
  • Assurance –  Do you inspire trust and confidence, making your customers feel safe in their hands?
  • Tangibility – Do you display knowledge? Are you able to explain internal processes, or how you will deal with your customer’s needs?
  • Empathy – Do you show your customer that you understand their needs and situation? Do you treat the customer like an individual?
  • Responsiveness – Do you provide timely customer service? Do you convey a willingness to help?

By integrating an established model such as RATER, you can enhance the value of the service you delivered in all customer interactions, whether in English or other languages.  So how do you rate? Let us know in the comments area below. Also, click here for further help on improving your company’s customer service.

Accounts Receivable: Improving Collection

If you work in accounts receivable, then you know how difficult it can be to call customers about overdue invoices. If you’re working in a second language, then the challenges start to multiply: the person might not understand you, they might be rude to you or they might get defensive when you ask for payment. For these reasons, many accounts receivable professionals prefer to write emails or letters about overdue invoices. However, it’s important for you to pick up the phone and speak to the accounts payable department personally.

Three reasons to call, not email, a client regarding an outstanding invoice

  1. Personal contact can help maintain a healthy working relationship with your customers.
  2. Consistent personal contact can show you’re serious about collecting payment on time. It might be helpful to manage your calls with a call log so you don’t call customers too often, which can be seen as pushy.
  3. Your firm will be proactive in comparison to other firms who are content to write emails and hope for payment.

Three English phrases for politely enquiring about outstanding invoices

  1. ‘Hello, my name is John Smith from ABC Company. I’m calling regarding invoice #1234 in the amount of €1,000,000; due date July 1st, 2013. Do you have the same information in your system?’
  2. ‘Do you know when we can expect payment for this invoice?’
  3. ‘How can we support you in the payment process?’

Three possible outcomes of calling, not emailing, clients

  1. Your patient attention to a client’s payment situation now might turn your company into a preferred supplier later.
  2. Establishing a personal relationship with your accounts payable contact person will help make future payment issues easier to solve. Even if you’re billing a large company who outsources accounts payable, establishing a relationship with someone responsible for approving payments can make outstanding invoices easier to close.
  3. Your phone call starts a dialog with the client, unlike an email or letter. A conversation will give you the chance to ask about the overdue payment, but also about other issues connected to the customer’s account: are invoices coming on time? Are invoices being received by the appropriate department? Is there anything you can do to help them?

If you have experience working in accounts receivable, perhaps you know more strategies for collecting payments effectively. If so, please feel free to make a comment in the comments section below.

Collaborative translation: translation into English with the trainer

How do you deal with translation now?

Most of my participants have been in a situation in which they’ve prepared a document, presentation, blog post, email etc. in their own language, and then it needs translation into English. Does that sound familiar? Most would  probably agree that this can take ages, and can be a thoroughly frustrating experience – however  hard you try, and however good your English is, it’s difficult, on your own, to get the same tone, style, meaning, specialized vocabulary across.

Of course, you could also send it to a translation company, and the work that comes back is usually very good, but it’s just not quite right – it’s not yours and there are things that just weren’t quite right. The problem is that usually the translator is remote and they are sent a text which they may know something about, but not as much as you, to translate – and they usually can’t consult you. This means that you then have to spend more time revising the text.

What don’t we do?

Working as InCorporate Trainers and being based in a wide variety of departments across a number of multi-nationals, it became clear to us that this is a universal problem. Participants tend to want the quick solution and might send us a text in German saying they need it back in English by the end of the day. We don’t do this. Simply, this would put us back in the role of the translator, possibly knowing a little more, as we are based in the department. In the long-run though, who would it help?

What is our solution?

What we do is to train the participant and the department to plan us into their process – there are steps involved in writing a document or putting a presentation together. We become one of those steps.

One of our trainers sets aside an appropriate amount of time with the participant(s) and we work through the text together. One of my clients, for example, needs to put together a newsletter each quarter.  We look at the German text and together decide how to translate it. This involves a great deal of discussion, which sometimes even results in the rewriting of the German text as they realize that something could have been phrased better. As an example, for two sides of A4 this usually takes around three hours – but it is so worth it. The participants have ownership over the piece, they are ALL happy with it both in German and English – and the trainer usually ends up with material based on language points that came up for several training sessions. A win/win situation.

What kind of things can we help with?

To name but a few: manuals, style guides, brochures, flyers, presentation slides, handbooks, instruction sheets, blog posts, social media profiles, speeches – the list goes on…

How can we help you?

You can book sessions with us if you know that you have something important to deliver in English and you want to be completely happy with the wording – but you need to be prepared to dedicate some time, and to accept that this kind of translation depends on you and the trainer working as a team.  Let us know of anything that we can help you with below!

 

On-the-job Training in Action

On-the- job training can be hard to imagine for many of our new Business English trainers. What exactly  is  the DMAIC cycle? And what does on-the-job training really mean. We’re going to regularly update you on some of the on-the-job work we’ve been doing each month to give you a clearer idea. Most of us deal with a wide range of material, and all of us have signed confidentiality clauses as we are privy to some really confidential information.

So, what do we actually do?

Without showing you the texts we’re given it’s difficult to be specific about this, but let me try anyway. The idea is that we aim to help as quickly as possible, so as trainers we need to be as flexible as possible and accept that we might never be able to achieve what we set out to do at the beginning of the day as our agenda gets shifted by the clients’ needs. As an example, here are a few things I did in terms of on-the-job work last week:

A) I helped someone with their email correspondence to a demanding partner in the States (in this email chain the tone was becoming increasingly heated and it was particularly important to achieve a firm but not overly direct tone — the American was also getting a bit wound up, but I couldn’t do much about that).

B) I helped someone review a draft of a circular regarding an update on the status of a project, and informing everyone across the company that they need to adhere to the attached guidelines. This circular is to be sent out by a board member to all divisions in a multinational — understandably, my participant was keen to make sure that the English was perfect both in terms of style and accuracy.

C) A new lady joined one department I work in this month and has to give two presentations next week in English to senior management. As you can imagine, she’s nervous. She prepared what she wanted to say in advance of our meeting, and we went through it with her giving the presentation the way she had planned to (which was pretty good) . This gave me an opportunity to pick up on any errors that were important to her overall performance but, perhaps more importantly, consider how she could improve the level of language she was using to further improve her style. I gave her relevant feedback, and she did the presentation again.

Why do we do it like this?

Because we’re really able to help the clients with exactly what they need — and in combination with classroom training based not on coursebook content, but rather on their real and changing needs — we can help them directly.

What does the client get out of it?

To name but a few: a boost in confidence, the certainty that documents they are producing or presentations they are giving are really accurate, an improved image, credit from their bosses — the list goes on.

What does the trainer get out of it?

The certainty that what you are covering, whether it is in the on-the-job interactions or in training sessions, is immediately relevant and useful. However much you supplement, you are never going to get the same feeling by working your way through a coursebook.

The reward of having really helped them and the resulting level of motivation; the excitement of actually seeing them put what you’ve taught into action. I can’t wait for next Wednesday, as I’m going to a training session on process changes that two of my participants have prepared with me for over a hundred people. They’ve already run it with confidence in the States, Brazil and China, and this is the European session. I think I’m more nervous than they are, and the added bonus is that it’s going to give me bags of material for our training sessions over the next few weeks! Next time, I’ll let you know how it went.