Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Boston gets an A!

Having coffee at "Boston Coffee House" here in Orlando is an experience that can be described as calming, comfortable and unique.

I say unique, because this place has a few "differentiators" that make it special, in comparison to many other cafes around town:

Great Service: Even if you just want a simple cup of coffee, like I did, they will gladly bring it to you where you choose to be seated!...And, even if you're just having a simple cup of coffee, they come and check whether there's anything you need.
Space: It's always well visited, but never too crowded. There are comfortable tables spread out in the coffee house, with an abundance of natural sunlight coming in!
Wi-Fi: There is free Internet connection, AND power outlets, with no limit on how long you can be connected! Thank you!
Yum: Food options range from your usual coffee accompaniments (cakes, cookies, cinnamon buns etc) to salads and sandwiches.
Looks: The place looks great, cozy, very clean, uncluttered and has a community feel.

Thank you, Boston Coffee House, for making many of my afternoons so pleasant!

Friday, July 30, 2010

34 and...change!

A year and a half later, after having written 34 posts on Etiquette, Communication, Networking and Personal Branding, and after taking a necessary break due to personal and business reasons, INTERNATIONAL ETIQUETTE SOLUTIONS, INC. (aka IES) is officially starting a new chapter! Thus, the E if for Etiquette Blog is also affected.

How so?

IES is filling a need.

The Service Industry has called asking for Help! Customer Service Agents, Retail Clerks, Restaurant Staff, Airline Personnel and many other Hospitality and Tourism Agents want to benefit from the training IES can offer them.

The philosophy is simple.

IES leaves the technicalities of the job to the company. Molding around the company's culture, strongly respecting and preserving its internal marketing efforts, IES creates a short training program that tackles the SOFT SKILLS.

Soft Skills?

  • It's not what you say, but HOW you say it.
  • It's not just because you talk with your hands, but HOW you use your hands to talk.
  • It's not how you feel inside, but how to EXPRESS your empathy through words and gestures.
  • It's not a matter of you listening better, but of you listening with your eyes.
  • It's not about meeting a customer's or guest's needs, rather, it's about exceeding them.
  • It's not just about making a 1st good impression, but about creating amazing, everlasting memories.

IES has started dedicating itself to the Service Industry entirely.

Expected benefits of IES' Training?

Better communication skills, resulting in
Higher motivational levels at the job, resulting in
Increased levels of job satisfaction, resulting in
Stronger appreciation for the employer, resulting in
Enhanced commitment to one's job, resulting in
Decreased turnover and absenteism, resulting in
More loyalty towards fellow colleagues, superiors and company, resulting in
Easier problem elimination, resulting in
Heightened customer and guest satisfaction, resulting in
Continuous desire to exceed customers' and guests' needs, resulting in
Overall better bottom line results


Monday, November 2, 2009

Table Etiquette: Seating your guests

The Holiday season is almost here, and while it is not here yet, you are probably planning and running through your mind what you will be doing this year.
Are you hosting a festive dinner this year? Are you attending one?
In the U.S.A., we celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. A very traditional holiday, Thanksgiving tends to bring family and even close friends together. Homes are filled with delicious home-cooking smells from the kitchen, where turkey, pumpkin pie, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes etc are enthusiastically prepared for Thanksgiving Dinner.
(In my family, we add to this white rice, black beans, yucca and sweet plantains, but that is a whole different story. Needless to say, we barely have any space on the the table for all the delicious food: a Cuban-Brazilian influenced Thanksgiving! Very yummy, indeed!)

Let's say you are hosting a Holiday Dinner this year. You already know who is attending, and you have a nice mix of friends, family and different age groups. You have a total of 12 people, including yourself.

Decorate your table as you wish, prepare all the delicious food you decided for your menu, and think of how your guests will be seated.
Here is an important reason for that:

The flow of conversation needs to be kept up in order to allow for a pleasant, unforgettable and entertaining dinner.
You want to seat your guests strategically. In this case, let's say you are hosting a rather casual dinner, you don't need to have a "guest of honour" in mind. If you do, though, the "guest of honour" will be seated to your right. The person 2nd in rank, let's say the "guest of honour's" spouse, will be seated to your left.
That's right. There is NO need to seat married couples side by side. In fact, it is desirable NOT to seat them side by side. One reason being, it is assumed that married couples engage in daily conversations anyway, so that it is much more strategic to seat people, who don't have this chance, side by side and across from each other.
Engaged couples, however, protocol dictates, should be seated side by side.
Think of the strong communicators of the group and spread them out. Don't have your quiet guests grouped on one side of the table and your chit-chatters all together on the other one.
You may choose if you, as the host, want to sit at one of the table's ends or right in the middle. Once you pick your spot, prior to dinner (name cards are a nice touch and guide your guests to their seats, easily! I strongly encourage their use!), take some time to think where your guests will sit.
  • Split up married couples
  • Follow the lady-gentleman-lady order, allowing for different genders to interact
  • Split up the talkers and the listeners to allow for better communication flow
  • Keep engaged couples sitting side by side
Etiquette, in my opinion, should not be regarded as a set "book of rules". You need to adapt. Here's when you adapt to situations by adapting the rules:
  • Keep in mind guests who may not be proficient in the main language spoken that evening
  • Keep in mind guests who "need" to sit together like a child and its mother, an older couple or someone who needs assistance while dining
  • Keep in mind a very special request from your guest: "Can I please sit next to her?"

Designing a seating chart may take time and may sometimes be looked at as almost a science! Think of all the variables you need to consider, correct?

But keep in mind always, you want to allow your guests to feel comfortable, engaged in nice conversation, happy and glad they attended your event. Make it memorable for them.

In a next post, I will comment on choosing the right people for the right event. Not always do we have the chance to choose just certain people who will really "add to the mix". Sometimes, we can't. However, sometimes we can. We'll talk about this next time.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Do YOU do THIS? Please, don't!

A short post to remind you NOT to do these following things, EVER:

While talking to someone, DON'T text message or check e-mails on your phone, no matter how fast a typer you are or how quickly you want to browse your e-mails. If you MUST send/check a text message or e-mail, excuse yourself first, and then do it. You can't share attention even though you might think it's possible. No, it's rude and shows disrespect.

Avoid at all costs talking to others next to/around you while talking on the phone. I don't care if it's a pet, a baby, another friend, your spouse or someone on Skype. If we are speaking on the phone, I'm doing so for a reason, and I'll expect you to speak with me, and not share the time with others next to you while "I'm patiently waiting" and wondering why you are interrupting our conversation. Again, if you must talk to someone, a pet, a child, anybody else while talking on the phone, EXCUSE yourself 1st. It's about good manners and consideration.

Online bullying is a waste of time. If you have a problem with someone, please address it in person and put an end to the "drama". Why would you waste your time and your energy in being negative and achieving nothing, really? If you are the bullied one, move on by ignoring the comments. Bullying should only affect you if you actually believe some of it that is being said is actually true. For example, if someone tells me "I think your freckles are ugly!", it wouldn't affect me at all, because I know it's not true: I don't even have freckles!! ....just a note, I think freckles are actually a super nice touch!

Fast casual restaurants (Panera, Crispers, a mall's food court...) or fast-food restaurants require you to participate in the service encounter. You are to clean up after yourself, no matter what. Don't make a fool of yourself by leaving your table dirty and not pushing your chairs back in/under the table (if they move). If you spill something, wipe it or ask for help. You are a co-producer of the service encounter. Act smart!

Never pick your teeth/clean your teeth at the table. Reserve this personal moment for the restroom, please, even if you are dining alone. Also, don't use your tongue to "clean up" in there. If something is bothering you, excuse yourself and visit the restroom. Don't take too long, as you should always avoid leaving the table while dining with others.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Be a partner in your service encounter!

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about a few things front desk agents at a hotel go through emotionally and physically while working. It's not an easy job, and in my opinion, they are tremendously underpaid for the huge responsibility (that of providing excellent service and being the company's ambassador at all times, amongst other duties, of course.) they carry each and every day.

It is part of my wish to help customers and guests better understand their service provider, so that they too, can partner up in order to achieve a successful and very positive service encounter.

A customer service agent, whether sitting at a desk answering phone calls, helping customers exchange unwanted merchandise, checking guests in and out of a hotel or arranging dinner reservations "even if it is not his real job", constantly goes through emotion regulation.

In a negative scenario, emotion regulation will dictate how employees react to situations right there when they are interacting with their guest/customer. They have a choice of reacting in a fake way, a choice of retrieving from the negative encounter or a choice of deeply feeling what the customer is going through. Not all customer service agents act in the same way, and this may not even have to do with the company policies they abide to. It could be related to culture as well.

When customer service agents fake their feelings, they are "surface acting". They want to fix the situation, but don't really care deep inside. They could smile often and say empathetic things to ease the frustration of the guest ("I know how you feel, Mr. Schmidt..."), but they are faking because they don't feel the connection, may think the customer is exaggerating, have their thoughts set at something else, yet, this is their job. There is no authenticity in their smile. This frustrates the customer as well and is not "healthy" for the employee.

On the other hand, customer service agents who are well trained are able to engage in "deep acting", creating a strong connection with the feelings and frustrations the customer is feeling. The agent appears very authentic, because, in a way, the empathy feeling exists. They might not have gone through the same issue, yet, they are able to replay in their minds situations that have triggered them to feel very similar feelings and these feelings are brought alive through "deep acting". "Deep acting" is far more effective than "surface acting" when interacting with upset customers. And yes, it is what it is: acting with real feelings.

Don't think customer service agents are there just to do their jobs and act. Many of them have a true passion for serving others, and while sometimes they might not feel the emotional connection with an upset customer, they are able to regulate their emotions in a way to develop this common feeling and better deal with the situation. If you manage customer service agents, you are lucky to have true passionate employees on your team. They exist!

"Deep acting" has also shown to be a far better manager of burnout, absenteeism and job satisfaction for customer service employees.

Other employees simply avoid the situation and call their supervisor or manager, especially if they are not given a lot of autonomy on the job. This (lack of autonomy and avoidance), however, in my opinion, does not foster job satisfaction.

So, why do I write about this?
I believe that as part of a pleasant, effective interpersonal exchange, people need to better understand how their service providers work and think. What can you, as a customer, do with this information? Understand and regulate your emotions as well. Be a partner in the service encounter. Help the agent engage in "deep acting". It will pay off.

How do you engage in deep acting?
Recall a situation and re-live the feelings that were brought along with the situation. Pick a situation that suits the event. Is the customer really upset seeming very disappointed? When were you last so upset and disappointed that you promised yourself never to walk into that store again? Feel that feeling and apply it to the service encounter.

As a manager, look deeper into emotion regulation and "deep acting" for your employees. Be a transformational leader more than a "numbers and rules" leader.

Communication is so important, yet, we fail to acknowledge it and understand the dimensions that can make it more efficient and meaningful!