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!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Your Business Card

Today I received a question related to the contents of a business card. The person who asked me the question is currently enrolled in an international gastronomic institution, and, being a student yet meeting many different people, her main concern was "What should my business card say?".

Below are some of my ideas on Business Cards:
  • Business Cards represent you. If you are lucky enough to be able to create your own, keep this is mind. Therefore, they can aid or harm your personal branding efforts.
  • Business Cards may be printed on both sides, but one side should contain all the main contact information, while the other side can have a design, a quote or your business logo. Don't make the receiver have to switch sides all the time, possibly overlooking important information.
  • Business Cards should have a professional look. They should follow the standard business card size, so that people may easily store them in card holders, wallets etc. They should be printed on high quality stock. This is NOT where you want to save money. Save money on other things, but not on something that so heavily represents you and/or your business. You want to make the best of impressions, regardless of what you do or whom you work for.
  • Business Cards should only contain web site addresses if there is a way of contacting you through the web site. This means, business cards are not advertising cards. They are a representation of who you are, what you do and how you can be contacted.
  • While online social networks are "in" and (I believe) here to stay, I would not include "find me on Twitter!" or ""I'm on Facebook!" on the card. This is almost a given, if you own your own business or are eager to network with people. Tell people instead, should they ask about your online presence. Also, instead, include these directly on your web site or your blog. You may only include your blog address if your blog represents what you do and has your contact information on it as well. If it's a personal/family blog, I would not include it in the business card. Again, you are creating and/or maintaining a professional image here.
  • Some people may choose to carry 2 or even 3 Business Cards! People who travel internationally, may have their business cards printed exactly the same way but in different languages! This is a great idea! Other people, may prefer to have a professional card and a "social card". The issue I find with this, is the following (an you may disagree!): When a friend passes your social card on to a potential future employer, for example, meaning nothing but good ("Oh, you should meet my friend Carla! She is a wonderful freelance writer and so creative. She speaks 3 languages and travels all over the world!"), the business owner and editor of that cool magazine obtains Carla's contact info through her friend and the card is very casual: It has a too casual e-mail address (pretty_writerbabe1985 @ funmail.com, as an example), no clear statement of what she does, just her name and a sentence below which says "Living free with an open mind!", it has her personal blog address, Twitter information and 2 overlapping head shots of her at the beach and in the snow. Fun card, but it doesn't transmit professionalism. Your friend was trying to help her out by referring her to a potential freelance position, however, all she had was her "social card" that was passed on to friends, new friends and social acquaintances. Keep in mind, you never know where it could end up, and that's why I would rather have only 1 card that transmits the idea of who I am, what I do and how I can be contacted in a simple, professional way for everybody.

Business Cards are a personal choice, and you are the one who will actually decide what goes on it (if your company doesn't provide you with one or if you are self-employed). The tips above are my opinions on how to keep business cards professional and straight to the point for all receivers.

The most important information on your business card includes the following:

  • Your name as you want to be known by.
  • Your title (my next Blog post will be entirely on "titles" for business cards - coming soon!)
  • Your complete mailing address or physical business address
  • Your contact telephone number and fax number (if you have one)
  • Your e-mail address (if you are a business owner, PLEASE, do NOT use a gmail/hotmail/yahoo etc address. You need to have a professional domain for your email. I have free emails and love using them, but not for business. If you are not a business owner, but a student, use your institution's/school's email address. If this is not available, and that's the only excuse I find, create a professional free email account with your 1st and last name, and not any cute nicknames and numbers, in case you cannot afford to buy your own domain)
  • Your web site address (if you can be contacted through it)
  • Your company's/ institution's name (and logo)

In the example of the person sending me her question: This is what I would do:

Julie Sousa

International Gastronomy Student

ABC School of Gastronomy

123 School Street, Famous City, Famous Country

Tel.: 123-456-7890 (this should be your cell phone, and watch now for your voice mail greeting and ring tone)

E-mail: julie.sousa @ gastronomyschool.com

Blog: TheGastronomyIJournal.blogABC . com

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What do you say?

Do you say "Hi!" or do you say "Hello!"?

I say "hi" to my friends and family.
I say "hello" to someone I'm meeting for the 1st time.
I say "hi" to my family and close friends over the phone.
I say "hello" to business associates.
I say "hi" when the friendly cashier at the groceries store says hi to me.
I say "hello" to higher authorities.
I say "hi" when anybody says "hi" to me as well, regardless of their position, rank, celebrity.

Bottom line: Keep "hi!" for more casual interactions, and "hello!" for more formal interactions!

Do you say "I'm sorry!" or do you say "I apologize!"?

I say "I'm sorry" when I am empathizing with someone's pain or worry.
I say "I apologize" when I arrive late for whatever reason it may be.
I say "I'm sorry" when I can't help but laugh at a tragic-funny situation.
I say "I apologize" if I accidentally knock over someone's water glass at the table.
I say "I'm sorry" when I find it difficult to express any words of comfort.
I say "I apologize" when I made a true mistake.
I say "I'm sorry" when I have to deliver news that may not be very good ones.

Bottom line: Take into consideration that to give an apology is an action, while to be or feel sorry is a state of mind.

Friday, September 4, 2009

When your guests misbehave

First of all, I must say:
It is not your fault if your own guests misbehave at a restaurant. Unfortunately, we cannot be responsible for adults' actions.

Here is the setting:
The host invited a group of about 10 to have dinner at a friend's restaurant. She planned it with care and made sure all guests' needs could be met during dinner. One of the guests decided to invite 2 friends to attend as well. The hostess welcomed the additional guests, 2 ladies.
The restaurant: a Colombian owned restaurant, specializing in South-American cuisine, featuring Colombian music, decor and on that specific evening, also a late Karaoke entertainment event.
The guests: Some were of Hispanic descent and some were not. The 2 additional guests spoke English and no Spanish, and were not familiar with Colombian cuisine, atmosphere and the "Latin touch".

What happened:
Upon arrival (a rather late arrival), the 2 ladies approach the table, greet everybody, and start giggling and whispering to one another. After taking their seats, they decide to use the table's paper napkins to write notes and pass it around the table to some people (No, the ladies were not young teenagers. They could have been teenagers' mothers maybe). The hostess spots the behavior and actually gets to read one of the notes. It said: "WTF, all Spanish here?!"

The response:
The hostess felt embarrassed and very uncomfortable. The table was displaying a large amount of handwritten notes on paper napkins, and even the owner, once approaching the table to greet the guests, noticed the pile of written communication laying around.
The hostess made sure the 2 ladies had a menu with English translation and asked if they needed any suggestions. She tried accommodating their needs but their behavior was getting her really, really upset and embarrassed. She even apologized to her friend, the restaurant's owner.

My response:
A few days later, after hearing about the incident, I felt bad. It is so sad that adults can behave in such manner. I immediately told her "It is not your fault!. You can only feel sorry for them, as the event has passed and they ended up leaving a very bad impression on you, on the restaurant staff and other guests at the table."
What would you do in such a situation?
I would keep in mind they are my guests, but I would also keep in mind they are probably embarrassing themselves and others. The most appropriate response to this situation would be to address them, engage them in conversation, ASK them questions and offer help. Deviating their attention from their own actions could change their focus. If they see you reading one of the notes, you can diplomatically make a comment like "Oh, this must be your first time here! We admire the quality of service and of the food they serve. It's a great way to learn more about the Colombian culture. They are wonderful people!" Smile when you say that, be sincere, not snippy, and look them in the eyes. Your goal is to appease the situation, and not make it worse for anybody. You are the hostess, and as a hostess, sometimes, we have to deal with guests who misbehave. Unfortunately.

No matter what, always be a class-act!