Let's Talk: 5 Tips for Handling Crucial Conversations
Let’s face it – no one likes conflict. But it is important for professionals to know how to have difficult conversations. This is especially important for customer care executives who constantly face rising accountability and myriad challenges in today’s accelerated business world. Many are expected to do more with less while managing staff teams, difficult personalities, fluctuating budgets and meeting ambitious performance goals. Not to mention those of us who experience a restructure, merger or acquisition.
Try these tips to help you manage and stress less about crucial conversations so that you can focus your precious energy on developing your staff and growing your company.
1. Take Notice
Recognize when it is time to have a crucial conversation. Perhaps you’re having trouble achieving organizational goals or dealing with a difficult team member. Taking notice and having difficult conversations when needed can help you and your team get unstuck, refocus on strategic goals and propel your company to new heights.
2. Don't Delay
According to VitalSmarts, employees waste about $1,500 and an eight-hour workday for every accountability discussion they avoid. Managers often hesitate to engage in these types of conversations because they aren’t quite sure how to approach their employees. The reality is that conflict is a natural part of human interaction and an inevitable part of leadership. Choose a safe environment to have the conversation and move to action. Prolonging the process may cause more damage and create unnecessary, avoidable tension.
3. Manage Your Emotions
Emotions can run high during difficult conversations. It is essential to remain unbiased, stick to the facts and keep your own feelings in check. If you notice that emotional levels rise for either party, take a break and schedule a time to revisit the conversation in the near future.
4. End Well
Ending on a positive note will ensure that employees feel respected, empowered and committed to personal and professional growth. Remain supportive, come up with feasible solutions or alternatives to challenges and end with clear expectations. This will ensure that you are giving your employees the tools needed to meet future goals and truly create behavior change.
5. Practice Makes Perfect
It is important to do your research, educate yourself, attend workshops and conferences, engage in learning with peers and practice these essential skills. Managing change and holding people accountable are two major discussion topics at SOCAP’s 2017 Executive Summit next month. Both topics are critical to helping senior customer care leaders be more effective in their roles. Join other CEO’s and Executives from across the country at this year’s Symposium and Executive Summit to practice and master the art of crucial conversations. Mastering these steps can help you build high performing teams, increase company success, realize greater bottom-line results and help you foster meaningful relationships in the workplace and beyond.
Don’t Forget to Connect Customer Service Week with Strategy
This week, thousands of organizations around the world are recognizing Customer Service Week. It’s encouraging to see companies across all types of industries make an effort to celebrate their commitment to customer satisfaction. However, many leaders are doing their organizations a disservice by not using Customer Service Week to its fullest potential as a platform for employee engagement that fosters a deeper culture of service.
There’s not a single customer service professional I know who wouldn’t agree that employee engagement is critically important to the service a company ultimately delivers to its customers. As reaffirmed in Gartner’s 2015 report, ‘How to Get Your Customer Service Employees to Care About the Customer,’ research shows “high levels of employee engagement contribute to higher levels of customer satisfaction.” Yet, Customer Service Week – a time so clearly and publicly dedicated to recognizing customer care – is far too often overlooked as a critical opportunity to strengthen an organization’s relationship with and among its employees. It’s often swept aside as a ‘check-the-box’ activity fulfilled by simply giving staff members branded chotskies. Or it might be five days riddled with a host of activities that have been carefully planned but focus more on the fun than the functional. In many cases, Customer Service Week falls flat on strategy.
As you celebrate Customer Service Week at your organization, ask yourself these three questions to help ensure your initiatives are connected with a larger strategy. Use these considerations as a guide … and you may discover enhancements you can make on the fly to make this important week even more meaningful
- Are your planned activities fun and functional?
Of course, Customer Service Week calls for celebration. But the festivities should go beyond being simply fun and simultaneously serve a purpose that benefits the business. This doesn’t mean you have to cut your creativity short or make what should be lighter, enjoyable activities feel like they’re work. It does, however, require dedicated thought about how to make surface-level initiatives more impactful.
For example, consider a ‘Superhero Showcase’ dress-up day – a nod to the heroic feats customer service representatives are known for pulling off. Beyond building camaraderie by having staff members sport their favorite costumes or t-shirts on a designated day, use the opportunity to have each person share how the traits of their assumed characters relate to providing extraordinary service. This sharing will open up a meaningful discussion about what it means to embody service in its various forms and challenge professionals to think beyond traditional notions of customer service.
- Do the activities engage other parts of the company?
The importance of service is hardly limited to the customer service department –and Customer Service Week activities shouldn’t be either. There’s no better time to educate others within the organization about how customer service impacts the business, so use this week (and the weeks that follow) to connect with colleagues in other departments.
One way to do this is by providing employees with a “passport” and including an insert with different missions – such as spending time with peers across the organization – that need to be completed. During those visits, employees can learn about each other’s job functions and how they deliver service to their customers, then report back to their respective teams for broader knowledge sharing. Not only does this exposure enhance employees’ perspectives and further their professional development, it also helps to fortify a consistent company-wide culture of service.
- What’s next?
The spotlight on customer service recognition during these five days shouldn’t just be a moment in time. Rather, look at it as a jump-start for longer-term or ongoing initiatives for engaging employees and strengthening the service culture. Use this week as a learning opportunity to determine which approaches and tactics were most successful as well as those that weren’t as well-received … and plan for the future from there.
Did the team have a blast with the superheroes? Keep their enthusiasm going by creating a ‘Superhero Shout-out’ bulletin board in a high-traffic area where they can publicly post and share kudos for their colleagues. Were the passports a hit? That’s your cue to organize more frequent peer-to-peer exchanges among different departments.
Regardless of your approach, keep strategy central to your Customer Service Week celebrations to make them count. For more ideas or to learn more about how you can deliver outstanding care to your customers, visit www.staffcom.com or click here for SOCAP's top ten ideas to celebrate Customer Service Week.
CJ Stafford is president of Stafford Communications Group Inc., a boutique company with three distinct, yet complementary, lines of business: outsourced call center services, customer care consulting and marketing services. Stafford works with pharmaceutical, healthcare, food, consumer packaged goods and beauty care companies – ensuring their customer service initiatives are aligned to their marketing programs so they intrinsically support each other.
3 ways to get more value out of customer feedback
For SOCAP members, the top priority is putting the customer first. We know our customers’ voices drive improvements, and we understand the power of brand advocates. But how can brands ensure authentic feedback with the content needed to provide rich insights that benefit the whole organization?
The ConsumerAffairs research team conducted several consumer studies focused on the ways consumers perceive, engage with, and share feedback with brands. The core focuses of our research centered around incentivized reviews, review timing, and the best rating scales for accurate ratings. Each study gave us a key takeaway to help brands get even more value out of customer feedback to turn customer engagement into a major revenue driver.
Rethink incentivization of reviews
If you’ve purchased a product recently, you may have received a request to share your experience. But what was the call to action? Did that feedback give you a chance to win a trip? Were you offered a small gift or discount? If so, those offers may be coloring the story you share. The result? Less authenticity in customer feedback, which can prevent brands from spotting trends in customer issues to prevent systemic problems.
Our surveyed consumers were asked to select any incentives they believed would make a review less trustworthy. The least trustworthy? Cash incentives over $100. Here’s the full breakdown:
- Cash over $100 - 47%
- Cash between $5 and $100 - 42%
- A chance to win over $100 - 39%
- An item valued at over $100 - 39%
- An item valued between $5 and $100 - 34%
- A chance to win between $5 and $100 - 31%
- Cash under $5 - 29%
- An item valued under $5 - 20%
- A chance to win under $5 - 20%
A study we conducted internally exploring the conversion rates from review request to review across all of our partnered brands indicated incentives didn’t impact review conversion rates. The bottom line? Your brand could stand to collect even more authentic feedback and maintain review conversion rates without incentives. An added benefit is the ability to reduce spend on incentives offered.
Capture feedback at the right time in the buying cycle
Timing is everything, and optimized timing gives your team the best chance to collect richer insights from customers by allowing them to complete the buying cycle and rate more facets of their experience. One interesting data point revealed the impact of an overall rating versus rating several factors of customer experience. For negative ratings, the rating was even lower when a customer was asked for an overall rating. For positive ratings, the rating was higher when a customer was asked for an overall rating.
This may sound great if your company is only seeing positive reviews, but no brand has a perfect score, and an overall rating without looking deeper into various areas of the customer experience means your team won’t be as capable of pinpointing opportunities for improvement using customer feedback. Knowing the best insights come from asking questions covering various areas of the customer experience from ordering to use of the product over time, one of the best ways to capture quality feedback is to consider incorporating additional review collection paths into your reviews management strategy.
A third-party phone review collection service helps collect unbiased, authentic feedback from customers, focusing the questions on what matters most to your team. Within email review requests, consider providing guidance on areas you’d like to have rated and mentioned in a review. Consumers indicate they rely more on review content than ratings to make informed purchasing decisions and solve their own customer service issues, so considering this as you request customer feedback will play a large role in improved quality of feedback.
Rating scales matter, and a shorter rating scale offering a neutral value improves accuracy
Our study on rating scales looked at ratings of reviews as they related to a text analysis of the review’s content. We evaluated the correlation of both against rating scales from 1-3, 1-5, 1-10, and even the Wong-Baker Faces Scale. What we discovered is the five-point rating scale was least biased in driving a rating toward a particular valence, and has the strongest correlation between rating and review content.
These results indicate an increased likelihood for brands to see more accuracy both in ratings and review content when positioned on review sites using this 1-5 rating scale, improving the value of customer feedback for brands and the consumers reading customer stories online. While there’s nothing wrong with being positioned across all review sites where your customers are already engaging, this data is a helpful guide as your teams identify additional channels to incorporate into your growing customer engagement strategy.
Feedback gives customer service teams the information needed to resolve issues and keep customers coming back, but a smart reviews management strategy will help customer service teams deliver optimized consumer insights to product and marketing teams. We already know customer service teams are the heroes of the company, and continuing to highlight the value of customer feedback will only add to the vitality of customer service as a driver for meaningful improvements in customer experience.
*All data from internal consumer studies conducted from December 2015 - August 2016 by Dr. Sean Guillory, Ph.D. - Data Scientist at ConsumerAffairs Learn more on how to develop a proactive customer engagement strategy for organic search on SOCAP's webinar, October 4 at 2pm ET.
Zac Carman is CEO of ConsumerAffairs, an online platform for purchasing advice delivered through consumer reviews, news, and expert resources. The site offers a partnership, ConsumerAffairs for Brands, centered around a customer engagement SaaS platform and includes participating in the organization's accreditation program.
Message from 2016 Board Chair - February SOCAP Scoop
Good day SOCAPers,
We are already in February, and I hope that your 2016 has been good so far! As your 2016 Board Chair, my goal is to keep you informed about the things happening at SOCAP.
On my side, the year started with an exciting trip to Detroit where I attended a chapter event with our new President & CEO Brian Costanzo. I am very grateful for the hospitality shown from our Great Lakes Chapter members. Brian and I plan to attend as many chapter events this year as possible, and I wish to thank the chapter officers for their time and talent. I encourage chapters to notify Brian at email@example.com once they have confirmed event dates. If you need us to speak, we are delighted to assist.
Have you registered yet for our upcoming national events? Please register for the Symposium (April 10-13) and the Executive Summit in Nashville, TN. (Please note: The Executive Summit registration also includes attendance to the Symposium. Or you can also just register for the Symposium.) The early-bird deadline is March 1 for the Symposium, so register now to save on your registration.
This year’s Symposium will continue its focus on professional learning and collaboration for customer care leaders. The Symposium will feature outstanding keynote speakers like Hello Products Founder & CEO, Craig Dubitsky, along with professional development workshops--designed to immerse you in targeted content and provide you with additional competencies that you can apply to your current work. In addition to our sessions, we are pleased to bring back our very popular Roundtable 3.0 general session which allows you to identify and drive open, unscripted conversations with your peers on topics that interest you the most. I encourage you to share information about the 2016 Symposium with your networks and be sure to follow us using our Twitter event hashtag #SOCAPsymp16.
Along with hiring a new CEO last year, the SOCAP Board has spent a significant amount of time developing the Strategic Plan that focuses on creating member value in the following areas:
- Developing SOCAP Communities
- Elevating the visibility of customer care through thought leadership and the impact of our new Customer Engagement Framework
- Professional Development
- Member journey mapping that will enable increased value and personalization for your SOCAP membership
Should you wish to know more about the plan, please contact me or Brian. We would welcome your feedback.
Finally, I am pleased to inform you that our current Board members, Andy Begnoche, Director, Operations Holdcom; Ed Billmaier, Director, Customer Relations, Pier 1 Imports; and Chris Irving, Assistant Vice President, Consumer, Government & Legal Affairs Publishers Clearing House, will be joining the Executive Committee this year. For a full list of our Board Members click here. Also, for the list of our Executive Committee Members, along with our Committee and Community leaders, please click here. Be on the lookout for an email later this month seeking nominations to next year’s Board of Directors. We are always looking for new leaders to step up and contribute.
Thank you for your membership and renewing for another great year. Should you still need to renew your membership, please click here.
I look forward to seeing you at one of the local or national SOCAP events this year. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to Brian or me with thoughts, ideas and questions.
Have a great 2016 and thank you for your continued contribution to our profession.
2016 Board Chair