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Why Your Customer Service Strategy is Failing

 Okay, that title is a bit strong, I agree. But, I wanted to get your attention. I want to talk about customer service – why it is vital to your success, and why so many organizations are going about it all wrong. These past few weeks I have been traveling, keynoting and consulting in Southeast […]

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Why Your Customer Service Strategy is Failing

 Okay, that title is a bit strong, I agree. But, I wanted to get your attention. I want to talk about customer service – why it is vital to your success, and why so many organizations are going about it all wrong.

These past few weeks I have been traveling, keynoting and consulting in Southeast Asia. Working for organizations and associations in Singapore, Bangkok and Cambodia. An amazing experience, complete with adventure, travel, and the opportunity to work in these emerging cultures with young leaders who are eager to learn.

When I started my journey, I was worried that my message would not translate or be valid in cultures that I perceived to be so different than ours. I could not have been more wrong. I quickly learned that no matter where you go in the world, the issues, with a few exceptions, in business and in life are basically the same.

Keynote after keynote, presentation after presentation, my audiences had the same questions about how to engage employees, increase sales and improve the customer experience. These are cultures where growth is rampant, competition fierce and the battle for talent is a constant struggle. The leaders here get it. They know that the better their customer service, the better their opportunity to compete and win.

In Singapore, they wanted to know how to get the “customer to choose them” over their competitors. In Bangkok, it was how to determine what the customer experience should be. And in Cambodia, it was how do we engage our employees in the customer service process. Before answering their questions, I had a few of my own.

I wanted to know what had these leaders had done within their organizations to make it better, to improve the customer experience. They shared the training programs they had created, the trainers they had hired, and the policies and procedures they had put in place. While all these leaders had seen incremental improvement, none (just like in the U.S.) had seen the results they really wanted. That was the answer these leaders wanted. That was the secret formula they were looking for. What does it take to really increase customer service results?

Well I think creating amazing customer service really comes down to one thing – just one thing. It is not sexy, and it is not even all that exciting. The key to creating amazing customer service is – ready – drum roll please… Listening! Yep that is it, just listening.

If you want to understand how to make someone (your customer) happy, then listen to them. If you listen, not just wait for your turn to talk or to implement the next step in your customer service process, your customers will tell you exactly what they want and need. They will tell you what they value, what is important and what their definition of great customer service is!

See, that is the catch, and that is the rub with any customer service “plan,” – one size does not fit all. What you need to deliver great customer service is not a great customer service plan. What you need, is an employee who can listen. We need to spend more time teaching our employees how to listen, and less time focusing on process and procedures designed for one type of customer.

What does it take to be a great listener?  Just three easy steps…

3 Strategies To Keep Your Customer Service Strategy From Failing

  1. Ask Great Questions

The key to listening is to have something to listen to and for. If you are doing all the talking, you are not listening. Yes, I realize that is as plain as the nose on your face, but you would be surprised how many people don’t get it. You begin the listening process by asking great “open ended” questions.

  1. Stay In The Moment

Practice being present by focusing more on what they are saying and less on what your response might be. When you stay present, you tune into more than people’s words. You tune into their body language, their tone of voice, their expressions etc. And the more present you stay, the better ideas you’ll hear on how to create a completely unique customer experience.

  1. Use What Ya Learn

The final step is to act. You have asked the questions. You understand what is most important to your customers. Now, it is time to use what you learned. Take action! Deliver on the little things that are important to them. Not only will that get what they asked for, but when we act on what we hear people say, we send a strong message that says we care, they matter and this relationship is valuable.

So there you have it, your entire customer service strategy summed up in one short article. Spend time teaching, practicing and focusing on listening. You will build stronger relationships with your customers, your customer service skills will go up and you will drive results. Now that is what I call a return on investment!

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Posted by Meridith Elliott Powell in Business Growth, Business Strategy & Customer Service and tagged , , , ,

To Get Business – Ask For The Business

4 Basic Sales Strategies That Get Results I just lost a really big deal. Lost it not because I did not have a relationship with my buyer. Lost it not because I did not understand their needs. Lost it not even because my competition offered better solutions or a better product. I lost it simply […]

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To Get Business – Ask For The Business

4 Basic Sales Strategies That Get Results

I just lost a really big deal. Lost it not because I did not have a relationship with my buyer. Lost it not because I did not understand their needs. Lost it not even because my competition offered better solutions or a better product. I lost it simply because I forgot the most important of sales strategies – I did not directly ask for the business.

Here is the story. About a year ago, April 2016, I did a series of keynote speaking engagements for a company. A series of four programs to be exact. They were thrilled, said I had the highest scores among speakers they had hired. They immediately gave me another bit of work, asking me to do a webinar for their staff. Again, I hit it out of the park, and my ratings were off the chart.

The meeting planners told me right away they definitely wanted to work with me again. She also shared they have an internal policy, that they need to “change-up” the speakers every year, so they would be looking to work with me again in 2018. Great, at this point I believe I have it in the bag. I go ahead and put four speaking gigs in 2018 on my calendar.

Not one to take a deal for granted, I marked my calendar to do systematic follow-ups. That is where my mistake began. Typically, I would follow-up with potential clients using a three to one ratio. Three follow-ups adding value and building our relationship balanced with one follow-up about me and asking directly for the business. But this time I was so sure, so positive that I had the deal that I never bothered actually asking for the business. I just followed-up building the relationship.

I have to say my follow-ups were brilliant! One of the meeting planners was having surgery. I sent her flowers and called two weeks later to see how she was doing. I hit every holiday with fun cards and things to make them laugh. I had two articles published in industry related magazines, and shared those both to add value and reinforce my expertise. And the list goes on, we were fast becoming good friends.

Every contact I made they responded, and responded enthusiastically. So, when March rolled around (2017) I knew they would be planning for 2018, and I waited for them to reach out to talk business. When no one did, I sent another fun card and a new video I had released. Both meeting planners reached back out giving me high praise and thanking me for the share.

Thinking things were on track, I let it sit for a few weeks. When the first week of April came, I started to get a little worried, but still I did not want to push. I figured they were just behind in their planning. By mid-April no word, I got my first clue I might have missed my shot. Two-days ago, I decide to finally pull the trigger and just flat out ask about working together again in 2018.

The response I got still makes me a little sick to my stomach. How could I have been so dense as to not actually ask for the business. “Meridith, we would love to work with you again, our attendees loved you. However, our schedule is full for 2018, you know us we plan ahead. Please reach out for 2019, and do not be a stranger until then.”

What a lesson, and what lesson that I learned the hard way. I had done so much right, hit every step of how to get business accept the obvious one – actually ask for the business. Trust that I will not make that mistake again, and here are four basic sales strategies to ensure you do not make it either.

4 Basic Sales Strategies That Get Results

1. Build Relationships First – before you can ask for anything, you have to build relationships with your prospects. The only reason people do business with you is because they know you, they like you and they have a relationship with you. So, slow the sales process down and invest in connecting with your prospects and building the relationship. I had this piece down, both meeting planners I had both a personal and a professional relationship with, and in doing so I had positioned myself well to get the deal.

2. Understand The Needs – invest in asking a lot of open ended questions and really listen. That means be present, and not just waiting for your turn to speak. If we pay attention to our prospects and listen to what they say, we will discover not only what they need, but the order in which they want it. Selling to prospects based on their urgent need builds trust. Again, I had this down! I knew what my prospects wanted in terms of new programs and some ideas of how they wanted this delivered. There was more demand for webinar, and more demand for audience interaction.

3. Sell Results – once you understand the need, you are clear on what they want and the order in which they want it you are ready to position the deal. Position it to close that is. We all hear we need to sell solutions, and while that is true we need to also sell results. What is in it for them, what will be different for them, and what is your prospects return on investment. In other words, how will their problem be solved, their business grow, or in my world their audience be impacted. Again, I had this nailed! We had discussed several times the new programs I was doing, and how they matched exactly with some challenges or information their attendees requested. I also “lightly” shared some new audience interaction and engagement I was doing. Saying “lightly” because I did not want to be too pushy – I say regretfully.

4. Flat Out Ask For The Business – last but not least you need to actually ask for the business. If you have done the above three steps (and you MUST do them and in this order) you are ready to ask for the business. If the relationship is built, you understand the need, you have positioned the results your prospect will get, then you are well positioned to aggressively ask for the business. My mistake – I assumed – and in assuming I lost the deal. I assumed because we had a relationship, because I clearly understood the need, and that I had sold results that I did not need to actually ask for the business. I was wrong.

The one thing that I love about sales is that you can always learn and you are always growing. For me, this growth was a little painful, but believe I will not forget this lesson. Follow these four steps, do them in order, and watch as you open more doors and close more sales.

What are your stories or lessons around asking for the business? I would love to hear!

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Posted by Meridith Elliott Powell in Sales Tips and tagged , , , , ,

4 Reasons Customers Do Business With You

Sales as usual is over! This is a very different economy. And, if you want to open more doors and close more sales, it calls for a very different set of strategies and techniques. The biggest challenge I see with sales people today has nothing to do with the typical obstacles of competition, technology or […]

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4 Reasons Customers Do Business With You

Sales as usual is over! This is a very different economy. And, if you want to open more doors and close more sales, it calls for a very different set of strategies and techniques. The biggest challenge I see with sales people today has nothing to do with the typical obstacles of competition, technology or price. Instead, it is that sales professionals are working harder than ever, using sales strategies that are out-of-date. We are working our butts off using the wrong set of tools.

This economy has changed, and so have the strategies and techniques it takes to succeed in it.  If you want to decrease your stress and increase your results, then you need to realize everything about this economy has changed, customers, competition, and how to sell. The things you have been told about sales, the strategies and techniques you have learned all your life, have become ineffective, overrated and just plain outdated..

When I wrote the book Winning In The Trust & Value Economy  I studied sales professionals that were “rockin’ it” and those that were struggling. I wanted to know the difference. I wanted to know what those sales professionals were doing; what was different; and why they were succeeding.

What I found was they were not smarter, did not have a better product, and were not offering a lower price. What they had, what was different, was they had made a small change in how they sold. They were using a different focus and a new set of tools. So, it is not what you are selling in this economy, but how you are selling it, that determines your ability to open more doors and close more sales.

So let’s start there, in an economy where it is how you sell, not what you sell, you need to understand that people do business with you for three reasons only – they know you; they like you; and, they trust you. As sales professionals, the better we understand how to accomplish those three things (know, like and trust) with our prospects and customers, the more ability we have to open more doors, close more sales and defy market place gravity.

Strategies to Open More Doors, Close More Sales

  1. Understand Today’s Market Place:

If you want to defy marketplace gravity you need to begin by understanding today’s market place. Tired of trying to figure out what this economy is going to do? I mean really, is it getting better? Is it getting worse? Is it up? Or, are we just waiting on the next bubble?

Who knows right? On any given day, depending upon the channel you’re watching, who you’re listening to, and what time it is, you can hear this economy is up, only five minutes later to hear it is down, right?

But the truth is, the economy is not up, it is not down, but it is different, radically changed. And, things are never, ever going back to the way that they were. In fact, economists agree, we have literally gone through an economy shift, moving out of what is known as a push economy and into what is known as a pull economy.

Now relax and take a deep breath. I am not about to give you an Economy 101 lesson. The only thing you need to know, the only thing you need to understand, is that when you move out of a push economy and into a pull economy, the consumer, your customer, just moved into the position of control. They are calling all the shots. They have all the power.

Think about the world we live in today, globalization, advancements in technology, and increased competition. We could all get in our jammies or sit around in our skivvies, and google until our hearts are content. And then, we could have everything we want, need, and desire delivered right to our door.

I am guessing you do this now. I am guessing you are the king or queen of Amazon prime. We order groceries online. We order office supplies online. We open bank accounts, buy insurance, take classes, and get college degrees online; and the list goes on. All without ever opening our mouths. All without ever changing our clothes. All without ever leaving the comfort of our own homes ever again…

Something like seventy percent of sales transactions today take place without a sale person involved.  WOW! Now I am making light of this, but you get it. This is an economy like none of us have ever lived in, worked in, let alone sold in before. This is an economy where NO matter how amazing, unique or spectacular you believe your product or service is, to the average consumer it has become a commodity. Your products are something consumers believe can be bought anywhere, any time and from anybody.

In today’s economy, it is not what we sell but HOW we sell it. People are doing business with you because they know, like and trust you, period. The relationship and the experience are what open more doors, close more sales and land you more deals.

This is a new economy that calls for a new approach!

  1. Know – Build Your Reputation

In today’s economy the sales starts long before you ever get the lead or make the first connection. If you want to open more doors and close more sales, then you need to get above the white noise and stand out from your competition. You need to attract the business before your ask for the business. If you want your prospects and customers to answer the phone, return an email or meet with you, they need to have already heard of and know about you before you ever make that first call.

  1. Like – Connect With Customers

Sales today is not about being pushy or aggressive. It is about connecting with customers and getting them to like you. Ironically, to open more doors and close more sales, you need to slow the sale process down. You have to focus on getting to know your customers and investing in them before you ask them to invest in you. Want to differentiate yourself in this economy? Then be the sales person who asks great questions, really listens, and does not sell anything until the timing is right and the connection had been made.

  1. Trust – Proactively Add Value

If you want customers to trust you, and believe me you do, then you need to take responsibility to care for the relationship you’ve built. Selling really starts AFTER you have sold the first product or service to your customer. Once that relationship is built, you need to continually add value. You need to be proactive, offering products or services that help your customers achieve their goals. The worst thing that can happen is not that you do not make the sale, it is that your customers finds out about products or services they need from someone else other than you. Building trust is about proactively adding value.

Selling today is different! I would love to learn more about your ideas, challenges and strategies for sales success. Reach out to me at mere@valuespeaker.com

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Posted by Meridith in Business Growth, Sales Tips and tagged , , , ,

The Incredible Gift of Struggle

Struggle! I am on a mission to reframe how we think about and how we use the concept of personal responsibility. You see, somehow, over the years, these have become words and an action we are slowly removing from our vocabulary and from our lives. We are instead replacing it with words like support, entitlement […]

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The Incredible Gift of Struggle

Struggle! I am on a mission to reframe how we think about and how we use the concept of personal responsibility. You see, somehow, over the years, these have become words and an action we are slowly removing from our vocabulary and from our lives. We are instead replacing it with words like support, entitlement and enabling, and while all have their place in our society, without the balance of personal responsibility we lose the most powerful strategy needed for success.  There is an incredible gift, a set of skills that can only be built when we take ownership

Now for the sake of this article let me back up and share what I mean by personal responsibility.

A gift that I guess I always inherently understood was there, but one I only recently became conscious of from engaging with and observing successful professionals – self-made successful professionals. Self-made meaning those who literally came from nothing, often less than nothing, and have risen to great heights of personal and professional success.

Now I must admit, it may have been luck to have come into contact with these professionals, but it was my desire to understand how they rose to the level they have that put me on the path to discovery of this gift of struggle. Now understand, I am obsessed with successful people, and specifically those that are self-made. I am so interested in learning what makes successful people successful, and then in turn helping others understand how to integrate those strategies into their lives and their organizations.

In addition, I am just plain curious, I mean don’t you find it fascinating that someone could go from living in the poorest of neighborhoods, to living in the most exclusive? Or that someone could begin their life on the receiving end of charity and wind up in a position of being powerfully philanthropic? Or start out just hoping to find a job, and end up running companies that employing hundreds, sometimes thousands of people?

You must agree, if nothing else, the journey of a self-made person is always an interesting story. And, for me, the story began in January of this year, when I was visiting a very good friend of mine in Jupiter Florida. Both she and her husband are “self-made,” and as luck would have it (for me) so are many of their friends. Over lunch one day, I had the pleasure of meeting several of those friends and hearing their life stories.

Stories that were unique to each individual and were so interesting and fascinating in what they had in common. As I sat there listening to each one, I began to think about the lives these men had lead, and wondering how did they, literally, wind up here; in this beautiful club, with their wonderful friends and families, having achieved unbelievable levels of success? How did they go from living on the wrong side of the tracks, to setting the tone for life on the right side of the tracks? The more they talked, the more I learned, and the more I began to notice themes, and threads so to speak, in their lives and careers, that each of them spoke about and each of them shared. While their stories were different, these themes were the same, and were present in each of their lives. Powerful themes, that I believe once learned, anyone can integrate into their company and their life to get the same powerful result as these self-made men.

Education –These “self-made” men, had a passion to learn, and took responsibility to do so. Learning through formal education, on the job, and from anybody and anyone who would spend a little time with them to show them the ropes. They shared a commitment to life-long learning and internal drive for personal and professional growth.

Discipline –No one needed to get these men up in the morning, make them go to work, or set goals for them to achieve. Whether someone was there to push them or not, they shared a value of discipline. They lived in a time when expectations were placed on them, by teachers and/or their parents and themselves.

Advocate – All sought out and found an advocate, someone to be in their corner.  Someone they could learn from and observe to learn the ropes of how to be successful.

Independence –From an early age, they chose to be independent, and give up the opportunity to make excuses. They took responsibility to make choices, take risks and deal with the benefits and consequences of their decisions.

Connections –These men were not raised with role models or etiquette coaches to show them the ropes and the importance of building connections, but they learned early on to push out of their comfort zones and create relationships that would open doors and lead to opportunity.  In addition, they committed to creating bonds and finding friends with the same motivation and drive to succeed.

Struggle -All embraced and accepted the fact that a portion of their path would involve struggle. In other words, there was no net, and no other choice but to succeed. This, of all the themes, seemed to me to be the most powerful and the most important. With no net, obstacles became something to get past rather than an excuse or a reason to stop. And because of that struggle became a gift that built confidence, critical thinking and internal drive.

So, take a lesson from the path of the self-made man, and integrate these strategies into your company and into your life, and watch as you customers become more engaged, your team takes more ownership, and you begin to benefit from the incredible gift of struggle!

 

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Retention Is Not Engagement

Last month, I was the opening keynote for a financial services organization. The event was their Awards Ceremony honoring those employees who have excelled in the areas of business development, customer service, teamwork and length of employment. Now the first three awards I understood, but the last one (length of employment) had me a little […]

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Retention Is Not Engagement

Last month, I was the opening keynote for a financial services organization. The event was their Awards Ceremony honoring those employees who have excelled in the areas of business development, customer service, teamwork and length of employment. Now the first three awards I understood, but the last one (length of employment) had me a little baffled.

You have been to these meetings, right? You know the ones – where they are honoring people who have stayed on the job or been with their company for ten, twenty, even thirty years? What is our obsession with giving awards to employees just for staying put? Okay now, before you jump all over me… I get it. There is something to be said for loyalty. However, is length of service really something you reward or want to place value on?

When they announced the winner of the 20 years of service award, Tim Grant (name and length of service changed to protect the innocent), everyone at my table started to make jokes under their breath. Jokes about how Tim may have shown up for the most hours, but to say he was worked is a stretch. How Tim is still employed, but it feels like he retired ten years ago. It reminded me of being in grade school. Remember when they gave awards out for perfect attendance? And those kids who won perfect attendance were always the same kids who came to school with runny noses and signs of the flu. The ones that got everyone else in class sick. Giving an award for exceptional academic achievement I get, giving an award for just showing up? Well for me, the jury is still out?

I don’t know about you, but I am far more interested in how passionate, excited and motivated my employees are than how many years they work for me. According to the experts, there is a war on talent. And to win this war as leaders, we need to attract, retain and fully develop our employees. Do everything we can to attract the best and the brightest and then get them to stay long-term.

Well the attract and develop part I will go for, I get it. But retain? Really, why is that part of the goal?  And is it realistic?  I think setting employee retention and working hard to keep employees long-term as a goal is a recipe for frustration. Look, as leaders, we must accept that employees have changed and so has the workplace. This is a new marketplace, a new generation and that all creates a new set of rules for how employees and employers work together.

First, really great talent, that kind that comes in with fresh ideas, new perspectives and really pushes your team to another level, they are not going to stay. No matter what you do, no matter what type of benefit package you offer. Long term employment is not only not their goal, and it is not their highest and best use.

And second, we all got ‘em. Those employees that are technically retained, meaning they are still showing up to work, but they quit a long time ago. Oh yeah, technically they qualify as “retained” employees, but by staying with your company they are doing more harm than good.

Your goal with employees should be to attract, develop and then fully engage each team member for as long as they are there. Retention is a result of great engagement, it is not the goal. If we as leaders do this right, then we will fully engage our entire team, getting the best our employees have to offer for as long as they are willing to stay.

4 Strategies For Leading The Next Generation

  1. Embrace

Fully embrace that retention is not the goal. The workplace today is at best unstable, with no guarantee of long-term employment for anyone at any level. Given that we cannot guarantee that our companies will not merge, sell or downsize, we have to accept that employees will not guarantee they will “stay’ long-term on our team. A shifting economy means things will change, and so to retain people long term is unrealistic, but to fully engage them for the time they are there is wicked smart!

  1. Purpose

Begin with purpose. Today’s workforce is looking for something and someone to believe in. They want more than a job. They want a cause, and they want to make a difference. Don’t hire people to be a customer service rep. Hire them to help your customers achieve their dreams. When people believe in something, they are committed to it, and commitment breeds passion and full engagement.

  1. Voice

Everyone wants skin in the game, whether they know it or not. One of the most powerful engagement tools is just to listen. Ask people what they think, what their ideas are, and how goals need to be accomplished. Employees engage when they feel connected and that they are a part of something. Remember people support what they help create.

  1. Investment

If we want our employees to invest in us, we need to begin by investing in them. Zig Ziglar told us that the fastest way to get what we want is to help others get what they want. Investing in employees makes them feel important, that they matter and are valued. When we invest in others, we get back far more than we invested.

Yes, there is a war on talent, and to win you need to shift your focus from retaining employees to engaging employees. If you give them something to believe in (Purpose) skin in the game (Voice) and invest in their futures, I cannot promise you they will stay forever. But I can promise you that while they are there, they will fully engage.

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