Courting Your Clients: 9 Essential Skills and Traits You Need to Nourish Superior Client Relationships

Courting Your Clients: 9 Essential Skills and Traits You Need to Nourish Superior Client Relationships

by Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Customer Service Helping Client

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“Consumers are statistics. Customers are people.”

-Stanley Marcus, former Chairman of the Board of Neiman Marcus –

Last night I got together with some friends for dinner after work. All of us had had stressful days at work and were looking to wind down before heading home. Each of us deals with clients directly during the course of the day, which was the cause for the frustration and stress.

Amid the variety of scenarios that my friends vented (everywhere from well-worn returns at my friend’s clothing boutique to contentious parent-teacher conferences), the tie that binds these stories together is the understanding that my friends have of what it means to serve clients.

I posed the question, “What image comes to mind when you hear the term Customer Service?” The responses, like gunfire, punctuated the energy in the air,

“Scullery Maid!” retorted the corporate accounts department manager.

“Babysitter!” the coffee shop owner interjected.

“Door mat!” uttered the boutique owner.

“Pain-in-the-A.R.S.E.!” confirmed the head of the legal department at a local shopping mall. We had some fun recounting stories of our worst encounters with clients, transitioning to our best encounters to be certain that we ended on a positive note.

I must admit that the whole concept of seeing customers as an excruciating evil that must be endured as part of the cost of doing business has always been a foreign concept to me. Even during the most exasperating exchanges in my earliest days as an official member of the Working World, I always felt that a client was upset because I had failed to hear what the client truly was saying/asking/needing or that I failed in my ability to communicate the solution (or reasons for a lack thereof) effectively to a client who couldn’t hear me. I quickly developed a set of skills and nurtured a few personality traits to tap into in order to make sure I could eliminate every barrier to a great working relationship that I could.

These nine essentials have never failed me. I, on the other hand, have failed when I have chosen not to employ these nine essentials. I have listed them below in the order in which they naturally flow. This natural order is also useful in knowing how to prioritize your learning and training needs. The first two are personality traits that you may develop even if you do not possess them naturally. The remaining seven are skills that anyone can master with commitment.

  1. A Contemplative Nature

    – or the habit of analyzing situations with the aim of making improvements for the future. In order to improve the relationships you have with your customers or clients, you have to take some time each day to review each of your interactions with your customers or clients. If you do not look back, replaying the exchange in your mind, you will never see what worked well and what did not work at all. If you do not look for the strengths and weaknesses in your relationships, you cannot make anything better, stronger. Remember, the Bionic Man was the result of a complete disaster, a rebuilding and strengthening of an apparently hopeless case. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with the reference, I have included the opening sequence to the 1970’s television show.)

  2. A Passion for Solving Puzzles

    – or the habit of searching for the best solution rather than the easiest or the first solution that presents itself. I find, from my experiences on both sides of the customer service experience, that people respond well when they can see that you are working with them to solve their problem. By laying all the pieces of the solution on the table and working with the customer to put them together properly, the customer or client walks away certain that they have the full picture, that all the pieces are in place, and that this particular puzzle is complete. They also walk away confident that they have a companion, someone they can trust to champion their cause, someone they can rely on to help them through the difficult times rather than someone they have to fight with to get the help promised to them.

  3. Consciousness

    – or the habit of taking the lens off you and focusing on the people around you. There are many common sayings illustrating this concept – “Before you judge someone, walk a mile in his shoes”, “Wake up and smell the roses/coffee/manure”, “Everything is not about you” (Meryl Brooks in Two Weeks Notice). Once we stop thinking only of ourselves in any given situation, we open our eyes to the person in front of us. We begin asking questions that help us understand the sources of what a person feels, why they feel that way, and how it affects his or her behavior. Knowing the root cause of the behavior allows us to know what to do to change things, to be effective.

  4. Compassion

    – or the habit of caring. The more conscious you become about the people around you, the more you begin to care about them. When a customer or client is involved, your compassion goes a long way to developing a healthy working relationship, that in turn develops a long-term, loyal client. Demonstrating compassion towards another person is far easier, takes less energy and effort, than treating him or her with annoyance or disdain. Increasing the level of compassion you have for your customers or clients actually increases your feelings of having contributed something positive to the world, which helps you enjoy more the work you do. At the end of the day, who doesn’t want to feel better about the work they do?

  5. Effective Communication Skills

    – or the ability to receive a message correctly and to transmit clearly your message. You can never have too much training in this one area. The more effective you are in sending and receiving messages, the less chance there is that you will misunderstand or be misunderstood, which creates a deep connection with your customers, your clients. The more people on your team who consciously develop effective communication skills, the more superior your service level will be.

  6. Highly-developed Listening Skills

    – or the ability to get at the heart of the matter. Listening involves more than just sound reverberating against your eardrum. Listening effectively, involves interpreting correctly what a person says and does not say, choices of words and phrases, tone, and a host of other components. Again, you can never have too much training in this area.

  7. Fluency in Non-verbal Communication

    – or the ability to interpret and transmit clear, correct messages without uttering a word. Although this is an integral component of effective communication, it is a highly specialized component requiring special attention. I have found repeatedly that the non-verbal clues my clients send have been the key to getting at the core issue, therefore the key to the best solution. Once again, I say, “you can never have too much training in this area.”

  8. Change Management Training

    – or the ability to help a customer or client navigate the multiple changes involved in the current problem he or she is experiencing. Most people do not realize that when a problem arises, it necessitates change – be it the immediate change in how a task is completed via a Work-around or a complete shut-down of operations – because your customer or client is now missing a piece (or several pieces) to the puzzle. Whether a customer comes to us for a new dress for a friend’s wedding, or a client approaches us to overhaul their company culture, our customers and clients come to us to provide a solution to their problem. We need to understand how this change effects the client – what emotions it triggers, what the client is afraid of, what natural stages a person goes through when faced with change – in order to be able to guide the client, as a human being, through the process in as stress-free and effective manner as possible. A great book to start with is Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter.

  9. Leadership Training

    – or the ability to lead the customer or client through the communication process to a mutually beneficial end. Of the multitude of people I encounter, a rare few understand that it is the job of the business owner, Customer Service Representative, Sales Representative, or anyone who deals with internal or external clients in the course of the workday to take the lead in the customer experience. Clients look to us as the expert, the professional, the parental figure who will make everything better. It is our job to make sure we can be that figure for our customers and clients. (This is a great video to spotlight basic difficulties and misconceptions about leadership.)

Each of these skills is powerful by themselves. Think about how super-charged your customer and client relationships will be when you develop all of them and use them together every time you work with each customer, each client. In the words of Robert Half, “When the customer comes first, the customer will last.”

 

2016 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

The Little Things Add Up: It Pays to Become Conscious of Your Reason for Being in Business

Little Things Add Up: It Pays to Become Conscious of Your Reason for Being in Business

by Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS

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“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.” –Maya Angelou

 

Standing in line at my local coffee shop this morning, I contemplated the fiasco unfolding before me – the same fiasco I have witnessed each day since they opened their doors several years ago.

Today, there were four people behind the counter preparing orders and taking payments, fifty percent more staff than usual. One would think that this increase in help during the morning rush would be a good thing. Well, only if the additional people know what they are doing. They did not. This is, of course, not their fault. The owner’s idea of training is to run through quickly with the new hire how to operate the machinery and heave them into the fray, bewildered and terrified by the throng of commuters clamoring for their liquid defibrillators, their quad-venti-caramel-macchiato-jolts-of-life to begin their commutes to work (for which they are already late).

Between the shortage of baked goods (the baker’s tantrum heard more clearly throughout the store as it persists), the constant turnover in staff, the slightly inconvenient hours, and the owner’s blatant lack of social skills, I am amazed at how long this business has survived. It is clear, listening to the others in line, that people want to see this owner succeed because there is the potential for something truly special here. The owner is a wonderful and fascinating person, the food is of the highest quality and inventive, the coffee is fantastic, and the space is cozy. With some reworking this place could be a center of local activity.

The core of the problem seems to be the owner’s attitude. She really doesn’t like the business. She is more comfortable in the large corporate environment from which she came, being told what to do by a supervisor. She hates being in charge. She prefers solitude in which to be left alone to work. She doesn’t do conflict. And coffee? She can take it or leave it.

In becoming a successful business owner, it is critical that you be able to articulate what it is about the work you do that sets your heart aflutter, as well as the aspects of the business that sends you running, screaming into the night. Unless you can explain your passion, you will never be able to relate it nor convey it to your staff and customers. How can you expect your employees and customers to care about your business if they think you don’t care.

I once worked with a client whose contentious employee relations were spilling over to his customers. His employees couldn’t stand him, he couldn’t stand his employees, and his customers were paying the price in constant turn-over, constant mistakes, and added stress due to poor treatment. Working with him, I asked, “If things are at the point where you hate coming to work every day, why do you stay in business?”

What followed was a passionate discourse on the effect his services had on his customers’ lives and how he felt privileged to be a part of changing lives for the better. He was angry all the time because his employees didn’t care, they took no initiative, and made no personal connections with customers.

   “Do your employees know this?” I proffered. “Do they have any understanding of how much a part of this mission they are? Can you see how they could misunderstand your frustration with the situation as your being angry with them even when they do what you tell them to do?” Once he saw all the little things that added up to the colossal mess he was dealing with simply because he had never put words to his passion, he was able to communicate this to his staff and instill in them the same passion, which in turn they passed on to their customers.

Articulating your passion helps keep you focused on the passion – which makes it easier to keep problems and the less savory aspects of the business in perspective. During this month dedicated to expressions of love, send yourself a Valentine. Take the time to write down what it is you love about what you do, why you are so passionate about it, and how you can declare your undying love to your staff and your clients.

If you don’t love the work you are doing, explore the things you do love to do. Start a relationship with them and see which one is your one true love. Like all true love stories, the rest will sort itself out.

 

2016 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

Feeble, Foolish, Wise, or Skillful

“Feeble, Foolish, Wise, or Skillful”

By Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS

 

“The feeble tremble before opinion, the foolish defy it, the wise judge it, the skillful direct it.”

– Mme. Jeanne Roland –

 

Today’s issue of The Rossiter Report is simple and straightforward – a meditation for the week. Take this week and gauge your reactions to other’s opinions (clients’, coworkers’, everyone’s) in comparison to the quote above. Once you see where you stand, determine if there is some other place in the spectrum you would rather fit, then work towards that goal. If you seek, truly, to build a team that has a great, positive impact on your company,  your success in this endeavor will be directly related to where you fall, ultimately, in the line-up.

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Copyright © 2014 – Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS

All rights reserved. It is strictly prohibited to copy, redistribute, republish or modify any materials or software contained on the cerossiterpcs.com website or in subsequent support without the prior written consent of Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS.

The Rossiter Report – Volume 3; Number 2 – “Brown Grass – How I Came to See the Light”

The Rossiter Report – Volume 3; Number 2

By Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS

“Brown Grass – How I Came to See the Light”

boy looking through binoculars

“There are none so blind as those who refuse to see.” – Old Proverb –

Gazing out upon the nearly-full tidal pool at the Plum Island Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, Massachusetts on this unseasonably warm, early April day, I see brown. The parking lot in which I sit, writing, is at a slightly higher elevation than the tidal pool and the adjoining fields of marsh grasses. This vantage point affords enough of an aerial view to see partially over the hillocks in the near distance, across the harbor to the towns of Essex and Ipswich on the horizon. This bird’s-eye view (albeit that of a bird perched on a very low tree branch or a parking sign) places my vision above the fields of newly mown marsh grasses to see dozens of acres of brown. Even the tidal pool is cast with brown in the harsh light of the noon sun.

Very few people stop here for more than thirty seconds. To them, it is just a brown and lifeless landscape; boring. The only people who stay for any length of time beyond the thirty second mark are those birdwatchers who stay only long enough to spot (then consequently check-off) a new bird on their list, with no intention of actually observing the bird and getting to know it. What astounds me is the wealth of beauty that this spot possesses and is missed by those who come in search of a pre-determined idea of what is worthy of notice.

A few years ago (wink, wink) when I was eight years old, I ventured into the kitchen after viewing my Saturday morning cartoons and stood next to my mother at the kitchen sink. “Mumma, I’m bored,” I announced. In her characteristic, gentle firmness, yet in an uncharacteristically direct tone, my mother looked down at me (without skipping a beat in the washing of the breakfast dishes) and said, “Cathleen. The only people who get bored are boring people,” returning her gaze to the garden while continuing with the dishes. Not only was I NEVER bored again, but also this experience taught me to seek out continually something new. A treasure or lesson could be waiting for me in the haphazard pattern of a first coat of paint on the front of a dresser; or the way a reed bends and sings in the midst of a storm yet never breaks; or the fact that the overriding expanse of brown before me is, in point of fact, made up of greens, reds, purples, yellows, and blues in myriad variations on a theme.

The same thing is true of the people we hire and the customers who purchase from us. Without the individual talents, viewpoints, and insights each one brings to the table (the painter’s palette, as it were), then the work of art we call our company or team would lack the depth, luster, and uniqueness that makes our work a masterpiece.

Consciousness is a choice. Simply wanting to be aware does not make it happen. One must choose to open one’s eyes and mind. One must choose to see everything, not only what is pleasant or comfortable.

The thing that changed for me on that Saturday morning so many years ago is that I decided to stop refusing to see the world in front of me. I became determined to remain blind no longer. This choice of consciousness has brought a depth, richness, and joy to my life and work that I have carried with me to every aspect of my life, particularly in relation to the people I encounter. I choose to uncover the layers of wealth and richness buried in each person in front of me at any given time so as to bring the very best to the relationship, project, team, or circumstance. In doing so I find no need for the all-too-standard jealousy, defensiveness, and subsequent subterfuge that plagues Cubicle Farms around the world. Allowing for the enrichment of the team with the free-flow of each other’s talents, insights, and experience (as opposed to the general practice of trying to control and suppress it all) creates an infectious dynamic among the team members that creates a pride in the work and an enthusiasm to produce the best; to be a part of the best. I, for one, would much rather spend the 10+ hours each day that I am at work in the quest to produce the best, to be part of the best in a lively, dynamic environment. When one ponders the alternative, which is what one has become all-too-used-to in the working environment, one wonders why one hasn’t seen the light sooner.

 

Copyright © 2014 – Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS

All rights reserved. It is strictly prohibited to copy, redistribute, republish or modify any materials or software contained on the cerossiterpcs.com website or in subsequent support without the prior written consent of Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS.

Think Tank Tuesday – V1;N2 – The Power of Leadership

Power vs. Leadership

In honor of the various Presidents whose Birthdays we celebrate this month, great men and great leaders who truly took their positions seriously, with a full understanding of tremendous responsibility that was placed upon their shoulders to lead an entire nation of people, caring for the welfare of each and all, I think it àpropos to take a solid look at the attitude we have regarding our own positions of leadership.

Are we truly trying to lead the people we are responsible for or are we more concerned about the power we possess? Are we striving to become truly great leaders, or have we become bullies who take pleasure in controlling others and showing our importance through blustering? As this newest February comes to a close in a few short weeks, let’s take this time to grow into our own, personal Oval Office being ever mindful of the privilege and the responsibility that accompanies it. If we feel as though we are lacking the skills or training to handle the responsibility, find a way to obtain the missing components. By becoming a great leader who is focused on bringing out the best in and providing the best for the people in our charge, we create a highly motivated, hard-working team who gives their all for the welfare of all. I can’t think of a more rewarding way to spend the day.

Until the next time, I send you all my best wishes.

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Copyright © 2013 – Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS

All rights reserved. It is strictly prohibited to copy, redistribute, republish or modify any materials or software contained on the cerossiterpcs.com website or in subsequent support without the prior written consent of Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS.