Take the Mall Parking Lot Personality Assessment!

Why not play the “Mall Parking Lot Game” and lower your stress this season. Feel free to share this blog.


Thought I would have some fun with this, given that I just went to the mall. The next time you are in the mall parking lot this season, and looking for that perfect spot, I guess any spot, turn it into a game and see if you can uncover and “name” the personality style of your competitors. I’ve also given you a tip on how best to adapt so you can keep your sanity and maintain the holiday spirit.

Just drive through any mall parking lot this season and I bet you can tell the different personality types already. There are those who hesitate; the kind of people who are frozen in making a decision because they don’t want to be too pushy – but then they hold everyone up and the honking begins. There are those who rush in and “steal your spot”. There are those who even park strategically assessing the best time to go, the area that would most likely have a spot, and then there are those who just don’t care, they just go and hope for the best and keep driving around until one appears you may pass them several times.

I’ve taught the personality styles programs and how others can adapt for years now. I think it is even more critical at this time of year, where we have to really adapt due to the never ending lineups. Everywhere from restaurants, to malls, and even FEDEX ™ and the postal service – there is a crunch happening. January can’t come fast enough some days.

Understanding your personality and those of others is a critical skill for both those who are face to face with customers but also with internal customers and teams so you don’t cause any further cog in the wheel (or touch-points).

Here are the four styles: See if you can see your personality, then have a look at how you can best adapt to that person who is driving you crazy. I guarantee it will be heightened because of the frenetic pace of the holiday season.

The Dominant Driver (The Chief)

This person typically drives more aggressively. They make decisions quickly and if you hesitate, they’ll take your spot. Their main personality is seen in their need to get things done. They are the “doers”. If they have a task, they want it checked off the list.

Best way to adapt to “The Chief”: Be purposeful.

The Hesitant Driver (The Friend)

This is the opposite style to the Chief. They are much more patient, friendly and considerate. Their main goal is to keep people happy. They are great at including people, and sometimes they are too nice and cause delays. Their main personality trait is to get along. They are the “friend” and want to keep peace at all cost. (The Chief won’t hesitate to take your spot though – so try not to get resentful if you are not more purposeful in your driving).

Best way to adapt to “The Friend”: Be patient.

The Happy Driver (The Enthusiast)

This person is normally talking, can be distracted, and not always focused. They will near miss you, or miss a spot as they drive past. They may appear way too happy for this time of year. However, if you tick them off – they’ll get demonstrative and may over react to the situation. Their main goal is to stay enthusiastic and optimistic about the holidays – so they will get over it quickly as they move on to their next quest.

Best way to adapt to “The Enthusiast”: Be nice

The Intentional Driver (The Problem Solver)

This person normally orders online, has completed their shopping months in advance due to their amazing talent of planning and organizing. In fact you may not even see this person in the parking lot at all. If you do, it is because their plans have changed (and by the way – it is not their fault). They may have parked at the back of the mall or gone at off-peak times. Their main goal is have things planned well enough in advance, that they don’t get involved in the chaos.

Best way to adapt to “The Problem Solver”: Let them drop you off at the front-door and then let them go park. They will meet you in the restaurant, which is probably a win-win situation.

Happy Shopping! ….and all the best to you this season!




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Can You Teach Friendly? Customer Service & Reputation Management, especially during the Christmas Crunch


What a Visit to Puerto Rico Taught Me

A Story of Resilience

Let me start with a story of resilience. I was in Puerto Rico recently and conducted a presentation (more like a “Think Tank”, using my “I Can Fix That” concepts). Before I arrived, I was not sure what attitudes to expect of these groups attending a conference dedicated to bringing more tourism back to the Island and rebuilding to previous levels. Puerto Rico is an incredible place! From the vibrancy of San Juan, to the stunning views from the beaches and luxurious hotels, golf courses, even a rain forest (with no mosquitoes), vibrant music, tasty food and ohhhhh-so-friendly people. The people and businesses of P.R. are struggling with some very big challenges, including the Zika virus like many areas in the region, along with economic woes. After my presentation, during the workshop portion, the room filled with serious conversations on the effects and the science of this virus, the economic issues it has created, and the serious and tragic side effects it causes to unborn children. The attendees got to work and filled up over five flip chart pages of what they could do right now “on the ground” at their hotels, resorts and golf courses to help fix some of these significant challenges. The people in the room provided each other a path forward, while the world waits for a vaccine or other clinical or scientific methods to deal with putting a viral crisis under control. I was impressed with how they brought these ideas together.

What Does Friendly Look Like?

Let’s rewind a little….I arrived at the airport in the wee hours of the night (this, after three consecutive flights in the same day, including a weather delay), and I was looking forward to getting to my hotel. I had no checked luggage so I thought this was going to be easy. Unfortunately, my pre-ordered ground transportation was not there: there was nobody in the luggage area; no sign with my name on it; no car waiting curbside or even a bus in sight. Needless to say, I was bleary-eyed and cranky. I was wrinkled, needed to brush my teeth from too much coffee, and needed sleep NOW. Seeing virtually nobody in the airport, my sense of bewilderment increased. I found two security guards at each end of the arrivals hall about 1,000 feet away from each other. They were not TSA or security screeners, but the ones who are dedicated to luggage areas and stand behind a small kiosk. I was expecting a language barrier and a lackluster reception where they would just point. However, they both jumped to my aid, coordinating efforts by calling my hotel and arranging a taxi – doing anything to get me there (which was still another 45-minute drive). Their only concern was to “fix” my plight. Where I had expected, “Sorry, we can’t help”, I got friendly concern and a show of competency. A demonstration of the “3 C’s” I speak about.

After their calls to the hotel, a shuttle showed up for me (not the company I had previously arranged). At that time of night, I was expecting the language barrier again, however my driver was super friendly, empathetic, and even apologized, even though she was not responsible for my original ride and was with a completely different company. Everyone who got involved simply did not want me stranded. Imagine: people caring so much that they took on the responsibility to find a solution even though they were not responsible for causing the problem? I thought “Can you teach this stuff?”

The driver did have to drop off other guests at another hotel first, but “Hey, no problem. I didn’t have to wait and it felt hardly out of the way because of the great conversation”. For the duration of my trip in Puerto Rico, things continued to be great: there was a noticeable difference of “friendly” at every touch-point. Not only at the airport but throughout the city, the people I met, the concierge, the hotel and restaurant staff, and everyone in between. I mean, it was not a “put-on” friendly but something more genuine….not a “because I have to … because I’m in the tourism industry”, but a warm, honest-to-goodness genuine warmth from everyone I met.

I’ve traveled most of the globe as a flight crew member, business owner, speaker and author. I’m often really picky, and so often one location blends into another. So I really notice when things are really good and have often asked myself – Can You Teach Friendly?

How to create a culture of “friendly”

Here are my top 3 things to know, if you want to create a culture of friendly:

  1. Leaders begin with messaging and actions that exemplify a “We Can Fix That” attitude”. They work towards solving problems not away from them or feeling defeated. I recently noticed the Chicago Cubs’ coach Joe Madden speak on how he discounted “the curse” and only worked on what “they could do” in the 7th game tied in the 10th inning of the World Series (where there had not been a win for 108 years). This mindset comes from within, a belief from each person, an understanding that they can make a difference and contribution, even when things don’t go as planned. Leaders look at these “oops” as opportunities to figure it out to help the team solve problems.
  2. Resilience actually creates more resilience. Teams don’t shy away from challenges or a crisis. Once teams realize that when they get through one crisis, the next one can come along pretty quickly. If there is a pattern of “we got through that one, we can get through this one, let’s figure it out” – they move more quickly to resolve (and avoid resistance). When actions are taken to solve problems (contribute), people see results, and this continues a cycle of more results. Teams start self-managing each other and correct each other. You will hear them actually encouraging each other to find solutions instead of complaining.
  3. Teams know how to handle conflicts, to get to resolve. They understand that to debate a position, they must learn how to argue with intelligence (facts, knowledge on the topic), and bring it forward with respect. They must move to interest-based issues not attacks. There is a module on conflict resolution and how to handle visibly upset people with grace, in my Online learning modules. See an excerpt here. Scroll down to FREE PREVIEW “The Cabin Story”

We know things will not always go as planned, and this is where you really need people to want to put up their hand and say “I Can Fix That”. As the season of travel, shopping, and shipping is upon us, many realize that orders can be delayed, products will break, servers will go down, hiring enough people can be tough, and you can’t automate everything. Everyone who focuses on creativity and thoughtfulness of both those working on the inside and those face-to-face with the customer will prevail. By creating a culture of care at all touch-points, I think you can teach “friendly”. Be nice everyone; ’tis the Season.

With online reviews just a click away from customers’ fingertips, now is the time to give your staff some Fall Training. Want a FREE ONLINE ORGANIZATIONAL ASSESSMENT? Go to: FREE ORGANIZATIONAL ASSESSMENT

Get the Training now Anywhere, Anytime on Any Device.

Did you know we offer “Corporate Discounts” with special rates for Canadian clients? CONTACT US

5 Reasons Why Online Reviews Count Today!!

online-reviewsCustomer Service today is now all about “Reputation Management”. As many get ready for the seasonal rush this fall, it is time to also do a check on your customer service, your reviews and consumer “touch-points” to make sure your organization is ready. Think for a moment, have you ever written an on-line review, especially when you were upset? Ouch! These poor reviews sting for a business owner, customer service department or CEO, and can demoralize those who work or volunteer for your organization. It can kill a “brand” that you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Or on the other hand, positive reviews can ensure that you are the trusted source. With just a click of a button at the end of everyone’s fingertips – the customer now has the power firmly in their hands.

The top 5 Reasons why online reviews really count?

  1. It used to be that only customer service departments actually saw or heard the complaints (and most of the time they were just the really serious issues where a customer took the time to write or call). Now even minor service breakdowns, in addition to more serious issues can end up all over the internet. No longer can a company keep their challenges behind a closed door in a customer service department while they deal with a customer and resolve complaints.
  2. 80-90% of consumers check out online reviews before making a purchase.
  3. 88% of people “trust” online reviews.
  4. Customers are likely to spend 30% more if reviews are excellent.
  5. Losing a Customer to bad reviews costs too much. If you have not done the math lately, click on the link and download this FREE ORGANIZATIONAL Assessment to calculate the costs:

The goal of the future will be to ensure everyone in an organization is prepared to avoid, avert, or fix service breakdowns before, and after, they happen.

As we come back from the summer months and begin to prepare for a busy holiday season, take a moment and check out your On-line reviews by doing a search on the Internet. Just type in your organization’s name and the word “reviews”. Remember, these are only the reviews you can see – many more may be out there on consumers’ own personal social media that you may never know of.

Online Reviews really count, because the cost is just too high. Everyone is responsible now for Customer Service and the skills are universal. Get training today, anytime, anywhere from any device for everyone. To learn more; go to www.elaineallison.com and click on ONLINE LEARNING.

Also, if you want to continue learning and have not done so already, sign up for the newsletter and watch for upcoming issues on best ways to handle online reviews.


Does Online Learning for “Customer Service” Skills Work?

online_courseI’m considering moving my training programs to online learning, partly due to the number of requests I’ve had from my clients. The concern we all have (my clients included), is: Can you move courses that result in behavioural changes (vs. technical training for procedures and processes) to a flat-screen online learning environment? Are the results as successful?

Clients are rightfully requesting the service because it’s been demonstrated that online learning programs offer the following benefits:

  1. Just-in-time
    The organization or learner can get ready access, whether it’s when they are hired or when they need a refresher given an incident or increase in customer service issues.
  2. Anytime, Anywhere
    This benefit offers no need to check my calendar for conflicts, pay for travel expenses or incur other costs typically associated with holding live training events. Just log in and start learning.
  3. Fewer Scheduling or Logistic Headaches
    Learners are directed to a link, sign up and take the course and are presented with a Certificate of Completion. Some learning management systems (LMS) even offer the reports for quick look up and there is no further need to track. However, these can be costly for the smaller organization, so a Certificate of Completion could suffice and be provided to the organization for tracking.
  4. Community & Communication
    Feeling “plugged in” to online community could be especially helpful if staff or participants work different shifts or in different geographic regions. It gives them a forum like a classroom environment to discuss and work out challenges together that a live classroom environment offers. Note: I still believe there will always be a need to “rub-shoulders” at events and meetings – a lot can get done in the hallways..
  5. Multi-Sensory Experience
    If the online design is done right – and includes not just flat-screen text and graphics, but sound, audio, and video along with interactive activities and even gamification – it could meet a lot of requirements that aid in learning. Sometimes the multi-media that is available online is too expensive to recreate in the classroom, but can be added quickly as plug-ins to create a multi-sensory experience.
  6. Immediate Feedback
    As a learner goes through modules and is quizzed (or “polled”) on their key learnings, the learner gets to confirm if they are retaining things or are on track. This helps course designers make improvements more quickly.

So, because you’ve asked, I wanted to let you know that I have been reviewing a multitude of online courses, interviewing my clients and finding out what they have, what they like, what they hate and what I can do differently. Online learning may be in our near future!

If you have any feedback or ideas, please email me via my website. I’m looking for creative ideas.

* * * *

For those of you near Vancouver – I’m offering a
FREE Training Program: “I Can Fix That”
3-Hour Program
May 7, 2016

Space is limited to just 30 and Pre-Registration is required.

The program will be videotaped and the lessons moved to an online environment with many features that we’ve recognized together will be incorporated into my online learning.

For more Information and to register, visit https://elaineallison.com/blog/i_can_fix_that_may_7.pdf

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The Changing Face of the Customer – Are You Ready For “Age Friendly” Customer Service?

older_coupleMost companies have always focused on capturing the “next generation.” However, you need to keep your eye on serving the ever evolving market in an “age friendly” way. The market is not actually growing, but how this customer is served needs to be adapted.


The “Silver Tsunami” is Upon Us

10 things you need to know:

  1. In the US, statistics show that 10,000 people per day are turning 65 years old.
  2. Canada is following suit at a similar rate: 1/3 of the population is charging towards this demographic change, and Europe is already well into this.
  3. In Japan, the sale of adult diapers for the first time will surpass baby diapers.
  4. This age demographic is not going to grow old invisibly: they have saved well, and many will have paid of all or most of their mortgages. They are spending on travel, their kids, and grandchildren and even going back to school.
  5. They also don’t see retirement the same way their parents did, and most likely will be bored with the patio life. No longer does retirement mean long days to relax, convalesce or just play golf.
  6. They may not want to retire completely but offer their skills in a part-time or philanthropic way either through cash or time.
  7. Workplaces may have to not only adapt to the aging customer, but also their older “internal customers” (think employees) and adapt to accommodate their workplaces. For example, BMW set up education and work groups to brainstorm new ways to help their aging workforce keep up with productivity. They eventually found that their older workforce started outpacing their younger counterparts. They also make great “intergenerational mentors” in the workplace.
  8. This demographic does not want to be known or seen as “old”. Any terms about being “Grey”, “Senior”, or even the term “Senior Discount” causes a shiver down their spine.
  9. Age 60 is the new 40, and this demographic state they don’t feel their age. Due to advances in health sciences, they are living longer, healthier lives than ever in our history. Some studies have even shown that when someone turns 50 today, they state they actually feel 10 to 15 years younger than that.
  10. Many will seek out an “encore” career, exploring new areas to build experience and continue learning.

How will your organization keep your customer service eye on this pie? Which of the following responses will be on your radar?

  • Any Customer Service Manager, to fully understand the breadth of this shift, should be grabbing the book The Upside of Aging: How Long Life is Changing the World of Health, Work, Innovation, Policy and Purpose, by Paul H. Irving, President of the Milken Institute.
  • Continue to learn as much as you can about this group.
  • Analyze your current locations or spaces, website, marketing collateral, even your business cards for fonts and lighting for wherever your customers go or meet.
  • Understand the aging issues that typically arrive, which are:
    • Vision loss (think lighting, fonts and colors).
    • Hearing loss (think minimizing excessive noise or offering signage or visual aids). Have you noticed how a bus or public transportation does this multi-sensory approach to aid those with disabilities? Both audible and visual signals are used for “the next stop”.
    • Mobility loss (think location, location, location or offering transportation or easy to use websites, larger aisles, places to sit, lower counters to accommodate mobility devices such as walkers or scooters). Even a bad hip or ankles can stop someone from booking an airplane trip if they think it’s too much work. Think shorter trips: tour groups could reduce 20-mile bike rides to 5 miles to accommodate families who vacation together. Ask yourself: Where can our offerings adapt?
    • Taste buds also change (go from 288 to 88 taste buds by the time someone is 80+). The aging tend to want more spice, sugar or salt to recapture some of the memories of their youth. If you are in the food industry, you’ve already seen the rise in diagnosis of diabetes, Celiac and Gluten allergies or other intolerances. Don’t forget loss of teeth and softer foods as the denture market will grow too.
    • Cognitive loss (memory, confusion). As we age, memory is affected by not only the big risks of Alzheimer’s or dementia, but even more simple life changes such as menopause. More patience and empathy will be needed.
  • Plan how to adapt every aspect of your business to ensure you are assisting this demographic whether they have aging issues or not. More training may be required.
  • Review your demographics for both internal and external customers.
  • Review all your marketing materials and strategies to ensure you can and will keep pace.

Customer Service has not just evolved online, and hopefully companies have caught on to the value of social media and keeping Customer Service top of mind (especially because of instant reviews). HOWEVER….

Adapting to the “silver tsunami” IS the next big challenge or opportunity.

“You get to choose. You will either have to staff for it, or build for it.
This wave is here”.

If you are not ready, others will be. The need for “age friendly” customer service is here to stay, and taking advantage of it is a matter of simple math and adapting to the demographic.

= = =

Ask about my new Keynote, Breakout sessions, Training Programs, or Strategic Planning sessions to get your teams focused so you can ignite ideas, share concepts, review research, or devise your next big plan to ensure you are offering “Age Friendly” products and service.

Contact me for your next meeting at: info@elaineallison.com

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Why Social Media is Critical in Your Customer Service Strategy – Before, During & After

social_mediaBy now most organizations are using some form of social media platform. Whether managed by one person or a whole department, it is critical to know why and how you use it, and then measure results. I have written before on managing service levels by watching and responding to comments. But now that we’ve had years to observe how social media can be used and how it can behave, it is critical to know a few important areas to incorporate Social Media into your Customer Service Strategy.

What is a Customer Service Strategy?

A customer service strategy is watching how your customer finds you (think brand and fit) and how they build trust in you at every single touch point before, during and after they part with their money to purchase and experience your product or service.

Social Media has not changed the game, just how the game is played.

Uses for Social Media

Social Media should be used in the following ways to:

  • Drive traffic and awareness (Before) – know your keywords and the ones you can compete with for SEOs (i.e. Search Engine Optimization, which is another topic unto itself)
  • Build loyalty and ensure you are a trusted source (Before, During & After: think influence)
  • Convert traffic into a customer (Before, During & After)
  • Communicate to customers during the use of your product or service (Before, During and After: think Google+ or SlideShare if you are managing large groups)
  • Convert customers to raving fans (After: invite customers to share their positive experiences)
  • Allow you to manage positive and negative feedback so you can react quickly (set up Google alerts, and Google Analytics – Advanced Segments, and follow alerts on all your accounts)
  • Measure your effectiveness (e.g. Google Analytics: traffic Sources, conversions, Klout)

Common Social Media Tools

Each social media tool has an ideal purpose. Get to know which will suit your business and purposes best and how to use them in combination. The most common tools to drive traffic and awareness to your website and track comments are (no particular order):

  1. Twitter
  2. Instagram
  3. Facebook
  4. YouTube
  5. LinkedIn
  6. TripAdvisor (for travel industry)
  7. Pinterest
  8. Google+
  9. Blogs/Newsletter (think great content)
  10. RSS Feeds

Learn how each one can be used. Here’s a Marketer’s Guide to Social Media Tools http://www.slideshare.net/PaolaCceresOmaa/a-marketers-guide-to-social-media-tools, then design strategies to improve your current use or develop a new strategy. The options seem limitless; get your team involved in a brainstorming session.

Social Media Policies

Set up or update social media policies for your staff. Here are great examples;

Common Pitfalls and Guidelines for Social Media

Although the options seem limitless, there are “land mines” to avoid, so proceed with caution and a well thought out strategy that everyone can adhere to.

  1. When feeling emotional, AVOID social media! Never post or reply to anything when you are mad. You may need to stay away from social media for a while (this is even a good rule of thumb for teenagers when things flare up).
  2. Don’t breach privacy. The effects may haunt you (or sue you).
  3. Be careful to stay neutral with upset employees and speak directly with employees and investigate how things can be improved. This requires great leadership to handle correctly and can create a culture of care. Reply using neutral comments to convey that the situation is being looked into. (You may want to make it part of your policy to remove posts if they are offensive, use profanity, racism, sexual, politically charged, sensitive company information, improper use of copyright or references.)
  4. Don’t use “bots” to reply to customer problems; they come across as cold and impersonal, despite being “efficient”.
  5. Check that your #hashtag is not trending elsewhere at the same time. Watch news headlines carefully and prepare to quickly pull down your post if there are any missteps.
  6. Avoid humor or satire that might offend. Do not get creative during tragedies; it usually backfires.
  7. Post only positives, not negatives (even though your outside voice wants to shout out, leave that to the comedians to make a late-night segment out of it).
  8. Monitor your post afterwards: there are “snarks” everywhere – you may need to pull it before it gets on National News.

A business of any size — even one-person entities —can make use of social media. How do you compare and compete? Have you refreshed or learned something new lately?

You’ve been thinking of how to make better use of social media, so now it’s time to book one of my “Social Media Customer Service Power Workshops”. Your people will be taken through a series of directed exercises and given the chance to update, refresh or create their next big social media campaign. Visit https://elaineallison.com/blog and email me today to see how I can help.

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“FREE eBOOK” in time for International Women’s Day March 8th, 2015


Just thought I’d let my readers know about this offer! It is a press release I sent out this week.

(Vancouver, BC)….At 19 years old, Elaine Allison was one of Canada’s first female correctional officers supervising inmates in an all-male maximum security prison. It was there she learned first hand that there were distinct differences in how men and women lead or manage others. Her life depended on it! What worked for a man, was not working for her. She needed new strategies.

Women are continuing to move into managerial positions and leadership roles, yet most leadership books and programs have been written by men. Often the tactics don’t work for women. Elaine says, “What about the large percentage that are not getting access to methods of leadership from a “Women’s Point of View” in entry or middle management? This causes confusion as a man may be perceived as commanding, whereas a woman might be called the “b” word and alienating the very team she is supposed to be leading. Elaine says, “Women are realizing acting like a man doesn’t work.”

Elaine feels it all comes down to science such as; brains, hormones and cultural expectations. For example when using MRI’s and PET scans, it was found that in men’s brains, only one hemisphere lights up when they are tasking, for women both sides light up. This can easily answer the question why so many men are great at vision and focus (a heralded leadership skill) while, women are masters at multi-tasking, but often can be perceived as scattered, when in fact they can get a lot done. Secondly, we know when a man is under stress they produce adrenaline – the fight or flight hormone and we have now found that women actually produce more oxytocin than adrenaline, when under stress. For example, this is the hormone that women secrete in high levels when they give birth to a baby, making them want to bond with their child. In the boardroom if a crisis hits, a woman may want to call a meeting (bond), while the man in the room will want a decision (fix it). Lastly cultural expectations won’t allow in most cases a woman to act like a man – they often get called a – “Hammer” only to alienate the very team they need to get things done. If they resort to getting “too velvety”, nothing gets done. Throughout Elaine’s book and programs she continues to teach actual leadership skills all from a women’s point of view with real life strategies – that work amazingly well – for women and also interest men.

Elaine Allison is now a successful owner and co-founder of multiple businesses, and winner of the “Visions of Excellence” Entrepreneur of the Year Award. She is a corporate trainer, international speaker and author of the newly re-released book and now available in ebook format; The Velvet Hammer “PowHERful Leadership Lessons for Women Who Don’t’ Golf. She has presented to thousands of audiences on a variety of management practices and leadership skills for over 25 years. Among a variety of front line roles, executive positions and Co-Founder, Elaine has also managed 1400 unionized flight attendants which provided her with many more excellent examples of leading people while at 35,000 feet with no one to call.

Free on Kindle, March 8 & 9th, 2015 http://www.amazon.com/Velvet-Hammer-PowHERful-Leadership-Lessons/dp/0973906502/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1424977003&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=the+velvet+hammer

or Visit; www.thevelvethammer.com or call: 1-877-364-8500 for more information.

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Why Target Starts Liquidation in Canada – Where Did Customer Service Go So Wrong?

I had to investigate what went wrong with Target’s launch into Canada. I had been so excited when they were arriving here, delighted that there would be no more line ups at the U.S. border for me. I really enjoyed shopping at Target in the States — in fact, I even looked up the closest location whenever I traveled there, knowing I would find a deal and some things I could not always find in Canada.

So what happened? Customer Service is so much more than smiling and friendly staff. Customer Service is understanding your customers, and executing on that promise. Target may have broken some basic rules of customer satisfaction.

Top 5 Rules for Customer Satisfaction

  1. Identify customers’ needs (from psycho demographics to demographics). Canadians did not want American flag bathing suits on Canada Day long weekend. Also Canada is multi-cultural and not only a fairly tolerant nation, but if you check out large grocery chains here, you will see they try to deliver and stock items for all different cultures, traditions and religions. Rule of thumb: “Know thy Customer”.
  2. Anticipate those needs (think supply chain and software or systems to manage those needs). If your shelves are empty, you lose money. Keep your order entry and transaction process running smoothly and look at the multiple options that YOUR customers want. Try to make sure you’ve got a system and appropriate software to track and fulfill this. If you go International, watch what holidays are different from your and their potential tastes? Also, shipping can be a nightmare when it gets delayed because you forgot certain holidays: for example, BC Day is every February on a particular Monday (it is only a provincial holiday but can wreak havoc on supply chain processes).
  3. Remember the WOW factor. It is always about creating “buzz” and then keeping that “buzz” going. In a matter of months, you become boring unless you can think of something new to introduce. The coffee industry has it right: introducing Candy Cane Frappuccino’s to “Flat White Espresso”.
  4. Don’t expand too fast and manage risks. Test market products, promotions, pricing. Learn and adjust. Plan for dollar fluctuations, snowstorms, blackouts, think “what could happen” and what is our backup plan.
  5. Create a “Culture of Care” starting with the leadership. Leaders have to have high emotional intelligence along with competence. They are sincere, transparent and have the capacity to understand others. They look for resolve. They track, investigate, ask questions, brainstorm and facilitate others to help fix problems from back end supply issues to front line customer service complaints. And by the way, if something is breaking down internally (you can easily identify the issues by going to any meeting and hear your staff complain), I guarantee your customer is getting “whapped in the face” with the problem – and they will go elsewhere. The top companies admit their problems and work on fixing them month by month, year by year.

It is with sadness that I see Target leave Canada, the job loss that this creates, and the impact to our economy when a business goes out of business. I went into developing customer service programs globally because I know if we can keep our customers happy, they keep coming back, and if they keep coming back we can keep more people employed. If we can get and keep more people employed, more money gets re-distributed and a town, city or country gets lifted into a decent or higher standard of living. Money is a current (currency) and it has to flow; poor service internally and externally stops the flow. I hope you care about your customers today, inside and out.

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Customer Service During an Emergency and How to “Keep Calm and Carry On”

The day I arrived for a speaking engagement, Ottawa was rocked by tragic events at and around our Canadian Parliament Buildings. One of our unarmed Canadian soldiers, Officer Cirrillo, was shot in front of the War Memorial that he was guarding. This was followed by more gunshots in the halls of Parliament, and eventually ended with the fatality of the gunman. Before and during my flight to Ottawa, everyone in the airport lounges and on the flight was discussing how our country had changed forever. In fact, I realized it truly had changed as I walked through the Ottawa airport, drove in a taxi and entered my hotel where access had just been reopened. I watched in amazement how everyone dealt with the situation personally and how staff dealt with customers. Most Canadians in my age group or younger have not lived with this kind of tension or unrest.

Not knowing whether the conference was going to commence in the morning, I proceeded to check in. When I got to my room on the 8th floor, my door was unexpectedly ajar. My first thought was that the housekeeping staff had simply left the suite without clicking the door behind them. I almost knocked on the door, but hesitated, considering the events of the day: “What if one of the perpetrators was hiding in the room?” I had not heard any updates on the media yet or how many people may have been involved, only that the lock-down situation had been lifted.

I wondered how many minor incidents like this on that same day became exaggerated incidents as customers and staff operated on High Alert. I wondered whether I should go to the front desk or just enter the room. I asked myself: “How did the hotel staff, airport staff, taxi drivers, waiters, the conference organizers, and anyone else I had met that day deal with the situation and customers in a calm and organized fashion, even if they themselves were afraid?”

As some of my readers know, I worked at an all-male maximum security correctional facility at the age of 19. The situations I encountered were unpredictable and at times frightening; I had no idea that some of those situations would provide me with skills and ideas to keep not only myself safe, but others as well during emergencies. Our training covered firefighting, first-aid, hostage taking and evacuations in contained environments. Our primary role was the safety, security and supervision of 500 incarcerated inmates. We were there for the safety of everyone – guards, inmates and the public. It was not a hotel, but the infrastructure was actually similar. There were rooms, linens, shampoos and meals to be served and people to be checked in and checked out. There were the occasional fires and burst pipes and security breaches and even lock-downs during emergencies or unsafe conditions.

After I spoke with the Front Desk, Security checked my hotel room before I entered, including the bathtub and the patio lock. However, as I went to sleep, I realized we had not checked under the bed (so, yes, I checked). As I observed everyone in Ottawa dealing with customers during those two dramatic days, I was pleased to sense an attitude of “Keep Calm and Carry On”. My client had confirmed they were proceeding with the conference and trade show in the morning as planned (despite being locked in rooms for most of the day). The hotel staff stayed neutral on commenting or giving opinions about the events, despite the newscast blaring in the lobby with all kinds of assumptions. And on my way out of town, the airport staff from security to airline employees continued on in a safe and reasonable manner. The taxi driver explained the areas and streets that were impacted that day and reassured me things were slowly getting back to normal.

Over the years, I’ve followed reports about how staff stayed on board or fled during cruise ship disasters, how hotel staff held their posts and helped guests during hurricanes or floods or even outbreaks of illness. I have also been a flight attendant, and when you are 30,000 feet in the air, you can’t choose to leave because you can’t escape the contained area and customers look to you for guidance and direction during emergencies. When there is a lack of calm, reasonable direction, customers will follow any leader or even another customer who takes charge of the situation (which could have a devastating outcome if they don’t know the surroundings, the safest alternate evacuation routes or the best procedures to follow).

So how does a company prepare staff for unexpected or emergency events?

The goal is to look after both staff safety and customers’ safety.

Here is how to prepare before an emergency:

  1. Assess the risks and do a “what if” analysis (cover the most likely scenarios: earthquakes, power outages, floods, fires, security breaches, illness outbreaks).
  2. Determine what you know and what you don’t know (list them on a whiteboard).
  3. Uncover procedures that are not documented or defined, and update outdated ones.
  4. Develop training modules or have meetings to cover these procedures on a regular basis.
  5. Analyze where staff need additional training or survey staff to determine their skill gaps.
  6. Train staff on the psychological impact that emergency situations have (both during and after) so that when staff experience them, they recognize them and know how to react.
  7. Plan to debrief staff after en emergency event to provide comfort and support, and also to assess what went well and where improvements could be made. (Use a qualified company or train your management). Often, a group discussion guided toward moving forward can offer the immediate support and discussions necessary.

Safety is a big part of customer service. Occasions when things don’t go as planned are when the customer really remembers. I encourage organizations to make the necessary preparations so that both staff and customers feel safe during these times.

On this Remembrance Day, it is a special year to commemorate and honour those who have allowed us to stay “strong, proud and free”. As the saying goes, let’s “Keep Calm and Carry On”.

Elaine Allison

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How Hard is it to Keep Customers Happy When Companies Make Changes to Their Products?

Things change fast and it can be disruptive to the customers’ experience. Technology and automation change, demographics change, trends and tastes change, and even regulation or laws change that impact a business. For example, on July 1st Canada’s “Implied Consent” for internet communications change. I believe I have followed all the rules in that you signed up for my newsletter – and you can always unsubscribe.

A company’s big changes create a lot of little effects (and irritations) for us customers. For example, in the past month my credit card company recently switched to another banking institution and I was issued a new card, and my “points” or level seems to be changing so fast I can’t keep up with what I have or don’t have! My vacation property listing company is also making sweeping changes to their web portal in just a few days; this leaves me with quite a bit of work to update new photos and match items. Even my long-time favorite brands of face makeup and hair gel have changed their product formulas; I can’t replace them with the same quality and am now forced to look at their competitors.

On a grander physical scale, when airports get new terminals and sometimes even new “rail service” (such as in Toronto and Honolulu), these, too, cause changes that affect hurried travellers on a deadline to make their next flight.

How does a company keep up and keep customers happy? I’ve called the call centres, I’ve written emails to the company to check what they could recommend, and even went into the retail store to compare and find something suitable. It can be an exercise in futility for both the service representative and the customer. Often the customer will walk out if they don’t feel they’ve been guided or directed to a possible solution or option.

So what are some simple steps to aid in the transition of a product change? It comes down to training both your customer and staff. In other words, have a change management training program in place.

1. Identify and clearly communicate to staff what the changes are.
2. Gather a list from your staff of the fears they have around these changes. They may be able to anticipate a customer’s complaint and you can be prepared.
3. Use these challenges to identify best possible solutions so your company is “armed” with appropriate answers, suggestions and recommendations. In fact, the company should have identified and implemented the changes or have the “work-around” in place before the new product launch.
4. Determine a communications plan on how you will arm your staff with the information, such as “job aids”, cheat sheets, possible scenarios.
5. Determine a communications plan on how you will “teach” your customers what the differences are. Know how you will use website, emails, newsletters, ads, letters, and phone calls to ensure you are pointing out the “benefits” to the customer (even though the company may be doing the change for its own benefit). Ensure your staff are equipped with the “why” the change and “how” it helps the customer.
6. Ensure that staff members are equipped with a list of possible options (products or solutions) to the expected problems, and that they are clearly matched to a customer’s particular challenge that the change will impact.

Example: Hair gel product discontinued.
Customer Problem – New product does not give same lift
Possible Solutions
• Put all product lines with descriptions on website and guide customer to a selection (This will provide a resource for call centres as well as in-store retail staff to guide customers to)

Example: New Terminal for Departing Airlines
Customer Problem – Traveller gets lost; the taxi or person dropping them off is unaware of the new location. Someone may miss their flight.
Possible Solution
• Airport and airline use social media and internet to get word out.
• When tickets are issued online, an announcement about the changes is highlighted in RED.
• Staff are encouraged to announce the change and suggest ideas pre-emptively
• Provide maps or QR codes with map, or a mobile “app”.
• All ground transportation and local taxi companies are notified.
• Maps are distributed and requested they be put on all websites for related companies.
• Post signage for a period of time both before and after the changes

These are just a few examples to highlight the challenge of keeping customers happy during change. For each change your company will go through, use the power of the whiteboard with a group of leaders and front-line staff to prepare and develop communications and training programs to help everyone including your customers through the transition.

Change is hard on your employees, leaders and customers. Your strategic plan for the change should always have your customer in mind.

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