Customer Service Training

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

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

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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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Is “Gluten Free” a New Element of Customer Service?

At first I thought there would be only a special few in certain industries who might need to pay attention to the rising interest in “gluten free”. However, I’ve now realized first hand that this gluten-free fad might not be going away and a lot of industries should pay attention.

It all started after someone told me to try going gluten free to see if I felt better. I said, “No way – I love my bread too much.” Although I felt I had no need, I thought, “Okay, everyone is doing it.” And with seeing the book “Wheat Belly” in every airport, I thought, there must be something to this; I’d tried most every other fad diet – why not this one?

Lo and behold: three days of going with no gluten and my stomach went flat. I was not considered “overweight” either, but in six weeks of gluten-free eating, I lost seven pounds without really trying.

I do work out about three times a week and thought I was pretty healthy – just trying to ward off bone loss and the enjoy some other benefits – but all of sudden I increased my weights and could really pump it on the elliptical without much effort. In addition, I felt no more 3:00 PM need to reach for something (usually coffee). My head was clear, my stomach was flat, and I’d lost weight. Then someone said, “You should not be feeling this good – you should go get tested for celiac.” I replied, “I have no symptoms, I don’t have that!!”

The next time I waited for a prescription, I asked my doctor what I needed to do to get tested for celiac. He said, “Oh that is simple: it is just a simple blood test; it is only around $50 now versus a $5,000 endoscopy (the test where you swallow the camera). We send everyone now. We only used to send the worst cases as a last resort.” Four days later my test came back: I was celiac! That meant no gluten for the REST OF MY LIFE! All the way home in my car, I grieved the thought of never having a Yorkshire pudding or sausage roll again.

I looked everything up online; I bought books, and started cooking a whole new way. I feel amazing, weight has stayed off, and found it “kind of easy” to do this….except going out to eat, and when traveling through airports (especially international routes where you are not allowed to take food with you). As I continued studying and living gluten free, I realized I also had to change my cosmetics, creams, lotions, shampoo, prescriptions and even some pharmaceutical products— even my prescriptions were now making me sick.

Gluten seemed to be in everything and everywhere. In most restaurants (even top end hotels) both chefs and wait staff ignored or didn’t really understand the concept of “gluten free” and avoiding cross-contamination (and the consequence of “…if that happens, I can’t come here again, nor will my family and friends if I’m with them”). That’s potentially a lot of business they would be losing out on — especially if this is not a trend. Unfortunately, the staff brought whatever they usually served as I looked down in horror at the croutons on my salad, or I found out later by looking online that their sauce did indeed have “modified” corn starch.

Believe it or not, it seems corn starch is okay, but “modified” corn starch is not. What an education process this is going to take in any business with their staff that uses gluten in or near their other products. Will the world split in half with those business offering gluten free and (advertising it) and those who don’t?

The awareness of gluten intolerance is getting better, but I ask any of you who produce or provide a product with gluten: are you getting more requests to go gluten free?

I realized it is not just me who chooses not to go to your store, brand, hotel or pick up your product; it is my entire household, so that is up to five of us no longer purchasing.

Most grocery stores in North America now have an aisle or section dedicated to gluten free. Is it a trend that will fade, or is it here to stay?

For me to keep feeling well, the only treatment is to live 100% gluten free without cross-contamination. That means that the food you eat, the cosmetics you use, or the prescriptions you take must not contain gluten, nor be manufactured in warehouses where wheat products are used. Once I started to remove it completely, I now feel the effects of gluten within 10 minutes: I get a sharp pain at the top of my stomach and then brain fog sets in. I have to be really careful and I now travel with my own food. Airports could get much better at offering readily available gluten free food. Lays “regular” potato chips are gluten-free and have become my best friend in an airport (their sales may be up if the gluten-free trend continues!). As I searched, I found several progressive restaurants with gluten-free menus, so of course I take all the family there now and avoid the other establishments.

Last August, I spent a week on the island of Grand Cayman, known as one of the culinary capitals of the world. I was amazed how most restaurants and hotels there have got on board with delicious appetizers, breads/toasts, entrees, and a variety of desserts that all met my new dietary needs. My waiter and the chef from the Westin 7 Mile Beach hotel took such good care of me during my stay. From the time I entered, they stated “No problem, our chef will accommodate your needs.” It was exquisite dining, and they even made up four sample desserts “all gluten-free” just for me. Thank you for taking care of me.

Will gluten-free and other dietary requests become the new customer service norm in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical services industries? We will have to wait and see. I will continue to mystery shop and keep my eye on this trend – mostly because I have to.

Is this a new customer service trend? If it is it will take some staff training and probably you could combine your menus with nut free, dairy free as well. For your staff send them for more information about celiac and those who are adversely affected by gluten, visit:

For more information about our training or keynotes on customer service visit: “Transforming Teams into Customer Care Crusaders”.

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The Real Cost of Losing a Customer

They Now Tell 500+ Friends Before They Get to the Parking Lot

One of the most fascinating things that I witness from time to time is when a company can’t handle the discerning customer. This is someone who provides feedback and complains and if the substance of the feedback was actually listened to— it can dramatically help a business improve. Often with just a few tweaks, suggested by the customer, a business can actually save the company time, money and keep their brand promise intact.

Tragically, the feedback of a discerning customer can backfire if the company tries to defend vs. fixing the problem. The business “fires” the customer inadvertently. I think of a recent instance of a dissatisfied customer making some appropriate (and factual) comments to another customer. The owner of the business learned of it defended their position, and terminated the relationship without giving any credit to the substance of the feedback, which pertained to broken equipment and lack of cleanliness. Unfortunately for the business owner, the cost of firing this customer resulted in the loss of 9 other customers also. Someone with over 500+ friends will have told everyone about the interaction before they got to the parking lot.

When a business gets a customer complaint, it’s likely that there are a hundred more with the same opinion, so best to do something about it. The hundred customers that you have not heard from – talk behind your back and now online to hundreds more at a time. Have you ever heard the saying “The Customer is Always Right”? In most cases, they are. I do have a Caveat: If there is an act of violence or someone’s safety is in jeopardy, get immediate assistance; you are probably justified in firing (losing) the customer.

Let’s look at the cost losing a customer by contrasting it to the “life time value” of a customer. The following formula does not include the cost of acquiring a new customer. Here is the sample cost breakdown of losing a customer from the scenario I described above.

    Lifetime Value of a Customer

Scenario: a fitness club, at which equipment maintenance and cleanliness have deteriorated. Membership revenue is generated monthly (/mo).

LOSSES: 1 customer leaves and convinces 8 friends to leave.
9 memberships x $35 /mo = $315 /mo x 12 months = $3,780
5 years (expected length of a typical membership) = $18,900

Firing “one customer” cost that business almost $19,000 in revenue. Do you think it will fix equipment and improve cleaning to retain other customers? How long do you think a company will be in business with these kinds of losses?

Lesson: If you own or help run a business, you better pay close attention to how your customers feel. Failure to do this will be the loss to your business in (1) revenue when the customer walks and (2) potential revenue when they then tell the world. (3) Not to mention potential loss of the entire business and personal loss of income for the owner, all the employees (jobs), and all your suppliers! Ouch!

Granted, sometimes a customer is not your correct demographic. For example, someone who normally travels First Class will have a tough time traveling on a discount carrier, and you’ll never please them no matter what you do. In cases like this, there is a way to “inform” or teach customers about the different aspects of your business so they understand why something is happening. Refer to my other blogs for the “Knock it Off Nicely” technique where you have no choice but to deal with a situation without causing hard feelings.

This blog addresses the feedback that a customer provides to a business that is “right” and could dramatically help identify vulnerabilities and opportunities to improve. It’s always best to REALLY listen. This is where training staff becomes vitally important; it is no longer optional for companies if they don’t have the skill to handle difficult or unhappy customers. Unfortunately, I often see an employee or even a business owner trying to defend “their” company because they are personally vested. They take any slight or negative criticism personally and may get angry back at the customer. As you know, this just ends up in ill will for both parties. The company always loses, the customer just goes elsewhere. Meanwhile the customer is telling 500+ friends on Facebook what just happened and if the story is “juicy” enough it goes viral. Your business loses in the end.

To avoid the costly scenario of firing a customer, put better customer service practices into your business plan for daily implementation. Every business should look at how to effectively handle customer feedback, whether received face-to-face (often with frustration and anger), or through e-mail, letters, and every form of social media. Remember, it’s not just “1” complaining customer; they are simply the voice of others who are also sharing their “horror stories”. If you don’t listen and go looking for the feedback in the first place, you won’t get a chance to fix it. There is no way to stop the consequences that an unhappy customer can cause to your business these days if you are not dealing with the problems.

Go looking for feedback: create a Google alert to see what others are saying about you. This is often the BEST form of feedback for a company to follow how they could improve. It used to cost tens of thousands of dollars for focus groups and mystery shoppers; now, the feedback is at every business owner’s fingertips.

How you treat the customer effects our entire economy as well as job loss and employment rates directly within our communities and nationally. The world is now competing for our customers. If you feel it is time to bring a new or improved culture of care to get your business to the next level, don’t hesitate to contact me at:

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It’s Easy to Provide Customer Service When There Are No Disabilities – But Are Your Staff Comfortable When There Are?

It is easy for staff to provide customer service to those who are fully “abled”, but are your staff comfortable and do they understand how to help (or sometimes not) when someone with a disability does show up?

I’ve worked on airplanes and restaurants and had to deal with various disabilities from complete mobility loss to hearing loss and everything in between. As a flight crew, we needed to learn how to assist someone in a wheelchair getting to the plane as well as use “Skychairs” to bring guests down the narrow aisle to their seat. I’ve worked extensively with airports and the public train system in preparing staff to assist customers with a variety of different situations they could face. This training includes preparing 5,000 staff to “Welcome the World” for the 2010 Winter Paralympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

As we deal with an aging population (and it is coming fast), a lot of the typical disabilities begin to appear and your staff and establishment better get prepared. The primary disabilities with which staff should be familiar are:

• Hearing loss
• Vision loss
• Mobility loss
• Cognitive challenges

Employees should be able to define the different types of disabilities and how best to assist:
• Understand the differences between a disability caused by a physical impairment and a disability caused by aging.
• Discover methods of communication that work best for those with disabilities of hearing loss, visibility loss, or cognitive challenges.
• Uncover more appropriate language to use when discussing disabilities.
• Assist with transitions from one department or supplier to the other (think transfers).

Facing the reality of an aging population and the fact that one-third of the population in North America are now baby boomers, businesses are going to have to look at barrier-free initiatives; how will their counters, stores, front entrances, signage and so forth be newly arranged to accommodate? Are your counters — or parts of them — low enough for those in mobility devices, and are your aisles wide enough? What about the curb leading up to your entrance? I’ve seen staff get frustrated because they did not anticipate the effects of aging and how to respond to customers who are experiencing them. Would you like your parent treated like that because they are becoming a little more forgetful or frustrated or because they can’t stand and wait that long or walk too far? How does your after-sales service look for those with disabilities?

If you feel your company needs assistance, we can assess how you serve customers with disabilities and develop customized training programs for your staff. Email us today:

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Are You Serving Broccoli and Chocolate?


Give Customers What they Need So They Stay for What They Want.

If you were to ask your child what they wanted for dinner, would they say broccoli or chocolate? Chances are it would not be the broccoli, although as parents we know they need it. Most businesses get lost in trying to deliver the “chocolate” when delivering customer service, and get distracted from their customers’ core needs (the “broccoli”) – the needs that made a customer decide to come to you in the first place.

Take travel for instance. When a customer buys a ticket for a flight or a train ride, they need to move – to be transported! You can give all sorts of bells and whistles along the way, but that train or plane better get a customer to where they’re going. If they’re not moving, the next thing they absolutely need is to be informed. Just look down the aisle of any airplane at 9:02 when it should have left at 9:00. The entire plane is looking around at the flight crew wondering what is going on. They are thankful when the staff make an announcement with an update and they all go back to their reading. Keeping customers moving and informed is what I call the “broccoli” of providing customer needs in this industry. A business must know their essential service and not lose sight of it.

Think also of fast food restaurants. As customers, we need efficient, affordable and clean places to eat with working and “clean” bathrooms. Miss these fundamentals (the “broccoli”) and the customer will probably go elsewhere. Businesses should understand their absolute musts (the “broccoli bits”) of their business to meet customer needs so they and their teams can make decisions and prioritize – especially when things don’t go as planned.

The “chocolate”, on the other hand, are your extras, often known as the things that set you apart or the cool stuff. The whip cream or swirl on top of your coffee; the sleeve so you don’t burn your hand from a hot cup; the pickles; the type of dishes; the decor; a pillow or blanket on a flight. The options are endless, and every business knows what they need to constantly update their “chocolate” to stand out in the crowd. However, those companies who have longevity don’t lose their focus on the “broccoli bits” that their customers need before dishing up the “chocolate” to keep them coming back for more.

If you need a customer service keynote, customer service training, or assistance defining or being reminded of the “broccoli” and the “chocolate” of your business, send us an email to find out how we can help.

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5 Ways to Use Social Media to Replace Comment Cards in 2013

AAVA FeedbackDoes your business still print out Comment Cards and leave them near the where the transaction takes place to conveniently hand out? Do your customers take the time to fill them out? Not anymore! It’s over; the days of Customer Comment Cards are dead. Most likely the customer will go home and rant on email, Twitter, Facebook, or – even worse – make a YouTube video about how bad they perceived your service.

The other day, I was surfing a major airline’s Facebook page and reading the ruthless comments (for some reason, airlines are an easy target for complaints), and it confirmed to me that there is NO NEED for Comment Cards anymore. You want customers’ comments? Just check the social media sites: the angry customers are right there on your page venting, replying to each other, “liking” and sharing.

Wow, I wondered, what is this doing for corporate culture and where does that leave employee morale (some employees are people who actually do care), let alone the damage done when someone Googles your company name and then sees all this? The typical reaction of customers is to either get involved and vent too, or run away from the business.

These very public complaints about your company can have a real impact on your employees. Your previously private customer service department’s complaints letters are now public for the world to see and often in real time. You may need to do some damage control before complaints escalate with devastating effect. Comment Cards used to be a great way for a company to monitor how they were doing, review them, and reply if customer contact information was provided and, ideally, remedy the problem. In addition, staff loved comment cards because offering the opportunity to comment was a way to get the customer off their back. Now, however, staff may worry that their interaction with a difficult customer will end up on the Internet.

How to Use Social Media to Deal with Customer Service Issues
Here are some ideas on how to use social media for your Customer Service:

  1. Create a Google Alert for your company name or product so you receive an email each time someone mentions either of them. Monitor any negative ones, and respond immediately online, adding a comment or damage control statement to your website, or a press release if necessary.
  2. Dedicate a team (even one person) to scour your social media sites and reply, respond or offer remedies immediately online. (This could be your customer service department, the people who have already been handling phone calls, comment cards and letters.) Bring regular service breakdowns you are seeing into the company and set up systems to minimize the issues.
  3. Develop Communication Guidelines so that staff know how to reply without sarcasm, anger or other damaging behaviours.
  4. Create a QR (quick response) code that takes customers to your website quickly for feedback. Think “Customer Care Card” and set up the fields just like on a comment card to collect feedback and voice their opinions. For example, see the photo I took from Trip Advisor after my last stay at a hotel in Whistler, BC. I quickly scanned the QR code into my phone, and when I got home, I added my comments about my stay: how lovely the staff and the hotel were; however, housekeeping left only three towels when four of us were booked; left only decaf coffee; and did not replenish the toilet paper (which caused an extra trip for very busy staff). I’m sure this feedback – which was so easy to give online – could be used at the next Housekeeping meeting and corrected for the next week.
  5. Have customers follow your Twitter account so they get immediate updates if operations go awry. For example, a hotel could use a Twitter account specifically for current guests to keep them notified in real time of water or power outages (most phones run on batteries) or pool closures and when service is anticipated to return, or – better yet – announce a “Wing Night” or Happy Hour Specials. Hotels could have guests “Follow” a Twitter account when then they check in to that location, then “Unfollow” the account at the end of their stay.

Ask yourself, “How could I be using social media for my Customer Service, either to enhance the service or remedy things?” Social media in this realm is now reality; real people commenting in real time, and truer than ever “If you snooze, you lose”.

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I’m researching how various types of companies are using social media for Customer Service (not just sales). Later, I will make available a White Paper on the topic. You are welcome to participate in this research via online survey. This research will provide valuable keynotes and material for breakout sessions at future conferences for those who want to develop a better strategy for their social media initiatives. Thank you in advance for doing the survey.

To complete the survey (just a few questions; takes less than 5 minutes), please visit:

Thank you again.

To book Elaine for an interactive keynote or breakout at your next conference or meeting, email:

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The Top 5 Customer Service Complaints During the Christmas Rush and What Leaders and Staff Can Do About Them!!!

Frustrated ShoppersBeware shoppers may bring this to your business!

We’re all in the middle of the final countdown to Christmas and seasonal celebrations that could make just about anyone wish they would get ploughed down by a reindeer. If you are in retail, then there will be returns shortly thereafter. From buying gifts, food, alcohol parties and everything in between, we all need the extra time and strategies – including the staff who are working during the rush. Most people are not on their regular clock and they are getting pushy and cranky out there. This includes service staff in any of those industries that won’t breathe until about January 5th. If staff have to hear music by “Alvin & The Chipmunks” one more time this week, they probably want to @#$%^ scream!

So how do service staff keep their sanity? By helping them prepare for the things that don’t go as planned or the frankly the service breakdowns that are caused by the rush.

Before a shift, customer service staff could discuss how to handle the different service breakdowns that happen during this season by using some of these ideas and brainstorm further or discuss a breakdown that happened yesterday that they could not seem to find a solution to. The focus should be on how to proactively handle it (find 3rd ways), so staff are ready when it does happen because they know it will happen again.

Top Service Breakdowns and Some Possible Solutions
Use this for Customer Service Training Meetings before a shift to get the discussions started.

For each of the service breakdowns, I suggest some possible solutions below. Leaders and staff can use this to brainstorm for more ideas pertinent to their business.

1. Lineups at the cashier.

  • Ensure stanchions are correctly used or place product tables to guide people; no one likes a “cutter”.
  • Staff should know how to politely guide people and exercise crowd control and not be afraid to let people know where and how they could line up.
  • Offer to hold the products for a specified time . If someone is really upset, offer to hold and place their name on items, especially if they have other shopping to complete. Suggest they could also come back at a quieter time, the end of day, or the following day, or give a time limit (if you think they might not come back and you know you could sell the items).
  • Have separate lineups for cash and debit/credit card purchases.

2. The computer system goes down during busy times.

  • Start a cash lineup separate from the debit/credit card purchases. Post a “CASH ONLY” sign if possible.
  • Depending how long the system will be down, offer to hold products and for them to come back.

3. You are out of stock or a certain size.

  • Offer an alternative gift idea by finding out who it is for, then think “what else?” and show them other options.
  • Order online (make sure you note the website and actual product name or SKU number for them). Even better, show them how to, or do it for them (time permitting). Many big stores now have the internet kiosk right in their stores and you can ship it directly to the customer. Don’t wait for the customer to leave the store.
  • Offer a gift card.

4. A customer has an adult temper tantrum.
This can be really hard on staff if they’ve never witnessed an adult having a hissy fit. It is often not the staff member they are mad at; more likely, it’s just the situation or the 15th thing that has gone wrong that day and their blood pressure or heart rate has just hit the max.

  • Don’t speak while the customer rants. Let them finish; be attentive and show sympathy.
  • Put on an imaginary shield. Don’t take it personally, try to figure out their plight.
  • Don’t tell them your policy or say “you can’t speak to me that way” (this just increases the intensity). Show concern by asking questions like when, where, how, and what to find out more about the problem; this often calms someone down, and shows you’re actually thinking or trying to get to a solution.
  • Move them to the side of the counter or to a more private place, or offer to see if the manager can help or if someone can contact them if you find out more.
  • Look for 3rd ways to solve their problem. Creative staff always win if they are focused on solving even the worst customer’s problem. They are often loud, and will tell everyone how good you were – because they often know how bad they were.

5. There is no one around to help.
Staff shortages, poor layout of stores, or even new processes can cause havoc on a frustrated shopper, and they may “abort mission” real fast. The sale is lost and they most likely won’t come back in January.

  • Have a sign suggesting: Can’t find what you are looking for? A gift card may work.
  • Ensure most popular items are easily accessible, stocked and sized before store opening and replenished on a regular schedule.
  • Staff do call in sick over the holidays, sometimes more often due to the number of contacts they are having. It can be tough for the remaining staff to squeeze in a 15-minute or lunch break during this season. Call on each other (rally staff) to stagger breaks during slower times or take shorter breaks to refresh, then offer a “sleep-in day” (come in fifteen minutes or an hour later) or get off earlier on a slower day in January.

For now, everyone does have to make concessions this time of year. It won’t be like this in mid-January if you are in retail! I promise!!

If you know an organization, or you’d like to improve your customer service contact the Customer Service Expert Elaine Allison visit to learn about her Keynotes & Learning Programs.

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