5 Tips to Develop Customer Service Excellence by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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Great customer service seems to be a lost art for many companies. As consumers, we put up with long hold times, rude employees and must work diligently just to get our basic questions answered. One of the easiest ways to set your company apart from your competition is to provide excellent customer service. Here are some tips to help you accomplish that. index

  1. Always put the customer first. This sounds trite, but it is a mindset. From day one, teach employees that any customer facing action is their first priority. Customer calls are to be returned before the deposit is taken to the bank. Appointments are scheduled with ample time to complete the session so that the next customer isn’t left waiting. These are examples that show a commitment to the customer experience.
  1. Look at every customer transaction. We often put procedures into place for the most obvious customer transactions, but fail to address others. These “other” transactions may be a source of dissatisfaction to your customers. Examine, for example, how long customers sit on hold before being answered, and whether or not customers have to deal with a transaction via mail even after handling it over the phone. All these little things add up.
  1. Be friendly. This should go without saying, but it’s amazing how often businesses are rude to their customers. As an employer, you should have a “zero tolerance” for rudeness. Customers are sometimes rude, it’s true, but employees must be trained to handle this behavior without engaging in it themselves. In addition, if the rest of the customer service issues are addressed, you’ll have fewer rude customers to deal with.
  1. Train, train, train. One of the biggest consumer complaints about customer service is that employees simply don’t know what they’re doing. If an employee cannot answer most customer questions, that employee should not yet be customer facing.
  1. Review. Document customer interactions for review at staff meetings or training events. When an employee is faced with a particularly difficult or brand new customer situation, it’s a great training opportunity for everyone. Review the situation and make decisions about how to handle that situation in the future.

With these five tips, your organization will be well on your way to ensuring that your customers receive excellent customer service. It takes work but is critical to retaining those customers you’ve worked so hard to acquire.

Managing Change from the Inside by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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Life happens. Many times, we are confronted with big changes that create a huge impact. Sometimes, these are planned and exciting, like getting married or getting that great new job we wanted. Other times, change comes in the form of devastation like death, divorce or job loss. Both kinds of changes are stressful and require management on our part in order to not only cope, but hopefully thrive. Here are some tips to help you manage life changes, good and bad. index2

  1. Prepare, if possible. When you know change is coming, you have time to prepare. This preparation can make it easier to deal with the stress the change is bound to bring. You can, for example, get some other things out of the way before you start a new job, so that you don’t have to deal with the situation while adjusting to new employment. If you are in the midst of a small remodeling project, get it finished before the first day of work. Clearing your mind of distractions helps you prepare to handle the change.
  1. Tackle the problem head on. There’s a saying that problems that are procrastinated are only amplified. When you’re faced with unpleasant changes, there is a temptation to retreat. However, failing to face the challenge immediately and directly will just delay the inevitable, and may potentially make it worse, as well.
  1. Explain to your family. When going through change, you may show signs of stress your family doesn’t understand. You may have to work extra hours to accommodate a work change. You may be scared, or you may be grieving after a death. Letting those who love you know what you’re going through offers two positive effects. The first is that you avoid having your family feel neglected or worry about you. The second is that you will hopefully get the support you need to get through the change.

Change is inevitable, and sometimes brings amazing results to our lives. Even when change is unwanted, or brings about sadness, it can provide us with a chance to grow and become a better person, a more productive employee or a more mature leader. Only when you manage getting through the change can you see the benefits on the other side.

 

 

Don’t Believe Everything You Tell Yourself by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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Most of us have no bigger critic than ourselves. We can have nine successes and a single failure, and the failure will be what we remember every time. These negative messages we send ourselves can be extremely detrimental and can hold us back from achieving our goals and being our best selves. That’s why it’s so important not to believe everything you tell yourself. don't believe

When you’re dealing with information about others, you generally look for the facts before making a judgment. Yet, we are quick to accept incorrect negative self-talk. The next time you start critiquing yourself, apply the facts to your critique. Here are some questions to ask.

  1.  Is it true? Are you really failing, or lazy, or less competent than others? I bet not. In fact, I bet if you met yourself disguised as someone else, you’d think you were pretty cool. Look at the facts of all you’ve accomplished before you accept your own negative messages.
  2.  Are you comparing yourself to others unfairly? Another trap we often fall into is comparison. Someone else has probably accomplished more than you, or accomplished what you desire in a shorter time frame. These may be facts, but these don’t really apply to you and what you wish to accomplish because it isn’t a contest. As long as you are moving forward toward your goals, there’s no reason to compare your timing to that of anyone else. In addition, it’s not uncommon to judge yourself more harshly for a mistake than you would judge anyone else.
  3.  Write down positive statements. Take the time to write down your accomplishments and your positive characteristics. When you feel like you aren’t good enough, or accomplishing enough, pull out those statements and remind yourself of how great you really are. Many therapists recommend speaking your accomplishments and positive qualities out loud to yourself in the mirror, as well.

Negative patterns of self-talk get in the way of your happiness, your self-esteem and your ability to accomplish your goals. Remember to ensure what you say about yourself is true, and that you don’t judge yourself more harshly than you would others in the same situation. Being fair to yourself is just as important as being fair to others.

Bringing Your “A” Game by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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Working in today’s fast paced work environments requires a lot of time and a lot of dedication. Even under the best of circumstances, you’ll likely find yourself devoting more hours and energy to you work than you believed it would require.agame 2

If you’re looking for ways to be more successful and to curb having to put in a ton of extra hours, be sure you’re bringing your “A” game each and every day when you’re there. By being at your best, you can accomplish more in less time, and ensure you’re being the right kind of leader for your team.

 Bringing your “A” game means several different things. Here are four things to consider.

1.   Are you focused on your work? Distractions can significantly reduce the amount of work you get done. In order to accomplish what you need to get done for the day, you must be able to work without interruptions, including those interruptions that you cause yourself. Be certain to minimize distractions so that you can accomplish your most important tasks.

2.   Are you organized? You can’t accomplish your most important tasks if you don’t know what these are. Be certain that you organize your day in such a way that you are aware of what you must get done and that you have the tools you need to get these things done.

3.   Are you mentally prepared? As mentioned above, accomplishing your goals requires focus. It can be difficult to focus, however, on your workday, if there are a lot of personal issues tugging at you. To help you focus at work, it can help to make a list of the personal issues that are weighing on you and then, literally and figuratively, put these aside. Tell yourself exactly when you’ll deal with each issue and follow through. Focusing on your work for a while may actually help you to feel better about your problems or see these in a clearer light. This one takes some practice, but once you can put personal issues aside at work, you’ll see a huge improvement in your productivity.

4.   Are you a positive force? Bringing negativity to the workplace makes you less productive, and brings your team down, too. If you can’t bring your “A” game in terms of attitude, you’re ruining everybody’s day.

Focus on being your best self every day. Doing so will help you to accomplish more and help you feel better about the work you’re doing. Along the way, you just might motivate others to bring their best selves to work, too.

 

Bouncing Back by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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Setbacks are inevitable. Whether in your personal life or your business dealings, there will be bumps in the road that test your commitment. It’s important to realize that everybody falls down and that it’s not the fall that defines you, but rather how you pick yourself back up. Here are some tips to help you find your resilience and move forward.index

  •  Evaluate what went wrong. Once you see the problem clearly, you can determine whether you should have done something differently. If that’s the case, then you know better how to face the situation if it comes up again. On the other hand, you may determine that there’s nothing you could have done to avoid the problem. That knowledge should help you to move forward, chalking the problem up to something you couldn’t control.
  •  Go back to your original plan. Whenever you suffer a setback, it’s important to return to your original plans for success. Have you veered from your original plan? Did that create a problem, or do you need to reevaluate how to reach your goals? Sometimes we have a setback because we lost focus on the tasks most critical to our success.
  •  Reestablish your commitment. One of the best ways to get back up and dust yourself off after a bump in the road is to remember why you started this journey in the first place. Envision yourself at the finish line, having met all the goals you set out to accomplish with this business.
  •  Make adjustments. Learn from the mistakes that caused the setback and make changes to accommodate. Mistakes are not wasted if you learn from them. However, if you fail to make adjustments to your activities, you’re doomed to make the same mistakes again.

Resilience is critical to accomplishing any major goal. There will be plenty of times when you must recover from a setback. Having a strong commitment to your goals and the willingness to reevaluate your plans as things change, will help you to move forward, making changes as needed. Every setback you overcome will make your success all the sweeter once you reach your goals.

Rituals Help You Increase Efficiency by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

We’re all searching for ways to be our best version of ourselves. Sometimes, we can make great strides through habits that are simple, yet very effective. We often look for complicated means to reach our goals, yet overlook some simple tricks that can maximize our efficiency. Establishing rituals is one of these.images3

Simple rituals, like answering email first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening, can help you to maximize your time. When you have set routines for doing things, you tend to be more focused on the task at hand, rather than drifting from one task to another without any plan or schedule.

Another way that rituals increase your efficiency is by helping you to ensure that you don’t forget any important tasks. If you get into the habit of, for example, taking the deposit to the bank every day at 4:30, you’ll likely never miss making your regular deposit. However, if you take it in the morning sometimes, and in the afternoon other times, it never becomes a habit, so you’re more likely to forget it all together.

Establishing rituals is really just another way of scheduling your time. It’s been proven over and over that people who schedule all their important tasks each day are more productive than those who don’t work on a set schedule.

Creating a ritual of touching base with important clients and peers can also help you to be more successful in your business. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details of everyday life and fail to keep in touch with people who give you energy, help you in business, and make you feel more connected. You may even feel guilty about taking time away from work to do this. But, making it a point to regularly interact with people who are your best supporters regularly offers immeasurable benefit to your life.

Just a few simple rituals added to your day may be all you need to greatly increase your efficiency and help you establish the routines that ensure your most important tasks are always managed. Your day will be more productive, and you’ll have a sense of calm knowing that you have a routine that keeps your business running smoothly.

CASE STUDY: Presentation Skills Training

AIA 600x314 (2)The case studies outlined in the “Athena In Action” series are being shared as examples of the variety of solutions we have provided to our clients for over a decade.

TOPIC: Presentation Skills

INDUSTRY:  Manufacturing

ASSESSMENT/SITUATION:  I was call in to talk to the Director of Human Resources about the engineer’s ability to effectively deliver their monthly reports.  The President flew in from the US every month for a meeting where all the department heads provided presentations on their activities and results. The engineers were technically fantastic and knew their jobs but were very poor at presenting.  They often had too much information on their slides and they would read from them.  Some of them were visibly very nervous and some others were unfocused and would go off in a different direction.  The President also felt the format of the meeting was ineffective and asked the Director of Human Resources to arrange for  training for the engineers.

ATHENA PARTNER MATCHING:  Since this audience was perfect for my  “Make Your Point” presentation skills program, I submitted my program as a possible solution.  Once the Director of Human Resources read through the details of my program, she agreed it was a great fit.

SOLUTION: I delivered my one day Presentation Skills program that provided the development of the engineers Presentation Skills ability. Specific areas addressed included:

  • Handling nervousness
  • Structure of a good presentation: Opening, Body and Closing
  • Understanding the needs of your audience
  • Presentation skills – Tips and Techniques
    • Handling questions
    • Body language/gestures
    • Using voice and tone effectively – characteristics of a good speaking voice
    • Eliminating distracting mannerisms
    • Using stories effectively to communicate your message
    • Facial expressions – eye contact
  • Using PowerPoint & other visual aids effectively

This program provided significant opportunity for participants to practice their new skills that were introduced within the program. It also provided the participants with the opportunity to interact with each other in a fun and collaborative way.

RESULTS:  We accomplished the objectives through a program delivery format that was highly interactive and provided tangible outcomes in the form of awareness, tools, and new skills that were immediately applied back on the job. Participants were able to practice their presentations twice during the program and receive valuable verbal and written feedback for improvement.  Everyone left saying they felt more confident to deliver their presentations the following month. In addition to learning new presentation skills I addressed the issue of the inefficient meeting. We changed the format from having one person be the MC and get up and announce each presenter, we had each presenter invite the next speaker on the agenda come to the front.  This shaved 15 minutes off the overall meeting time. The President was very pleased at the next meeting, not only because the presentations were more professional and also how efficient the meeting was run.

Confidentiality is very important to us at Athena Training and Consulting Inc.  The company names and individuals have been kept private in these case studies in compliance with our Privacy Policy.

About the Author:  Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC I have an unquenchable passion for life-long learning and continuous improvement. I am a Training Agent, Certified Coach and Facilitator. I work with organizations to simplify the process and reduce the risk of outsourcing training, coaching and HR Consulting.  I provide a one source solution to finding the “Perfect Fit”​ training solution for sustainable results. I believe contributing to the strengthening of my client’s most powerful asset, their employees, is today’s most valuable investment.

cstradling@athenatrainingandconsulting.com  www.athenatrainingandconsulting.com  416-290-5227

 

 

Checking In On 2017 Goals by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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Way back in January, you set your yearly goals. January is an exciting time for many people, as it offers the chance to start over with a clean slate. You get to think about all the exciting and productive things you plan to do for the year, and put those ideas and goals on paper.

The time you spend making goals in January is wasted, however, if you aren’t revisiting those goals throughout the year. October marks the beginning of the fourth quarter of the year, and is the perfect opportunity to check in once more on those yearly goals. We’re three quarters of the way through the year, and moving into the home stretch on accomplishing our goals. Here are some tips on conducting your check in.goal

  1. Be honest. When you review your progress, don’t skip over anything. Take a hard look and what you said you would do compared to what you’ve actually done.
  2.  It’s likely you’ve met some of your goals, and can clearly see that you’ll meet others by year’s end. Take the time to celebrate crossing the finish line on goals and being on track to complete others.
  3.  Track what got in your way. You may find that you haven’t reached, or are not on track to reach, some of your other goals. Take a look at the obstacles that kept you from being where you wanted to be as you move into the fourth quarter. Some of your obstacles may be self-inflicted, while others may be completely out of your control.
  4.  Make adjustments for the final quarter. Where you’re lagging behind, evaluate the adjustments you should make to make up for the lag. If you find that it isn’t possible to meet the original goal, adjust the goal so that you’re still striving for improvement. Press the reset button and accomplish the most that you can for the remainder of the year.

Don’t give up on your goals. Even when you see that you can’t meet your original goals by year end, it’s unwise to totally scrap the goal. If you’ve found that a goal you set at the beginning of the year is no longer relevant to your success, replace it with a more relevant goal and keep moving forward. If you can’t accomplish all that you wanted for the year, make the most of the time you have left and do the very best you can. If you’ve given a goal all your effort, you still have plenty to celebrate at year end.

Best Practices for Successful Sales Professionals by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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During my sales training programs I am often asked about the best practices I have adopted for myself over the years. I created this list Enjoy…Cindy

Attitude is everything – this may not sound like a best practice, but believe me it is. How we do anything is how we do everything. If your attitude is negative or cynical before you undertake any task it will definitely affect not only your results, but the experience of everyone who interacts with you.  Before you pick up the phone, go on a sales call or interact with others in your organization, do a personal check in.  Do an attitude check and ask yourself “Am I present and focused right now.  Is my intention positive or negative?”  When I do this I ask myself “Am I working in Mediocrity or Mastery today?”  I always choose Mastery and it sets the tone and my results for the day.index

Goals, objectives and targets – setting BIG goals and high targets has always been the way I go about setting my objectives for the year. I set annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily goals.  I find by keeping the BIG goals in sight, broken down as daily actionable items really helps me stay on track.  Monthly I review my activities to see where I am on or off target and take any necessary actions.  I have a call sheet that I created so I can track my daily activities such as calls, proposals submitted or connections made, again a simple visible tool to let me know how I am doing.  There is a saying I heard years ago “Inch by Inch Success is a Cinch” and it sounds simple but it really does come down to what you do with your minutes to achieve your desired outcomes.

Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan – this is the Intel slogan that I am in total agreement with. In addition to setting my goals and targets for the year, I also create an annual plan for marketing, new program offerings, newsletters and sources for new prospects. There are 5 questions that I learned from a leadership program to ask myself when I am creating my plan that really help:

    1. What do I know to do? (what’s obvious)
    2. What am I saying I will do? (get present to what you say)
    3. What do others expect me to do even though I haven’t said I would do it?
    4. What do I have to do to have my work complete?
    5. What do I have to do to make sure this is done as it was meant to be done?

I find when I ask these questions, it gives me a deeper connection and commitment to my plans, yielding me greater results.

Listening – Often people think that the sales people who have the “Gift of the Gab” are the most successful in sales. I used to think that many years ago when I first went into sales. I learned very quickly that this is not the case at all.  Salespeople who have the ability to listen to what is being said, as well as what is not being said, often report a much deeper connection with their clients.  I have found it very helpful to not only listen to the words a prospect or clients says but also to listen to the non-verbal communication.  Sometimes listening to tone of someone’s voice can reveal their level of commitment or enthusiasm about what you are offering.  Observing body language during a meeting is also another way to observe the level of interest.  It is one of the greatest gifts we can give to someone, the opportunity to be heard.

Questioning – It has been my experience that when I go into a meeting, whether a prospect or a client, I have more success when I come to the meeting with some relevant questions to ask. It is not so much about telling a customer what I can do for them but more about finding out what they need and then I can fit the solution to their specific need. By asking open ended and probing questions I gain a deeper understanding of the customer need.

Qualifying – I agree with Zig Ziglar – there are suspects, prospects and clients and everyone is a suspect until they are qualified.  I have many clients in many different sectors but they all have some common criteria.  I have found that once I identified the most relevant information that I need to qualify a potential customer, it helps me to move past the ones that most likely won’t do business with my organization anyway.  It is worth the time to identify what companies meet your qualifying criteria.

Talk to the Decision Maker – I know this sounds obvious but it can be tricky at times to get to speak with the senior person who ultimately makes the decision. Decision makers are busy people and have people to support them in a variety of duties, including screening incoming calls. It has been my experience to make friends with the assistant as a first step.  If you can’t speak to the decision maker first hand, I will start to develop a relationship with their assistant.  I recently confirmed an account with a large financial institution because I did just that.  It was over a year before I was able to get in front of the decision maker.  The VP said she admired my persistence.

Pleasant Persistence Pays – if there is one best practice that has yielded me the most results, it is being pleasantly persistent. I have a system of staying in touch with people that helps them keep me top of mind.  I know that often when I am cold calling there is very little chance that the prospect would have a need for training when I call (in fact I read recently it was a 3% chance that the person I was calling would have a need at the exact time I placed my call)  I have a very soft approach and because I am so lit up about the value we deliver and the benefits of working with me, often the prospect is curious about how Athena Training and Consulting Inc. could help them and are willing to meet with me.  My introduction meetings are very short and people are so pleased that I called them.  I provide them with a unique one-stop solution that simplifies their process.  I simply love sharing what we offer and I know what a difference it can make.

Objection Handling – Accept that objections are simply part of the sales process. Knowing your top three or four objections and preparing to handle them is one of the keys to ongoing success.  Often people’s objections are a signal that they either don’t fully understand how your solution will solve their problem or they want more information.  With some people their automatic first response is no. Years ago I lost a big opportunity because I wasn’t fully prepared to handle the objections that came up in a sales presentation.  I learned from that experience and now I do my best to assess any possible objections and I put them right up front in the presentation.  I deal with them before they even come up.

Recap for Understanding During a sales call I am always taking notes. I want to remember and document the pertinent information from each of my sales calls. This is particularly important when I am doing a needs assessment.  I make a habit of recapping my understanding of what there need is, the timing of the project and any other particulars that are relevant to the proposal.  I find when I read back the notes from our discussion there is often additional information and ideas that the client will add to our original discussion.  It also saves me from going off and preparing a proposal with any misinformation.

Know Values/Benefits –  To me this is critical to a Salesperson’s success. I am sometimes surprised to see how many of the participants in my sessions sell features.  I learned very early in my career that people buy benefits.  What can your product or service do for me? The WIIFM for everyone is critical.  I like to take it a step further and make sure that how you communicate the values and benefits be authentic to you.  Companies spend millions of dollars every year coming up with branding and slogans to let the world know who they are.  I think an Advisor should also infuse their own personality and values to any value proposition.  This goes a long way to deliver a truly authentic message from the sales person making the presentation.

 Matching Styles – As humans we have a tendency to get along with and trust people who are much like ourselves.  I have found if I match pace and tonality when I am speaking with people on the phone, leaving voice messages or meeting face-to-face helps us to connect more quickly.  I have been in meetings where I simply didn’t connect with the person initially, and once I consciously started to match their pace and tonality I seemed to be able to develop rapport.  The key here is to be subtle and natural, otherwise the prospect will sense you are not being genuine.

Tell the Truth – Like most Salespeople, I have been faced with delivering some not so good news to clients.  I have found that even bad news can be delivered professionally.  If I don’t know something, I simply take great notes and tell my prospects and clients that I will find out and get back to them.  I make sure I follow up in a timely manner.  Clients have told me that they appreciate my honesty.  This just makes good business sense to me if you want your clients to trust you, you have to be trustworthy.

 

 

 

 

Remember the Sales Basics by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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In recent years, sales professionals have faced loads of new challenges. Internet sales, in particular, have taken the market from manindex2y professionals and made it far more difficult to meet quotas. In addition, many industries that were once more service related have become more focused on price competitiveness. If you’re in sales, it’s critical to remember the basics that help you achieve your sales goals even when competing with a lower price and Internet sales.

  1. Retention. If you sell anything that offers the possibility for repeat sales, retaining your customers is critical. It costs much less to keep a customer than to look for a new one. Customer service, follow up and attention to details will help you keep the customers you have.
  1. Trust. If you are trustworthy, customers want to buy from you. Be sure that you follow some simple rules when it comes to dealing with customers. Tell the truth and represent your product accurately. Do what you say you’ll do. Follow up and readily provide information.
  1. Knowledge. Become an expert in your field. People want to buy from someone who knows more than they about the product they seek. They want you to be able to handle this part of their life from them, and they’ll often walk away if you don’t know the technical answers.
  1. Be a fixture in your industry and your community. The key to keeping a pipeline of prospects is to work to being the name that comes to mind when people in your territory need what you sell. Know your territory and invest in that community. The more people see your face and associate you with caring about your product, your customer and your community, the more likely they will be to seek you out when they need what you sell.
  1. Create connections. There is no substitute for being able to connect with people. Hone this skill so that you become someone people want to buy from. Believe in your product and be your authentic self, as most folks can spot a phony a mile away. It’s not about being a slick salesperson; it’s about a human connection that makes people want to do business with you.

All of these traits transcend industry and type of sales. When you can master these traits, you’ll be able to compete regardless of how competitive your industry becomes.