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


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.

Customer Service and Beyond by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC


Good customer service is a secret to success in any business. Though the details vary by industry, the basic customer service principles are the same. Providing excellent customer service to your clients helps ensure your business thrives. In most businesses, gaining customers is expensive, so keeping these customers after you’ve won them is critical. Providing good customer service is the single biggest thing you can do to keep those customers. Here are five customer service principles that transcend industries.index2

  1. Know your product or service. You should be able to talk knowledgeably about your products. When customers have questions, you should be able to answer these. When you don’t know the answer, you should be committed to getting the answer quickly for the customer.
  1. Provide timely service. Don’t make customers sit on hold or wait in ridiculous lines. Of course, there are times when business is busier than other times, but do your best to keep the customer’s wait short.
  1. Be friendly. If you’re a customer facing employee, you don’t get to be in a bad mood. Be nice, every time, even when the customer isn’t nice to you.
  1. Keep your promises. If you tell a customer you will call them on Thursday with the answer, then call them on Thursday. If you don’t have the answer, at least let them know that you are still working on it and give them a new time when you will call them back.
  1. Follow up. Be proactive in following up on customer problems. Rather than assuming a problem is resolved because the customer didn’t call back, take the time to call and ask if the problem is resolved.
  1. Be reasonable about rules. It’s imperative that companies have rules. However, do your best not to apply rules arbitrarily, or use these to avoid doing what is right. When the rules just don’t make sense for the customer’s situation, be willing to go to bat for the customer to get an exception approved. Be willing to admit it when a rule shouldn’t apply.

Discuss these six principles within your organization and assess how you’re doing as a group. While these all seem like obvious things to do, they may not be everyday practice. Look for ways to improve your customer service using these ideas. Your customers, and your bottom line, will thank you.

Building Resilience to Handle Even the Most Difficult Customers by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC


Even the most composed professionals can lose their composure when it comes to handling irate customers. It’s fairly normal for leaders to put off making those calls we know are likely to end in an unhappy customer. Even worse is being blindsided by an incoming call friratecustomerom a customer who is already worked up.

This is another area that requires resilience. Business owners and managers cannot afford to avoid talking to unhappy customers. It is always important to try and make customers happy, but there will also be times when the customer simply cannot have what he or she wants. Here are some tips to make dealing with difficult customers a little easier.

1. Know the facts. Go into any conversation with an irate customer armed with the facts, as much as possible. If a customer calls in and you need time to get the facts, it may be better to set an appointment to call the customer back. If you must do so, be diligent about keeping that appointment.

2. Hear the customer out. In many cases, the customer just wants to be heard. If you are so busy trying to explain the “policy” to them that they don’t get to vent, you’ll have little success in turning them around.

3. Remain calm. In no case is it permissible for you to show your frustration. Doing so will only escalate the situation.

4. Offer a solution. If you can’t give the customer exactly what he wants, offer a solution that meets the customer halfway whenever possible. This will go a long way toward keeping the customer on the books.

5. Know when to say when. There are some people who just can’t be made happy. These are rare, but it’s important to know when you’ve met one. Sometimes, it is best to part ways amicably rather than continue to deal with someone who is completely unreasonable.

Every business will have irate customers. Dealing with them can be one of the worst parts of your job. However, turning one around into a happy customer can be one of the most rewarding parts, too.

Keeping the “Social” in Selling by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

social selling

Everysocial selling good sales person has lots of tricks up his or her sleeve, using different selling tools to meet different sales situations. As sales people hone their skills, they learn more and more ways to bring the right customers to the door. One of the most successful current selling trends is social selling. This technique is not only a great way to bring in new customers, but, because of the relationships it builds, it is also a great way to ensure that you retain the customers you sell.

 Social selling is all about building a relationship with a customer through social avenues. Social selling brings customers who want to buy from you,

regardless of the product you’re selling. This type of selling helps set you apart from your competition when you’re selling a product that most people need or want. It also helps to increase sales of products that are not necessities. People will choose to buy these products because of their relationship with you.

 Avenues for Social Selling

 There are many avenues for social selling. The first, and most important, is through your personal life. As a sales person, your personal life and work life are completely intertwined, particularly if you sell something that the general public needs or wants. As you go about your personal life, you should look at everyone as a potential customer, and be sure all of your friends and acquaintances know what you do for a living.

 There is a technique for in person social selling that is very important to learn, if you want to be successful. You don’t want to be the sales person that everyone wants to avoid at the cocktail party because they don’t want to be sold something. Good social selling requires you to let people know what you do, and make sure that people enjoy being around you. If you can accomplish these things, the people in your life will think of you automatically when they need or want your product. Strive for nothing more than to be the “expert” in your field for them, whether or not they are buying. Not all of your friends will buy from you at first, but if you manage your sales persona successfully, all of them will buy from you eventually, assuming you sell something they need or want.

 Social media is also a great avenue for social selling. Use LinkedIn, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter accounts to send out helpful advice or snippets of info, but do not use it to solicit sales directly. Use these tools as a way to keep your name fresh in people’s minds, not as a way to close the deal.

 Finally, remember professional networking. These events are great ways to make connections with other people. Again, this avenue is not necessarily about selling directly to the people you meet at these events. The goal is for you to pop up in their mind when someone they know needs your products. Professional networking is more about referrals than about selling directly to your network. You can probably only sell those in your network once, but if you manage the relationship correctly, you can sell to people they know indefinitely.

 Social selling is not only one of the best skills a salesperson can have, it’s also one of the most fun. When you begin to take advantage of this avenue, you’ll find that you make great friends and have a renewed fervor for your career.

“Inside the Magic Kingdom” Lesson 4 by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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 “Inside the Magic Kingdom” Continued from previous week…


Everything walks the talk.

Not only does everyone walk the talk, everything walks the talk. The equipment, facilities, trucks or anything that represents ymagickingdomour company should walk the talk. The gold leaves on the carousel are painted with 23-karat gold paint. Most people would not know the difference but the staff are reminded by this what we do for our customer is the most important thing of all. One of the points made in the book was very revealing… “a lot of managers would be shocked to find out how little their employees believe management walks the talk.” The key as described in the book is turning common sense into common practice. 

Questions for discussion with your team:

  1. Remember the gold leaf paint on the carousel.  What messages are being sent to our associates/employees about the value of customers?
  2. Keeping in mind the importance of things unseen, in what ways could we remind employees that customers are “pure gold?”
  3. Imagine that everything in our company walked the talk.  What would that look like?
  4. What’s the one thing that could be changed so that it did a better job of walking the talk?


Everyone is in Customer Service

customer service, all roles, positions in the organization

Everyone is in Customer Service

by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

We are all in customer service.  It doesn’t matter what position you hold within an organization you can affect the customer experience.  Often it is an indirect impact, but you can affect the overall experience just the same.  Since we start the Athena Alliance we have had many situations where we provided customer service training to internal departments.  A recent example of this was a service company who was having difficulties between the various departments and the finance department.  The finance personnel didn’t realize the impact they were having on the other departments ability to service the customer in a timely manner.  After the training, things improved drastically.

customer service, all roles, positions in the organizationEveryone in an organization should have customer service excellence as a focus. Customers have many choices these days and depending on your industry they can move their business without too much difficulty.  In sales we always talk about the importance of building rapport and trust. It is equally, if not more important when it comes to the service we provide our clients.  Without our customers we have no business. Everyone needs to understand this!

I am sure I am no different than anyone reading this blog and have come to expect the employees of the companies I deal with to treat me with respect – all the time, not once in awhile. I have read many stories over the years about how some hotels have empowered their people to “go the extra mile” when needed.  Companies that adopt this philosophy don’t make excuses, pass the buck or point fingers when a customer calls to complain.  Their staff does what it takes to WOW their customers.  This doesn’t mean you will do everything your customer asks (especially if it doesn’t make good business sense for your organization), but it does mean the customer has the experience of being heard and respected. It is extremely important to tell the truth even if it isn’t what the customer wants to hear.  I have had the experience where I have literally had to chase a customer service person for three weeks only to find out they couldn’t help me.  What a waste of time and energy.  I would never consider doing business with them again.  I would have stayed their customer if they had said right from the beginning it wasn’t something they did.  I could have gone elsewhere and still felt OK to continue with them.

Take a minute now and close your eyes.  Think about an exceptional customer experience you have had in the past.  What made it so special?  Do your customers experience service like that from your company? If not, what has to change?  Who needs to be involved to make the change?

How often do you ask your customers about their experience?

One of my personal pet peeves (maybe because I am a boomer) is when everything is automated, when there is no phone number to call in the event I have a problem. Sometimes the phone number is so buried on the website it is next to impossible to find.  I say put it front and center!

I have listed three keys to delivering exceptional customer service every time!

  1. Learn what can be a hindrance to good service first.  Are there systems or policies and procedures that affect the ability of the customer service rep to perform at their peak?
  2. Ensure everyone has adequate training.  Make sure your employees know how to handle difficult situations, upset or irate customers.  This is critical when the emotions are high.
  3. Have aone-touch approach. What I mean by this is when a customer calls, that as much as possible they are not passed from one department to another.  It can happen of course from time to time but it should be the exception not the norm.

The old saying “treat people the way you want to be treated” may not apply anymore.  The newer version of “treat people the way THEY want to be treated” is the better approach.

Remember your customers are your best advertising, make them brag about you!


Customer Service – A Little Goes a Long Way

banquet customer service - wait staff cook gluten free chicken salad

Customer Service – A Little Goes a Long Way
by Cindy Stradling CPC, CSP

Recently a friend of mine was sharing the excellent customer service experience she had during their annual Christmas function.  She told me how the catering company had taken care of every detail, including emery boards in the washroom.  As she was speaking a memory of a time I had were I felt so very taken care of, came to mind.  The entire incident came vividly back like it was yesterday.

I too was at a Christmas function at the Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto.  We were a very small group of about 50 people.  The meal was a buffet set up and waitresses walked around offering us champagne, wine or spirits to drink.  They were smiling and attentive, exactly what you would expect in a place as prestigious as the Royal York.  The food looked spectacular and the room was decorated in a classic Victorian style Christmas.   I was standing chatting with a colleague of mine when she offered me a piece of brie with cranberry on a cracker.  It looked delicious and I declined, explaining to her that I was gluten sensitive and didn’t want to take a chance on eating the cracker.

banquet customer service - wait staff cook gluten free chicken saladMy colleague expressed her concern and how difficult it must be to eat out with such a sensitivity.  I said it really didn’t limit me; I just needed to be careful.    As we continued to chat, one of the waitresses came over to me and excused herself.  She explained that she had overheard my conversation and asked me if I would like her to get me a gluten free plate.  Both my colleague and I were so impressed with this young lady.  I gratefully accepted her offer and when she returned she gave me this wonderful plate of chicken, salads and cheeses, all very delicious and gluten free.

At the end of the evening I thanked her again and also found out who the manager was and told her the exceptional customer service experience I had that evening.  That incident happened over five years ago and I still remember the experience as though it was yesterday.  I learned so much from that short interaction and it has helped me with my level of customer service.

If we look at this situation, what can you and your customer service team learn from it.  What can you do in 2013 to create an experience that would be remembered five years later? 

What immediately comes to mind is go beyond what is expected.  Everyone expects good customer service, but having a commitment to give great or exceptional customer service can be the differentiator.  Look for small ways to make a difference.  Listen and pay attention to what your customers are saying and ask yourself “Is there something I can do here that could have an impact that will last 5+ year?”  There may or may not be something you can do every time, but by asking the question there is a higher likelihood over the year you will have absolutely delighted your customers on more occasions.

Think of a time when you have been delighted.  What made it so special?  What was your experience? How can you transfer that experience into your workplace? 

Remember this quote by Mother Teresa: 

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echos are truly endless.”

Athena Alliance Members – A Closer Look at Tammy Sturge

Tammy Sturge, Master Facilitator

Athena Alliance Members – A Closer Look

Since I started the Athena Alliance blogtalk radio show I have had the opportunity to share with our listeners the expertise of our diverse c, facilitators, coaches and consultants.  Each member has a profile featured on our website and I thought for upcoming blogs I would share with our readers a more personal look at some of our partners and in no particular order.

Tammy Sturge

Tammy Sturge, Master FacilitatorIn March 2006 a former alliance member was conducting a test pilot of a new program he had designed and invited me to attend.  The event was held in this state of the art training facility in Vaughan.  I was honoured to participate and arrived my usual fifteen minutes early.  I was seated next to a tall attractive lady, who I would soon learn was Tammy Sturge.  I recognized the name but not the face.  During our first break we started to chat and it was obvious to both of us we needed to talk more about her offerings and my alliance in a separate meeting.  We decided we would meet for a coffee at the end of the pilot.  I can see now looking back how much we both are “let’s do it now” people.

After we had been talking for a few minutes I realized why her name was so familiar, she was a seminar leader at one of the organizations where I had participated in some personal development programs.  I knew then Tammy was a master facilitator. We both left at the end of our meeting, knowing there were good things ahead.

It was less than a week from when Tammy first joined the alliance when I made my first introduction.  The customer was delighted and told me that she was one of the strongest facilitators he had ever experienced.  This company still calls her or one of her team members to work with them on various projects.  When I have a client that has really tough situations to address, I call Tammy first and she always has a relevant solutions.  A few of the programs I have had Tammy and her team help clients with include: creating and implementing strategic plans, creating powerful leadership teams, pay equity, off-site planning sessions, organizational development projects, managing change and many more.

Here is a link to Tammy’s profile:


Customer Service Skills

customer service skills

For the month of September I thought I would make it “Ten Tips Month.”   I will share with our readers ten tips to enhance team building ideas, customer service skills, leadership development and sales coaching skills.  Some of these tips may be new ideas to you and others may be reminders of the importance of the things you are already doing.   As I say in my workshops “We all know things, what is most important is what we do with what we know.”

Customer Service

customer service skillsBuilding and maintaining excellent customer service takes focus and due diligence.  Every customer interaction has the opportunity to communicate how much your organization cares. 

1)      Good enough never is – I love this saying by the Debbi Fields the founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies.  If you ever hear yourself say “good enough” stop and ask yourself “Has this been done to the best of my ability?” or “Has this been done the way it was meant to be done?”

2)      First impressions count – The saying “Your never get a second chance to make a positive first impression” is very true and I think companies need to have a great “first impression” attitude always.  Your relationship with your customers can never be taken for granted or assume once you have them they will be loyal to you.  A few bad experiences can undo a positive “first impression” very quickly.

3)      Sweetest sound – Our name – people love to hear their name.  When interacting with a customer use their name at least once during the conversation.  Caution here, do not over use or it can actually have an adverse effect.

4)      Everyone is your brand 24/7 – sometimes in a workshop when I say this people look at me like I am crazy.  Think about it, you work all day in a company and you sing their praises, then go out for drinks with colleagues and bash and complain about the company.  What are you communicating to your colleagues or anyone else who might be listening?  It is my personal belief when you represent a company (we are all really in customer service) we need to be responsible about what we say both at work and during our time off – 24/7.

5)      Train your employees – give your employees the adequate training and resources to effectively manage all situations that may arise to satisfy any customer issues.  If there is the occasional situation that needs special attention, make sure your employees know the proper channels to go to so they can get things resolved quickly.

6)      Keep in the loop – most customers are understanding when things go wrong.  It is not so much that a problem has occurred, more important how it is handled.  If the situation takes time to resolve make sure you keep the customer updated daily so they are never left with the feeling that no one cares or you have forgotten them.

7)      Online reviews – customers may not complain to you directly and if you have a place for feedback on your website, they may feel more comfortable letting you know this way.  It is also a great practice to perform periodic satisfaction surveys.

8)      Track challenges – when there has been a challenge it is a good practice to debrief what happened and explore ways to change processes to prevent another occurrence.  By tracking and monitoring changes you will have an audit trail of your improvements.  Also letting a customer know that you have addressed the issue will show them you take their loyalty seriously.

9)      Apologize first – when there is a customer complaint – apologize first, then correct the problem.   By telling the customer you are sorry they had this experience, it will show you are willing to take responsibility and it also lets the customer know they were heard.  In some situations the customer may be wrong but they should always have the feeling that you are there to support them.

10)   Employee input – often managers miss the opportunity to solve some of their customer service issues by not asking employees their input.  I learned this the hard way, years ago when I was a Customer Service Manager of a manufacturing company.  I thought I had to have all the answers and solutions.  Not so.  Once I started to ask for suggestions, things moved a lot smoother and new procedures were implemented much quicker when the ideas came from the employees.

By Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

Building Powerful Teams

team building exercises - regular meetings, development

For the month of September I thought I would make it “Ten Tips Month.”   I will share with our readers ten tips to enhance team building ideas, customer service skills, leadership development and sales coaching skills.  Some of these tips may be new ideas to you and others may be reminders of the importance of the things you are already doing.

Building Powerful Teams

team building exercises - regular meetings, developmentOften companies will take their team offsite for team building exercises.  There are many activities for building teams at the workplace and while these events are very effective, it doesn’t stop there.   To build a powerful team requires a congruent message from management back at the office too. I have listed ten ways to build stronger teams:

 1)  Clearly defined goals – employees need to have the company and manager’s performance expectations defined in a way that the employees know what is expected of them and have the support and resources to their job effectively.

2)  Know area of responsibility – strong teams are built with the support of many people and it is critical that each person knows their area of responsibility.  It also helps employee motivation when they understand how their contribution affects the success of the whole company.

3)  Regular feedback – effective managers know the importance of regular feedback versus waiting for the annual review.   Acknowledging for a job well done will communicate to the employee they are a valued member of the team.

4)  Have regular meetings
– getting your team together periodically to update status is another effective way to keep the lines of communication open.  It is important the meetings are scheduled, relevant, have an agenda and stay on track for people to be motivated to attend.

5)  Set reasonable due dates/deadlines – make sure when you are setting timelines for projects that timelines are reasonable.   If the majority of your projects have reasonable timelines then when you need your employees to go above and beyond they are more likely to jump in and go the extra mile.

6)   Encourage activities that develop relationships – regularly conduct activities (possibly after hours) where employees can socialize and get to know one another.

7)  Reward and Recognize
– have a program to reward and recognize performance and tenure.   Many companies have programs to publically recognize outstanding achievements and years of service.  Effective managers don’t wait for these events and will recognize accomplishments regularly.

8)  Empowerment and Encouragement – having employees who feel empowered in their positions and managers that encourage (mentor/coach) them will increase employee engagement.  Often employees don’t feel like they are heard.  While you may not be able to implement everyone’s suggestions, having employees who feel they are contributing will increase engagement.

9)  Ongoing training – ensuring your employees have the skills to do their job is critical.  Often when employees are promoted from within they don’t get the proper training to succeed.   Regularly scheduled training for all employees is another great way to communicate their importance to the organization.

10)  Be open to feedback
– effective managers are not perfect and sometimes they may do things that negatively impact their team.  Be open to hearing from your team areas were you too can improve your performance and leadership.


By Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC