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.

Sales and Service Success by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC


As you move into the New Year, you’re likely looking for ways to make your business even more successful in 2016. You may be considering elaborate marketing plans or increasing your advertising budget for the next year. But, before you start spending loads of cash to increase business, remember to give some attention to how you treat the customers you already have.customerservice2

In today’s fast paced world, exceptional customer service is a rare luxury instead of the basic expectation it was in years past. You may be able to put your business head and shoulders above your competition just by making a few simple changes to your customer service strategies. Going the extra mile is far less expensive than a bigger marketing budget or new advertising strategy and it can yield even better results. Exceptional customer service yields repeat customers, which costs you far less than having to win new customers over and over due to attrition. Here are some simple ways to improve your customer service.

• Anticipate the customer’s desires. Think about the product or service you provide and consider what you would require from a business like yours in order for you to consider it exceptional service. Would you want shorter lines or telephone hold times? How about proactive calling before letters come in the mail? Would you like to be offered coffee while you wait for your appointment? All of these things are simple, but make customers feel special.

• Keep your promises. Did you tell the customer you would have their answer today? If so, it’s important to call that customer today even if you don’t have the answer. Let them know you didn’t forget, and give them a new estimation of when you can give them the answer they’re waiting for. When a customer knows you’re a person of your word, they will be loyal to your business.

• Thank your customers for their business. Many businesses fail to let their customers know they appreciate the business. When a customer knows you really value their business, they are loyal. Send holiday cards, and offer rewards to your customers. But, most of all, thank them for their patronage in person as often as you can.

All of these items are simple, yet all can have a big impact on how your customers view you. When they know that you value their business and will go the extra mile to ensure their satisfaction, you have the opportunity to create a lifelong customer.

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.

“Inside the Magic Kingdom” Lesson 7 by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

 “Inside the Magic Kingdom” Continued from previous week…


Xvxryonx makxs a diffxrxncx

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During some of my programs I include the paragraph below in an exercise that has very positive results. Often after we read this paragraph I ask everyone what it means to them.  I get varied responses and they all agree with the message that everyone makes a difference.  Usually the groups are small enough to have everyone go around the room and tell each other why they are important and what they appreciate most about each other. 

In many instances I can see that people are moved by what they are acknowledged for.  I have had people come up to me after the program is over and say they were surprised (and delighted) to know they were appreciated.


Somxtimxs I gxt to thinking that what I do doxsn’t mattxr.  But whxn I start thinking that way, I rxmxmbxr my old typxwritxr.  Most of thx kxys workxd finx most of thx timx.  But onx day, onx of the kxys stoppxd working althogxthxr.  And that rxally mxssxd xvxrything up.  So whxn I’m txmptxd to say I’m only onx pxrson, it won’t makx a diffxrxncx if I don’t do this quitx right, I rxmxmbxr my old typxwritxr.  Thxn I say to mysxlf “I am a kxy pxrson and nxxdxd vxry much.

We will debrief this session with some creative ways that people can acknowledge each other on an ongoing basis, and these are some of the suggestions:

·         Thank you notes when someone does something special

·         Buy a coffee (or tea, soft drink) for someone who has helped you

·         Have candy or treats available for spontaneous acts of kindness

·         Compliment when you see someone doing something great

·         Send an email to a person’s boss telling them of something special colleague did

·         Have a mascot (appropriate to the organization and culture) that is awarded weekly to the person who went the extra mile the most

The take away from this short exercise is to acknowledge each other for even the small things and this will go a long way to building a supportive team culture.  I encourage everyone to look for ways to acknowledge each other everyday.

Questions for discussion with your team:

1.    How often does good performance go unrecognized?

2.    In general, what’s the positive-to-negative feedback ratio in our company/plant/department etc?

3.    How could we improve that ratio?

4.    What is your individual ratio of positive-to-negative feedback?

“Inside the Magic Kingdom” Lesson 6 by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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 “Inside the Magic Kingdom” Continued from previous week…


Reward, Recognize and Celebrate

One of the deepest human yearnings is to be appreciated.  The books highlights that a lot of organizations go through the motions disney-magic-kingdom-pluto-at-paradeof recognizing people but only a few make it part of a system.  Often companies spend more time pointing out mistakes than achievements.  This can greatly affect morale. Recognition is about appreciating and acknowledging that someone has done something special.   Years ago when I worked in a manufacturing plant we implemented a system where employees would give each other a pin (shaped like a star) when they did something special for another employee.  At first people were a little reluctant to participate and once they started to see the visual chart we created, things changed.  It was the incentive to help get everyone on board.  Some of the things people did for each other is drive someone to the subway on a cold evening, offer to babysit when someone had a doctor’s appointment, bring someone a coffee who was having a bad day…. it worked to build a stronger team.  We had created a structure with guidelines that encouraged recognition.

Questions for discussion with your team:

1.    How often does good performance go unrecognized?

2.    In general, what’s the positive-to-negative feedback ratio in our company/plant/department etc?

3.    How could we improve that ratio?

4.    What is your individual ratio of positive-to-negative feedback?

“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?


“Inside the Magic Kingdom” Lesson 3 by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

 “Inside the Magic Kingdom” Continued from previous week…


Everyone walks the talk.

If you are like me you have most likely had the experience of going into a business and received inconsistent treatmentmagickingdom3.  They use the term “aggressively friendly” at Disney.  All staff are trained to stop everything when they see a guest in need. (I wish the staff would do that at the home reno store when I am standing there looking confused and not sure what to do – lol)  The Disney culture says Everyone walks the talk always!  The real point here is more about the way you do your job.  Think about this statement: “Every time a customer comes in contact with your company, you have an opportunity to create value.  Capitalize on that opportunity and you win. Waste it and you lose…it is a simple as that!  The guest is always in charge.

Questions for discussion with your team:

  1. Think about the way people do their jobs here. Could we adapt the “aggressively friendly” concept to our company’s environment?
  2. How might we expand customer service from a department to a tradition?
  3. How could we individually do an even better job of “walking the talk” than we do right now?
  4. What does “walking the talk” mean around here?
  5. How would a customer’s experience be different if everyone here “walked the talk?”


“Inside the Magic Kingdom” Lesson 2 by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

 “Inside the Magic Kingdom”  Continued from previous week…


Pay fantastic attention to detail.

I know from personal experience when a company I am involved with pays attention to the smallest details it makes a huge difference for me.  It trulymsep-magic-kingdom permeates everything. At Disney the horse headed pitching posts that line the streets are repainted every night, no exceptions. Not only are they repainted every night, the starting time is based on the temperature and humidity to make sure the paint is dry by the next morning.  Truly attention to detail is part of the Disney culture and this is only one small of example.

Questions for discussion with your team:

1.    What details get in the way of our being easy to do business with?

2.    What details could be improved to keep our customers coming back?

3.    What details in our workplace could become hitching posts?


“Inside the Magic Kingdom” (part one) by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC


“Inside the Magic Kingdom” (part one) by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

Several years ago I read the book “Inside the Magic Kingdom” by Tom Connellan for a project I was working on for a client. I am rerunningmagice kingdom2this series of blogs as there is so much wisdom in this book on how to provide extraordinary customer experiences every time.  For the next seven weeks I am going to share with you the seven lessons outlined in this book.  At the back of the book Tom has provided questions for each lesson that each reader can apply to their own situation and I will include them as well. The book gives the readers permission to use the information provided proper credit is given to the author. 


The competition is anyone the customer compares you with.       

When I first read this concept I thought, how can that be?  In the book talks about how the same people that call your organization also call other companies and people are always comparing whether they realize it or not.  Quote from the book “If someone else satisfies customers better than you do, no matter what type of business, you suffer by comparison.”  Literally everyone competes in the world of customer experience and satisfaction.  It is the same whether you are talking about an internal or external customer.

Questions for discussion with your team:

1.    Recall a situation where you were very impresses with the level of service you received.  How did it raise your expectations of other companies?

2.    How does our company’s service compare?

3.    Who are our direct competitors?

4.    Who else might our customers compare us with?

5.    What does that suggest about how we might change the way we do business?



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!