How to Keep Non-Desk Employees in the Loop

Sharing information with non-desk employees is a challenge in customer service. 

These are employees who don't sit at a desk in front of a computer to do their job. They may not even have a set work station and often don't have access to company email. Non-desk employees can work multiple shifts or even at multiple locations, making face-to-face communication difficult.

Here are just a few common examples of non-desk employees:

  • Cashiers
  • Servers
  • Hotel Housekeepers
  • Field Technicians
  • Parking Attendants
  • Security Guards
  • Museum Docents
  • Retail Associates

It's critical to share vital information with these employees. Here are some ways you can do it.

Two Bedrock Communication Principles

Attention and repetition are two key principles that should guide any employee communication effort.

We are much more likely to notice things that are unusual or capture our attention in some way. Our brains then use repetition to decide what information to keep front and center.

For example, posting a notice on a bulletin board might not capture your employees' attention or get them to remember something important. But employees will be more likely to read and retain what's posted if they know their supervisor will randomly quiz them about it.

This means the best communication strategies have multiple means of communication. 

It often starts with conversations between employees and their direct supervisor. Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin, CEO of the internal branding agency Tribe, cautions against relying solely on the manager.

"Cascading information through the managers of non-desk employees is the default communication method in many large companies, but there really needs to be some communication directly from corporate as well. Our national research suggests that non-desk employees see a lack of communication from the top as a lack of respect for their contributions."

 

Communication Options for Non-Desk Employees

Keeping in mind employees need multiple means of communication, including some messaging straight from corporate, here are some ideas for different options to consider.

Company Newsletter. A professional-looking print newsletter can make a big impact when you have employees working multiple shifts in multiple locations. You can share company news, profile various employees, include messaging from executive leadership, and reinforce customer service concepts. I once edited a newsletter that went out to 4,000+ employees in five states and employees consistently told me they were excited to learn what their colleagues were doing in the parts of the company. The CEO also contributed a regular message which also made an impact.

Team Huddles. This is a short meeting that's often less than 15 minutes long. They are also called pre-shifts, stand-ups, or tailgates because the meetings usually take place daily to brief employees on important messages and discuss any pressing issues. Here's a guide on huddles.

Briefing Sheets. Many event-based businesses create daily briefing sheets for employees. For example, hotel managers often distribute a one-page update with information on where each meeting is located, VIP guests, and other special announcements. Associates use it as a handy job aid to give guests correct and timely information.

One-on-One Conversation. Years ago, I supervised a contact center training team that had two shifts (day and evening) in two locations. I quickly learned the best way to be an effective leader was to regularly spend time on both shifts and in both locations. While it's important to use multiple communication methods, nothing can replace regular one-on-one communication with your direct reports.

Visual Displays. A bulletin board or poster probably won't make an impact by itself, but it can be incredibly valuable when combined with other communication methods. One manager posted secret shopper reports on a bulletin board and then discussed the results with his team in pre-shift huddles.

Sasha is a hospitality executive who is an expert at creating impactful visual displays. She shared these suggestions for creating an impactful display board:

"Look at positioning it next to where team members visually see it daily (ex: by a time clock). The board should have color—a WOW factor but also a serious message. It should be easy to maintain and get changed up. Do not put too much information on the board so it gets lost. One month can have a focus on a specific area and change it up the next. Get your team involved."

 

Technology Solutions

There are a host of mobile apps on the market such as Beekeeper and Staffbase that are designed to keep employees in the loop. Employees can install the app on a company or private smartphone and use it to access communication, training, and other resources.

Alexandra Zamolo, Beekeeper's Content Marketing Manager, shared some of the benefits of using a mobile communications platform. 

"Beekeeper's mobile solution allows everyone access to real-time news and updates wherever they are and gives them the ability to engage in two-way communication. This centralized digital hub gives employees instant access to countless communication channels to help employee correspondence and workflows run more efficiently, while also connecting to crucial operations tools like payroll and scheduling."

Large retailers and other companies with remote employees often have internal contact centers to handle issues such as payroll, human resources, and IT. Giving employees an app to handle some of those tasks can save a lot of time.

A mobile app can also allow companies to respond faster during an emergency. Sina Lockley, Staffbase's Campaign Manager, shared a story where Adams Land and Cattle used a mobile app to keep employees informed during an ice storm.

 

Tell Me About Your Experience

If you've managed non-desk employees or have been one yourself, leave a comment or drop me a line and let me know what challenges you faced and how you solved them.


How to Share the Customer Service Tip of the Week

Each Monday, I send out an email with a weekly customer service tip. I call it the Customer Service Tip of the Week and it's available to anyone who subscribes.

One of the things I like best about it is the direct connection with subscribers. Anyone can reply to the email and their response goes directly to my personal email. People send me questions, share successes, and even pass along interesting or unusual stories. 

I recently asked my subscribers to tell me how they share the weekly tips with their teams. Here are a few of the responses I received.

Ariana Wharton
Customer Operations Manager, AVOXI

"We meet weekly with our CSR team to train on new processes and review existing processes. In that training, we always include a ‘soft skills’ portion and a team building section. Frequently your weekly tip is what we train on for our soft skills, and the activities you mention are also really great to tie in to our team building section as well."

My take: It's a best practice to have regular team meetings like Ariana does. The Customer Service Tip of the Week is a great way to generate discussion topics.


Mélanie Sprague
Technical Support Manager, Everbridge

"I am in charge of a technical support team (no face to face support). I forward your emails to my team when I feel the topic is relevant and when I feel it would be useful to them. You have a lot of great tips but they don’t always translate well to phone support with agents who have no authority to issue refunds or anything of that nature. If I forward your email, I often follow up with my team during our team meeting to see who has read it, what the post was about and how it can help them provide better support."

My take: We can easily get overwhelmed with information, so I like how Mélanie curates the most relevant tips for her team. The follow-up discussion also make the tips extra meaningful.


Amy
Vice President, Client Service Management

"I run a Service Management Team for a Financial Services Technology Company. My mission is to keep 'service' in the forefront of every associates mindset regardless of their role within our company. We use SalesForce and within SalesForce, there is a tool called Chatter, which I use your weekly updates to share with all associates.

My take: A number of leaders have told me they share updates via Chatter, Slack, and other internal communication tools like Amy does. The advantage here is it allows for comments and discussion.


Carmen Gass
User Services Training Coordinator, Penn State University Libraries

"I share some of your customer service tips and blog posts in Pennsylvania State Universities' weekly blog posts and training emails."

My take: It's hard to come up with relevant content on a regular basis, so I really like Carmen's resourcefulness. You are free to use my weekly tips in your internal newsletters, blog posts, etc. All I ask if you attribute them to me or Toister Performance Solutions.


Marissa Franz
Visitor Services Manager, Muhammad Ali Center

"I usually forward the emails to my team and have them respond with one strategy they will incorporate into their workday."

My take: This is another great example of turning a piece of content, the weekly tip, into an opportunity for dialogue with the team.


Take Action

Warning: if you use your email software to forward the email and the recipient clicks "unsubscribe" they will be unsubscribing you!

It's an anti-spam feature that admittedly can make forwarding the email take a little extra effort. You can avoid this by using one of the special forward links in each email. There's one at the top:

There's also a special link at bottom of each email:

forward2.jpeg

You do have the option of having employees subscribe to the Customer Service Tip of the Week themselves so you don't have to use the special link each week.

I've gotten a mixed reaction from customer service leaders on that topic. Some feel employees already get a lot of email and might ignore it if the leader doesn't forward it or prompt some form of discussion. Others think it's helpful to have employees get the tip directly so forwarding the email becomes one less thing they have to do.

The key here is to do what works best for you and your team. 


New Training Video: Serving Internal Customers

Finally, there's a training course geared specifically towards internal customer service.

Nearly 50 percent of my client requests throughout my career have been for internal customer service. This is a special type of customer service that involves serving internal stakeholders.

The new training video from Lynda.com is called Serving Internal Customers. Here's an overview, a preview, and information on how you can access it for free.

On the set of Serving Internal Customers. Photo credit: Jeff Toister

On the set of Serving Internal Customers. Photo credit: Jeff Toister

Overview

An internal customer is an internal stakeholder you serve. This includes coworkers, contractors, and even vendors. Here are just a few jobs that are heavily-focused on internal customer service:

  • Human Resources
  • Finance and Accounting
  • IT
  • Facilities and Maintenance
  • Security

Many large organizations with multiple locations even have internal contact centers established to support the needs of employees and managers in the field.

Serving Internal Customers focuses on the special skills required to be successful in these roles. Topics include:

  • Distinguishing between internal and external customer service
  • Creating positive workplace relationships
  • Working with difficult coworkers
  • Practicing active listening to uncover your customers' needs 
  • Managing internal customer expectations
  • Anticipating problems
  • Defusing angry colleagues
  • Adjusting your workplace attitude

 

Preview

The training video has a few special features to increase learning impact:

  • Realistic scenes
  • Short segments
  • Hands-on activities

You can see all of these special features in this short segment on active listening techniques.

Resources

You can view the entire course on Lynda.com. LinkedIn Premium subscribers can watch the video on that platform.

A 30-day trial if you aren't already a Lynda member. This will give you access to the entire learning library. You'll be able to view all 17 of my courses plus training videos from other customer service experts such as Brad Cleveland and Leslie O'Flahavan.

The library also contains many other topics in addition to customer service. You can learn about leadership, marketing, programming, and many more. All of the courses are taught by experts in the field and professionally filmed and produced.


9 Ways Your Employees Waste Time at Work

Advertising disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Employees waste a lot of time at work. 

A 2014 Salary.com survey discovered that 57 percent of employees admitted to wasting at least one hour per day. These employees spend paid work time goofing off online, using social media, or shooting the breeze with colleagues. 

There's another hidden time waster. Many employees waste time through inefficiency. The result is we spend the day frantically working without accomplishing very much to show for it.

Here are nine common ways employees waste time without knowing it.

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Common Productivity Killers

This is by no means a complete list, so please share other time wasters you've seen. You can leave a comment on this post or drop me a line.

 

Meeting Invites

You exchange emails with a colleague and agree to set a meeting for a specific date and time. "Ok," comes the reply. "I'll send you a meeting invite."

This approach doubles the amount of communication required to organize the meeting. There's the email exchange to schedule the meeting and then the meeting invite that comes after it.

A meeting invite is great if you are coordinating multiple schedules or are actually using it to invite someone to a meeting. Skip it if you already agreed to meet with just one person.

 

Meetings

We get a lot of meeting invites because we get asked to a lot of meetings.

A 2015 report from Workfront revealed that meetings are a huge time waster reported by employees in large companies, with 57 percent saying unproductive meetings were the biggest drain on their time.

Meetings should have a clear purpose, a set agenda, and a carefully curated invite list. Otherwise, skip it.

 

Formal Training

A lot of formal training classes are wasted.

Participants arrive without a clear idea of what the training is about, how it will impact their job performance, or what they need to do to implement what they learn.

Even worse, existing work procedures, old habits, and even the boss can counter what was learned in training, making it difficult to develop new habits.

You can dramatically improve training by using the 70-20-10 rule to create more consistent learning experiences. This works by aligning what's taught in training with feedback from the manager and the employee's actual work.

 

Useless Email

I once cobbled together a few email studies, ran the numbers, and discovered that the average U.S. worker wasted 24 percent of their day on useless email.

The problem comes from misuse. 

Many emails are incomplete and poorly written. People are in a hurry so they skim and scan messages, missing important information. That generates a ton of back and forth.

The email provider Front analyzed email boxes and learned the average email conversation takes 4.5 messages.

The counterintuitive solution is to slow down and give email more attention. It may take slightly longer to read and respond to each message, but you'll receive far fewer emails overall.

 

Checking Email Constantly

People tend to check their email constantly throughout the day.

This feels productive because you are really, really busy. It isn't. What's really happening is you are constantly starting and stopping tasks and not giving email your full attention. That leads to the useless email problem discussed above.

Timothy Ferriss has some pretty extreme takes on email management in his bestselling book, The 4-Hour Workweek. I've adapted some of them to check email just a few times a day and it's made an amazing impact on my productivity.

 

Multitasking

Constantly checking email is just one way we try to multitask throughout the day.

Customer service professionals in particular are guilty of running multiple software programs simultaneously for both personal and business. Many of us keep our cell phone perched on our desk, which constantly invites personal distractions.

Multitasking inevitably leads to more errors and less productivity even though it makes us feel busy. You can experience this yourself by taking a Stroop Test.

You can reduce multitasking by reducing distractions, such as pop-up messaging notifications. You will also make some progress through a conscious effort to focus on one task at a time, though many people find this initially difficult as multitasking can be addictive.

 

Software

There's a software solution for just about everything.

The problem is many of these software programs don't talk to each other. It's not uncommon for a contact center employee to have to use five to seven different programs just to do their jobs. 

All that switching back and forth between software programs creates a lot of multitasking. It also causes a lot of repetitive work, where employees have to enter the same information in multiple places to keep all the records up to date.

The best fix here has nothing to do with the employee. Smart companies are making their employees' jobs simpler by providing a unified desktop that puts multiple software programs in one interface.

 

Messaging

Email isn't the only form of communication that sucks up a lot of time.

Many workplaces have an instant messaging or internal chat app that allows employees to interrupt each other from across the room or even across the country. If we're honest, most of the times we "ping" a coworker we're really asking for something that's not urgent.

My controversial suggestion is to shut it down. Most workplaces don't have a real business case for instant messaging that overrides the negative impact of constant distractions. And if you really need someone's attention, there's other ways to do it.

 

Inboxes

I can still remember reading David Allen's time management book, Getting Things Done, way back in 2001. It truly was a game-changer for me.

One piece of advice that really stuck was limiting the number of inboxes we have. An inbox is any place you have to look for new information, messages, or assignments.

Examples include our email inbox, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, text, voicemail, physical mailbox, and a physical inbox. Most of us have more than ten. (Try doing your own count, it may be scary!)

You can automatically save time by eliminating or combining your inboxes. For instance, you can use the same software program to manage multiple email addresses so all of your emails go to one place.

 

Take Action

We're addicted to these time wasters for a variety of reasons. 

Take meetings for example. Have you ever tried to pushback on an unnecessary meeting that had no clear purpose and no agenda? People act like you are being some kind of jerk.

I suggest two things.

First, if you're the boss, you need to set an example. It's pretty hard to take your employees to task for wasting time if you are constantly sending half-baked emails and scheduling useless meetings.

Second, focus on incremental progress if you want to make a change or help your employees become more productive. Pick just one small thing to try and work on it for a few weeks. Make it a habit and then reflect on how it has helped you before taking on something new.

Over time, you'll be amazed at how much more productive your team can become.


Report: Small Banks Are More Customer-Centric

A few years ago, I was having a conversation with the CEO of a small local credit union. The credit union had hired me to conduct a customer service assessment and I had asked him about his vision for serving credit union members in the future.

The CEO remarked that his biggest wish was to have more branches. 

Members enjoyed the credit union's highly-rated service. The challenge was the credit union only had a few locations, which made it difficult to conveniently serve members who were on the go or who lived more than a few miles away from a branch.

A new report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) shows branches and ATM machines are just about the only place where credit unions and community banks lag behind larger financial institutions.

The also report hints at some lessons for any business that's planning to grow in 2018.

ACSI Banking Report Highlights

Smaller is better when it comes to service quality, according to the ACSI report. Here's the breakdown of overall customer service ratings by size of bank. 

Some of this may be residual impact from Wells Fargo's fake account scandal. Yet businesses across all industries tend struggle with scaling a service culture as they grow. 

In banking, for example, there are fundamentally different challenges managing 100 branches than there are managing 10. Maintaining consistent hiring and training practices becomes difficult. Executive leadership begins to have fewer interactions with the front lines or customers.

The inevitable focus drifts to technology, policy, and process as companies get larger and more complex. 

The ACSI ratings for banks and credit unions bear this out. Notice the higher ratings for tellers and other in-branch staff.

staff.jpeg

The same held true for contact centers. 

callcenter.jpeg

The only areas where larger banks had a clear customer service advantage was customer satisfaction ratings for the number of locations of branches and ATMs.

branches.jpeg
atms.jpeg

 

Solutions and Takeaways

Many small businesses have a special community feel that's difficult for larger organizations to replicate.

A company in my neighborhood, Ideal Service, provides plumbing, heating, HVAC, and electrical service to customers like me. Each summer, Ideal sponsors a concert series in the local park where the owner, Don Teemsma, and his employees serve free hot dogs. 

(I captured some of Teemsma's service secrets in this 2017 interview.)

Big companies could certainly do something similar, though those company leaders might not think to unless the company had a clear customer service vision that focused on building ties with the local community.

A customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding customer service that points everyone in the same direction. It's essential to have one if you want to keep things consistent as your business grows. 

Any business with multiple branches, stores, restaurants, or other types of locations can also take a page from small businesses by training employees to create a warm and welcoming environment.

Start with the 10 and 5 rule, where every customer within ten feet gets a greeting.

Give employees skills such as the Five Question Technique to help them build authentic rapport with customers and encourage your team to learn and use customer names.

One challenge in larger businesses is employees are not very observant. They consistently miss opportunities to serve because their focus is locked in on some task.

You can help employees improve their powers of observation with this short video from my Innovative Customer Service Techniques course.

You'll need a subscription to view the entire course on Lynda or LinkedIn Learning. Here's a 30-day trial subscription to Lynda if you aren't already a member.