Things We Could Use More of in 2019

The original title of this post was, "Things I Can Do Without in 2019." 

It was intended to be a mini-revolt against all the customer service predictions we're inevitably seeing right now. Number one on my list was going to be "predictions." 

The list immediately struck a negative, "get off my lawn!" tone. Number three on my list of things I don't want was "negativity," and I quickly realized the irony. So I scrapped the list in favor of something more positive.

It's easy to point out what I don't want, don't like, and generally could do without. 

What about what I want? Surely, there are some things in the world of customer service that we could use more of. Here are three things that come to mind.

Notepad with “New Year, fresh start!” written on it.

Humanity

A lot of people worry about the customer service apocalypse, where we're all replaced by robots and AI. Automation has its place, but human-powered service is still vitally important.

My local bank branch just remodeled its lobby to add in more ATM machines and reduce the number of tellers. A friendly ambassador now greets you as you walk in and encourages you to try the machine. 

Yet when I experienced a problem with the ATM machine immediately outside the bank, the ambassador was unable to assist me. She insisted I had to call customer service (isn't that who she was?) because the branch didn't service the ATM outside, only the ones in the lobby.

In a world of automation, there will always be a role for humans who add human value to the service experience.

That's why I like going to my local True Value hardware store over the big box retailer down the street. The store is overstaffed by conventional retail standards where you usually have to wander the aisles looking for help. At True Value, there's always someone there to quickly help me find the right items for my project. The associate will walk me all over the store until I find everything I need, and give me helpful advice if I have any questions.

What can you do to add humanity to your service in 2019?

Curiosity

For years, I relied on an oft-quoted stat:

  • 55 percent of communication comes from body language

  • 38 percent of communication comes from tone

  • 7 percent of communication comes from words

A mentor shared it with me so I believed it was true. I shared this statistic in my training classes and even came up with exercises to demonstrate the importance of using the right body language and tone.

One day, while doing research for a book, I decided to investigate the source of this data. It turns out this claim was completely untrue! To borrow from the late Paul Harvey, the rest of the story was even more interesting.

Let's infuse our day with a bit more curiosity. What we might learn about service could be amazing!

Commitment

I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "We're going to work on our service culture this year."

The executives making this statement may have the best intentions, but adding "this year" to the end already signals the temporary nature of the initiative. Service culture, should not be a flavor-of-the-month exercise.

Inevitably, the initial enthusiasm of these initiatives devolves into a check-the-box program where someone hangs up a banner, holds a meeting, declares victory, and then moves on without anything really changing. Without commitment, enthusiasm is worthless.

There's a chance you've set some pretty big customer service goals for 2019. 

One way to keep your commitment is to make those goals a part of doing business rather than a separate project. For example, if you have a customer satisfaction goal, can you identify how that goal will impact other business drivers such as revenue, cost reduction, and customer retention?

I set a goal to publish a revised second edition of my first book by April 2. 

Publishing that book is not the finish line. I make a living writing and speaking about customer service. So I've set a revenue target for the book. And I'm already using the book to land more speaking engagements. This pushes the book beyond a fun side project and makes it an essential part of my success.

How can you turn your enthusiasm for the new year into a true commitment?

Take Action

I try to do something with everything I read. I hope you do as well. Here are a few ideas:

  • Find a way to demonstrate unexpected human kindness today.

  • Use curiosity to guide you to learn something new and useful.

  • Take one step towards your goals.

Incidentally, my book is called Getting Service Right. It explores hidden and counterintuitive obstacles to outstanding customer service. You can download a free chapter from the book's website.


New Year's Plans: Forget New Until You've Mastered Old

You've got big customer service plans for next year.

Maybe it's new technology or adding a new service channel. Perhaps you're contemplating a new strategy or an employee engagement program. 

Forget it.

There's one thing you need to do before you start thinking about all that new stuff. You need to master what you're already doing.

Photo credit:  Matthias Buehler

Photo credit: Matthias Buehler

The New Year Trap

There's a lake near my home with a two-lane running and biking path around it. January always brings a large spike in walkers, runners, and bicyclists.

Most will be gone by February. These people made New Year's resolutions to get fit. Unfortunately, history and science tell us that most resolutions fail.

Business initiatives are the same way.

January is the start of the fiscal year for many companies. New investments are approved. Initiatives get started. There are many more project kick-off meetings in January than there are in December.

Like the surge of well-intentioned people at the lake near my home, history and science tell us most of these will stall out at some point in the year.

 

The Importance of Mastery

Let's say you want to add live chat to the mix of customer service channels you support in 2017. Your company already supports customers via phone, email, and self-service.

Before you implement a new channel, ask yourself this question first: Have you mastered the channels you support now?

You can transfer best practices and lessons learned to your new live chat channel if you're already delighting customers via phone, email, and self-service.

On the other hand, your failures will get multiplied if you're struggling with any of these channels now and you add a new one to the mix. Frustrated customers will become even more frustrated. Chaos will reign supreme.

(Side note: here are three questions to ask before adding a new service channel.)

The concept of mastery applies to any new initiative. There's no sense in adding a new idea, feature, concept, or plan to the mix if you haven't mastered what you're doing now.

It will only add confusion and complication. It will amplify frustration. And it will suck resources away from fixing what needs to be fixed.

 

An Alternative to New Year's Resolutions

Forget wiping the slate clean. Try incremental progress in 2017. 

One technique I've found helpful is to create what's called an Operational Direction Statement or ODS. Think of it like a theme that will guide your year.

My ODS for 2016 was "Content."

I had already been building my business to focus more on content like my customer service book, training videos, and free-lance writing.

The "Content" theme was about staying on the same trajectory, but doing even more and (hopefully) doing it in even better. So in 2016 I wrote a second customer service book (due out April 2017), created five new training videos on lynda.com, created some original research, and picked-up a few free-lance writing gigs. 

Better yet, I found ways to use content to serve my clients in new ways.

One longtime client saved money by using training videos like my Innovative Customer Service Techniques course for annual refresher training instead of flying me in. My new course, Customer Service Over the Phone, targeted contact centers who desperately needed affordable training. I added new tips to my Customer Service Tip of the Week email to offer fresh content to many who've subscribed for years. And my blog subscribers were rewarded with an exclusive workbook, 10 Customer Service Activities to Supercharge Your Team.

All of this centered around the Content theme. Looking back on 2016, it was a great choice. So great that "Content" is my theme for 2017 too.

You can do the same for your operation. Focus 2017 on mastering what you're already doing and grow incrementally.