Archive for the ‘customer service’ Category

h1

The MBA Accelerator

April 15, 2011

The MBA degree has become more and more commonplace, with thousands of students looking forward to graduation in a very short time this spring. Academic institutions concentrate on learning, delivering the academic fundamentals that create a foundation within the workplace.

For one Dallas-based institution, “higher learning” has turned into higher program rankings – and an improved student experience as well.
Professional Development Coaching

The New York Times reports that academic rigor has changed, particularly in the undergraduate environment. The “new rigor” ain’t all that rigorous, as seen here in “The Default Major – Skating through B-School” in the New York Times. Consider this quotation:

    • Business programs also attract more than their share of students who approach college in purely instrumental terms, as a plausible path to a job, not out of curiosity about, say, Ronald Coase’s theory of the firm. “Business education has come to be defined in the minds of students as a place for developing elite social networks and getting access to corporate recruiters,” says Rakesh Khurana, a professor at Harvard Business School who is a prominent critic of the field. It’s an attitude that Dr. Khurana first saw in M.B.A. programs but has migrated, he says, to the undergraduate level.

    One school that seems to “get it”, and understands that the MBA degree is more than just an instrument (or means to an end) is Dallas’ own Southern Methodist University. Founded in 1911, the school celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, as well as a longstanding tradition of academic excellence, particularly in the Edwin L. Cox School of Business. But what’s most impressive is the school’s commitment to expansive teaching, from the Dallas business community. Spearheaded by Dean Al Niemi, the Business Leadership Center is led by Paula Strasser, a twenty-year SMU veteran with close ties to the Dallas marketplace. Paula has assembled a team of 67 experts from the DFW area, to assist in the real-world learning of SMU MBA students.

    While other schools feature impressive boards, and invite CEOs to speak on a regular basis, SMU has taken an approach that adds significantly to the traditional path. While the university attracts nationally-recognized business leaders, local practicioners provide actionable and compelling insights into the day-to-day world of finance, communications, customer innovation, project management and more.

    “The Edwin L. Cox Business Leadership Center (BLC) develops strong leadership skills that are fundamental in the world of business”, according to the BLC brochure. I’m proud to be a part of this organization, and join an elite group of 67 business pro’s who care about SMU, the MBA degree, and the greater Dallas business community. For other schools that aspire to improve their rankings (and the student experience), they must consider the role of the greater business community within the academic environment. What distinguishes the SMU degree is that community connection, and the powerful and tangible networking experience that creates a truly unique learning experience.

    Approximately 92% of Cox graduate students actively participate in the BLC elective programs – meaning, MBA students invest their time with no grade or credit hours as a ‘reward’. The learning and exposure is, in itself, the value equation – and students report that the experience is impactful, and necessary. The students see the value, and make a real investment in their education – an education that is enhanced outside of the classroom. For many students who choose SMU, the BLC is a deciding factor in their choice, since the BLC is unique among graduate business schools and MBA programs.

    Congratulations to Paula Strasser and her team at SMU. And, to Dean Al Niemi, who continues to support this valuable program (now in its 20th year) – I am honored to be a part of this outstanding organization.
    +++

    Chris Westfall is an award-winning instructor at the Business Leadership Center (BLC) at SMU. He regularly speaks on leadership issues in his MBA seminar, “Pick a Team and Win.” He was recently recognized by MBA students with the top teaching award from the Cox School of Business. An alumni of SMU, Chris graduated with a BFA degree from the Meadows School of the Arts. Additionally, he speaks and consults on career management issues, personal branding, management strategies and sales techniques. Other colleges include:

    Advertisements
h1

The Ten Commandments of Email

February 22, 2011

Here are some brief guidelines on how to make sure you are using email appropriately (and effectively):

  1. Thou Shalt Not Reply All.
    Resist temptation and it will flee from you. Please enjoy the Bridgestone commercial, until the beverage cart arrives.
  2. Thou Shalt Keep it Clean. No porn, no pictures, no sharp language. Why? Look at this button, it says: “Forward”. Always use a subject line, appropriate greeting and a smart signature ~ no need for fourteen lines about your academic and professional accomplishments, if we work together every day. And, please: NO unprofessional content, language or pictures.
  3. Thou Shalt Not Rant. Freedom of speech is a right, but exercising that right means using it the right way. If you disagree with the recent policy announcement, going off in an email is probably not the best way to convey your displeasure. How will that get any meaningful results? Sure, you may feel better…until your boss comes in to discuss your attitude. Or, worse yet, an even stronger conversation about your employment! Seeking real change is about putting your emotions and passions into action, not into words …and then sending them to Jesus, Moses, and the 12 apostles. See commandment #1.
  4. Thou Shalt not SHOUT AT PEOPLE. Laziness, plain and simple. Surprising, but people still do it. Why?

    Email, after eTrade?

  5. Plan that time-sensitive info will FAIL, via email. Planning is not a good use of email. “Who can make the meeting on Thursday?” is an email topic that will create endless spin and rescheduling – assuming everyone sees the message before Thursday. What works best in email: Information, Instruction (or confirmation) and Documentation. Let people know that the meeting has been scheduled, and send out the meeting request. Verify key players via telephone or face-to-face. Email can’t do it all!
  6. Beware the “BCC” and use it wisely. When used with the “Reply All” button, you can get some surprises that no one wants and you didn’t intend. Caution!
  7. Do not covet the ability to cc: 3 or more people. It’s not always off limits, but it’s a yellow flag if you are cc:ing a multitude. Especially if you are cc:ing your boss’s boss, or otherwise going up the chain. Ranting or other violations, when combined with copying every singer in the choir, can be a real CLM (career-limiting move).
  8. Remember that email is never the first/last/only communication tool. Are you the gal who pontificates via email? Are you the dude who issues edicts, not emails? It’s easy to hide behind the keyboard and assume a different persona. Step out of the Matrix from time to time and don’t let email be your only connection to your team, your co-workers, or others.
  9. Thou shalt not choke your co-workers inbox with enormous attachments. Just put that file on the server, or use Dropbox or some other service. Be smart about large file transfer. ‘Nuff said.
  10. Send commands via email wisely. Because even if (or especially if) you’re the boss, how you ask for something is even more important than what you need.

Before you hit “send”, ask yourself if you are being lazy, or being effective, with email. Set an email policy, or open up a discussion within your department, so that others know where you stand. Email protocol is a bit of an unwritten law – there’s no ‘manual’. But, there are expectations. What are yours?

+++

Chris Westfall is a professional development coach for top-tier MBA programs, including Texas Christian University, and an award-winning instructor at Southern Methodist University’s Business Leadership Center. He was recently recognized as the grand prize winner of the ‘118’, the elevator pitch competition sponsored by celebrity CMO and author, Jeffrey Hayzlett. He works with companies and individuals on branding, leadership and sales strategies.

+++

h1

Practice to Win, or You Never Will

February 9, 2011

Your biggest competition in business is “don’t know”.

If the customer doesn’t know what your product or service can do, they’ll never buy. And, if your competition is telling your story for you, then the customer will never know how you can make a difference. (And, by the way, it’s “the” customer, not “your” customer, because of what they don’t know).  The same concept applies to the management of sales teams, where “don’t know” can mean the difference between a lost sale and a major victory. The way to defeat “don’t know” from a management perspective is to create an environment for sales practice.

a cool picture that didn't load

Professional sports teams and performers practice much more than they actually play – but in business, it’s just the opposite. How do you get better at sales, if you never practice?

If you are really in the advanced class for weekly sales meetings, then you have the skills to explain exactly what to watch out for, and what to do in particular situations. Ask for volunteers to answer the tough questions! In a “What would you do if…” situation, you play the customer, or the client. Call somebody up to the front of the room and let them shadowbox a little on the competition, or pricing, or other key objections. Let the best come forward and show their stuff. It takes guts, but if you do this right you will teach volumes to your team!

Look, I know that sales management isn’t acting class, but if you want a great performance from your people you better show ’em how it’s done. Practice makes perfect, but you can’t expect perfection if you don’t demonstrate it first.

h1

Dealing with “No, I’m Not Interested”

February 7, 2011

Often our perceptions are what keep us from hearing “YES” from the customer.

Instead of selling to people, consider that it is your job to teach them how to buy. (Of course, the way to buy is “profitably for your business”. I think it’s important to advocate for the customer, but not at the expense of the company that signs your paycheck). What information, if known by your customer, would change indifference to action?

“No, not interested” is the stepchild of “I don’t know” and “I don’t care”.

What do you need to teach the customer, to change their perspective? How can you teach a customer what they need to know, so that you can overcome your biggest competition (that would be “Don’t Know” and “Don’t Care”). Fight disinterest with knowledge, and teach your customer how to buy what they need. Teaching customers how to buy is the service that changes the game.

h1

Fixing Alec Baldwin

September 17, 2010

While “Always be closing” makes for some interesting drama, it’s a recipe for disaster in this economy. Real sales strategies don’t come from Hollywood –  so, how about a plan that you can actually use?

Every sales person, every Alec Baldwin fan, maybe everybody who can read and write, knows the slogan, “Always be closing”. That was the message from his character, Blake, in the classic movie, “Glengarry Glen Ross”.  As much as I enjoy Alec Baldwin as a performer, “Always be Closing” is a recipe for disaster in the current economy. I’m seeing a lot of individuals “go for the close” (and fail) when what they really need to know is: how to go for the sale.  While Web 2.0 tools have opened up new ways of communicating and marketing to customers, there’s still a need to get face to face to close a deal.    If that scenario is something you deal with on a daily basis, then read on, MacDuff.

Here’s a little secret that is the one common characteristic of every successful sales engagement, and every successful sales person. The one most important characteristic of sales success isn’t the killer close, or mental toughness, or a strong forceful personality, or…or whatever.

The best salesperson is ALWAYS the one who is in front of a customer who wants to buy what they are selling. Think about it. Finding a customer that’s buying is the secret ingredient. It’s not some slick closing strategy or verbal kung-fu that forces a sale. If you have the talents of a monkey, and a customer that wants to buy what you’ve got, you are going to close a deal… and be able to pick up objects with your feet. Impressive! Qualifying an opportunity has never been more important. And, opportunities are scarce! So, how do you do when it comes to qualifying opportunities?

Based on my experience, the number one thing you can do to help grow your business -especially if your business is the “business of YOU”: learn how to “always be QUALIFYING”, and the transaction will take care of itself.

Are You Qualified to Drink This?
Questions are a great way to approach an opportunity, because of what is implied behind the curiosity. (And I’m not talking about questions like, “If I can drop the price by 2%, will you buy TODAY?!?”) The questions I’m talking about are the kinds that yield results – a series of “yes” answers that helps you to clearly define the customers needs. Your concern, your caring, your experience, your product knowledge all are conveyed …indirectly. It’s a style shift, and it can be subtle, but the results are huge. The message behind the message is that you are genuinely concerned about the customer’s concerns – and, quite frankly, the mutual fit for your agendas. You go from “telling and selling” to helping your customer to solve a problem. As you help to identify their needs, you tailor your services and solutions for what they want, not just what you can do. The best person to articulate customer needs is always the customer. If there’s no need, there’s no sale.

Of course, there are many more aspects of qualification. What’s the budget? How did you hear about me/my company/my gorilla-like reflexes, etc.? Have you ever seen/used/owned equipment like this before? What is the salary for this position? Etc. etc. All important questions, and all must be asked as part of the needs identification and implementation phase.

You still have to ask for the business. But closing is just the final step in the qualifying process. First, make sure that you’ve got a qualified customer that’s come forward with some real clear needs, and you are almost home. With all due respect to Alec Baldwin, remember to “always be qualifying”… unless, of course, all you want to end up with is a set of steak knives.

h1

“I Only Want the Toughest Customers…”

August 30, 2010

Asking for the toughest customers is like trying to pet a shark, or date a nun – you instantly know that it won’t end up well, so why ask for it? I was out to dinner last night with my friend, BigTime. Surprisingly, he let me know that he only wants the toughest customers. Say what–?

My friend is one of the best salespeople I know – he deals with an ultra-elite clientele in the Big Apple. This guy specializes in the demands of high-net-worth individuals with a skill that is both rare, and easygoing.

His customer logic goes like this: I want only the most difficult customers because, if they even think of shopping me with competitors, I will win every time. The toughest customers will chew up my competition, and disqualify them right out of the gate, because that’s the kind of service and solutions that my company can provide. He’s looking for the clients who are so tough and so demanding that other service providers get scared by their demands, and struggle to prove they can meet them. It’s not a problem for BigTime, and that’s the way he knows a qualified lead.

Also Big Time: Lincoln Center

Interesting perspective. We bounced the idea around some more, and I came away with some additional thoughts.

  1. If you are faced with a tough customer, thank them for helping you to be better. The best antidote for attitude is gratitude (apologies for the terrible rhyme, please judge my ideas – not my poems).
  2. If you are taking a beating over something you did, or your company did, or you are about to do, I have two words of advice: don’t duck.
  3. Here are six more: Face it, take it, fix it. It’s that simple.

Face up to the challenge of the difficult customer, and you will learn what it is that you need to know. For BigTime, he always looks forward to the toughest possible client as the greatest opportunity. He knows that he can offer what others cannot, that’s why he’s BigTime. A demanding client, in his business, means that the competition is out of the mix. The best way to defeat your competition is unequaled customer service. Disqualify your competition by being the one who doesn’t duck the tough stuff. When you resolve the really scary issues, you learn, you grow, and you create customers for life. The only way to know if you have what it takes, is to get started. If you’d like one suggestion on what you could do today, make up your mind to astonish the most difficult customer you know (and yes, the people you work with are internal customers). What can you do to make a difference, and show that when it comes to customer service, you are BigTime?

Difficult times show us what we are made of; difficult customers force us to be better and help our companies to demonstrate competitive advantage.

[ The names in this post have been changed to protect the guilty 😉 ]