As we head into the chaotic holiday season, I’d like to offer a few more tips on how to get great customer service.I’ve already offered some in an entry earlier this year, but now I’d like to expand to give you information that will help you get what you need faster and more efficiently:
1.Read and follow all of the instructions before you make a telephone call or send an email. I said this the last time I did customer service tips, but it’s a perpetual problem that so many people face. People tend to panic when they read something that alarms or confuses them and skim right to a telephone number to start dialing and firing off questions. Don’t do that. I can’t tell you how many times people said “oh yea, it says that right here.” Keep reading because businesses try to address their most commonly asked questions in instructions and the answer to your question may be in the next sentence (or paragraph). If you read everything and still have questions, then make the call.
2.Be mindful of deadlines and routinely busy times. There are two times when volume spikes: Right before a deadline and right around a holiday. Everybody rushes to get thing in, and that results in a slow down in productivity, especially if the staff has a heavy schedule or is short staffed due to people taking off for the holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day are especially heavy times (frankly, New Year’s Resolutions nearly kill me just about every year). So don’t wait until the last minute, or set an arbitrary deadline for the next major holiday. can assure you that you’re likely to miss it because you aren’t the only one cleaning off your desk. Submitting about a week to ten days prior to a deadline or holiday can make a world of difference in response time.
3.Gather things together before you call. It makes it easier for the conversation to flow if you don’t have to say “wait a minute” while you dig through piles of paper, or break into a conversation with a question you just thought of. Sit down and plan your questions before hand – write them down if you need to, and gather any paperwork you need to reference during the call before you dial. If you have to leave a voicemail and wait for a callback, set it aside where you can get to it quickly.
4.Find a quiet place to make telephone calls before you dial. I know this can be tricky because you can have an hour of silence, and then the place lights up with noise the minute you pick up the phone.Machinery, pets, children, and other people tend to pipe up when you pick up a receiver. I face it myself with screaming parrots at home and co-workers in the cubical farm around me at work. Just do the best you can to limit that background noise and it will actually make things easier for you.
5.If you have a heavy accent, consider saying “no” to the telephone. If you must call, be sure to speak slowly and annunciate. I’m not trying to sound rude. It’s just a simple fact that accents don’t translate well over the telephone and the heaver it is, the harder it can be to understand. This applies to domestic and foreign accents, too. And this is inexcusable to plead ignorance on because people aren’t shy about the “you aren’t from around here, are you?” question. If you’ve ever been asked that, at any place, any time, or in any contect, then you have an accent. Consider emailing your question if possible. And yes, I know I’m guilty on this one. I have a southern accent and I’m frequently asked to repeat myself over the telephone – in fact, I try to avoid drive-in restaurant speakers for this very reason.
6.If you leave a telephone message, don’t spit out your telephone number in a fraction of a second. Sometimes people ramble on messages, then spit out the number quickly when they realize they’re about to “time out.” Give your name and telephone number first (speak slowly, and consider repeating your number), and then give a brief description (1-2 sentences) about why you’re calling. Try to keep your entire message under 30 seconds. In fact, it might be wise to consider what you will say in a voice mail message prior to calling so you'll be prepared.
7.When you visit a place of business, be sure to fully secure your vehicle. This isn't really a customer service tip - it's more of a CYA tip (if you know what I mean). Don’t leave anything out in plain sight. Businesses have things stolen too. In fact, we had a customer have their truck broken into one morning during a meeting – in broad daylight in a public parking lot! It happens. Put personal items in trunks, consoles, or glove compartments and be
sure to lock all doors and set car alarms (if you have one).
8.Be mindful of business hours. Don’t loiter in parking lots before opening or after closing and whatever you do, DO NOT grab random employees and ask questions. Employees can only address questions related to their area and sometimes aren’t allowed to personally interact with customers unless they are in the building or
at a business-related function. Loitering around a building and approaching employees in parking lots is a good way to get security – or worse yet, the police – called. If you arrive early, stay in your car and direct questions to
the front desk receptionist or the person you’re there to meet.
9.Set deadline dates in your cell phone with a reminder to go off about a week before the deadline date. I mentioned this too, but it bears repeating because people keep claiming that “I got busy and it snuck up on me.” This is inexcusable with everybody flashing smartphones all over the place. Even the most basic cell phone has a calendar function. Use it.
10.Give other employees a chance to help you. So often, people will get a name, and that’s the only person they want to talk to. Don’t make your life harder by being stubborn and clinging to a particular employee. They’ve all
been trained and have the same answers for you. And likewise, don’t think you can play this the other way by calling back several times to “shop” for the answer you want. The answer to your question will be the same whether you talk to your favorite person, or whether you’re “fishing” for an answer. So accept what you get and don’t be a bully.
That’s it – eight new tips for great customer service and a repeat on two that, well, seem to need repeating. Follow these tips, and I can guarantee that you’ll get faster and better service all around.
That’s all today.
I was just on Goodreads and found a discussion thread on "the best writing advice you can give." The discussion was interesting because on it, many writers attest to the fact that the common advice writers are given usually doesn't work. I agree with this. I've been writing for over 11 years, and I can tell you for a fact that much of what's out there is a dud. For example, here are a few tidbits I've been offered that I either ignored completely as impractical or that I tried and they just didn't work:
You must write every day to be a "real" writer. Oh, please. Do you go to your job every day? Absolutely not! You expect weekends and holidays, don't you? Well, the same applies to writing or really, anything else in life. We all need breaks, even from things we love from time to time. The truth is that sometimes the well runs dry, and the only way to replenish is is to allow the groundwater to refill by giving it a break. Forcing yourself to write every single day doesn't give your muse time to absorb the world around you and generate creativity from it. Simply put, forcing yourself to write every single day turns writing into work, which breeds contempt, which makes you hate it. While it's true that you need to practice to improve, don't do it to your own detriment. Write when you have something to write. When you don't write read, or study up on building the skills and knowledge you need to become a better writer. But don't just write for the sake of logging in your word count every day. Then, it just becomes a chore.
You must have an agent to get published. I'm living proof that you don't. In fact, I chose the epublishing route because I didn't like the idea of turning over the potential success (or failure) of my creativity to a third party that has no interest in it, save financial. There are some things you can't fix by throwing money at it, and this is one of them. You can pay an agent to beg to get you published, but that doesn't guarantee an offer, or that they'll keep you, and I can tell you for 100% sure that they'll NEVER care about your writing as much as you do. Do you trust the boss at your day job 100% to look after your best interest and to ensure your success throughout life? Or better yet, are you where you're at in life right now due to the work of your superiors, or your own work? I believe my point is made. You're better off getting behind your work and pushing. Because other people always have their own agendas, and they will look after their own interest first every time.
You need to retreat from life to write well. Have a special place, or take a weekend at an exotic location to take time out to devote 100% to writing. I tried this one time. I participated in National Novel Writing Month in 2010 - that's an online event where writers sign up to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. So I signed up, had all my ducks in a row, and informed everybody that other than work and basic necessities I was not available until this novel was done. Surely, they would understand and respect my creative endeavors, right?
Wrong. To say that all hell broke loose would be putting it kindly. Things spun out of control, everything in the world that my hand was supposed to be on went wrong, they were pissed off, it was my responsibility to make it right, and I needed to quit being selfish and get back to setting all right with the world. I emerged from that experience to literally find everybody I knew at war with one another because they determined that self control was for stupid people if I wasn't going to be around to "reign things in." And there was not 1 person in my life not guilty of this - not a single one. I did get the novel done and completed the challenge, but I also realized that, bad attitudes notwithstanding, I have a lifestyle way too active and busy for me to cordion it off to "just write." I've whittled out a lot, but the Lord has put many things to me that I simply can't (and in some cases, won't) cast away or even put on hold, like marriages, home, family, and a job. It's a nice fantasy, but it doesn't fit the reality God gave me. While I have a job, a home, church, friends, both families nearby - yes, writing will have to fit in where I can. And I am finding as I work on my current novel that it is much easier to just fit it in where I can instead of trying to shut out the world. In fact, I've found that keeping one eye open on life around me is actually feeding my muse and helping me by inspiring the plot.
On this advice, I tried it and it failed, but I also learned a lot. I see how this can work for others, and I encourage it if there's a way to do it without ripping a hole in the space-time continium like I did. But if there's no way around time paradoxes, alien invasions, and that little thing called Thanksgiving that tends to happen every November when NaNo is in progress, then you simply must do what you can and be patient with timeline of your progress. My solution was that I will never ever Ever EVER participate in National Novel Writing Month again while I'm employed full time. It just can't happen. For now, I need more than 30 days to draft a novel - I know and accept that now. But if you can safely withdraw from the world to write your masterpiece, by all means do it. It might well work for you.
You must attend a writer's conference to break into the industry. And I would have done that very thing if any were offered in my area, but alas, they aren't. While there's an active arts scene where I live, it's not focused on writing (it's more visual arts or music). I know this is ironic because I live in a college town and you'd think the opportunities would abound, but they don't because the schools in this area don't focus on the arts (it's more of a business focus here). Attending a conference would require traveling, which harkens back to the last item I discussed and the same limitations apply to this that apply to that. I've filled in the gap with online groups and educating myself through reading books, participation in social media, and the occasional online class to bring me up to speed on how to become a better writer.
Write what's popular right now and you're guaranteed success. Ok, was the person that offered this advice on crack? Seriously, what planet are they from? There's absolultely no way this can work and here's why: Trends are always changing, and publishers (along with everybody else in the entertainment industry) are looking for "the next big thing." Unfortunately, nobody knows what that is or when people will catch on to it, so it's an inexact science. It's like the thing I heard someone say about publishers always know a bestseller six months later. The whole entertainment industry is based on their best guess on what will sell, and publishers are in that boat with everybody else. So if you write what's popular right now, then you're already behind the curve. A better piece of advice is write what's in you and the audience will follow. Even if you don't hit the "big time" you can find a great niche market, and you'd be surprised at how successful you can be in that area. It's not New York Times best seller fame, but you can get recognized and respected as a reputable author and have a more moderate success as a writer, if you're willing to redefine your definition of "success."
This isn't to say that all of the advice I've been offered is bad - these are just examples of things that didn't work or that I simply couldn't try. In my next entry, I'll offer up some tips that have worked for me, and things I'm trying as I carve my own path through the jungle of being an independent author.
Have a safe Memorial Day all. Take care.
It's T-minus 10 days until Christmas and counting. Are you ready?
I'm not either. Yes, I feel your pain.
As we enter peak holiday prep time, I'd like to offer some tips on making life easier during these hectic days. These are good tips all the time, and hopefully you can implement them now to find some relief from holiday stress.
1. Follow the instructions. Even if you think they're stupid. Even if you think you know a better way. Even if you think you're better than that. They're there for a reason, and following them will save everybody time and frustration - especially you.
2. Use the calendar function on your devices. Even the most basic cell phone has a calendar feature, so there's no excuse for missing appointments, functions or deadlines if your schedule is on a device that you have with you all the time.
3. Set priorities and organize your life by them. It's literally impossible to do everything, so you have to decide what's the most important. Take stock of your life and to-do list and organize your schedule in these remaining days according to what matters the most.
4. Be sure you get enough sleep. It's easy to skimp on sleep when your schedule is full and a few more minutes - or hours - would help, and that's dangerous. Getting enough sleep is the secret to staying healthy, energetic, and alert so you can accomplish more in the other 16 hours of the day.
5. Take a timeout this weekend. I don't care how long your "to do" list is - you need time for yourself before family descends on you for the blessed season of celebration. Don't go into the next two weeks tired, stressed out, and frazzled. Take at least a few hours to do something for yourself: Read a book, watch a movie, go out to a good dinner, or just sleep in Saturday morning. Trust me, it will give you the energy you need to cross the finish line.
And in closing, I urge you to remember the reason for the season. Christmas isn't about decorations, parties, and presents. It's about Christ and the give of our salvation. Sometimes the celebration overshadows the reason we're doing everything we're doing all of this. I'll have more on this as we get closer to Christmas.
Ok folks, there's not much time yet but we'll make it by the grace of God, like we do every year. Take care, and I hope these tips will help you preserve your sanity now, when you need it the most.
Welcome to my latest "mini blog series" on surviving the holidays! In these weeks leading up to the holidays I'm going to offer my experiences, insights, and observations on getting through the holidays without losing your sanity. I'd like to open this series with a list of do's and don'ts - basically, simple tips that will help you get through this season with less stress and more time and resources to enjoy what the holidays are all about.
DO keep a schedule with you at all times, as this is a season filled with cordial invitations to events of all sorts - and those invitations can come at any place, at any time. It's never safe to be without a calendar this time of year. If you don't have a mobile device, get a small calendar that you can carry in a purse, briefcase, or pocket.
DON'T be afraid to decline an invitation. It simply isn't possible to do everything - there's too much going on. There is a polite way to decline an invitation. Simply say "I appreciate you thinking of me and offering this invitation, but I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to attend." You don't owe anybody a doctoral dissertation on your calendar. It's perfectly ok to say "no" just because you need time to do other things, or for yourself.
DO go ahead and make travel plans and arrangements now. Waiting until the last minute is stressful to you and rude to the hosts. It takes a lot of "doing" to hosts guests in your home, so be considerate and let them know arrival and departure dates and relative times now so they can plan for your visit accordingly.
DO make shopping lists. In this season of buy, buy, buy, it's easy to lose track of how much you've bought. Do like Santa - make a list and check it twice.
DO check your resources to avoid needless spending or duplicating resources. I was fixing to buy more wrapping paper this past weekend - until I checked my supplies and discovered 10 rolls of paper from last year. People won't remember what wrapping paper, gift tags, bows, boxes or gift bags you used last year and truth be told, you probably didn't remember until you pulled it out of storage.
DON'T be afraid to ask someone on your gift list what they want if you're completely stumped on what to give them. We usually buy gifts for the same people year after year, so after a while it's hard to be original. Don't try. Just ask.
DO ask the people on your gift list if they're ok with receiving gift cards for presents. People seem to have strong opinions on this. I love them, as do most of my family members, but I've had some friends that believe giving gift cards is wildly offensive and insensitive. I actually plan to do an entry just on this topic soon.
DO regift if you got something in the past that hasn't been opened or used, but be careful and DON'T regift it to the person that gave it to you. In fact, if you get something that winds out in the "strorage" drawer or closet, it would be wise to put a note on it indicating who gave it to you to prevent such an embarassing error.
DO observe important traditions, but DON'T feel obligated to hand on to ones that don't mean much to you - or others. Things tend to pass in time. People get married, people have babies, people die. Some things stay and some things go, and that's ok. Keep what means the most and let go of what doesn't.
DO take care of yourself and mind your health - mentally and physically. Be sure to take time out for yourself, excercise, eat right, and get enough sleep. It's easy to skimp on self care during this busy season.
DON'T go off your medications now. I'm not being a smart alec. Money is typically tight this time of year, and often people decide to skip the medication refills to save a few bucks. Don't do it. Your doctor put you on your medication for a reason, and you feel better because of it. If you go off now, you will suffer. This is no area to skimp on ever. It's for your better health. You have enough on you without having to battle your body as well - and you will if you go off your medication. So don't do it. And if, by chance, you do feel it's ok to do so, I urge you to do two things: Do it under doctor's supervision, and strongly consider waiting until January and making this a New Year's Resolution instead.
DO realize that there's no such thing as a perfect holiday. As much as we'd all like our holiday to look like a Norman Rockwell painting, realize that's art, not reality. We live in an imperfect world and it shows that every day, in every way. It's extremely rare for things to go as we planned, and they never go perfectly, People get sick, cars break down, things get sold out, casseroles burn, wrapping paper tears, turkeys don't cook right, gift bags bust, the milk goes sour, people fight, shipments get delayed, bad weather hits, somebody moves and the Christmas card is returned on December 26 leading to misunderstanding and hurt feelings - the list can go on and on.
So there you have it - a few simple, common sense list of suggestions to get through the holidays. I believe that's a good place to end this entry, as well as a perfect lead in for the next entry in this series.
Next Time: Can't We All Just Get Along - It's The Holidays! (or, Reality 101)