ANAHEIM, CALIF. — The current state of the economy is at the forefront of most people's minds -- and lips -- at the sixth annual North American Conference on Customer Management at the Disneyland Hotel here this week. Yesterday's keynote speeches addressed how contact center managers and supervisors can begin to deal with this potentially harsh time -- not only with their end customers but also their own employees -- by using the power of conversation.
JoAnna Brandi, conference chairperson and president of JoAnna Brandi & Co., a Boca Raton, Fla.–based management consulting firm, asked the crowd a simple question: What would happen if every employee set out to truly show up for the customer every day? "You'd get happier, more-engaged employees and customers," she said. "We must begin to understand [that] our job is to inspire people to get up and want to come to work."
Brandi stressed that we are living in "extraordinary times," which she explained can at first cause some people to panic. She argued that if we can just stop what we're doing, and step out of the moment, we can then dig deep and determine how best to proceed without making a snap decision that could seriously damage the business. "It's the skill of getting ourselves out of fear and into possibility," she said. "If we can create more positive capacity, we can affect employees and customers to the positive and open up more ideas."
In today's economic environment, it can be difficult to ignore the pressing matters that constantly come up, but Brandi drove home to the crowd of customer service employees that their primary job is to make sure every worker believes in magic. "Magic," she said, can be seen as an acronym: Make A Great Impression on Customers. "Cultures don't change quickly but you can change the conversation," she encouraged.
As a step toward having that conversation, Peter Guber, founder and chairman of Los Angeles–based production company Mandalay Entertainment, explained to the crowd that there are three traps we have to avoid during uncertain times: fear, uncertainty, and change. He challenged the crowd to utilize a tool that does not require capital expenditures or technological investments: oral stories. Guber argued that if customer service representatives do not tell the story of what their business or service can continue to deliver, it opens the door for competition -- and the loyalty of customers hangs in the balance. "When you tell your story, you must focus on what you want others to do," he said. "Otherwise, someone else will tell your story."
Guber explained that this innate storytelling ability has been a human trait since prehistoric times. It's up to us, however, to decide whether we want to unleash that power in today's business world. "We don't value it as much today as in the past, but we are hard-wired as narrative storytellers," he said.
Turning the word "magic" into an entirely different acronym, Guber said that, in the storytelling context, it stands for Motivating your Audience to your Goal Interactively with great Content.
The keys include:
- Motivation—absolutely essential to get others drawn into the story you're trying to tell;
- Audience—understanding that you need to get the customers' attention before disclosing your intention;
- Goal—explicitly calling those hearing your story to some type of action;
- Interactive—engaging all of the senses and really fostering a two-way conversation; and
- Content—which can be found through your own experience, observations, history, metaphors, and analogies.
In a time where budgets are tightening but consumer demands are only increasing, finding ways to improve on what you already possess can be a goldmine. "The best way to render information -- to your customers, employees, whoever you need to listen -- is through storytelling," Guber said.
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