Customer Service Training and Trends

Does your staff groan and complain when you announce Customer Service training? Do they dread it, think they are already doing a great job, or just dislike sitting in training? Do we still need Customer Service Training?

Here’s the thing… Yes, your organization needs it. For all the reasons you already know, Live Chat Imageincluding improving your Customer Service or improving parts of it, but also because you need to keep up with changing trends, most of them driven by the online environment. The “customer” is changing in a Google and Amazon “on demand” world. You can get pet food delivered to your door almost instantly. Don’t think that people will wait days to hear back from you on their question about their pool pass.

And – for your staff – do it for them. Give them the tools they need to navigate the sometimes challenging path that includes unhappy customers. Help them not feel beat up at the end of a tough encounter, empower them with the tools they need to say “I can help you with that”, and help them be in control when policies and procedures need to be followed.

Here are some business trends you should know about with Customer Service. Some impact the Recreation sector as much as the business sector:

  • Chat: Use of instant chat is on the rise. What does that look like on the back end? When does a person take over from the auto-responses that get the conversation started? (I also wonder how many chats is that person juggling at once? And where in the world they actually are).
  • Artificial Intelligence: Forbes.com says that 80% of companies will use AI by 2020. That is just around the corner now, after using the statistic for a few years, so I wonder how that will hold up.
  • Social Media Service: This is a big one for Recreation. People have a question, first they Google it. If they cannot find it quickly, they click on Facebook or Twitter and they message either your organization or the universe at large. The Universe does not always provide an accurate answer while they are waiting for your answer. If your answer doesn’t come until four days later or after the weekend, you have a 35 message feed waiting for you to now navigate. But how realistic is it to have someone (the exhausted Director?) checking social media all weekend?
  • Google: People with a question go to Google first, and then they want a human. It’s that simple. The trends are showing less time and patience in seeking out the answer themselves.
  • Remote Customer Service: It’s much more likely now that your Customer Service agent is stateside rather than overseas, depending on the international level of the company you’re dealing with and very likely that person is working from home/remotely. So, within recreation, is there an opportunity to have a designated customer service team who is not actually on site?

Only you can know how busy your organization is and what level of customer service you need to start providing. But keeping an eye on the trends is important.

If you’re not sure where to start, start with social media. Be sure you are posting updates and precise easy to find information to prevent as much confusion as possible from the start. Consider a banner on your website for important things like pool closings, weather related info, holiday event updates, etc. Also, take a look at the back side of your website and what people are most navigating toward.

There is a word that pops up often in the Customer Service field: Customer-centric. That customer-centricity-icon-260nw-1062868253means your processes and navigations and available options need to be tailored for exactly what works best for your customer. The flip side is sometimes that it’s not always what is best or easiest for you and your staff.

This a great exercise during that staff training that you’ve been putting off having! Be aware of what is challenging or what customers are complaining about, what is the customer-centric solution, and then how can you actually make it work on the back end?

This is all important work that will pay off in the long run and it’s important to keep up with the rapidly changing times.

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A Tangible Reminder

Remind Finger

A few years ago I decided to rip out our hallway restroom while my wife and son went away for the long Columbus Day weekend. The vanity and lighting were from the 70’s, the door and some of the vinyl flooring was chewed up from a puppy training experiment gone wrong, and everything was in a desperate need of an update. Now I consider myself “handy-ish”, but not an expert by any stretch. I spent the next four days demoing, picking out new finishes, paint colors, watching some Youtube tutorials on cutting angles for trim and wainscoting, and largely living in that 8 x 6 area like it was a cell from Shawshank Redemption. After my second 18 hour day, I was beginning to daydream about what else I could have done with all my “me time”. It mostly consisted of seeing how far into an NHL season I could get on my PS3, or how many hours of binge watching the latest peak TV series I’d relinquished in hopes of surprising my family.

By mid-day Monday of that Columbus Day weekend, the transformation was beginning to take shape and by the time my family arrived home later that evening, we had an entirely new bathroom. From the mirror and lighting to the sink and vanity to the flooring and wall treatment, everything was updated. Beyond surprising my family and seeing their smiles, I sat back and felt proud about the work I had put in. There was a visible transformation in front of me that I was responsible for.

I often think about projects such as this while I’m sitting behind a computer at work. I think about how tangible and immediate the satisfaction of that project was and how in our line of work that isn’t always the case. Now yes, there are special events, park and trail projects as well as new facility construction that scratch that visual satisfaction itch. Something as simple as a clean pool or a freshly cut athletic field can give me that feeling too. What I’m referring to is the day to day administrative grind of reviewing budget numbers, facility bookings, programming, payroll, insurance and preparing report after report after report. And yes, there are some that really enjoy a great spreadsheet or pie chart, and I can appreciate that as well (where my excel-heads at?!), but it never comes close to the satisfaction gained from a concrete accomplishment.

It was around this time that I found myself at one of our parks in the evening. It was such a different environment than the daytime crowd that we experience during business hours. It hummed with activity as tennis lessons and pick up-basketball created the rhythm section for the evening’s soundtrack. The athletic fields were in full swing, and friends chatted leisurely as they meandered around the walking trail. Children buzzed through the playground equipment with their imaginations in full overdrive. It. Was. Awesome! It was also a complete “duh” moment for me. THIS is the tangible outcome of the work we do!

Ever since that ah-ha moment, I’ve encouraged my staff to make sure they get out and experience the many accomplishments of all their time and energy. It can be as simple as popping into a program, or taking a day trip, or just going for a walk through a park or trail. The faces of the many individuals and families enjoying the work you’ve put in and seeing these wonderful facilities in use has been a much needed reminder of where to look for that visible, real time satisfaction. If you are like me, it’s all too easy to put in your eight (plus) hours staring at a screen, glued to a desk covered in papers. It is so vital to get out and experience the wheels you’ve help put in motion, born from the passion you’ve put into it, and to feel the pride that accompanies you when you sit back and take stock of your work. And if that doesn’t work, you can always renovate a bathroom.

The Subtle Art of Being Blunt

38886346 - portrait of a pretty businesswoman yelling over the megaphoneThere are many skills needed to navigate the workplace in today’s society. You know about hard skills like budgeting and writing and soft skills like customer service and teamwork, but have you ever thought of the skills that you are born with? Skills and personality traits that come naturally to some folks, but are surprisingly absent from others? You know charisma, creativity, common sense, etc.

I was lucky enough to be born with the subtle art of being blunt. I was also “lucky” enough to be born with “RBF”, but that’s a whole other story…

If you were not born with the ability to be blunt, it can be a very delicate and tricky art to master. But in many cases, it can be extremely helpful in the workplace, as well as in one’s personal life. Let me be clear, being direct by no means gives you the right to be rude or inappropriate, rather it is a tactful way of letting someone know how you feel or explaining a situation without sugar coating or giving a false impression. There should be a clear distinction!

In the workplace, it can be used as a power tool, from hiring and firing to managing expectations, and even during the most difficult customer service situations. If done correctly, being blunt can eliminate confusion, prevent any unnecessary expectations, and settle issues in a timely manner.

A few key things to remember when practicing your bluntness:

•   Always make sure you understand the situation you are dealing with. If you are wrong when being straightforward, you will sound like a jerk. There is no escaping it.
•   Be constructive and comment on the situation at hand, NEVER on an individual or group of individuals. Being blunt means being forthright in your opinion. Just because you are being honest and upfront doesn’t mean you have to give your complete opinion. If you can’t say anything nice… don’t say anything at all. Well, how about you just don’t say anything stupid?
•   Don’t yell or raise your voice. Depending on the situation, you may become heated. When being direct, remain calm or at least act that way and keep your voice at a mild tone.

Being blunt may upset people whether it comes naturally to you or if you are trying it for the first time. If you are someone who is worried about ruffling feathers or upsetting someone, being blunt may not be for you. And that is ok! The most important thing is to make sure you are clearly conveying your message, be it candid or subtle. Make sure the lines of communication are open and that both parties understand the situation.

Civility in the workplace

Ever meet someone that you wish you could pull aside and have a little chat with them about their civility or lack thereof?

If they are on your staff, the good news is – you can. And you should…

Let me clarify… in our workplaces, we train on computer skills, how to balance the cash drawer, how to add proper pool chemicals, how to take a summer camp registration at the front desk – but we very rarely train on the proper etiquette and expected behaviors for how staff treat other staff.

This beautiful concept goes hand in hand with how we (our team) then treat the customers.

So, when I get a request for customer service training, I always first suggest we take a look at the civility expectations and training that staff receive.

If you work for a municipal entity, they sometimes have “Codes of Conduct.” This is often a  “gem” of a document (excuse the implied sarcasm) that includes a harsh list of “Do Not” statements, such as “Employees will refrain from using harsh language” or “Do not disturb, annoy, or interfere with any other person.”

Instead, what if employees come together to talk about the impact that lack of civility in the workplace has on them (step 1) and discuss the standards for behavior that are appropriate and reasonable for their workplace (step 2). Then, by sharing these, employees at all levels are aware and part of this culture. It also becomes easier to welcome new staff into the culture as well. Then, we extend these standards on to our users and patrons.

How does incivility impact the workplace? Big ways, like two employees squabbling or INPE0814name calling or worse. But small ways: tiny jabs at one another, gossip that undermines the moral of all or deeply hurts an employee, employees who quit unexpectedly and you do not learn until later why, staff who call in sick to avoid confrontational situations, loss of productivity related to workplace influences. And so many more…

Another key perk to this process is that bullies or aggressive staff or “hey, I was only kidding, can’t you take a joke” jokers start to feel uncomfortable in the new civil workplace and will begin to be managed by the influence and feedback (even non-verbal social cues) of their peers.

For those that are not, Managers now have a way to discipline and council troublemakers. Sometimes it’s a “hey, can we talk about the last staff meeting? Your comment to Donna putting down her work on the event is not the kind of tone we like to set around here.” on to a full counseling session about language, harassment, or bullying.

Here are some interesting statistics:

  • In 2011, 50% of employees surveyed said they are treated rudely at least once a week at work. (In 1998, it was 25%) I’m anxiously awaiting updated numbers because I bet it’s even higher in 2018.
  • Out of 800 managers and employees surveyed in 17 industries:
    • 48% of employees intentionally decreased their work efforts due to incivility
    • 47% intentionally decreased their time spent at work
    • 80% lost work time worrying about an incident
    • 66% said their work declined
    • 25% admitted taking their frustrations out on a customer
      • From C. Pearson and C. Porath research

It’s time to make training and conversations and workplace civility a priority, regardless of what sector you’re in. I strongly encourage you to hire a consultant or trainer to help you with this, because sometimes employees receive the message better from an outsider versus their management. Look for someone who can be frank and candid but includes humor – Civility training can be fun!

However you approach this, educating yourself and the management of your workplace about the impacts of incivility and the importance of creating a civil workplace is an important first step, then move to a process that allows staff to be heard and be part of creating their own culture. You’ll see wonderful results!

 

 

The counterfeit dollar story

It’s a warm summer day at the pool – kids are splashing, families are laughing together, and trouble is headed my way.  It’s a busy day, and our front desk staff is processing a large volume of cash transactions, in addition to credit card runs and season pass holders checking in.

One visitor, we’ll call him John Doe, comes to the pool and pays the daily admission fee to swim.  He pays with a $20, and gets the correct change, including a few $1 bills.

Mr. Doe enjoys his afternoon at the pool, then leaves to go do some shopping at a local mega-store.  20 minutes after leaving the pool – he’s back at the front desk.

“YOU GAVE ME COUNTERFEIT BILLS IN CHANGE!” he barks at the desk staff.

The desk staff look at each other – OK this is new, and definitely out of the ordinary.  One staffer, we’ll call him “Dave” just because it’s short for “David” keeps his cool.  “I’m very sorry, sir, but can you let me know what’s going on?”

Mr. Doe continues “I just went to (un-named local mega store) and tried to buy something with the change that YOU gave me HERE at the pool, and they wouldn’t accept the bills!!  They said they were counterfeit!”

Dave asks, “Can I see the bills you’re talking about?”

Mr. Doe produces a single one dollar bill.  “Here.  This…this one.  They refused to take it.  You NEED to call the police!!  This is counterfeit!”

bill

Dave examines the bill.  It looks normal to him – but this is an unusual situation.  “Let me grab my manager – please wait here for a sec.”  Dave gets the manager, who comes over and also examines the dollar bill.

At this point, the manager and Dave ponder several options:

1. Tell the guy he’s full of BS – there’s nothing wrong with the dollar.

2. Take the dollar, write up the incident, and report it to the main parks office, and let the guy know that someone will be back with him shortly.

3. Call the police and start an investigation.

4. Or – what actually happened…

Dave, seeing the line at the gate growing, takes a dollar bill out of his OWN pocket, and offers “Can we trade?  I’ll take yours, this one just came from (unnamed local gas station).”  Mr. Doe looks at the bill, looks at Dave, nods, takes the dollar and leaves.

OK quick break – let’s do some math.  I’ll round up to make myself look more generous, but also to make the math easier.  Let’s say Dave was making $9 per hour, and the manager $10 per hour.  I’m paying staff $19 per hour to resolve this situation (rather than to help other guests or oversee other staff).  I’m paying 32 cents per minute to resolve this – so anything more than about 3 minutes is not worth the time…for a single dollar bill.  Even if they take just 15 minutes to resolve – that’s $4.75 to resolve a one dollar issue!!

Your time, and your staff’s time, have a dollar value that can be applied to tasks – make sure they are being spent wisely.

So kudos to Dave for quick thinking and quick resolution.  We ended up with a satisfied customer and business could continue as normal.  Many of the situations we are faced with can be solved with less time and effort than they are worth – keep your business plan in mind when training your staff.

Epilogue – Dave was able to spend the “counterfeit” dollar with no problems, and he won $5 on a $1 lottery ticket.  Oh, and he also got a raise.

The best job

my favorite slidecropped

I’ve made a big decision recently to leave what has been the best job in the world.

My job had a check next to the boxes on the ideal job list. And things at my job have never been better.

I could stay. But more and more, I felt like it was time to go.

I still have the passion for parks and recreation that I had back in 1979. But, I’ve decided it’s time for more of my own parks and recreation experiences. Maybe I can get the balance tipped towards fun for myself rather than work, work, work. Maybe triathlons, long-distance bike trips, mountain trail running, or weekly golfing is in my future – who knows?

Am I too old now for some things? Well, I don’t plan to take up ski jumping any time soon. But leaving my job and taking a new step in my life? I’m not too old for that. And no matter how old I am today, I’m going to be older tomorrow.

Over the years, sometimes I got bored. Sometimes I was frustrated. Sometimes I didn’t feel appreciated. Sometimes I was tired and stressed out.

During those times I asked myself what would be better if I changed jobs or left parks and recreation? The positives of my job always outweighed any negatives, and that kept me from leaving. Looking back now, I’m glad I stayed. I helped to grow and improve a truly wonderful public service organization.

When you get bored, or frustrated, or tired, or stressed out – think about the positive aspects of working in parks and recreation. Others envy us. We have meaningful, impactful jobs. We make a tangible difference in people’s lives and make communities great places to live.

You’ll get to be me someday. But don’t wish away your years until retirement. Focus as much as you can on how great our parks and recreation profession is and how truly fortunate you are to be a part of it.

‘Tis the Season…for Interns!

Tracey Hardos CRPR

The start of spring semester for students at Penn State in Recreation, Park and Tourism Management (RPTM) is the time that students begin planning their summer jobs and internships.  The internship search can be very stressful for students as they try to match their career goals with available opportunities.  Internship can be an amazing semester that offers the opportunity to put into practice what students have learned in the classroom.  Internship can also be a time of learning what the student doesn’t want to do and to help further define a specific career path to seek after graduation.

Numerous studies have asked college students and recent college graduates about internships.  A significant number report that they feel that internships should be required.  Many report that their internship was where they learned the most about the field.

Because of the applied nature of the recreation, park, tourism and leisure professions, most universities require an internship as part of the undergraduate degree requirements.

At Penn State, we assist students with finding a site for their 12-credit, semester long, internship that meets not only their career goals but also fits within the many parameters that today’s student must consider.  Where and what the student wants to do after graduation.   Distance from home and the university.  Costs of tuition, housing and other related living expenses.   Opportunities for employment or promotion from the internship.

The issue of pay for internship is one that comes up quite often for students.  Many are unable to consider internships that are unpaid while others have more flexibility.  Most understand that working under the direction of a professional in the field has value in and of itself.  The Department of Labor has established guidelines for use in defining when and if an intern is really an intern or if they meet the requirements as a paid employee.   Concerns such as the training component of the internship, making sure the intern isn’t replacing paid workers, the added workload to the agency in providing support and instruction, and the mutual understanding that a permanent job is not guaranteed after the internship are just a few of the guidelines.  In short, government agencies and other non-profits are not required to pay interns.  However, to compete with internship providers in the private sector (such as resorts and other commercial operations), many government and non-profit sites offer some kind of compensation including hourly wages or a stipend, housing, meals, etc.

Are you interested in opening your agency or department to interns?  The energy, fresh perspective on your programs and services, and support with new initiatives and projects are just a few of the benefits of taking on an intern.   At Penn State, we can help you develop an internship program or recruit interns into your existing program through postings of internship opportunities, recruiting opportunities on campus and through our social media sites.   Other universities have similar programs and services.  Contact your local university.  Take an intern!