Although you may have received training, what about the staff below you? Do you understand the needs of the customer? Do you understand the customer's business and the people who work within it? Do you understand the difficulties of dealing with customer complaints and dealing with customers who may become angry or aggressive?
A good training programme and continual training should be employed. Teach them (subordinates) the basics of what is required. Build their confidence and allow them to express themselves, without losing focus on the job in hand. Periodically, conduct a short toolbox talk session to ensure that they are still giving out a positive message and maintaining the correct message from previous training. You do not need to spy on your colleagues/staff, but it can be effective if you stand back and look at how they handle situations that they may face. Look at their body language. Are they smiling, do they make eye contact? Do they go that extra mile for someone who has posed a question that is slightly more challenging than normal?
Although you may have received training, what about the staff below you? If you have provided training and things are still not going right, what should a good supervisor look for? Often, the root cause of what could be perceived as a lack of skill or unwillingness to learn is the result of a work environment that does not reward going above and beyond to provide excellent service. Try providing your team with some clear guidelines for what you expect and some examples of what great customer service looks like, and as you do it, make sure that you are celebrating those small wins as you see people starting to use these skills.
During your working day, you may communicate and interact with various people. It is easy to tell people they should be good communicators; however, it is much harder to tell them how to be a good communicator. For you, the new supervisor, you may have felt that you communicate well with others, but how did you acquire these skills? How many times have you heard a politician address an audience where they were able to whip the group up into a frenzy and at the end of it very few people could summarise the main topics of his/her speech. Were his/her objectives fulfilled and, apart from voting patterns, how do they measure the effectiveness of their speech?
The same could be said of you and your working environment. Your body language is a key part of successfully communicating with others. It is natural for others to judge you by your appearance. That is only the starting point of your journey.
There are four key components of communication.
- The sender
- The receiver
- The message
- The environment.
The effectiveness of your communication with others will depend on how well you achieve each component. If there is a breakdown in one area the communication chain can be weakened and lead to an unsatisfactory outcome.
- As the sender of a message, it will need to be clear and to the point. In most cases, the customer is looking for an abridged version of a situation, with direct action that will support their idea of a positive outcome. However, do not sell yourself and your company short by lacking too much essential detail.
- The receiver - your customer - will expect you to have all the answers. They do not want to hear you apportion blame. They want you to take the lead, they want you to deliver. On the other hand, you must keep a clear and open mind when the customer is talking to you. Remain focused and remember to make the right noises in the right places.
- The message should be clear and to the point. Keep it short and remember to keep a focus on what you are trying to say. It should not give mixed messages. Try not to mix up the message by bringing someone else into the conversation in the early stages, (unless they ask you to do so), or by introducing unnecessary topics or details too early.
- The environment should be as free as possible from distraction. Try to manoeuvre your customer to an area, which is quiet. This will provide you with a situation where background noise is not going to interrupt your communication channels. A busy environment may take your eyes off the customer, which could fuel an already delicate situation.
Remember too - what does your body language say? Does it say you are confident, smart, and enthusiastic or just the opposite? Only a small percentage of communication involves actual words: 7%, to be exact. 55% of communication is visual (body language, eye contact) and 38% is vocal (pitch, speed, volume, tone of voice). The world's best business communicators have strong body language: a commanding presence that reflects confidence, competence, and charisma.
People want to feel special. They want to feel as though you are speaking to them directly or that they are the most important person in the room during your conversation. Breaking eye contact is a sure-fire way to break the connection. Try asking somebody to do something, using the same words, but with a different tone of voice or different body language. You will find the outcome will be much different on each occasion. By shouting the statement at an individual, you will lose their respect and are less likely to achieve anything. By politely asking them, with an open expression, you are likely to get the desired results.
So how can you improve communication? Firstly, you must get the message straight in your head. You should not transmit the message until you have had time to think about all possible actions to resolve a problem or situation. Make sure that you get the full picture and then try to sell the idea or solutions to others in a way that is going to solve the immediate problem. You must then work out how you are going to avoid the situation and get all the staff on board to reduce the risk of repetition. Take on one situation at a time and try not to combine them. Keep it simple and to the point.
- Know the message
- Know that the message has been received, understood, and transmitted correctly
Give full attention. ‘Listening is something we do while waiting to talk’. The first habit of listening is to pay attention to the person who is speaking. Give them your full attention - and visibly so. Attend not only with your ears but also with your whole body. Turn to face them. Fix your eyes on them intently.
The trick to full attention is to do it from inside your head, not just by moving your body. If you can be truly interested, (which is often just a matter of attitude) then your body will happily follow your mind. If you lack confidence, try to nod in the right places, smile and make positive noises.
Show that you are interested in them. Good listening also includes acting in a way that is considerate of the other person. As a part of listening, you should seek to help the person feel good about themselves. Having someone pay close attention to you and show interest is very flattering and usually feels good.
Finally, be careful with how you react to what the other person says. It is easy to be put off by listeners who show a marked lack of interest, who do not seem to understand what you are saying or who seem more concerned with criticising you and showing how they do not need to listen to you.
Before you comment about what the other person has said, pause before you dive into a response. Notice your internal inferences and biases. Think about what you would say and the effect that it would have. Consider if this is what you want to achieve. Finally, at every stage practice what we call reflective listening. This process is where the receiver, which in most cases will be you, gives feedback by mirroring what the sender is saying. Three short sentences to start with.
- “I hear you”
- “So, you feel that it would be”
- “Do you mean that”
You should not worry about saying some of the above, as it does not demonstrate that you are agreeing, disagreeing, or being defensive with the customer. At this point, you are just letting them know that you have understood the message. Once you have shown your acknowledgement and the customer has finished talking, then you are in a better position to follow through with the appropriate action, whether replying verbally or taking other direct action.
What kind of behaviour would suggest good listening techniques? Listed below you will find some statements, which suggest good listening techniques:
- maintain good eye contact
- make comments or noises
- ask for clarification
- use reflective listening techniques
- paraphrase what is being said
- get the gist of what is being said
- do not judge by accent or vocabulary
- bring you back to a topic.
So, what makes a bad listener?
- always learn about events late
- are always surrounded by staff chatting loudly to each other
- are always firefighting problems
- do not reflect on the outcome or what has been said
- avoid delegation especially to junior or inexperienced colleagues
- ask for information to be repeated several times
- receive a lot of written communications.
Dealing with anger and aggression
One of the most difficult customers to deal with is an angry or aggressive one. This often suggests the problem may have already gone too far for you to deal with; it may now be an issue for your manager. It may also signify that your customer has lost control of a situation and you are the object of their anger. You may now be in a position where you feel that you were the cause of the problem. Your customer may have a target(s) for their anger. That does not mean that you should not try to help.
You should not exaggerate the situation by withholding evidence. You will need to assist your manager by explaining how, if at all, you are involved and how the situation got to a point where the customer is angry.
Importantly you should never try to argue with your customer, even if they are causing you to become stressed. You must always try your best to stay as calm as possible, show understanding and let them know that you care about the issue. If you choose to try and defuse the situation, the first step is to make every effort to see the situation from their point of view. You might begin by asking them to explain their point of view. This should be done away from others but try to ensure that there is always someone else close by to help should things get out of control, and not in a closed room environment. If you were dealing with someone of the opposite gender, then it would be a good idea to have someone else with you. Doing nothing is not an option, however, tread carefully.
Therefore, tips to help you in a powder keg environment.
- Listen without interrupting
- Agree with their right to complain
- Thank them for telling you what the problem is
- Acknowledge their emotions
- Repeat or rephrase what they are saying
- Apologise for the problem or their inconvenience
- Take action – call someone or write something down.
About the author:
Tommy Taylor is the Director at T. Taylor Solutions and an accredited ISSA CIMS and ISSA CIE facilitator. Tommy has had extensive experience training cleaning and FM companies in the Middle East and continues to raise standards in cleaning through his own company in the UK, T. Taylor Solutions.