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Can I Hitchhike From 35,000 Feet?

I knew I was in for a long night when the maintenance light came on, but I had no idea that it would be an experience to write about. Knowing I don’t have the greatest memory, I started taking notes when it really started to heat up. How could so much go so wrong in just a few hours time. I’m not talking about car problems, but rather, a customer service issue that went from bad to worse, when American Airlines started having maintenance issues on my outbound flight to Arizona last week. Ironically, I was hired to fly to Scottsdale to speak on a topic near to my heart: customer service and relationships. The positive side to my horrible service experience (I’m eternally a glass half full guy) are the lessons learned. Plus I have several new stories to tell.

Counter (un)productive

Until boarding time all was going very well, then that darn light came on. The counter/gate representative informed us calmly there was a maintenance issue that was being checked and she promised to keep us updated. About 60 seconds later she picked up her microphone and started admonishing those around the gate that she had no update just yet and further informed us that she had no information about connecting flights, so do not approach her with any questions. At least a half dozen more times she informed all of us in the waiting area that she was not the person to talk to and that American Airlines had set up a special phone number just for us, the stranded ones in Maryland. Any questions I have could be answered by their call center. Strike one, never avoid an opportunity to speak to a customer face to face, especially when there is a problem.

I sat quietly with my hands folded, awaiting my next set of instructions like a good third grader.

SMS non-intelligence

Since I booked my flight originally through Orbitz, I was updated on the progress of the delays via SMS (text) from Orbitz. Unfortunately, the updates conflicted with the SMS updates provided by American Air, leaving me more confused than I thought would be possible. None of the messages however were correct thereby making a bad situation even worse. Unfortunately, I was warned several times that approaching the gate might be hazardous to my health so I sat quietly with my hands folded, awaiting my next set of instructions like a good third grader. Strike two, keep communication clear and precise. A confused customer is not a happy customer.

Surely the pilot will straighten things out

A little after two and half hours later, we finally were given the green light to board the plane. Those that had connecting flights in Arizona to destinations beyond had the choice to stay back or to board but American would not guarantee another flight the next day. (“Aside from that Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?”). I’m sure the choice of hotels, at midnight, near the airport, in Baltimore, were only four star and up. As we took our seats, the pilot got on the microphone without skipping a beat and said “I am required by Federal law to inform you that you have the right to get off the plane if you care to, but we will not let you back on if you do.” Strike three, if you are in a position of authority and you know there has been an issue, take responsibility, provide a sincere apology, present a possible solution and get back to your job. In my opinion there could have been so many other ways to say what he said to the frustrated passengers on the plane. It almost seemed like he was mad at us.

Let’s get social

As with any challenging consumer experience I have, I take to my social channel of choice, Twitter, and request information and service. In this particular case, American was fairly responsive. Within about 45 minutes or so they responded to my request for service. Unfortunately, their response instructed me to fill out a multiple question document online (with all answers being required) before they would be able to take action and elevate my complaint to the next level. Strike 4 (good thing I’m not a sports guy), when you have a customer complaining, do everything you can to make the situation easy for them, even if it means bending the rules a bit. Make it easy for your customer to do business with you.

Take responsibility, provide a sincere apology, present a possible solution and get back to your job.

When each of the four instances above were unfolding, I kept thinking, “How would Southwest Airlines handle the situation?” What it comes down to is this, mistakes and problems are going to happen. How companies react will make all the difference to their customers. People skills were seriously lacking any level of empathy, understanding and perspective. When will companies like American Airlines realize they have the capacity to be amazing if they work harder on people policies rather than baggage fees and change reservations policies?

As I look back on that long night, all that was needed to make this bad situation better was one person stepping up and taking responsibility, providing a heartfelt apology, promising to make things better next time, while sincerely understanding that I have a choice in what airline I fly. I should have looked closer at their website. On American Airline’s home page, “Creating a great airline for you.” (emphasis on the ‘ing’). They still have long way to go.


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How to please your customers in 16 magical ways.

Master these 16 magical ways to pleasing your customers. 

Master these 16 magical ways to pleasing your customers. 

While many magicians work hard at making objects appear out of thin air, our job is to make sure our customers don't disappear. There are 16 magical ways that will help keep your customers coming back to you again and again. Work hard at perfecting these magic tricks. This type of magic requires no smoke, no mirrors and no sleight of hand. The magic behind these "tricks" is action. Without action, the magic fizzles.

  1. Call customers by their name. You are creating a connection by calling your customer by their name. It shows you have interest and that you are listening to them. If you have a tough time remembering names, just after your customer says their name, repeat it back to them. Go one step further and spell it for them. "Thanks Margy, that's M-A-R-G-Y, correct?"

  2. Nothing says thank you more than, "Thank you." Showing your gratitude by saying thank you acknowledges that you appreciate the business. Be genuine with your thanks. I'm a firm believer you can never say thank you enough.

  3. Learn how to say, "Yes!" A simple three letter word that carries an incredible amount of strength and conviction. Customers love it when you can say yes. Make it a part of your job to figure out how to say yes with conviction. More importantly, follow through with whatever you are saying yes to.

  4. Practice and get really good at saying, "I'm sorry." We are human, and mistakes are bound to happen. It's how you handle yourself after the mistake that is so important. Make sure you are sincere about your apology and work extremely hard at not repeating the same mistake again. Mistakes are your chance to shine in the face of adversity. Anyone can do well when the chips are high. Get through adversity with an apology and a solution and you will be loved even more by your customers.

  5. There is magic in the word, "Quickly." When you are able to tell a customer you can do something for them quickly, they will be very happy. When you can solve a problem quickly or provide a service instantly, you are providing proof that you are true to your word.

  6. Don't forget the human element. Your customer needs to know that you are human. Human beings show emotion, are empathetic and care. In business today, we are barraged by texts, emails, Tweets, shares and posts. Put the human connection back in business.

  7. Learn how to say, "I don't know, but let me find out." When you not sure of an answer, let your customer know and work quickly at finding an answer. Don't delay in getting the answer to the question and in no case should you ever pass the responsibility of finding the answer to someone else.

  8. Be responsible. In the grade school game of tag, you're it. And in business, you're it, and the buck stops with you. Look at it this way, you are the link between your company and your customer. Without you, the bond will break or at best be weakened, so being responsible keeps your customer on solid ground with your company.

  9. Use a healthy dose of the word, "Please." Using the word please is polite. And according to your mother, it a magic word and I agree. Use of this common courtesy word is not so common anymore.

  10. "Sure, I can do that." These are more magic words to your customer. When you say that you are able to 'do that,' you are telling your customer you WILL do that.

  11. Provide a guarantee. When you give your customer a guarantee, you are saying you are so confident in your product or service there is little or no risk to your customer. When you guarantee one of your actions ("I guarantee I will get back to you by 5PM.") you are making a promise. Live up to all of your promises.

  12. Make eye contact. When you make eye contact, you are putting yourself on an equal playing field with your customer. You are also making a connection beyond words. Making eye contact creates a feeling of confidence and surety that cannot be matched. It will also help you make your point, stay focused and create another level of communication between you and your customer.

  13. Use proper body language. Are your arms folded or are you hunched over? If you use proper body language, you are saying to your customer that you are open, engaged, connected and ready.

  14. Smile more. First, it's contagious and your customer will smile back at you. Second, it's really tough to be negative when you are smiling. And that's the goal of every transaction with your customer. You want to be positive, happy, cheerful and helpful. Even if you are communicating over the phone, a smile is still essential. It's hard to be negative and stiff if you are smiling.

  15. Listen to your customer, without interruption. Customers appreciate when you listen to the words they are saying and respond based upon their questions, points and concerns. Give them an opportunity to speak and respond appropriately, without interrupting them. If you have been in your position for a long period of time, you have heard the same questions many times. You must, however, realize your customer is a unique individual and needs a response geared towards their needs.

  16. Mirror your customer's behavior. Although it may be challenging to do at first, try your best to mirror your customer. Practice makes perfect here. You wouldn't be overly enthusiastic and loud to a customer who is laid back and quiet. Mirroring comes down to understanding people and behavior.

Work hard at these 16 magical ways of pleasing your customers. You will find it very rewarding when you are able to increase business, productivity and results by focusing on your customers and following the 16 tips above. Regardless of the position you have in your company, you have customers. Some of your customers will be outside the walls of your business and some of them will be inside the various departments within your company. You may even have a "customer" sitting next to you right now.

Review the list again, this time thinking about how the magic could be applied to your company's internal customers as well. Good luck as you continue to practice the magic.

I welcome your comments below. Please share on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, GooglePlus and your social media favorites. I am available help your company create outstanding customer service. Although each program is customized for your company's needs, I have a keynote, provide workshops and deliver training as well. My blog is featured in several industry publications and is posted on my site www.DougSandler.com on Tuesdays. I have a book, soon to be released. Stay tuned for more announcements and information on how to get your copy.

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Getting out of your zone

We should take time to sample life. Live more outside of your comfort zone.

We should take time to sample life. Live more outside of your comfort zone.

We all have a comfort zone. It’s that warm, friendly place that welcomes you with open “arms.” It’s the small office, cubicle or glowing computer screen calling your name, pulling you into its grip. The zone could be something as simple as your routine between nine and five, including all the trappings of work. After work is complete, it most certainly includes your home life as well. Your comfort zone could be a bit more complex and include travel, conferences and other activities within your industry.

Your comfort zone is, well, comfortable. And while being in your comfort zone potentially creates small growth potential, most people do not venture far enough from their comfort zone to create opportunity. That’s a mistake.

Most dramatic growth is created when you step outside of your comfort zone. Taking small risks greatly enhances your ability to grow while not putting you into too much of a danger zone. As you get better at handling small risks, your tolerance for risk becomes greater. Practice makes perfect and as you excel at the challenges you encounter, your threshold for risk also increases. You begin to stretch more and your growth will increase exponentially.

The problem, however, most people encounter is a feeling that when they are outside their comfort zone, they are stepping into the terror zone. That shouldn’t be the case at all and although there will be some discomfort on the perimeter of your comfort zone, it is still a long way before reaching the terror zone. The benefits of stepping out of your comfort zone will far outweigh the drawbacks of a “life gone static” inside the zone.

Let’s look at the benefits of stepping outside of your comfort zone:

  1. Enhances creativity - You need to think outside the box. Creativity grows rapidly when you step outside your comfort zone.
  2. Builds confidence - Being confident creates a feeling of self importance.
  3. Change will come easier to you - Taking small risks will allow you to adapt to change much more easily.
  4. Helps you deal with failure better - You won’t be perfect at everything you do outside of your comfort zone. Know that you will fail at a few things you try and that is quite ok.
  5. Provides a new perspective - Not everything that happens in this world happens in your bubble. It’s great to see life from another perspective every once in a while.
  6. Provides growth and independence - You are responsible for you. You should not be depending upon anyone other than you and stepping outside of your comfort zone will help you become more independent.
  7. Allows you to gain more control of your life - When you stay in our comfort zone too long, you allow your routine to control you instead of you controlling your routine. Step out and gain control.

With all these great benefits to stepping out of your comfort zone, what are some ways to actually make the first move to go beyond where you are now:

Go solo - A great way to step out is to step out alone. Try going to the movies on your own, having lunch alone or going away for the weekend on your own. These simple exercises will boost your independence and confidence and help you gain control of your life.

Do everyday things differently - Take a new route to work without using your GPS. Wear a color or garment that you would not normally wear. Ladies, wear an accessory that wouldn’t normally be “you.” Guys, wear a bowtie instead of your traditional neck tie. People will begin to remark about this new “you.” Changing it up a bit is so simple and the results are so great.

Get crazy (just a lil bit) - Have you ever bought lunch for the entire office? If you are short cash, bring in donuts and put them on a tray, drape a white cloth napkin over your arm and deliver them from office to office as your way to say “thanks for being an awesome coworker.” If you are flat broke, make paper flowers at home (YouTube has great videos for this) and hand deliver them to the people you work with -- I promise you it will be a day to remember and your coworkers will love you even more.

Present yourself - Offer a lunchtime presentation or prepare a speech about something you are passionate about. Want to save the whales or clean up a local stream or talk about the benefits of a vegetarian diet? I am confident others will want to hear about it too, even if it’s only a small group. Public speaking is one of the biggest fears of all. Overcome this fear and you will be well on your way to stepping outside your comfort zone.

Do something completely new and silly - The next time you are in a crowded elevator, turn to face the entire group and say these words, “I guess you are all wondering why I called this meeting.” You will have at least one or two that will laugh at your joke. If not, no big deal, get off at your floor and get on with your day. Learning to laugh at yourself is important. You are allowed to fail, and you are allowed to be foolish.

Volunteer - There are hundreds of worthy causes that need your help. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or shelter. The genuine gratitude shown by those you serve will help you understand just how important you really are in this life. Just as important, you will gain perspective on what really is essential in life -- a smile, a hug and a good deed.

The above ideas are just a starting place for you. As you get used to stepping outside of your comfort zone, your tolerance for new and different things will grow and you will begin to thirst for all of the amazing adventures you’ll find in this huge world we all live in.

Your comfort zone will forever be growing and you will be growing as well. As you stretch your zone your are stretching your limits. Look back to that first push from your comfort zone and you will finally see why being stuck there is not beneficial to you. You are capable of greatness and there is no one greater at being you than you.

I especially can’t wait to be on the elevator when you turn and say, “I guess you are wondering why I called this meeting.” Tell me about the ways you step outside your comfort zone. Add a comment to the section below.

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26 things you need to know to exceed customer expectations

Exceeding your customer's expectations requires thinking and acting properly with every contact.

Exceeding your customer's expectations requires thinking and acting properly with every contact.

Providing exemplary customer service comes down to taking ownership and responsibility for your relationship with your customer while exceeding customer expectations. Each and every contact is an opportunity for you to impress your customer and deliver service that exceeds their expectations.

If you approach each contact with a “can do” mentality and an attitude of “the buck stops here,” you are in the right frame of mind. In addition to having a positive mindset, you must take action. Without a positive attitude AND action, your level of service will only be satisfactory at best.

As I think back to some amazing experiences that I have had as a customer, in addition to feedback I have gotten over the years from my own customers, I have compiled a list of thoughts and actions that are essential to providing exemplary customer service.

You know you excel at customer service when you realize:

  1. Making a customer is more important than making a sale.
  2. Customers are not in your way, but instead, are your way.
  3. Listening to your customer is more important than telling your customer.
  4. It’s you AND the customer, not you AGAINST the customer.
  5. Leaving your customer with a question or doubt is not good business.
  6. Exemplary service is not the exception, but rather, the rule.
  7. Building business is about building relationships.
  8. All roads lead back to the customer. Without customers, your business will fail.
  9. A loyal customer will go out of their way to get you business. You want loyal customers.
  10. Not all people are potentially customers.
  11. Your job is to make the buying experience as easy as possible for your customer.
  12. Your customer is an insider, not an outsider.
  13. Your customers' needs come before your needs.
  14. Each contact that you have with your customer should leave your customer happier.
  15. You need to exceed expectations each and every time you deliver.
  16. Perception is reality when it comes to your customer.
  17. No matter what your position within your company, you are in customer service.
  18. Your daily goal is making your customers happy.
  19. An unhappy customer creates a lesson for you learn from, not run from.
  20. Long after the money is spent, you create a lasting memory for your customer.
  21. Thinking like your customer is far better than thinking for your customer.
  22. High touch trumps high tech.
  23. Getting lazy gives your customer permission to move to your competition.
  24. Being a people pleaser is not an option, it is essential in keeping a customer long term.
  25. Making a mistake is inevitable. It’s what comes next that’s so important.
  26. The customer is always right. And when he isn’t, figure out how to make him right.

Align your thoughts and actions with the list above and you are well on your way to providing world class customer service. Are there other “rules” that you follow? Which is your favorite from the list? Your least favorite. Add your comments below.

My messages is amplified ten fold when shared. I encourage you to share on your favorite social media platform. Thanks for being so NICE!

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6 Time Management Techniques for Extremely Busy People

The clock is always ticking, faster than ever for extremely busy people.

The clock is always ticking, faster than ever for extremely busy people.

Successful people are busy people. With career and personal goals stacked up high, and an agenda a mile long, fitting in one more responsibility can be a huge task. People on the fast track to excellence will often get crunched seven days a week. Common place are calls from clients, co-workers and associates to put out fires. Additionally, communication from a spouse, kids, friends or other family members must become a priority even when dealing with a filled work schedule. Being self employed, I am constantly talking to my friends and family about the benefits of self employment. You see, I get to pick which 18 hours a day I work. Yes, I am busy too.

So, with so many responsibilities coming from so many different directions, time management is essential. While time management is challenging in general, time management for extremely busy people comes with its own set of challenges.

Here are 6 time management techniques for extremely busy people:

  1. Say "NO"- While sometimes an easy thing to say, often times saying the word "No!" can be troublesome. A friend, coworker, or especially a family member is hard to turn away. But in order to stay on your path, learn to embrace the word. Although it has only two letters, getting the word out of your mouth is difficult if you feel like you are hurting someone's feelings or are trying to be nice. Try this sentence. "I appreciate you coming to me with this project (issue, problem, situation, etc) and I would really like to help, but now is not a great time for my schedule. If I get a chance to revisit it, I will.

  2. Prioritize Your To-Do List - Before you go to sleep or first thing when your head is clear in the morning, go through your schedule (I know you keep a schedule) and prioritize the list. Don't get into your day without a clear roadmap of what you will need to get done. It's little victories like crossing off a to-do from the list that will drive you harder towards the finish line on your list.

  3. Delegate - The most successful time managers are those that learn how to delegate properly. A great leadership trait is understanding when to hold on to a responsibility and when to delegate it. You will never be able to do it all on your own. The sooner you realize this, the closer you will get to effectively managing your time.

  4. Don't Micromanage - Extremely busy people are generally very successful people. You will need to resist the urge to manage all of the project details you have going on in your life. Once a project task is given to someone else, do not circle back and micromanage the project. Certainly, follow up to verify the project is moving forward, but do not live by the motto, "If it's going to be done right, I've got to do it."

  5. The Small Stuff - Extremely busy people are their own worst critics. Stop beating yourself up over the small stuff. Sure, it's important that the task gets completed properly and professionally, but don't get caught up in the minute details and never second guess yourself about the small stuff. Chances are great that you completed the task with excellence. Make a mental note, and next time this type of task is to be tackled, you will know what you need to do.

  6. Refresh - Seriously, it's 1AM, do you think you are quite as sharp as you were at 11AM? Take a break. There is nothing more challenging than trying to accomplish a task while burning the late, late, late night oil. Your brain needs to refresh and your body could use a break as well. Did I mention the importance of eating your meals at a table and not from behind a steering wheel? You know I am talking to you. Every once in a while, I accept that you are too busy to slow down and eat at a table, but not everyday.

There will come a time in your schedule when you will not be as busy. Try your best to savor those moments when they happen. Just because you are not moving at a million miles an hour does not mean you are lazy. There is more to life than just arriving at your destination; enjoy the journey.

We all know busy people too, please feel free to share this blog with them as well. Thanks for helping me make the world a bit nicer and more manageable, one blog at a time.

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