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culture

My colleague and I had no choice but to rent a car one night when a canceled flight left us stranded, five hours away from our destination.

Two hours into the drive, we encountered what felt like a monsoon. It was then we discovered that one of the windshield wiper blades was bare metal, sans rubber. Though I am a fan of some alternative music genres, metal scraping on glass is not one of them.

It was pitch black, the only light source coming from large trucks. At times we had to stick our heads out the window to see where we were going. We called the car rental company (a large national chain we all know) for roadside assistance, which amounted to them suggesting we find a 24/7 Walmart. No luck.

Prognosis: we were down one blade for the entirety of the trip, forced to listen to metal on glass wipe back and forth for hours. It was dangerous and excruciating.

When we returned the car, we were given a $100 gift certificate (good for one year) and went on my way. I wanted to ask for a free future rental along with a full repayment of my graduate school loans, but the customer service rep was so nice and empathetic I took the gift certificate.

One year and three days later I needed to rent a car again, but I was told that the gift certificate’s expiration was final and “absolutely nothing could be done.” We can successfully perform a heart transplant on someone but issuing a new gift certificate for a rental car, that’s beyond our human capability. For several weeks after I dealt with reps that told me there was nothing they or anyone could do for me. They saw “one year” and their brain thought, “game over.”

Here was a customer service department deeply rooted in what Carol Dweck calls a “fixed mindset.”

If you haven’t read Mindset yet by Carol Dweck I highly recommend it. I have been rather obsessed with the concept of fixed vs growth mentalities she outlines. A fixed mindset being one that, in plain terms, believes change is not possible, whatever the scenario. A growth mindset would be one that believes the possibility of change does exist, whatever the scenario.

If you struggle with your piano lessons at first and have a fixed mindset you’ll think you’re never going to get better, it’s not going to get any easier, and it’s a waste of time. Someone with a growth mindset will approach the task thinking that while it’s difficult now the fruits of their labor will ripen later.

Many of us can feel the hot breath of a fixed mindset when we are on the phone with a customer service representative for a large corporation. If you want something from Comcast or Verizon that involves anything resembling a discount before your plan is up chances are you’re not going to get it, but then tell them you want to cancel your plan and suddenly you are transferred to the customer retention department who are leading the way in growth mindset, albeit much to our annoyance.

It’s understandable why large corporate customer service departments would have rules to follow. Without them, there is no consistency. However, perhaps one of the rules should be:

“Remember that customers are calling because they need help.”

The mantra “the customer needs help” should pulse throughout customer service departments. When people need help they are in a position of vulnerability. Vulnerable people have their guard up, primed to fight, expecting their needs will not be met. It takes very little to turn a situation from bad to ugly or conversely surprise someone with just a modicum of empathy.

A fixed mindset in customer service creates a vacuum. It suffocates the interaction between customer and company. A growth mindset breathes oxygen into the conversation, allowing for empathy.

There is a story I love in Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness where he and some Sketchers reps are hanging out in a hotel room and they want to order a pizza but don’t know who to call. Hsieh has them anonymously call Zappos to prove how amazing his customer service department is. The Zappos rep they speak with does in fact find them a pizza place in their area that will deliver to them. That type of culture starts with the premise that someone is calling you because they need help. Zappos is not in the business of finding pizza delivery, but they are in the business of customer service.

After reading Mindset I am convinced the fixed vs growth mindset debate is at the core of all failures and successes, whether in business or our personal lives. With a tight fixed mindset every time you get into a fight with your romantic partner you will call it quits. You will then get into that same fight in every subsequent relationship. The fixed mindset will prevent you from ever evolving from that fight. The fixed mindset puts a stranglehold on your personal evolution.

A growth mindset will lay the grounds for emotional maturity. Even if you don’t agree with the other person’s point of view you can rise above it and think, “I don’t agree with their argument but what is it they want? Maybe we can get to where we both want to be without insisting the other agrees with us.”

When it comes to customer service, a rep can think, “I have to adhere to my company’s policy but maybe there’s something I can do to help.” It comes down to the individual. How do you want to lead your life? How stuck or unstuck do you want to feel?

If you are a customer service rep and someone calls with a request outside of the company policy it is very easy to simply say “No.” You don’t have to make up your own rules to have a growth mindset though. The reps I spoke with could have thought, “I don’t have the power to issue a gift certificate but I empathize with her experience of listening to metal on glass, and being afraid for her life. Maybe I can help her in some way, maybe I can plead her case to my manager.”

This requires more energy and verve. It requires effort. Work. That’s where the wall goes up. The aversion to effort blocks our human potential. It’s not just about being a good customer service representative, it’s about being a fellow human being, listening to what’s being expressed to you, and having empathy. And energy!

There are of course factors other than company policy at play here: how much reps are paid, the success of their personal lives, everything that has happened to them in their respective lives before getting on the phone. All of those experiences combined with their emotional make-up have contributed to them having either a fixed or growth mindset.

The good news is our stories can be rewritten – and our brains rewired – simply by encouraging, training and helping reps have some freedom of thought.

Which is why it is important to empower your customer service reps to have some freedom of thought. Establish a policy that puts service first and reminds them that people are calling – not because they love to argue and complain – but because they need HELP.

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Dear Employee(s),

 

Letting everyone know that I’ve made Bob the point person for all issues coming to and from me so that I can focus my time more effectively. If you need something from me please first email Bob who will serve as the liaison from you to me. Likewise I’ll be sending Bob things to delegate to everyone. I think this will really help with workflow in the office. Just a heads up so that you know why Bob will be emailing you things like progress update requests. OK that’s all for now!

— -

Dear Boss,

Excellent choice! This will save Bob time as well, allowing him to collectively insult us in one email rather than doing it individually, which was his previous method and honestly a real time waster for everyone! Two birds, one terrible person, I mean stone. We’re excited for the new procedure. After all, we’ve always hated Bob, and we always will. OK that’s all for now for us too!

— -

Why your plan will surely backfire

Your employees will not blindly follow any leader. A recent Gallup survey found that only one person in ten can cut it in management. Oftentimes an employee is hired due to skills while attitude is ignored. Power is a sensitive topic and promoting the wrong person can create a domino effect of inefficiency in the office.

— -

Maybe Try this instead

Listen to your employees. Make it a point to read the dynamics in your office. When they drop comments casually about their coworkers. Is one coworker mentioned a lot? Are the comments about the person tinged with negativity or positivity? Hear the underlying message – what F.I.T. President Joyce F. Brown calls the “third ear.”

Place value on the people skills/soft skills and not just the technical skills of a potential manager prospect. If “Bob” isn’t someone people feel safe and comfortable around, thereby negatively affecting group cohesion, then he may not be the best candidate. Trust and respect need to be present in order to build cohesion. If your employees don’t respect your appointee you might find yourself the victim of a passive-aggressive coup d’etat.

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From: boss@ourcompany01.com
Date: Mon, Mar 26, 2016 at 2:19 PM
Subject: Argh – not getting a response!
To: jodi@ourcompany01.com

Hey Jodi,

Do you have your COG #s ready to send? See below…

 

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: bob.employee@ourcompany01.com>
Date: Mon, Mar 26, 2016 at 2:19 PM
Subject: Argh – not getting a response!
To: boss@ourcompany01.com

Hey,

I’m trying to finalize the COG for this week but I need Jodi to fill in her #s for her accounts

before I can send it to you and she hasn’t responded to any emails I’ve sent her, which

is a pattern lately. Can you see if you can get her to send me what I need so I can finish?

I have so much to do and I hate waiting around for this!

Thanks!

 

Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

“Good morning everyone, just a brief announcement to let you know who has a problem with who in the company. Dan doesn’t like the way Trish leaves things in the printer. Mike is upset that he isn’t invited to lunch with the others. Kathy thinks Carol gets special treatment and Rich thinks Tom is straight up dumb.”

You would never of course make such an announcement, but forwarding someone’s email is essentially doing this. If someone came up to you and said, “I’ve got a problem with so and so” chances are you wouldn’t go straight to so and so and say, “I know someone who has a problem with you and here’s why.” The reason you wouldn’t do this is because it’s cruel to all parties and feelings would be hurt on both sides. You would also alienate yourself and be considered untrustworthy.

Maybe Try this Instead?

At the very least you can simply copy/paste/reformat the email sent to you, reformatted to sound neutral. You could also ask the employee with the complaint to start a new email and cc you so the recipient feels the urgency. Or you could encourage the employee to try and work it out a different way with the offending party, giving them the opportunity to work on their conflict management skills. If all else fails and you can’t help yourself from engaging in this habit, let employees know that whatever they email you is liable to be forwarded, so they have the chance to consider how comfortable they’d feel if what they wrote were broadcast to the rest of the company. A good old-fashioned warning always takes the sting out of sucker punch.

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Employee engagement is probably one of the most critical yet elusive factors in the workplace. It’s hard to describe, but we certainly all know it when we feel it or see it. People go from totally pumped and engaged to seriously deflated and disengaged because of a breach of the psychological contract.

Continue to Good.co for the full blog…
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