Tag Archives: Career and Self-Improvement Articles

Happiness Starts with a Fulfilling Career

By Steve Michaels

“At least half of our waking hours are spent on the job and going to and from work,” says John A. Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “It only stands to reason that improving this major component of one’s life can lead to greater overall happiness.”

If your goals involve career change or advancement, you’re not alone. A poll by MyGoals.com found that starting a business ranked second only to losing weight as the most popular goal for 2007. Other goal accomplishments on the list were being financially independent or starting the search for a new job or business.

If you want to be happier and more successful in your current business or in climbing the corporate ladder than you were last year, you need some focus. With that in mind, here is a list of goals worth considering for prospective entrepreneurs:

  • Take risks: “You have to be brave and courageous,” says Beth Schoenfeldt, co-owner of Ladies Who Launch, an Internet-based consulting business for women entrepreneurs. “Do something that scares you every day and then push yourself to do more. You can’t play it safe or you’ll get run over by everyone else.”
  • Assess the market: A comment made at the recent ATSI Owners Forum was, “My product is like everyone else’s.” Discover the bottom line for your customers. What do they really want and need from a call center? Once you discover the real reason they need you, provide them with that service. Ask yourself, “What can I offer my customer that is different from my competitors?”
  • Look at your market: With the use of 800 numbers, T1s, and VoIP, the world is now your marketplace. Create an environment for happier, better-trained agents while reducing your costs by taking advantage of the home-based, virtual office in order to match or beat your competition. Hire competent, experienced staff that enjoys working from home. Besides the cost savings, you will be able to staff your operation when there is a workload, not when they are available.
  • Focus: Find a niche and serve it. Whatever segment of the industry you want to serve, such as funeral homes, apartment complexes, medical accounts, and so forth, know it and do it well. Become the expert in what you do.
  • Serve: Service is thinking about others and working on their behalf to deliver something they want, need, or value. Service isn’t about me, me, me.
  • Perform a career checkup. Lynn Brown of the outplacement firm Right Management in Parsippany, NJ says the start of a new year is “an ideal time to take a realistic look at where you are, where you expect to be going, and how satisfied you are with both.” Investigate the options available and ask yourself where you want to be in five years. “Start recognizing yourself as a financial entity that has to survive in the workforce for at least half a century,” says Brown.
  • Create a folder on your desktop at home called “Career Management” and take stock of your abilities, including any sales, operations, and business management. Realize that you don’t have to do it all yourself. You can hire the talent in areas where you are weak.
  • Update skills. Ask yourself,”Do I need to learn a new computer skill or management skill this year? Am I always learning and performing my job as a visionary for my company?”
  • Create Value through Innovation. “Helping your customers achieve their goals creates value,” stated Professor Gregory Carpenter at the ATSI Owners Forum. “Innovation begins with abandonment. If the way you operate just isn’t working, then abandon it. Innovation creates solutions.”
  • Balance work and personal life. If you neglect your children this year, you’ll lose that time and never get it back. New opportunities have emerged in the telemessaging industry where you “can have your cake and eat it too.” With VoIP, the virtual office, and the latest technological advancements now available and affordable in today’s marketplace, you can afford to stay at home and be there for your children when they arrive from school. Every individual has to ask themselves, “Am I doing what I need to do for my work and my family this day?  This week?” This month? This year?

The telemessaging industry is alive with opportunity. It is a business with recurring cash flow and can be run from an office or out of your home utilizing an affordable hosted system. Remember that you can have a fulfilling career while enjoying your life at the same time.

Steve Michaels of TAS Marketing can be reached at 800-369-6126 or tas@tasmarketing.com. His website is located at www.tasmarketing.com. Parts of this article were taken from, “Workers Can Keep Resolutions to Reach Top of Career Ladder” by Theresa M. McAlevy from The Record. Other comments and information came from this year’s ATSI Owners Forum.

[From Connection Magazine April 2007]

Do You Multitask?

By Rosanne D’Ausilio, Ph.D.

Does this ever happen to you? Do you feel overworked? Overwhelmed? Overtired? Most of us are busier than ever. We’re doing our jobs, plus sometimes the jobs of one or two gone-but-not-replaced colleagues — and doing it all with less support. The Institute for the Future finds that employees of Fortune 1,000 companies send and receive 178 messages a day and are interrupted an average of at least three times an hour.

How many of you take several calls at once, jockeying back and forth trying to keep each conversation separate (and remember where you left off each time)? Or how often are you on the phone with a caller, text chatting with another, and coaching your co-worker all at the same time?

“Do more with less,” is the unforgiving mantra of business in the contact center industry today. Make more decisions and get more stuff done — with fewer people and less resources. It’s reported in a study by the Families and Work Institute in New York conducted on 1,003 employees that 45 percent of US workers feel they are asked or expected to work on too many tasks at once. Is this true for you?

How do we do it? We become very good at multitasking. We do it everywhere — largely because of technology. But does this mean you have less time to do real work? How do you manage to stay sane in the face of these crazy demands?

A growing body of scientific research shows that multitasking can actually make you less efficient. Trying to do two or three things at once or in quick succession can take longer overall than doing them one at a time, and may leave you with reduced brainpower to perform each task. That is why most call centers have their agents take only one call at a time.

Research shows that multitasking increases stress, diminishes perceived control, and may cause physical discomfort such as stomachaches or headaches not to mention shoddy work, mismanaged time, rote solutions, and forgetfulness. Have you ever noticed that as you are working on one task – or one call, thoughts about another task – or the caller on hold – creep into your consciousness?

It doesn’t mean we can’t do several things at the same time, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think we can do so without a cost. Our brains allow us to appear as though we can comfortably multitask. We do have an excellent filtering mechanism to switch our attention rapidly from one thought to the next. At the same time, rather than lose unattended thoughts, this mechanism keeps them active in the recesses of the brain. However, the more we juggle, the less efficient we become at performing any one task. And the longer we go before returning to an interrupted task, the harder it is to remember just where we left off. Multitasking diminishes our productivity and makes us work harder just to feel like we are barely keeping up.

No one solution works for everyone. Here are some actions to try:

  • Estimate the time it takes to complete a task. For instance, list the tasks you plan to complete during a four-hour period and write down how long you think each task will take. Then, time yourself. Find the percentage by which you underestimate, and adjust your expectations accordingly.
  • Write things down – offload what’s on your mind onto paper. Keep a pad of paper and pen by your bedside and write those thoughts that either keep you up, or wake you up, in the middle of the night. I get my best ideas in the middle of the night and write them down so I can get back to sleep peacefully.
  • Allow yourself to complete a task — the most productive way to work.
  • Remove distractions: close your door (if you have one), do not check your email, and turn off the ringer on your phone, cell phone, pager, and fax.
  • Schedule down time for yourself. Do something different – refresh your system so you return to work with a clean perspective and the ability to work more effectively.

Do these sound familiar? Many are techniques for de-stressing and rightly so. Multitasking is stressful. Technology can multitask endlessly. Humans cannot. I find it fascinating that while writing this article, I’ve been interrupted by phone calls, emails, staff, and my mind reminding me what is left in my planner to be done today!

Research shows that the ability to multi-task stems from a spot right behind the forehead. That’s the anterior part of the region neuroscientists call the “executive” part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex. When we assess tasks, prioritize them, and assign mental resources, the frontal lobes are doing most of the work. This same region of the brain is where we pull off another uniquely human trick that is key to multi-tasking – “marking” the spot at which a task has been interrupted, so we can return to it later.

However, the prefrontal cortex is the most damaged as a result of prolonged stress — particularly the kind of stress that makes a person feel out-of-control and helpless. The kind of stress, for example, that you might feel when overwhelmed by the demands of multi-tasking.

Such stress also will cause the death of brain cells in another region, the hippocampus, which is critical to the formation of new memories. Damage there can hobble a person’s ability to learn and retain new facts and skills.

When a person multi-tasks well, without errors or disastrous results, it is usually because one or more of the tasks engaged in has become automatic. For example, I can eat lunch and read the newspaper at the same time, because eating really involves no conscious thought.

In conclusion, just as multitasking has it’s drawbacks in business and personal activities, it can also be counterproductive and stress inducing in the call center. Look for ways to avoid multitasking to increase your overall effectiveness and quality.

Rosanne D’Ausilio, Ph.D., an industrial psychologist and President of Human Technologies Global, Inc., specializes in profitable call center operations in human performance management. Over the last 20 years, she has provided needs analyses, instructional design, and customized customer service skills trainings. Also offered is agent and facilitator university certification through Purdue University’s Center for Customer Driven Quality.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2006]

Gain a Competitive Edge

By Nancy Friedman, Telephone Doctor

Tight economy, reduced staff, and demanding callers: these days it’s extra challenging to satisfy and keep clients. It’s even more important than ever because customer loyalty is generally considered the primary means to retain clients, maintain profitability, and gain an advantage over the competition. It’s been this way for a long time; it’s just getting more attention now.

There are many ways to do better. Here are the top nine:

1. Know your product and services inside and out. Not being knowledgeable frustrates clients and their callers. An uneducated agent is semi-useless to a caller. Job knowledge is important in any position and call center agents are no exception; knowledge is the key ingredient to serving callers.

2. Believe in your product and services. Most of us know of a salesperson who has never had any formal sales training. However, based on a belief in the product and services, along with contagious enthusiasm, this person is a top seller. People love to buy from people who get excited about their products and services. Add that enthusiasm to strong training and just see how far your agents can take you. Don’t forget, customer service representative are sales people, too!

3. Walk the talk; practice what you preach. A Ford dealer would not drive a GM car. Similarly, call center employees need to use and understand their call center’s product or services before they can expect their clients to have confidence in them.

4. Keep your word. Companies spend thousands of dollars advertising their services and products. They boast that they’re the best and number one. However, just saying, “We guarantee our work,” isn’t enough. Clients need to know that you’ll do what you (and your advertising) say you will. Whatever you claim, make sure you keep your word. Plus, be sure all employees keep their word, too. Telling a caller that something will be to them in seven working days and then having it not show up is a creditability buster.

5. Return all calls and emails. It boggles my mind when a call or an email is not returned. There’s not an excuse in the world I could buy when that happens. Sure, some sales and customer service people get way too many calls and aren’t able to return them in a timely manner. Well, then have the call returned on your behalf! What about returning an email? How much time does that take?

6. Don’t ever forget who “brought you to the dance.” There are always clients who were with you from the start. They helped make your call center a success. They believed in you. A nice simple note once in a while is an ego booster to them and you’ll feel good about it too.

7. Make “no ulterior motive” calls. Every once in a while, drop a note or make a phone call to clients (and prospective clients) without trying to sell them something. Telephone Doctor labels those as “no ulterior motive” calls. They’re “just because” calls and they are welcomed. When was the last time you heard from a sales person or a company just to say, “Hi?” (See what I mean?)

8. Be in a good mood. All the time! Be the person that when the client leaves or caller hangs up the phone, they think to themselves, “That was a great call/visit.” What if you are not in a good mood? Then learn how to be. Remember one of our Telephone Doctor mottos: “A phony smile is better than a real frown.” Do you really think the first runner up of the Miss America contest is as thrilled for the winner as she says or shows? Talk about a great big phony smile!

9. Participate in customer service training programs at your company. Sure you know how to be a good customer service representative, but everyone can use a refresher. If there are no programs in place on customer service, ask for them. At best, you’ll be ahead of the competition and at worst you’ll be even with them! Customer Service is not a department; it’s a philosophy – for the entire company. Everyone needs to embrace it or it doesn’t work.

Nancy Friedman is president of Telephone Doctor, an international customer service training company, based in St. Louis, MO.

[From Connection Magazine December 2005]

Keys to a Positive Attitude

By Nancy Friedman, Telephone Doctor

Why do some people have such a great attitude and others a negative one? Well, we wondered the same thing and through our research we found seven keys that those with a positive mental attitude all share. How do you rate?

1) Choose Your Attitude in Advance: When you wake up, you have a choice. You can be in a good mood or a bad mood. You also choose your attitude. You can wake up and mutter to yourself, “This is gonna be a cruddy day,” or you can tell yourself, “This is gonna be a great day!” This choice is the start of a great attitude.

2) Visualize Success: Runners in the Boston Marathon picture themselves crossing the finish line. Picture yourself having a successful day. Self-visualization is a key factor in having a positive mental attitude. Will it work 100% of the time? I wish it would. However, by visualizing your success, you’ll be able to have a better handle on what does happen, and having a better chance of making it happen.

3) Demonstrate Humor, Energy, and Enthusiasm: We call these three items the magic ingredients. Without them, creating a positive mental attitude will be difficult. There is normally humor in every situation. Finding it is key. Sometimes you’ll need to stretch and dig a little deeper to find the humor in a situation. But once you do, you’ll feel so much better. Energy is important because without some energy in your attitude, you’ll be dragging behind everyone. Energy is closely related to the third ingredient, enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is contagious; let’s start an epidemic!

4) Resist Negative Influences: It’s a fact. When we have a negative experience with a company, we’ll tell more people about it than if we have a good experience with the same company. Many times, when you hear that someplace wasn’t very good, you’ll believe the person who told you and choose not to do business with that company. However, you may only be hearing half the story. Check things out for yourself. Especially if the negativity involves a person you work with or know. We’ve all heard negative things about someone we didn’t know and then when we had the opportunity to meet them ourselves, we find that they’re not as bad as someone had alluded to. In fact they might be nice, but you need to be the judge. Take negativity out of your life. Steer clear of those who drag you down and say negative things. Being around other positive people is a good start.

5) Be a Whatever-it-Takes Person: This means, be a problem solver. Life is going to put obstacles in front of all of us. How we go around those obstacles is key. There’s normally a good answer to every problem put in front of us. Dale Carnegie said it best. Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that can happen here?” Then move up from that.

6) Embrace Change; Expect it and Accept it: Some people are very good at handling change and some resist it. The major key to handling change is to accept it; deal with it. In most cases there’s little we can do to stop it anyway.

7) Be Grateful for What You Have: Many people have so much and yet those same people are often the ones that constantly complain. Why wait for some life-altering experience to be grateful? Be grateful, now.

These are the seven keys to having a positive mental attitude. Put them into practice and you will be amazed at the difference they can make.

This article is based on the Telephone Doctor’s video program “The Seven Keys to a Positive Mental Attitude.” Nancy Friedman is President of Telephone Doctor, a customer service training company in St. Louis, MO.

[From Connection Magazine November 2005]

“If You Know Your Party’s Extension…”

By Nancy Friedman

People often tell me, “I hate voicemail!” As we talk further, I find that it’s not really voicemail they hate, it’s the automated attendant. That dull, monotone recording that is supposed to “welcome callers.”

Is there anyone reading this who will disagree that the first voice one hears when you call a company sets the tone? Why on earth do companies put a dull, monotone, robotic message on their automated attendant?

In our recent survey of ‘What bugs you on the telephone?’, the automated attendant is now the second most frustrating ‘bug’ to the American public, coming in right after “being put on hold” which remains the number one frustration! So, let’s make sure that you don’t bug people in the way you use voicemail.

The Automated Attendant: The automated attendant is affectionately labeled ‘the groaner’ because that’s what most people do when they hear the lethargic, “Thank you for calling XYZ. If you know your party’s extension, please dial it now. Blah, blah, blah.”

If you’re the caller, it’s important to realize the moment you hear the “Th….” in “Thank you for calling,” you can normally press zero and bypass the dull, robotic, monotone introduction to the company. In most cases, you’ll reach a person. If you make repetitive calls to one person, learning their extension will expedite your future calls.

If you’re using an automated attendant at your company, please remember that you’re not married to the ‘voice’ that came with the machine. The greeting can be recorded to reflect the mood and style of your company, which by all standards should be upbeat, bright, and friendly.

So, one of the first things you need to consider if you’re using the automated attendant is to re-record the initial greeting that came with the machine. Have one of your bright, happy, friendly-sounding employees be your ‘voice of choice.’ Make it an ‘American Idol’ type contest.

The recording should be as conversational and friendly sounding as possible. Of course, it should be recorded with a big smile. Also, you might consider hiring a professional voice-over expert to record your opening message to your callers. It’s well worth it.

A friend of mine recently wrote her own automated attendant message and recorded the opening message to her callers herself. She made it sound as though you were on a theme park ride. Very clever! Part of the problem with the automated attendant is the dull, somber sounding voice. Call your own system and then ask yourself if that’s the voice that you want welcoming your callers. If not, re-record!

The Greeting: Do you feel as though you’re missing a few messages on your voicemail? It could be the way you greet your callers.  Your greeting to the caller needs to give useful information. If you’re using the standard: “Hi, this is Bob and I’m not here right now,” well duh, that’s not news. Re-think your greeting.

When your personal voicemail message greets the caller, you’re obviously away from your desk or on the phone. So use those very precious moments to be creative and give the caller pertinent information. No one wants to hear where you’re “not.” They need to know where you “are.”

Here’s a sample: “Hi, this is Nancy Friedman, in the sales department. I’m in a staff meeting until 3:00 p.m. Go ahead and leave a message. I do check messages often and calls will be returned. If you need me sooner, please call my assistant at extension 41, and she’ll find me for you. Thanks and have a super day!”

Most important on a greeting is to let the callers know when you will return. It’s nice to know where you are, but callers need to know when you’ll return. And it’s a good idea to always leave an escape valve. Otherwise, your callers are thrown into ‘voicemail jail.’ (Note: This particular tip does mean you’ll need to re-record your greeting daily. It is about an eight-second job that can be done from anywhere in the world.)

If you’d prefer not to do a daily recording of where you are, that’s okay too. Use a generic message. Start your message off with the positive: “Hi, This is Nancy in Sales. I am in the office all week and will return all messages.”

The phrase “I’ll return your call as soon as possible” is not necessary. It’s obvious. If you are one of those folks who just don’t return calls, then you’re fibbing! So if your voicemail greeting says: “I’ll return your call,” do it or don’t include it in the greeting.

Surveys indicate most people will leave a message if they hear you check your machine. Our surveys also show callers respond to a friendly, happy greeting much better than a blah, blah, dull one. So be sure you’re smiling when you record your greeting.

If you’re going to be out of the office for longer than a day, we suggest you let your callers know that. We’ve seen salespeople lose important clients because calls weren’t returned in a timely manner. They had left a generic “I’ll return your call as soon as possible,” and didn’t.

When you call someone and hear the “I’ll return your call as soon as possible,” you might consider zeroing out and finding out if the person is actually in the office. We’ve done that several times and found that the person left a ‘generic’ message but was in Hawaii for a two week vacation and didn’t bother to change his greeting or check his messages.

The Message: This is your opportunity to be great. Leaving a message on voicemail for someone is your electronic business card. You’d probably be pretty embarrassed to hand someone your business card with the wrong phone number, or one that was all messed up, wouldn’t you? Then why leave anything but a great voicemail message?

Remember, when someone goes out to lunch, to a long meeting or is gone for a few days and comes back to their office, they hear something like this: “Hello, you have 52 new messages.” Yours is somewhere in there. It needs to stand out. You have a lot of competition.

There are three kinds of messages to leave: poor, average, or great:

Poor Message: “Hi, this is Bob, give me a call.”

Have you ever had this one? You probably have. It’s maddening, too. Bob who? I know three Bob’s. And from where I’m calling, I’m unable to bring up his phone number. The poorest of the poor.

Average Message: “Hi, this is Bob, call me at 555-1012. I need to ask you something.”

So ask it – on the message you leave. Voicemail is asynchronous communication. Since so much information flow these days is one way, use your message to get the ball rolling, leave enough information to move a process forward. Chances are when the call is returned the answer will be included.

Great Message: “Hi, Nancy. This is Bob Smith, Acme Distributors. I’d like to get together with you to discuss the proposal I sent over the other day. There are some new ideas to talk about. I’m in and out of the office myself, but please call my voicemail and leave me a time we can meet, or call my secretary Debbie at extension 22, and let her know the time. Either way is fine. I look forward to seeing you. Again, it’s Bob with Acme at 555-10-12. That’s 555-10-12.”

The great message has all the meat necessary to do business. Plus, the phone number is repeated at the end, twice and slowly. Notice too, it’s clustered. We didn’t say 1-0-1-2. We used 10-12. It’s an important technique that makes it easier for the other person to remember your number.

Remember, the person you’re calling gets a lot of voicemail messages, so in order for yours to be ‘heard,’ be great – not average. Also, upbeat, friendly messages are far more apt to be returned first. So again, remember to smile when you leave a message.

Exercise your options. Various voicemail systems will allow you to play back what you recorded and offer an opportunity to re-record. Take that option. Don’t hesitate to use these options because it can save you a lot of aggravation.

Also, remember, sometimes people go on vacation and forget to say so in their greeting. Or their mailbox may be full. Check in with the receptionist and ask if the person is in the office, or ask the receptionist if your contact has an assistant you can talk with. Whenever possible, do leave a voicemail message, too. Since voicemail is obviously here to stay, we might as well make it work for us, not against us.

Nancy Friedman is president of Telephone Doctor, an international customer service training company, based in St. Louis, MO. Nancy is the author of four best selling books.


 

Voicemail Tips

  • Expect to encounter voicemail. Be prepared. Only 30 percent of all calls are connected to those you need to talk with, on the first try.
  • Don’t “wing” a message you’re going to leave. Be prepared. Have an objective. Know what you’re going to say. Messages without thought will sound amateurish.
  • Return all calls or have them returned on your behalf. There’s little value to having voicemail unless a message is returned. If your greeting says you will return all calls, then do it or remove the part that says you will.
  • Avoid leaving bad news messages on voicemail. Example: “Hi Nancy. This is the veterinarian’s office calling. Remember you dropped off Trixie this morning? Well….” (You get the picture.)
  • Ask for a call back time when leaving messages. A simple “I need to hear from you by such and such a time” can help. This is not a fool proof technique, but it does help. It gives direction to the listener.
  • Smile, smile, smile. And then, smile some more.

[From Connection Magazine October 2005]

Sealing the Deal Over the Business Meal

By Lydia Ramsey

Doing business over meals is a ritual that has existed for centuries. Taking clients to breakfast, lunch, or dinner has long been an effective way to build relationships, make the sale, or seal the deal. These business meals are essentially business meetings. Knowledge of your product or your service is crucial to the success of the meeting, but so are your manners. Too many people jeopardize an opportunity because they fail to use good etiquette on these occasions.

Here are a few basic rules to make the experience both pleasurable and profitable.

Know your duties as the host. You are in charge. It is up to you to see that things go well and that your guests are comfortable. You need to attend to every detail, from extending the invitation to paying the bill.

Plan ahead when you issue the invitation. Allow a week for a business dinner and three days for lunch. Be certain that the date works for you. That might sound obvious, but if you have to cancel or postpone, you can look disorganized and disrespectful of your clients’ time.

Select a restaurant that you know, preferably one where you are known. This is no time to try out the latest hot spot. Being confident of the quality of the food and service leaves you free to focus on business.

Consider the atmosphere. Does it lend itself to conversation and discussion? If you and your clients can’t hear each other over the roar of the diners and dishes, you will have wasted your time and money.

When you make your reservation, let the staff know that you will be dining with clients. If your guests suggest a restaurant new to you (perhaps you are hosting clients out-of-town), call ahead and speak with the maitre’d. Make it clear that you will be having an important business meal and picking up the check.

Confirm the meal appointment with your clients the day before if you are meeting for breakfast, or that day if you are having lunch or dinner. Things do happen and mix-ups occur.

Arrive early so you can attend to last minute details. This is the perfect time to give your credit card to the maitre’d to avoid the awkwardness that can accompany the arrival of the bill.

Take charge of the seating. Your guests should have the prime seats – the ones with the view. As the host, take the least desirable spot – the one facing the wall, the kitchen, or the restrooms.

Beyond being polite, where you seat your guests is strategically important. When you are entertaining one client, sit next to each at a right angle, rather than across the table. With two clients, put one across from you and the other to your side. If you sit between them, you will look as if you are watching a match at Wimbledon as you try to follow the conversation.

Allow your guests to order first. You might suggest certain dishes to be helpful. By recommending specific items, you are indicating a price range. Order as many courses as your guests, no more and no less, to facilitate the flow of the meal. It is awkward if one of you orders an appetizer or dessert and the others do not.

As the host, you are the one who decides when to start discussing business. That will depend on a number of factors such as the time of day and how well you know your clients. At breakfast, time is short so get down to business quickly. At lunch, wait until you have ordered so you won’t be interrupted. Dinner, the more social occasion, is a time for rapport building. Limit the business talk and do it after the main course is completed.

When you know your clients well, you have more of a basis for small talk. However, because you have established a business friendship, you can eliminate some of the chitchat when time is an issue. When you don’t know your clients well, spend more time getting acquainted before launching your shoptalk.

Sometimes you simply need to use your own judgment about when to get down to business, realizing that if you wait too long, your clients may start to wonder why they were invited. If you begin too early in the meal, your guests might suspect that you are more interested in their money than you are in them.

Keep an eye on the time, but don’t let your guests see you checking your watch. Breakfast should typically last an hour, lunch an hour and a half. Wrap up your business dinner in two to three hours, no more.

Handle any disasters with grace. With all your attention to detail, things can still go wrong. The food may not be up to your standards, the waiter might be rude, or the people at the next table may be boisterous and out of control. Whatever happens, make sure you are not the one to lose control. Excuse yourself to discuss any problems with the staff. Your guests will feel uncomfortable if you complain in front of or to them.

Limit the amount of alcohol you drink at the business meal. The three Martini lunch is mostly a thing of the past. However, cocktails and wine are still part of the business dinner. Since alcohol can lead to poor judgment, keep your consumption to one or two glasses. When guests are drinking liberally and you sense trouble, excuse yourself and discreetly ask the server to hold back on refilling the wine glasses or offering another cocktail.

Your conduct over the meal will determine your professional success. If you pay attention to the details and make every effort to see that your clients have a pleasant experience, they will assume that you will handle their business the same way. Before long you could have them eating out of your hand!

Lydia Ramsey is a business etiquette expert with over 25 years of experience helping others achieve success by adopting professional manners and the author of “Manners that Sell – Adding the Polish that Builds Profits.”

[From Connection Magazine December 2004]

How to Control Call Center Stress

By Dale Collie

Every worker in America has heard of individual stress management techniques – relaxation, meditation, and visualization – good tools for getting through stressful periods. But if they’re so great, why do we still have all this stress?

With the concerns regarding the war, weather alerts, and the fluctuating economy, people are more stressed than ever. They’re also bringing that stress to work and adding to the stress of their everyday responsibilities. We’re going to need more than mood music, aromatherapy, and comfortable lighting to get beyond the stress of today’s workplace. We’re going to need management’s attention because stress control is a leadership responsibility.

The US Army has plenty of experience with stress control as front line leaders strive to keep GIs on the job. Traditionally, the US Army has lost as many soldiers to stress as to enemy gunfire – a ratio of 1:1. The most elite units trim this loss to a ratio of 1:10 — one stress loss for every 10 wounded soldiers.

Regardless of the ratio, every front line soldier is critical to winning the battle. Commanders know that controlling stress under fire is as critical as food, fuel, and ammunition. The same holds true for call centers. You can’t get high productivity with high absenteeism.

Combat leaders watch for stress symptoms and take action. They are taught to “Know your troops, and be alert for any sudden, persistent, or progressive change in their behavior that threatens the functioning and safety of your unit.” (FM 6-22.5, Combat Stress)  Specifically, front line leaders are taught to help overstressed soldiers in six ways:

Army Step 1. Reassurance: Call Center Solution: Some people need contact with the boss to assure them that things will turn out okay. Spend time to understand your employees’ concerns. Ask for their observations on recent events. Find out what they think about upcoming changes. Ask for their advice; they’ll admire you for demonstrating your trust. Simple remarks showing your confidence in workers can make a big difference.

Army Step 2. Rest and sleep: Call Center Solution: It’s worth your while to offer some additional time off if stress is interfering with performance. Consider offering additional breaks to relieve mental and physical fatigue. Often, improved productivity will more than pay for the unstructured breaks that over-stressed agents will take on their own. Find out what’s needed to help employees get more rest at home. Bring in experts to teach the importance of rest and relaxation. Look at your overtime schedule; the extra work might be taking its toll in absenteeism, illness, accidents, and attitudes.

Army Step 3. Food and fluids: Call Center Solutions: You can influence how people eat by getting experts to teach the importance of proper nutrition. Make sure nutritious snacks are available alongside the junk food in vending machines. Provide healthy snacks mid-morning and mid-afternoon when energy levels begin to fade. The investment can pay off in better performance.

Army Step 4. Hygiene (bathing, clean uniforms): Call Center Solution: A scheduled break to get cleaned up before lunch or after a hard day can pay off in a big way. As surprising as it might seem, some employees do not have running water at home. Not all of them have hot water. Not all of them have washing machines. If possible, make these things available at your workplace or find alternatives. One-time arrangements can go a long way in helping stressed workers get their emotions under control and get their productivity up where it belongs.

Army Step 5. Discussion – A chance to talk about what happened, to tell war stories: Call Center Solution: Everyone benefits from a chance to tell about what went on. Some people are more sensitive than others are. There is often great value in routine meetings to kick off the shift or explain the day’s activities. Scheduling time before or after meetings to talk about what happened can relieve stress for those in the spotlight. Team discussions after sales calls can help stressed workers understand the results and focus on what needs to be done. In times of high stress, some people need to talk about what happened to others around them. Managers can handle the day-to-day conversations while experts are available to address major stressors. Help your staff tell their “war stories.”

Army Step 6. Restoring identity and confidence with useful work: Call Center Solution: As soon as possible, over stressed workers need to return to their positions of responsibility. They need to see that (a) they can perform well, (b) that management recognizes their efforts, and (c) that life goes on. Emphasize small accomplishments. Find reasons to reward each person for their achievements.

GIs usually return to their jobs after a short rest, a hot shower, a chat with their supervisor, and a warm meal. Your people can do the same. Most of the time, they can continue in their jobs if you pay attention to their basic needs.

Watch for high stress periods in your business cycle and schedule time to work on these six steps. You’ll improve productivity and the workplace environment by taking care of your employees. Your investment of time and money will be rewarded in better performance and lower costs.

Work with your human resource experts to assist those who are beyond your own ability. Let the professionals take care of severe cases while you take care of your other employees and get the work done.

Can you identify employees who are suffering from stress? Do you know what to do about it? Evaluate employee problems with an eye toward stress control. Take these tips and apply them to your staff to see an improvement in stress management.

Dale Collie is an author, speaker, former US Army Ranger, CEO, and professor at West Point. His McGraw-Hill book, “Winning Under Fire: Turn Stress into Success the US Army Way,” takes strategies from the battlefield into the boardroom and beyond. A Purple Heart recipient, Dale has succeeded in both the Army and the corporate world through his management and leadership strategies.

[From Connection Magazine December 2004]

Simon Says: Don’t Stress!

By Elaine Senecal / Illustration by Chris Lewis

Simon Says - March 2004

As employers and managers, we need to beware of the warning signs of our employees’ stress level, not just for their well-being but also for how it affects productivity. Stress can result in an indifferent attitude, which may result in agent apathy toward customer concerns.

To alleviate some of the agents’ stress, we can proactively provide support and knowledge about how to manage it. Offering problem solving techniques for situations they may encounter throughout the day will benefit the center’s overall productivity and lower agents’ stress. Other snippets to think about and apply to your particular environment are:

  • Continue to think logically about the situation.
  • Don’t focus on the customer’s behavior.
  • Focus on the cause.
  • Please remember to say “thank you” and “please.”
  • Slow your breathing when you feel stressed.
  • Always use positive words.
  • Don’t point the finger.
  • Keep your voice friendly.
  • Don’t get aggressive.
  • Take a break – away from the work area.
  • Wet your whistle – ice water is best.
  • Stand up – if appropriate.
  • Forget about it when it’s over.

Without a plan of action, a problem solving technique, or a plan for what to do next, stress levels can heighten and productivity can decrease. Having a plan to manage daily anxieties will improve employee performance and reduce stress at the same time.

[From Connection MagazineMarch 2004]

Websites That Can Help You and Your Business

Compiled by Kevin Bachelder

The Internet is a tremendous information source for both individuals and businesses. However, much like your local library it isn’t helpful unless you know where to start! With that in mind, here are 50 websites that can help you with your day-to-day tasks. This is just a small sample from my “favorites” list that currently contains over 2,000 links. [Though the original list contained 50 sites, some are no longer working sites, so the list grows shorter over time.]

Searching for Information
A good general search engine: www.dogpile.com
Explanations on things technical and non-technical: www.howstuffworks.com
A dictionary, thesaurus and other guides all in one place: www.refdesk.com

Small Business Related
Entrepreneur Magazine: www.entrepreneur.com
U.S. Small Business Administration: www.sba.gov
SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives): www.score.org

Sales / Motivational
Brian Tracy (a leading sales and motivational speaker and author): www.briantracy.com
Anthony Robbins (author and speaker): www.tonyrobbins.com

General Computing and Technology
Information from national speaker Kim Komando: www.komando.com
Excellent resource for articles and reviews of everything technical: www.cnet.com
Information about computers: www.zdnet.com
Articles and email newsletters for the more technically inclined: www.techrepublic.com

Help with Computing
Fred Langa has been a columnist for many computing periodicals: fredlanga.blogspot.com
The latest computer viruses: www.securelist.com

Looking for some good software you can try before you buy
www.download.com
download.cnet.com
www.tucows.com

Computing Magazine with a Small Business Focus
Excellent articles and reviews for a small business perspective: www.pcworld.com

Need directions on how to get somewhere
Maps and turn-by-turn driving directions: www.mapquest.com

Got some legal issues you could use some help with
www.nolo.com

Buying books
Books and so much more at excellent prices: www.amazon.com
Site to search over 40 sites for the best price on a specific book: www.addall.com

Need to check out how your favorite team is doing
www.espn.com
www.cbssports.com

Want to make a difference in the world
www.volunteermatch.org
www.networkforgood.com

Kevin Bachelder is the Director of Information Technology for Ansaphone in Quincy, MA. He began working in the industry in 1983. Kevin holds multiple computer certifications including the MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer), the CCA (Citrix Certified Administrator) and the A+ (CompTIA A+ Certified Computer Repair Technician). Kevin reads over 250 email newsletters each week and participates in over 40 email and Web-based technical discussion groups. Contact Kevin at kbachelder@ansaphone.com or 800-782-7587.

[From Connection MagazineDecember 2002]

Call Center Burnout: A Personal Story of Truth and Admission

“Dress like a lady, act like a man, and work like a dog.” That’s been my unconscious philosophy for years. I spent years being a toxic handler and a healing manager. That caused me to pay the price both professionally and personally. At times, I exhausted myself physically and carried psychological baggage. That caused me to burnout.

I was a manager who spent years closing and consolidating telephone answering services and call centers. I was forced to become a manager that voluntarily shouldered sadness, frustration, and anger in addition to carrying a full load of regular work. Often I was criticized for making everyone feel warm and fuzzy.

The reality is that without the people there is no bottom line. The tougher the work you have to do, the more compassionate you have to be. I played a role that prevented companies’ self-destruction. I was disobedient to the social order to get the job done. Strong emotions are obviously a part of life. They are also a part of business whether or not we want to admit it.

Recently, I found myself on the receiving line of a lay off. It’s not 1960 anymore. I do not have a beehive hairdo and careers do not last thirty years. It used to be that you had a career, but now you have projects. Colleagues turned into networking. Promotions gave way to burnout.

After years of participating in employee termination decisions, I found myself on the way to outplacement. So the tables turn. For years, I carried the confidence of others. I kept the secrets well and allowed everyone else to be less troubled. I took the “ouch” out of the bad but necessary situations. Now it was my turn.

My own lay off caused me to reevaluate my personal and professional life. It took being laid off to realize that I was a call center burnout. Being laid off and realizing you’re burned out would be tough for anyone. But for me, someone who sacrificed her family, friends, and social life for her career, to feel pushed out was almost too much. It’s tough for the ego, like cutting out a big piece of you. Especially when my job was who I am and who I am is someone who has been in the call center industry for 20 years.

To understand burnout you have to take into account that highly motivated individuals are most susceptible to job burnout. The hardest hit is service providers like us. Burned out employees are most likely your best employees, the ones that care. These employees overindulge and overindulgence is a sort of narcotic.

These individuals can be counted on to know what needs to be done and do it. They put in long hours even if the time is “face time.” The burned out employee will work himself or herself to death and if they can, they will hide the burnout or least they will try to hide it. Being highly motivated is like an internal prison or a sickness at best.

Always trying to top the last project, thinking, “If I could only make just one more sale or break some type of industry average or standard.” Sometimes we create problems just to relieve the boredom.

The process of reinventing my life included defining the meaning of burnout. For me, this consists of the three Ds: Diet, Divorce, and Displacement. I am a person who accepts trouble as a part of life. When it comes, I take it on and remember, “this too shall pass.”

Everyone has seen loss or deep disappointment of some kind. So, I decided to quit having a pity party for myself. Fortunately, pulling myself up by my bootstraps required me to ask myself some basic questions:

  • For what am I most grateful?
  • Do I want to stay in this industry?
  • What are the most important aspects of a job?
  • What attracts and interests me professionally?
  • Do I give too much?
  • Am I too burned out?

I had to look at my professional training and analyze my education and skills. Through that process, I learned that I love to help people, to see the look on their faces when the light bulb goes off. I am interested in and love the challenge of technology. I love to be creative and innovative.

I love to see people react to my high energy, even if the energy is dealing with change. I recognize that I once was a diamond in the rough. I am grateful for the mentors I had along the way. I want to be a mentor for others. I want to find a diamond in the rough and develop a jewel.

No one is immune from burnout. Any person, in any industry, at any level can be a candidate. Which of these words describe you?

  • Determined
  • Independent
  • Unrelenting
  • Tenacious
  • Persistent
  • Tireless
  • Enthusiastic
  • Passionate

If you are at least four of the eight adjectives above, you are a possible candidate for burnout. To prevent employee burnout, please take this advice from someone who knows.

  • Don’t allow employees to work long hours
  • Make goals achievable
  • Be candid about burnout during employee orientation
  • Provide ways for employees to express anger
  • Show that you appreciate their sacrifice
  • Don’t rely on the same people over and over
  • Give employees compliments often
  • Offer flexible work hours
  • Create a reward system that includes comp time
  • Keep in touch with the front line
  • Have fun and laughter in the workplace

I’ve now given myself permission to take care of myself. It doesn’t have to be half an hour. It can be five minutes a day to put myself first and get centered. Now I exercise, eat right, and try to get a good night’s sleep. I lost twenty-two pounds! I’ll listen to my favorite CD in the middle of the business day.

Now I am setting realistic goals for myself. I am specific in my goals, but flexible. I still struggle with reasonable time limits. I come into the office every morning at about 8 a.m. I get my coffee and I read my Wall Street Journal. Next year, I might even expense it to my company.

What’s important to me is having enough time, space, community, health, and freedom to enjoy life. It’s okay to give 120 percent, but not every day.

Remember, when we’re all dead and gone, nothing will matter except the people we have touched in a positive way. It’s the people you touch, ultimately that are all that matter.

So, live your life as if it were the beginning. Dance as if no one were watching, sing out loud, and do the hardest thing on earth for you. Write the word “thank you” on a little piece of paper and put it in your wallet where it will remind you to be grateful for the difficulties you have survived.

I thought I was too burned out. I thought I was tired of the call center business. I thought I was tired of the self-sacrifice. Guess what? There is a place in this industry for trustworthy, fair, kind, non-judgmental managers, a place for managers who are relentless in their drive to achieve their goals and not lose sight of business objectives.

Managing emotional pain of others is one way of doing this. It is a personal calling. I love this business and will keep doing what I do till I can’t do it any more.

The author is a twenty-year industry veteran and currently General Manager for an outsourcing call center.

[From Connection MagazineMay/June 2002]