As a leader, you have three basic responsibilities to your people — if you get them right and stick to only these three, you will be hitting home runs all season long.
I've invited Erin Ardleigh, President of Dynama Insurance and one of the best professionals I know, to give you a few tips on successful communication in business: I say “insurance salesperson”… You think, let me guess, “pushy”, “slick”, “fast talker”. Maybe you think of the stereotypical, unrelenting salesperson, such as Ned Ryerson, the schoolmate turned insurance salesman intent on selling life insurance to poor Phil, Bill Murray’s character in the film, Groundhog Day.
Well, I have to admit, I’m an insurance salesperson. As the founder and president of an insurance brokerage, I have to contend with the negative stereotypes that many people have about my industry. In my uphill battle to distinguish myself and earn my clients’ trust, I’ve found that communicating clearly and effectively is crucial to my success. I’ve worked with Jayne Latz of Corporate Speech Solutions to improve my elevator pitch, public speaking, and overall communication skills. Here are the tools that have helped me the most:
1. Listen, REALLY Listen. This sounds simple and obvious, but so few people truly do it. I try to start a meeting by asking a few questions, listening to the other person and learning what is important to them. I love to hear my clients’ life stories – how they built their businesses and what their kids are up to – and they love to talk about their passions. Listening helps build a relationship, and lets people know I’m not there just to push a product at them.
2. Speak Clearly And Slowly. In my industry, there are a lot of product names, technical terms and acronyms. It’s easy to confuse a client with all of the ‘lingo’. My team never uses acronyms, even if we think the abbreviation is obvious, because we want to be certain that our client understands us. For example, long term care insurance is never just “LTC”. We speak slowly when using technical terms and give our clients time to write notes, if they like.
I’ve traveled extensively, and it’s made me realize just how quickly New Yorkers speak! When I’m talking with someone that speaks English as a second language, I am mindful of the speed of my speech and the enunciation of my words. I’ve adopted the same approach with clients, since insurance really does seem like a foreign language to many people!
When addressing a room, Jayne taught me to always take a slow, deep breath first, to smile, and to pause and count to three after saying my name and before saying my company name. I want my audience to hear my name and company name clearly so they can follow up with me!
3. Be Aware Of Your Body Language. If you’re focusing only on your speech, you’re missing a big part of effective communication. Most of us have distracting habits that we are not aware of: some people put their hands in their pockets, or nervously click a pen, others sway while standing and speaking. Having Jayne film me while I gave my elevator speech was an eye opener. I have the habit of using my hands a lot while I am speaking. Jayne helped me to use gestures to accentuate my message rather than distract from it. I make sure that my message is consistent, through both verbal and non verbal communication.
In business, we all need to communicate effectively, which takes training and practice. I think every business owner would benefit from communications coaching. (Having an amazing executive coach like Rich Gee doesn’t hurt either!) I, for one, am committed to continually improving my verbal and non verbal communication skills.
Now, if only I could bump into Bill Murray!
Erin Ardleigh is the President of Dynama Insurance, an independent insurance brokerage that emphasizes transparency and education as part of the insurance planning process. Dynama Insurance offers life, health, disability and long term care insurance as well as complimentary reviews of existing policies. www.dynamainsurance.com
Jayne Latz of Corporate Speech Solutions is an expert in communication skills. For over 25 years she has worked as a speech-language pathologist, professional speech trainer and coach and has co-authored two books titled, Talking Business: A Guide to Professional Communication and Talking Business: When English is Your Second Language. www.corporatespeechsolutions.com
I ordered new running shoes from Zappos the other day. If you've ever ordered from Zappos — you'll know they sometimes don't have the best prices. But they do deliver the best customer service.
When I say "CUSTOMER SERVICE", it isn't specific to business owners. If you work in corporate, CUSTOMER SERVICE is critical — you have CUSTOMERS above you, along side you, and below you. When you work at an organization, it's formal Human Resources name is "interpersonal communication".
To survive, you need to keep your customers engaged, happy, and wanting more of your products and services. So without further ado — here they are:
1. Deliver WOW during the whole process.
From the initial screens, to the multiple angles, to the highly-descriptive videos Zappos makes you feel right at home choosing your merchandise. Everything is clear, and open and they really don't try to hard-sell you. In addition, they promote their core values at the bottom of every page to let the customer know what philosophies are guiding every business interaction.
When I say WOW, I want you to look at everything you do for your boss, customer, or client. At every juncture, how can you do a little bit better? How can you elevate every touchpoint and anticipate their needs? How can you reach out and make every interaction more streamlined and pleasurable?
2. Make the customer feel special by personalizing the process.
Zappos remembers ALL of your purchases. A year after I bought a pair of Merrell Jungle Mocs, I received an email to let me know it's been a year and if I'd like to buy another pair. Although my pair is in good shape and I didn't need another pair just yet — the thought of receiving a card is impressive.
When was the last time you reached out to your current client base to remind them of a service or product? How about a new service or product? How about a simple card appreciating their business? You can do almost anything and make the customer feel special.
3. Be responsive. 4. If something goes wrong, ask questions and listen. 5. If you screwed up, give them a token of appreciation.
I had a slight snafu with one of my orders — I ordered it on the regular Zappos site and not the VIP site (we order a lot of shoes). The end result — shoes I thought were arriving that day were delayed by a few days. On the phone, the Zappos representative was helpful and was able to expedite the shipment. In addition, they sent me an email with a $25 credit to apply to my next purchase. WOW.
If something goes wrong — fix it immediately. Don't wait for it to 'go away'.
First, you need to be instantly accessible to allow your clients to access you. All of my clients have a direct line to me — so they can either call or email me. If it's an emergency, I get back the them ASAP. If it's just a question, 24 hours is fine. But I am there — they don't sit in my inbox for weeks or are relegated to my voicemail for eternity. I get back to them. And they can access me instantly.
Second, if there is something wrong, ask questions and then LISTEN. Most people try to fix the problem without listening to the entire story. Your customer first and foremost want you to empathize with their situation. So your job is to ask questions for clarification and listen to them until they run out of steam. Then empathize with them — "I'm so sorry to hear that happened." or "Let's see what we can do to solve your problem."
Finally, if YOU screwed up — apologize and give them a token of appreciation. A discount, a gift, flowers, take them out to lunch, whatever. A small token of acknowledgement and a gift will not only go the distance, they will be your customer forever.
We spend so much time honing our communications skills. How to have critical conversations, how to negotiate, how to stay calm during tough discussions, etc. But we forget how to listen.
What do you do every day to deliver the best customer service to your clients?
Most people don’t like to ‘network’. Well then . . . don’t. Connect.
Look, everybody does it. It's the hard and fast rule of business — to succeed in the marketplace, you need to get out there and shake some hands. Motivate the masses. Network with the crowds. Well, I say that's wrong.
Most bosses speak more than they listen. They think they know everything. They push their views onto their staff any chance they get. And that's STUPID.
It's hard to be a leader in today's economy. Add that you need equal parts of courage, vision, empathy, and reality (Peter Koestenbaum's Leadership Diamond) AND get your work done, it's almost impossible. I've reduced my list of hundreds down to five reasons.
When you think of a great executive, what qualities come to mind?