Tag Archives: client service

Supercharge Communication: 2. Interview Inventively

Professional advisors and persuaders are surrounded by overlooked or ignored communication opportunity. One common missed opportunity involves not interviewing inventively.

Among the under-utilitzed communication techniques at professionals’ disposal are INTERVIEWING & KEY QUESTIONING. These powerful information-gathering tools involve interview questioning with the selective use of closed and open strategic questions.

That’s were the “inventively” comes in.

Supercharge Communication by continually perfecting and investing in EVERYTHING that you need to be effective at and are already good at…interview inventively and key question creatively to supercharge effective communication.

The following excerpts from Chapter 13 in “What’s Your Point” explain why continually perfecting the art of interviewing inventively is a valuable, essential investment in effective communication for professional advisors and persuaders.

#1. Questions to Open Minds and Hearts

Do you know how to ask questions to generate answers you may not have expected or realized you need?

Often, when we are sure we know all the answers, we ask questions based on our assumptions, not what individual prospects and clients want to know.

Whether you’re discussing a referral, convincing a potential client to work with you, deciding how best to help a client, or investigating a client’s negative response to advice, are you skilled enough to ask mind-opening questions?

How do you trigger client responses that provide information essential to helping the client, even if they don’t understand exactly what you need to know?

Sometimes, when interviewing clients, you are probing for opinions, observations, and concerns that prospects or clients may be unaware of themselves. What is your reaction when you encounter issues and perspectives you have not come across before? What about topics you would not normally think of inquiring about? Use your experiences to help prospects and clients understand how to help themselves.

QUIZ: Quickly identify which of the eight questions—four in the introductory paragraphs above and four in the bullet list below—are open and which are closed questions.

To unearth choices and potential pitfalls for others, professional-grade interviewing and questioning skills are essential:

  • Do your professional interviewing or information-gathering techniques need upgrading?
  • For instance, how do you deliberately use open-ended questions when gathering information?
  • Do you use closed questions when short factual answers like yes or no will move the interview along to the next significant section?
  • How do you create an effective series of open and closed questions?

Quiz Answer: The eight questions are, in order: closed, closed, open, open, closed, open, closed, open.

#2. Improving your communication powers is easier than you expect.

However, this transformation does require moving to conscious, deliberate expression in every medium.

As suggested throughout “What’s Your Point?,” this involves shifting to focused, strategic communication where results matter every time. In all cases, the more you know about your target and about your goals in talking to or emailing them, the more effective the interview and the more useful the results.

Professional advisors and persuaders have many communication tools at their disposal. They just may not realize this without training. One of the most powerful information-gathering techniques—interviewing—involves the selective use of closed and open strategic questions. Combined with listening loudly—active, respectful, engaging attentiveness—communication gets supercharged.

Do you find that there can be a lot of talking or emailing when you communicate, but not many decisions that people stick to? Your failing as an interviewer may be the weak link.

Can you automatically and seamlessly switch from open to closed questions as required? If not, you may benefit from training and practice to be a fully-professional interviewer and an effective facilitator.

#3. Strategic Question Review

(1) Closed questions elicit yes, no, or one-word “just the facts” responses.

  • Professionals who are in a hurry, or disinterested, often fall naturally into asking closed questions to gather only the facts they need for their decision making.
  • They may also intend to avoid listening to more information that they want. This just falls short of actually cutting prospects or clients off.
  • Some professionals ask a series of yes-or-no closed questions to qualify prospects. This almost one-way communication can seem abrupt and unfriendly.
  • Closed questions can change the subject, politely or otherwise, quicken the pace, or relay a sense of urgency.
  • The exact wording of closed questions is important to learn precisely what is essential. It is also necessary to avoid responses that dodge an issue.
  • In emails, these questions illicit short responses. These may reveal little about how the responder feels or what they understand.

(2) Open questions trigger information downloading, generate opinions, and unleash knowledge.

  • Thereby shifting the interviewer’s role to one of listener.
  • Open questions, which begin with what, how or why, require detailed responses or descriptions from the prospect or client.
  • To clarify a crucial issue, ask similar, but slightly different, open questions at a few stages of the interview. You may uncover differing answers that surprise even the client.
  • As with all skills, practice pays off. Have a set of open questions ready to ask when you meet with prospects and clients.
  • In emails, when you need detail, make sure you ask an open question, perhaps even two.
  • By mixing closed and open questions, the interview can become an engaging conversation or a lively collaboration.

#4. Learn as much as you can about prospects and clients before the interview.

This preparation makes your queries more natural, more logical, and more fruitful. Those being interviewed will relax and be more receptive when they understand your client-centric purpose.

Your intent must not be to take advantage, but to create the best services and achieve the best returns for prospects and clients:

  • Before you ask anything, disclose all conflicts of interest and fiduciary responsibilities to prospects or clients.
  • Explain how you’ll protect their rights, privacy, and interests during the interview. Also during the entire extreme-excellence service delivery process. This will make them feel at ease and well-served.
  • In advance, ask their permission to ask questions, so they genuinely are in control of the discussion.
  • Remind them that, just because you ask a question, they do not have to answer unless they want to—no explanation necessary.

Are you always ready for anything and never at a loss for the right question?
If not, why not?

Example of how real estate professionals could supercharge communication.

Supercharge Communication : 1. Listen Loudly

Supercharge Communication by continually perfecting and investing in EVERYTHING that you need to be effective at and are already good at…listen loudly to supercharge effective communication.

The following excerpts from Chapter 13 in “What’s Your Point” explain why continually perfecting the art of listening is a valuable, essential investment in effective communication for professional advisors and persuaders.

#1. How do you add value?

When your marketing, advertising, or branding message resonates with prospects and clients, they’ll accept it as true because you seem to understand them and their challenges. Once they meet you face-to-face or one-on-one online, will they remain sure you “get them?” Will they see you actively and respectfully paying attention to earn trust? Will it be evident to prospects and clients that you will adapt to their needs and all the other demands on their time, effort, money, and intelligence?

#2. Listening is not silent talking.

  • Listening is not silently criticizing what’s being said, making mental jokes, or thinking about how you’d say it better than the speaker who is sharing with you.
  • Listening is not waiting until it is your turn to talk and, in the meantime, concentrating on perfecting catchy phrasing or showing off in other ways.
  • Active listening is also not guessing what will be said and interrupting to finish sentences or provide a solution before the prospect or client explains what really concerns them and why.
  • Listening is not about you.

#3. How do differences matter?

Effective active listening always concentrates on how someone or their problem is different. This individualization is crucial to personal or customized service. Avoid lumping individuals into a general category. When you do, you’re giving them standard service which can not completely suit their needs. In fact, this is really substandard service since it is probably less than your pitch says you deliver.

Too often we listen for similarities. We search for ways to label an individual or group, or pigeon hole a need. In the multigeneration workplace, ageism in both directions (“too young” or “too old”) is rampant. Beware of your biases. Generational biases—yours and/or your clients’—compounded by stereotypes and ageism, can distort what is heard, that is, transforming it into what somebody who “looks that age” would mean.

For example, boomer is a general term for a very diverse group identified merely by their dates of birth. Boomer parents can have boomer children—it’s that diverse. However, references to boomers usually make them (almost 85 million in North America) seem like clones. Each boomer is unique. The group is a rich mosaic of diversity on many levels. The same diversity is true for millennials. If your target includes boomers or millennials, do you communicate with them, and about them, in ways that reflect this diversity?

#4. Why does what you do matter?

What is essential to earn the right to hear what prospects and clients want to share and more? They must quickly and relevantly see value in having you listen to them. When you meet a prospective client for the first time, you should be prepared to succinctly explain what you do.

In plain, jargon-free language, a Professional Benefits Strategy (PBS) sincerely expresses how you and your services solve relevant problems for target clients, from their perspective.

A PBS, memorably and relevantly, reveals where your value lies. The same care and clarity of communication and intent—achievable focus—should be evident at every meeting, every contact, not just the first. The thoughtful analysis that produces an effective introduction can also be applied to content for marketing, client retention, product/service development, business expansion….

#5. What does Active Listening—Listen Loudly—involve?

Active or effective listening combines respectful listening with accurate collection of data and impressions for future reference, placing privacy first.

(1) Active listening, coupled with attentive silence, reflect genuine interest and respect, and always represent powerful elements of your value to clients. While you listen to (or read) what prospects and clients want to communicate, your receptive attentionundistracted silence and no interruptions—is a vital ingredient in successful sharing. By listening intently, you learn exactly how they define the problem and its impact. Never underestimate the value of your attentive silence. Remember, no salesperson ever listened their way out of a deal.

(2) Combine active listening with professional interviewing techniques.  For example, strategic questioningthe deliberate use of questions to build rapport, gather information, and guide conversation—helps discover how to exceed expectations for each client. These details, including any client misconceptions, reveal which solutions may be most effective. The information and insight gathered reveal how to adapt products and services to client needs. This effort combines to create value-enriched extreme service excellence.

(3) Keep track of what you’ve heard or learned. Your procedures for recording client information and related data should emphasize:

  • Accurate comprehensive needs assessment
  • Reduced ambiguity for clients
  • Limited jargon and technical terminology
  • Appropriate documentation of decisions
  • Compliance with privacy regulations and legislation Above-industry standards for record-keeping and client education.

Summary:

Listen loudly! Client contact may involve phone conversations, meetings, texting, and online contact, but it must always highlight listening. Be engaged, enthusiastic, interested, and committed to remembering what you learn. Ask relevant questions, then listen attentively.

Listen Loudly Supercharge Example: Real Estate Professionals must be effective communicators every time they open their mouths, tap a key, contact a client…“Five Opportunities to Supercharge Sales Communication”posted soon.

Navigating a World in Disruption

“Disruption” remains the current “hot” word—replacing “sustainable” and “innovative”—to underscore the latest “new thinking.”

Rarely is disruption defined to reveal long-term social benefits and pervasive problems attached to the 21st Century applications that the “new” concept involves.

The context for disruption varies, but unforeseen complexities and unexpected outcomes remain among the greatest challenges in each sector, industry, organization, or walk of life facing disruptive, long-term effects of the hot new approach to anything.

Where do you see yourself with respect to disruption in your profession, industry, or clients’?

You’ve noticed the obvious pattern:

  • Disruptor: Those who benefit, see disruption as a positive, modern force. Those involved in creating it, pat themselves on the back.
  • Disrupted: Those who are in the direct path of disruption lose—their earning power, way of life, standard of living, status, sense of self-worth…—so they do not celebrate disruption. They are busy attempting to replace what they’ve lost and rebuild lives.
  • Distracted by disruption: Those who do not feel they participated in creation of the disruption or were not in the path of its direct negative effects may be unaware of or have overlook challenges or benefits for them or their clients because they consider all of this to be happening to someone else.

Do you investigate disruptions that, at first glance, do not seem connected to your business or clients, but that at very least may create distractions relevant to your world?

Recently, I was invited to attend “Navigating a World in Disruption,” the 12th edition of the International Economic Forum of the Americas’ (IEFA) Toronto Global Forum. This lively, open exchange of ideas and experience brought together more than 3500 delegates and 170 speakers representing more than 65 countries—a mix of disruptors, disrupted, and those distracted by disruption.

FYI: Terrific Places to Think: The four annual IEFA Forums are by design and reputation, places that connect attendees with world leaders and with each other. IEFA declares its mission: “to facilitate agreements, offer business opportunities and provide access to unique insights from leading specialists.”

Navigating a World in Disruption

The three-day Global Forum provided opportunities for business leaders, decisions makers, government representatives, and heads of state to discuss how organizations and economies can thrive amidst intense, seemingly-escalating economic, social, and environmental transformation. Speakers across the broad topic range acknowledged that political upheaval, reactive populism, and protectionism provide charged, distracting climates for businesses. This is a challenge as they are already coping, locally and internationally, with the growing list of disruptive technology: digital transformation, cyber risk, artificial intelligence, fintech, blockchain…and the list continues.

Listening to speakers and attendees revealed practical insights for professional practices, independent business, and entrepreneurial ventures intent on successfully “Navigating a World in Disruption.” My research on disruption definitions confirmed the importance of context.

Reducing external and internal distraction is crucial for individuals and organizations intent on building momentum to take advantage of disruption or avoiding negative effects. Here’s three practical examples:

  1. Cyber-Security:
    Instead of becoming easier, maintaining cyber-security has become more challenging. Often it is the seemingly-simple issues that are most distracting. For instance, weak-password-creation habits persist. Using the same password for multiple accounts is a reality that hackers have trained their efforts on. Do your passwords and those of your employees hold up to scrutiny? These same welcomed users may inadvertently compromise security by clicking on a hacked link or visiting a malware-infested website. When employees leave, how much of your organization’s cyber knowledge leaves with or because of them?
  2. Talent Searches:
    The hiring search for specific IT skills and experience has proven less valuable than unearthing genuine desire and innate ability to learn and share. IT can be learned, but emotional intelligence (EQ) is the socially-valued talent that should be a crucial target during hiring. EQ is an important contributor on many levels from cyber-security to anti- and pro-disruption innovation, among other productivity issues.
  3. Collaboration:
    This word has become a conveniently-evasive catchall that is often used to demonstrate inclusive thinking when little may have taken place. Rarely explained or defined, collaboration frequently remains underestimated and undervalued. Collaboration does not involve only the willingness to cooperate or share, or at least talk about it. Collaboration must include communication skills like active listening, negotiation, and persuasive engagement. For individuals and groups who did not receive communication training in the 20th Century or who concentrated on 21st-Century social media, the conscious use of communication skills like these may not be automatic. The other meaning of the word—collaborating with the enemy—may also detract from its potential. The wish or intent to collaborate may not be enough to create practical, functional exchanges and commitment. Those with the knowledge and experience to facilitate collaboration may have the advantage in navigating the world of disruption.

What are your definitions of “disruption” and “collaboration”?
How prepared are you and your clients for disruption in your industry or their worlds?

Raised Your Service Standards Lately?

Professionalism materializes in client service, client satisfaction, and client results.

How would you characterize the standards by which you work and that define your brand?

Are they average? Above average? High? Very high? Exemplary? Top of the field?

How do you know which category your standards fall into?

Did you design services to fit your standards or did services evolve by chance? How do you monitor them? Are you sure you are measuring the right things?

How will you know when your standards and, therefore, your brand need improvement?

  • Ask most professionals and business owners about their business standards and they’ll tell you their standards are high or very high. I know because I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundreds of professionals, entrepreneurs, executives, business owners, and advisors. No one identified their standards as less than “high.”
  • Ask clients who observe these professionals up close how service could be improved and the clients have a lot of suggestions. They always insist they’d share these ideas with the professionals if they were asked. I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundreds of these clients, and asked them what could be done to improve service and returns—and they willingly told me.

Raising your standards essentially means competing with yourself because you know you can always do more, be better.

When you already feel successful, this is a greater challenge as complacency may override constructive curiosity, particularly when you perceive the competition as already “left in the dust.”

When it comes to service, what may be a small thing to you can be a symptom of an attitude which communicates to clients a lack of service:

  • If you don’t listen to a client, why should they listen to you? If you don’t respect a client’s opinion, why should they respect yours? Even if they stay with you, will they follow your suggestions? Will you receive all their business? Will they refer you?
  • Clients who don’t believe that the professionals they hire respect them, may not be as open about their concerns and extenuating circumstances. They may also hold back on disclosing how well-off they are for fear of being charged more. What they don’t tell the professional could compromise results. They may make only token referrals unless they receive benefits they value, which may be genuine respect.
  • If you are not from the same generation as your clients, ageism may be a factor as well. The “too young to know” and “too old to know” cross-generation reactions associated with ageism can accentuate differences of opinion and value systems. These reactions may be compounded by cultural differences and language challenges:
  1. Not listening to an idea may be an ageist brush-off or may be perceived as such even if it is not.
  2. Offering suggestions may be ageist criticism or may be perceived as such.

Recognizing exactly what you are doing and not doing, and all the implications of both, is often difficult.

That’s the invisibility of the box. Unless you hire a professional to critique you regularly, this is a task you have, consciously or unconsciously, decided to take care of yourself. How good at it are you? Mediocrity can creep in through sloppiness, poor time management skills, bad habits, insecurity, sensitivity to criticism, inflated ego, stress, and weak powers of observation.

Extreme Excellence: The New Service Model
Experience confirms that excellence in client service is simple, but that simple is not always easy.

  • You simply need to raise client expectations and, thereby, differentiate your business and services from industry stereotypes and from the competition.
  • Then, simply, unfailingly, deliver on more than clients expect, in ways that clients value, whatever happens—no excuses.

Your knowledge and experience enable you to fully envision what “excellence in client service” involves from the target clients’ point of view, online and off.

You’ve observed first-hand why constructive persistence is essential to consistently achieve high levels of excellence in a continually changing world. How do you put this awareness into action for clients?

Working to make yourself and services indispensable—making it all about you—so clients remain dependent on you for problem solving, leaves clients considering these services as an ongoing cost and the problems they address an ongoing worry. Clients don’t feel freed from the problem. They’ve just added the necessity of dealing with you. This fairly typical business approach could lead them to search out less expensive alternatives or worry-free service providers.

In contrast, the ultimate goal in 21st-Century Extreme Service Excellence should be to solve the problem so completely that you and your services are no longer necessary. Concentrate on doing such a thorough job for clients that you theoretically put yourself out of work, and you’ve hit excellence. That’s what your brand should consistently embody.

Aim to create independence for clients and you’ll make yourself invaluable to them. Your introduction of empowering choice for clients will make them committed to you and your services by choice:

  • Their comfort with you and your services will be greater than the clients’ determination to adopt do-it-myself solutions.
  • Clients feel no need to take on new responsibility and manage the situation or the problem because they have confidence in you.
  • They don’t want the job of training to anticipate the problem and stopping it before it takes hold—they’ve got you.
  • Clients take on some responsibility and work to reduce the problem, but they’re comfortable relying on you to fully resolve the situation and bring them peace of mind.

[Excerpt from “What’s Your Point? Cut The Crap, Hit The Mark & Stick!” — Chapter 10 Constructive Persistence & Branding]

How Wanting Social Media ‘Likes’ Can Undermine Personal Service

Behaviorists and best-selling authors Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield of VitalSmarts surveyed 1623 people and discovered that obsession with posting photos and checking phones corresponds with lower enjoyment.

For professionals, “lower enjoyment” extrapolates to lowered personal service. Your clients may be shutting you out or down when they keep an eye on the screen, but are you doing the same thing to them by keeping an eye on your screen for social media updates and texts instead of giving clients your full attention?

The VitalSmarts survey “Society’s New Addiction: Getting a ‘Like’ over Having a Life” confirmed that social media isn’t only distracting, it’s dictating how we interact in person. Mashable.com and Entrepreneur.com featured the survey in articles that reviewed results like the 91% surveyed have seen tourists miss out on an important moment by trying to capture it on social media. (Maxfield’s own social media trophy-hunting behavior at his 60th birthday triggered the study.) You’ve been aware of this distraction trend and the fact it continues on the rise. What are you doing to take advantage of your knowledge and experience for your clients and your business?

My point is that distraction over superficial online responses should not take priority over giving your full, face-to-face attention to the client you’re with. Aren’t you curious why they believed a visit to you, not a text or phone call, was worth their time and effort?

1. If you can’t successfully juggle client relationships and social media, shouldn’t you reevaluate priorities, improve time management strategies, or hire an assistant? What are you intent on achieving with social media and your clients?
2. Curiosity about your clients feeds success with client service and satisfaction. If social media is burning up curiosity that should go to clients, what replacement value is social media contributing to you and your practice?

If you can’t give the client your full attention, why have a face-to-face meeting?

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