Tag Archives: extreme service excellence

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?

© 2019 PJ Wade, TheCatalyst.com. Except from “What’s Your Point?: Cut The Crap, Hit The Mark & Stick!” (print book publication: 2020)

⇒ 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.

© 2019 PJ Wade, TheCatalyst.com. Except from “What’s Your Point?: Cut The Crap, Hit The Mark & Stick!” (print book publication: 2020)

⇒ Example of how real estate professionals could supercharge communication.

Fiduciary Minefields: The Agency Mess

Relationships and terminology may define what you do for clients, but do your clients fully understand your legal, moral, and ethical context for delivering extreme service excellence and protecting their interests and goals?

How clear are you and your communication, in all formats and platforms, about related fiduciary responsibilities?

A recent report addresses these issues for the real estate industry, so it offers an excellent example of misconceptions and missed opportunities which may exist in your industry and your communication as well. The bonus is we’re all real estate buyers, sellers, and investors, or wanna-bes, so this is a valuable read on many levels.

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA — www.consumerfed.org) started the year off by releasing the report authored by former-executive-director and Senior Fellow Steve Brobeck and entitled “The Agency Mess:Home Buyer and Seller Confusion and Costs Related To Diverse and Poorly Enforced State Laws about the Role and Responsibility of Real Estate Agents. The title tells the miscommunication story. The report incorporates CFA’s research of the literature on real estate agency, CFA’s mystery shopper survey of agents, and a national consumer survey.

I asked Brobeck my questions during a media conference to clarify the communication confusion which can lead to compromised fiduciary relationships, financial loss to buyers and sellers and, therefore, potential loss for real estate brokerages and professionals.

PJ Wade: Could you give us a very exact definition of agency law and what the fiduciary duties are to the client (…the client’s interests above all else but the law) and to the customer who is the third party. Also, in that answer, give us a clear definition of what the word “agent” means and to whom it can be applied. Is it the brokerage, is it the salesperson…?

CFA Steve Brobeck: “[CFA] is considering, in this report, every real estate professional that works directly with the home buyer or seller to be an agent. Some of those agents are just agents and some of them are brokers. But we do not really view a material difference, from the view of the consumer, between having an agent-agent or a broker-agent. So again, when you look at this report, you will not see the term “broker” used very often.

Define fiduciaryThe fiduciary is obligated to procure (and I’m quoting from another source here) the greatest advantage for his client. The occasion of that being if you are the seller agent and you are working with a seller, you have an obligation to get the highest price, sale price for the house. If you are a buyer broker, you are obligated to get the lowest price for that house.”

PJ Wade: Do the real estate practitioners, brokers, salespeople, the agents really understand these [agency and fiduciary] distinctions as clearly as they must?

CFA Steve Brobeck: “I think that’s part of the problem. There are several issues related here: the complexity of the law, the variation of the laws, and even the definition of the terms from state to state are not just very, very difficult for consumers to understand. They’re difficult for many agents to understand. Keep in mind, too, that there are 1.2 million, 1.3 million, 1.4 million practicing agents. Some of them have only been practicing for a year or two. In some states, the training is not very rigorous; in other states, it is. They may not fully understand all of these terms and the law in their particular state. The problem is there just hasn’t been any effective monitoring, so even if they are ignorant of the law and they don’t make required disclosures, no on ever calls them on it.”

PJ Wade: So would it be a fair summary to say that fiduciary duties of the agent to the client are to keep the client’s interests above all else but the law? And for the customer—the third party—would responsibilities be fairness and not to misrepresent and care of answering?

CFA Steve Brobeck: “Yes, I think that is a good summary.”

PJ Wade: What should a consumer do if they feel something going wrong? Should they complain to CFA or…?

CFA Steve Brobeck: “I think the first thing—we’re trying to keep this as simple as possible. We’re hoping that the nonprofit groups with whom we work—as you probably know CFA is an association of 240 members [ https://consumerfed.org/history/ ]—and we’re going to be putting this information out for them to communicate to the people with whom they work. We hope the media will communicate this.
We are also going to be communicating with the State Real Estate Commissions and, I hope, [encouraging them] to take a more active role in informing the consumers in their state about agency relationships.
But the key thing is ‘Don’t make it too complicated!’ As I indicated in my prepared statement, people just need to know whether the agent they are working with is a fiduciary. If they are not a fiduciary, what is their role? Their role, if [working with] a buyer, could be a subagent, could be a transactional broker, but [buyers] need to know that.
I don’t think the industry is going to oppose us. They certainly took leadership in the 1990s in terms of passing state laws that actually did some good, but now we need to review those laws. We need to review them, simplify them, and, just as importantly, ensure they are enforced. Ensure that there’s not just heavy-handed enforcement, but that each Realtor, each real estate agent feels that they are obligated, morally and ethically obligated to disclose their relationship to their customers.”

PJ Wade: So, ethically, morally, and legally…

CFA Steve Brobeck: “Well, they are, in most states, legally obligated to provide disclosure. But you know, given the situation, we are not really going to solve the problem unless all real estate agents feel that they not only must comply with the law, but that they have an ethical obligation too, at the earliest substantial contact, to clarify their role as an agent to their customer.”

Did parallel examples of miscommunication and misunderstood services and client relationships come to mind as you read this interview?

The 14-page report, The Agency Mess, provides more detail on the range of fiduciary relationships that exist, most of them beyond what consumers may expect. Without understanding each type of relationship and related fiduciary duties, consumers don’t understand when to confide financial information and when not to reveal their true feelings about a property.

  • Are your clients right about what they are getting for their money when they work with you?
  • Do you survey and interview clients to be sure you understand exactly what they don’t?
  • How do your efforts stand up against relationship definition efforts by competitors?

As a real estate consumer or owner, what is your reaction to The Agency Mess?

Are You An Ageist?

When was the last time you wondered if you are an ageist, that is prejudice against age?

Even if you are approximately the same chronological age as your ideal clients and your peers, you may not be immune from ageism. This insidious prejudice could still be a strong negative influence.

Ageism or prejudice related to age which labels others as either “too young” or “too old” for certain things, is usually automatic and unconscious.

Most people, consciously and unconsciously, adopt different sets of stereotypes as their personal norm. For instance, individuals often apply their own standards to others whom they consider their equal in age. Since individuals usually see themselves as younger by a decade or more than others perceive them, effective communication can become complicated.

Even prospects or clients who are the same age as you, can believe themselves “too young” for some things and “too old” for others. This means they’ll decide this for you, too, whether you share their ageist standards or not.

Do not use age-related comments unless you know exactly why age is relevant to the discussion. It usually is not.</strong

For instance, to build rapport, professional advisors, who perceive new prospects to be older than they are, may use foot-in-mouth comments like “that’s just like my grandparents” or still bad “that’s just like my parents” to break the ice with these “older” people.

  • If prospects see the professionals as being of a similar age, the prospects may feel they have just been insulted.
  • If the prospects are older, the professionals may have lost credibility by pointing out the probably-irrelevant age difference.

How’s that rapport building coming along?

If you want to bring your thinking and communicating into the 21st Century, tackle ageist anchors which may hold you back, personally and professionally. When there is a difference in chronological age between you and your clients—in one direction or the other—you have opportunities to end ageist stereotypes and help clients appreciate themselves as individuals. Which ageist barriers stand in the way of your delivery of extreme service excellence?

Stereotypes represent bias and weakness in our knowledge and understanding. These mental shortcomings emerge as ageism, racism, sexism, and on the -isms go.

This disconnect is compounded by the fact that many of these perceived limitations and restrictions can be traced back to the 19th and 20th Centuries, if not before. Particularly shocking news if the 21st Century is the only one you’re worked or even lived in.

Consider ageism in yourself, your peers, your staff, and those who you answer to, including prospects and clients. Who believes the “too old” and “too young” labels? Remember, ageism is automatic and unconscious. Ramp up your powers of observation before you shrug this analysis off as unnecessary or start calling other people out before taking a long look at yourself.

Which effective communication strategies will achieve the greatest results with the maximum enrichment of relationships and workplace productivity? The key to improvement lies in appreciating individual uniqueness instead of repeating clichés and perpetuating prejudice in its most insidious form—humor. For instance, stop memory-lapse “jokes” like “I’m having a senior’s moment.” Become part of the solution.

How have you deliberately shed out-dated reactions and aligned your communication with 21st-Century realities about chronological age?

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]