The Importance of Soft Skills

I am hearing more talk these days about the importance of soft skills in the workplace, especially for those in supervisory capacities or those employees who deal with customers.

Hard skills are those that we are trained to perform. An example of a hard skill would be an accountant or a winemaker.

Soft sills tend to be harder to quantify. These are the skills that make individuals good at jobs in customer service, sales or in staff supervision. While it is important that owners and managers have soft skills it isn’t always the case.

Employees and managers with well-developed soft skills are adaptable and able to relate to different employees or customers with ease. These people will also be good communicators. They can vary their style of speech and tone of voice to suit the person to whom they are speaking. They are also intuitive, being able to understand people and being aware of facial expressions, tone of voice and stance that allows them to understand what the people they are speaking to may be thinking or feeling.

These types of personal qualities are a must for anyone who is dealing with the public or managing a staff. Being able to understand how the other person may be feeling or see a problem from the other side is a great help to those who work with customers, are part of a team or just want to get ahead in their chosen profession.

According to an article from Realityworks,

  • 77% of employers think personality skills are just as important as hard skills.
  • 44% think that Americans lack soft skills (500 executives surveyed)
  • 46% of manager said young workers would do well to home their communication skills
  • 35% reported lower-than-needed interpersonal and teamwork skills

In today’s world with the emphasis on customer service, the competition for sales and customer expectations honing our soft skills will make us more effective, efficient and more valuable in the workplace.

A tip of the glass from me to you!

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Keep Customers Coming Back

Yesterday, I gave a talk at the Wine Tourism Conference taking place in Sonoma County.

The subject of the talk was Keep Customers Coming Back, which should be the goal of most businesses. However, I have noticed that many businesses do not have the processes or procedures in place to ensure that when someone visits they have a desire to return.

Research shows that keeping customers coming back is important:

  • A 5% increase in customer retention can improve company profitability by 7.5%
  • Engaged customers buy more frequently and spend more per transaction
  • Your business benefits from more word-of-mouth promotion
  • Regular customers bring their friends to meet you
  • A loyal customer is less likely to be lured away to other companies by discounts
  • It gives you an edge over competitors.

How do you keep customers coming back?

By providing an individual experience for each person who visits. For that, you need to create a plan, which will be your blueprint to design, deliver, manage and measure the results.  To make your plan successful:

  • Understand that your customers need to be more than satisfied
  • Put processes in place
  • Hire people who value customer service (remember that they are your ambassadors on and off the job)
  • Create an employee handbook with an in-depth section on customer service standards and guidelines
  • Implement customer interactions that will meet and exceed expectations
  • Review the people, products, services interface and interactions with customers.

Create the kind of atmosphere that results in individual experiences for all your guests. This means that procedures need to be customer-centric:

  • Processes around sales and returns need to be set up to focus on the needs of the customer
  • Conduct regular and interactive customer service training sessions with staff
  • All employees should be genuinely interested in customers as individuals
  • Create memories for customers.

Finally, I am going to say something that you have heard many times, though I think it is worth saying again: Attracting new customers cost more than retaining the customers you have.

A tip of the glass from me to you!

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Warmth, An Important Skill for Leaders

I found a great article in the Guardian online with information from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University. The article is all about how showing warmth to co-workers, employees, etc. is an important part of being a boss. This article led me to another article by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman entitled “I’m The Boss! Why Should I Care If You Like Me?” that was originally published in the Harvard Business Review.

The article reminds us that emotions are contagious. “If a leader is angry or frustrated, those feeling will spread to others. Conversely, if a leader is positive and optimistic, those emotions also spread.” Anyone can have an off day or two. Life is full of twists and turns, so being in a good mood at all times is not realistic. However, if customers and your employees see you usually in a bad mood, short tempered or generally not an easy person to be around, neither the customers nor the employees will stay with you. An ability to connect with others will bring positive results on all fronts.

Your integrity is also important. The article asked the question, “Do others trust you to keep your commitments and promises? Are others confident that you will be fair and do the right thing?” The interesting thing is while your company may be making exceptional products if customers do not believe that you can be trusted they may well choose to take their business somewhere else.

In addition to what your customers should expect, if you wish to keep your employees, ask the question, “How can I help them excel in their jobs and expand their skills?” The article suggests being a coach, a mentor, and teacher. Your employees will remember you because you helped them further their careers. I still remember when I was in my early twenties (quite a while ago) and first got into marketing. I worked for an older woman who said to me, “I will teach you everything I can and if you can do the job better than I can, it’s yours.” I have never forgotten that or her and have adopted the same outlook.

Think about what you are doing for your customers and employees. Sometimes we have to make decisions that are not going to be popular, though when you do try to look at them from the other person’s or people’s point of view. It may be very different from your own.

A tip of the glass from me to you!

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Life: A Series of Small Victories

As many of you know I am on the injured list at present. Unfortunately, I have two things going on at the same time. A broken femur is keeping me wheelchair bound, probably through September and I am having problems with my one eye that works, so my eyesight is at best, variable.

However, for every misfortune, there is always another side. The good fortune of discovering the true value of friends and family and the kindness of perfect strangers are two of the upsides.

Another upside I have discovered is that of celebrating the small victories in life. These first weeks of not being able to walk has been a number of small victories, at first being able to sit up in bed by myself, then getting from bed to the walker (for me the walker is more of a hopper as I can’t put any weight on my left leg) being able to dress myself and moving from walker to the wheelchair by myself.

In small and large companies, learning to celebrate the small victories in life is a wonderful way to create a stronger company culture, good feelings among employees and management. When employees are happy the customers feel it when they come into the business. They are likely to stay longer, take more interest in your company and products, experience a greater connection with the employees and buy more.

Celebrating small victories doesn’t have to be expensive:

  • When an employee or a department has a good day, week or month, make sure they know that they did well.
  • If an individual employee is particularly effective in handling a customer service problem, congratulate him/her on how well s/he did.
  • If someone is diligent in keeping public areas clean and tidy, thank them for it (even if it is their job).
  • Make the words, “thank you” or “great job” words that employees and managers regularly hear.
  • If you are an employee thank your manager when they do something good or congratulate another employee on a job well done.

Create an atmosphere of celebration around small victories. If there is a downside to this I have not yet thought of it.

Give it a try and see how it works for you.

A tip of the glass from me to you!

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Conducting a Job Interview

When you are hiring new employees the job interview is critical to successfully finding the right person. In this blog we will be focusing on finding the right people for jobs that have a lot of customer interaction, whether that interaction is in person, on the phone or electronically.

The most important focus should always be the personality of the person you are interviewing. You can teach people skills, you can’t change personality and if you have a sales or customer service person that doesn’t like people you’re in big trouble.

So look for someone who is warm and empathetic. If they work with others, the ability to work well as part of a team and a willingness to follow through (whether with a project or a customer) should be considered. Also you will want to know if the person is an optimist or a pessimist. A pessimist can bring down the customers and other staff members.

Job interviews can be very stressful for the candidates and no one is their best under pressure. Experts suggest that you let the candidates know in advance the topics you’d like to discuss. Find a time that works for both of you and let them know the dress code of the company. You want to get an idea of who they really are.

Allow enough time for the interview and if you need to, bring the person back more than once. If your candidates will be working regularly with other people have them meet the people they will be working with and ask your current employees for their impressions of the candidates.

As well as telling the candidate about the job, make sure you leave plenty of time for them to tell you things. You can learn a lot about people through what they choose to tell you. By asking follow up questions you may find out what really makes them tick. So plan on listening as much as you talk during the interview.

When you find viable candidates check references carefully, as well as their online presence. Hiring people to be the face or voice of your company is an important decision. You want to build a factual picture of the person you are going to hire.

A tip of the glass from me to you!

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Are You Hiring The Right People?

As we rapidly approach the busy season for many businesses, it’s a good time to think about the qualities we need in the people we employ to interact with the customers in person, on the phone or via email. In addition, it’s also important to think about the job description that we present and what skills we need to focus on.

You don’t want to waste your time or the applicant’s time by interviewing people who are never going to be right for the job, so it pays to have a clearly worded advertisement detailing the type of person you want and a complete job description.

In the ad be specific about the type of company you are hiring for and also what you are looking for in a person. If you are hiring for a sales or customer service person you want to put emphasis on the soft skills (empathy, patience, communication) making sure you get a person with the right temperament for the position.

Your goal is to find the right person the first time. Not putting enough thought into the ad or the job description can lead to hiring the wrong person. At which point co-workers are not happy and you have to start the process all over again.

When you are writing a job description let the candidates know what you expect from them and also what they can expect from you. If there is the possibility of advancement or that they will be working with a talented group of people, mention it. You want will attract more qualified candidates if they know that there are benefits to the job for them as well as the employer.

Once you start receiving applications respond quickly to the candidates. Even if you just send a quick email that says you received their résumé and will be back to them within the next week. It is important for people to know when they can expect to hear from you.

Next week, I will focus on interview techniques.

A tip of the glass from me to you!

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Is Your Employee Manual Up To Date?

It’s almost February and before we know it, the busy season will be upon us, which means it’s time to start thinking about the staffing for the coming year. While you are thinking about your staffing requirements, take the time to look over your written procedures and policies for part-time and full-time employees. The procedures need to be up to date and it never hurts to check that you haven’t forgotten something. After all, the more informed and successful your employees are on the job, the more products you are going to sell, the better connections you will make with customers and the more awareness you will gain for your products.

Procedures and policies provide detailed guidelines for all employees. They help managers organize and help staff stay organized. They minimize conflict between you and your staff and outline responsibilities and benefits (do employees get paid holidays, sick leave, etc.)

There should also be specific information on customer service. You want all  your employees to be on the same page as to how customers should be treated as well as the answers to certain questions (for example the discount policy and do the employees have leeway to give a slightly larger discount to make a bigger sale. If so, how far can the employee increase the discount and for what amount?)

Provide scenarios for employees so they know how to handle different questions or situations that may arise. If questions arise on how to handle a situation when the manager is not present, an employee can always check the procedure and policy manuals.

When writing your procedures manual, outline every item, even those that seem obvious to you, as they may not be obvious to a new employee. Include explicit daily tasks and weekly responsibilities. Always include safety procedures. If your employees need training that is specific to your type of business make sure that it is available to them. Schedule training days for new and returning employees and provide a procedures and policies list for each different positions. Employees who are given the information to be successful will be successful.

A tip of the glass from me to you!

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