One of My First (and Most Memorable) Business Lessons

Shortly after leaving university and joining 1-800-GOT-JUNK? the company welcomed a new leader to my department, the call centre.

This leader’s name was Patrick Louis.

Michel Falcon (Left) & Patrick Louis (Right) in Toronto, ON

The 1-800-GOT-JUNK? call centre consisted of a team of 100 call centre agents (not all scheduled at the same time) answering 1,000,000 calls per year (if my memory serves me correctly). 

The Scenario

When Patrick came into the company he inherited a team of young individuals. A few people were making $100,000 per year as call centre professionals. If you know anything about the call centre industry, this is extraordinarily unusual.

The company was and still is great! This description isn’t a bash on the organization, it’s a description of the reality at the time. This is likely why Patrick, a seasoned professional was brought into the company.

During my first year, many of my peers and I called in sick regularly. We performed well as a team but we often operated outside of the guidelines put forth to us, and likely made the life of our Workforce Management Team (WFM) very difficult. The WFM team is responsible for scheduling agents in the call center to ensure there was enough coverage to answer 80%+ of calls within 20 seconds.

To summarize, Patrick had a few challenges ahead of him:

  • The profit and loss statement of the call centre was likely in the red because wages weren’t sustainable.
  • Some (maybe most) of his inherited team didn’t have many responsibilities outside of paying rent and earning money for the bar.
  • He needed to find a solution, fast. This key department within a recognizable company couldn’t keep operating this way. 

Patrick’s Solution

Now, let me tell you something…I was one of those agents that called in sick when I wasn’t. 

Sorry, Patrick! I hadn’t fully matured yet.

But, aside from that, I think I was one of the better agents (this was before transitioning to the operations side of the company). I paid attention to the changes that were happening and when I didn’t understand why changes were happening, I’d ask Patrick to tell me directly so I could learn.

Since I left business school to learn how to grow a company and make operational decisions – this was my real-world MBA. I knew I had to pay attention and acquire wisdom.

These are some of the changes I witnessed and their cause and effect:

He Changed The Pay Structure 

Before his arrival, we were largely (and generously) paid on commission with a modest hourly rate. Receiving a loan from the bank with this proof of income wasn’t very likely. He changed the compensation plan so that our commissions were dissolved but had an opportunity to earn a very nice hourly wage, which financial institutions would favour for loans. There were other opportunities to earn more income by way of sales contests but not direct commissions. Not only did this save the company money, but we also performed better as a department!

He Changed the Employee Profile

Before Patrick’s leadership, we were largely a team of 20-25 year-olds. He had the experience to recognize that the company needed a team of people with true responsibilities other than buying beer. These individuals needed to come to work every day to pay their mortgage, support their children and other things that held high value. This new demographic of team members rid the call centre of the absenteeism issue it previously struggled with.

I can’t tell you firsthand how long Patrick conceptualized the plan but it appeared to happen after attentively observing then following up swiftly. Naturally, there was an objection from tenured employees.

Mostly from the individuals who were used to making six figures (or close to). I remember peers of mine requesting one-on-one meetings with Patrick to voice their displeasure. 

Although Patrick’s decision was unpopular, he always stood by it. 

I shared this story with my girlfriend, Sophia. She hung onto every word because she was fascinated by the example of leadership and making tough decisions. As I shared this story with Sophia it reminded me of something I’ve always known…

…1-800-GOT-JUNK? really was my real-world MBA. Scenarios and case studies like this may be taught in business school but it’s not comparable to watching it play out right before your eyes.

The Lesson

Patrick must have known that this major change, one that would impact individuals’ bank accounts (a sensitive topic), would cause some of his team members to quit. But, the decision needed to be made.

I learned to measure risk, think of contingency plans, how to make swift decisions and stay the course.

Are you interested in improving your company culture, employee engagement, and customer experience? If so, my online course, Team Operating System, may be your solution.

Click this link to book a call with me directly to learn if the course is right for you and your company.

5 Ways to Know When Your Boss Is Targeting to Fire You (And What to Do About It)

You can feel it. Something is not right.

Your boss is acting…um, weird! 

They’re not the same as when you first interviewed with them. Or, they seemed like a great leader during the interview process, you built rapport during onboarding, you were doing well but then, all of a sudden, their behaviour towards you changed.

I know how this story goes down, not because I’ve been the leader that has targeted someone. Since operating michelfalcon.com, writing blog posts and producing videos, I’ve had many people ask for advice on how to manage a relationship with their manager.

More often than not, after they describe their leader’s behaviours and actions I sense that they are on the path to getting fired. 

Who knows, it very well could be warranted. 

But, whether it’s warranted or not, there is a certain way to coach, uplift, and lead and then there are the following five ways that will tell you that you’re being targeted. 

Not all hope is lost. You can turn this around if you follow the recommendations outlined in this blog post.

Please note, that I believe the five ways I will outline below are a cowardly way of managing someone. After all, someone’s livelihood and career is being played with if you were to lead this way. 

I’ve invited my friend Rhys Green to contribute the “and what to do about it” part of the blog post that we will call The Response.

rhys green, trailblaze partners, small business consultant
Above: Rhys Green, CEO and Co-Founder of TrailBlaze Partners

Rhys is CEO of Trailblaze Partners, a service operations consulting company based out of Vancouver BC. Before that he spent 10 years with 1-800-Got-Junk? leading teams and working on the operational challenges that come from fast growth.

They Cancel (or Don’t Show Up For) Recurring Meetings

I’ve never met a great leader that didn’t regularly meet with their direct reports. A leadership tactic that I learned during my time at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? was something called Goal Setting & Review (GS&R).

Every week, there would be a recurring scheduled meeting on the leader and team member’s calendar in perpetuity. For example, I remember when I reported into someone named Simon, our GS&R was scheduled for Tuesday at 1:00 pm (this was ten years ago, don’t ever tell me something you want me to forget because my memory is undefeated). As the title of the meeting suggests, during this time together we would review our goals and how we were trending toward them with other dialogue to support the meeting too.

Whether it’s a GS&R or some other regularly scheduled meeting, if your manager is continuously canceling or rescheduling your meeting then something is not right. If your leader responds with, 

“Oh, sorry. I’m so busy.”

Remember that everyone has the same hours in the day and that you make time for things that are important to you. These meetings are for your professional development which is why, if I was your leader, my hair would literally have to be on fire for me to cancel our time together.

I will kick it over to Rhys to share his best practices on how to manage if this is happening to you.

Rhys’ Recommendation

Direct and honest communication wins the war here. The next time you are able to get a one on one meeting with your leader, give them a heads up in advance that you’d like to talk about your professional development and performance. Use an I statement like “I feel like my development and performance aren’t important (replace this with however you actually feel about it) when you change or cancel my one-on-one meetings.” This should open up the opportunity to have a really good conversation about where you stand. 

Their Demeanor Changes

It seems like ages ago when you and your manager interviewed each other, it appeared you shared the same values, you even shared a laugh or two. During your onboarding, they seem very invested in you, your development and, ultimately, your well-being. Yes, that seems like 100 years ago.

RELATED: How to Stop Hiring Toxic Employees (a Lesson For Every Company)

Today, you noticed they rolled their eyes after you suggested a solution to a challenge the company was faced with.

They completely ignored your commentary during the off-site team meeting and moved the conversation in another direction.

They used to respond with “Yes, Emily I have a few minutes” when you would ask him a question. Now, they respond with “What!?”

These verbal cues should have you wondering if you have done something wrong or something that upset your manager.

Rhys’ Recommendation

I’d hit this one with empathy. It may not actually be you that has caused the change, but if it is you definitely want to know. I’m a big fan of the heads up, so give your leader the heads up that you want to have a conversation about how you’re working together. Start the conversation out by highlighting the behaviour change you’ve noticed (use examples) and asking if there is something going on that you’re not seeing. Are they having a hard time at home, is their leader giving them the gears? You’ll pretty quickly figure out what’s going on with this approach and it will serve to build the relationship by trying to understand. 

They Abruptly Start Micro Managing 

I’ve actually heard this before, 

“We needed to expedite their exit, so we caught them doing things wrong quickly.”

Damn! That’s malicious. That’s poor leadership! Those are a lot of things I don’t like.

Remember when you would go home and speak to your spouse or tell your friend that one of the reasons you loved your new job was because your manager didn’t breathe down your neck? You had the freedom to do great work! Sure, you made a mistake here and there but your leader would coach you and you learned from missteps.

RELATED: How to Fire An Employee (With Integrity)

Yeah, those days are over. Now, it seems like everything you do is received with criticism. You even were blamed for something you didn’t do. Your manager recognized the mistake but never apologized.

If these things are happening then it’s likely that your manager is targeting you. 

Rhys’ Recommendation

What a terrible feeling! One minute you feel like you’re crushing and have so much autonomy the next you can’t do anything right. For this one I’d over-communicate. If your boss is asking for an update once a day I’d give them two. While this could be that you are being targeted, it may also be just that your boss is stressed now, where they weren’t before and so their more natural behaviours are showing. Either way, more documentation will help you if you do end up getting terminated. 

They Exclude You From Decisions, Meetings and More

You used to be included in key decisions and meetings that impacted your department and company. You felt a sense of pride that your manager was entrusting you and valued your opinion.

But, all of a sudden, you stopped being included in these meetings. One day, you walked to the office kitchen area to refill your cup of coffee and noticed that a meeting that you’re regularly invited to is being hosted. You check your calendar on your phone to see if you happened to miss something on your calendar but, no, there’s nothing scheduled.

This is something I wouldn’t immediately concern yourself with because these meetings may now have an agenda that is too sensitive to be discussed with you right now. However, I would make note of this.

Rhys’ Recommendation

At your next one-on-one (assuming they’re still happening) just ask the question. Hey Boss, I saw the weekly management meeting happened without me this week, has something changed that I should know about? As with all of these remember there is often not an ulterior motive behind this type of change. Your boss could very easily have been trying to get you some time back in your day and save you from an irrelevant meeting. 

Your Responsibilities Start to Diminish

As the newest member of your company’s sales team, you listened attentively during training and sooner than later you started receiving inbound sales leads to manage. You even closed a few leads and other team members started to congratulate you. The better you did the more leads you were closing. You were doing very well! Sure, there were others doing better but they had been at the company for much longer.

Suddenly, the inbound leads you were getting or the marketing tasks you were ordinarily responsible for weren’t being assigned to you. At first, you ignored it but made note but now it seems like your days aren’t filled with as many responsibilities as they use to.

Something’s not right.

You can feel it in the pit of your stomach…

Rhys’ Recommendation

You’ll notice I generally like the direct communication route. This one is no different. Talk to your leader and let them know how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way. If you don’t find their answer to be genuine and reassuring, speak to HR or ask for a skip level. Changing your job significantly without you agreeing to it is a big deal and one you should address as soon as you notice. Follow up on your conversations in writing. 

The best course of action is always open communication, however, you should also be keeping your options open. Make sure you know what the market is for your skillset, who the top employers are and take note of when they’re hiring for someone like you. The impact of all of these behaviours on your mental state can be really damaging and it can be amplified if you feel like you don’t have an option to go somewhere else. There is always an option, it’s on you if you don’t know what it is and how to get it.

Are you interested in improving your company culture, employee engagement, and customer experience? If so, my online course, Team Operating System, may be your solution.

Click this link to book a call with me directly to learn if the course is right for you and your company.

5 New Customer Service Skills Your Employees Need (and How to Train Them Properly in 2019)

There are many customer service skills that employees must possess to contribute to the success of a company.

Things such as friendly, proactive, going above-and-beyond all come to mind.

It’s likely that you clicked through to read this post because you want new customer service ideas, not the same old run of the mill concepts that have been suggested by everyone else online…am I right?

The five customer service training skills I’m going to share with you are ones that my management teams are currently training my employees with.

Across our venues, restaurants and bars, we have 150 team members operating within one of Canada’s most competitive hospitality districts (King West, Downtown Toronto); the far majority of these team members are customer-facing.

My business partners and I have built a reputation in the city and industry for having a next-level customer experience and it’s largely because of how we train our team on their customer service skills.

Related: What is Customer Experience

I share this information with you to give you some background information if you’re not familiar with me. However, the primary reasons is because I want you to know that this information is tried, tested and true.

I’m an operator, just like you!

I have a team I must support, just like you!

I’m looking for a competitive advantage with proven strategies, not advice from someone who just recites what they read online.

Before we get into the 5 Customer Service Skills, make sure to connect with me on LinkedIn and let me know which Customer Service Skill you like the most – I’d be happy to answer any further questions you may have after reading the article!

Without further adieu, I present you the five new customer service skills your employees need:

Customer Service Skill #1: Understand the 3 Customer Personality Types

You can’t deliver the same experience to every single customer and have great customer service skills.

Why?

Because some gestures – whether it’s your tone, the questions you ask the customer or your dialogue – will engage some customers and alienate others.

A decade ago, when I was working within a call centre as a customer service agent in Vancouver, I started to document different customer traits and behaviours.

Why was it that customers in different regions reacted differently to how I answered the phone?

Why did some customers not care to talk about the local sports team?

Why did some customers want to talk about the weather?

I was interested in the answers to these questions…so I investigated further.

After months of taking notes, I recognized that each customer has a different definition of success when doing business with a company.

Eventually, I created something I now refer to as The 3 Common Customer Personality Types.

I’ve trained hundreds of people on these customer personality types, such as customer service team members from Verizon Wireless and sales professionals from Lexus

The Director Style Personality Type

Customer Service Skills #1

Let’s pretend James Bond was your customer.

What attributes does he have?

He’s reserved, to the point in his conversation and conducts very little chit chat.

Now, think of this customer in your business. What do they value the most and how are they defining a great customer experience? I’d suggest:

  • Team members with high product knowledge
  • They want to lead the customer experience
  • Time efficiency matters to them
  • Their questions get answered quickly

The director style customer personality is a great customer to have because often their experience with your company is an efficient one. This is particularly great for retail and call centre experiences.

The Socializer Style Personality Type

Customer Service Skills #2

I don’t know Ellen Degeneres personally but based on her show I’m going to assume she’s kind, speaks at length and is a great listener.

Does this remind you of one of your customers?

I bet it does! Now, how does the socializer define a successfully customer experience?

  • Employees engaging in off-topic conversations
  • They find transactional customer experiences rude
  • A company that cares about their customers as a human being, not just a customer or a number

Here’s a tip! There is a big threat in doing business with the socializer personality type.

What do you think it is?

Time! They are the type of customer that will talk about this, that and everything while you have a line up of other customers in your queue. If your employees have the right customer service skills they will be able to effectively serve this personality type without cutting them off or be rude.

Continue reading below to see which skills your employees must have to provide a positive, efficient customer experience for Socializers.

The Passive Style Personality Type

Customer Service Skills #3

Have you enthusiastically ever asked a customer,

“How’s your day going!”

And they replied with, “Good” without asking in return how your day is going?

I introduce you to the passive personality type. Some employees may label these customers as “boring” “low energy” or “not engaging.” For me, I think they are misunderstood.

Their attributes are defined as guarded, timid with expression.

But, I believe that for the most part this behaviour is likely because your company or industry have failed them before which is causing this demeanour of uncertainty. I suggest that your employees don’t write these customers off because they can become some of your most loyal customers! They are simply looking for a company that they can trust.

Each customer personality type may exhibit great company customer loyalty for different reasons. It’s your responsibility as a leader to train your team members on their customer service skills to elevate the customer experience.

Customer Service Skill #2: Patience
 Customer Service Skills #4

You may be thinking:

“Michel, you promised NEW customer service skills! Patience isn’t new to me!”

I know, I know. But, what I’m going to share with you is how to identify if your prospective employees have this customer service skill BEFORE you hire them. I don’t believe you can train patience very well as it’s a human behaviour that takes years to accomplish.

I train companies how to build customer-centric teams and ask the right customer service interview questions. Here are a few you can use to identify if the person you’re interviewing is patient:

  • What are some nuisances that really bother you in your personal life?
  • How do you react to something frustrating you?
  • What’s the most irritating thing that has happened to you this week?

These questions are asked to identify how the candidate is in their everyday life. You can make some sound assumptions on how they will behave as a team member of yours based on their responses.

If they respond with great detail on how things easily bother them then I’d be on guard as they may exhibit very little patience with your customers.

However, if the candidate appears to genuinely struggle to think of answers then you may have an all-star on your hands.

You can’t predict customer behaviours within your business but you can help your company by hiring team members who exhibit patience with your customers.

Customer Service Skill #3: Capture ideas and share them

Customer Service Skills #5

Wouldn’t it be amazing if your employees regularly came to you with ideas on how to better the customer experience and help the company grow?

I’m so fortunate that this is what’s happening in my business. We constantly have team members, ones from different departments, sharing concepts with our management team.

The most valuable way that my company gathers ideas from our team is through our Employee Advisory Board (EAB). The EAB is a group of team members who represent each department across the company. They meet with me once per month for 2-4 hours to discuss the current state of the business. During my keynote speeches and workshops, I help companies understand the value of having an EAB and many companies have implemented one…I think you should too.

Do all of them get put into action? Not all, but many do! We are in this advantageous position as a company because we:

  • Hire individuals who are inventive
  • Have fostered a company culture where we promote new ideas
  • Are willing to think differently and try new things
  • Celebrate team member creativity
  • Have created a framework and meeting structure where employees can share their concepts

I’ve always said, “you never know where your next great idea is going to come from.” I find that the best ideas come from the individuals who are the most customer-facing.

Who do you think invented Starbucks’ multi-billion dollar Frappuccino? You guessed it…frontline employees.

Customer Service Skill #4: Collect Customer Intelligence

Customer Experience Skills #6

Within my business, customer intelligence is the subtle details that your customers share with you or that you’re able to learn when serving them.

These details can be leveraged to create a never-before-seen customer experience which will increase customer loyalty.

If I was your customer, at one point or another you would learn the following about me:

  • I have a dog named Maggy
  • I’m a Vancouver Canucks fan
  • I love tequila
  • I’m a boxer and play ice hockey
  • I own restaurants, bars and venues in Toronto
  • My favourite two foods are pizza and burgers
  • My mother is the sweetest angel in the world and her name is Rosa

All of this information needs to habitually be captured for every customer within your CRM to be used to create a personalized experience at any time during their lifecycle with your company. Before you can start training your employees on gathering this information you must first create the repository within your CRM.

In theory, this makes sense, right? However, most companies struggle in doing this well because they don’t reinforce it with their team members on a weekly basis.

How to train them to use this information is in customer service skill #5…

Customer Service Skill #5: Listen and Take Action!

Customer Service Skill #7

For decades we’ve been telling our employees:

“Listen to your customers…”

We don’t tell our employees to listen because listening is a cheap skill set. Instead, we tell them to:

“Listen and take action on what you’ve learned!”

In step 4, I mentioned many things that I’d likely share with your team members. How are you going to leverage this information? Will your employee simply say, ‘I’m a Vancouver Canucks fan too!” Or, will they record that information and share it with a manager to create what I call a micro customer experience.

A micro customer experience, or MCE, is a subtle, memorable and affordable gesture that you do for your customers that resonates with them for years.

I’d be blown away if I was your customer, purchased a service or product and received a Vancouver Canucks hockey puck with my purchase accompanied by a hand written card that said:

“Michel, thank you for trusting us to be your service provider. It means the world to us! We thought of you…Go, Canucks, Go!”

You would have created such a strong bond with me that would heavily influence my customer loyalty. Listening and taking action on what your employees have learned is a non-negotiable when creating a micro customer experience program for your company. It must happen!

Related: Customer Experience Strategies: 5 Tips for Profit and Growth

Within my company, each venue has a micro customer experience program that’s only $250/month. Everyone can afford to do this! However, it first starts with training your employees with the highest customer service skills possible.

Did you notice that many of the customer service skills I outlined were cost-friendly? I don’t like spending a lot of money to find solutions unless the value greatly exceeds the cost. I’d going to assume you’d like to achieve the same.

I do believe that technology will replace some human interaction but I don’t believe the human element of great customer service skills will be replaced.

Question: what customer service skill do you believe you can implement within the next 90 days? Connect with me on LinkedIn and let me know what your biggest take away from this article was by leaving a comment below!  I’ll respond with some commentary too.

If you’re interested in me helping your company with customer experience, employee engagement and/or company culture strategies, click this link and fill out the contact form so I can share some keynote presentation and private workshop information with you.