Archive for June, 2014

A Short Visit To “Grammarland”

June 3, 2014

Recently, I was conducting a class on business communication, and a participant brought up what might be new trend in customer service. A similar idea had been suggested in an earlier MBA graduate class I was teaching so I suspect there might be something going on in the business world that could be worth considering. Like most “new” items, this one has both good and bad aspects to it.

The new trend relates to what is happening in large call centers.

A call center representative can talk to only one customer at a time. That means this is a very labor-intensive business. It’s easy to see how the ebb and flow of call volume can influence the size of the call center work force.

With expanding use of the internet, however, more customers are using e-mail and instant messaging to communicate with companies. Call center operators, likewise, are using this development to their advantage.

With instant messaging, call center operators can now handle two, three, or four calls at the same time. They can carry on written conversations with many more people than was ever possible on the telephone. Communicating with four customers simultaneously can provide much faster service, and that’s what customers want.

That’s the good news, but here’s the bad news part to this trend. As some call centers have made this shift, they are realizing that many representatives who worked the phones well have difficulty writing well. Effective communication with clients is suffering.

Being able to talk well and being able to write well require two totally different sets of skills. Further, the permanency of speech and writing are very different. If someone makes an error while speaking, the error is gone in an instant. If, however, someone makes an error in print, that error lives forever.

We all know that how we communicate in business reflects on us personally, and it reflects on our companies.

Poor writing reflects poorly on every company that allows it.

This difficulty with writing ability, of course, exists with customers as well as with the call center personnel; but companies can’t do anything to control or improve the skills of their customers. They can and should, however, improve the skills of their work force because of the importance of the messages they are sending to customers.

Many call center operators are looking to develop writing classes for their representatives so they can effectively use instant messaging. These won’t be “going back to school” remedial classes filled with grammar rules and memorization, but it’s a chance to revisit some of the basic skills we all struggled with in the past.

In many cases when we got out of school we stopped paying close attention to what we learned in English grammar class. Those old rules, however, still apply today. Whether or not we like to admit it, we are still judged by our writing skills.   The companies we represent are also judged by what we do.

If you are in a position to do so, help your work force make a brief visit to “Grammarland”. Encourage employees to pay attention once again to such things as: agreement of subject and predicate, antecedents of pronouns, number, gender, case, sentence fragments, and accurate punctuation. You might even find it helpful to provide this instruction by arranging classes. It could be good for the employees and good for the company.

In my writing classes I’ve seen how quickly participants remember what they once learned. This revisiting of past grammar studies doesn’t take a long time, but it does take concentration and focus. A couple of days and appropriate exercises usually provide the desired results.

As business continues to shift to increasing use of e-mail and instant messaging a review of the basics of English grammar can be very helpful.

A brief visit to “Grammarland” can add a great deal to the efficiency and effectiveness of the staff as well as to the image of the company.




Soft Skills Deserve Hard Work

June 2, 2014


Soft Skills Deserve Hard Work


We’ve all seen those posters decorating the walls of training rooms, hallways, cafeterias, and even restrooms. You know, the single sentence and beautiful picture intended to motivate. Many are trite, but some are right on target!

Here’s one we should all take as a personal mantra. It reads:

“If we don’t take care of our customers our competitors will.”

That describes a principle, and focuses on behavior. Taking care of customers is all about action.

Another of those ever-present thought provoking lines merits a close look, a shift of focus, and a commitment to a behavior often overlooked in the business world. Here’s the thought.

“Doing your job is just the start of what it takes to succeed in the                                     workplace today.”

Needing the skills to “do your job” – as a doctor, engineer, tractor driver, gardener, or any other occupation is obvious. You must know what to do – and how to do it! It’s about mastering skills in order to enter any specific field.

Those are the so-called “hard skills.”

What separates practitioners from “professionals,” are the so-called “Soft Skills” which include these personal attributes:

Communicating well both verbally and in print,                                                                         Demonstrating a positive attitude, and

Being a team player.

Let’s concentrate on the first one. What does “communicating well” mean? What are the behaviors that distinguish – or diminish – a speaker? There are three that deserve attention and require mastery:

What you say. How you sound. How you look.

“What you say” isn’t a data dump in which you dispense a mass of information. It relates to the sequence by which the information is delivered and the appropriateness of the information to the needs and expectations of the identified audience.

“How you sound” speaks volumes to an audience – and to your customers. It colors and modifies the words you select. Everyone can’t, and shouldn’t attempt to, sound like the proverbial radio announcer, but presenters need to control such factors as volume and speed, and eliminate those distracting “non-words.”

A nervous speaker tends to talk fast and softly. So, speak up and slow down to present a confident appearance. Talking fast also leads to mis-speaking and poor pronunciation. Both send negative signals to an audience.

As a speaker, even when you’re nervous, don’t signal it by your delivery. Years ago, a TV commercial urged, “Never let ‘em see you sweat.” That’s still good advice.

How you sound is also of paramount importance on a phone call, a teleconference, or a webinar; all of which are increasingly significant in business circles today.

Finally, “How you look” doesn’t mean Hollywood handsome or Broadway beautiful. Very few people meet those standards. It describes how a presenter stands, sits, moves, and gestures. Use the soft skills to convey your conviction, your excitement, and your passion.

In conversations, people show those emotions regularly and clearly by their actions. Think of a presentation as a conversation, and behave in front of a large audience just as you do before a single person.

When a speaker grabs a lectern or clasps his hands together, the non-verbal message says, “I’m not having a good time. Please don’t hurt me.”

All of this also applies to using technology in virtual settings.

Audiences want a speaker to be good. Use that positive environment to your advantage when delivering a talk, and be sure to use those “soft skills” to support your words.

Some years back I worked with a communications organization that prepared “The Refrigerator” (William Perry of the Chicago Bears) for an appearance on “The David Letterman Show.”

Perry was really good – so good, in fact, that at the end of the interview Letterman leaned across the desk and said to him, “You got some help getting ready to come on this show, didn’t you?’

Without missing a beat, Perry leaned forward and responded, “If you were coming on the field to play football with me, wouldn’t you want to get some coaching first?”

That’s a good thought for all of us.

With appropriate coaching we can become as good as we think we are.