By Cesar Torres
In business and in life, you can be a Pretender or a Contender.
Pretenders know the rules and go through the motions. Pretenders come to work, day after day, with the best of intentions. They understand the concept that “the customer is always right” and chase customer approval. But when push comes to shove – as it inevitably does with customer service interactions – Pretenders crumble. And when they do, your business loses.
Contenders are different. They can handle stressful situations with grace and calm. They think on their feet, pivoting negative customer interactions into positive – or at least neutral! – ones with ease. They refuse to let negativity distract them from goals. Contenders understand on a deep level how to best deliver effective, efficient, and relationship-building customer service.
You may be thinking the difference between a Pretender and a Contender is training. And skills are, of course, important. But in working with hundreds and hundreds of entrepreneurs and their employees, I have realized that the true difference between Contender and Pretender comes down to one simple thing – mindset.
Mindshift is the Difference
It’s impossible to leave every part of your personal life at home when you go to work. We are not robots – we come to work with our whole self, not just the aspects of our personality that have been okayed by the corporate training manual.
Contenders consider how their personality helps or hinders high-tension situations. Contenders identify and deconstruct their deeply-held beliefs on how people treat one another. They know that past experiences influence present behavior. Contenders aren’t just going through the motions of life – they understand themselves on a deep, complex level. Pretenders can’t and don’t.
This is why Pretenders crumble under the pressure of difficult customer service interactions – they’re transposing their personal baggage onto clients. They are emotionally charged and reactive.
Know the Why
I have owned many businesses over the duration of my career; at one point, I owned a chain of shoe stores called Foot Solutions. One of my employees was a soft-spoken, focused man who was previously a highly ranked, well-respected military man. But over the first few months of his employment, I noticed he increasingly fit shoes with a dulled, unhappy expression. He never sold add-ons, like insoles or socks. I watched more and more customers walk out completely emptyhanded, likely turned off by the negative energy he brought into each interaction.
I sat him down and asked – “Why are you so upset by customers?” He described his childhood in poverty and the struggle to make something for himself. He spoke of his many promotions within the army, how his fellow soldiers honored him. “Customers do not know me. They do not respect me,” he said. “I am unimportant again.”
It was up to me, as his employer, to make this Pretender into a Contender. He was going through the motions at the shop, but his personal baggage was transferring onto my business.
We began to run special discounts for servicemen and women. I had him do off-site sales at the local military base. I helped him craft a strong narrative that he could tell customers – he began introducing himself as a former military man who understood what the pain of being on your feet for fourteen hours a day. “I don’t want you to feel like you’d rather crawl on your hands and knees,” he would tell customers. “I want you to walk proudly like you have an important job to do, and you’re doing to do it well.”
He pivoted into one of my best employees and my customers’ favorite shoe fitter.
Figure Out – and Work On – Employee Mindset
If you want your team to deliver amazing customer service, you must take the time to work on not just skills, but also mindset. And as the leader of your team, you must constantly work on your own mindset as well.
Mindset training is worth the investment of your time and energy, as everyone bring their whole self into work. Everyone is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all, rote manual about mindset training. It’s a complex topic with many layers. Here are some things to consider:
- Does your employee perform well under pressure? If not, work with them to figure out why they crumble. Is it the fear of retribution? Do they not understand their autonomy within the organization? Do they need additional training on communication skills?
- Does your employee need a lot of praise or attention? Everyone needs positive reinforcement; different people prefer different types of praise. Some people enjoy public displays of approval – like at a staff meeting – while others would really appreciate a handwritten letter.
- Does your employee struggle with feeling not good enough? Perhaps there are ways that you can fulfill your employee’s emotional cup while increasing your bottom line – for example, a new project.
- Does your employee want the customer to validate their purpose within the organization? It can signal big mindset problems if your employee has the notion that happy customers mean she’s doing a good job. After all, she can do the best job ever and a few customers will still find reason to be upset. It’s important that you train employees like this to approach each customer service interaction with a fresh mindset.
Above all else, remember that excellent customer service isn’t just about skills – it’s about a person’s emotional well-being. It is often necessary to line up certain employees with a mindset coach so they can do more personalized training. This will build up their armor so they feel safe, secure, and confident. Focused mindset training will pivot them – and your business – from Pretender to Contender.
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