Your Career and You: “Customer Service…a Promise is a Promise”

Publication1I’m on vacation in my “second home” of Taipei, Taiwan, getting some badly-needed rest and, at the same time, working myself into a frenzy of hissy-fitness thanks to the ineptitude of a team of “agents” theoretically representing Verizon.

The world’s not going to come to a screeching halt, I know, because of my problem. But I can guarantee you that Verizon is on the verge of losing a long-time customer.

If one is to believe the company’s self-serving proclamations, customer service is paramount. But…

The depth of that “service” is up for debate. Lots of scurrying around and lip service by @VerizonSupport “agents.” After a total of TEN hours spent online with FIVE “agents”…ZERO results.

Okay. Rant’s over. Now to the conversation.

Customer service is the “make-or-break” factor in almost every business relationship. A store is a store is a store. A website is a website is a website. A product is a product is a product.

The differentiator, in practically every situation, is the customer’s perception that he or she is important and that the supplier of the product or service truly cares.

Most of us are willing to accept an occasional glitch in the system. We’re wearing our “grown-up” pants. We know stuff happens.

But when that “stuff” happens day-after-day…and is repeated by more than one representative of the organization… “Houston, we have a problem.”

It’s easy to point fingers and burn a hapless victim…guilty or not…at the stake. But that rarely solves the underlying problem which is a corporate culture that encourages “stick to the rulebook” customer service.

This is what happened in my Verizon encounter. Every single “agent” with whom I spoke parroted the exact same series of responses. They stuck religiously to the rulebook. The result, predictably enough, was a brick wall past which not one “agent” dared venture.

Where am I going with this? Simple.

To the customer…end-user…service recipient…you are the company. And his or her expectation is that, as the company, you’re going to fix the problem…just like you promise in your advertising, in your marketing materials…in everything.

You can curl up comfortably in the cocoon of your “policies and procedures” manual and do exactly what the book says to do. Or you can put yourself in the place of the customer and ask yourself, “What would make me happy in this situation? The company ‘promised’…”

At the end of the day, some things don’t change. The sun will always rise in the east. And a “promise” will always be a promise.

Posted in Communication, Critical Thinking, Customer Service, feedback, Leadership, public relations | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “Because It Has To Be Done”

Publication1I was sitting in a meeting recently…a week after classes had ended at Curry College and three days after final grades had been posted…apparently because someone decided we “needed” to have a meeting.

So far…20 minutes into the affair…two people had passed on information that just as easily could have been provided via email. And, looking at the agenda, there was nothing of any greater significance coming up. Waah…waah…waah.

Meetings are the bane of most “ordinary” folks. They’re seen as an extra burden that eats into valuable work time.

Those who…for reasons that continue to elude me…actually enjoy these things see these meetings as a necessary part of the overall conduct of business.

Part of the “problem” (my designation) is that the folks sentenced to be in charge of these meetings often have no clue how to run these meetings. As a result, an enormous amount of time is wasted that would have been better spent either sleeping or eating a sandwich.

So why have them?

Apparently the prevailing thought is that meetings are a necessary part of the democratic process. And I have no problem with that…so long as the content of the meeting leads to successful resolution of a work-related problem.

These are the “lessons to be learned” as you move ahead in your career:

  • Be clear on your reason(s) for scheduling a meeting.
  • Prepare…and share…an agenda of items to be covered.
  • Plan ahead and prepare a “script” of what you are going to discuss.
  • Set a meeting time limit to accomplish what you’ve laid out.
  • Stick to the agenda…the script…and the time limit.

Effective leadership…and management…come from being aware of the impact of your action(s) on others.

How do you know whether or not you are accomplishing this with your meeting(s)

Simple. Ask! Talk to your colleagues…folks who you feel will give you honest and constructive feedback.

Effective leadership and management is a process. Some people are blessed with effective leadership traits from the start of their careers. And some are instinctively effective managers. Others are both.

But all share a crucial responsibility…to be mindful of how their actions impact others. And the answer to that unasked question should not be “because I think we need a meeting.”

Communication is, as we have learned over the years, a two-way, mutually-beneficial process. I talk; you listen and give me your feedback. You talk; I listen and respond to your insights and perceptions.

In today’s world, though, this does not require herding the masses into a room where they are condemned to remain until the instigator of the punishment decides he or she has “made a point” or “reached consensus.”

No. Today we are blessed with a multitude of avenues for communicating and “reaching consensus” including social media platforms and the good ol’ tried-and-proven email. Or, horror of horrors, face-to-face!!

Once the masses have had a chance to weigh in with their thoughts and opinions, then…and only then…could or should a meeting be arranged…to finalize the discussion and make a decision.

Not because you “think it might be a good idea.” No…because…now “It has to be done.”

Posted in Communication, Curry College, feedback, Planning | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “Overload…the Yellow Light at the Intersection”

Publication1“I’m exhausted.” I hear this word used time and again by a lot of people, but I’ve always said (to myself, of course), “Whiny pants. Quit complaining.”

Then I woke up this morning. Felt like someone or something had totally run over me, backed up, and had done it again.

Yep. End of the semester, and I’ve hit the proverbial wall. Too much on my plate. Too little time to accomplish every earth-moving thing I have planned.

Waah…waah…waah!

While I sneer self-righteously at many of my academic associates who feel compelled to go on sabbatical as often as they can get away with it, I do recognize the value of time away from one’s regular workplace…office, classroom, wherever…to recharge batteries and rekindle enthusiasm.

This is advice that I try to pass on to my students at Curry College, where I ride herd over our Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses. “Be mindful of overload. Don’t push yourself so hard that you’re not having ‘fun’ anymore.”

I fully recognize that no sane human student looks at the mountains of work thrown at him or her during any given semester as “fun.” But I also know that it doesn’t have to feel like a life sentence with hard labor.

So what to do?

Teachers don’t usually look at the sum of all that their students are dealing with. They’re focused on their own requirements and feel…rightfully so…that theirs is the most important of all the work sitting on a student’s shoulders. And I’m one of that herd.

I try to assure my students, particularly my advisees…who are sentenced to meet with me at least once or twice during the semester…that this is painful but valuable preparation for “real life.”

I explain that, in the working world, client-imposed deadlines are inevitable and inescapable. Work has to be done. Projects have to be completed.

“Your challenge,” I pontificate, “is to be aware of all it is that you’re taking on. If it feels like it’s too much…it might be.”

There’s no simple formula for calculating overload. It’s a trial-and-error thing. And you’re going to mess it up once in a while. But you’ll get better at judging just how much you’re capable of doing, and everyone will benefit from your new-found awareness…your friends, your family, your co-workers…your boss.

Don’t wait, though, thinking “I’ll just take on this one extra assignment…I’ll find the time somehow.”

You might. And I really hope you’ll be able to do this. But take that thought as the yellow light at the intersection…start slowing down for the immediately-following red light.

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Your Career and You: “Where Will I Go? What Will I Do?”

Publication1We’re slipping “gently” into the final weeks of spring semester at Curry College, where I head up our Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses. I, for one, can smell summer on the horizon!

Aside from the (finally) melting snow, the surest sign that the semester…. and the academic year…are staggering to a close is, as I have come to recognize, the panic-stricken looks on the faces of many of my senior advisees and students.

Reality has set in. In just a few short weeks, they will strut/prance/slink across the stage, accept their diploma from Curry president Ken Quigley, smile for the photographer, and go off into…

And here lies the dilemma…Go off where???

For some, the road is clear. They’ve completed one or more internships to help get a sense of what it is they’re pretty sure they like doing, and where they would like to be doing it.

For others, it’s like looking into a deep well at midnight. No sense of where, what, or why.

This is where I slip into my “take a deep breath and step off the ledge” counselor role with so many of my disciples.

First, I assure them that this feeling, though it looks like and smells like…to them…the absolute end of the world, is perfectly normal and is something that even I remember so well.

Second, I remind them that they had a similar feeling when they walked across the stage at their high school graduation. Sure, they had (or at least most of them had) settled on a college where they would continue their education in preparation for “real life.” But what really lay ahead?

Most of us got where we are today thanks to advice and guidance from someone who took the giant step before us. And in so many cases, the advice wasn’t “Here’s what you should do.” Rather, it was “Here are your options. Let’s take a look.”

Finally, finding a lifelong career path is like trying on clothes in a store. You see something on the rack that you really like, and it seems to be your size. Then you try it on.

Dorkville…

So you try others. If you’re lucky and you’re shopping in a store where you’re at least a familiar face, the assistant will make suggestions and show you more options…styles or colors that you’ve never considered before.

Shazam!!

You slip into something that absolutely looks, feels, and is you.

But you did this because (a) you were willing to try different things, and (b) you were willing to listen to someone else’s advice.

Where am I going with this? Simple.

Talk to your teachers, to your advisors, to others you have relied on as you’ve made your way through this briar patch called “life.”

Ask what they think of your plans as you envision them now. “Am I being realistic?” “Does it make sense based on what you know about me?” “What am I missing?”

Unlike Rhett Butler in response to Scarlett O’Hara’s tearful “But where will I go? What will I do?”, your advisor/counselor/friend isn’t going to say, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Onward and upward!

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Your Career and You: “Overload… ‘Hitting the Wall’”

Publication1This week, I finally did it, I’m pretty sure. One too many things on my plate, and I feel like I’m spinning in circles.

> The good news is, I know things will sort themselves out… somehow.
> The bad news is, I know who’s the cause of this dilemma…me.

My Madrid-based colleague Corina Manea recently wrote a great post for her own blog, “NutsPR,” talking about making time for yourself…getting some “me time.” The irony is that the reality of my current self-induced insanity hit home just as I was reading her post.

I urge/encourage my students at Curry College, especially those in my Public Relations Concentration, to “get involved” in on- and off-campus activities and organizations…to start building their personal and professional networks and gaining experience outside the classroom.

I truly believe that this is a crucial step in getting a start on a career….making connections and learning new things.

What I don’t do nearly well enough is help them understand that it’s okay to say “no” once in a while when they’re starting to feel overwhelmed.

Productivity depends entirely on your ability to produce, and when you’re overloaded, chances are you’re not going to do that…or at least do it well.

It’s a “learning experience.” There are no “how-to” books on how to really manage your time. Yeah, there are some that give “10 Tips for Effective Time Management” and all that. But you have to experience the sensation of overload…the knot in the stomach…the wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night cold sweat…to really get a sense of your own limits.

Then you have to start working on restructuring your priorities and identifying what’s really important versus what’s the latest bright-shiny-object so that you have some breathing room in your schedule…some time to just sit back and…well…just sit back.

As the saying goes, “To thine own self be true,” and part of that “truth” is accepting that you do have limits to what you can do.

Once you reach that realization, you’ll then be able to say, when the time comes, “Sorry, I’ve hit a wall. I can’t take on any more at this time.”

I actually did this in a recent department meeting. A colleague suggested that I volunteer to co-chair a committee. After a brief reflection, I looked him in the eye and said, “No thanks. I’ve got enough on my plate at this time.”

That night, I slept more soundly than I have in weeks. I had “hit the wall.” Now was time to sit back, focus on projects at hand (including this post!), and re-energize.

Try it sometime!

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Your Career and You: “It’s about ‘Time’”

Publication1We recently observed “Communication Week” at Curry College, and we held a series of activities focusing on the many aspects of our department’s activities.

The kick-off event was the annual induction ceremony for the newest members of our Lambda Pi Eta Communication Honors Society chapter. I’ve been going to these for umpteen years, and I never fail to be amazed at the variety of activities in which each inductee is involved. I get tired listening to the narratives!

The key point…which is driven home time after time…is that not only are these young men and women involved in a number of on- and off-campus groups and organizations while also maintaining an admirable grade point average; they are actively involved in these endeavors.

What they have figured out is the answer to that age-old conundrum of “how do I fit 30+ hours of work into a 24-hour day?”

As many of us “veterans” have finally figured out…and these young future professionals are learning…is that, in spite of your desperate wishes, life…personal and professional…is going to happen whether you play a part in it or not.

You just have to learn how to prioritize the challenges and deal with them.

I still have those occasions where I take stock of my situation and mutter crossly, “Why did I let myself get painted into this corner?”

A big part of the problem is my inbred inability to say “No.”

I get/am involved in organizations and activities that truly bring me a sense of satisfaction and personal accomplishment. Then I get asked to take on another project or program that I believe in and want to see flourish.

Next thing I know, I’ve raised my figurative hand and have been dubbed “head honcho” of this or that initiative.

Luckily…through no fault of my own…these things succeed due, in huge part, to the amazing help and support of others who share my enthusiasm.

These experiences are things that I bring into the classroom for my students, with the caution to “do as I say do…not as I tend to do.”

Successful people are involved in numerous activities. They are because, again, the activities are things in which they believe themselves and for which they believe they can make a difference.

The “secret sauce” for these folks is their ability to prioritize and address situations in order of their importance in the opinion of the individual.

Question: How did they accomplish this supposedly simple but often incredibly complicated task?

Answer: By taking a realistic assessment of their own lives and obligations and calculating how much time they can devote to yet another activity.

It’s not “rocket science,” exactly, but it is very smart thinking. You can and should lend your talents and your enthusiasm to organizations and activities that you care about and want to see thrive and succeed.

But make sure you are able to follow through on your promises. In the end, it’s about time.

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Your Career and You: “Teaching and Learning”

Publication1I’ve been doing this teaching thing for more than 10 years now…not counting a couple of years waaay back when I was in the Air Force and teaching English in Vietnam. Never intended to make it another career path, but so be it.

The funny thing is, though, a bazillion years ago I mentally charted my life’s path and projected that, at this time in my life, I would be teaching.

Then I barreled off into my life’s work of public relations and kind of forgot about that goal.

Flash forward 40-plus years, and here I am at Curry College after having worked for some totally cool…and a couple of not-so-cool…companies and organizations in places as varied as South Carolina, Washington, Virginia, the Philippines, Hawaii, and Massachusetts.

The interesting (to me) thing is that there has been one constant throughout that entire period…I’ve never stopped learning:
> Added two business degrees to the English degree that I started off with.
> Graduated from the Defense Information School with a certificate acknowledging my capabilities in government public affairs.
> Studied for and passed the Public Relations Society of America’s professional accreditation exam.
> Started writing book reviews for a couple of professional journals…which meant that I had to read, understand, and explain the various marketing, public relations, social media, and advertising texts that I was asked to cover.

I’m in the classroom now sharing those experiences and the knowledge gained with hundreds (thousands, now??) of up-and-coming professionals. And I learn something each and every day in the process.

My take on this activity is that, if I am going to help these young men and women prepare for a career in whatever field they happen to choose, I have to be as current as possible in my own knowledge.

So I continue to learn by reading and by attending professional programs offered by PRSA; the Boston Chapter, PRSA; the Publicity Club of New England; and others.

And then I bring what I’ve learned back into the classroom to share with my students.

It’s a continuum…learn…teach…learn some more…

PRSA has as its slogan “Advancing the Profession and the Professional.” That, to me, is the key. We all have knowledge and talents that make us uniquely us. But those qualities should, again in my opinion, be shared with others.

I write often about enthusiasm for what one is doing and pride in having done it. Sharing one’s passion with others is one source of the pride that I so firmly believe should be the hallmark of a professional…regardless of his or her chosen career path.

It’s one thing to know how to do something well. It’s an entirely different matter to then pass that knowledge on to others so that they, too, might realize the pleasures, the rewards and…yes…the “challenges” of building a successful career.

Success in one’s life…personal OR professional…is an ongoing opportunity to teach AND to learn. How are YOU doing??

Posted in Communication, Curry College, professional organizations, PRSA, PRSA Boston, public relations, Public Relations Society of America, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments