Music for Your Soul

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I LOVE music.  It makes me laugh, cry, dance and shout out loud – often at the same time.  It has helped me through some of the darkest challenges in my life.

For instance, when the 2008 recession hit, I lost just about everything.  It swallowed my business, my home, my relationship and my self-confidence.  I found myself sitting in an empty apartment, alone, scared and wondering what the hell just happened.  Then one day I heard this song on the radio: I Ain’t Settlin by Sugarland

It made such an impact on me that I ran out the next day and bought the CD (this was 2008 – remember???).  I played that song over and over again, singing at the top of my lungs.  I didn’t have any furniture, so I took advantage of the open space in my living room. I put on thick socks, ran and slide across the floor while shouting:

” I ain’t settlin’ for just getting by

I’ve had enough so so for the rest of my life

Tired of shooting too low so raise the bar high

Just enough ain’t enough this time

I ain’t settlin’ for anything less than everything”

It actually helped.  If even for a few minutes it made the emotional pain go away.  Even when I listen to that same song today, when my life is so much better, I still get tears in my eyes.  To me, the message is powerful and inspirational and funny.

Nine years later, I now have a new business, a new home and a new husband.  I’ve come a long way and I’m still shouting at the top of my lungs: I AIN’T SETTLIN’.

Do you have a favorite song?  One that makes you smile and feel like you can conquer the world?  Share it with us.  We’d love to sing along.

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How to Keep Your Sanity While Delivering Superb Customer Service

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In the last three blog posts, I’ve shared some tips on how to deliver excellent customer service.  I call it the Three C’s of Customer Service: Clarity, Character and Cultivate.  

All good stuff, but what about you?  How do you deliver superb customer service, day after day, and keep your sanity in the process?  How do you take care of yourself?

Well, here are some thoughts to get you through the craziness of your day:

  1. Frame your favorite quote and put it in full view so you can see it every day.   Choose one that actually calms your nerves and puts a smile on your face.  Mine is pictured here in this post.
  2. Challenge yourself, or your teammates, to post a “thought of the day.”  Maybe a joke, another quote, or something funny that your team can relate to.  If doing this every day is a bit too often, try once a week.  Pretty soon, people will begin to look forward to it.
  3. Hang up your favorite picture.  Maybe it’s a photograph of someplace you’ve traveled to, or someplace you want to travel as soon as you get that next vacation.  It could be something you accomplished that you are very proud of.  The important thing is that it shifts your mood to a calmer place. 
  4. Do something that makes you feel good before you leave for work – like pet your dog or go for a walk or hug your kid.
  5. Bring a mirror to work, hold it up, look into it and smile.  Even when you force a smile and it feels unnatural, it still sends the message to your brain that life is good.   It helps to relieve stress and keeps depression at bay.

Take some time to experiment with these five suggestions, then practice the ones that resonate most with you.  The key is to start with at least one.  Some may sound a little hokey, but you never know until you try.  It just may make you feel better.

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Cultivate Your Clients with Outstanding Customer Service

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Customer Service can make or break your business.  If it’s poor, you WILL lose customers.  It it’s exceptional, your business will flourish.  Today I’m sharing tips on my third C of Customer Service…

Cultivate. 

What exactly do I mean by Cultivate???

In customer service, cultivate is understanding your client and delivering a mutually acceptable solution. That’s the key – DELIVER THE SOLUTION!   After listening to your customer, being present, identifying with their problem and internalizing it, now it’s time to apply the solution.

You have a clear goal of what needs to be resolved so finish the job and make it happen. 

At the end of the call or visit, do a short recap of what you have discussed, what approach you are suggesting, and any follow up on your part or your customer’s part. Be specific about how you will follow up, what you will do, and what your customer can expect.

Remember, not everyone is the same so not all solutions will make each customer happy.  Sometimes, even if the same issue arises, you’ll have to go back to the drawing board for a new resolution.  Just continue to use the same tools that you’ve already learned: listen without judging, identify your client’s problem, and offer a solution that is mutually acceptable.  Practice these three tips and eventually it will become a natural part of your process.  Just like a basketball player stands at the free throw line and throws the ball over and over again until it becomes habit, so will you practice listening, identifying and solving until it becomes habit.

It’s not easy.  I believe good Customer Service takes constant work and energy, but the payoff can be huge.  Keep practicing, keep smiling and keep listening. 

And if you missed the first two Cs of Customer Service, Clarity and Character, just scroll back to my last two blog posts and you can get caught up.

Next week I’ll share some techniques on how to take care of yourself in the process.

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The Character of Customer Service

In my last two blog posts, I shared a story about the worst customer service I had ever experienced. I then followed that with introducing three techniques to improve and enhance customer service skills, both in business and in your personal life: Clarity, Character and Cultivate. Today, let’s explore Character: For me, the character of customer service is how you internalize the situation and believe in the solution. It is so important that you believe in the solution, otherwise how can you make it happen? Your goal is to help people for the sake of helping them, expecting nothing in return – Nothing! One example that I personally experienced occurred while I was in my car, during rush hour traffic, in Chicago! Now, I like giving people breaks in traffic. I slow down, motion to the driver to move into my lane – all with a smile on my face. I feel good about helping. But I have to admit that it really irks me when they don’t even acknowledge me with a small thank you wave! Really? You can’t even say thank you??? But then I had to ask myself, why am I doing this? Am I doing it to be nice or to have them say thank you. Now that I’ve been able to put that in perspective, it doesn’t bother me anymore. That’s the same mindset you have to develop with your clients. Be prepared to help this person and expect nothing in return. Here are some pointers that may help: 1. Recognize the importance you play in someone’s life. Whether they realize it or not, you may be the only person who can help them. Maya Angelou once said: “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel." 2. Listen with a goal of totally understanding your client’s point of view, without judgment. The key phrase here is without judgment. 3. Let the client be a part of the solution. Ask your client what they think would be a good solution. Even if they say something you can’t do, respond by saying: “Even though this is not possible, this is what I can do.” Offer an alternative. Keep looking for new ideas to resolve the situation until you are both satisfied. 4. Apologize for their inconvenience. Good customer service can be hard because you have to put aside your own needs and “issues.” Next week we’ll talk about Cultivate and you will then have three powerful techniques that will help to enhance the great service you already offer.

In my last two blog posts, I shared a story about the worst customer service I had ever experienced.  Then I followed that with introducing three techniques to improve and enhance customer service skills: Clarity, Character and Cultivate.

Today, let’s explore Character:

For me, the character of customer service is how you internalize the situation and believe in the solution, otherwise how can you make it happen?  Your goal is to help people for the sake of helping them, expecting nothing in return – Nothing!

One example that I personally experienced occurred while I was driving in my car, during rush hour traffic, in Chicago!  Now, I like giving people breaks in traffic.  I slow down, motion to the driver to move into my lane – all with a smile on my face.  I feel good about helping.   But I have to admit that it really irks me when they don’t even acknowledge me with a thank you wave!  Really?  You can’t even say thank you???  But then I had to ask myself, why am I doing this?  Am I doing it to be nice or to get a thank you.  I had to look at this with a new perspective.

That’s the same mindset you have to develop with your clients. Be prepared to help this person and expect nothing in return.  Here are some pointers that may help:

  1. Recognize the importance you play in someone’s life. Whether they realize it or not, you may be the only person who can help them.  Maya Angelou once said: “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
  2. Listen with a goal of totally understanding your client’s point of view, without judgment. The key phrase here is without judgment.
  3. Let the client be a part of the solution. Ask your client what they think would be a good solution.  Even if they say something you can’t do, respond by saying: “Even though this is not possible, this is what I can do.”  Offer an alternative.  Keep looking for new ideas to resolve the situation until you are both satisfied.
  4. Apologize for their inconvenience.

Good customer service can be hard because you have to put aside your own needs and “issues.”  Next week we’ll talk about Cultivate and you will then have three powerful techniques that will help to enhance the great service you already offer.

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The Three C’s of Customer Service

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Last week I told a true story of the worst example of customer service I have seen in a long time.  While my friends and I were dining outside on a lovely summer evening, the lights strung above our heads came crashing down, spewing broken glass and sparks everywhere.  Literally – on our heads!!!  The owner came out and was more interested in moving the chairs, never even asking if anyone was hurt.

So this week, I’d like to share with you three key points on GOOD customer service.  These are techniques you can use in a number of ways – with your client, your spouse, your children – in all areas of your life. So here goes:

I have found that Clarity, Character and Cultivate are used in every form of great customer service. Let’s talk about the first.

Clarity:  It’s taking the time to find out what the real problem is; knowing that your goal is to solve that problem.  There is one word, and one word only, that will help you get the greatest clarity on your situation at hand.  LISTEN.

In this day of instant everything, we are all tempted to multitask. There is so much we need to keep up with – emails, texts, social media.  Heck, if you walk away from your computer to get a cup of coffee, you come back to 50 new emails you have to deal with.  So it’s very tempting to look at those emails while you are talking to a client on the phone.  But if you are distracted, you are not totally absorbing what they are saying, or listening to the key words that can uncover what their real problem is.

There’s actually a name for the highest level of listening.  It’s called Empathetic Listening and it’s the hardest level to achieve.  To be successful at this, you must teach yourself to treat every call as though it’s the first time you’ve heard this problem, even though you may have heard it many times before.  See the situation through the eyes of your client.  How can you do this?  I’m glad you asked…

You can accomplish this by:

Asking open ended question

Practice patience

Repeat back what the client said

One way to force yourself to listen is to take notes.  Writing versus typing helps you remember the situation better and gives you more clarity.  It will help you to truly listen to your client .  I know this sounds crazy, but give it a try.  See if it helps you listen better and gain more clarity so you can deliver extraordinary customer service.

Well, it seems like we’ve run out of time on this blog post, so I’ll save Character and Cultivate for next week.  In the meantime, practice clarity.  Let me know how that works for you.

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Customer Service Gone Astray

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It was a night to celebrate.  My dear friend just became a grandfather for the first time and he wanted to treat us to our beverage of choice.  Since he is Irish, we headed to the nearest Irish Pub and he ordered Guinness for everyone.   We were all laughing, toasting and enjoying our friendship, when suddenly the lights that were strung above our heads came crashing down – broken glass and sparks flying everywhere.  The strand landed between my two friends and it was truly a miracle, kismet, or whatever you want to call it that no one was hurt. 

What amazed me, though, was the reaction of the owner.  We were the only group sitting on the patio at this point, so the server calmly walked into the restaurant and called the owner.  When she saw what happened, she quietly asked “are you ok?”  Then, without even waiting for an answer, she started rearranging the chairs on the patio.

Wait!  That’s it!!!  As one friend was holding her hand to see if any glass had wedged itself under her skin, and another friend was brushing broken glass from her purse and from of her dress, the owner was moving chairs around???  Her lack of emotion and compassion still astounds me.

I wanted to scream: “Can I see your manager?  I want to talk to someone who cares!” but there she was –  the boss, the owner, the person in charge – and she couldn’t care less. 

So this morning, as I think about how lucky we all were that no one got hurt, I find myself confused and annoyed at the lack of customer service and overall consideration that we received.  Because of that, I’d like to share with you the three techniques I feature in my customer service presentation:

                                                                                 Clarity          Character          Cultivate

Understanding and practicing each of these will guarantee that your clients or customers will never suffer the lack of consideration that we did.  Stay tuned next week and I’ll give you more information on each.  It’s good stuff and something you can start using immediately even at home with your family.  

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Grateful Memories in Spite of…

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Have you ever dreamed of something –  hoped for it, saved for it, imagined it – only to find out it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be?   That’s what happened to me on my recent trip to Italy.

You see, years ago I heard about an area called Cinque Terra.  It was described as a rugged portion of the coast on the Italian Riviera with five villages built into the cliffs.   It sounded so romantic, and any photo I saw of the area was breathtaking.  I just had to go and experience it for myself. 

So I saved and waited and saved some more.  And when I arrived, this is what I saw!  Hordes and hordes of tourists – so many that you could hardly move.  I learned later that each of the five towns has about 400 residents each, yet every year they have 1.2 billion visitors.  That’s billions with a capital B.  You had to fight your way to get on the trains, and sometimes the hiking trails were so crowded you were at a total standstill.

So much for my vision of sitting at a local cafe, sipping a cappuccino with the Italian residents. 

Now, don’t get me wrong.  It was still beautiful – just not the way I had imagined it.  So what do you do?  How do you handle a situation like this?

For me, I made a conscious choice to see the beauty that surrounded me.  I remembered the words of Mary Engelbreit:  “If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” 

I knew I would probably never be in this part of Italy again.  So I embraced the craziness and started conversations with visitors that surrounded me.  And then I ordered a bottle of wine – the local wine that you can’t get anywhere else.  I began to embrace the uniqueness of this area.  It didn’t happen immediately, but every time I found myself getting annoyed with the crowds, I simply said: “I am grateful for ________________.”

Now it’s your turn to fill in the blank.  No matter what is happening around you, good or bad, there is always something to be grateful for.  What memories will you choose to make?

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I Can’t Believe I Did It!

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I thought it was impossible!  I didn’t think I could do it!!  But I did!!!

For two weeks – that’s 14 full days – I totally unplugged.  That means no phone, no emails, no text, no social media.  The reason?  I was traveling in Italy on a vacation and I wanted to have some real time off.   

Before I left, several friends told me to just spend a couple of minutes every morning checking my messages, and I agree that I was tempted, but I knew that those “couple of minutes” would turn into hours.  So I made a conscious decision to unplug.  I didn’t take my laptop or iPad or iPhone with me.  Well actually, I did take my iPhone but only used it to take photos.

It wasn’t easy, though, and I would offer three suggestions if you should ever decide to do the same, even if it’s only for a day or two: 

1.    Prepare.  Before you pull that plug, contact everyone who might need you or your services and tell them you will not be available – then give them specific dates.  I strongly suggest that you say you are leaving one day earlier than you actually are because I guarantee that everyone will want to talk to you as you are ready to walk out the door. 

2.       Don’t be tempted.  Make your decision and stick to it.  As I walked out my hotel room in Venice, there in the hallway was a computer set up for guests to use.  At first I thought: “Oh, what difference will one hour make.”  Then I walked past that computer, headed to the local coffee shop and sipped a cappuccino while chatting with other travelers.  A much better option!

3.       Never doubt yourself.  Once you return home to hundreds of emails waiting for you and more messages on social media than you can handle, it’s easy to ask yourself: “Was it worth it?”  And the answer is YES.  Every time you look at your photos you will remember why it was the best decision you could have made.

You know, I may never be in Italy again.  I can always catch up on Facebook and all my other messages once I return.  Just take a look at the photo I posted on this blog. It was much better to experience my own adventure than to read about others.

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Discover Your Adventure

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I walked into a sporting goods store the other day and saw this poster.  It stopped me in my tracks.  Not because of the picture – my idea of camping is spending the night at my friend’s house instead of in my own bed.  But the words “Never Stop Exploring” really hit a chord with me.

What a great concept!  Can you imagine waking up every morning with the attitude that every  day is an adventure and something to be discovered, explored and experienced.

The good, the bad and the ugly.  No matter what is waiting for you.  Reach out to taste it, feel it, and learn from it.  I wonder if this would have made a difference when I was going through a really dark time in my life.  I wonder if it would have made it easier to get up and look for that new job, search for a new home or sit across that desk from the bankruptcy judge.   I wonder if thinking of the day as a new adventure, no matter what it was, would have made that journey of my life a little easier.   

I’ll never know, but you can be sure that there are more challenges yet to come.  Life is a roller coaster and you never know what’s around the next curve.   So all we can do is hold on tight and

 NEVER STOP EXPLORING

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Smiles for Sale

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How do you keep going, day after day?  How do you pump yourself up when you don’t even want to get out of bed some mornings?  It’s hard.  It’s really, really hard, but on those days when you just don’t think you can face another challenge, try this:

Choose to smile!

I’m not kidding; this really works.  And on those days when you just can’t muster up a smile of your own,  here’s a couple of helpful hints:

Mimic some sounds that force a smile, like making the long “e” sound.  It causes you to stretch the corners of your mouth and it comes close to the real thing.  This concept was actually proven by Robert Zajonc who did a study on how smiling can affect your mood.

Another trick is to look at pictures that amuse you, touch your heart, and make you smile no matter how crummy you feel.  What would it be for you?  Pictures of babies?  Pictures of puppies?  Pictures of shoes?  It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it warms your heart.  This video just may help get you started: https://binged.it/2r9sjxR.

Choosing to smile – it sounds so simple and even a little bit hokey, but the key word here is CHOOSE.  There is only one person who can truly make a difference in your life and you already know the answer to that one – YOU.  So make a choice – will you choose to be miserable today or will you choose to take one step towards happiness.  It’s all up to you.

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