Exploring the role customer service as a soft skill plays in the success of an organization om an interview with customer service expert Neal Woodson.

 

Introduction

Dr. Tobin Porterfield (‘0:21’): Welcome to Episode 13 of Serious Soft Skills. I am your host, Dr. Tobin Porterfield. Today we will have the second of a two-part interview that my cohost Bob Graham conducted with Neal Woodson. Neal has 35 years of experience across a range of environments, including 19 years in the event technology industry. Neal currently serves as director of service excellence for PSAV, where he helps management and line-level team members collaborate in driving service excellence. Last week, in Episode 12, Bob and Neal talked about the soft skills encompassed in good customer service and how the customer and employee can both use good soft skills. In today’s episode, Bob talk s more with Neal about the value of good customer service to an organization and how it’s developed. If you are involved in dealing with customers on any level, I recommend you start with Episode 12.

Automation Isn’t an Answer for Customer Service

Bob Graham (‘1:12’): With me is Neal Woodson. I can’t wait to get to the second part of this interview. We are going to dig into things a little deeper and he has a lot of great stuff to say. We have this business model that everyone is striving for — less interaction with the consumer. Do it all over the Internet. Automation, automation, automation. So as you say, the people are the company, we seem to be flying in the same direction in a lot of cases. What do you think happens when companies want more automation?

Neal Woodson (‘1:35’): It’s causing a lot of problems. This is a pretty heavy subject with a million tentacles to deal with. Over the last 30 years, we have had an increase in depression and an increase in teen suicide, and I now this is a big stretch from what you just said, but I will go back to the fact that we are social animals and social creatures. We have been working over the last 30-35 years hard, without even knowing it, to become more individualistic and not connected. Connected in a virtual sense, but that’s not the same kind of connection.

To be connected electronically, is not at all the same as being connected on a human level.

It Always Comes Back to People

Woodson (‘2:43’): I’ll give you an example. I fly in airports a lot. I fly all over the country. When I walk in airports, I see more of the tops of people’s heads than their faces. Their heads are buried in a phone. When I walk by that phone, nine times out of 10, they are looking at inane stuff. They are looking at Facebook or Instagram. It’s not even interesting. They are just flipping through it. They are bored. We have lost a lot of connections. This isn’t generational. We see it in all generations. We crush the millennials and say it’s all their fault. But it’s not. They happen to be better at it. They happen to be more ensconced in it. But that’s because we didn’t, I didn’t, grow up with the technology and they did. That’s a problem

This lack of connection among people is a problem.

Woodson (‘3:35’): I would say to every one of those companies that you so well explained that they are more electronic, every single one of them has a way to reach a human. You look at Amazon and think that’s probably the quintessential company. Go online, buy something, which is great for some things. But when you have to buy something that is really technological, I will bet at some point, you go somewhere and talk to a person and ask them what they would buy. We want to know at the gut level what you think. I don’t want to look at a bunch of stats or a bunch of numbers. I want to talk to a human being. That was my thing yesterday. It didn’t take but about 15 minutes for me to figure that out. I  need to talk to a person.

Companies are missing out; they are trading short-term goal for long-term success.

We Crave Human Connections

Woodson (‘4:40’):  If we can cut money and we can cut human beings, we can make our nut here. Instead of saying we need that human connection; we need to keep that. We’re looking over the long0-term. What will that get me? Over the long-term it gets you more success. If we can get back to more human connections, we will see a happier society.

Globalization Challenges Customer Service

Graham (‘5:10’): We are much more global, which means we are interacting with people with different beliefs, values and customs. If you work with some companies, they have people in France and take the month of August. You have to incorporate that into your business. I am not saying it’s right or wrong, bad or good. We have different holidays. Do you think that creates an additional challenge and do you do anything in your customer service work to be more culturally aware, which is its own soft skill. But it certainly plays into customer service.

Woodson (5:50′): I had something happen to me this week, where we’re trying to incorporate something into the process for our people who work in Mexico in the company I work for. One of the first questions I asked in the dialog was, is there something culturally different? I live in the U.S. I just don’t know from a cultural perspective from a Mexican perspective. There are a few issues with globalization. It’s a challenge. Part of that challenge has to do with fear. A lot of us fear leaving what’s comfortable. A lot of us do. We fear leaving that comfy couch. We panic. People go overseas, especially people who have never traveled. I have been lucky enough to travel all over the world. Once you do that, you see how exciting, how fun that can be. It can be interesting. So part of it is fear on the company behalf. It’s going to cost us more money. It’s not comfortable. It’s that fear and that’s part of the challenge.

Recognizing What’s Good Elsewhere

Woodson (7:16′): But what people miss is the excitement of it and the opportunity to learn more about others and there are other ways of doing things. Maybe we will learn something overt here that we can can bring to the U.S. Maybe they do something really well there and we can bring it here. Maybe there’s something great in India we can bring over here. We don’t have to go all over the world and infuse the U.S. culture into them. We might want to bring some of those things they do here. There’s a dynamic that we miss if we don’t sensitize ourselves to those other cultures. 

Yes, it’s a challenge. But it’s also potentially an exciting thing that could cause great innovation.

Sharing a Vision

Graham (‘8:10’): It goes back to that shared vision.

Woodson (‘8:18’): But everyone has to have it — from the CEO down to the vice presidents, to the managers to the field employees. Everybody has to have that vision. This is what we are going for. If we have to make some adjustments and we have to deal with change, then we do. We are all in this with you. We are all rowing the boat together.

Customer Services Takes Many Soft Skills

Graham (‘8:40’): You told me a couple of days ago that you had listed all the soft skills that are underpinning customer service. You said it was a huge list. How many was it because we have 55 soft skills that we found. How many did you find match up with the soft skill of customer service?

Woodson (‘8:58’): I wouldn’t say it was all 55 and I am still fooling with that list. It’s about 30 or so soft skills that influence customer service.

Because just about everything in customer service you can find a connection to soft skills.

Woodson (‘9:14’): You can find some connection that you can use this in customer service. You might say change management; why would I use that in customer service? But you know what, dealing with change happens on a minute-by-minute basis when you deal with a customer who walks into deal with your organization, no matter what you do. Nobody’s the same.

To me, sales is a huge customer service position.

Woodson (‘9:43’): If you do sales right, to me sales is a service. Imagine a sales person who has to learn everything about a business. And Business A could be different from Business B. Their needs can be very different, but you can serve both in some way. You have to be able to deal with the change and adjustments that go with that. So change management can go into customer service. There are some odd linkages with all that.

Worth Investing the Time

Graham (’10:33′): When you think about it, that’s what makes soft skills interesting. The more you unravel them, the more it becomes connected to everything else. You start to see the connections to everything else. They make a lot of sense. We didn’t used to think that way. You and I think a lot about soft skills, but most people don’t. Here’s my final question, Neal. To the person who never really thoughts about customer service this way and never thought about it’s implications, what would spending some time looking at soft skills and customer service do for their business or for their own career success?

Woodson (’11:12′): It would potentially help them move further in their career. The better you understand and are able to work with other people, which is ultimately what we are talking about, they are the people who move. I’ll give you a reason why I believe that. There’s an author named Matthew Leiberman, who wrote a book called Social. In it, some of the research he has done led to him asking people who would they say is a strong leader: the person who is task-focused, technical, or the person who is socially focused, or is it the person who is evenly balanced between the two. Exactly 14 percent said technical leaders are strong leaders; 12 percent said social leaders are strong leaders; and 72 percent said it’s a balance of the two. That’s telling. It goes back to something Stephen Covey said: You have to have competence, but you also have to have character. Competence is about technical skills, those management things. Character is about social skills and dealing with others. Your character plays heavily into that. When you have the two, you see those people move in the organization. They can deal with all of the competing things they face at work. It can help with marriage or with your friends. It’s an area that you can’t do without.

The people in my life that have been the most successful, inspirational and meaningful have a good balance of those two, technical skills and soft skills.

Graham (’13:26′): Neal, I want to thank you for taking time with us. It’s been really great. You have shed some light on some things.

Porterfield (’13:50′): Thanks, guys. Thanks, Bob. Thanks, Neal, for joining us. if you want to learn more about Neal Woodson, you can visit his website at http://nealwoodson.woordpress.com.

Next Week

Next week, we will be looking at another soft skill and the role it plays in careers and work. Look for that and more next week on the Serious Soft Skills Podcast.

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