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    Expressive Concepts, 1806 Oak Grove Drive, New Albany, Indiana 47150

Kelly J. Watkins, 

Author of over 100 articles

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How to Differentiate Your Company

(Customer Retention in Colorado)

by Kelly J. Watkins, MBA


It was dark when the hotel shuttle bus picked me up at the airport in Denver, Colorado.  We drove for miles before there was any sign of civilization.  Finally, I noticed an office complex/commercial development.  There were several office buildings and a few hotels sprinkled among the parking lots.  At that moment, I was struck by how similar all the hotels were.  There was nothing unique about any of them.  They were virtually indistinguishable from each other. 


None of the usual criteria applied here.  For example, location is one of the primary deciding factors for guests.  Yet, these hotels are next door to each other.  One isn’t closer to the airport.  One isn’t closer to downtown. 


None of them has a view.  There are no sandy beaches, babbling brooks, or towering mountains in sight.  The surroundings are all the same.  None of them has a beautiful courtyard or flower garden.  There are no amenities, such as a swimming pool or an attached restaurant. 


I thought to myself.  What differentiates these hotels?  Why would someone choose to stay at one versus the other?  Why would that person return to that hotel?  There is only one reason:  the people inside.  The employees. 


If I stayed at one of those hotels, it would be my experience with the employees that would determine whether I would return to that property or go to the building next door.  The only thing that distinguishes these hotels is their



The same is true in your business.  How your staff treats clients determines if they will return. 


Whatever business you’re in, the primary element that distinguishes you from the competition is your employees and the level of service they offer.  What your employees do and how they act determines client satisfaction.


You may invest thousands of dollars, euros, dirhams, rands in your facility, your phone system, or your computers.  Yet, what matters most to customers is how they are treated by employees.  Are you investing in your employees? 


Are they properly trained?  And, I don’t mean in the technical aspects of the job.  I’m talking about training and empowering staff to provide exceptional service, memorable service in order to exceed expectations.


Does your staff know your company’s customer service philosophy?  Do they know how to handle customers who request a refund or demand a guarantee?  Can they communicate with people using good listening, verbal and non-verbal skills?  Does your staff know how to adapt communication to different behavior styles?  Can they effectively deal with upset customers?


Developing customer-oriented employees requires an investment.  Every employee has the opportunity to make an impact.  What type of impact do you want them to make? 


For Reprints, please include contact info: By Kelly J. Watkins, MBA. Kelly offers Keynotes and Communication Training. For FREE tips, visit: www.keepcustomers.com or (812)246-2424.


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How Was Your Stay? -- and other stupid questions


by Kelly J. Watkins, MBA

If you have a standard policy that requires your employees to say “How was your stay?” or “How was the food?” or “How was my service” – then you should be fired immediately!  Unless . . . .

Unless your employees are empowered to do something about the response. Unless they have been given the authority to deal with any and every conceivable answer they may receive.

If you haven’t given your employees the responsibility to take care of the customer, and if you haven’t given them the proper training, tools, and resources, then creating policies is a waste of time.  In fact, you are doing more harm than good. 

Here is an example of why arming employees with foolish wording is not in the best interest of your customers or your company’s profitability.  A year or so ago, I was in some hotel somewhere.  The stay began okay.  Nothing outstanding.  Just an ordinary stay at an ordinary hotel.  (Of course, “ordinary” is unacceptable, but that’s another story for a different article!). 

Then, little things began to go wrong, and they snowballed.  By bed time, I was rather irritated.  Nothing terribly wrong had occurred, but plenty of little things had gone awry. 

In the morning, I had – for the most part – forgotten my trials of the evening before.  I cheerfully faced a new day and headed to the front desk to check out.  I was greeted.  No, that’s definitely not the appropriate term.  Let me try, again.  The person behind the counter spoke to me.  She asked, “How was your stay?” 

Well, this query caused me to reflect upon my recent experiences.  It made me remember all the annoyances I had heretofore forgotten.  With my memory thus jogged, I sighed deeply and replied, “Well, not very good.” 

While waiting for her response, I took a breath, preparing to tell her about the entire list of things that had gone wrong.  Instead of the anticipated inquiry, she responded in a complete monotone (without even so much as glancing up at me), “I’m sorry.”  There was a thirty second pause.  Then, she handed me my paper work.  “Please sign here.”  She spoke not another word to me.

Do you handle customer service issues by creating policies and procedures that you expect employees to follow like robots?  Is your staff required to say or do certain things without being given any authority to act on customers’ responses?  Do you have policies that actually make customers mad, instead of helping them?

These are tough questions.  Spend some time thinking about the answers, as you look around your business, hotel, or restaurant.

Make sure any customer service initiative you undertake consists of more than handing your staff a required “to do” list.  True customer satisfaction begins and ends with employees who are empowered to make decisions and who are given the authority to serve customers.

For Reprints, please include contact info: By Kelly J. Watkins, MBA. Kelly offers Keynotes and Communication Training. For FREE tips, visit: www.keepcustomers.com or (812)246-2424.


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Telephone Mindset

by Kelly J. Watkins, MBA

When you think of the telephone, your first thought may be, “Oh, the telephone is that annoying little gray plastic box that sits on my desk and interrupts me all day while I'm trying to accomplish important things.”  Wrong!  Before you can create a positive impression on the telephone, you will first need to change your mindset about this piece of equipment. 

 Who is on the other end of that phone when it rings?  Human beings.  And, those human beings are often customers. 

 When someone calls to ask you a question, he/she is not doing it because of some secret plot to make you waste time and run all over the office rifling through files or running down aisles seeking the answer.  The customer is inquiring about a particular product or service because it is important to him/her.  Or, maybe because he/she wants to buy the product or service.

Don't view the telephone as an interruption.  It's an opportunity to make a sale or to serve a customer's needs.  The next time that gray plastic box on your desk rings, you should run to it gleefully — ready to do business.

For Reprints, please include contact info: By Kelly J. Watkins, MBA. Kelly offers Keynotes and Communication Training. For FREE tips, visit: www.keepcustomers.com or (812)246-2424.

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Proactive in Action

(Customer Service Training in Colorado)

by Kelly J. Watkins, MBA


Want to communicate a positive impression to your customers?  Try being proactive.  During a speaking trip, I experienced “proactive” in action.  While speaking at WestEx 2002, a hospitality conference sponsored by the Colorado Restaurant Association, I stayed at the Holiday Inn Denver North Coliseum. 


The morning after my stay, I checked out and stored my luggage. 

The regular shuttle driver was unavailable.  Ginger, at the front desk, volunteered to take me to the conference.  “Volunteered” in this case is synonymous with “proactive.”  Ginger even warmed up the van. 


It turned out the regular driver (Sorry, I forgot to ask his name; let’s call him “Fred.”) returned by the time I was ready to leave.  So, “Fred” took me, instead.  Still, Ginger had volunteered to leave her busy front desk and brave the cold, snowy morning even when it wasn’t in her job description. 


Promptly at 4:00 p.m., Jason, a different driver, picked me up at the conference.  Jason had brought my luggage.  He assumed I was going to the airport and wanted to save me an extra trip to the hotel to retrieve my luggage.


There was only one catch.  I wasn’t going to the airport.  I was returning to the hotel.  Jason cheerfully returned my luggage to storage. 


What was his risk in being proactive?  Zero.  Zilch.  The worst thing that could’ve happened was that I didn’t need my luggage.  Guess what?  The “worst thing” happened, and it was no big deal.  On the contrary, I was impressed.  I was even more impressed when Jason offered to drive me to the mall, so I’d have something to do while I waited.  Although I declined the offer, it was nice of him to suggest it.


When Michelle, the reservations manager, saw I had returned, she took a moment to chat – even though she was obviously busy.  By initiating the conversation, she created rapport.  In a mere few minutes, we built a relationship. 


When the morning shuttle driver “Fred” passed by, he asked how the conference went.  He not only took the time the speak to me, he remembered he’d taken me to the conference earlier.


A little later, Liz (who had registered me the previous evening) walked by.  “Still here?” she inquired.  When she discovered that I would be waiting awhile longer, she suggested I visit the bar, where they were offering free appetizers.  She didn’t stop there.  She offered me free drink coupons, which she went out of her way to walk to the front desk to retrieve.   


What do Ginger, “Fred,” Jason, Michelle, and Liz have in common?  They all took action and did something positive for me, the guest, without being asked.  They went beyond the scope of their job description.  They were proactive.  The result?  The guest was impressed!


For Reprints, please include contact info: By Kelly J. Watkins, MBA. Kelly offers Keynotes and Communication Training. For FREE tips, visit: www.keepcustomers.com or (812)246-2424.


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Servicing Customers From Other Countries

(Customer Service Training Europe)

by Kelly J. Watkins, MBA

What happens when your customer isn’t “from around here”?  Even in small towns throughout the US, it’s more and more likely that you’ll have customers from other countries.  What are the communication considerations you should keep in mind?


By accent, I mean yours – not theirs.  Speak as clearly and distinctly as possible.  This is not the time to mumble; swallow syllables; or omit consonants and vowels.  Speak a little slower than normal. 

Don’t fall prey to the most common pitfall:  shouting.  When someone doesn’t understand us, the natural tendency is to speak louder.  This accomplishes nothing, except making everyone feel more frustrated.


Although you should always be careful when using slang terms or industry jargon, this is especially true when communicating with people who don’t speak English as their first language.  For example:  “comp a room” versus “offer a complimentary/free room” or “roundtables” versus “roundtable discussions.”

Another element of language to be avoided is idioms, such as “turn on a dime” or “pull your leg.”  Our language is full of these expressions.  But, they don’t translate well, even when you explain them.


People often assume – incorrectly – that if the other person speaks English, then all the words mean the same.  Here are a few examples of varying definitions from Australia, Great Britain, and New Zealand that are particularly relevant to hotels and restaurants.

entree = appetizer

serviette = napkin (nappies are diapers for babies)

ground floor = our first floor

toilet (loo) = restroom

bathroom = room where you bathe

en suite = bathroom attached to the room (not nearly as common elsewhere as in the US)

ordinary road = bad road full of potholes


When giving distances, remember that much of the world uses the metric system.  You may not be able to rattle off how many kilometers it is to the airport, but you should know that 1 mile = 1.6 km. 

A somewhat trickier conversion is temperature.  To convert Fahrenheit to Celsius, subtract 32 and multiply by 5/9 (round off to .55).  In this case, it may be easier to simply memorize a few standard conversions.

32º F = 0º C

50º F = 10º C

70º F = 21.1º C

90º F = 32.2º C


These will at least let people know what to wear and if they should plan outside activities. 

When dealing with people who don’t speak American English as their first language, be patient.  Take a moment and think about what you want to say.  Then, say it more slowly than normal.

For Reprints, please include contact info: By Kelly J. Watkins, MBA. Kelly offers Keynotes and Communication Training. For FREE tips, visit: www.keepcustomers.com or (812)246-2424.


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Expressive Concepts

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