Regain Your Time: Balancing Excellent Customer Service with a Healthy Schedule | Maura Thomas | Skillshare

Regain Your Time: Balancing Excellent Customer Service with a Healthy Schedule

Maura Thomas, Speaker, Trainer, Author

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6 Lessons (22m)
    • 1. Introduction

      1:13
    • 2. Why You're Overwhelmed & Distracted

      3:35
    • 3. Question Your Assumptions

      6:18
    • 4. High Performers vs. Workaholics

      3:31
    • 5. Creating a Productive Culture

      2:41
    • 6. Conclusion

      5:02

About This Class

In this class, you’ll learn to offer excellent customer service and fast response times, while still effectively managing distractions and keeping an appropriate work-life balance.

This class is geared toward small business owners, knowledge workers (those whose outputs are primarily information, communication, decisions, solutions to problems, creativity, innovation) and leaders of companies that employ knowledge workers.

If any of the following describe you, this class will help:

  • Your job seems to demand that you monitor your email (and other communication tools) constantly.
  • You feel busy all day, but you wish you made more progress on important work.
  • You wish you had a better work-life balance.
  • You feel distracted and overwhelmed more often than you would like.
  • You manage a team that exhibits any of these symptoms.

Transcripts

1. Introduction: Hi, I'm Laura, and I have a passion for helping busy people achieve their goals through attention management rather than time management as the new path to productivity. For over two decades now, I've had the pleasure of helping people achieve their significant results and live a life of choice. You can be successful in both your professional life and your personal life and that journey to success can be exciting and invigorating instead of overwhelming and exhausting. I also believe that a healthy work-life balance for employees is not only necessary but required for sustainable organizational success. In this video, I'll show you some strategies for offering excellent customer service with fast response times while still being able to engage your focus and keep an appropriate work-life balance. I'll cover tips for managing internal and external e-mail, managing customer expectations, and I'll also address how to keep work from creeping into your personal time, so that you can use that time to rest and recharge and comeback to work with motivation and a fresh perspective. I'm excited that you've chosen this video class, and I'll see you in the next video. 2. Why You're Overwhelmed & Distracted: In this segment, let's take a look at your treatment of e-mail. Consider this question. Do you use e-mail for urgent and time sensitive communication? Do you allow others to do the same in their e-mail to you? Here's the problem. If every e-mail you receive has the potential to be extremely urgent, or spam, or anything in between, and you have no way of knowing until you open each message how urgent it is, then you're effectively chained to your e-mail. E-mail is designed as asynchronous communication, meaning not happening at the same time. It's not intended to be immediate, but if you treat it as synchronous or immediate communication, then it feels uncomfortable to step away because you'll fear missing something important. If any e-mail you receive could be urgent, you'll never be able to close your e-mail and give yourself the opportunity to do thoughtful, deep work in an undistracted manner. Now, I know what you're thinking, but people expect an immediate response. Well first, I'd ask you to consider whether that question is really true. Do you think people really expect an immediate response, or do you think they would give you some time to get back to them? If you're really convinced that they expected immediate response, it might be because you've trained them to expect one. If you typically answer your e-mail immediately, you've created an expectation with everyone who communicates with you, that you will respond immediately. It might just require you to reset those expectations, give them a little time to get used to your new behavior. But if you feel that it might really cause a problem for you to be away from your email periodically, then it might have to put a line of text in your e-mail signature that reads, ''I only check my email a couple of times a day, if you need more immediate assistance, please call me.'' Actually, it's even better to have them call a specially designated phone number or extension for emergencies. This way, you set the expectation that the sender should not expect to receive an immediate response, but you've also provided a way to reach you in the event that the issue is urgent or time sensitive. Here's why this is important. All kinds of studies show that you get your work done better and faster, when you can focus on it in an undistracted way, but, most people receive a new email every two minutes. So let me ask you this. Does any of the work you do require more than two minutes of sustained attention? Of course it does. So you have to feel comfortable. In fact, you should feel empowered to turn away from your e-mail periodically throughout the day, so that you can get important work done. If you try to tackle that important work while you're glancing every two minutes at the new e-mail that just arrived in your inbox, you will not only make more mistakes, but you also feel scattered and frazzled increasing your stress. This constant distraction chips away at your attention span, making it shorter and shorter. Now, if you're a leader, consider the way you speak to your staff regarding how quickly they answer e-mail. Does your language give the impression that you support their attention and their ability to do high-quality work? Or are you actually sabotaging their performance? Right now you might be thinking, but what about my customers, they will be upset I don't get back to them immediately. Well, just hold that thought and I'll address it in the next video. 3. Question Your Assumptions: Now let's talk about how your customers might react if you don't answer their email messages immediately. First, consider your own vendors, your insurance agent, your banker, your accountant. Do you consider it poor customer service, if it takes them a couple of hours to respond to your messages? Personally, when my providers answer my messages right away, I get concerned about their attention to detail. I know that mistakes are more likely in the presence of constant distraction. If they answer my messages right away, it follows that they answer all or most messages right away, which means they are in fact constantly distracted. This makes me doubt their accuracy and think that I should check their work carefully. My other thought about those who answer my messages immediately is, don't they have anything else to do? This is a different perspective. Perhaps rather than viewing you positively when you respond immediately, your clients are actually questioning your accuracy and your success. Here's another way to look at it. If your customer, were sitting across from you at your desk, you wouldn't check your email, your text, or your other messages because you know that would be rude. Well, if that's true, doesn't the work you do for your customers when they are not in your presence, doesn't that work deserve the same amount of your respect and attention? And if so, it must be okay for you and your employees to step away from email periodically. If you've never considered a communication policy for yourself or your organization, it's time to think about one so that you can get more important work done. Here are some questions to get you started. How do your customers communicate with you or with your employees? Have you defined an appropriate response time for requests from different channels and educated both customers and employees? Do different communication channels, such as email or phone, require different response times? Have you defined for your customers and employees what the urgent and non-urgent channels are? You should be using email for routine asynchronous communication between your customers and your employees, not for time-sensitive or urgent communication. If you reserved email for routine communication only, there will never be a need to respond to an e-mail immediately. Only then can you and your employees feel confident closing out your email to focus on higher impact work. If you plan to respond to email within one business day, I don't believe any explanation is required because email is supposed to be asynchronous. But if it seems like this will be a big shift for people who communicate with you. One way to reset expectations is with that line in your email signature that I referenced in the last video. It's even better if you can extend this policy to include employees direct phone extensions also. Phone calls are good for those messages that are perhaps too complex for a customer to communicate effectively via email. But if they too are for routine communication only, then no one will ever feel as though they must answer the phone every time it rings. This further supports attention and deep work. For non-urgent communication channels, customers and others should have confidence that they can expect a response in a timely manner. The definition of timely depends on the nature of your business. But generally, one business day is sufficient. Urgent customer situations should be treated differently. You should provide a clear path for your customers to communicate with you in time-sensitive situations. Customers should always know what this path is. Again, that line in your email signature can be an option for educating them. Voicemail should include similar instructions like, "If you require more timely response, please dial 0 or text me." Or whatever is appropriate for you. It depends on your job role, but most people should be generally accessible for urgent or time sensitive matters. But to support attention and productivity, the sender of the information should know the correct path to use and the receiver should know that only when this happens, will it be important enough for me to interrupt what I'm doing. Internally the most efficient way to handle these urgent and time sensitive requests is with a treyarch approach, meaning it's one person's job to monitor these high priority channels, whatever they are. Like a special phone number or email address. That number or email should be monitored by an appropriate number of people to handle the volume of urgent requests you expect to get. You should include backup coverage for breaks. The people who staffed these urgent, time-sensitive communication channels, should generally not be given other work, or at least not high level detail oriented or deadline-driven work. Because the nature of this responsibility means they will be frequently interrupted. You could however, have to different customer service people take shifts during their work time. If you have the same people taking in the problems who are also expected to solve the problems, you need to give them time away from their phone and email so that they can do this effectively. An important component of good customer service is confidence that problems will be addressed in a thorough and satisfactory way. Also, don't make the mistake of forwarding that emergency phone number or email address to multiple other phone or email addresses inside the organization, because then the risk of distraction is spread among all those responsible. Everyone will be checking to see if a message came in or listening for the phone to ring. Even if urgent time sensitive matters rarely or never happen, you can't expect the employees who handle them to be on call 24/7, 365. Even if nothing ever happens, checking for those emergencies is still work and constant monitoring means they can get dragged into other work during suppose a downtime. In which case, they won't really have any downtime at all. In the next video, I'll discuss expectations of availability and working during evenings, weekends, and vacations. 4. High Performers vs. Workaholics: Having guidelines about what kind of communication is used in different circumstances sets expectations for availability during work hours and allows you and your team, if you have one, to embrace your work in a thoughtful way, get more important tasks accomplished, and provides opportunities for you to get into a flow state more often. When you can get fully absorbed in your work and achieve more, you'll be happier, more engaged, more motivated, and more productive. But now let's turn our attention to after-hours work. There are times when your work will require you to put in extra hours, and people who do that during those times are high performers, but people who are always working and always available are workaholics. There is a difference. You might be a knowledge worker, meaning your work product is ideas, creativity, decisions, communication, and solutions to problems. If you are, then your brain is the most important tool that you bring to work everyday, and that means that your personal time, things like rest, recreation, sleep, family, proper nutrition, and exercise are important to your ability to do your job well. It might seem like you're being more productive if you work all the time. But think about it this way, you can't get a fresh perspective on something you never step away from. Your productivity will suffer if you work too much, be aware of when you're crossing the line from high performer to workaholic, and keep in mind that sometimes the best thing you can do for your work is not work. You're working an appropriate number of hours, but let's say that your work time is flexible and your flexible schedule has you working at 11:00 PM. Well, that's up to you, but don't impose your work schedule on your co-workers by sending after-hours emails. Instead, use a scheduled send feature or put messages in your draft folder to be sent during work hours. If you really need to reach someone during off hours, think twice about whether it can wait, and if not, use a communication channel that's less common like voicemail or text so that they can react to the issue but not have to be monitoring their email to learn about it. It's really easy to send email because it seems like it's not intrusive. We hesitate to call or text someone during off hours because those are more intrusive. But it's hard to relax and enjoy your downtime if you know everyone else is working and you're missing things. That covers evenings and weekends, but vacations are a problem too. In order for you to realize maximum benefit from your vacation, you can't work while you're away. Checking email from the beach is still working. Studies have shown that taking vacation has benefits for both you and your organization. Your reserves of motivation and inspiration get run down over time, limiting your creativity and your ability to solve problems. Vacation can provide an opportunity to get refreshed and re-energized and come back to work with that improved creativity and fresh perspective that are so important to knowledge work. In the next video I'll address some points for you to consider if you're a leader in your organization, if you're the boss, if you're a manager who has people reporting to you, or if you aspire to be in a leadership position in your future. 5. Creating a Productive Culture: Now let's address how these issues play out in larger organizations. If you have any leadership responsibilities, you'll need to consider the information in this class from that perspective. Because leaders behaviors have a big impact on the culture of the organization. As a leader, how do you behave? Do you take vacations? Do you or your employees e-mail team members during evenings, weekends, or when they are on vacation? If so, you're sending the message that you require constant availability. Even if leaders explicitly tell staff, I don't expect you to answer messages when you're not at work, that's not enough to keep them from feeling like they should. Your employees are ambitious, they want to be in your position. So they're going to mimic your behavior, telling them they don't have to do it doesn't help. You have to set the example. You have to model the behavior. If you're a leader in an organization that offers paid vacation time to employees, then it's smart to realize the maximum return on your investment in that paid time off. If your employees check their e-mail on vacation, why are you paying them to take time off? You offer paid vacation so that they can get those benefits I outlined earlier, which pay dividends not only to them but to the organization as well. No one should be so indispensable or think they are, that they're never allowed to truly step away. In order for them to do that, you'll want to create an environment where people can feel comfortable being out of the office. Discourage staff from checking in, checking messages or e-mails or otherwise working while they're on vacation. Some companies even give employees the option of having messages deleted while they're away. Senders receive a very polite message directing them to someone else who can help them. For employees` to embrace this, it's especially important that leadership model these behaviors. If you are a leader in your organization, take your own vacation time and don't check in while you're gone. Extended time to unplug will provide a new attitude and fresh perspective that's critical for you to be the visionary thinker that your leadership position demands. Leaving someone to cover for you will give that person an opportunity to grow, and checking in with them while you're gone will give the impression that you don't have faith in them. So being totally unplugged and fully enjoying your vacation time will benefit both you and them. In the next video, I'll give you some specific steps to take so that you can make immediate use of what you've learned in this class. 6. Conclusion: In this class, I've talked about managing your communication channels. I suggested you designate employees e-mail and direct phone extensions for routine communications, and have a single appropriately staff channel for urgent requests and messages. I also discussed the necessity of uninterrupted downtime for all employees, especially leadership. Everyone must feel free to step away from their e-mail and focus on deep work and also to occasionally step away from work altogether. Remember that there's a difference between a high performer and a workaholic. Take advantage of flexible work time but limit non-emergency communication to business hours only. One last point I'd like to emphasize, is that the culture of an organization, including the pace and the pressure of the environment, start at the top. It's critically important that leadership model the behavior they want employees to exhibit. If you're a leader, don't use e-mail for urgent and time-sensitive communication, and discourage the practice when you see others doing it. Don't e-mail your team on evenings, weekends, and during their vacation, even if you think they know, you don't expect them to respond. Take your vacation time and enthusiastically encourage your team to take there's. Don't check in with the office while you're away. Here's how I want you to get started after the video. First, check your e-mail as often as you think you need to, but once you've checked it, close it so that you can get other work done. If you need access to your inbox to do your other work or if the task ahead of you is to deal with the message is already there, then work in offline mode. Most e-mail clients have a setting for this. If you access your e-mail through a browser, consider setting up an email client instead, it'll give you more control. Some popular e-mail clients are Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail, and Thunderbird. Next, resist the urge to check e-mail during your off time. Some smartphones make it very easy for you to temporarily disable your email. Doing this can minimize the temptation to check it when you're away from work. If you are an iPhone user, you can find instructions for doing this on my blog. Another thing you can do, avoid giving out your personal cell number to work contacts by considering a free Google voice number. You can find out more about how to do this, even if you've already given out your number, also on my blog. Here's another step you can take. If you're an individual contributor at your organization, discuss availability expectations with your boss. For example, ask directly if you're expected to check your work e-mail in the evenings, on weekends, or when you're on vacation. If you're the boss, take the steps I mentioned earlier for improving your corporate culture. Here they are again. Don't use e-mail for urgent and time sensitive communication and discourage the practice when you see others doing it. Don't e-mail your team on evenings, weekends, and during their vacation, even if you think they know, you don't expect them to respond. Take your vacation time and enthusiastically encourage your team to take there's. Don't check in with the office while you're away. Lastly, another helpful strategy is to identify a decision tree for communication, and share it with your colleagues. For example, for routine communication, send an e-mail or leave a voicemail. If a communication is time-sensitive, something like, "Can you join us in the meeting in 30 minutes?" Send a text for those. If a communication is urgent, for instance, "I really need to speak with you now." Call and call back immediately if I don't answer. If I still don't answer, call the main number and ask them to find me. These are just examples that you can adjust based on your own situation. If you're the boss, identify a decision tree for customers and decide how you want to educate them and set their expectations. You could post it on your website, add it to everyone's e-mail signature, or create a document to share with clients when you bring them on. I hope you found this class useful. Share the steps you've taken and how it's working out for you, on this class page, on the Skillshare website, or email me directly at [email protected] You can also find a lot more information on these topics and many others related to personal and organizational productivity, attention management, and work-life balance in my two books, "Personal Productivity SECRETS," do what you never thought possible with your time and attention, and regain control of your life, and my second book, "WORK WITHOUT WALLS" an executives guide to attention management, productivity, and the future of work. They're both available in paperback, e-book, and audio formats, anywhere books are sold. Check out my website for other ways to get information and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Thanks for watching.