Talent Development Centre

Tag Archives: customer service

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to customer service.

IT Professionals Should Improve This Essential Skill


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Helping non-tech savvy people through an IT task can be an extremely frustrating ordeal for a technology contractor. Sometimes, no matter how you explain it, your client or your client’s employees can’t seem to get anything right or, worse, keep messing things up to make the situation worse.

We shared an infographic last month that helps IT professionals dumb down certain tech terms to explain them more easily, but even with this knowledge, there are certain skills you need to be successful in this situation. At the end of the day, you’re helping a client, which means customer service is a must and a key to great customer service is outstanding communication.

This instructional video from Wisc-Online approaches the subject very well. It talks specifically about how IT professionals — from those in tech support to those leading large projects — can improve communication when delivering customer service.

Japanese Customer Service and Independent Contractors


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Cameron McCallum By Cameron McCallum,
Branch Manager at Eagle

Japanese Customer Service and the Independent ContractorI recently had the opportunity to visit Japan, a country that I had the good fortune to spend 4 great years of my life during the early 1990s. Many things had changed of course, especially with the advancement of technology and the ease at which a traveler can book flights, hotels and sightseeing excursions. But so much hadn’t changed. Tokyo was still the crazy, frenetic city that I remembered, the people as polite and helpful to a tourist as ever and there remains an infinite number of ways to entertain yourself. Something else hadn’t changed and, in fact, stood out even more than I remembered; customer service is alive and well in Japan and it didn’t matter the product, service or industry.

The fanatical desire to make sure that the customer’s experience was positive extended from the bullet train staff who bowed to their passengers each and every time they entered and left a car to the security staff at ANA Airways who made us feel that they were in possession of valuable merchandise every time they handled or touched our carry-on items. Employees perform their duties with pride and the consequence is that the customer is willingly conducted into a process of cooperation with a mutual desire to achieve harmony. Well maybe that last part is a bit much but the experience still lives with me and so I want to remind everyone just how good it feels to receive… and give great customer service.

So, what does this mean to you as an independent consultant? Once rates are negotiated and term fixed, make it a primary focus to make your client’s experience with you a positive one. How do you provide customer service as an independent IT contractor? Here are just a few ways:

  1. Anticipate your client’s needs – In Japan, I never, ever had the feeling that I was imposing. If I needed something, it was like my thoughts were being read and magically, someone would appear, once with a plastic bag for my wet umbrella. While situations can get complex in the work world, the Japanese taught me that if you pay attention (or listen) you can often anticipate problems and challenges your client is facing. And if you are there to try and help without them even asking, think what a powerful message that sends about your commitment.
  2. Show appreciation – I was thanked more times by Japanese staff for just walking into or leaving their place of business than I can remember. At first it felt excessive, but by the end of my trip, I understood how integral it was for them to establish that they “saw” me when I came in and equally when I left. How often do we forget to “see” our clients? Really establish that you are paying attention, listening and are there to help.
  3. Go the extra mile – If anyone reading this has ever been to Japan, you will probably remember a time when you innocently asked for directions from someone on the street, and then watched in embarrassment as that individual made it their life’s mission to get you to your destination, including personally escorting you there. Buying a gift for a Japanese friend in a department store, I watched in amazement as the item was wrapped with care until it was a thing of beauty, something I would be proud to give. Professionally, there are limits to how much you can and should do above and beyond what is expected, but where possible, going the extra mile for your client will leave a lasting impression.
  4. Politeness – If you thought Canadians were polite, Japanese take it to the next level. Much of it revolves around a historically, rigid hierarchy that determined an individual’s place in society but a lot of it is also associated with the desire to cause no discomfort to your fellow citizens, especially in a country with very little personal space. Politeness is just one more way of acknowledging others, seeing them and establishing a connection. I know my parents raised me to open doors for others, to say please and thank you, to respond to a correspondence in a timely manner and it is a nod to civilized society that you extend that to your relationship with the client.

Many businesses today talk about customer service but it often feels like they are paying lip service to a crucially important concept. The Japanese demonstrate that good customer service stands out and differentiates the consumer’s experience in a very positive way. As an independent contractor, you too can demonstrate good customer service with both clients and recruiters, simply by anticipating needs, showing appreciation, going the extra mile and always being polite.

Does Customer Service Matter?


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David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Vice-President, Government Services at Eagle

Does Customer Service Matter?Is elite customer service the new competitive advantage or will the might of difficult economic times win over such that price is the only customer barometer? It’s true that many industries and buyers will use tough economic times to focus on driving price down, getting better rates from suppliers or simply culling their vendor list with an eye towards driving down price.

The IT Services Industry is certainly affected for both suppliers and contractors alike but time and again, research shows us there is a disconnect between what clients really value and what we may think they value.   A recent study of both vendors and customers underscored this disconnect when they asked each group why customers left.  While 59% of vendors cited the number 1 reason customers left was price, the reality was customers themselves said the number 1 reason by far was poor customer service. Furthermore, this is magnified by the fact that seemingly organizations are unaware of their own shortcomings in customer service. A recent Bain & Company study of the management of 300 organizations showed fully that 80% claimed their company had outstanding customer service, yet at the same time, they surveyed over 3000 of their customers of whom only 8%  said these same organizations had outstanding customer service — the disconnect continues.

The customer service experience of a dissatisfied client spreads through “word of mouth” and now the even more powerful social media channels with “word of mouse”, both of which can severely damage and/or devastate a business.  Many of us can assuredly relate to this in our own circles. Is it the stories of high prices or examples of appalling customer service that are shared with friends, family, and colleagues be it in our face to face interactions or online?

So what are we to make of all this? While it’s true we can never make price irrelevant, can our customer service be so good that our clients have no desire to explore our competition?  Can our clients be so enamored by our attention and elite service that they have no reason to leave us? Yes, it may be trite but aren’t we all in the people business and don’t we all want the best people experience in all of our commerce?

5 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Clients


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Cameron McCallum By Cameron McCallum,
Branch Manager at Eagle

We talk a lot about how independent Information Technology contractors need to act when on assignment and ensure that they deliver value when on the client site.  But what happens when you accept a six month contract offer only to find that the client representative you answer to on a daily basis is not exactly the easiest person to work with?  As an independent, this can be particularly tricky. You may feel that you don’t have access to the same programs and processes that an employee might have in the same situation, leaving you trapped in an uncomfortable environment.  Quitting and throwing away the contract means financial loss and potentially a hit to your reputation in the local market.   So what other options do you have?  The following tips can go a long way to giving you a chance to turn what might be a less than perfect scenario into something that is manageable.

#1 – LISTEN

When describing difficult clients, we often describe a person who is a poor listener, obnoxious and who ignores what is being said and “talks over” what you are saying.  Well if that is the case, make sure you are not falling into the same trap.  Listening carefully to what your client says will give you all kinds of information as to what they are unhappy about or what is driving their behaviour.   And that information is gold!

#2 – EMPATHIZE

Work hard at putting yourself in your customer’s shoes.  Mirror or echo back their source of frustration to show you “get” what’s bugging them.  Maybe they don’t have all the information or maybe they are just being obstinate, but demonstrating that you are on their side and are willing to work with them towards a successful conclusion goes a long way to establishing basic rapport.   If the client gets personal or makes generalized statements (“nothing’s working”), let them know you understand that they are not happy but move the discussion back to the topic of deliverables.  Ask them for specifics and see if you can identify the real issue, then discuss the possible solution and work towards agreement on next steps.

#3 – BE PATIENT

Sometimes it just takes time.  Some clients are slow to warm to the presence of someone Frustrated independent contractornew on their team, especially a contractor who is onsite for a relatively short period of time.  They may see you as a threat to their authority or as someone who might even have more knowledge or skill in a particular area.  Or maybe you just represent change and that can be upsetting to some.   Blend in, don’t be too pushy.  Demonstrate that you are working toward success just as they are and that you have a role to play in that success.  Share your knowledge freely and let them see that you have lots of value to offer.   Give them a chance to see that you are not a threat but rather a resource hired to complete a specific piece of work.

#4 – BE RESOURCEFUL

As an independent consultant, you still have access to resources to help you figure out how to work with a difficult client.  Talk to your staffing agent if you are starting to feel like your relationship with the client is going poorly.  Not only are they a good sounding board for ideas, but they may also be able to offer you direct insight on the individual or environment you are dealing with.  That insight may prove to be invaluable.  If practical, your agent can help to arrange a conversation involving the three parties where any issues or concerns are addressed directly.  Having a “neutral” party involved in these discussions can help to push through the emotional aspects of the issues to focus on the business impacts which can then help get things back on track.  Your agent can also help to determine whether the issue should be escalated within the client organization.  Bullying or harassment are wrong, no matter if it is perpetrated on an employee or on a contractor.

#5 – BE PRUDENT

Sometimes, things can’t be saved.  No matter how much you’ve tried to make it work and for whatever reason, you have a client that is determined to make your life miserable.  It is likely time to determine an exit strategy.  Again, speak with your agent and let them know where you are at.  If you have been in regular communication with them or had them get directly involved with trying to resolve prior issues, it won’t catch them off guard and they should be able to help you to figure out a way to leave with the least amount of impact possible.   A good agent will understand that you’ve made every effort and they will also appreciate the fact that you’ve let them know of a potential problem within their client’s organization which could continue to give them and their contractors headaches.

Challenging clients are unavoidable for any business, including independent contractors. How you deal with these clients is what will set you apart from your competition and maintain, if not improve, your reputation in the market.  Have you had to deal with a difficult client?  How did you manage it?  What were the results?  Share your stories in the comments below.