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Business Articles

Timely and relevant business advice and news curated by the Chamber. Offering essential information, we will help you succeed and stay current.

October 23, 2017

Article of the Week:

How to Create a Corporate Culture That Attracts (and Keeps) Top Talent

Even in today’s highly competitive hiring environment, many companies take the position that their corporate culture “is what it is” and expect workers to adapt to it. Unfortunately, that approach does nothing to engage employees, help them to be productive and make them feel like they never want to leave. In this month’s post, I offer tips for building a corporate environment that can help your business become a talent magnet. But first, let’s look at the latest jobs report data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to learn what’s happening in the market.

July saw solid job growth, with employers adding 209,000 positions. That marks 82 consecutive months of job gains. Updated figures for May and June show that 2,000 more jobs were added than originally reported by the BLS. The U.S. economy has gained nearly 1.3 million new positions in 2017. Since the beginning of the year, payrolls have increased by 184,000 per month, on average.

Professional and business services and healthcare were among the top sectors leading job growth last month. The BLS reports that these industries added 49,000 and 39,000 new positions in July, respectively. Healthcare has added 327,000 jobs over the past year.

The unemployment rate declined slightly to 4.3 percent in July, matching the 16-year low that was reached in May. The unemployment rate for college-degreed workers 25 and older, the professionals in highest demand, was unchanged at 2.4 percent. 

Meanwhile, after hitting a record high of 6 million at the end of April, the number of job openings has declined — but not by much. In mid-July, the BLS released its latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) and reported that 5.7 million jobs were still waiting to be staffed as of the last business day in May.

These two reports from the BLS indicate that, while many companies are expanding their payrolls, they may still be unable to hire the skilled workers they need. And this is on top of another problem — talented employees leaving to pursue new opportunities in this job seeker-friendly market.

One thing employers can do to address both issues is assess their corporate culture and determine whether it promotes job satisfaction. According to research by our company, this primarily means a workplace that offers the right balance of challenges and rewards.

It’s not enough for employers to offer competitive compensation and compelling benefits and perks. These things are very important. But they alone won’t make employees feel truly satisfied in their jobs — or compel them to stay with an employer for the long term. According to our research, professionals derive job satisfaction from less tangible things, including: 

  • Having pride in their organization  
  • Feeling appreciated  
  • Being treated with fairness and respect
  • Having a sense of accomplishment
  • Engaging in interesting and meaningful work
  • Building positive workplace relationships

Even though you can’t control every factor that contributes to your employees’ satisfaction at work, it is possible to create a workplace that allows positivity and productivity to flourish. Here are four tips for building that type of corporate environment:

1. Provide employees meaningful work

Talented people want to be in jobs that will make the best use of their abilities and give them a sense of accomplishment. Make sure that all your employees understand how their work impacts the firm’s bottom line. 

If possible, help them also see the connection between what they do and the company’s core mission and broader business goals. Staff meetings, performance reviews and regular check-ins all provide opportunities for managers to explain to employees how their contributions benefit the business.

2. Give workers opportunities to take on new challenges

If you learn everything there is to know about a job, and you aspire to keep growing as a professional, then why would you stay in your current work situation? You wouldn’t. 

That’s a hard lesson many employers have learned. Millennial workers, in particular, value continuous learning and are constantly looking to build new skills and tackle new challenges. Don’t let any talented person stagnate at your firm if you want them to stay. Build a corporate culture that emphasizes ongoing professional development for those who seek it.

3. Be proactive about discussing career paths

Another tough lesson is discovering valued employees who left the firm simply because they didn’t see an opportunity to advance in their career. Keep in mind that “up” might actually mean “different” — and not a supervisory role. For example, an employee might want more responsibility, like handling bigger projects or accounts, or to work in a different department. 

Take time to understand what each team member aspires to be or do in your organization and then help your employees set those plans in motion. Connecting staff with leadership training, cross-training and continuing education are just some ways to foster a work culture where people can reach their professional goals.

4. Help colleagues establish bonds

Workplace friendships are powerful things. Our research shows that when people like what they do and the people they work with, they’re more likely to stay with the company. In fact, in a recent survey by Robert Half, 62 percent of employees said having coworkers who are friends outside of the office positively affects productivity. 

Managers can play an important role in helping their employees build camaraderie. From team-building exercises to staff outings to mentoring arrangements, there are many ways to help your staff feel more connected to each other as well as to the firm. Encouraging employees to share success stories of how they worked together to solve problems or accomplished other things for the business — and giving them open praise for their achievements — will also help your workers feel like they’re part of a winning team.

It’s easy for employers to view corporate culture as a “fuzzy” thing that is less important to an employee’s job satisfaction than salary, benefits and perks. But the takeaway here is the strong correlation between a company’s corporate environment and the firm’s ability to attract and retain talent. And while corporate culture can be challenging for a business to define and shape, doing little or nothing to make your company a place where people want to work all but assures your failure to secure the talent you need.


October 16, 2017

Article of the Week:

Four Ways for HR to Overcome Aging Workforce Issues

By Arlene S. Hirsch, M.A., LCPC;

The aging of the U.S. workforce has been called the "silver tsunami." Ten thousand Baby Boomers turn 65 every day—a trend that began in 2011 and will continue until 2030. Despite their reputation for being workaholics, their average retirement age is 61 to 65, which means that the workplace needs to prepare for a veritable tidal wave of turnover.

Between Baby Boomer retirements and Millennial job-hopping, HR professionals are often left scrambling to curb the damage caused by massive employee exodus.

"These demographic changes will have profound impacts on employers as they enter a 'sellers' market where there are fewer employees with the necessary skills than there are good jobs," said Linda Duxbury, a professor at Sprott School of Business at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

It's expected that by 2020, 31 million jobs will become available as Boomers retire, and another 24 million new jobs will be created. However, the population of younger workers with education and skills to replace Boomers isn't large enough or growing fast enough to make up for these departures, according to a Georgetown University report, which predicts a shortfall of 5 million qualified workers.

As companies grapple with how to recruit, retain and develop employees of all ages, strategic human resource management will be critical to their success, said David DeLong, Ph.D., president of Smart Workforce Strategies, a consulting firm in Concord, Mass., and author of Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce (Oxford University Press, 2004). He said that organizations facing excessive talent losses should address several pressing questions: 

  • How can they encourage valuable Boomer employees to postpone retirement?
  • How can they transfer Boomer knowledge, skills and experience to midcareer professionals?
  • How can they develop employees across all age groups?
  • How can they attract, engage and retain younger employees?

Encourage (Some) Boomers to Stay

Many traditional industries are facing the daunting prospect of "flash retirements," with large numbers of employees all leaving at once. To stem the tide, some offer phased retirement programs that allow retirement-eligible employees to work reduced schedules or downshift into less stressful roles.

The Work to Retirement program at Mercyhealth System in Janesville, Wis., offers flexible schedules and part-time work as part of the employee benefit program. Similarly, Scripps Health in San Diego allows retiring employees to work part-time schedules while maintaining eligibility for health and other benefits.

Before launching a formal phased retirement program, however, you need a clear understanding of the quality of your older workforce, Duxbury said.

"About 50 percent of Boomers have retired in place. They have lost faith in their employer and aren't always willing to go the extra mile. Their presence is preventing others from moving up," Duxbury said.

She encouraged HR professionals to think strategically about which employees add value and who needs to be eased out the door.

"If you want your skilled and talented Boomers to stay, you have to make it worth their while. Many want to leave because of workload. If you want to keep them, look at work reduction or job sharing," she said.

Even those who can be convinced to postpone retirement will likely have an end date in mind, which makes it incumbent on employers to figure out how to make the best use of these valued employees' remaining time.

Build a Mentoring Culture

"There is little question that many experienced workers will be leaving their jobs in the next decade. And that giant sucking sound you will hear is all the knowledge being drained out of organizations by retirement and other forms of turnover," DeLong said.

Mentoring and coaching are two of the most effective ways for Boomers to transfer their knowledge and expertise to younger, less experienced employees.

"Many Baby Boomers would love to take on coaching and mentoring roles where their whole job is knowledge transfer," Duxbury said.

"Mentors elevate and escalate knowledge transfer, which is useful in shortening a learning curve," added Julie Kantor, president and CEO of Twomentor LLC, a management consulting firm in Bethesda, Md., that helps organizations build mentoring cultures.

At NASA, the best way to transfer tacit—difficult to explain—knowledge to less experienced workers is through two critical steps, said Edward Rogers, Ph.D., chief knowledge officer at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.: 

  1. On-the-job mentoring that allows mentees to see the consequences of their actions.
  2. Sharing and explaining information in context so mentees can understand "why" as well as "how." 

NASA's phased retirement program allows retiring employees to work on a part-time basis in training and mentoring their replacements. The assignment ends when their proteges are able to fulfill their responsibilities. NASA also invites recent retirees back for similar purposes, highlighting how an alumni network can become a treasure trove of mentoring resources and possibilities.

Statistics show that mentoring can have myriad organizational benefits: It reduces turnover, increases job satisfaction, develops employee capabilities and demonstrates to employees that the organization is invested in them.

As an HR professional in health care and sales organizations, Rene Petrin discovered that many companies weren't doing enough to develop their employees. Petrin launched Management Mentors Inc., a consulting company in Waltham, Mass., that helps organizations develop mentoring programs. He views mentoring as a vehicle that enables organizations to implement a strategic game plan around recruitment, retention and professional development. While mentoring often occurs informally in organizations, Petrin sees a qualitative difference when the relationship is structured and formalized. 

Invest in Employee Career Development

Companies need to view human capital differently," Duxbury said. "We are seeing a fundamental shift in the changing nature of the employer-employee relationship as organizations seek to attract and retain good employees in a declining labor market."

Employers that are willing to make an investment in developing their employees are more likely to retain their top talent. In fact, some organizations are using internal career coaches to help employees with career development. The 2016 Conference Board Global Executive Coaching Survey showed that career coaching is now being integrated into performance management and is being used to help employees develop career paths and create a leadership pipeline.

"A principal cause of employee turnover is the lack of attention to career opportunities," said Alex Avery, a member of the HR Leadership Program at GE in the Cincinnati area.

"An individual career coach can offer more attention to individual employee career paths," Avery said, noting that this one-on-one interaction can enhance performance, build commitment and decrease turnover.

Google's Guru-plus employs 350 internal coaches in 60 offices worldwide to address career management, leadership training and employee well-being, among other topics. Coaching sessions range from one to eight sessions per employee and are conducted virtually using Google Hangouts.

Another option is for HR to work with managers to review their employees' job descriptions and, if necessary, redesign those jobs to enrich or enlarge them,

though Duxbury said she is concerned that corporate leaders' overemphasis on operational efficiency can undermine managers.

"The whole American economy runs on doing more with less," Duxbury said. "Younger people don't necessarily want management roles because it's not a good job for work/life balance."

She advises employers to find ways to make managerial jobs more attractive. By hiring more support staff, employers can free up talented employees up for more important management responsibilities.

Cultivate Millennials

As Boomers exit the workplace, Millennials will make up roughly half of the U.S. workforce by 2020.

"The problem of managing through major demographic change is more complicated than just coping with retirement," DeLong said. "Younger cohorts bring a different set of values and expectations, which creates new recruiting and retention issues."

The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey: Winning Over the Next Generation of Leaders, highlights a pressing challenge: Two-thirds of Millennial survey respondents plan to leave their jobs by 2020. Add in the continuing exodus of Boomers and that could be a disruptive amount of turnover.

The common complaint that Millennials "aren't loyal" misunderstands who they are and what they're looking for. According to the Deloitte report, their top five priorities are: 

  1. Work/life balance.
  2. Opportunity to progress as leaders.
  3. Flexible work arrangements.
  4. Sense of purpose.
  5. Professional development training programs. 

Insurance company Liberty Mutual wanted to attract—and keep—its Millennial workers. To counter the image among Millennials that insurance companies are stodgy and boring, Liberty Mutual recreated its corporate culture to make it match Millennials' priorities. Among the company's offerings:

  1. Paid internships that frequently lead to full-time employment.
  2. Lengthy onboarding and training programs to address "preparedness gaps."
  3. Support for continuing education, including tuition reimbursement for graduate school.
  4. Executive and peer mentoring programs.
  5. Opportunities to work in the community through "Give with Liberty"and "Serve with Liberty" programs.
  6. Flexible work arrangements that support work/life balance.
  7. Merit-based compensation. 

Notably, many of the qualities or opportunities that Millennials prize are equally appealing to other generations, including flexible work arrangements, work/life balance and meaningful work. 

October 9, 2017

Article of the Week:

Six Ways to Prepare for a Successful Holiday Season

Guess what people are doing right now? They’re starting their holiday shopping.

They may not be decking the halls yet, but 17 percent of shoppers surveyed by the National Retail Federation said they start researching holiday purchases before September, while 8 percent reported making purchases before the start of autumn. That holiday mentality holds steady in September before rocketing up in October and November.

Customers are looking ahead, and your small business needs to get ready for this busy season.

Now, before the holidays get hectic, is the perfect time to plan ahead for success. Many experienced business owners start this planning process in June or July! Prepare for a successful holiday season by reviewing these six tasks and delegating with your team.

1. Make a list, check it twice, and order supplies

Reference your orders from last season to anticipate how much of basic supplies you’ll need, whether that’s shipping supplies and packaging, paper towels and toilet paper for your restrooms, or branded gift cards for holiday shoppers. If this is your first year in business, your network may be able to guide you through your first holiday ordering season. Remember to order early to avoid rush shipping charges later in the season. Being prepared can help you meet your customers’ needs with ease.

2. Make holiday staff schedules

It’s important to determine your holiday operating hours, whether that means you’ll be open longer than usual or you may plan some additional days when your business is closed. Be sure to communicate those holiday hours with your staff, and explain your expectations of your employees during the holiday season. Ask your team to request any holiday time off by a certain date so you can plan employee schedules accordingly.

3. Order or make extra inventory

Anticipate holiday orders by manufacturing additional product or placing orders with your vendors. Be aware that your suppliers are under their own holiday pressure, and may have ordering deadlines to get product to you in time for the holidays. Mark these deadlines on a calendar you can see easily so these ordering deadlines don’t pass you by.

4. Freshen up your website

Give your business website a once-over to make sure it’s ready for a busy holiday season. Is the design tidy and easy to use? Can customers easily find your most popular products or services? Does your ecommerce checkout work smoothly? If you’re the person who works on your website most often, hand this task to a staffer or a trusted friend. They’ll be able to spot the issues you might miss.

5. Get in the spirit - decorate!

Even if you feel like the Grinch when it comes to holidays, your business will need a little extra flair to help stand out from the crowd during this busy season. Your whole team can get involved: plan a late-night or early-morning decorating party. Order takeout for your team, play festive music (or regular music, for the Grinches among us), and transform your business in a matter of hours. Remember to check corners for cobwebs, and dust your fixtures to help your merchandise shine.

6. Develop and execute a marketing campaign

Why will customers want to spend time at your small business this holiday season? Determine the answer, and build a marketing campaign around it. Maybe you have the best selection in town. Maybe your seasonal desserts are coveted all year long. Maybe your customer service can solve any shopping conundrum. Build your holiday marketing about what makes your business stand out from the crowd.


Don’t forget to plan for Small Business Saturday! Kick off the holiday season on November 25 by adding your business to the Shop Small map, and take advantage of free promotional materials available to small businesses. More than 112 million customers reported shopping on this day celebrating small businesses last year!

October 2, 2017

Article of the Week:

Most Americans Say K-12 Schools Have A Lot Of Responsibility In Workforce Preparation

Pew Research Center

As millions of U.S. students start school, and economists and educators grapple with how best to prepare workers for jobs in today’s economy, there is evidence that a majority of Americans look to elementary and secondary schools to provide the building blocks people need for a successful career.

Six-in-ten adults say the public K-12 education system has a lot of responsibility in making sure the U.S. workforce has the right skills and education to be successful in today’s economy, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in association with the Markle Foundation in 2016. The only entity or institution that more people say has a lot of responsibility is “individuals themselves,” cited by 72% of adults.

Americans express a bit more ambivalence toward the role of colleges and universities in workforce preparation, with around half of adults (52%) saying these higher-education institutions should have a lot of responsibility in making sure workers have the right skills and education to succeed. About half (49%) say employers should have a lot of responsibility in this role, but people are less likely to assign a lot of responsibility to state (40%) and federal governments (35%).

Views on who is responsible for workforce preparation vary by party. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to attribute a lot of responsibility to K-12 schools (66% vs. 54%), and this holds true for colleges and universities (58% vs. 44%). But Republicans and Republican leaners (77%) are more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners (70%) to ascribe a lot of responsibility to individuals.

Racial and ethnic minorities are also more likely than whites to assign schools a lot of responsibility. A majority of Hispanics (63%) say colleges and universities have a lot of responsibility in workforce preparation, compared with around half of whites (49%). And around two-thirds of blacks (65%) and Hispanics (66%) assign a lot of responsibility to K-12 schools, versus 57% of whites.

Although the public is somewhat ambivalent on whether colleges and universities are responsible for preparing the American workforce, a majority (67%) say a four-year degree prepares someone at least somewhat well for a well-paying job in today’s economy. Democrats and Democratic leaners were more likely than Republicans and GOP leaners to say this (73% vs. 62%) in the 2016 survey, though Republican viewson how colleges and universities affect the country have changed dramatically over the past two years.

Vast majorities of those who graduated with a four-year degree say their education was at least somewhat useful in providing skills for the workplace, job opportunities and personal growth. Yet views on what the main purpose of college should be also vary by party. About six-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners (58%) say college should be for teaching specific skills and knowledge that can be used in the workplace. Democrats and Democratic leaners, on the other hand, are split: 42% say the main purpose of college should be to help an individual grow personally and intellectually, while 43% say it should be to teach specific skills.

September 25, 2017

Article of the Week:

Millennials Might Not Be The Nightmare Employees Everyone Was Worried About

Much of the millennial generation is now safely ensconced in the office. And, surprisingly, they're not half bad.

A new study released by boutique research firm 747 Insights in partnership with consumer intelligence platform Collaborata found that "Playing against type, millennials are actually an employer's dream."

"For so long, people talked about the millennials as having helicopter parents, and them being unprepared, and their parents doing everything for them," Michael Wood, principal at 747 Insights, told Business Insider. "They were entitled and they weren't hard workers. I think they surprised a lot of people because they're turning out to not be that at all."

In the study, called "Generation Nation," researchers surveyed over 4,000 Americans from their late teens to their early 70s to find out how they feel about everything from work to friendships to brands, and analyzed their responses. Millennials were defined as people born 1981-1997, meaning they're currently ages 20-36.

"Millennials truly care about their work," wrote the researchers. "And they care about it beyond being a means to a paycheck."

This caring might have something to do with millennials' hope for the future and their unwavering support for an employer they can believe in: "They're very hopeful, and they have a positive outlook on their generation and what they're going to contribute to the greater good," Wood said. "The Harvard Business Review" recommended that to attract, keep, and engage millennials, a company must "have a deeply compelling vision" of how its work contributes to society.

Millennials are willing to work hard for an employer who supports them, and they tend to blur the lines between life and work, found the 747 Insight report — they're more willing than members of other generations to catch up on work during their personal time.

Respondents from this age group were also the most likely to agree with the statements "If I work hard, I can do anything," and "I believe in working hard and playing hard" — the latter is probably less surprising. And, while you can probably take this stat with a grain of self-aware salt, 57% of millennial survey respondents consider themselves to be hard workers.

Previous research came to different conclusions. For instance, Psychology professor Jean Twenge pointed to the Monitoring the Future project, which surveyed high school seniors starting in 1976 and found that millennial respondents were less willing to work hard, less willing to work overtime, and more interested in quitting work completely if they had enough money than previous generations were at the same age.

But now, millennials are a little older. And while there are certainly exceptions to the rule, it looks like millennial employees aren't quite as bad as everyone thought they would be.

September 18, 2017

Article of the Week:

Are You Investing in the Workforce of the Future? Or the Workforce of Yesterday?

Five years from now, the workplace as we know it won’t resemble what we see today.

Seventy-five percent of businesses will be digital businesses by 2020, according to analysts, but only 30 percent of these ventures will succeed.

Why? The growing deficit of multi-skilled talent is a major contributing factor. If analysts’ projections are accurate, we’re looking at a global shortage of 38 to 40 million college-educated workers by 2020 — just five years from now.

If that’s not alarming enough, the average employee tenure has dropped from 5-7 years to 2-3 years today, further compounding the gap between talent supply and demand.

It’s an assault on all sides. It’s not just a lack of business-ready college graduates. The more pervasive issue is that the existing workforce isn’t skilled in critical areas needed to drive digital transformation of business in an Internet of Things era. As pointed out in a recent article published by the World Economic Forum, “Some employers say that schools and universities educate the graduates of tomorrow in the skills needed in the industries of yesterday.”

Compounding these challenges is the fact that we now have the most multi-generational workforce in history, which means there is a greater diversity of development needs, experience, expectations, and skills. As an industry, however, we are still reliant on a relatively linear set of skills requirements and job descriptions that narrowly define immediate needs — as opposed to long-term problem-solving for the organization into the next three, five and 10 years.

Never has talent been more central to the long-term success of business — and certainly, the Internet of Things.

Just as the way we cultivate and acquire talent must evolve to keep pace with the fluidity of a new wave of IoT market demands, the workforce must evolve from point-in-time learning to continual learning, acquiring new and relevant skills and expertise.

Here are six tips to aid in preparing a workforce to compete in the IoT economy:

1. Think exponentially about your talent portfolio, not linearly. The way people learn has changed and as a result, traditional training is only part of the equation. An increasingly diverse workforce requires continual, adaptive and agile training models at every stage of one’s career. Bear in mind that knowledge doubles every year, yet skills have a half-life of 2.5- 5 years, which means that 75-90 percent of the workforce requires continuous reskilling.

2. Map talent development to learning outcomes and explore new and inventive methods for learning through collaboration. Culture and technology are critical to enable successful melding of the world of work with everyday learning and knowledge building.

3. Identify and engage experts within your organization who are underutilized, or being leveraged at a fraction of their ability and knowledge. Consider the cost-to-benefit ratio of investing in new recruits versus existing staff. Don’t overlook existing employees with untapped potential. Transferable skills can be re-skilled and re-deployed in different ways and scenarios.

4. Don’t overlook unconventional candidates when hiring. Resilience, the ability to solve problems and on-the-job collaboration say as much about a person’s potential as a perfect resume or academic credentials. A balance of technical skills and strategic business skills are critical. But cognitive skills, social skills, and life-learned expertise are paramount (and often undervalued or overlooked).

5. Invest in the right tools to foster organic, employee-driven collaboration and non-traditional learning and up-skilling. Doing so will enable your most valuable asset — your people — to glean from the collective knowledge, experience and skills of the wider talent pool. Offering 24/7, mobile-ready knowledge-consumption models will give your talent on-demand access to knowledge anytime, anywhere, on any device and convert knowledge into a scalable asset. cal

6. Join the IoT Talent Consortium and major players in the industry working to build the workforce of the future.

The workforce of the future is not only in the hands of employers, but also lies in the hands of the employees.

“You don’t build a business. You build people — and then the people build the business.” - Zig Ziglar


September 11, 2017

Article of the Week:

Nine Customer Service Phrases to Avoid

Gone are the days where customer transactions only transpire in person or over the phone. These days, the modern customer expects help on their terms -- whether that be via social media or a messaging app, during standard work hours or in the middle of the night. 

And they expect that help to be just that ... helpful. They want the person on the other end of the line (or screen, or app) to get to the root of the problem fast, and provide a solution even faster. But there are a few things that can cause the conversation to take a wrong turn, including these customer service phrases:

1) "Let me look into that ..."

When helping a customer work through a problem, you really want to flex your direct communication skills. This isn't to say you should be insensitive or argumentative, but rather you should aim to:

  • Set expectations. Are you going to put them on hold while you dig in? How long do you expect this to take? Be upfront.
  • Define your plan of action. What exactly are you looking into? Are you going to check their account information? Ask a colleague? Let them know you actually have a plan and you're not just scrambling.

With this in mind, you might say something more specific like, "This is possible, but I need to run a report first. This will only take two or three minutes, would you like me to place you on hold while I process it?"

2) "Unfortunately, no ..."

You might be thinking, "Is there really a good way to say 'no'?" Turns out, there are ways to soften the blow and provide a better experience for the customer, even when you can't accommodate their request entirely.

Instead of leading with the negative, try offering up the best possible alternative first -- it may end up being just what they need.

Can't think of an alternative right off the bat? Try asking a few clarifying questions first. By drawing out more detail, you may find that there is, in fact, a way to offer them support -- or at least meet them in the middle.

3) "There's nothing I can do."

This is a comeback that customer service and customer success professionals fall back on when they are limited by policies and protocol - when the organizations they work for put process over people.

To combat this, it's important to first surface this as a concern to senior management, as the decision to remove or reduce restrictive policies typically falls in their court.

4) "Let me correct you on that."

But, but, the customer is always right, right? When dealing with a situation where a customer is misunderstanding the way something works, take a minute to remember that you've made mistakes before too -- and this is not the time and place to flex your authority or come off as accusatory.

Instead, employ a helpful tone and say something like, "Let's take a look at this issue together and see what we can do." Believe it or not, Apple has gone as far as creating a rule against employees correcting customer mispronunciations, as they feel it's both condescending and rude to do so, according to an article from Business Insider.

5) "There must've been a miscommunication."

Giving and receiving information isn't always easy, especially when the customer is feeling frustrated or confused. Rather than allowing emotions to muddy up your communication, take accountability for ensuring that the customer fully understands the situation and all of the possible outcomes.

What's obvious to you, might not be so obvious to someone lacking proper context. This might mean that you need to adjust your communication style to ensure that you're clearly stating your intentions and conveying you willingness to help, regardless of any confusion that may have taken place.

6) "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

The phrase "I'm sorry" if often used as a crutch phrase -- one that carries little significance or impact when used out of context.

In other words:

  • Don't say sorry when you really mean, "I'll have to look that up."
  • Don't say sorry when you really mean, "Can I ask you a question?"
  • Don't say sorry when you really mean, "I want to understand the problem better."

And if you are going to apologize, follow it up with a solution. Customers want to know that you're actually going to do something about the mistake or miscommunication.

7) "I have another call coming in, can you hang on?"

No customer wants to be put on hold -- especially when you're putting them on hold to address someone else's problem. Unfortunately, there are circumstances when this is unavoidable.

If you have to ask a customer to hold, ask them first. In some circumstances, they might not have the time to wait and would prefer to call back later. Instead say, "May I place you on a brief hold while I do XYZ?"

If the hold is taking longer than anticipated, hop back on to let them know you appreciate their patience. Explain the situation and reset their expectations.

8) "I don't have any record of your purchase/account."

Want to send a customer over the edge? Say this. There's nothing more frustrating than reaching out for help only to be met with disorganization on the other end.

If you find yourself leaning on this phrase a lot, you'll likely benefit from investing in some customer service or customer success software. Software like this has the ability to increase transparency and collaboration across departments, so you're never left at a loss when you realize the notes from the customer's last call are hiding in your colleague's inbox.

9) "That's not something I can do."

Even if a customer's request exceeds your pay grade or permissions, it's still your responsibility to direct them towards a solution.

And don't forget to think back to #3 on this one: In most cases, this phrase can be prevented by surfacing the negative impact that these type of role restrictions cause with your senior management. Perhaps there's room to create more flexible permissions to avoid having to climb the latter every time you need to perform a certain task for a customer.

Remember: We're All Human.

Being in a customer-facing role can be taxing -- especially when you're not equipped with the proper tools and permissions to help a customer quickly get to a solution. Luckily, you're in control of how you choose to respond.

This isn't to say that you should constantly feel like you're walking on eggshells, but you should be conscious and strategic in how you handle customer communications. Put yourself in the shoes of the person on the other end of the line, and show some empathy -- trust us, it'll go a long way.

September 4, 2017

Article of the Week:

16 Effective Ways To Break Bad Communication Habits

Regardless of industry, a leader's role often involves managing the flow of information between team members, departments and other company stakeholders. That's why it's critical for all professionals to practice good communication habits and ensure that all involved parties are receiving messages loud and clear.

But even the best of us sometimes slip up and don't communicate as well as we could. We interrupt others during meetings; we send typo-riddled emails from our smartphones; we get defensive and react instead of truly listening and processing the words we hear.

Members of the Forbes Coaches Council offered 16 simple and effective methods for breaking bad communication habits and building better ones.

1. Don't Filter, Just Listen

At work, we screen information at lightning speed and focus on what is most important. However, this skill is detrimental to effectively communicating with others. When listening, turn off the filter in your head that says, "Not important right now," and instead reserve your judgment and ask questions to clarify. Breaking this habit will enable you to connect and actually get more done. - Loren MargolisTraining & Leadership Success LLC 

2. Put The Phone Away

We're all wired these days to see our latest emails and notifications from social media outlets. However, continually checking these when we are in the company of others can communicate that you're not tuned in, and can be perceived as rude. When I am with people, my phone is put away where I can't see it, the ringer is off, and notifications are off. - Rebecca BoslDream Life Team 

3. Stop Interrupting Others

If you have a habit of interrupting, challenge yourself to count to five before responding. This discipline will ensure that the other person has finished relaying their thoughts before you begin sharing yours. It also has the added benefit of giving the impression that you’re carefully reflecting on what they just said. - Shawn Kent HayashiThe Professional Development Group LLC 

4. Practice Periods Of Unavailability

One of our worst communication habits happens to appear as a strength. The majority of us are constantly connected to the world through an array of devices, so we never have down time to stop giving and receiving communication unless we are intentional about it. Carve out periods during your day when the technology is turned off or removed from your presence, and relearn how to communicate! - Billy WilliamsArchegos 

Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?

5. Ask And Learn What Works Best

Start by asking what works best. Every organization, department, team, and individual has practices that work well. Avoid making assumptions or establishing what worked for you in the past from the start. It is as simple as asking, "If I need to get a critical message across, what is most effective?" Learn what works, and improve what doesn't over time. - Alan TrivediTrivedi Coaching & Consulting Group 

6. Proofread Anything Sent From Your Phone

Short, terse and often not-well-thought-out emails sent via your smartphone can damage communication because it invites the impulsive and emotional. I see executives and career professionals make some egregious communication errors on this platform. Any worthy communication that deserves thought should be read and reread or you risk a problem message that often reads "Sent From My iPhone" or the like! - John O'ConnorCareer Pro Inc. 

7. Pick Up The Phone

One of the leading causes of misunderstandings is a lack of effective communication. Technology has us hiding behind keyboards and smartphone screens as texting has become the most widely used avenue of communication. Nothing beats picking up the phone to quickly communicate what's needed. Instead of sending an emoji, hit the call button and allow someone to hear your smile in your voice. - Maleeka T. HollawayThe Official Maleeka Group, LLC. 

8. Confirm Your Understanding Of Problems Before Trying To Solve Them

Most of us have been rewarded in school and at work for quick solutions and being right, so we tend to jump to an answer before better knowing the situation. Ask questions to be sure you’re getting to the real problem, and then listen with curiosity to get to the root cause. For example: “What is the real issue we need to tackle?” or, “What else is going on that we haven’t yet explored?” - Bonnie DavisDestination Up 

9. Practice Proactive Communication With The 80/20 Rule

Powerful communication is only 20% about making yourself understood and 80% about genuinely and proactively trying to understand your counterpart. When trying to understand, just listening is not enough. Being proactive means asking questions. And contrary to popular belief, it is often perfectly appropriate to interrupt as long as it is simply to verify that you are understanding correctly. - Mehrdad MoayedzadehLife Is Important 

10. Take Responsibility For Your Message Delivery

The person trying to communicate a message should take responsibility for it getting delivered correctly. It is amazing how much more effective we communicate once we take responsibility for ensuring that things are not misunderstood. You get rid of statements such as, "I told you XYZ, you must have not heard me." Really effective professional speakers and communicators always take responsibility. - Donald HatterDonald Hatter Inc. 

11. Remove The 'Junk' From Your Conversations

Many of us are guilty of allowing "filler" words and phrases to crowd our conversations. They squeeze out the value of what we are trying to express. Examples include, "Yes, yes" or "I know" or "You know..." Such phrases are crutches: We rely on them when our mouths are moving faster than our brains. Slow down to consider what to say before you say it, then such filler words begin to disappear. - Leila Bulling TowneThe Bulling Towne Group, LLC 


12. Check Your Grammar And Professionalism

In written communication, it is important to train ourselves to avoid allowing the influence of texting to interfere with professional business communication. It's tempting to use abbreviations and acronyms because they are faster. However, it is important to remember in effective business communication, we maximize our ability to be understood and reach larger audiences by using proper grammar. - Eddie TurnerEddie Turner LLC 

13. Try Talking Less

Overtalking leads to under-listening, and listening is the greatest communication skill. A habit that challenges listening comes from the desire to advocate one's own position rather than be curious and inquire about the other person's interest, concerns, aspirations and goals. Advocating leads to telling, directing, instructing and lecturing with the result of turning off others from listening! - Valerio PascottoIGEOS 

14. Watch Your Nonverbal 'Approachability' Cues

A bad habit related to communication we can fall into is to send signals not to approach us. A few examples: no eye contact when in the presence of others, being short and abrupt when answering open-ended questions, keeping your office door closed and having a negative disposition. To have effective communication, we need to make ourselves available, be approachable, and then be present when we listen. - Randy GorukThe Randall Wade Group, LLC 

15. Keep Your Opinions To Yourself (Unless Asked)

Don't give your opinion when it's not required or hasn't been asked for. Being intentional about listening to the other person and recognizing that their opinions matter will help curtail this habit. How do you feel when people give unsolicited opinions? Adapt your communication to be more respectful to others. - Frances McIntoshIntentional Coaching LLC 

16. Get Out Of Your Reactive State Before Responding

People often communicate from a reactive state: reacting to a problem, something they don't like, something they heard etc., which creates an environment for more confusion, chaos, and more of what's not wanted. Practice refraining from communicating immediately. Take a walk, clear your head, breathe deeply, and feel better, then communicate from a clearer, more intentional space. - Christine MeyerChristine Meyer Coaching 

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