Tuesday, 6 December 2016

How to Create the Christmas You Want: Top Tips for a Happier Holiday Season

“Christmas comes but once a year, and when it comes it brings good cheer.” (Traditional Nursery Rhyme)

Ya, well, for some it brings good cheer; for others, it really can be a miserable old time.

My advice is not only relevant for people who dread the upcoming ‘festive’ season, but for those who listen year in and year out to friends and relatives who moan about their dismal Christmases.

Here are your options this year:

Do exactly as you did last year
Do something different

All right, so that's a bit simplistic.  The reality is that unless you do something different you will indeed repeat the same dynamic as last year.

Although it's slightly late in the day, you could cancel the usual Christmas that you inhabit and book Christmas lunch at a pub or restaurant.  I know a few families who have done that in the past few years and have never looked back.

You could even book to get away from everything and everyone.  I'm a great fan of turning tail and running if you dread what's up ahead.

However, if you genuinely want to have a family Christmas despite what happened last year (and presumably the year before and the year before that and so on, stretching all the way back to childhood), then you absolutely have to change what you do if you want a different outcome.


By doing something different you may not get the outcome you want, but I can guarantee you will get something different.


Whenever families get together, whether it’s a jolly time or a fraught time, everyone will fall into patterns of behaviour.  

Forewarned is forearmed.  With Christmas a hop, skip and jump away, this is a great time to step back and take a good hard look at the patterns that can make your Christmas so hard.  Until you can get under the skin of where the problems lay, you can’t do anything about shifting them.

What actually happens every time you get together?  Or rather, what are the patterns that are detrimental to peace and harmony?  Keep the good patterns, get rid of the negative ones.

How do I do that??

Accept that your aim is only to change your behaviour.  You have no control, nor should you, over anyone else’s.  


Once you've identified the patterns it's imperative to identify the triggers.  Patterns can only be maintained if you get hooked by the triggers and thus repeat the unhelpful, unhealthy behaviour.

Here’s a for instance:  the pattern could be:  "Every time we get together, I end up arguing with my sister."  The trigger could be:  "She always criticises the way I speak to my daughter."

Once you isolate the specific behaviour that triggers the argument, then you can begin to change what you do.

Here’s what you can do
Using the above example, here are some options:

1. Using Diversionary tactics.  As soon as you see her mouth getting ready to say the same old thing, take diversionary action and get her to do something for you.

2. Preempting.  Get in there before she does.  "Oh look I've done it again.  I know how annoying it is to you when I speak to Ella that way. My bad!"  And change the subject.

3. Agreeing.  This can be tricky as you don't necessarily want to agree with her point of view, but you can acknowledge how she feels.  "I agree Sis, I can see it annoys you when I talk to Ella that way."

And then zip the lip and get on with stuffing the turkey or whatever other job you have on hand.

4. Putting it on the back burner.  Knowing that the holiday time can bring out the worst in both of you, now would be a good time to let her know you know how she feels but that now isn't the best time to open the discussion.  "Why don't we park this for now and find a better, quieter time to have a chat."

5. Going to the loo.  Invent an urgent need as soon as the offending words are out of her mouth.  This will buy you some time where you can have a silent scream, collect your thoughts, rip up some loo roll as though it was your sister and calmly and smilingly return to the fray.

In each case you have no idea how she will react.  She might wind down, she might escalate, she might walk off in a huff or she might take the hint.  You just don't know.

What will be different is that you've taken charge of the situation by altering what you do so you participate in changing the pattern.

The options will be effective for any trigger you identify:  mother-in-law criticising the way you roast the potatoes, hubby plonking himself in front of the telly, Uncle Smithy getting drunk, etc.

The key is to hold on tight and avoid the bait that's either consciously or, more likely, unconsciously thrown your way.

Surviving Christmas means raising your awareness to the point where you can actively choose to behave in ways that support your well-being instead of perpetuating old, dysfunctional patterns that drag you down.

PS:  Patterns aren’t just for Christmas!  If you find you simply don’t have the strength to challenge your own behaviour during Christmas, by all means give it a try in the New Year.  That would be one resolution worth keeping.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of one and two-day Assertiveness Skills, Conflict Management and Personal Impact courses.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Fibbing about Father Christmas

Today has been a day of BBC radio interviews asking my reaction to an article in a couple of the national newspapers about the long-term damage to children being ‘lied’ to about the existence of Father Christmas.

The authors of a piece in The Lancet (Prof Christopher Boyle from the University of Exeter and Dr Kathy McKay from the University of New England in Australia) claim that lying about Father Christmas and the subsequent discovery by the child of the lie destroys the trust between parent and child.

Whoa!  That’s quite a claim if I do say so myself.

As a psychotherapist, I have heard a lot of stories about the traumas of Christmas, but never in my career have I heard anyone talk about how damaged they felt at being lied to about Father Christmas.

The authors claim that when children find out their parents have lied about Father Christmas then the bond of trust is broken because, what else have they been lied to about.  Granted, the authors say their theory isn’t based on observation but is theoretical so there isn’t actually a body of research to back up the claim.

It’s still worth unpicking to see if there is any merit in the argument.

Is fibbing about Father Christmas really worse than fibbing about the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny or any other fantasy characters children embrace when they are young?  

When you think about it, parents lie to their children all the time, often for their own (the child’s) well-being:  “Can I watch another film?  Please, please, please?  “Oh, it looks like the video isn’t working any more; let’s read a bedtime story instead.”  And so on.  We sprinkle our communication with lies for convenience, protection, expediency - any number of reasons – and children do survive these lies unscathed.

Let’s get serious for a moment.  There are far more damaging behaviours that parents do to create long-term harm to their children including physical, sexual or emotional abuse; consistently not keeping their word; malicious lying.  If we’re concerned about the breakdown of trust that’s where our attention should be.

Personally, I’m not keen on parents using Father Christmas as a threat (“he knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake”), but it seems very reasonable to join children in their pretend world till it isn’t pretend anymore.

Children thrive on fantasy, on make believe, on using their imaginations to create their unique worlds and often long after they have learned the ‘truth’ about Santa Claus, they enjoy perpetuating the myth for the next lot coming up.

In just about every interview I had today, I was asked what parents should say if their children ask if Father Christmas is real.  The answer was the same, ask the child what he or she thinks; ask what they like about Father Christmas and what makes them think he isn’t real.

Create a dialogue with your child rather than making it a question and answer session because dialogue helps them work things out for themselves in a way that works for their reality, not necessarily yours.

This whole notion has felt like a tempest in a tea-pot and I for one will continue to support whatever myths the little ones around me have till they don’t believe them any more and they’re on to something else. 

By Jo Ellen Gryzb, Director of Impact Factory

Thursday, 17 November 2016

The Emotion of Change

Change is one of those subjects I'll be writing about till it's time for me to lay down my pen.

Today I'm going to focus on the feelings that can happen around change and how to manage yours and other people’s emotions.

Change during any time of uncertainty creates an uneasiness that you can practically feel in the atmosphere.  Whether it's Brexit, the US Presidential election, an unexpected merger, an office move, redundancies, new policies or even having to find a new way to get to work because of road works, change disrupts the rhythm of our lives.

We need change; we need to be challenged; we need to develop as human beings which means something different has to happen which in turn leads to change.  The contradiction in all of this is that at the same time that change is a positive it can feel threatening, it can knock us off course, it can make us feel discombobulated and unsure.

Even people who are 'early adopters' and who generally thrive on change can feel as though their world has been rocked to its foundation if change comes suddenly or if it's imposed from on high or if it's not what they expected.

Managing change well means managing the contradiction of needing change to grow and needing things to stay the same in order to feel safe. 

Here are a few tips to help you manage change more effectively.

1.   Accept that yours and other peoples' feelings are real.  It's incredibly frustrating and enraging when someone tries to dismiss your feelings.  Someone recently said to me, "Get over it" when I said how upset I was about a recent change.  Get over it?  I don't want to get over it just now, thank you very much.  I need to stew for a while till some kind of healing process happens.

2.  Which leads to… accept that for some people change will take longer to 'get over' than others.  We all have different ways of processing the world around us and expecting everyone to march to your beat (especially if you are an embracer of change) is unrealistic and unfair.  You can help people manage their process by understanding how they see the world rather than hustling them to get to a place where they see the world the way you do.

3.  Avoid using the term, 'at least'.  When someone is struggling with change, hearing the term 'at least' is completely useless in helping people with their feelings:  "at least the new offices are closer to the tube" "at least they're only making a few redundancies" "at least you have a job, there are plenty of people who would love to be in your position”.  In my experience, people will eventually find their own silver linings if other people stop telling them to cheer up or that they don’t know how good they already have it.

4.  Show genuine empathy because sometimes it isn't going to be OK.  Sometimes there really are no silver linings.  A little empathy goes a long way because as human being we need to feel heard and acknowledged.  When people know they have been understood that's one less battle they have to fight and they can begin to process their emotions more effectively.

5.  Take some kind of action.  When change hits us, it's easy to fall into a kind of helpless inertia because we feel impotent and powerless.  There is always something, no matter how small, that you can do.  You may not be able to prevent the merger, but once you have managed the shock, you can offer gentle options while seeking opinions. Because so much change is imposed and we don't have much say in the big stuff, it's vital to focus on the small stuff we do have some control over and make active choices so we feel connected and involved.

6.  Finally, when you are overloaded with change, sometimes it’s wise just to take a time out.  Lick your wounds in private, avoid having a moan-fest with like-minded people.  Instead, see if you can gently wind down the ‘what-if’ hamster wheel of wishful thinking till you get to a place where you aren’t fully awash in emotions.

It is at that point that you will have regained some balance and perspective which will enable you to go back into the fray of change.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Storytelling: Creating an Emotional Connection

In my last blog I wrote about how brilliant customer service can make you stand out from the clamouring crowd.

This week I’m turning my attention once again to Storytelling as another incredibly powerful way to distinguish your company so you can rise above the noise to be seen and heard.

Since stories are hard-wired into our psyches, using stories to create an emotional connection, will immediately resonate with your customers and your own people as well.  Sometimes it’s easy to get so caught up in what you’re selling that you can forget why you’re doing what you do in the first place.

What makes the biggest impact of these two statements?

  1.  Impact Factory has a diverse workforce.
  1. What connects Uganda, Spain, the Czech Republic, America and even the UK?  Our brilliant Home Team has a variety of ‘accents’ all working to make Impact Factory outstanding. 
 Both are accurate statements; the second one uses basic story elements to grab your attention and stick in your memory.

Stories can by-pass logic by connecting with our feelings and they can also make the logical stuff more accessible. 

What we’ve noticed is that people who come on our courses often think that they have to have some kind of special skills or unique writing talents in order to use Storytelling to enhance their message.

Not true!  We work with people’s innate storytelling abilities and give them specific tools that will bring their corporate messages to life.  These might include:

-The best use of analogies
-Simple ways to create a unique written ‘voice’
-A variety of story structures that best suit the message
-How to use connective phrases
-How to build anticipation

And that’s just the tip of the metaphorical storytelling iceberg.

So why not have a go at developing your natural expression to soar above the competition.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Spoilt for Choice?

Have we ever had so much choice?  Whether it’s restaurants to go to, construction companies to hire, financial institutions to go to for their services, or even training companies to book with, we really are spoilt for choice.

Organisations are clamouring for our business and quite a din they can make, too.

On the other hand, if you are a businesses seeking new customers and ensuring you retain your current customers, how much of a din are you making and is it the right kind?

Businesses have to be so attuned to what will not only draw customers to them, but keep them returning as well.  It’s the extras that make a difference; the extras that appeal to our emotions by the way we are taken care of.

It’s common sense:  why on earth would you go back to any place that didn’t treat you well?  Obviously, we have to sometimes:  we’re locked into an iron-clad contract; it’s expedient to stay; it’s cheaper and for those on strict budgets, price may win out over customer care.

However, given that we, the customers, really do have a smorgasbord of choice, there are countless opportunities to please us, to take care of us, to stand out from the crowd through outstanding customer service.

  1. This means really listening; I mean really listening and not mouthing scripted platitudes. 
  2. It means building a relationship with the customer, even if it’s only seconds long.  Think of the difference you can feel when someone at a check-out gives you eye contact and a pleasant word. 
  3. When you have a longer time to create a relationship, it means making connections, finding common ground and making people feel special.
  4. It means accepting that customers aren’t rational and more often than not, they vote with their emotions rather than logic.  

This last is really important.  The number of times we’ve run Customer Service courses and heard delegates bemoan the fact that the way their customers behave doesn’t make sense.  We have heard many times, “Why can’t they see we’re trying to help?”

When people are in their emotions they can’t see.  Take care of their feelings, let them know you genuinely understand where they’re coming from and then they have a far greater capacity to hear what you have to say.

Make a bond with your customers and you will create trust; when you create trust, you rise above the clamour to become first choice.

Check out Impact Factory’s Customer Service courses.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Public Speaking: Yipes! Everyone’s Eyes Are On Me

Why do we have Public Speaking courses as well as Presentation Courses?

They're the same thing, aren't they?"

On the surface, you might think so.  A lot of the principles are the same:  connecting with your audience, managing nerves, having a good solid central message, understanding the arena in which you are speaking, keeping your audience engaged and awake.

However, ask anyone who has had to give a best man's speech or was the key-note speaker at a conference or been invited to an after-dinner slot and I can guarantee they'll be able to tell you the difference.

Any form of presenting can feel very exposing, but public speaking can multiply that feeling of exposure ten-fold.  Why is that?

When you're presenting, you are usually presenting 'something' - a report, an update, new information, a change within the organisation, an instruction, a product launch.  You may be delivering information with loads of figures and graphs and often PowerPoint has a strong presence.

You are generally conveying information you want your audience to know and often you will want them to take some kind of action.

Whereas, when you're speaking in public it is indeed usually just you and your audience (thus that feeling of exposure) and your aim is to entertain (best man or after-dinner speeches, for instance), inspire and persuade (motivational speakers), exhort and urge (political speeches – shudder, shudder).

Great speeches such as Churchill or Roosevelt speaking to their citizens during World War II and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ live on because of the incredible impact they not only made at the time but for subsequent generations as well.

Obviously, not everyone who gives a speech is going to be a Churchill or a King, but for anyone who is entering the world of public speaking or who wants to get better, there are some key elements which draw the audience in, make them pay attention and of course, remember what was said.

  1.             Strong use of emotions and emotional language
  2.             Clear and vivid imagery
  3.             Creating anticipation (what happens next?)
  4.             Stories that take listeners on a journey
  5.             Analogies and examples
  6.             Alliteration and Repetition

Presenters can certainly use any or even all of those elements to improve their presentations, however, they are imperative for a public speaker.

Check out Impact Factory’s Public Speaking course and our Elite Five Day Presentation with Impact.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

7 Pieces of Advice to Calm Presentation Jitters

Even those with nerves of steel can feel as though they are facing a deep abyss into which they might fall when having to give a presentation.

Nerves can be crippling, debilitating and can undermine the best prepared presentation.

So what can be done about it?

First piece of advice:  Realise and accept that nerves are part of the deal.  There may be a few people out there who aren’t affected by pre-performance jitters, but they are rare and not like the rest of us who have butterflies or feel as though we want to throw up or even feel we might pass out.

The number of people is incalculable who we’ve seen over the years who think they are unique in their terror and that there’s something wrong with them, when their colleagues seem so cool and under control when they present.


Your terror isn’t you being a wuss; nerves are commonplace and if you look at the presenting arena in the first place, why wouldn’t you be scared:  standing in front of an audience (even a few people sitting around a table is an audience), all eyes on you, waiting…

And where do most people’s minds go?  “They’re out to get me.”  “They’re waiting for me to fail.”  “Actually, they’re expecting me to fail.”  “I’m going to make a fool of myself.”  And so on and so on.

Second piece of advice:  Believe that your audience is on your side.  Unless you have an arch enemy in the audience, people want you to succeed.  They want to be engaged, drawn in; informed or entertained, or both.  Since there are so many poor presenters out there, they want your presentation to stand out from the crowd and keep them awake.

Third piece of advice:  Avoid hiding behind PowerPoint.  PowerPoint has its place, and its place is to support you, not replace you.  The moment you give your slides top billing is the moment you hand control of your presentation to technology.  This is one of the most common presentation mistakes we see:  in order to manage nerves, people pack their slides with tons of information and hope that will do the trick so they don’t have to take centre stage themselves.  Centre stage is a really good place to be if you want to be credible in front of your audience.

Fourth piece of advice:  Take care of yourself.  Always keep a glass of water to hand and make use of it.  Mouths go dry when nerves are present, so keep sipping.  Reaching for the glass will also force you to move so you aren’t rooted to the spot.  Movement will also help when your nerves cause you to seize up which in turn causes rigid posture, which, in turn, will make it hard to breath. 

Fifth piece of advice:  Breathe.  Taking deep breaths to fill the lungs is a really good idea.  Shallow breathing tends to exaggerate and exacerbate nerves and contributes to your feelings of dread.  A few deep breaths before you face the crowd really will help.  As will jumping up and down, swinging your arms, doing torso twists, side bends, knee lifts; anything to get you into your body and out of your head even for just a moment or two will make a huge difference to how you feel. 

Sixth piece of advice:  Prepare.  And then prepare some more.  One of the best ways to help with nerves is to know that you are standing on a solid platform of preparation.  A contributing factor to those queasy jitters is not having done your homework.  That awful feeling that you’re going to be found out because you don’t fully know what you’re talking about. 

Preparation includes getting your material in order and also practising, in front of a mirror, in front of a friend, in front of a sympathetic colleague.  If you try to wing it and you’re not too adept at winging it, get ready to plummet to earth with a bang and a whimper.

Seventh and final piece of advice:  Have fun!  Even with serious subjects, it can be hugely rewarding and satisfying to know you pulled it off, gave a terrific presentation, managed your nerves and enjoyed yourself.  When nerves rule the day, all you want to do is get it over with; when you rule your nerves, you are freed up to have a great time.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Presentation One and Two Day courses and our Elite Five Day Presentation with Impact.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Keys for tuning a customer into a champion

In an ideal world 'we', the customers, would be calm and collected and clear when we made our complaints or problems known. 'They', the customer service professionals, would be friendly, understanding, informative and efficient.

Well, as far as we're concerned, an ideal world isn't all that hard to achieve if we stop thinking about 'them' and 'us'!

For the most part, people do like to be loyal; they like to have their special place or brand or company that makes them feel they matter. They're proud to recommend their bank or favourite watering hole or brand of cereal they'd never do without.

And for the most part, people don't set out to be unhelpful, rude, difficult, uninformed. They have been hired in a customer service role and most genuinely want to help.

So what goes wrong?

Both 'sides' contribute. Customers will, however, vote with their feet if let down too often. Customer servers, too, will be tipped over the edge if they get unreasonably harassed and badgered.

But really, we should both be on the same side, because ultimately, we want the same thing: 'we' want good service, and 'they' want to do a good job for their organisation.

So first, let's look at what the customer can do.

1) Before you go charging down to the shop or picking up the phone or bashing out a letter or email, think about why you like this company in the first place. Make a list (mentally or otherwise) about why you use them and some good things they've done in the past.

If it's a local council, they can't have done everything wrong. So what have they done recently that you think is a plus for your community?

Then, when you make the call or have a face-to-face encounter introduce some of these pluses right away as your lead in. For instance, "I've always appreciated that you've let me know when there's a change in the rubbish collection, so I was really annoyed when you didn't make a pickup this Monday and I didn't know why."

Or, "I really enjoy the benefits of having your credit card, therefore, I was doubly disappointed when you changed your billing layout and didn't let me know. I always clear my account when I get the bill and this time I didn't because the new total was in a different place."

Although you may want to hang on to the full feeling of your anger or frustration, this really will help you come across as someone without an axe to grind, but with a genuine concern about the company's slippage in standards.

2) Don't shoot the messenger!

See if you can avoid accusing the person you are dealing with for being responsible for the mistake or problem. This can be difficult in the heat of the moment, but if you follow step one, no matter how upset you are, it will help you get some perspective.

Again, you can add that to your opening gambit: "I know this isn't your fault and I don't mean to get upset with you, but I've always been treated efficiently by your company and so I'm really, really frustrated with what's happened."

3) Get as clear as it's possible to be. If need be, write out what you want to say before it comes out of your mouth. Have your facts (and figures if necessary) logically laid out either on paper or in your mind so that you can take the other person through the difficulty in a coherent and sensible way.

What you don't want to be is someone who can easily be dismissed because you are incoherent, 'mad', abusive.

Don't assume the other person has all the facts themselves.

4) Ask for their name if they haven't given it on the phone or they don't have a name badge. Avoid asking for it in a 'I've got your name, so watch your step' kind of way. This is so that you have a named person your dealing with.

Give them your name, clearly and spell any difficult ones (Jo Ellen: I have an unusual first name and a near-impossible surname for most non-Polish speaking people, so I always make a joke of it and spell it really carefully. It's a great opening ice-breaker).

5) It is OK to let the person on the receiving end know just how angry/frustrated/ disappointed you are but you don't have to blast their ears off.

Indeed, our recommendation is to use 'I' statements as much as possible: "I'm very angry that I stayed at home all day and the telephone repairman never showed up and no one returned my calls. I'd like an explanation, please." As opposed to: "Your man never showed up, you always promise and never deliver, you didn't return my calls, you're hopeless."

You might be feeling all that but it's not going to improve the situation by going on the attack, however satisfying it might feel.

6) If at all possible, suggest a solution, rather than hoping they'll come up with one you'll be happy with. You may have to compromise, but at least you'll get what you want on the table.

OK, customer server, it's your turn (or your company's turn - you might want to show them this when you've finished reading it).

It would be great if every customer you have to deal with would read the above recommendations and follow them, so your life would be better.

Unlikely. So let's see what can be done on your side of things.

1) Good, thorough training in customer service skills is absolutely essential.

If you work for a company who has given you good training, then the following recommendations will probably reinforce what you already know.

If you haven't had top-notch training, then you need to put some pressure on the powers that be to support the customer service area by giving it the right skills and tools so all of you can do your jobs better.

2) We're not going to go through our entire Customer Service Training programmes here, but here's a list of what we consider essential tools for your customer care kit:

Introduce yourself, whether you are face-to-face or on the phone. Say your name really clearly and ask for theirs.

Remember, whatever the problem, customer relations means just that: it's a two-way relationship no matter how lopsided it feels.

Listen carefully and make notes about what the problem is.

Reflect back what you've heard so you let the other person know you've 'got it'.

Acknowledge how they feel ("I can hear/see you're really angry/upset, etc.").

Avoid getting defensive (this is hard as we explained a few pages ago). If you find yourself getting defensive, apologise.

Use their name when appropriate, not parrot fashion.

Have real conversations, rather than just doing the script. See, the script sounds false and doesn't include any of your human side.

Make offers by coming up with a few solutions for them to choose from, instead of boxing them in with a 'take it or leave it' situation (see number 4 below).

3) 'Own' the customer. A lot of companies use this phrase and if they mean it, it's a good one. It means you taking responsibility for the person in front of you or on the other end of the phone or letter or email, rather than trying to get rid of them as quickly as possible.

4) Take care of yourself. After a couple of really difficult encounters it's important to let go of some of your own emotions. We suggest simple things like off-loading to a colleague or your supervisor; go for a short walk, drink some water, jump up and down and do some stretching exercises.

This is not just for your sake, but so that you avoid taking out your own frustrations on the next person you have to deal with, whether they are tricky or not.

These are just the highlights of what good customer care is all about.

We have tons more stuff, but the key for us is that outstanding customer service really is about exceeding the customer's expectations and keeping your own dignity at the same time.

We once worked with a client who said they wanted to 'delight their customers' and we thought that was a delightful phrase to describe the ideal customer relationship.

But here's a final thought to mull over:

In general, if a customer has a problem, and you deal with it with real care and grace, you'll have a champion for your company and a customer for life.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory.

Check out Impact Factory’s  Customer Service course.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Customer Service: Once was more than enough, thank you

In last week’s blog, I brought you some ideas about what makes good customer service.

So, now let’s do the opposite. Think about places, companies, shops, etc., you'll never, ever go back to, not in a million years. Hotels that make Fawlty Towers look like the Ritz (OK, maybe not the Ritz, but...). Shops with untrained staff who enjoy chatting amongst themselves rather than serve a (gasp!) customer. People who DON'T LISTEN. People who you can tell are:


Places or people that never keep their word - they wouldn't know what exceeding expectations looked like, let along ever try to have a go at achieving it.

You'll find as you do this list that there will be a lot of energy around it. You'll re-visit old frustrations and angers, even if they happened years ago. You may even have a lot more emotions thinking about the negatives than about your positive list.

That's how potent bad customer service can be: it seems to stay in our cell structure.


Have you ever complained?

We mean gone out of your way to make a complaint to a company or store or service provider.

We ask, because it usually takes a lot to get to the complaining stage. Most people have to be well and truly fed up to make the effort to ring up or write a letter. We know there are perennial complainers who will complain about anything and everything. If you’re one of those, lighten up. We're not talking to you!

No, we're talking to the kind of regular folk who are generally satisfied; don't get too hot under the collar when things don't go all that smoothly; want to be pleasant and for people to be pleasant in return.

You know what we mean when we say it takes a lot to get you to complain.

So what happened? What did you have to do and did it work? Did getting on the phone and making your dissatisfaction known have any impact? Did you get a response to your letter or email? Were you taken care of? Were your expectations met?

Companies could learn a lot if they look at the reason why people complain and just how much it takes for them to do so. Now, fortunately, a lot more of these regular folk are indeed complaining, which is why many companies are offering customer hot lines and make a big deal of saying how much their customers matter.

Quite honestly, we think a lot of that is lip-service. Companies may have loyalty schemes, retention teams, lapsed member squads, but they still haven't fully got under the skin of what customers want. They do try, but in our experience, if something is convenient for them it often doesn't matter if it's inconvenient for us.

Are we being unfair? Probably. So read on.

It's a thankless job

Up till now we've been concentrating on what happens to 'us' the customers. But what about 'them' the customer carers?

Since blaming them is what we think is the right thing to do when things go wrong, people who deal with the public, either face to face or on the phone, have to manage a barrage of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, anger and frustration on an on-going basis.

No wonder staff turnover in retail is so high. Indeed, did you know that pretty much the largest turnover of staff in the UK is in call centres? Well, how many of us would want to work in one? We're not talking about the environment that phone advisers work in (some are terrific and have a superb atmosphere); what we're on about is the fact that day in and day out, hour after hour, these people have to deal with us.

Whether we're in the regular folk or perennial complainer category, most of us tend to find it easier to point out faults than to praise and acknowledge when things go right.

And we're not always sensible when we do have a complaint.
We make assumptions that the person in front of us or on the phone will know exactly what we're talking about. We take out all our frustrations and annoyances on the person who's representing the company even if they had nothing to do with why we're angry.

Not only that, we might use this particular forum to vent a whole lot of anger that doesn't have anything to do with the person, the company or the thing we're complaining about! (It's called kicking the cat).

If, in the face of this, the person on the receiving end of our request (we were going to write rant, but we know things don't always come out of our mouths in rant form) gets defensive, we don't like it. It makes us even more frustrated or angry.

Here's an exercise you can do with a chum.

One of you thinks of something to complain about (something that you feel genuinely pissed off about) and the other person is the customer carer.

The complainer just has a go about everything that's wrong, what the company didn't do, how you were let down, etc. The person on the receiving end of this responds in whatever you want (except physical violence please; you are a chum after all).

In most cases it doesn't take too long to feel and get defensive even if you had the best intentions of staying calm. Even in a simple exercise like this where nothing is at stake, our sense of helplessness and of feeling under attack get recreated really quickly. It's a natural response to get defensive or to want to strike back or to hide away inside ourselves till the storm subsides.

That's what's happening to the people we have a go at when we're unhappy about something.

These front line people do have a lot to contend with. If they haven't really been trained well, then they are already going to be at a disadvantage. Indeed, their job can feel a very thankless one.

In the next article, I’ll show you how important is for customers and customers servers to find common ground. Ultimately, 'we' want good service, and 'they' want to do a good job for their organisation.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory.

Check out Impact Factory’s  Customer Service course.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Customer Service: Attainable Ideal or Cunning Oxymoron?

There’s a great New Yorker cartoon which shows a man on a phone and the words are “Clemson here, how may I disappoint you?”

Oh dear. Poor Clemson. He doesn't have a clue.

Poor us! We, most of us, have had dealings with the Clemson's of this world at some point or another. Whether it's pressing 22 numbers on our push-button phones in vain search of a human voice, or being passed from one uninformed person to another, or being given information by a person who never draws breath, our chances are mighty high we're going to be disappointed.

Or frustrated. Or angry. Or all three.
Indeed, in some organisations, the term customer service seems to be a kind of perverse oxymoron.
The good thing is that the pendulum does appear to be swinging in our - the customers' - favour, albeit slowly. For years, companies invested in technology as the answers to efficiency, cost savings, value.

Nothing wrong with technology.

Except technology doesn't do people. And customers are people. Sometimes unreasonable, often difficult, but still, people.

We're just glad that more and more companies are recognising that if their staff's customer-facing (or telephony) skills are up to par (or beyond) they have a far better chance of pleasing and retaining their customers.

We rely more and more on technology in our daily lives, yet in an odd way, our expectations around customer service are higher than ever. If we can buy or book on-line instantly, we now want our queries or complaints dealt with instantly as well. We want phones answered within three rings, we don't want to be put on hold (too bad Vivaldi isn't alive - he'd make a fortune in royalties for The Four Seasons), and we most definitely don't want to be phoned back because we doubt we ever will.

Much like sitting around swapping real-estate stories, we're now all collecting our most frustrating day spent on the phone (waiting for a delivery, etc) stories as well.

The Council offices that want to pass you on to someone else so quickly you've barely had time to say your name. Or the washing machine repairman who doesn't have the one spare part needed and drives off never to be seen again. Or the day you stayed home from work to wait for your new sofa and you're waiting still. Or the phone agent who keeps telling you to calm down when the last thing you are is calm and being told to do so isn't helping.

Actually, aren't there times when you feel you're doing other people's jobs for them? Making phone calls to chase people to try to get them to do what you're paying them to do?
The sad thing these days is that we get surprised when service is good.

And some customer service is incredibly good. People who want to engage with you and make an effort to connect with you as someone they want to serve as opposed to a problem they want to get rid of. People who are cheerful, empathetic, knowledgeable and will go the 'extra mile' if that's what it takes to get a result.


Here's a little exercise you can try which we think is a fun one. Make a list of all the places, shops, restaurants, holiday destinations, service providers, brands that you return to time and again and next to each one give a key reason.

How do they make you feel special?
Do they know your name (or at least pronounce it correctly)?
Do they really listen to you?
Are the waiters efficient and friendly but not over the top?
Or maybe you like over the top!
Are you made to feel welcome?
Do you forgive them their mistakes?
Do you get that indefinable extra?

We all have reasons for liking something or someone or some place. They don't have to be logical or make sense to anyone else. We worked with someone years ago who, when we did this exercise, said there was one Greek restaurant he always went back to. Not because the food was any better than another Greek restaurant near-by (indeed it was probably worse), but because on Friday nights he got to smash plates and dance around.

You may be someone who avoids smashing plates and dancing around, which is why we say that everyone's reasons for liking a place or returning will be different.
So, see if you have any really quirky, plate-smashing reasons why you go back. Is it because 'everybody knows your name' or no one does? Is it because they'll get you talking about your favourite football team within a minute of the conversation? Is it because they support your favourite charity or arts organisation?

Or is it simply because, when you phone or show up in person, you really feel taken care of and that your business (large or small) counts?

Check out Impact Factory’s  Customer Service course.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Mindfulness 8 Top Tips

Mindfulness takes practise and the rewards are truly worth it.  Less stress, less anxiety, a happier outlook, a healthier body, a more peaceful, calmer inner life.

Here are a few tips to help you become more mindful:

1. Wake up and smell the coffee.  Literally.  Notice the sights, smells, sounds of what is happening around you.  Notice the sensations in your body and the feelings you are experiencing.  Hold a piece of fruit in your hand, smell it, touch the skin, observe what it feels and tastes like when you take a bite.  Do this with non-edible things too, increasing your sensory attentiveness.  Close your eyes and listen to sounds you might not otherwise hear.  Try taking a 'noticing break' a few times a day to build up your practise of awareness.

2. “Slow down, you’re moving too fast, you’ve got to make the morning last…”  Simon and Garfunkel had the right idea.  I hear you say, “I can’t possibly slow down, I’ve got too much to do!!”  What is that cliché:  More speed, less haste.  You can still do a lot if you must, but slowing down means you make fewer mistakes, you are aware of what you are doing rather than trying to plough through things just to get them done.  Slowing down means you have time to appreciate what’s around you rather than blindly going through life missing out on important stuff.

3. Change your mind.  Actually, it's more about changing habits and trying something different to break patterns and shift doing things by rote.  Take a new route home from work, shop from the opposite end of the supermarket, try a food you've never eaten, wear a colour you've never worn, change your hairstyle.  Small changes that encourage you to pay attention in little ways are a big help in consciousness-raising.

4. Take a hike.  A short walk will do rather than the Three Peaks.  It's all about getting physical and doing something for your body like simple exercises, stretching, yoga, salsa classes, climbing stairs and ignoring the lift, even getting off the bus or underground one stop before your usual one.  Meditate.  Yes, meditation is doing something physical even if it's done in stillness and it really helps quieten the chatter.  Great for breathing as well.  It will help with tip number 5.

5. Stop the Wheel, I want to Get Off!  The hamster wheel of unhelpful thoughts is one of the key blockages to mindfulness.  Regurgitating grievances, angers, frustrations wreak havoc on your emotions, stress levels, immune system and general well-being.  The first step is to notice that you’ve hopped back on and the second step is to thank your mind and see if you can focus on something a lot more pleasant.  You may have to do steps one and two a lot. 

6. Kiss and make up.  Forgiveness is a great way to unburden yourself of old resentments and stop your mind from going over and over old hurts, slights, accusations, festering wounds.  Even if some of the people are dead or not contactable, you can still forgive them.  To top it off, you can also forgive yourself and stop berating yourself for things you didn't do, should have done, ought to have known better about.  Alongside this, start editing the nasty things you say to yourself when you screw up or think you've screwed up.

7. Watch cat videos.  Seriously folks, laugh more.  If it's cat videos that make you smile, stand-up comedians that make your belly laugh, funny movies that make you giggle or joking around with your mates that makes you feel all warm inside, laughter releases endorphins, shakes up your body, evens out your cortisol levels and is one of the greatest stress busters ever invented. So alongside taking noticing breaks, punctuate your day with laughter breaks.

8. Accept.  The master tip of them all, acceptance.  Noticing, without judging yourself and others, is the first step to acceptance.  A calmer mind, a gentler inner and outer critic and being more allowing of yourself and others’ behaviour all add up to accepting what is rather than wishing it was something else.  

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Benefits of Mindfulness

I hope Mindfulness won’t be a fad that fades when the next flavour of the month comes bounding in.

Mindfulness is such an important way to develop ourselves on every level that it would be great if more and more of us aspired to and practised mindfulness as part of our everyday lives.

So what’s all the fuss about?

As I said in my previous blog, it’s hard to be mindful all of the time, but our propensity for mindlessness or operating on autopilot means we do miss out on a lot throughout each day and that creates more of a disconnect between ourselves, our bodies, thoughts and feelings and of course those with whom we interrelate.

I included thoughts in that list, but probably most of us are too connected to our thoughts so we end up spending far too much time in our minds going over and over and over ‘stuff’ that doesn’t go anywhere. 

Many decades ago I described myself as a head with something dangling from it, that’s how out of touch I was from my feelings, both emotional and physical.  My head was going nineteen to the dozen and I had enough diversionary tactics to keep my attention anywhere but on what was really important – how I interacted in the world.  Looking back, I can see that even work was a way to anaesthetise myself and still kid myself about how productive I was.

So I learned to stop thinking.  Well, no, not stop thinking outright, but certainly to be more focused, more aware, more conscious and ultimately, more present in my own life.  I got off the hamster wheel of endlessly going over the same thoughts which in turn fed emotions that were overblown and unhelpful.

Let’s unpick the benefits a bit, although if you stop and think, they’re fairly obvious.  All those hamster wheels, all that worrying and anxiety generated by those hamster wheels, contribute in a big way to stress and distress.  The more stressed we are, the greater the chances that our health will be affected and compromised.

Stress raises cortisol to unmanageable levels, suppresses the immune system, leads to depression; you can become enraged more easily, feel despair more easily, self-loathe more easily.  Without some kind of intervention your anxiety becomes an insatiable self-feeding, self-perpetuating monster lurking within.

Not only that, with our minds full of useless, unhelpful thoughts, there’s less room to think clearly about the stuff that matters, and that has to have an impact on our effectiveness at work and in our home lives. Being more present and awake and having fewer negative thoughts, conversely, has a positive impact on our lives across the board.

You could say that mindfulness is another aspect of being mature.  As children, if we were lucky enough to have good parenting and good schooling we learned to control our impulses. As adults, we still need to keep practising ‘impulse control’, especially our often ungoverned, often irrational, often over-emotional thinking.

Where to begin? 

Noticing is always a good place to begin.  Our daily lives give us endless opportunities to notice what’s going on and I recommend starting with food.  I know very few people who just eat; most of us do something else at the same time:  watch the telly, check our social media connections, read, talk on the phone, etc.

At work we eat at our desks or on the run or gobble something so we can peruse the shops.

So for starters, try to eat one meal where that’s all you do – eat.  First step:  breathe.  Without breath there is no life and yet most people have little awareness of their breath and yet breath aids or undermines how we feel.  So take a couple of deep breaths before you begin.

As you are preparing the food, take in the smells, sounds, tastes, visuals.  See if you can slow down the process so you are fully aware of everything you are doing.  When you sit down, take time to look at your plate and notice the colours, how you’ve placed the food on the plate, what sounds you can hear around you; notice what your thoughts are and your feelings.  Once you start eating, notice the tastes, your chewing and swallowing and your breathing.

Notice if you become impatient and are itching to switch on the telly, check your emails, or feel bored and restless.  Notice if you start giving yourself a hard time, if you expect more of yourself, if you’re criticising yourself for not doing mindfulness ‘correctly’ and so on.

Well here’s the punchline, the most important, vital key to mindfulness:  acceptance.  Huh?  Yup, it’s to notice without judgement, without that little nasty inside voice disapproving, complaining, blaming, fault-finding.

This is definitely the most challenging aspect of mindfulness for a lot of people:  letting go of the hamster wheel long enough to get off it and accept where they are, what they observe, what they are feeling and what they are thinking.  By practising noticing without judgement, doing a bit more each day, the benefits will also mount up and life will definitely be a better place to reside.

So here’s to less thinking and more noticing.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Communication, Building Resilience, Coaching andMentoring and Personal Impact courses.