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Banish Fear, Build Resilience and Keep Customers Loyal
by JoAnna Brandi
I'm talking to lots of people these days who are cutting their budgets. That's necessary and expected in times like these. But, I'm also hearing that some are afraid to invest money (or even time) into training and motivating employees to maintain the kinds of positive attitudes that will keep them healthy and keep the remaining customers loyal. Uh-oh.
If you're one of them, I dare you to think about that again. While the marketplace is breaking down businesses from the outside in, fear is eroding businesses from the inside out.
When you let fear overtake the things that support employee engagement and great customer care, which in turn leads to customer loyalty, you're creating additional financial risks in your organization.
Look, everyone is stressed - managers, employees and customers -- and each group automatically feeds off the other. We as humans are biologically wired to tune into each other's fears, making fear a highly contagious emotion. That's useful in life-threatening situations - fear causes the brain to narrow its focus to one end: Survival. (Run! That saber-tooth tiger is gaining on us!)
The survival instinct works well for us during natural disasters, but in business it creates financial disasters. How? When a manager's focus is fearful and narrow, they miss opportunities to give employees direction, applaud their efforts and accomplishments, and even simply talk to them to find out what's happening in their customers' world.
Employees then "catch" that fear from their managers, and it narrows their thinking on behalf of customers. A sales person or customer service rep's ability to creatively solve customer problems and provide the best possible care is greatly compromised when he or she is hyper-focused on watching managers for hints about the company's well-being and, ultimately, the security of their job.
So how do you keep fears at bay, build business resilience and keep creating customer loyalty at your organization? Try putting these tips into action to help ward off destructive feelings of fear. Shedding the fear will enable your business to stay alive in these tough times, and prepare it to rebound more quickly than competing organizations when the market turns around.
1. Look in the Mirror. Literally!
Kick off each work day by taking five minutes - in your car, in the restroom, at your desk -- to do an attitude check. Where is your attention? How would you describe your emotions? What is your facial expression? Do you detect any fear or stress? If so, consciously focus on breathing, thinking about what's good or right in your life or remembering stories where you were resilient. Too stressed for that? "Fake it until you make it." Look in the mirror and smile at yourself until you feel a positive shift within you. Not working? Breathe, deeply, quiet the chatter in your head and think of something or someone you deeply appreciate. Not there yet? Take your hand, hold it over your heart and create a picture of it ~ find something, anything and be in appreciation of it for at least 30-60 seconds. Feel the shift? It happens fast! Now you can go into the office.
2. Check "Just my luck" stories at the door.
Remember that even if the effects of the recession are impacting you personally, the crisis itself is not personal. You can talk your energy up just as easily as you can talk it into the toilet. Use your skill at positive self talk - choose the former and be positive. Always reach for a thought that feels better than the one that is bringing you down.
3. Refocus & reframe employee fears.
Your employees need your leadership skills now more than ever to pull their focus from their fears of what they might lose to their enjoyment of what they do have. Remind them of what's in their control - their commitment to customers, their skills and abilities, their community within the organization, their attitude. Encourage them to question processes that might need upgrading, and to share stories of times they were resilient. These simple conversations will empower them out of their fears.
4. Connect, don't commiserate.
Whether you're building rapport with employees, or your employees are building rapport with customers, be mindful of connecting in positive ways without commiserating about how difficult things are.
5. Offer 'em Options.
Policies, protocol and "same ol', same ol'" may need to be recalibrated, rethought, revisited. Have an employee who really needs her hours but has a sick child at home? Think about ways to create a temporary telecommuting situation for her. Hear an employee helping a customer whose struggling with budget problems? Help the employee brainstorm so that the customer will hang up feeling known, heard and well cared for. The more we experience positive emotions, the broader and more innovative our thinking becomes. So get happy and then get creative.
When you reduce fears, increase positivity and build business resilience you are automatically giving your customer loyalty initiatives a boost. Customers want to work with businesses that help them feel good - the ones that have good value, good prices, good ideas and good people.