The Training Never Stops: Training Verbal Skills

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When my kids were growing up, we always liked to go to northern New Mexico or southern Colorado for our vacation. We usually went in August, because by then the shop had slowed down enough from the summer season I could leave and not be concerned about the shop’s performance. Most years, a portion of our vacation would include fly-fishing.

Years ago, while fishing in New Mexico, my boys and I ran into an elderly man coming up the trail to get onto a river we had spent the morning fishing. My younger son was very proud of our day’s fishing effort and was all too happy about showing our new friend the day’s catch. The first question our friend asked was, “What did you catch them on?” meaning what “fly” or bait did we use. His second question was, “How did you catch them?” meaning what kind of cast were we using? What was the presentation of the bait? In other words, what did you do right to catch the fish?

The following day, my boys and I hiked up the mountain to Hidden Lake. As we came around the bend in the trail, the lake was before us in all its glory and there was our friend from the day before, sitting at the lake’s edge. He had someone there with him who, like us the day before, was showing him his catch. As we walked up on the group, I overheard the gentleman say, “What did you catch him on?” “How did you catch him?”  This wise man’s curiosity and his questions to other successful fishermen have stuck with me as good advice.

Since summer is now behind us and hopefully you have had good success, I would encourage you during this month’s shop meeting to discuss what the crew did right this summer. As we all know, it is much easier to build on success than to try to recover from failure. Two good questions to start the meeting: what did you catch them on (customers), and how did you catch them (crew members)?

Facebook Envy

Recently, my wife and I went out to eat with some friends. During our conversation, the subject came up of how odd it is with all the ways people have to stay in touch with each other, we seem to be getting worse at really knowing each other now than a generation ago. During dinner, I mentioned I had written about this in my column last month. I told our friends part of the training process now includes training the staff to actually stand in front of customers and talk face-to-face with them.

Those comments spurred conversation with my dinnermates about different buying experiences we have had in our community. One friend said he routinely goes into a store, purposely walks to the back, then walks across and returns to the front of the store. If employees of the store don’t stop and speak to him, he just keeps walking out the front and leaves the store to buy elsewhere. We talked about what has happened to the lost art of having a conversation with each other face-to-face.

An older lady at our table said when we quit building front porches on our homes, we started to become less social with our friends and neighbors. I think she was right. She went on to explain when she was younger, she knew all of her neighbors by name. She knew real and personal things about her neighbors — where they went to school, what their favorite color was, what they had for supper and on and on. She said her neighbors knew the same about her. She never had to tell her neighbors it was her birthday or that her daughter played piano. She didn’t have to announce her son was on the honor roll at school. Her friends and neighbors already knew. 

My kids tell me about our friends, neighbors and complete strangers, not because they talked to them or know them, but because they keep up with them on various social media sites. The depth of these social media relationships my kids have is odd to me. The other day, I was working in my yard and my neighbor across the street said hello to me. For the first time in four years, he and I actually talked to each other face-to-face — the way neighbors should. Recently during one of my operational training events, I told the crew I was training about this encounter with my neighbor and several of the participants thought I had lost my mind.

One lady said, “That is just weird. People don’t do that anymore.”

I thought to myself, “No, what is weird is that ‘creeping’ on people is an acceptable trait now.”

It wasn’t long ago when if someone was creeping, we thought that was, well, creepy. Now we smile and just accept it as if it is normal.

During dinner with my friends last Sunday, I confirmed what I had already suspected — I am not keeping up in the digital world. I have also discovered since it is acceptable to “creep,” we manage our social sites to convey some image we want others — our “friends” — to see. Now, I understand why people are always posting pictures of themselves and their kids at different vacation spots or the latest popular restaurant, always taking pictures in front of interesting places or while they are on a picnic in the park.

They always look like they have the perfect lives. I admit, I see all these perfect, fun people doing perfect, fun things and I can’t help but think, “Man, I am a loser.”

All I ever do is get up every morning and go to work. I come home and fix whatever is broken at my house, eat supper, watch a game on TV and go to bed. Occasionally, my wife and I go out to eat and even less often we take a vacation. What a loser I must be. No, wait; I am not a loser — I am normal.

In a world where “creeping” is acceptable, it has led to staging our lives on social media channels so we look perfect, fun and always on the cutting edge, but in reality we have become fake. And since everyone knows they are being fake, we all know it is a managed image in order to make the creepers think we have perfect lives. Jiminy Cricket, the wheels have come off of society’s wagon! Did you know we even have a new diagnosis for this parasite on our society? It is called Facebook Envy. I had never heard of it, but apparently it is real. How ironic, the one real thing on social media sites is that it is fake.

Communicating Off-Line

One of the interesting benefits of training our staff to communicate verbally with our customers is the personalities of our staff starts to come out. Soon, our customers come in and ask for different individuals who work in the shop by name. Before long, the personality traits of the staff create a personality for the shop. I have seen it happen many times. Whenever one individual starts talking to the customers in a conversational way, soon other staff will begin to do the same. In my opinion, the best person to set this standard is the manager of the shop. Even with all of the technology we have, at the end of the day in every business I am aware of, it still comes down to people dealing with people. The shops with better verbal skills will be more successful.

I made another interesting observation several years ago while trying to create the same customer experience across all of our shops. In an effort to create similarities, I had inadvertently had a negative affect on the personality of the shop. While talking with customers, I found they liked one shop more than another because of the staff environment, or personality, of the shop. For companies with multiple locations, I encourage each shop to create their own unique personality, because chances are, their customers will prefer one trait over another.

The other day, I ran into a longtime customer who made the comment she preferred to go to one shop more than another. I asked her why, and she said when she went into her preferred shop, everyone was friendly. They knew her and knew her vehicle. She went on to say most of the time they even remembered her dog’s name and would ask about her beloved pet.

The next morning while standing in line at the grocery store, another longtime customer stopped to say hello. He went on to say how much more he liked one shop over another. The shop he preferred was the same one the lady the night before said she didn’t like as much. Shops are like people; they all create their own personality. The more I looked into it, the more I realized each one of the shops has a personality similar to the manager of the shop. Who would have ever thought a fundamental concept of a successful shop was the ability to speak to each other and truly get to know one another?

This month’s training is to discuss verbal communication skills. Give your employees situations and then discuss how to verbally communicate in those situations. It may be helpful to write out what it is you want your staff to verbalize to the customers. Many organizations have word tracks the staff will use during the presentation. These word tracks are a proven way to train the crew on how and what to say during a presentation. Verbal training is key to effective communication.  

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