This wee blog now seems to attract enough attention that I fairly regularly get books to review. When "How to Talk to Customers" arrived a few months ago, I was busier than an an ice-cream truck at a beach. So the book went onto the pile of reading, and didn't really get looked at for a while.
I was pleasantly surprised to find a very practical volume with quite granular advice suitable for front line customer service situations. Authors Diane Berenbaum and Tom Larkin are principals of a company that provides customer service training, and this book presents many of the ideas that they must use in their training and workshops (see resources).
If you are looking for something of a strategic nature, this is not the book for you. But if you run a front-line service area as a supervisor or manager, you can probably use a lot of what is suggested in this book.
The authors' big idea is the acronym MAGIC (Make A Great Impression on the Customer), which runs through the book as a theme. It took me a while to figure out that they actually had a much more useful version of this acronym, as follows:
M = make a connection: build the relationship
A = act professionally: express confidence
G = get to the heart of the matter: listen and ask questions
I = inform and clarify what you will do
C = close with the relationship in mind
Every section has examples and stories -- "Magic Moments" and "Tragic Moments". There are lots of details on very granular topics, such as how to use a customers' name, how to personalize interactions, and how to listen with empathy.
I found it almost too granular, personally, which means it is probably exactly right for front line staff. When they state a principle, they usually provide a couple of specific examples of a snippet of conversation to illustrate the point. Each of the five magic principles above translates to several standards, 33 in total. I have helped a few organizations develop service standards, and this list would make a great starting point for anyone.
My favorite section was on coaching. A great deal of attention has been paid to the idea of coaching performance, and for a good reason -- it works. However, a lot more people talk about coaching their staff than actually do coach.
The chapter on coaching provides a solid process for actually talking to your staff in a coaching session. And also makes it clear that a coach must be able to model the desired behaviors -- to walk the talk.
Oddly enough, the reason I had trouble engaging with this book was due to poor first impressions. A book this tactical should probably be in a coil binding, not a hardcover binding, and it should have headers and footers that quickly help you locate your position in the 33 standards. It could have used some color and simple graphics to help me navigate this many concepts. And just from an aesthetic standpoint, I didn't like the feel of the paper.
I was about half-way through the book before I decided it had pretty good stuff going for it, largely because of the visuals.
How to talk to customers: create a great impression every time with MAGIC, by Diane Berenbaum and Tom Larkin. Jossey-Bass, 2007.
The authors business site is Communico Ltd.
The image is from the Prelinger Archive of films. This one is from a scream called "Are you popular" made in 1947.