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What Should You Do When a Client Threatens to Sue?

This could be your line in the sand.

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Ever come across one of those clients who likes to threaten to sue you whenever they are not happy? How do you handle them?

No brainer, says Dr. MyHanh Dang of Gateway Eye Associates in Pittsburgh, PA. “As soon as someone introduces a threat of unjustified legal action, my tolerance level goes to zero. At that point, they get a full refund, a copy of their Rx, and I terminate our relationship, explaining that the doctor-patient trust has been compromised. Then I wish them the best of luck with another eyecare place that they trust.” At that point, says Dang, “often a reasonable person will realize their actions and apologize. At that point, we can move forward positively. ”

Every once in a while, I catch my staff saying things to customers that make me cringe. What are some of the key no-nos?

Here’s a nice succinct list of “let’s not go there” service statements, along with suggested replacements, from Karen Leland and Keith Bailey, the authors of Customer Service for Dummies. “Don’t say, ‘I don’t know.’ Do say, ‘I will find out.’ Don’t say, ‘No.’ Do say, ‘What I can do is…’ Don’t say, ‘That’s not my job.’ Do say, ‘This is who can help you …’ Don’t say, ‘You’re right — this stinks.’ Do say, ‘I understand your frustration.’ Don’t say, ‘That’s not my fault.’ Do say, ‘Let’s see what we can do about this.’ Don’t say, ‘You need to talk to my manager.’ Do say, ‘I can help you.’ Don’t say, ‘You want it by when?’ Do say, ‘I’ll try my best.’ Don’t say, ‘Calm down.’ Do say, ‘I’m sorry.’ Don’t say, ‘I’m busy right now.’ Do say ‘I’ll be with you in just a moment.’ Don’t say, ‘Call me back.’ Do say, ‘I will call you back.’”

I’ve got two candidates for my front office job — one with strong skills, but one with a stronger attitude. Who’s a better bet?

Attitude wins every time, according to Tim Connor, author and sales trainer from Connor Resource Group. “It is easier to teach new employees skills than it is to change their attitudes. Attitudes are developed over a lifetime, and neither you nor I are going to change them in the short time this employee might be with us. By the same token, hire a great attitude, and I guarantee this employee will push you, make you look good, and before you know it they will outgrow the position and want, as well as need, to move on. Everyone wins in the process.” Sooner or later, says Connor, most people with indifferent attitudes, despite their skills, become untrainable. “Avoiding a hiring mistake can save you lots of grief, wasted training time, and negative impact on other employees and or customers. ”

What can you do when you get a patient who smells really bad?

Tough it out, say the doctors on ODs on Facebook. But subtle defensive maneuvers can help. One doctor keeps a bit of Vicks Vapor Rub handy and will discreetly smear a little bit under his nose. For really heavy-duty cases, tell the client you have a cold and will need to wear a mask.


What’s a good general rule of thumb for saying a customer’s name during a sales presentation?

Scott Ginsberg, an author and speaker also known as “That Guy With the Name-tag,” weighed in on the subject. “People enjoy hearing their names more than any word in the dictionary. But there comes a point where customers are thinking to themselves “All right, I got it. You know my name. That’s enough!” Ginsberg imagines what goes on in a customer’s head as a salesperson says his name during a short (seven-minute) transaction:

Nada: “They didn’t even use my name once. I don’t feel valued.”

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Once: “Ahhh … the cashier said ‘Mr. Lynch.’ Man, you gotta love this store.”

Twice: “Whoa! Two times! This salesman has a great memory. Now that’s what I call service!”

Three times: “All right (mild chuckle). I got it. You know my name. Thank you very much.”

Four times: “No, seriously, you don’t have to keep using my name. The first two times were enough.”

Five times: “This is ridiculous. And annoying. I no longer believe you are sincere. And now I’ve become uncomfortable. Please go away.”

One member of my staff is a smart guy — but he’s not exactly “personality-plus” and he often speaks in this numbing monotone that puts people to sleep. How can we jazz up his presentation?

Karen Leland and Keith Bailey, authors and sales consultants, suggest the following exercise:

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  1. Take a short and uncomplicated sentence like ‘Bill isn’t here right now,’ and say it out loud with your normal level of inflection.

  2. Now practice the same sentence, but this time exaggerate all the way up to a 10, like a radio DJ or carnival barker. Stop only when you sound truly obnoxious.

  3. Now say the same sentence again, this time taking your inflection down a couple of notches to a level eight. Say the sentence one more time taking it down to a level five or six. That’s usually the ideal level at which to keep your inflection. If you find people going back to sleep, return to step one and repeat the process.

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Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 23 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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Lifting Your Business Out of Mediocrity and More Questions for January

And how to share chores among staff to make sure they get done.

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I have two good candidates for the position of office manager, but I can’t decide between them. Can you suggest a tie-breaker?

Toss a coin and let fate be your arbiter. If they’re both equally appealing candidates and you can’t reduce the uncertainty by doing further research or interviews or trial runs, then your decision doesn’t much matter. That likely sounds like rash advice, but this paralysis you’re experiencing has a name: Fredkin’s Paradox. The computer scientist Edward Fredkin summed it up as, “The more equally attractive two alternatives seem, the harder it can be to choose between them — no matter that, to the same degree, the choice can only matter less.” To be sure, it will probably turn out to have mattered in hindsight, but by then it’ll be too late. Given that you’re unable to know how things will turn out, overthinking this one — or any similar tough choice — is futile.

How do you share the chores among staff fairly and in a way that is easy to enforce?

Store consultant David Geller feels he knows well the issues you’re facing. “Typically, we as store owners, when something isn’t done, pick our favorite person who is always willing to help to do what others should have done,” he says. “It’s not fair.” To create a system that IS fair, he suggests breaking your staff into groups and rotating the responsibilities. “Put some easy chores with some bad ones like vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom,” he says. The people whose names are under the different groups of chores (see table) do them for only one week, and then they move onto the next group of tasks. This shares around the bad and light chores and also makes it easy for the store owner to raise the issue when a job needs doing. “After doing this, I no longer need to complain to a person, I complain to a group,” Geller says.

Tell me, how do I lift my store out of the rut of mediocrity?

It’s said the toughest test of a manager is how they address lackluster performance. The reason is because it’s not so much about issuing dictates and drawing up policy as it is about fostering a culture that accepts nothing but excellence. Indeed, according to work by Brigham Young business school on high-performing teams, peers manage the bulk of the heavy lifting when it comes to maintaining standards. Counterintuitively, it is in mediocre teams that bosses must enforce standards and are the source of accountability. But how to get to that almost mythical land of self-enforced high standards? Joseph Grenny, a social scientist and author of Crucial Accountability, gives four leadership practices that can help: Start by showing the consequences of mediocrity, to connect people with the experiences, feelings, and impact of bad performance. Set clear goals and explain why they are important. “Use concrete measures to make poor performance painfully apparent,” says Grenny. Establish peer accountability so that people feel comfortable challenging one another when they see mediocrity. And be quick to defend the high standards. A chronic poor performer is an impediment to your goals. How you handle this situation will let your team know whether your highest value is keeping the peace or pursuing performance. “When you ask a group to step up to high performance, you are inviting them to a place of stress — one where they must stretch…where interpersonal conflicts must be addressed,” says Grenny. “If you shrink from or delay in addressing this issue … you send a message to everyone else about your values.”

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Promoting Healthy Competition and More Questions for Year’s End

Also, proper staff gift-giving etiquette and getting the most out of staff trainers.

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How do I tease out a prospective hire’s innate strengths and weaknesses during an interview?

Marcus Buckingham, a leader of the strengths-based school of business management, suggests asking this question (and revisiting it periodically if you do hire the person): What was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months? “Find out what the person was doing and why he or she enjoyed it so much,” he says, adding it’s key to keep in mind that a strength is not merely something someone is good at. “It might be something they aren’t good at yet. It might be just a predilection, something they find so intrinsically satisfying that they look forward to doing it again and again and getting better at it over time.” The theory is that the best businesses are those that fully leverage the strengths (unbridled upside) of their employees as opposed to trying to fix up their weaknesses (never more than incremental gains).

Podcast: Is Eyecare in Canada Really More Like the US Than We Think?
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Podcast: Is Eyecare in Canada Really More Like the US Than We Think?

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Podcast: What Exactly Does it Take to Become America’s Finest Optical Retailer?

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Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries

How can I promote competition among staff without it turning my store into the setting of Lord Of The Flies?

The key to fostering healthy competition, according to new research done by a team at Harvard Business School, lies in how you communicate the competition. When employees feel excited, they’re more likely to come up with creative solutions and new ways to better serve customers. When they feel anxious or worried they might lose their job or be publicly humiliated, they’re more likely to cut corners or sabotage one another. Leaders can generate excitement by highlighting the potential positive outcomes of competition (such as the recognition and rewards that await outstanding performers) rather than creating anxiety by singling out low performers (think of the steak knives scene in Glengarry Glen Ross).

What is proper etiquette for gift-giving in the workplace?

Your watchwords should be considerate, fair, and inclusive. Aim for gifts that can be shared and enjoyed by everyone such as food. (If people have diet restrictions, they can simply pass on the offering without making a big fuss.) If you do decide to give gifts to every staff member, steer clear of knick-knacks. Most people can barely see their desks as it is. The last thing they need is another coffee mug or pen-and-pencil set. Keep it clean. Do not consider gag gifts that rely on sexual innuendo or ethnic stereotypes to be funny. Do not give anything that could remotely be considered intimate. And be generous down the chain. Give your assistant or intern at least as nice a gift as the one you give your manager.

I’d like to hire a trainer for my staff, but I’m worried about the return on investment?

Our reason for existing at INVISION is to make ECPs better ECPs, and we believe professional trainers can help you enormously. To get your money’s worth, focus on two things: 1.) Hard skills. Overinvest in training that helps to increase ability versus motivation. Yes, it’s nice to have your staff leave a training session all fired up, but for lasting results that will give you that return on your investment, focus on small but vital aspects of your staff’s sales skills. It could be when to pause in a presentation or how many features to stress. Break tasks into discrete actions, practice within a low-risk environment and build in recovery strategies. 2.) This is just as important. Follow up. Bring in a trainer, but only if you yourself are willing to buy into their lessons and do ongoing training and reviews.

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When to Let That Questionable New Employee Go and More Questions for October

Plus its all fun and games until someone gets drunk at the company holiday party … how to protect your business from potential trouble.

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How do you know when a new employee can’t be saved? How much time should you give someone?

When you have coached someone carefully and repeatedly, invested large amounts of energy and they show no signs of improvement, that’s a solid signal you probably need to act. The clincher comes when their co-workers start showing their frustration and stop trying to help the person. This is often at about the three- or four-month mark. A lot of bosses will let it drag on past that, but it’s really in everyone’s interest for both parties to pursue new opportunities.

Podcast: Is Eyecare in Canada Really More Like the US Than We Think?
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: Is Eyecare in Canada Really More Like the US Than We Think?

Podcast: What Exactly Does it Take to Become America’s Finest Optical Retailer?
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: What Exactly Does it Take to Become America’s Finest Optical Retailer?

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries

I’m planning an end-of-year company party, but one concern is that somebody could get drunk, have a car accident, and I might get sued. Got any advice on protecting myself?

These days, the Grinch must be a lawyer. Concerns about liability for alcohol-related incidents, sexual harassment, and workers’ compensation claims have led many companies to forgo holiday galas entirely. You don’t have to. But if you’re really afraid, lawyer Anil Khosla, writing in Inc. Magazine, suggests the following steps to reduce your liability: “1. To distance the business from the party, make it an entirely social event, don’t invite clients or vendors, and make sure employees know that attendance is voluntary. 2. Plan accordingly. Hold your gathering off-site, if possible. That may shift some of the potential liability to the hotel, restaurant, or caterer. If you must have an on-site party, hire an independent caterer. Don’t permit anyone from the company to serve alcohol and instruct bartenders to stop serving anyone who seems inebriated. Lawyers advise avoiding an open bar — or, at the very least, limiting it to the first hour. Also, close the bar at least one hour before the party ends. 3. Consider providing transportation to and from the event. Make sure that cabs will be available and appoint someone to suggest cab rides home for people who have had a few too many.”

I haven’t got around to writing a will yet. What would happen to my business if I died unexpectedly?

When there’s no will, state law (“interstate succession” statutes) usually takes charge of your estate. “Each state has precise laws about who gets what when there is no will, and there are differences among the states,” says Norman M. Boone, MBA, CFP, a nationally renowned financial adviser. “In California, for example, the spouse inherits all the deceased spouse’s community property, but the separate property is shared with the children. In New Jersey, your spouse gets the first $50,000 of your estate and one-half of the rest; your children get everything else. If the children are minors in either state, then the court appoints someone to manage their property (including your business), and then supervises their activities, which involves more intrusion and more expense. The children receive their inheritance at age 18. For singles, the assets are parceled out to relatives in an order determined by state law. Usually, children, parents and then siblings are first in line. Friends, lovers (even domestic partners) or charities are left out.” Without a will, there is always a chance the estate will be fought over by the above claimants, a process which can drag out and potentially ruin a business. Don’t like those prospects? What are you waiting for? Write that will!

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