by Steve Adubato, PhD

Q-What do you say to those who argue that the customer is NOT always right? Doesn't the attitude that 'the customer is always right' reflect a culture where as long as a sale is made the customer can act like a spoiled child?

A-You have a great point here, except, the expression, "the customer is always right" doesn't actually mean that the customer IS always right. It is rather intended to put salespeople and others who interact with customers in a certain mindset in which it does little good to argue with a customer because you are not going to win. Except for the most difficult customer who can't be satisfied, most just want to be acknowledged and listened to.

Sometimes, people in customer service use store "policies" as a barrier to resolving a problem with a customer. The key is to acknowledge that even if the policy was written, usually in small print, it is not set in stone. The best customer service people use store policies as a guideline, but not as the final word. They use their judgment, creativity and empathy to find workable remedies to customer service problems. The expression, "the customer is always right" is nothing more than an effort to remind us to treat the person across the counter as we would want to be treated if we were the customer.

Q-What if everyone in your family always speaks in a monotone voice? Is this something that is hereditary or is it learned? Is this a condition that is treatable?

A-Absolutely! Last time I checked, having a monotone voice isn't in the genes. I think what happens is that you grow up in a family where your father and/or mother (and possibly your siblings) speak in a monotone and you just pick it up thinking it is normal. The problem is, it is NOT normal. Worse yet, it is really boring to listen to.

If you want to get rid of your monotone, reach out to your local chapter of Toastmasters, an organization dedicated to helping people improve their public speaking skills. The key to getting rid of the habit is to speak with more passion and conviction. Make sure you believe what you are saying and tell yourself "my job is to convince these people that I have a valid point of view." What you will discover is that your presentations will have more vocal variety in them and your voice and tone will go up and down without you even realizing it.

Q-When running a 90-minute meeting with many goals to accomplish, what is the best way to make the best use of the time while allowing everyone to share their comments and ideas?

A-First off, 90 minutes is too long. Cut it back to 60 at most. Further, you referred to "many goals to accomplish." When you have too many goals to accomplish in a meeting, you are bound to have a bad meeting. You will feel pressured as the meeting leader to move along quickly while meeting participants will feel frustrated that you are rushing them. Take the number of items planned for your next meeting and cut them in half. One more thing-As the meeting leader, you have to set the tone for how the meeting is going to be run. Let people know up front you would like them to be concise in their comments and/or questions.

Finally, make sure at the end of the meeting you leave a couple of minutes to wrap up and recount what has been decided and what assignments must get done by whom. Try it and let me know what happens.