In the world of oxymorons—combinations of contradictory words like “cruel kindness” or “simple complexity”—customer service should be added to the list. In fact, it should top it! Because despite Corporate America’s continuing insistence that the customer comes first and the customer’s always right and the investment of billions of dollars in customer service departments, systems, initiatives and professionals, in most cases, we customers are getting served little more than frustration, aggravation, migraines and misery.
I finally accepted that I will almost never reach a human being when I call a company. I embraced the requirement of keying in all my information on the phone before I could talk to a person. I dutifully listen to the prompters and dutifully repeat the menu when what I need isn’t even mentioned on it. I gave up pressing “O” the minute I heard a machine, especially once they all but destroyed the option of bypassing the automated system. I went with the flow, calm, almost Zen-like.
But once I’ve done all that and waited the 8 or 13 or 35 minutes I’ve been told it would take to access a human (the alternative being to go online and let only my fingers do the talking), I lose it when that person says hello and then proceeds to ask me for virtually all of the information I keyed into my phone in the first place. This is not service, people. This is why so many people suffer strokes every minute.
Here are five other overly used business labels that don’t quite mean what they imply. If you don’t realize this already, you better ask somebody (or just read on…)!
- Company Retreat: If we’re in Bali or Barbados or the Bahamas at a lush spa where our long working days are buoyed by late partying nights, this label applies. But if we’re holed up in a local conference room for a few days with breaks only for sleep and bad buffet, it’s anything but. Note to HR planning teams: According to good ol’ Merriam-Webster’s, retreat means, “a place of privacy or safety; a period of group withdrawal for meditation or prayer.” Saying grace before a continental breakfast doesn’t count.
- Confidentiality Agreement: Whether you’re signing on as the personal assistant to a major celebrity or as an employee of a company with major privacy concerns, “agreement” is a stretch. Basically, this is a threat. Sign it or you won’t get the job; break it and they’ll sue you for all you’re worth. And they’ll most likely win.
- Strategic Plan: Creating a plan without having a strategy is like leaving on a long journey without a map. You may reach your destination, but it’ll probably take longer, cost more, and you’ll have to keep stopping along the way to get directions. In a business context, planning and strategy go hand-in-hand; if they don’t, any chance for real progress goes bye-bye.
- Performance Appraisal: Some folks (if you’re lucky) do this right. But most don’t. And, worst by far, some don’t do it at all. A performance appraisal should not be an indictment, a bully pulpit, a punishment, a drag—unless you’re really doing poorly. Nor should it be a love fest or a pity party. It should be an honest, balanced look at what you’ve done right, and what you must work on to move forward. Whether you’re self-appraising, or the subject of someone else’s evaluation, it should be done as objectively as possible, the goal being to become your best. Don’t settle for blanket statements; ask for specifics. Don’t expect to have your hand held through improvements; make a to-do list and go at it. And don’t have anything to say in response. It’s your life, your future: Own it.
- Salary Negotiation: Especially in this economy, companies are throwing out offers with brazen disregard for anything other than maximizing their own bottom lines, even if you are struggling to stay afloat. A negotiation is just that—and even when it’s not called that, you have every right to negotiate your salary, and you should. But asking for what you want in a perfect world is no better than your company low-balling you just because they can. You have to walk in prepared. Know what the market norm is for your role. Take into account the size and scope of your business and the amount of effort demanded of you relative to the general market for the position. Finally, don’t be indifferent to your company’s ability to pay you; if you’re really a team player, you have to be cognizant of company challenges as well as your own. But those challenges shouldn’t supersede what you believe is fair and deserved. Listen and be patient; the best negotiations may take time, but they result in mutually beneficial agreement. Aim for the win-win.