Customer service Engagement Marketing Training & Development

Building Connections and Engagement in “Smart Women Conversations”

Connecting and engaging people in the workplace with LEGO® … just one of many fascinating topics shared in my video discussion with Smart Women Conversations’ host Yvonne DiVita, respected blogger, serial entrepreneur, and my former publisher who remains a dear friend.

Yvonne launched Smart Women Conversations to “inform, educate, create laughter and share stories of reinvention” as part of her passion to “inspire and educate smart, talented women eager for business success today.”

I’m honored and humbled to be among the impressive women interviewed in this special series and invite you to read Yvonne’s introduction or just watch and listen to our conversation below.

To learn more, please visit Nurturing Big Ideas and check out these other Smart Women Conversations.


Customer service Engagement Training & Development

What’s Reflected in Your Brand Mirror?

To hold on to your customers amid strong competition, it’s important to provide a positive customer experience. But where do you begin?

You start from the inside out with the employee experience because the way employees feel is the way customers will feel – and if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers. 

Picture the relationship between the two as a mirror. If employees are frustrated by company policy or internal politics, their attitudes can be reflected in their dealings with customers. Who wants to be served by employees who feel hassled or ready to disengage? It takes only one or two such encounters before a customer goes elsewhere. And who knows how many other customers will hear of their experience?

What do you see when looking into your company’s employee-customer brand mirror?

  • a shiny reflection of positive experiences with your internal and external brand?
  • a blurred image that needs polishing to be more employee- and customer-focused? or
  • a cracked image opening up opportunities for your competitors?

Three keys to creating a positive and polished brand reflection:

  • Proactively pay attention and listen to employees to better understand their experience in your workplace; e.g., employee surveys, management by wandering around, engagement discussions, exit interviews, etc. Do your employees have the tools, resources, and information they need to effectively serve customers?
  • Based on what you learn from listening to them, involve employees in improving business operations to better care for customers and each other.
  • If your organization is in transition or stressed with limited resources, positively acknowledge those who rally the energy and enthusiasm to serve customers and co-workers despite the situation.

If you need a reminder :

“There is no way to deliver a great customer experience with miserable employees.”  Steve Cannon

“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.”  Stephen R. Covey

[Image credit: Photo by Laurenz Kleinheider on Unsplash]

Engagement Training & Development

An Accidental Facilitator’s Simple Tool for Improvement

An admitted “accidental facilitator,” I love what I do. Here’s why.

I find my role in guiding the process of discovery among groups to be:

  • challenging – because it requires a high level of customization to meet a client’s specific needs while being unable to predict the outcome
  • intense and exhausting – because it involves being fully present to listen and observe what’s happening as well as being focused yet flexible to adapt on the fly as needed
  • exhilarating – because participants find their active engagement in the experience to be worthwhile, and so do I.

Facilitation is also rewarding in that it provides an incredible opportunity to learn and grow. That’s why I keep a special journal that helps me continually improve my skills.

In it, I briefly review each experience using a simple outline that includes:

  • Project name and date 
  • What worked that may prove to be useful in other projects, if applicable
  • What didn’t work that I should avoid doing again
  • Lessons learned from the experience that is also based on feedback compiled from participant evaluation forms.

Each journal page contains just enough info to refresh my memory about the experience. Viewing the pages individually and collectively yields valuable insights and ideas to consider with each successive facilitation project.

[“Ideas” image by Juan Marin on Unsplash. Photo at left is my facilitator’s journal.]



Training & Development

Why Read About Reading?

Because it’s good for your health.

That’s the key message in Read ‘Em & Reap: 6 Science-Backed Ways Reading Puts You on the Road to Achieving More and Living Longer by Tom Collins. [Disclaimer: I was fortunate to review an early draft of the book.]

Collins draws on research from neurology, psychology, cognition, education, and other fields of science to affirm reading’s benefits that positively impact both physical and mental health. Chapter titles include:

    • Reading Reduces Stress
    • Helps You Sleep
    • Improves Your Decision-Making Capacity
    • Makes You a Better Leader

A quick and enjoyable read, this powerful little book offers insight on “deep reading” to find answers and/or explore problems to generate meaning. Its readers will also find an interesting discussion in the print vs. digital debate.

Why I recommend Read ‘Em & Reap

If you’re a hesitant reader, you’ll get the encouragement you need to read more with help on how to develop a proactive reading plan.

If you’re an avid reader, you’ll appreciate the book’s “tips on adding more reading to your life.”

I enjoyed this book because it affirms the benefits of reading on so many levels. I read nonfiction for work to learn more, and I read fiction for pleasure to escape. Now I’m encouraged to go beyond reading just for work and play. Read ‘Em & Reap was the jump-start I needed to expand my reading even more.


Customer service Training & Development

3 Simple Ways to Engage Employees in a Better Customer Experience

Need to have your employees better understand and improve the customer experience?

Here are three simple approaches designed to do just that. Each one can be applied to engage employees in sharing their experiences and building on their ideas to take care of customers.

1. Consider the customer perspective 

“Smart people walk in the shoes of their customers. But wise people remove their own shoes first.”

Because empathy is critical to improving the customer experience, it’s valuable for employees to consider and discuss their own experience as consumers. You can engage them in discussing one or more of the following questions, such as:

  • Thinking about a recent experience you had as a customer, how would you describe the quality of that experience? What stood out for you that made it that way? … Based on that experience, would you recommend that company to a friend? Why or why not?
  • As a consumer, how can you tell whether a company is customer-centric?
  • How do you see who you are and what you offer through the customer’s eyes?
  • [Based on the responses to these questions:] What does this say about how we serve our customers? … How can we do better?

2. Consider employee impact 

Use notable quotes from the business press that will work well as discussion-starters to elicit employee reactions and ideas. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “The easiest way to turn a service into an experience is to provide poor service – thus creating an memorable encounter of the unpleasant kind.” B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, The Experience Economy
  • “Customers care about the degree to which you respect and value their business … If you provide customers with clues that you don’t value their business, then all the customer satisfaction in the world won’t help you.” David C. Lineweber
  • “If you respect the customer as a human being, and truly honor their right to be treated fairly and honestly, everything else is much easier.” Doug Smith
  • “Brands are built from within … [they] have very little to do with promises made through advertising. They’re all about promises met by employees.” Ian Buckingham

3. Consider combining both of the above approaches

Depending on how much time you have for discussion, you can start with the empathetic perspective and close with an applicable quote that supports delivering a positive customer experience. Or you can start with a quote and segue to discussing the customer’s perspective. As for selecting quotes, you can even invite employees to share a favorite or create their own.

Helpful tips

When you engage employees in these special discussions — whether as part of orientation, customer service training, staff meetings or retreats — you can elicit their understanding and ideas to better serve customers as well as co-workers who are “internal customers.”

Regardless of which of setting or approach(es) you use, it’s essential to conduct such discussions in a positive, non-threatening, and respectful setting. Your objective is twofold: 

  1. to encourage employees to comfortably share stories and actionable ideas that enable them to better serve customers, and
  2. avoid getting mired in a spiraling critique of complaints.

The key is to not dwell on negative barriers but focus on ways to overcome them.

And don’t forget the food (e.g., appropriate amounts of caffeine, water, sugar, healthy snacks, etc.) that can fuel the thinking and ideation process.


Engagement Training & Development

Let Employees Out of the Bubble for Better Collaboration

Whether getting together in person for problem-solving, planning, or idea-sharing, many employees are thrilled with the opportunity to engage in active discussion when management is truly interested in their input.

I’ve seen the positive impact of these employee gatherings first-hand in my work as a facilitator and trainer. Individual, team, and organizational benefits of effective in-person working sessions include:

  • expanded internal resources through networking and relationship-building with co-workers
  • reduced silos via interdepartmental communication and teamwork
  • enhanced organizational capacity through shared learning, idea-exchange, and renewed focus around a common purpose.

Bringing together employees from different areas of a large organization may incur travel costs compared with lower-cost alternatives of webinars and teleconferences. But the benefits and overall value of connecting employees make a well planned face-to-face gathering a worthwhile investment.

Employee feedback

Here’s what employees say about their experience in these sessions from actual meeting evaluations:

  • It’s good to get out of our bubble and look at the big picture.
  • It was an excellent open forum to bounce ideas off of other employees.
  • Brings together what we’ve been trying to accomplish and articulate in a cohesive, common platform.
  • It provided a sense of team and togetherness.
  • Excellent opportunity to exchange ideas. We’re all in the same boat with common goals.

Want better collaboration and engagement?

“Regardless of how tech-savvy you may be, face-to-face meetings are still the most effective way to capture the attention of participants, engage them in the conversation, and drive productive collaboration.” – Michael Massari

Engagement Training & Development

Leading Morale: a Boost to a Better Workplace

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

“Using emotional intelligence and showing deep human respect for employees is key. Without that, your IQ, occupational knowledge, and educational degrees mean little to employees.”  Kate Nasser

As a fellow advocate for an engaging and respectful workplace, I’ve been following Kate on social media for a while. That’s why I was thrilled to read her terrific new book, Leading Morale: The People Skills to Stop Negativity & Ignite Contributions, and interview her here.

About Kate: Known as The People Skills Coach™,  Kate Nasser is a thirty year workplace-tested consultant who continues to advise leaders and teams throughout the world on high morale and service for operational excellence. She is highly sought speaker because she brings morale issues to life and delivers solutions. In her first book, Leading Morale, she offers everyone the intersection of research and practical experience to lead morale instead of taking it for granted and scurrying to fix it later.

QSM: Please tell us why you wrote Leading Morale.

Kate:  I wrote Leading Morale because leaders weren’t doing it. They saw morale either as something that just happens (i.e. you can’t actually lead it) or cheer leading events — brief moments of appreciation — that don’t lead, build, or sustain morale.

QSM: What do you think will surprise readers the most when they read your book? 

Kate: I believe leaders will be surprised at what morale really is and how much they are influencing it. They will read insights that will stop them in their tracks and make them question what they subconsciously do. Lastly, leaders will be happily surprised at how they can easily lead morale.

QSM: In your experience, what is the biggest challenge in building and sustaining a more empowered and engaged workplace culture?

Kate: The biggest challenge is for leaders AND managers to replace their comfort of leading/managing goals to inspiring people to lead and manage their efforts to reach the goals.

QSM: I dream of an ideal world where people treat each another with genuine respect and dignity — a world where we wouldn’t need your book (no offense!). Accepting reality, however, what do you think is needed to get us closer to this ideal (beyond making your book required reading in all schools)?

Kate:  I love this question, Sybil, and I am not offended. To have a world where people treat each other with genuine respect and dignity we must:
a) Think of it as very reachable not as an ideal. As soon as we see something as an ideal, our brains tell us that we won’t get there. Some people then check out and think, well then … forget it.
b) Do it, show it, and discuss its importance daily. This is how you create a culture..
c) Politely demand it. When someone treats you disrespectfully, don’t tolerate it. Speak up civilly and say, “I treat  you with simple respect and I expect the same in return. Nothing more, nothing less.” As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” So don’t consent to disrespect and indignity.

QSM: Thank you, Kate!
You can see her in action in video footage at She welcomes your questions and challenges.


Engagement Training & Development

Engaging Advice for Graduates

I am reminded in this graduation season of the time my husband and I spoke at an honors convocation at our alma mater, Lehigh University. It was back in 1987 when we were “young professionals.” It was also a time when making a lot of money was considered an indicator of success.

But financial success was not what we spoke about. Instead we focused on the importance of getting involved in both community and professional life to “give back” in positive ways — a message that’s still relevant. Here’s an excerpt of our speech adapted for this post.

What we said then 

Being in school is like being in a cocoon — you’re in a relatively insulated environment in which you grow and develop. But what happens when you graduate and enter the “real world?” The difference is your growth doesn’t just “happen” anymore. You’re solely responsible for your own development at that point. It’s kind of scary, but the good news is there are lots of opportunities out there for you.

I’m talking about “continuing education” — the personal and professional development you get through involvement in professional, civic, and community organizations. The contacts you make in these groups provide a valuable source of continued education and professional growth. They provide the opportunity to share ideas with and learn from others: to find out whether you’re on the right track with a project you’re working on … where to go if you’re having problems … or just to know you’re not alone with the challenges and frustrations you face. Besides serving as support networks, these organizations also provide opportunities for you to develop and exercise your leadership potential.

I know from my own experience that the opportunities and rewards are invaluable. From my involvement with the American Marketing Association [I served on the national board of directors at the time], I’ve traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada to meet with marketing professionals in different industries. I’ve also gotten to know many academics well known in the field. Working together with them I’ve been able to broaden my knowledge of marketing and gain insight into the different career paths that are available.

But professional development is not limited to organizations like the AMA. Through involvement in community groups such as the local Chamber of Commerce and United Way, I’ve met and worked with top executives in various capacities. Whether serving on or chairing a committee, I’ve had the chance to observe their leadership skills while exercising mine.

In a broader context, why is continuing education through this kind of involvement so important? Because it’s characteristic of the social environment in which people are looking for self-fulfillment. According to noted social observer Daniel Yankelovich, “Seekers of self-fulfillment are determined to prove that life can be more than a grim economic chore. They are eager to give more meaning to their lives, find fuller self-expression, and add a touch of adventure and grace to their own lives and those of others.”

Another reason so many professionals get involved is based on their need to be part of something, to belong. These groups serve as a valuable network; they provide an ideal opportunity to share ideas and discuss common problems. More importantly, they convert strangers into colleagues and colleagues into friends.

My husband, Michael, also spoke about his experience as a student volunteer and later as a community volunteer and leader.

This real world experience put my classroom experiences in perspective, and I was hooked. As a result, there has rarely been a period of time in which I have not been involved in some community-based voluntary activity. I learn a lot. It provides a challenge different than the challenges that I face on a daily basis. I can choose to get involved in areas in which I believe I need more experience or understanding. Everyone wins because the more and the brighter the heads there are to solve a problem, the better the solutions.

I also believe that a better understanding of the problems which affect our communities make us better citizens, more intelligent voters, and more complete human beings. The skills you gain by performing your duties as volunteers can give you confidence to do your job better or help you expand your horizons and learn more diversified skills.

Our communities need us more than ever … Use your energy and your minds creatively. Get into your community. Don’t try to escape it; invest in it. You stand to gain personally as well as professionally.

And now
As we plan for retirement in the future, we will continue to seek opportunities to learn, grow, and give back as volunteers. It’s a fulfilling form of “engagement” that we still strongly recommend.

Best of luck to all graduates in your professional and community engagements!


Engagement Training & Development

Engaging Workplace Wisdom — Tips on What Works to Engage Others

While I typically speak about employee/volunteer engagement with people currently active in the workforce, the prospect of being with an audience of retirees was too good to pass up.

My recent session for Penn State Lehigh Valley’s SAGE Lecture Series was designed with a dual purpose: 1) share the current state of workplace engagement and 2) tap into the rich reservoir of the audience’s job experiences to be shared with students. Twenty-six students also participated as part of their Intercultural Community-Building class – a first-year experience course that introduces students “to the concepts of identity and multiculturalism, and encourage them to engage in interactive discussions with others,” according to Kristy Weidner Hove, instructor and Institutional Planning Coordinator at Lehigh Valley Penn State.

After discussing the importance of engagement and what leads people to engage or disengage on the job, the audience broke into small groups of retirees and students to share their experiences in the workplace. Each breakout group then identified and shared their top three tips on engaging employees, volunteers, and co-workers.

Here are the resulting tips, compiled and organized by Kristy Hove, that reflect a variety of leadership, management, and collaborative practices based on actual experience.

Penn State Lehigh Valley SAGE Workshop


  • Don’t just hear what others have to say but listen to them and retain what they say.
  • At all levels, the person must be able to listen as a sign of respect.


  • Respond to others in a way that indicates you understand them.
  • Communicate among each other and comment whenever the person did well.
  • Find a way that works to communicate with the group; i.e., face-to-face or online.


  • Acknowledge people at all levels, both intrinsically and concrete incentives.
  • Give credit to the person who comes up with the idea; mention his or her name in front of the group or boss.
  • Create an environment for recognizing and rewarding achievement.


  • Learn people’s names.
  • For new employees or volunteers, ask the people they’ll be working with to introduce themselves and what they do.


  • Ask volunteers what they’d like to do. Explain you’ll try to accommodate if you can. Leaders need to be prepared for alternative, unexpected requests.


  • Team work makes the dream work.
  • Group activities and communication help with teamwork.


  • Create an environment where employees enjoy what they are doing.
  • Attitude – people will mirror what they see.


  • Recognize the value of socialization. Some groups value the “journey” and inclusion as much as achievement.
  • Provide opportunities for social introductions.
  • Social gatherings can help with comfortability/familiarity .
  • Encourage openness among employees.
  • Find a friend at work.


  • Show sincere respect and interest in people.
  • Management should maintain distance and yet be open to employees and their ideas.
  • Recognize abilities and limitations of the employees.
  • Act responsibly.
  • Treat everyone equally (Golden Rule).

Special thanks to Diane McAloon, Community & Alumni Outreach, and Kristy Hove for helping with this special workshop, and to all retirees and students for their active participation.

Customer service Marketing Training & Development

What Do You Notice About These Three Customer Service Stories?

In honor of National Customer Service Week (observed the first week in October), here are three amazing stories told by customers — all marketing professionals — who experienced and analyzed them. They represent different situations that share a common theme.

Customer experience #1:

“I walked into an Eckerd Drug Store to buy a sympathy card. Before the clerk even rang up the purchase, he took a silk rose from a display at the counter, presented it to me, and said, ‘I’m sorry for your loss. I hope this will cheer you up a little.'” Toby Bloomberg

Toby’s takeaway: “There were no dramatic gestures, no casts of thousands, no high cost involved. Simply an elegant approach to ‘service’ between two people. And when you get right down to basics, isn’t that what “legendary service” is all about — people who go the extra mile to connect to the customer?”

Customer experience #2:

“It was a Saturday around noon at the Hyatt Woodfield hotel in Chicago for an American Marketing Association chapter leadership meeting. Just as our people were sitting down to lunch, the first alarm went off. We were quickly hustled outside by the staff and stayed outdoors for the better part of an hour due to a water emergency.

“A couple of weddings were scheduled to take place at the hotel later that day. One of the brides arrived that morning and, not finding a closet hook high enough to hold her wedding gown off the floor, she hung it on a fire system water sprinkler. The weight eventually broke the sprinkler head, spewing rusty water all over the gown in her room and other rooms on the floor that were linked on that sprinkler water line. The water also leaked through to rooms below the bride’s floor. The hotel could have easily blamed the bride for her misfortune and the inconvenience caused to everyone else in the hotel. But instead they summoned a limousine, took the bride and her mother across to the Nordstrom’s at Woodfield Mall to buy a new dress.” Chris Bonney

Chris’s takeaway: “I don’t know if the hotel was insured for this kind of thing or not. But they knew that it was cheaper for the bride to get a new dress so that her wedding could proceed and worry about the details later. They recovered the situation without embarrassing the bride and her family.”

Customer experience #3:

“My husband and I were traveling to Boston to attend a conference for his work when I had a medical emergency on the plane. Upon landing at the airport, I was immediately taken off the plane in a special ambulance gurney and transported to the hospital. While filling out our medical forms in the ER, my husband and I suddenly looked at each other to ask, “What happened to our luggage?!” since we left the plane in such a hurry.

“While I was in surgery, my husband took a taxi to the conference hotel and explained our situation. The Marriott Copley Hotel front desk clerk called the airport to find and hold our luggage. The hotel also arranged for a staff member to drive my husband back to the airport to collect the luggage, drop him off at the hospital to be with me after surgery, and place our luggage in the hotel room for when my husband returned.” This is my customer service story.

Here’s my takeaway: “In our situation, we were guests who arrived at the hotel with a problem that had nothing to do with the hotel itself. Yet the front desk staff showed their compassion and concern by going the extra step take care of us.”

What these stories share

My colleagues and I had different customer experiences with a common theme: demonstrations of exemplary service by employees who were empathetic and responsive to their customers — all in situations where the service provider did nothing wrong. Nonetheless, front line employees went “above and beyond” to do everything right.

What’s equally impressive is that these experiences took place more than 25 years ago. Extraordinary customer service — good and bad — leaves a lasting impression.