Style: Is it Important?

Is your professional style important? Style is defined as the way you make decisions or solve problems, resolve conflict and relate to others – peers, subordinates, superiors, customers, etc. Your style can be a make-or-break factor to your success. It is the primary factor that influences the experience someone has when they come in contact with you.

In these days of customer experience awareness, style has never been more important.

During the late 80’s and into the ‘90’s through Y2K the technology industry was in high demand for technology professionals and in many cases a pulse was a primary condition of employment. This resulted in organizations with a diverse mix of individuals who expected everyone to accept them as they were – appearance, working habits, attitude, etc. Since the technology feeding frenzy was so great companies and customers overlooked the idiosyncrasies of many of these “professionals” as the price to achieve an objective in a crisis.

As the demand/supply curve came into balance it became necessary for technology professionals to consider how they influenced the customer experience by not just delivering a successful project on time and with in budget but to also successfully demonstrate interpersonal behavior that was harmonious with management and employees. We went so far as to publish a style guide for our on site consultants as to how to deal with key style factors. The following is a few of the more dramatic style factors:

  • Improving appearance (including, of all things, personal hygiene).
  • How they initiated proactive contact and communication with customer management and team members.
  • Improving their listening skills to detect customer concern or misunderstandings.
  • Resolve conflict in a timely manner without becoming personally involved.
  • Taking responsibility for customer satisfaction.

The results of this effort were impressive as we saw increased customer satisfaction, trust and confidence in our consulting team, extended project work, engaging with more sophisticated and higher value accounts from referrals and most significantly, increased work satisfaction on the part of the technology consultants.

I have applied this experience in a number of companies that I have consulted with. One of the more significant examples of how style affected an organization was with a private school, which was concerned about the ability of the school to have a consistent interaction with parents – the customer – particularly by the younger generation teachers. The problem was more complex than just a couple of teachers as the communication to the parent that impacted their expectations of what was to happen in the classroom was affected by the formal literature provided the parent, the teacher manual for the teachers and daily communication – teacher-to-student, teacher-to-parent, admin-to-teacher and admin-to-parent.

It was easy for the parent to become confused over the “style” of the school particularly when it came to problem resolution whether it started with the teacher or admin. This was compounded when the teacher (often a younger generation teacher) would receive the parent concern in a defensive way, which escalated the attitude of the parent to a crisis level. The bottom line result was a poor customer experience for the parent, which reflected on the school reputation and brand.

The correction to this style conflict:

  • School administration needed to reconcile the inconsistencies in the communication of expectations to parent, teacher and student.
  • Administration and teachers needed to visit this subject on a regular basis so that all knew what to do when an incident occurred so that they could execute in a predictable and consistent manner.
  • The teacher was often the first to receive the parent concern and they need to hear the parent out (listen) before coming (or jumping) to a conclusion as to what action to take to resolve the problem.
  • The teachers needed to accept that resolving parent concern was part of their job and to not take it negatively or personally that the parent was complaining to them and to handle it as part of what they did as a teacher.

The results were reduced parental conflict and improved relations with their customer and improved teacher morale. The style of the organization and individuals was adjusted so that communication was consistent and problem resolution was dealt with in a low to no conflict manner.

Take a look at your style, the style of your organization to see if you have areas that can be improved to enhance customer experience, improve morale and lead you to higher value business. Style is important!

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