What public speaking teaches about customer service

Courtesy SHiFt Conference - Michael Hess

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY I've been trying to make time to do more public speaking, as I get tremendous enjoyment and satisfaction from helping other business people, coaching young entrepreneurs, and teaching students. But more and more lately, I've come to recognize and appreciate the reciprocal benefits. We all know that teaching is a great way to learn, and I learn something -- or improve, or reinforce my own thinking -- every time I do a presentation.

My favorite topic and obsession, as regular readers know, is customer service. And lately I've found it interesting how much the literal "process" of public speaking is, in and of itself, something of a step-by-step lesson in some of the fundamental principles of providing quality service.

Obviously everyone knows that a good speaker is (or should be) providing a service to the audience in one fashion or another, but it's more than that. The audience can be thought of as a collective customer, and the act of presenting -- irrespective of the topic -- as a turnkey service interaction with that customer. If you're the speaker (customer service provider), in order to make that interaction successful you must:

- Quickly show a sincere intention to serve: It's good and expected practice to lead into a presentation with something engaging, entertaining or anecdotal; but it should be treated as the extended equivalent of a customer greeting, the setting of a positive and comfortable tone. Don't wait too long to make it clear that you are there -- and sincerely determined -- to deliver something of value, in a way that will benefit and satisfy your audience/customer.

- Put your butt in their seats: I wrote recently about empathybeing the most important word in customer service. And (after air travel) there aren't many customer relationships that call for more empathy than one in which the customer is trapped in an uncomfortable seat, listening to something in which she may or may not be interested. If what you have to say isn't something you'd want to hear, chances are your audience/customer won't either. In other words, treat as you'd expect to be treated.

- Deliver the goods. Your audience/customer has paid -- with money, time, or both -- for what you're offering, and you have an obligation to give them what they came for. If you've promised (advertised) that you are going to give them something of specific value, make sure you do. Too many presenters speak for an hour and say nothing, and too many companies promise service they don't deliver. In either case, you risk leaving audiences/customers wanting their money back.

- Be appreciative. Appreciation is much like empathy in that it's obvious when the sentiment is genuine or completely phony. When I speak to an audience or customer, I never forget who's the most important person in the room (or on the phone). That's not to diminish the value of my own product, service, or presentation, or even to say that all customers are "good." But the audience/customer usually has options, and has chosen me or my company. Showing sincere appreciation -- and letting your service reflect it -- affirms their decision and adds glue to the bond you've hopefully built.

- Send them away happy. As I've often written about, this is the end-game of all customer interactions. No human desire is stronger or more important than the desire to be happy, and customer service that makes people happy is, for all intents and purposes, perfect. Clearly, there will always be people you can't please. But if you're not making the vast majority of your audience/customers happy that they've interacted with you -- if they're not leaving with a smile -- you're doing something wrong.

You don't need to be a public speaker to benefit from the lessons it teaches and reinforces. They are key to any quality customer service ethic, and for that matter, pretty much every human interaction in business.

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    Michael Hess is founder and CEO of Skooba Design. He is also a public speaker and advisor, obsessed with customer service, communication, and culture. Read the philosophies that make Michael tick here, and visit his website and new Facebook page for information on speaking engagements and more.

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