The Key to Success in Your Career
Written By: Ibby Smith Stofer
I want to share my personal story of success that has endured my 40+ year career in sales, sales leadership, and customer relations. I think the secret may be within this story.
My first job after college was training customer service representatives. It taught me some invaluable skills as it would relate to my future career path. I worked for ATT, a monopoly in telephone communications, in one of the most demanding markets with many wealthy customers who not only expected exceptional service but demanded it.
Following my relocation to the West Coast, I worked for a large medical device company for over 30 years. I started in customer service, and it became my passion and, ultimately, the foundation for my success.
I dealt with some of the largest healthcare systems in the US and did so over the old-fashioned landline! (Thank you, ATT, for the indoctrination training in dealing with demanding customers and issues.) With no way for customers to match my voice with my face or a simple search to check my reputation online, that meant I had to build trust through listening and responding with both understanding and empathy. I had to create an environment where each side could feel that the other was paying attention, listening, and wanting a favorable outcome. We build negotiations or understanding when both parties work toward a common goal. For our healthcare customer, that meant finding common agreement on issues like price, financial options, and contract terms and conditions.
Over time, my responsibilities included leading teams, working with our sales organizations, internal finance, and other corporate departments. That meant that my customers changed. But what they and I expected of me never wavered. As I led various teams, projects, or initiatives, being the voice of the customer was the key that I firmly believed and still believe either leads to success or failure. It does not matter if the “customer” is an employee, colleague, boss, or actual “customer” of your product or service.
After a long tenure with the device company, I was fortunate to join the financing organization that had become invaluable to our company and my personal success through our long-standing partnership.
I have often been asked, how did I build trust and connections? Why were my customer interactions most often successful?
To serve your customer, there are a variety of skills that come into play. Questioning for understanding and practicing active listening are critical. A willingness to compromise, realistic expectations of others, honesty, and keeping to your commitments or promises are also very important. But being an attentive listener and empathetic is not enough. No, you must truly understand what is important to the other person or persons and be able to identify and respond to their emotions and their words. Since the 1990s, the term emotional intelligence has come to the forefront.
I had to create an environment where each side could feel that the other was paying attention, listening, and wanting a favorable outcome.
But what exactly is emotional intelligence? A Wikipedia search offers the following definition: “the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal.”
Emotional intelligence comes naturally to some individuals, and for others, it is a learned skill. It is the foundation of my interactions with employees and interdepartmental colleagues, but what about the remote interactions that represented a significant part of my career? How does emotional intelligence impact those relationships and interactions?
I have done nearly all of my direct customer interactions via telephone and currently use phone communication to interact with my colleagues as well. I did not have the benefit of visual cues and body language to guide our discussions. I relied solely on my ability to recognize and control my reactions to objections or voiced concerns combined with very active listening and tone or modulation changes in my voice. Summarizing and restating points allowed all parties to agree on key discussion points.
Zoom, Facetime, Skype, and other virtual tools have filled that gap for many, regardless of their roles. Putting a face to the caller or discussion adds invaluable tools to read the other parties and develop a trust level that can be difficult to achieve with only your voice.
I am proud to say that most of my colleagues and bosses always wondered what I did that made what I said believable and, as a result, built relationships that remain years after our initial interactions.
In my opinion, it is because I put the customer first and try to think about how they see the issue, proposal, or idea. As they say, walk a mile in their shoes and try to anticipate any conflict points. Adding the skills associated with emotional intelligence can aide most people in achieving success. Whether you are a clerk in a grocery store, a top salesperson, a business owner, or janitor does not matter.
I wish you well and hope you have or will find the key to your own success and that you found my article interesting and now want to see the strength of your own emotional intelligence.
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