Accordingly, McMullan predicts that actively managing the friendliness of staff will soon become a major strategic objective of many companies. He says that some companies will figure this out ahead of time, but believes that many others will need to have something really bad happen first. “Like one comment about unfriendly service”, he says, “that triggers comments from many other people who've had similar, but perhaps less extreme, experiences of unfriendly treatment with a company.” “And actually”, adds McMullan, “it's this more pervasive moderate level of staff unfriendliness that is the bigger problem for companies as it may not always directly generate any bad comments, so it's harder to detect, but it still manages to significantly undermine customer, employee and partner loyalty.”
Part of why McMullan thinks most companies don't yet see the enormity of the situation is that these bad comments are online but many take place within closed, private communities that aren't viewable by non-members. “The Google-searchable stuff on the public forums is only a fraction of the bad word of mouth that's out there”, he asserts, “and it's not just about companies' products; it's also about soft factors like the friendliness of service that's being talked about”.
“Right now” explains McMullan, “a lot of companies are being reactive by hiring consultants to do online reputation management, a service that we also offer, and one that's growing.” “The clients,” he continues, “are basically trying to cover up the bad things that have been said about them, but they also need to invest in proactively developing the friendliness of their staff to avoid negative comments that are difficult, and sometimes impossible, to cover up online.”
Nevertheless, McMullan says Velvet Talk Management is seeing increased interest in its Friendliness Audits. “We determine friendliness scores for employees,” he says, “and this gives our clients a metric that can be positively improved over time”, adding that “you can't manage what you don't measure”.
Essentially the process is to take random samples of external and/or internal communications from employees, like email and voice mail, as appropriate, and then run them through a sophisticated piece of software that uses proprietary algorithms and statistical analyses to detect patterns of friendliness or unfriendliness in the language. The preliminary scores generated by the software are then also qualitatively assessed by a person for added accuracy.
McMullan emphasizes that their Friendliness Audits provide more accurate measures of friendliness than what is achievable by conducting customer and employee surveys. “For one thing,” he says, “Friendliness Audits avoid the biases of these other more common methods by relying instead on objective language data that is factually recorded, without any amateur pre-interpretation by mystery shoppers or rival co-workers, and then analyzed by experts at Velvet Talk Management.
“Companies spend a lot of money on fancy loyalty card programs and touchy feely advertising,”
When asked why he is so passionate about improving employee friendliness, McMullan mentions how five years living in super-polite Japan made him realize the importance of language in forming strong business and personal bonds. Being impressed with how Japanese business people communicate with each other was an important factor in why he went back to school to focus on East Asia and business studies at Harvard. Velvet Talk Management's services would never fly in Japan, but sadly the West is full of unfriendly employees and we need this, as some companies are starting to discover as their reputations get slammed on the Internet for unfriendly behaviour by some of their staff.
For more information about Velvet Talk Management visit their website at www.VelvetTalkManagement.com
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Velvet Talk Management conducts 'Friendliness Audits', friendliness training and online reputation management to help companies attract and retain customers, talent and partners.