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Posts Tagged ‘Customer Service’

Reducing your Employee Churn/Burn Rate & Getting Results

What is the most value asset you have in your company? You shouldn’t have to think too hard! It’s the people that execute on your strategy.

So why do you always seem to be “the last man left standing” in your organization?

I’ll share with you the answer, followed by two key lessons & one practical example/result as to the “why” of so many company’s having challenges in retaining staff these days. An especially complex issue to understand, given the current economical crisis, is the unemployment rates around the world are still incredibly high.

The Answer is that we, as leaders, typically do a very poor job of recruitment, induction, ongoing management & assessment of our most valuable assets. And the general root cause is through poor communication and lack of courage!

Personally, even though sometimes hard to swallow, I firmly believe in the 90/10 rule, which states that if one of your staff isn’t working out, it’s 90% YOUR fault.. & only 10% theirs!

Do you think I’m being harsh, unfair & unrealistic? Well, consider this.. who’s in the drivers seat?

  • Who (ultimately) did, or approved the hiring?
  • How clear were you in defining and communicating the Mission & Vision of the company?
    • Did you receive acknowledgment, or other form of undeniable proof that you were clearly understood?
  • How clear were you in defining the role to be fulfilled & the specific outcomes to be expected of the role?
    • Key words being “role & specific outcome”.. forget job description!
  • How clear were you in communicating the behaviors you expected whilst your team executed on your plan?
    • How did you manage the first signs of lack in performance or alignment with your vision, message and/or expectations?
  • How often did you sit down to agree S.M.A.R.T. objectives/goals?
    • How frequently did you follow-up to make necessary adjustments?
    • How quickly did you put someone on a performance plan when they didn’t deliver on what was agreed?
  • How much planning & thought went into the induction, education/training, mentoring or skills acquisition process the individual needed to succeed?
    • How much coaching or mentoring did you consider to be required from yourself, or senior/more experienced staff?
  • How quickly, and how brave were YOU in having “the difficult & uncomfortable conversations”?
    • Are you paying & rewarding your staff to perform?
      • Are you doing the opposite?
      • How are you motivating/encouraging non-performance/conformance?

I could go on & on.. but I think you get the point! It’s YOUR company, YOUR department or YOUR team, and therefore YOU are the ultimate responsible person for the outcome/output of everyone’s role. If things aren’t working out then look inward before you look outward, and once you’ve completed this assignment take responsibility to make the immediate & necessary adjustments.

Lesson #1

  • Be crystal clear on Your Vision & communicate it… communicate it… communicate it…
    • Who needs to do What, How & by When?
      • This requires acknowledgment & buy-in, however remember you’re the boss (90% responsibility), so make sure that “your team” buys into “your plan”, even if you need their help in constructing it, and not the opposite!
    • Where do you want your company, area or department to be?
    • When do you expect specific results?
      • When do you expect escalations when things are in danger, or aren’t going according to plan?
    • How do you want (expect) your employees to behave, handle themselves and handle adversity (which is sure to come)?
      • What are the rules of engagement?
    • What are the boundaries & non-boundaries that you expect people to respect & understand?
      • What are the focus areas they’re supposed to be focused on in order to achieve success?
  • Be crystal clear on Your Mission… & communicate it… communicate it… communicate it…
    • Why do you want your people to behave in a certain manner?
    • Why do you need your people to achieve certain results?
    • Why do you require specific results within specific time frames?
    • Why is the company in business to begin with?

I’ve embedded the Core Values, which are the “behaviors” or “rules for the road” within the context of the Who, What, Where, When, Why & How above. That, in short, is your Core Ideology!

Lesson #2

The next biggest lesson you might have to learn, is regarding COURAGE. Courage to stand-up to the “know-it all’s” who’ve never run an enterprise but have every theory in the book as to how your organization should run! I find these days far too many companies have “grayed the line” between “boss & employee” and between responsible for direction & responsible for execution. If you’re going to take 90% responsibility for the failure of an organization, you need to get straight, and clearly understand, who’s “experienced” and better still “paid to run the show”.

In order to deliver on the above, you need the right skill-set that’s for sure, and you also need to have the backbone to “listen first” and “act accordingly second”. Acknowledging someone’s perspective and giving them voice doesn’t mean that you have to take their advice or recommendations over your own experienced opinion or gut instinct/intuition. It only makes you more responsible and accountable to the eventual decisions you make.

Once you’ve guaranteed success, then you can stand back, be humble and allow your team to bask in the glory of having executed excellently on a plan. Take 90% of the responsibility, give 90% of the credit and you’ll have an effective & motivated team!

I’ve spent hours-upon-hours giving practical workshops to MBA students who have paid a pretty penny to gain a highly valuable education, just like I’ve spent hours-upon-hours with both managers and employees who’ve read the latest books containing magical and earth moving experiences. What I always share with them is that “now you have the logic, it’s time to go out into the real world to implement and execute”.

The execution of an idea is always more important than the brilliance of a thought, or even a strategy. A brilliant thought without effective execution is merely an illusion. A brilliant strategy, without effective execution, is merely a waste of everyone’s energy & time.

Practical Example/Result

I recently walked into an assignment that demanded many changes in a short period of time. Multiple colleagues had just been fired for non performance and conformance. I was walking into an understandably hostile environment!

I stood in front of a room and shared my “what” followed by my “why”. Then came my “how”, where I told them that I only expected  1/2 (!?!?) of the output, dedication and commitment that I was willing to put in myself! However, I also advised them that I typically give 300% to every assignment!!

I explained that I would give them 48 hours to go through the grieving process of having lost their colleagues, followed by 15 days to be at 80% or better, and showing signs they would be at 150% by day 30.

I committed myself to complete transparency & communication, just as I would to holding them as accountable (where & when) as I would hold myself. I shared with them that there would be 2 day, 15 day & 30 day milestones, at which time I would have conversations with non-performers & either implement a performance plan or retire them. I would also make it a regular habit to commend the good performances along the way.

I shared with them that in a 24 hour weekday, I’m hoping you have 8 hours of sleep, and I’ll guarantee you that more than 50% of the remaining 16h will be based on, or thinking about, “work”. Therefore, if you’re going to dedicate more than 50% of your “awake” time to “work” during a 5 day work week rather than to your loved ones & special interests, it’s absolute lunacy to work in a place where you’re not motivated and inspired. As a consequence, if I ask you or if you decide to leave, then we’re only doing each other a favor based on a general concern & well-being for all.

Result

One person left within 48 hours, a few more within the first 15 days, then a few more within the next 15 days. Along the way change happened, a pride which previously didn’t exist filled the department! Results, followed by customer satisfaction, started to sparkle where it didn’t exist before. THEY, the last ones standing, did all of the work. I merely gave them direction and the opportunity to be everything I already knew they could be.

Top 3 things to focus on when fixing what’s broken

Having just finished up another successful assignment at a hyper growth enterprise, and noting that the core principles of success were again very similar to many other situations faced over the past +25 years, I thought I’d share my 3 areas of focus.

I should add to this that two days before I departed, an interested 2nd line manager/team leader asked if I could share with him some insights. He had witnessed remarkable changes in a very short period of time, and whilst I had been very busy with first line management, he recognized the possibility to learn some very practical & valuable lessons directly himself.

It inspired me that again we had been able to affect collateral interest, as well as a desire for change deeper within the organization, so I rallied the entire 2nd line leadership team and spent the next 2 hours giving them some day-to-day examples of the following:

  • Customer Centricity – Focus on the Customer
    • We have Internal Customers
      1. Every person in every department, in one way or another, facilitates the servicing of External Customers
      2. By serving the needs of our Internal Customers, we are either directly or indirectly addressing the needs of our External Customers
      3. Open up the lines of communication & ownership by first committing to, and then respecting, bi-lateral Service Level Agreements
    • We have External Customers
      1. Shift from a systems interoperability focus to a successful customer purchasing focus
      2. Now start to look for opportunities to enrich & enhance the customer purchasing experience
      3. Open up the lines of communication & ownership by first committing to, and then respecting, Service Level Agreements
  • Ownership – Never let go until you’re satisfied
    • Ownership is a like a hungry dog with a bone.. you never let go until you’re satisfied the hunger is quenched
      1. You can never assume the client, internal or external, is satisfied with a solution until you have direct confirmation/validation from/of the same
      2. Every obstacle is merely an opportunity for you to find another alternative path to a solution
      3. Don’t accept that a problem can’t be fixed until you’ve exhausted every means, including escalated your concern to the highest level within your organization
    • Ownership is like a football team moving forward to score a goal, just because you’ve passed the ball forward, your contribution to the goal isn’t over until the ball is in the net & you’re embracing your colleagues in celebration
      1. Just because you’ve forwarded a need or requirement, your job isn’t done until you’ve confirmed/validated that the next person is carrying out the necessary task(s) until the “client” is satisfied
      2. Trust is good..  but verification is proof.. & much.. much better!
      3. Confirm the goal! Confirm with the “client” that they’ve gotten the result they expected, and then celebrate the WIN/GOAL/SCORE & never just the great pass
  • Communication – “Engage with..” instead of “talking to..”
    • Communication is a bi-directional inter-activity & never a uni-lateral conversation
      1. Effective communication requires active empathetic listening
      2. Effective communication is never assuming that you know what the other person has just said, but repeating it for acknowledgment & confirmation of detail
      3. In effective communication, there is no such thing as “common sense”.. common sense is merely an accumulation of related experiences, and we all have different filters (interpretations & perceptions) based on our past influences
    • More than talking to someone, effective communication is when you confirm that an intention is understood, and the expected outcome has been agreed to by the “actioning party”
      1. To borrow from Engineering terms, effective communications requires an active & affective acknowledgment process (ACK/NAK or checksum), which is an infallible confirmation that what has been requested, has been acknowledge and understood
      2. Effective communications requires a S.M.A.R.T. conversation, with specific confirmation by all parties as to what has been requested vs. what will be delivered by when by whom to where & how

These might sound simple enough that you would actually overlook or underestimate the impact that they are already having on your organization, but the fact is, and I’m willing to be openly challenged on this, you show me a problem in your organization, and I’ll show you where one, if not all of the above are responsible for the lack of results that you know your enterprise is capable of.

Customer Service Do’s & Don’ts

February 1, 2010 3 comments

This past weekend I blogged about my poor customer service experience with Vueling, a Spanish low-cost airline who up until recently, based on personal experience, had been a shining example of innovation & customer service. Having completed the weekend experience on last night’s 21h45 flight back to Barcelona, allow me to recap where they went wrong & what they could have done better..

  • Initial Booking & On-line Check-in
    • What didn’t work
      • Joint booking assigned seats in different rows when plane seats are 80% unassigned
    • How it could be improved
      • Reservation engine that assigns seats considering joint bookings when seats are free
      • * side-note; the flight ended up being only at 70% capacity when it took off, which made matters worse.. obviously we then moved to adjoining seats
  • Response to Customer Complaint
    • What didn’t work
      • Getting a response (to my blog) in the name of the Vueling CEO telling me to look at their Cost Savings Policy as a justification.. totally irrelevant (I hope!!) to the topic at hand..
    • How it could be improved
      • I wrote the complaint in English & therefore being responded to in English would have helped.. fortunately I’m fluent in Spanish as well
      • A Customer Service representative that actually read my complaint and responded with an appropriate/relevant solution or explanation, instead of just treating me “like another complaint” that they’re obviously not going to action or follow-up
      • A response directly to me via my twitter post, as EasyJet did, instead of a broadcast message
      • Sign as “Customer Service Representative” instead of “Vueling CEO”
  • Return flight experience
    • What didn’t work
      • Again sitting in seats which weren’t adjoined.. seated across the isle this time, and again, as flight was 90% full, we switched to adjoined seats after take-off
      • ** Interestingly enough, by my wife giving up her seat, we were able to reunite another family who had been broken up by the same irrational policy
      • During one of the worst turbulent flights I’ve ever experienced, there was (1) no warning, (2) no acknowledgment or (3) any information about how much longer the turbulence might last.. I guess our safety & well being are also part of their Cost Saving measures (?!?!)
      • ** Compare this to an Iberia flight from São Paulo earlier this month when before embarking on a +9h flight.. still on the tarmac, the pilot advised that there would be turbulence at about the 6h30 mark into the flight.. ironically enough, Iberia now has a majority shareholding in Vueling through their initial low-fare interest Clickair
    • How it could be improved
      • Same as above in what concerns seating reservation engine.. it’s a simple few lines of code in their booking engine software that automatically allocate the next two available adjoining seats within a policy of rear to front seating assignment policy to try & persuade passengers to buy their seating arrangement
      • The plane had just crossed the same flight path within the last 45 to 60 minutes as the same crew that landed in Ibiza at 21h00 took us back at 21h45.. therefore.. (1) a small warning before taken-off about the violent turbulence ahead that might have saved a few very frightened passengers the shock of their lives.. (2) a warning just before we hit the violent turbulence as unfortunately these days people don’t take much notice of “only” lighting up the seat-belt signs.. (3) an acknowledgment that this turbulence is going to last another 20 minutes, which at least reassures me that it’s “under control” instead of allowing my creative imagination to start thinking about my will which I haven’t updated!

I can’t accept the argument that just because it’s a low-fare airline nothing can be done about it! Back in October of last year I had an issue with EasyJet and they went about it in a completely different fashion.

What did they do right?

  • Acknowledged my complaint
  • Followed-up when I wasn’t satisfied with their first attempt
  • Did something (corrective action) about it
  • Subsequently followed up to keep me informed as to their continuing efforts to improve customer service

It’s not really all that hard folks! It’s just a matter of listening 1st, engaging 2nd & taking corrective action 3rd.. the follow-up (4th) is a nice “icing on the cake”, or “the cherry on top” depending on how you prefer your cake 😉

This was an obvious Customer Service Experience gone wrong, and a lost opportunity to set the record straight. I’m actually a very forgiving customer, unless I feel that I’ve been totally disrespected. For those of you out there with company’s of your own, how effective is your customer service? Don’t just assume & be happy when you’re not receiving complaints, silence is not necessarily a good sign! (see below)

Can you afford the non returning customers? Is it really more cost effective to pay 4 times more (common industry bench-mark) for new customer acquisition than customer retention?

The Year of Opportunity

December 21, 2009 1 comment

This is a story of “the power of intentions”.. work-life balance, personal/professional growth & success, in whatever form you identify it.. 🙂

Back in December of 2006, the year I first met my wife, she taught me all about “them(ing) a year” & setting the intention for the success of the upcoming 12 months. It was December 31st to be precise, we were on the back of a friend’s boat on the Sydney harbor just under that famous bridge which I had seen on so many New Years Eve television broadcasts. We were going to move in together as of 2007, and so jointly we decided that the year would be appropriately themed “The Year of Living”. Now when you theme a year, you have to express your activities in alignment with the theme, and so the next question was “where we were going to live”. So as we asked ourselves “where is a living city?”.. we simultaneously declared “Barcelona”. At the time I was living in Portugal, Maria dancing between Zurich & Hamburg. Very appropriately, Maria then instructed me to get on a plane a few days later.. headed to Barcelona to find our new flat, where she would meet me at the end of the week.

In addition to starting new businesses each, 2007 was a year in which we made conscious decisions to “live”. We traveled every 6/7 weeks for extended weekends in-between intense work periods, we created a blog to share our passions, we obviously explored the “living city” of Barcelona and we constantly challenged ourselves to take every opportunity possible to LIVE! As a follow-up, 2008 became “The Year of Celebration”, which we appropriately kicked off with our wedding celebration, all of this mind you, whilst still developing successful new business models in very adverse conditions. With our businesses entering critical stages, and the clouds of the Global Financial Crisis looming on the horizon, 2009 become “The Year of Perseverance”, and we jointly exerted extra concerted efforts, thus excelling our businesses to new plateaus.

This “theme(ing)” business & setting intentions which drive your focus has also become a powerful backbone of the methodologies with which I’ve provided for my clients, who have in turn transformed their cultures, had their staff stand-up & take accountability for driving company results, creating the necessary environment of greater “work-life-balance”, and finally, driving an average 50%  revenue increase in their businesses. It’s all about “focus” and communicating that focus to your team, and those around you so that everyone is conscious of where we’re headed, why & what’s in it for them along the way.

Several weeks ago, my wife Maria & I started to question ourselves in regards to a possible theme for 2010, and noting where we stand, and what we would like to see happen through disciplined hard/smart work, we’ve decided on “The Year of Opportunity”. More than normally, we will seek to identify the opportunity to learn & grown in every event we encounter. Our passions will be driven to create new opportunities for ourselves, and those that  surround us, as we progress through our year. We will remain focused, and  yet open minded as to not limit our choices. We will seek new business partnerships, we will question the “status quo” in our lives & businesses, and we will seek to enhance our businesses offerings through creating unique win/win growth opportunities for all.

Will it be an easy year? Obviously not! We’ve discovered that you don’t grow in “easy times”. As Maria likes to remind me, “the stronger the wind.. the stronger the tree” 🙂 So with open arms we await to embrace 2010 and all of it’s challenges that lie ahead. Counting on the support of friends, family & an extended network to play hard & work smart, we know we’ll come out on the other end wiser & stronger for having had the focus & discipline to leverage every opportunity.

What the moral of this story? If you set an intention, voice it loud, hold yourself accountable whilst allowing others to hold you accountable, focus with all your might, be diligent and consistently question your “status quo”, combined with a few tools & support, the only thing in the way of success is yourself. Or as I like to say, “the only thing you need in order to achieve success in anything you desire is one of two things.. either overcoming a limiting belief, or determining the right strategy”.

How about you? What’s on your radar for 2010? How are you going to face what’s ahead? how are you going to make the most out of every opportunity?

Customer Service 2.0.. Where’s the service? Update!! Part 2

October 4, 2009 3 comments

OK, I’m a fair enough guy and whether in response to my added pressure, or a coincidence because they were about to get back to me, the fact is that, as you can see by the screen grab of my Tweetdeck just a few moments ago, the folks over at EasyJetCare do seem to be working on their Customer Service.

ScreenHunter_01 Oct. 04 12.52

So now I’ll follow their instructions, I’ll look forward to seeing my money refunded, I’ll be interested to understand what measures they’re taking based on their improved customer service strategies, and I hope that what was a convenient & economical airline, can transform itself past the growing pains and into a Customer Service reference!

YES, I’m always full of hope!

Customer Service 2.0.. Where’s the service?

October 3, 2009 2 comments

Do you remember the mid 80’s classic TV commercial from Wendy’s, the US fast-food chain, “Where’s the beef”? For more detailed information here is the Wikipedia link to this marketing mastery.

Before I go any further, let me set the boundaries for this blog post. I want to raise my concerns on (A) the basic execution and principles of Customer Service, as well as (B) unmask some of the Social Media strategies & hype that seem to be driving everyone onto the 2.0 bandwagon.

Having spent the first ¾ of my career improving customer service & retention at organizations such as Reuters (now Thomson Reuters), Sun Microsystems & Hewlett Packard, I consider myself credibly qualified to speak on this topic. Being married to the Social Media “wiz”, Maria Sipka, founder & CEO behind the first Social Network Marketplace, Linqia.com, to give power & voice to community groups through their leaders/influencers, and having facilitated various Social Media strategy kick-off sessions around the world in the past 3 years, I’d also consider myself pretty up-to-speed to talk about this topic. Lastly, as a Master Strategic Alignment, Planning & Executing Your Strategy facilitator on assignments around the world, I’ve seen enough to distinguish between authentic strategies (of any kind) & hype.

Let me take you back to Thursday morning as my son & I are about to board an Easyjet flight from Barcelona to London. (1) My time is precious, and so I justified the extra 10 to 16 euro, per head, expenses for Speedy Boarding to ensure I’d have a comfortable enough seat that I could work from during the +2h flight. (2) That the gate changed at the last minute, and that the flight was delayed by approximately 20 minutes, neither surprised nor really inconvenienced me, however, (3) getting put on a bus, being told to stand at the wrong door of that bus to try & beat the mad scramble for “proper seats”, did bother me. (4) Finally walking onto the plane after at least another 30 passengers without Speedy Boarding, asking the steward for his customer complaints registry, and being told to go on-line on their website after I land REALLY bothered me. (5) And having twittered my negative experience before even taking off, linking my broadcast to my LinkedIn & Facebook profile, Easyjet’s social media customer service @easyjetcare outreach over twitter by the time I landed in London temporarily had my hopes raised of seeing my precious euros recovered. (6) Unfortunately, little more than 48h after having landed, and following up on the outreach by @easyjetcare, my hopes are once again dashed by the lack of response. (7) This experience makes it worthwhile for me to invest 30 more minutes and write this post.

In referencing point (4) above, I invite anyone here to go onto www.easyjet.com and tell me how long it takes you to figure out where the customer service area is. I gave up, but here is a tip.. Don’t Make Me Think! Guys (!!!) my time is precious, it’s expensive and that’s why I justified the Speedy Boarding fee in the first place!

So is Easyjet just one more company that has jumped on the Customer Service 2.0 bandwagon to publicize how much they care through their investment in web 2.0 technologies & strategies, but fail to act on their “stated intentions”?

This has me reflect how in recent Social Media strategy kick-off sessions I’ve struggled as clients don’t seem to understand that social media is just a tool, a means to facilitate an experience, and therefore you still have to do the old world basics of “listen first”, and than “act in accordance”. The rest is just hype!

That’s my “moral of the story” for Customer Service, Retention, or whatever you want to call it this week, just three easy steps; (1) STOP, (2) LOOK & LISTEN, and then (3) ACT IN ACCORDANCE. The rest, “strategy”, is just the means by which you go about reaching your desired outcome. Come on, let’s get off our high horse and un-mystify what every consultant from east to west will have you believe in order to justify their fees. A “strategy” is no more, and no less, than “a series of steps, actions or activities, strung together, with the purpose of achieving a previously contemplated outcome”. That’s it! Just like going to the supermarket to get that bottle of milk, string a bunch of activities together, this by now is 2nd nature ONLY because you’ve done it so many times.

What’s my “moral of the story” for Social Media strategies? It’s just a tool! Stop freaking out & forget the hype! Do what you always did successfully, if you can remember that far back, and just do it within a new dynamic. Sure there are different ways of approaching your audience, and any error can be magnified infinitely (and yadda, yadda, yadda), but it’s still the old basic principle of supply & demand. Your audience has a need, you have a solution, and social media empowers, enhances & facilitates the dialogue. Notice I didn’t say “monologue”, which means you have to be courageous enough to have a bi-directional conversation, forcing you to (1) STOP, (2) LOOK & LISTEN, and then (3) ACT IN ACCORDANCE.

So back to the beginning, and to my “friends” @easyjetcare, “where’s the service?” All I want is a refund of my Speedy Boarding fee (x2 for my son & I) which YOU royally stuffed up. I paid for a service that I didn’t get, and so I think that my request is only fair. Stay tuned to see how my return trip to Barcelona goes on Monday evening.

To anyone else out there in cyberspace contemplating customer service, customer retention, or about to spend thousands, if not millions (and I’ve seen them spent on multiple occasions), on social media consultants & technologies, please pay attention to the basics first! (1) STOP, (2) LOOK & LISTEN, and then (3) ACT IN ACCORDANCE.

Thoughts anyone?

A Strategy-in-a-Day keeps the doctors away..

What do you do when you get an e-mail from a prospective client who’s come down with the flu, just after coming down with Shingels , which came after a double chest infections? Her family doctor doctor told her these were all stress related and that she either needed to quit her business, or fix her company.

What did she do next? She rang me! I had to laugh at the thought of doctors passing out prescriptions to over stressed entrepreneurs & corporate executives, sending them my way. I guess I can replace that old school fable with “a strategy in a day keeps the doctor away”, and we’ll just leave the apples for the teachers 😉

Some times, especially after a successful facilitation, workshop or update call with a client,  I have to pinch myself just to make sure I’m awake! I’m passionate about what I do, I have the priviledge to live out my purpose of empowering every relationship I touch, and most of all, I get to make a living at empowering other peoples lives! As my wife would say.. WOOOOOHOOOOOO!