Author Archive

The Customer Experience: Generation-Driven?

Are expectations from the younger generations driving changes to customer service and product support?

genyEarlier this week, I came across an article on Forbes.com titled What Kind Of Customer Experience Are Millennials (Gen-Y) Looking For?.  In the article, Micah Solomon, the article’s author, attempts to summarize the expectations of the Millennial generation when it comes to expectations around customer service and customer experience:

Millennials are looking for the same customer experience as are older customers–but even more so. (More efficient, more respectful of their time, easier, more reliable, more transparent, with more choices and more control for the customer.)”

Expectations around customer service, customer experience, and product support are definitely on the rise, though I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is specific to Gen-Y.  In general, people want options when it comes to products and services and how they interact with business.

For example, if you’ve ever needed to contact Amazon’s support, you know they offer different methods to contact them via phone, email, or live chat.  They also have a web interface for their customers to do things like initiate a return, track shipments of orders, manage browsing history, along with a list of other options.  As the customer, I can decide my preference for how I want to interact using the various options Amazon has provided.

serviceAlternatively, red tape can slow down or even destroy a customer’s experience.  If I buy a product from a retail outlet and decide I want to return it, why should I have to fill out a form and then provide my driver’s license, social security number, birth certificate, etc…, just to get refund?

I understand that businesses need to protect themselves from fraudulent returns, but if I have to jump through hoops just to make a return as a customer, I may start looking elsewhere for my next purchase from a business with a less-intrusive return policy.  That extra 15 minutes it costs me to do a return as a customer may also wind up costing the business-in-question a future revenue stream.

If you want to improve your customer experience, don’t look at just Gen-Y, but look at your entire customer base.  As cliché as it sounds, ask your customers for feedback!  Most won’t hesitate to tell you what they want or would like to see if the benefit for them is an improved experience, product, or service.  However, you have to be sure to follow through with implementing at least some of those requests (and make it known to your customer base that those implementations are due directly to customer feedback) to show that you’re receptive to their feedback and suggestions.

Leave your comments!

The Balancing Act of a Leader

Being promoted into your first management role can be both an exciting and scary experience.  It shows that your employer trusts you to make decisions and lead others.  However, it can also be a major shift in responsibility.  People are going to look to you for direction, and it’s up to you to have the best possible answers for them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile most people are told that they will have new responsibilities, there’s one crucial piece that tends to be left out of that promotion-prepared conversation: get ready to start the workload balancing act.

What I mean by that is most people assume that their focus on work shifts to people they lead when coming into a management position.  While that’s true, that only paints half of the picture.  You had your own individual tasks and projects you completed before this promotion, but now that you’re promoted, you’re individual task work doesn’t simply stop (though the focus of that individual work may shift).  In fact, not only are you now responsible for your own workload, but you’re also responsible for the workload of those you lead.

It can be a major challenge when you have your direct reports coming to you needing direction, yet you’re in the middle of trying to complete a project with an impending deadline.  How can you balance the needs of the two?

  1. Start with the open door policy: Hopefully, you’ve heard of this term. If not, the basic idea is that your door is always “open”. If someone you lead has an issue they need to discuss, they can come by your office, email you, call you, etc… at just about any time of the working day. Having this policy can remove a major hurdle and allow the people you lead to get past problems faster than having to waiting until you’re available.
  2. Draw a boundary with your open door policy: While it’s great for your people to be able to discuss issues or get direction at anyJuggle Balls time, it may not always be feasible for you to maintain this policy at all hours of the day. If you have approaching deadlines or your own workload is starting to pile up, block out some time on your schedule. Set a ground rule with the people you lead that you can’t be disturbed during this time unless it’s absolutely critical. Be sure to follow up with step 3 below after establishing your boundary.
  3. Find your second-in-command: You’ve established your boundary, but now what? Your people need a backup plan for time-sensitive issues. After all, customers will only wait for so long before an issue gets out of hand. If you work in an organization with a large workforce, perhaps there’s another manager in the same department as you who can be your backup (also allowing you to reciprocate the favor).
    If you work in a smaller organization and there’s not an immediate manager who can cover for you, perhaps there’s someone you lead who is an expert in their role who can be groomed to take on this responsibility. Not only will it allow you to keep your boundary, but it allows you to tackle another management responsibility of developing your people.

Finding the right balance between being available and completing your own work will always be a juggling act, and you may find yourself needing to adjust and readjust your boundaries depending on the needs of your work and the needs of your people.

Leave your comments!

Quit & Stayed, or Quit & Paid?

If you’re not familiar with the term “quit & stayed”, it is the act of mentally quitting, yet staying in the same physical environment. More specifically, it’s the act of becoming disengaged in the work you complete, whether that’s for a business or just in general.

"Image courtesy of Stuart Miles, / FreeDigitalPhotos.net".

“Image courtesy of Stuart Miles, / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”.

Chances are that you work with one or more people who have quit & stayed.  They are people who show up just for the paycheck.  They aren’t passionate about their job.  They don’t have the motivation to go above and beyond.  In a perfect world, everyone would get paid handsomely to do what they love, but unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.  Almost every company and organization has employees who fit into this category.

Amazon recently listed this trend in the annual letter to shareholders from company CEO Jeff Bezos along with a plan to deal with employees who have quit & stayed.  The idea behind this plan is that once a year, employees will be offered a payout to quit.  Depending on how many years you’ve been with Amazon, you could make anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 for handing in your resignation.   The idea isn’t to create a high turnover rate, but instead, bring in new blood and energy where existing employees may have no interest in maintaining their career with Amazon.

Personally, I’d be curious to know what this does to their turnover rate.  Will they see an uptick in the number of employees who move on to other companies?  More importantly, are they paying adding unnecessary costs by paying employees to resign who might resign in either case even if they weren’t getting a bonus to do so?

Jeff Bezos says it best: “In the long-run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.”  That is one statement I wholeheartedly agree with.

Be sure to take a look at The Ken Blanchard Companies Quit & Stayed Leadership Livecast.  You can even view 17 minutes of the Livecast for free.

Leave your comments!

Who Do You Trust?

If you’re an avid YouTuber, you might have heard of ze frank (listed under the channel zefrank1).    I personally know of him for his “educational” videos on animal species mixed with his colorful commentary.  Even if you’ve never heard of him, before, you may have heard of BuzzFeed, where ze frank is also the Executive VP of Video.

He’s posted a video to his channel on the topic of trust using two performers from Cirque du Soleil.  This video is more of an artistic and emotional look at what trust really is, but in the end, asks this simple question: “Who do you trust?”

This also leads to another question: “Do people see you as trust-worthy?”

If you haven’t, already, be sure to take a look at the TrustWorks model which breaks down 4 main characteristics of trust.  Also, be sure to take a look at one of our sister-blogs at www.LeadingWithTrust.com for regular tips on building trust as well as leading others.

Leave your comments!

Say What? – 4 Recommendations for Effective Communications

“Do yooouuuuu understand the wooorrrdddsss that are coming out of my mouth?”

If you want to be successful, you have to know how to communicate well.  There’s more to communication than just being able to speak or write clearly.  If you really want to “make a statement”, ask yourself the following questions:

How often are you communicating? – Do you provide regular updates, even when there’s nothing really to report?  For example, you might find yourself in a situation where a problem needs to be solved, but the solution isn’t immediately available.  Letting the stakeholder(s) know on a daily to bi-daily basis that there’s nothing new to report, but that you’re still working on it, shows them that you’re fully present in getting a resolution.  Providing regular updates is also one of the keys to providing great customer service!

callPhone, email, or carrier pigeon? – Face-to-face discussions aside, everyone has a preference when it comes to their choice of communication outlets.  Personally, I prefer emailing to phone calls because I can both communicate as well as document my conversations automatically.  Others prefer speaking over the phone because it’s more personal and it’s easier to explain something that might be complex.

Both phone and email have their places, but when starting a communication string or discussion with an individual, start by mirroring their preference.  If you’re sent an email, respond with an email.   If you’re left with a voicemail, call the individual.

If you do see the need to switch forms of communication, whether it is too much of a conversation for email, or perhaps a need to send something electronically, make the suggestion to switch from phone to email or vice versa before actually doing so.

emailIs it clear, or are you putting words in your own mouth? – This one tends to be more of a problem over email than phone calls, but is what you’re communicating clear, or is there room for interpretation?  It’s always a good idea to proof what you’re emailing before it’s sent.  Read what you’ve typed to see if it still makes sense.

For both phone calls and emails, you should also restate what you’re communicating in a different way by using statements such as “In other words…” or “Another way to put this is…”.  This can help set clear expectations and avoid confusion.

Is it to the point? – There comes a time when what you’re trying to communicate can be lost among words.  State what’s most important first, and be as concise as possible.

What suggestions do you have for clear communications?  Leave your comments!

A “Business Decision” May Not Always be the Right Decision

When I hear someone say “it’s a business decision”, money is usually the first thing that comes to mind.  The choice that was made was based on overall cost to the company or individual.  While it’s wise to consider cost, spending and/or investments, it’s not the end-all, be-all of choices within business.

Money There are other factors you need to consider, such as how the choice-in-question will affect your employees or customers.  Depending on the outcome of those choices, they may even change public perception of you or your business.  It could be that saving on immediate cost can hurt your income in the long run.

Take, for example, a news report out of Melbourne, Florida, regarding a man whose vehicle was wrecked by an employee of an auto repair shop.  This wasn’t an accident that happened during a test drive of the vehicle.  Instead, this happened during a joyride by one of the auto shop’s employees who crashed the vehicle not once, but twice on the very same morning.  In the eyes of the law, the employee didn’t do anything illegal.  After all, repair shops tend to take vehicles for test rides all the time to make sure they did the repairs correctly.

While there is nothing criminal that took place in the eyes of the law, you would think the auto shop would take responsibility for the actions of the employee, right?  According to the news report, the auto shop refuses to state it did anything wrong or reimburse the owner for the loss of their vehicle.

Obviously, paying for the loss of the owner’s vehicle is a direct cost to the auto shop.  They could choose to pay for it directly, or Downward Trendhave their insurance cover the loss, in which case, they will likely face increased insurance premiums.   No one wants to deal with costs that weren’t planned for, but in this case, what is going to be the long-term cost to the auto shop by not paying the immediate expense now?

I know that if I needed to take my vehicle in for repairs, I wouldn’t want to take it to this particular auto shop simply due to this story.  While it’s highly unlikely they will have another situation like this come up, why would I risk it when the vehicle owner in this story allegedly has to go through this hassle?  The choice being made by the auto shop now is sending a message to potential customers that they may not put their customers first when making decisions.

Immediate cost cannot always be the deciding factor.  If it is, it could cost you in the long run.

Leave your comments!

‘Tis the Season to Make a Fool of Yourself

This time of year can always be stressful.  If you celebrate Christmas, you’re probably worrying about decorating, shopping, shipping, preparing, cooking, baking, traveling, etc…  However, there’s a hidden danger this time of year you should be concerned with: the company Christmas party.  This party can be seen as a time to cut loose and forget about job stress, but it can also lead to the end of a career.

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While a company party is a great time to come together with coworkers, you can’t treat these events the same way you would with a night out on the town with your closest buddies.  Before you find yourself packing your personal belongings (or at a minimum, finding your foot in your mouth), follow these basic guidelines to ensure your job is still waiting for you:

  1. You represent your employer outside of work – I’ve mentioned this before, but even if you’re partying away from your place of employment, and even if you’re “off the clock”, anything negative you do outside of work can reflect badly on your employer, along with affecting you directly.  Be sure to think ahead before you act.  You might not be “working” at a company event, but your employer will treat bad behavior the same way they would during normal working conditions.
  2. Be careful with the booze – This can be the biggest reason for a loss of employment.  Some companies don’t allow alcohol at company events, while others do.  If your company allows it, just remember that alcohol affects your judgment.  I’ve personally seen more than one employee get fired (at different places of employment, nonetheless) for doing or saying something foolish because they drank too much at a company event.  If you’re going to drink in front of coworkers, be sure you drink in moderation.
  3. Don’t be a “Don Juan” – Maybe you have a crush on a coworker.  The company party may seem like a perfect time to make a move since it may be more informal, but it can actually backfire and create a nightmare with HR.  If the target of your affection doesn’t reciprocate that affection, they might claim harassment, and you might be escorted to the exit the next day.
  4. Image courtesy of pat138241 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    Image courtesy of pat138241 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    Watch the gossip – Again, the less informal setting can give you a false sense of security.  You might think that you are free to say more than you normally would about your coworkers or boss, but be ready to pay for each negative comment.  You might not be fired, but your comments could earn you a label you don’t want.  At a minimum, it could jeopardize future promotions and/or merit increases.

  5. No unnecessary use of the copy machine –  Ok, maybe people don’t do this as much as you see in a stereotypical 80’s movie that shows a holiday company party, but don’t use the office copy machine to take images of certain parts of your anatomy.    Just don’t.

What other traps exist at a company party?  Leave your comments!

Lead Thyself: Quick Tips for Those Managing Themselves

There’s a common misconception regarding the title of “leader”: You don’t have to be a manager or a supervisor in order to lead.  If you’re providing direction or support to fellow colleagues, you’re a leader.  More importantly, being a leader starts with being able to manage yourself effectively.

If you one day wish to move up the corporate ladder and lead others, you must start with yourself.  Even if you have no interest in entering a management position, it is still in your own best interest to lead yourself.  Those who tend to get the largest raises or are consistently recognized by peers and management are the top performers who have mastered the art of leading themselves.

leadNo matter what your career is, if you want to be successful, leading yourself effectively means you do the following:

Be proactive – A good leader can solve problems.  A great leader recognizes smaller problems and works to solve them before they become critical issues down the road.  They take action without needing to be told by their immediate supervisor when to do so.

Use the term “I need…” – No one has all the answers.  The best leaders are those that recognize they can’t do everything themselves.  They use the term “I need” with appropriate individuals, such as their own managers or content experts.  They also don’t let their ego get in the way of saying “I need help” when they are overwhelmed.

Know that there are alternative solutions – Sometimes, you have a problem that cannot be solved by what you have available within your company.  Not every organization has loads of cash to throw at problems that can only be solved by external tools.  Maybe the issue can be solved by open source software.  Or, perhaps it can be solved by a subject matter expert who you just happen to network with.  A great leader knows that cash is not the absolute means to an end.

You align with others on goals and tasks – What is the end destination? Do we know how to get there? Are we in agreement regarding the answers to both questions?  Getting alignment with your leader and those you work with is critical so that they know what’s expected of them and you know what they expect of you in return.   All it takes is a conversation to figure out the road map.

Tell us your thoughts: What characteristics do self-leaders exhibit that make them top performers?

Leave your comments!

Another Day, Another Employee Fired for Online Behavior

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it, again: Be careful of what you post online!  It can come back to haunt you.  This may seem like common knowledge, but these stories just keep popping up.

Jofi Joseph, who previously was the director of nuclear nonproliferation on the National Security Council, was recently fired for being outed as a “Twitter troll”, tweeting various statements that were critical or various government officials along FIREDthe White House administration.  It’s bad enough when your employer is a business, but when you work for an entity that has vast resources to track you down (think NSA), you might want to think twice about that negative comment you’re preparing to post to the rest of the world.

This isn’t the first time I’ve brought up cases where employees have been fired for their behavior online (see The Privacy Blur of Personal Information or “You’re fired!” – Did You Criticize Your Boss on the Web?).

There’s still an ongoing debate about what you should or should not be able to say about your employer, especially when you’re “off the clock”.  I’ve heard people state that what you say or post outside of business hours is your 1st Amendment right.  What I tend to tell those same individuals is that most businesses have a right, too: they can fire you for any reason.  What most people forget about in these situations is that most businesses here in America practice at-will employment.  It means they can fire you at any time for almost any reason (any type of discrimination is a definite no-no).

You don’t even have to post anything critical of your employer online to find yourself in hot water.  Maybe you posted a photo to Instagram showing how you’re “kind of a big deal” from a party from the night before.  Or, maybe you’re trash-talking on some sports news column about why your team crushed the opponents.  Either of these could find yourself handing in your resignation if your employer deems it necessary.  Hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that, but there is always that possibility.

rightsWhat a lot of us fail to realize is that we are representatives for the companies we work for both inside and outside of work.  Our actions have the potential to leave blemishes and/or affect the creditability of those who employ us.  For example, if you work as a street sweeper, but someone snaps a photo of you dumping trash on the side of the road and posts that picture online, that’s going to look extremely bad on your employer.

Watch what you do in the off-hours, especially if you’re doing something online.  It might not affect you, now, but the internet is an ever-growing history book.  What you do now could come back to bite you down the line.

Do you know of anyone who ever did anything outside of work that landed them in the hot seat at work?  Leave your comments!

The Leadership Pipe Dream

My wife loves to juice.  She is always mixing various fruits and veggies and blending them together into some sort of juice concoction.  Some of these drinks are delicious, while others, in my humble opinion, taste like they came from my lawnmower, but hey…it’s all in the name of health.

This past Saturday, my wife was making one of her favorite juice blends.  She had placed some of the leftover bits down the garbage disposal.  I always thought that most fruits and vegetables were high in fiber, but I apparently that’s not true when it comes to plumbing.

“Honey, both sides of the sink have flooded with water…”

plungerI rolled up my sleeves and did what I had always done in these situations: I stopped what I was doing, grabbed the plunger, and then went to work.  I kept one side of the sink plugged while attempting to plunge the other side.  After 10 minutes, I knew the plunger wasn’t going to work.  It was time for my backup plan.  I ran to the store and picked up some Drano.  It never let me down in the past, so I figured after 30 minutes, I could relax.  After 2 hours and emptying the bottle, I knew I was going to have to resort to something stronger.

The next day, I picked up a different drain opener which contains sodium hydroxide so you get an exothermic reaction and your plumbing gets quite hot.  I figured I would simply burn the clog out.  After dumping that down the drain and waiting for an hour, I still wasn’t any further along, and my kitchen had filled with fumes from the drain opener.  After killing some brain cells, my next step was to snake it out. I went back to the hardware store and bought a 25-foot drain snake.

After slipping that down the drain pipe 3 times without it catching to clog, I had to take another trip to the hardware store to rent one of those heavy-duty 75-foot drain snakes.  Keep in mind that by this point, I had sunk roughly $100 into this clog.  I brought the rented snake back home and spent 20 minutes reading the directions.  I got my gloves on and went to work, but after another 20 minutes, I couldn’t get the snake past the p-trap (that elbow/u-shaped pipe under most sinks).  To top it off, I snapped a piece off of one of the tip of the snake.

My face turned bright red and I had steam coming out of my ears.  I was angry, but I was also defeated.  I had to put my ego aside and call a plumber.  After “draining” another $200 from my bank account, I was finally clog-free.  Had I called the plumber after plunging or even after the Drano, I could have saved myself a good chunk of money and half of my free time over the weekend.

Why is this important?

My plumbing fiasco had me think of certain people I’ve worked with in the past who were in situations that had similar outcomes.  These situations weren’t plumbing-related, but happened in the workplace.

leading yourselfHave you worked with someone who absolutely had to do things on their own, even if you knew they weren’t yet fully capable to handle the situation by themselves?  So have I, and have even been in this boat, myself.  The end-result usually involves costing additional time, money, or even reputations.

Picture that instead of a home plumbing problem, my issue was related to a project at my job.

If I had done what I did at home, my supervisor/manager would be having a long talk with me.  I could avoid unnecessary costs by asking myself two questions:

  1. What is my competence on this particular goal? – In other words, do I have the skills to get the job done?  I’ve done plumbing work before, but it’s been very minimal.  I’ve never had to snake a kitchen sink drain, especially one that had a clog that was 30 feet down the pipe.  You could say that my skill level was low.
  1. What is my commitment on this particular goal? – How motivated am I to get the job done?  In the beginning, I was very motivated to unclog the pipe.  At the end of it, I had thrown my hands up in the air and wanted someone else to deal with it.

These questions tie in directly with the Needs Model of Situational Self Leadership.  Knowing the answers to these questions can help me diagnose myself and “lead up” and get what I need to get the job done.  It can save me and my company time and resources.

Have you ever had a situation similar to mine where you regretted how much time and/or money you invested when you had an alternative option?

Leave your comments!

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