Many businesses are sick, or at least unwell, but you can make your’s better.

Related imageSomebody asked me whether I thought business was sick referencing my use of the word wellness. I said that I thought some businesses, like people, were sick, some unfit, and some fit and working to stay that way. However, overall, much like the general population, today’s workplaces are largely unwell in one way or another. Since some of you might be wondering what I mean exactly, I’ll explain.

According to Gallup, only 13% of employees are engaged at work worldwide, and in another poll, when surveyed anonymously, 85% of employees report hating their jobs. Read that again, not just disliking their jobs, hating their jobs. Now, couple those ugly statistics with the fact that in 2017, New Voice Media and Forbes reported that $62 billion was lost to poor customer service. And if you’re asking why, some of the main reasons cited were that the customers felt unappreciated and encountered unhelpful, rude staff. And if you’re having trouble seeing a connection, think hard, unhappy employees aren’t exactly prone to deliver happy service.

So, do I think business is unwell? Yes! And it seems to be getting worse. Since 2013, we’ve seen a steady increase in lost dollars to bad service to the tune of about $5 billion per year. That’s a lot of loss. It’s like watching your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol steadily increase over the years to the point where something has to be done or you’re going to have a heart attack or stroke … or both.

So here we are with sick or at least unwell businesses marked by symptoms that are largely going unnoticed by the people in charge. However, things can be done to turn it around.

Much like individuals, wellness involves both mental health and physical health, and if we think of the culture and environment of the workplace as its mental health, the processes, systems, procedures, and policies can be likened to physical health. The well being and health of both is necessary to personal wellness as well as business wellness. And, as being well makes us happier people who are friendlier and more fun to be around, so it is with businesses. When the workforce that is impacted by environment, culture, processes, and systems, feels good, they can and are more prone to make customers feel good.

Now, before we go any further, fear not, I’m not going to tell you that your business needs to get some pool and ping-pong tables and that you’ll need to start providing daycare and free lunches with happy hour on Friday. Although these things would be pretty cool and I’m sure your employees wouldn’t object, wellness is not about that. It’s about making changes to how managers work with their teams and changing processes so that they are more beneficial to employees and customers.

Let’s begin with the “mental health” side of things which essentially focuses on the culture and environment. And where better to start than the key drivers of the environment, management. In well workplaces, managers lead people instead of trying to manage them. They engage their workforce in conversations where they get their thoughts and ideas on solving the problems. They empower their teams and trust them to get the jobs done that they know how to do, and they continuously encourage team members by praising the things they do right and helping them remove obstacles that hamper progress. Put simply, managers who lead build a team where employees with the right talent and experience can come to the front and be leaders themselves when the opportunities arise. In contrast to the traditional leader-follower model, businesses working toward wellness build teams of leaders where managers facilitate and celebrate instead of trying in vain to manage people with old-school command and control tactics. This is the key to healthier cultures and work environments. This is where better business mental health begins.

On the “physical health” side, well businesses regularly conduct a complete review of processes, systems, procedures, and policies. They look for steps that make employees’ and customers’ lives difficult. They look for things that are unnecessary. They look for where they are making it hard for workers to work, and subsequently, hard for customers to work with them. This requires them to listen to their employees and customers, and to get ideas from all who use and experience their systems. It requires redesigning things to make them easier and more relevant for users, customers, and all who touch them. It means getting rid of siloed activities that benefit the few but impede the many. And although it may potentially involve short-term cost, businesses working to be well focus on long-term benefits including efficiency, employee satisfaction, and ease for customers which will yield higher revenues and lowered costs. While none of this happens quickly and it can be complicated, following this road map for improvement is a must if you hope to have better business physical health.

Put simply, business wellness is ongoing work, it’s a lifestyle so to speak where managers lead by engaging, empowering, and encouraging while teams work together to create better systems that benefit them and customers. And if enough of you heed this and begin the work, maybe those ugly statistics that were cited above might just shift in a more hopeful direction. Ultimately, since all of us work and all of us are customers, maybe, just maybe, we might also make life in general just a little better too. All in all, not too bad an outcome when you think about it.

So, why not get to work on this today? Why not get in the business gym and start the workout that advocates managers leading and systems being more employee- and customer-friendly? Why not start today to create better workplace life, better customer life, and better life? Be well.

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Start the Revolution

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Tom Peters, the iconic management guru, says, “Any/all businesses are people serving people.” He then goes on to say that leaders are “people serving people serving people.”

This would mean that the CEO of a company is a person serving people serving people serving people. However, most companies are built more like this, a CEO serving shareholders serving, well, themselves; leaders serving the company to make the numbers look good, and employees trying to serve customers but only halfheartedly because the models/leaders/managers they have are serving multiple interests. (And we wonder why the service we get as customers pretty much sucks.)

So how do we make changes? How can we start a revolution that puts people instead of numbers or shareholder value at the center?

Well, if we want better workplaces and better customer experiences, a revolution can and should happen but not in the way we think when we think of revolutions. It needs to start with one manager at a time making a decision to engage more with their teams in conversations where they ask for opinions and ideas and draw out the best their team members have to offer. Managers everywhere have the ability to dramatically influence the lives of the people in their charge for better or worse. When you think of that it could mean hundreds of people over the course of a career. That’s enough people to move the dial significantly and drive change in your workplace.

By this simple act of connecting with your team members and valuing their contributions, they will perform better, they will have better relationships in and out of work, and customers will interact with happier people who want to serve them. Put simply, you will have a happier, more engaged workforce who make your customers happier and more loyal. What could be better than that?

Then, with happier, more loyal customers, you will see your numbers reflecting this and corporate will see it too. People will start to wonder what’s going on at your location. Other managers will start wanting to make similar changes because they see your success. They’ll start asking you what you’re doing. One by one until … revolution. Okay, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself but perhaps there is some truth in the old adage that a big wind begins with the flapping wings of a butterfly on the other side of the world.

Managers can influence a lot and there is and should be nobility in that influence. This quote from Robert Altman upon receiving an Oscar sums it up, “The role of the Director is to create a space where the actors and actresses can become more than they’ve ever been before, more than they’ve dreamed of being.”

You can start today. Walk out and start talking to your team members, no, not your normal inner circle, I am talking about those people you rarely talk to. I am talking about those line-level, front-line employees who are in the trenches. Go out there and learn from them. Get their input on that new process you’re contemplating. Get them to tell you how they see it impacting customers. Find out how it will impact them and their jobs. Ask them if they have ideas for improving it or streamlining it. Ask and listen. Connect. Then … go out and do it again tomorrow. Keep it up until it becomes a regular part of your day.

And don’t stop there, bring what you learn into your management meetings. Bring the voice of those employees out on the fringe into the center of the room. In fact, invite some of them into the room. Get them to give their point of view. Build their leadership. Help them become, as Altman put it, “more than they’ve ever been before.”

Yes, a people-centered, workplace revolution. It doesn’t start with a mob, it starts with one manager at a time deciding to build a team of leaders who can think, do, and bring inestimable value. People serving people serving people, the essence of business. Start the movement in your workplace.

Overlooking longtime supporters in favor of new blood. What kind of strategy is that?

Image result for perksIs it just me or does anybody else get a little miffed that new customers sometimes get perks that longtime, loyal customers don’t?

I’ve been a longtime Discover card customer, and in recent ads they’ve been touting extra cash back for new customers. You see, Discover gives their cardholders a kickback percentage for using their card and now they’re giving first-time cardholders an additional amount. Okay, I get it, they want more customers, but to us old customers, this is a slap in the face. I guess my last 20 years of loyalty isn’t that important. Too bad for Discover because there are a lot of other cards I can use, all with perks of their own.

This isn’t my first experience with this kind of new-customer-perk strategy. Many years ago, I had a magazine subscription that was up for renewal and they had been promoting a special price for new subscribers. I wrote them and asked for the same rate thinking it was only reasonable given my years of loyalty. Wrong! I got no response. So, I did not renew…and I didn’t look back.

A business strategy that favors new customers over longtime supporters is just shortsighted. Attract new customers of course, but be mindful and offer your base something to match, that’s a strategy that makes sense.

How seeing people differently can change everything.

Image result for bicyclingBicyclists. They get in the way. They are unpredictable. They are just obstacles to get around.

Right now, you are reading this thinking I am a jerk for thinking such things. How can this guy be so insensitive? Bicyclists aren’t so bad, they’re allowed the road like anyone else.

But when you’re behind one and they’re slowing your journey, you’re probably thinking one of the sentiments listed above. That doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you a human person.

What I’m getting at is how easy it is to dehumanize people and turn them into objects or problems instead of people with problems and needs. And this unfortunate capacity is one of the chief problems plaguing our world. We, myself included, are too quick to dehumanize.

Why is this such a big deal? Well, when we dehumanize, it’s easier to not care and to allow or do terrible things to others. In his great book, Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek says “[Here is] one of the shortcomings of using numbers to represent people. At some point, the numbers lose their connection to the people and become just numbers, void of meaning.” In other words, when we make people things, like numbers, they become expendable like an obstacle in the road to be tossed aside or removed.

What does this mean in the everyday scheme of things? Where are there times when you dehumanize and forget that that person you are cussing is just like you, fragile, needy, unreasonable, and selfish? How does this influence how you lead or serve? How would changing this frailty change how you lead and/or serve?

To gain some clarity, let’s get back to our bicyclist. How do we go from seeing them as a pain to being people? The first thing to do is ask yourself some questions to get perspective. Is it possible that they are cycling for their health because they had a heart attack and want to live to see their children grow up? Is it  possible that they are cycling to raise money for a good cause? Is it possible that they are cycling because one of their values centers on the environment? When you think unselfishly giving others the benefit of having good intentions it is easier to see that they’re just people that love, live, and dream like all of us.

When we make a point of seeing others as people, it changes how we behave, it changes how we feel. As you move through today, make note of how you see others. See if consciously focusing on their humanity changes how you behave. See if this focus moves you to more reasonable responses. If it does, try it again the next day and the next. I can only hope it changes your world and the world of those you meet. Here’s to changing the world, one human at a time.

Don’t beg for scores, earn them.

Image result for service survey“’PLEASE GIVE ME TOP SCORES’ is the fourth most annoying interaction customers have with companies…” This quote is from Jeanne Bliss’s book Would You Do That To Your Mother?

Survey begging. I feel certain most of you have experienced it at some point. In simplest terms, survey begging is when employees of a business ask or suggest to customers that they give positive survey scores.  For example, I feel sure you’ve been on the receiving end of employees of some business telling you they’ll get in trouble if they don’t receive a good score, or informing you that anything other than all 10’s is considered a fail.  And while these are pretty blatant forms of the practice, even talking about scores at all can sound like begging, and regardless of how blatant or subliminal, survey begging or its surrogates cause several problems.

First, it’s annoying. Customers don’t like feeling that they are being cajoled into giving a survey score and the negative feelings that are engendered can actually work to your detriment as some customers will spitefully give lower scores.

Second, this practice often creates a perception that companies aren’t really using survey data to improve service; they’re only using it to for internal reward.  This can ultimately serve to decrease the number of responses since returning customers will stop participating because they see the survey as futile. Less responses means we learn less and improve less which can lead to increased customer dissatisfaction as well as increased employee frustration as they are forced to deal with more and more disgruntled customers.

Third, begging can cover up real service issues by artificially inflating scores. Customers might want to tell the truth about some weaker part of their experience, but they don’t, they just submit the inflated survey to ease their conscience.  The problem here is that the company never learns that something is wrong which will only lead to repeats of the poor performance and more and more customer unhappiness.

The lesson here is clear, survey begging defeats, in multiple ways, the primary purpose of your customer service or customer experience survey, namely, learning about weaknesses and using that knowledge to improve.

So what do you do?  How can you introduce the survey to customers without sounding like you are begging?

To begin, it’s important to be mindful of your objective in introducing them to the survey; you want customers to know that they will get a survey and that you use their input to help you make their experience better every time.  In other words, you don’t want the survey invitation to be a surprise and want them to know that it is really, ultimately, for their benefit.  Their honest views help you to get better for them.  You could even see the survey as a rather ironic form of service.

With that in mind, here is an example of one possible way to introduce your survey.  “Mr/Ms Customer, we will be sending you a survey to share your thoughts on our performance.  We value your views and use the feedback to improve your experience, so, if you would, please take a few minutes to complete the survey so we can continue learning and improving.  Thank you.”

As you can see, all I’ve done here is to introduce the survey to the customer, let them know why I want their input, make it clear that it is a benefit to them, and show appreciation for their taking the time to complete it.  No begging, no scores mentioned, just a request for their honest opinions and thoughts.

Begging doesn’t really work, in fact, it can work against you.  Getting honest customer feedback is of benefit to customers, and ultimately, your business.  So, if you want customers to say you gave them “excellent” service … inform them about the survey, and then focus on providing excellent service.

Are you delivering value? If not, what the hell are you doing?

Image result for valueA couple of years ago, I was visiting with a colleague and we were discussing something with someone who was remote. I had to send this remote person an image on a laptop screen. To do this, I went about an arduous process involving copying the screen image to a graphics app and then cutting the image out, copying that again and pasting it to the email. My friend was watching and asked why I was doing all of this elaborate mess. I responded that I had always done it like this. He then showed me how to use the snipping tool in Windows. I had never seen it or been shown it. It was like I had found the Holy Grail. It was so simple and allowed me to simply cut out whatever I wanted and paste it directly to any document. “Wow” was all I could eek out.

The reason I relay this is that it is a great example of providing value. We hear a lot about value these days but what is it.

There are complex ideas involving the balance between what you pay and what you get but I think it’s simpler than that. Whenever you get something that helps you do something more easily or gets you information that enables you to do achieve something, value has been delivered. When you read something and learn or are inspired, value has been delivered. When you get help that solves a problem, value has been delivered. Whether you pay or not has no bearing on whether it’s valuable or not. It either benefits you (valuable) or it doesn’t (not valuable).

This idea brings up a question. Is what you are doing bringing value? How does what you do or produce help anyone? How is it, like my encounter with the snipping tool, helping someone to achieve something easily, quickly, or more perfectly? It’s clear, value is a service proposition. Helpful is valuable, it’s that simple.

So, if you’re not bringing value with your work, what exactly are you doing? Think about it. Are you delivering value every day in every project and every interaction?

If we want our organizations to be valuable and deliver value, we should all be asking ourselves, every day, “How can I be more helpful? How can I be more valuable?”

Excellence

I didn’t write this post, Seth Godin did, but it resonated with me so I’m reposting it. It’s almost a poem, and it is spot on s far as what’s necessary for pursuing excellence. Ponder this, make a plan, take action!

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Excellence by Seth Godin

 

 

If you knew,

and you could see the world through the eyes of the customer,

and you really cared…

What would you do?

That’s a simple test of creating excellence.

So, if I’m on hold for 56 minutes with Orbitz, does the CEO know? Is that ever a desired outcome?

Does the engineer who shipped a hackable voting machine know that it’s hackable?

The plumber who finished the job and left the hot/cold controls in reverse position… did he care enough?

Excellence cuts through bureaucracy and status quo and excuses and asks a simple question:

What would you do if you knew?

 

If you want to go to the original, go here …

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2018/05/excellence.html

And don’t stop there, check out all of the other great thought leadership on Godin’s blog site.

Are you clear or cOnfUSinG? Here’s a way to straighten that out.

Image result for clarityWhen customers or employees are unengaged or confused, it can largely be because you haven’t answered some simple questions they may have. You may think you have, but for whatever reason, they didn’t get it.

Answering questions can be more difficult than you think. What we might think answers the question might seem clear but given that people come to us with many different histories and types of experience, what we think is clear and simple might be confused and garbled to them.

One trick used in education is to say the same thing several different ways to try to ensure all of those different perspectives hear what we are saying clearly. Teachers will often say something, write it down, and maybe even have the students demonstrate it as it is described to them. You see, some people are aural, they hear best, some are visual, they do best when they see it, and others are tactile, they need to get active and do it as best they can.  And while all of these might be impractical to do with customers and employees, I think you get my gist.

Next time you are trying to explain something to a customer or employee, don’t walk away assuming they got what you were trying to say, ask them if what you said was clear – don’t ask if they understood, no one wants to say that they didn’t because that’s like saying “nope, I’m an idiot and need you to dumb it down.” When you ask if you’ve been clear, you put the onus for performance on you not them, if you’ve not been clear, you’re the one that’s an idiot and everyone’s okay with that, except for maybe you. So, ask them if you’ve been clear and if they reply that you haven’t, say it again in a different way. Maybe you can make an analogy, or draw a diagram, or write the steps down, or, well, you get the picture.

Giving people certainty and clarity is a surefire path to better relationships and better performance. And being helpful is the best way to show your commitment to their success, and that, my friends, is service, really good service.

 

If you want to be customer centric, you have to take their walk.

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The Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, CA is redefining customer centricity. The entire hospital experience is viewed from a child’s perspective, a sick child’s perspective. Think for a moment, if you were one of these kids, afraid and in pain, what’s something you’d want? You’d probably want to be distracted from all the things troubling you. So that’s just what the designers thought about, distractions kids would enjoy.

Imagine an MRI machine that looks like an aquarium. Imagine rooms decorated like a beach. Imagine starry lights in the shape of animal constellations dotting the roof of your room. Imagine a large electronic screen with animal imagery that moves and changes as you interact with it. Do you think that’s cool? I certainly do and I’m way past being a kid so I’m sure they do. Somebody definitely took the walk of a sick child when they designed this place.

Taking this walk and thinking or rethinking things based on it is what I like to call extreme customer centricity. It’s designing the customer experience with total empathy. It defines what it is to put yourself in the shoes of someone else, feel their pain as best you can, and create ways to make it smooth, easy, and painless.

So what about you as a business leader? Do you know what your customers experience? Do you have a real understanding of what they go through? Do you have a sense of their journey that includes what they encounter prior to and following their interaction with you? It’s not enough to see your customers’ travels as only consisting of their interaction with your company. You must think about the things they think about on the way to you and on their way from you.

Think about the start of their journey. It starts well before they meet you. What decisions must they make? What things do they know? What things don’t they know? What are their fears and struggles? Have you ever walked the walk they take?

And what about the so-called after-experience? What might they have trouble with? Where could they use easy assistance or more information? When might a follow up call be welcome? Have you ever taken your product home and used it like your customers do? Have you called for help? Have you had to navigate problem solving or the request for a part? Again, have you walked their walk?

Maybe its time to take a page from Undercover Boss and play the role of customer. Inasmuch as you can, think like a customer who knows little about you and is looking for your product. What do you have to do to learn about your business and find you? What questions do you have? What frustrations do you have in the process of getting to your business?

Likewise, take your product for a spin. How does it work? Pretend you have a problem and seek out help. How easy is it? Is there any runaround? Is there work you have to do, forms to fill out, codes to write down, etc.? How many times do you have to repeat your story or your account number, serial number, etc.? In short, how much of a pain is it to deal with your company?

If no one in your business does this, there’s not a chance that you’ll really be able to empathize. There’s no way you can understand the pain. There’s no chance of customer centricity much less extreme customer centricity. If you want to understand your customers, take the walk they take.

What’s your purpose, gaining or giving?

Image result for purposeA compelling, noble purpose gives work meaning. With purpose comes energy, passion, and motivation to get out of bed in the morning. And over the long haul of a career, it is an absolute necessity if we want workplaces that don’t become prisons where people drag in on Monday and run out on Friday.

A common purpose can help an organization overcome the bureaucracy and silos that plague so many team efforts. As people shed egos in favor of a common goal, the full potential of the organization can be realized. It’s simply the power of teamwork, people all working in unison toward group success instead of individual success. We’ve all seen it before when we see teams who lack superstars defeat teams loaded with superstars. The mediocre together are better than the great alone.

Why then do so many companies falter on this point? It’s because their purpose isn’t compelling, it isn’t noble, and it’s not visionary or inspiring. So many companies I’ve seen have stated purposes that look noble and inspiring but their actions and priorities do not lead people to want to do the work. Several problems rear their heads in these cases.

  • The hypocrisy of stating a noble purpose but acting in a way counter to it leads employees to lack trust in leadership and to jaded complacency.
  • Setting other, less inspiring goals leads to boredom and task-based, checklist-style work that becomes drudgery rather than the stuff of innovation and creativity born out of striving together to accomplish a mission that will end in a legacy of meaning.
  • When it becomes clear that there is really no serious purposeful meaning behind the company’s work and that it is only to benefit stockholders or top executives, employees mirror the behavior and begin working for themselves instead of passionately working to achieve the mission to make customers’ lives better or to enrich the world in some way.

So how do companies change? How do they move toward real, fulfilling, motivating purposes that will make a long-term difference that goes way beyond shareholder value? It starts with examining the values of the organization. Answering the questions of what the organization stands for, what the organizations believes, and what the organization deems acceptable and unacceptable regardless of performance, this is the first step. Next comes answering the key question of what the organization seeks to do to help others, their employees, customers, investors, and community. Once these questions get answered, a journey can begin to craft a succinct and clear statement or rally cry that unites and engages all people within the organization. From there, it is critical to cascade these words to departments, teams and individuals. It is vital that this cascade of communication be not only words but actions that demonstrate the values behind them.

What about your organization? Does it live by a compelling purpose? Do the words inspire teamwork for something greater than individual gain? Does the purpose live in the actions of the leaders? Do employees truly know the purpose and live the values with each other? Think about it, challenge yourself and those around you to drive for something more meaningful, make change that will leave a legacy and give your employees something to truly be proud of, something they will tell their children and grandchildren they did that went beyond their bank account. Be the rebel today, start asking the tough questions, drive for nobility, drive for meaning, drive for making lives better, today, do it!