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!


Journey maps are good but teaching a way to think might be better.

Related imageWe hear a lot about customer journey mapping these days, and, at risk of irritating many of my friends in the customer experience industry, I have to admit I’ve grown tired of it taking over so much of the customer experience discussion. If you listen to much of the dialogue, you might think journey mapping is the answer to all of the ills customers must endure instead of a diagnostic/design tool that largely addresses process but tends to miss the need for developing and maintaining an employee mindset that allows management of the unique, changing, immediate needs of individual customers.

Don’t get me wrong, I do see value in mapping the path a customer must tread in their trek to success. It is an invaluable tool to help organizations see where there are snags or holes in their customers’ journey such as communication breakdowns or time-consuming, difficult chores that must be tolerated. Mapping journeys has its place, definitely, however, once the process is examined and fixes applied, what’s an employee supposed to do when things don’t stick to the map? To give it another spin, imagine traveling on vacation, you’ve mapped out the best route to avoid tolls and construction but there are always things you can’t plan for. There’s the road construction that, for whatever reason, didn’t show up on your travel app. There’s the accident that gets traffic bottled up. There’s the attraction that, while it didn’t look worthy of your time when you were planning, looks worthy of your time as you pass by it. Managing all of these spur-of-the-moment events requires spur-of-the-moment decision making that isn’t part of the big-picture plan. This is the realm employees live in daily, they are part of the points along the way and they need to know how to not only act in the planned (a.k.a. mapped) moments but how to react to the non-planned moments as well.

Earlier this year I attended a conference where one of the keynote addresses was delivered by the customer experience expert, Bruce Temkin. In his presentation, he talked about something called Customer Journey Thinking to augment journey mapping. He submitted that since today’s customers so highly value individual interactions, employees would be well served by an ability to continuously focus on their place in impacting the individual experience of the journey rather than so much focus on the tasks involved in the larger process. To embed this individual-centric, in-the-moment thinking in the mindsets of employees, Temkin suggests organizations teach their employees to continually ask themselves five questions.

  1. Who is my customer and what are their specific needs?
  2. What is the customer’s real goal; what are they trying to accomplish?
  3. What did they do right before coming to me; what have they had to endure so far?
  4. What will they have to do right after our interaction; what do they have to do next?
  5. What will make them happy right now?

I fell in love with this idea pretty quickly. You can see in the last three critical questions how Temkin carefully puts the employee’s particular vantage point in the context of a larger journey that includes past, present and future.

  1. PAST: Where has this customer been before getting to me and what have they had to do?
  2. FUTURE: What will they have to do next after working with me?
  3. PRESENT: How can I be most helpful in getting them from where they’ve been to where they’ll go?

Teaching employees to ask themselves these things can take your journey mapping efforts to a new level where process improvement goes hand-in-hand with a mindset change where employees adapt to the individual needs of customers that can’t be anticipated in even the best mapping effort. The words “most helpful” say it all. This is where we want employees to be and what customers most want.

The customer experience is more than you think and there’s an opportunity in considering that.

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The customer experience.  Is it just everything the customer experiences with your business or is it something more?  I’m going to go with something more.

Most businesses, at least the ones who are enlightened enough to understand and recognize it, see the customer experience only as the customer’s experience with their company.  However, as customer experience expert James Dodkins notes in his writing, that is a very limited, business-centric view.  It fails to see things from the broader view of what customers have to endure in their experience of reaching their objective, whatever that objective might be.

Take, for example, a vacation trip to New York City and a hotel’s view of the experience. Many traditional thoughts would see the experience as arriving at the hotel, checking in, the room, the restaurant, pool, bar and check out.  All would be the view from inside the hotel so to speak. However, think about it from the customer perspective, there are many other things they have to contend with that fall outside of just the hotel.  They must plan for the weather in New York, pack, decide on all of the things they want to see and do, plan their travel, get from home to the airport or train station, go through travel hell and try to do it as efficiently and effortlessly as possible, get ground transport into the city, etc.  All of that is part of their New York City vacation experience.

So what is the hotel to do, how can they possibly account for so much especially since the vast majority is out of their control? Well, they might not be able to control a lot of what the customer experiences but they can influence things and try to make it better. For example, the hotel could, on their website, have weather updates and a link to see typical weather for the time the customer is traveling.  They could have helpful travel tips like packing ideas, best ground transport from airports and train stations, how to best get through airport security, the list goes on. Perhaps they could offer a service to ship luggage so customers don’t have to worry about it. Imagine a van coming to the customer’s home, picking up their luggage, and upon arrival at the hotel, the luggage is in the customer’s room.

While these are just ideas that might be causing many hoteliers to snort, laugh and make “that’ll never happen” remarks, they illustrate the possibilities for companies everywhere to consider the larger view of what customers must endure in reaching their objectives and what a little creativity might do to make things better and make your business a stand-out leader that customers want to work with.

So I have to ask, has your business looked at the entirety of the journey your customers must travel to reach success or are you still stuck in looking at just what they experience once they touch your company?  How can you extend that view and begin innovating ways to make the extended journey easier and more enjoyable?


Machines or humans? Your choice.

Image result for robot waiterAre you a person who likes to shop online or perhaps go in a store and never talk to anyone? Many people express these sentiments. They just want to get what they want without dealing with someone trying to sell them something or giving them what they think will be bad information. I get it. I am often one of those people too.  And, if you are like this, whether a lot or a little, you probably look forward to the day when more artificial intelligence (AI) takes things over so you never have to deal with the pesky detail of people.

I know a lot of you are sitting back right now relishing this thought. Imagine walking into a store, picking out that pair of pants, walking out of the store with a sensor reading codes on your purchase and deducting the dollars from your bank account having read a chip in your wallet. No muss, no fuss, no dreaded interaction with indifferent service people, time saved, you got what you wanted without any complications or questions.

That all sounds nice to many people. And it makes sense since so many of our purchasing experiences are fraught with what seem like needless complications and unsatisfactory human interactions. Yet, as most of us have experienced, relying on machines can have its own set of complications and dissatisfactions.

Think of all of those times you’ve called a business to get help with something and ended in “dial 1-2-3-4” hell and all you want is to find a way to talk to a breathing human who can answer your simple questions or lead you easily to the thing you want. How about all of the times when a question you have isn’t in the menu of possible options or your question is complicated and multi-layered, you know, if this then that? Will AI work to make this better or worse?

While I think AI has its potential benefits, I do not think it will ever replace humans because humans will always need other humans to deal with all of the gray area that we live and breathe daily. Humans are not black and white, we’re not simply zeroes and ones, we change our minds, we question, we’re complex and unpredictable. I have never seen any machine be able to accurately predict human behavior, no, not even Amazon. I have often got recommendations from Amazon that are way off the mark for me.

Machines can be more precise, they can do things faster and calculate data in a flash, but there’s one thing they can’t do, they can’t feel. A machine cannot know what it is to lose a loved one, to fall in love, to be proud of accomplishments, to take joy in the achievements of children, no, a machine lacks that capacity and that capacity is critical because we humans live in the world of emotion and feeling every day, every hour, every minute. It’s what makes us difficult at times and joyous at others and it takes a human touch to feel with us and understand what we need in the moment. That’s why we breathe that sigh of relief when we get a person on the other end of the phone after we’ve dialed department after department to no avail. We just want someone to understand our plight and help us. No machine can do that because they don’t live, die, cry, and smile with us.

Business needs to take heed and remember this fact. Humans need humans, we feel and we need others to feel with us. We’re social creatures. If you’re a business leader and you’re contemplating or even relishing the idea of getting rid of people in favor of machines, think again. In the long term, people will need people, good people, so start creating the place where good people can thrive, you’re going to need them more than ever.

Stupid manager thinking. Is it infecting your business?

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How effective would your company be if none of your employees showed up tomorrow? The answer is clear, it would be a disaster, yet so many companies treat employees like they are machines in a wheel rather than people whose labor, decisions, and ideas are vital to existence.

Richard Branson puts it all in perspective…

“It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the brand and you give them tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they’re going to be happy.  If the person who works at your company is not appreciated, they are not going to do things with a smile.”

Doing things with a smile is really shorthand for delivering great service, which is, of course, the whole reason for your business, to help people, which is , again, the fundamental definition of service. And when your employees deliver great service, well, let’s take it from Branson again…

“Effectively, in the end shareholders do well, the customers do better.”

So, why is it that so many companies do not get this? Why do so many people go to miserable workplaces where they are merely tools for tasks instead of creative thinkers who can make the difference? Is it because leaders fear being shown up? Is it because leaders think they’re always right? Is it because it’s business and business is dog eat dog and not some rainbows-and-unicorns fantasyland?

All of this thinking is S-T-U-P-I-D. Yep, I said it, it’s stupid, ignorant, fill in the blank however you would like. And if you want to get in the groove and start seeing more success all around your business, take heed of these words from Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s Superfood Emporium…

“If you want staff to give great service, give great service to staff.”

Read it. Read it again – out loud!

Can you do it? Of course you can. Start TODAY by asking instead of telling, listening instead of talking, praising instead of criticizing, and appreciating instead of taking for granted. Take action to create a workplace where employees feel supported and served so they can support and serve your customers who will then support and serve your business.

How can changing how you think about who’s on your team make you more successful?

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You have probably heard of the Twelfth Man which, in an American football game, refers to the impact of the fans in attendance. Their cheering can inspire the home team to great heights while at the same time making noise that can play a part in undoing the visiting side.

This is a great example of how what we call a team is actually more than just the players on the field.  In fact, when you think for a moment about a major sports franchise, there’s the medical staff, the trainers, the ticket takers, the office staff, the scouts, the vendors providing food in the stands, the list goes on.  And all of these contribute in big and small ways to team success.  If the food is bad, the fans are unhappy, if the scouts don’t do well, the team gets bad information on the other team, if the office staff doesn’t perform, the team may miss paychecks, if the ticket takers don’t do their job, fans get held up which impacts their excitement or some people might get in without paying which impacts revenue, you can see how it all adds up. All of these stakeholders are actually parts of the team, even if only from a distance.

So, think about it, who’s on your team?  What I mean is, who do you consider part of your business’s team? My experience is that many business leaders think of investors or shareholders as their team while line-level managers might think of the people who work for the business as their team like players on the field.  However, aren’t there others you should consider?

Before we answer that question, let’s first think about the endgame of your business. If you’re like most business people, you immediately think of making a profit. And while making a profit is important, it’s not the reason you exist.  Think of it this way, we all have to breathe to live but the purpose of life isn’t to breathe, it is, hopefully, a whole variety of other, nobler things. Likewise, the purpose of business isn’t to just profit, it’s to deliver value and help people achieve objectives. Without delivering something of value, there would be no profit. So, who values from your business? I can think of five parties.

  1. Investors/Shareholders: return on investment
  2. Suppliers: revenue and a market for their goods and services
  3. Employees: a place to do meaningful work, earn a livelihood, and have opportunities to grow and learn
  4. Community: tax base and contributor to the common good
  5. Customers: goods and services that help in achieving objectives

On the flip-side of this, each of these constituents also provide value for the business.

  1. Investors/Shareholders: provide capital
  2. Suppliers: provide resources and tools
  3. Employees: provide labor (physical, intellectual, creative)
  4. Community: provides infrastructure
  5. Customers: provide a market as well as revenue and marketing to spread the word about you

The point is this. Many of us in business think one dimensionally about all of the partnerships necessary for the success of our enterprise and many times that one dimension is investors or shareholders or maybe only our workforce, however, this thinking leaves out so many others who should be considered, so many others who are partners with you.  All of your decisions and the value you provide should take those others into account.  If one suffers, the entire team eventually suffers, or at best, struggles to overcome obstacles presented by the poor partner relationships.

Start thinking of all of your stakeholder constituents as partners on your team and see what changes for you.  How does this thinking change how you treat them? Do you now want to help them to be successful in the same way you hope they help you? Imagine how this symbiotic thinking can change your business.


Book Review: Would You Do That to Your Mother?: The Make Mom Proud Standard for How to Treat Your Customers by Jeanne Bliss

Would You Do That to Your Mother?: The Make Mom Proud Standard for How to Treat Your Customers

Remember all those things your mom used to tell you, play nice, be polite, share, say please and thank you, help clean up? If companies would just think back and practice a lot of those things, they would provide incomparable customer service.

Well, this is the idea behind Jeanne Bliss’s new book, Would You Do That To Your Mother? being released this Tuesday, May 8. In this book, Bliss shares several of those things mom used to tell you and puts them into the context of how great companies pay heed to mom’s words to provide great customer experiences.

The book starts by getting you to think about mom and the lessons she taught you. Bliss tells stories about her own mom and her upbringing, an entertaining, humorous Italian upbringing from the sound of it.

Jeanne then asks us to imagine mom as your customer.  From there, she sets off in chapters 2 to 5 to discuss specific topics based on mom’s advice. The titles of these give clues as to what will follow: Be the Person I Raised You to Be, Don’t Make Me Feed You Soap, Put Others Before Yourself, and Take the High Road.

Much like her excellent previous book, I Love You More Than My Dog, Bliss presents ideas in a humorous, conversational style using great examples of real businesses who live the lessons being shared. In addition, at the end of each chapter, there are great questions to get readers moving to take action on what they are learning. Bliss challenges us to make changes that will not only better the customer experience but maybe even better our world.

At the end of the book in Chapter 6, Bliss gives us a litmus test to see how we are standing up to what momma taught us. She reviews the lessons shared in each previous chapter and poses questions to help us evaluate where we are today. Then, in Chapter 7, we are challenged to Join the Movement and influence our own business to “march toward becoming the kind of company that is a #MakeMomProud company.”

Thank you Jeanne for writing this great book which I highly recommend to anyone who wishes to change the game and create customer experiences that would #MakeMomProud.

Below are some favorite quotes (honestly, there are so many great quotes in this book you should consider these just the tiniest taste).

“When the focus is only on getting the job done, caring for the human at the center of it can get lost. Employees are not mere people movers or process handlers – they are care providers.”

“Every part of the organization is either caring directly for customers or supporting someone who is.”

“Treating customers with dignity and respect starts with treating employees the same way. In order to deliver customer dignity, employees need to feel it, and receive it themselves.”

“Do you show up as a “caring” company? Is everyone united to care for customers, regardless of role?”

“‘PLEASE GIVE ME TOP SCORES’ is the fourth most annoying interaction customers have with companies.”

“Not knowing what’s happening makes people nuts! Lack of communication is the root of customer unrest, worry, and fear.”

“Make-mom-proud companies would rather keep your business with service and value, not contract terms.”

“Do you deliver pain or pleasure? Do you make it easy and a joy for your customers to do business with you?”

“To achieve your goals, you need to help others to achieve theirs.”

“Be the company that always honors the person first. Before you do anything else, acknowledge the customer reaching out to you. Care genuinely. Know his or her name. This small acknowledgment paves the way for real relationships that go beyond transactions.”


A Lesson for Business from TV Networks

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How do the TV networks gauge what they decide to provide for their customers, the viewers?  It is simple, they listen to their customers.  They regularly look at what their customers are watching and make changes based on the results.

The system is relatively straightforward.  Nielsen Media Research, the company that has become the de facto measurement service for the TV industry, looks at the viewing habits of a representative sample of the TV audience.  The more people watch certain programs, the more valuable those programs become to the investors (advertisers) and the more the TV networks can charge for ads during those shows.  The formula is clear and simple, more viewers means more investment which means continued production of that show, and it is all based on the wants and needs of viewers (customers).

Many businesses, on the other hand, spend a great deal of time figuring out ways to fit customers into their needs and wants rather than asking what customers really want and fitting the business to those things.  They have processes and systems that are not easy or friendly to customers.  They create policies to save their skin with little thought to how it impacts customers.  They sell products that have add-ons that cause customers to have to purchase things they don’t really need.  If business had to rely on ratings based on customers’ real needs like TV networks, many would be cancelled like so many TV shows.

Here are three things businesses can do to get better ratings and not get cancelled:

  1. Go out and talk to customers. Get to know them and what they really want and need.  And don’t do this once, do it regularly to make sure you are keeping up with their changing desires.
  2. Sell solutions that actually solve customer problems rather than pad the bottom line.
  3. Provide support that is easy to reach and that fixes issues without hassles and policies that marginalize customers (always keep in mind who is serving who).

Repetition, not so good for business.

Image result for repeatHave you ever had to repeat a problem several times to a company?  Imagine calling your insurance company, you punch in your claim number, and then you go through an endless series of punch-in options for departments and different needs.  When you finally get to a person, they ask, “Can you give me your claim number?”  Didn’t I just punch that in?  You are dying to blurt that out.

Do businesses realize how stupid they appear when this kind of thing happens?  Do they realize how much of a pain they create when they do these things?  Ah, the frustration.  Is anyone out there listening, really listening…and taking notes?  Can they just remember my name, my number and my problem?  Do I even matter?  Customers are thinking these things, in fact, they’re truly bothered by them and they’re always looking for businesses that can do better.

Examine your business.  Are you causing pain with the hassle of repeating account numbers, name and address, service claim numbers, or problem details over and over?  How about designing systems that truly make it easy for customers, you know, the people who pay your bills, keep your lights on and put food on your table?  Design a way so that customers never have to repeat things.  Make it easy and effortless for them.  They’re the reason you exist.  Don’t forget that.

Slaying the Customer Discomfort Beast

Image result for dinosaur clip artHave you ever had a medical test and afterwards had to wait days or a week for the results?  How did it feel during that period?  If the test was to determine the seriousness of some pain or niggle, I know most of us experience some amount of anxiety, worry, or discomfort at minimum.

This same thing happens all of the time to customers.  A classic version is the old “We’ll be there between the hours of 12 and 4.”  Frustrated at the lack of certainty, you wait uncomfortably for someone to arrive.  It’s inconvenient and you’ve probably had to take time off from work or cancel some other engagement.

How about the times you’ve called some help desk and been assured that your issue will be resolved yet were given no idea of when or how long it will take?  You hang up the phone and then begin making up scenarios in your head, usually worst-case scenarios that create anxiety and discomfort.

What about the times when your power goes out, you report it, and hours or even a day later, nobody seems to have a clue when the lights will be back on?  The thought of all of your frozen food going bad and all of the money you’ll have to spend on eating out takes discomfort to anger.

These feelings are not just due to people being overly sensitive or having unreasonable expectations, it’s how we’re wired.  Our brains are built to look for threats, danger or risks, even ones that are small like not knowing when the cable repair person will arrive.  And because of the uncertainty and the feeling that we don’t matter enough to be a priority, the brain says, “Alert: threat, danger, risk!!!” To the brain, these little things can be as powerful as more definitive threats like a lion, tiger or bear, and can cause reactions that will not favor your business.

Funny though, the solution can be very simple.  The cable TV folks could simply schedule the repair for a definite time.  The help desk you called could tell you how long it will take to fix the problem.  The electric company could give realistic estimates on how long it will take to get your power restored.  All of these anxiety prone situations could be remedied by the service company setting some expectations so that customers don’t feel in the threatening darkness.

Where are places in the service you provide where you could set better expectations for the people you serve?  Where could you create more certainty?  Where could you soothe the nerves by proactively providing more information?