Call Me Ishmael

“Call me Ishmael.”  “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…”  These are two of the greatest opening lines in literature, but my personal favorite opening line is this one, “It’s not about you.”  This is the opening line from the book A Purpose Driven Life by Rich Warren.  I like it because I can’t forget it and I think it has powerful resonance in our “me, me, me” world.

If you have been living under a rock and haven’t noticed, we are in the midst of one of the most self-centered times in history.  You can see this focus on self-importance all around but none is more grossly apparent than the famous pop-singer Ariana Grande who demands that she be carried like a baby when she is too tired.  Can you imagine this?  “I’m tired, carry me.”  She’s not a child (at least in age), she just thinks she’s entitled because she’s a …twinkle, twinkle…“Star.”

Now, why am I going on so?  Well, I believe a focus on self can be a very damaging thing. Think about sports teams.  How many times have you watched young kids playing some sport and one kid hogs the ball?  What happens?  The defending team begins to crowd multiple players around this ball hog because they know a ball hog will not pass the ball.  With multiple players covering, the defending team is almost assured of getting the ball back and potentially scoring.

The lesson here is that passing the ball and being a team is much more effective.  In less subtle language, an assist is as valuable as a goal in the long run.

So how does this matter in a business context?  Well, it’s obvious that a team approach in business is as effective as a team approach in sports so I won’t belabor that.  What I do want to talk about is whether your business is self-centered or not because, as I’ve illustrated, thinking of yourself first can be damaging in both sports and business.

Is your company about itself or is it about your customers?  Now, you might sit back and say, “of course we’re about the customer, without customers we wouldn’t exist.”  Nice sentiment, but are you really focused on the customer?  In other words, are you hogging the ball for your own reward (the cheers of the crowd, or in business terms, a big whopping profit) or are you passing the ball for the glory of the team (i.e. you AND the customer)?

Here are some easy tests to determine if you’re a team playing company (focused on the customer) or a ball-hogging company (only concerned with what benefits you).  Answer the following:

  1. The first agenda item in most of our meeting is customer related, yes or no.
  2. When discussing new processes or systems, we always ask how this will affect customers, yes or no.
  3. We have an executive-level position focused on customer service and customer advocacy, yes or no.
  4. We empower our employees to make decisions in favor of customers, yes or no.
  5. Our employees are encouraged to take their time with customers, yes or no.
  6. If we do not have what our customer needs, we do our best to direct them somewhere else, even a competitor, yes or no.
  7. Employees are instructed to be flexible with policies depending on the needs of each customer, yes or no.
  8. We regularly engage our customers when decisions need to be made regarding their experience or our products, yes or no.
  9. We hold regular team meetings where employees are free to speak without fear or reprisal about problems, issues, and new ideas, yes or no.
  10. Our sales strategy is based on customer priorities before our company’s priorities, yes or no.

How did you do?  If you said no to the majority of these, you’re a ball hog.

Ultimately, the real question is,” why is your business in business, is it for you or is it for making life better for others?”  If it’s for your reward and benefit, heed these words…”IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!”

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A Service Strategy for Our Time

It would seem many brands have put all of their service strategy eggs into what very well may be the wrong baskets of trying to delight and ‘wow’ customers.  Now, I am not saying I think delighting customers isn’t important, but I think centering your strategy on doing it all of time may be a mistake because there is a lot of recent research suggesting that delighting or ‘wowing’ doesn’t necessarily create long-term customer experience fans because what delights one person, doesn’t delight another, not to mention the fact that not every interaction offers the possibility of doing something that creates noteworthy delight.

Think about a trip to Starbucks for example, how many times do they literally ‘wow’ you, maybe once in a while with a free drink or something, but not on a regular basis.  What they do do however is to make drinks to your satisfaction day in and day out and then deliver it with a smile.  In addition, and maybe more importantly, when you have an issue, they fix it right there and without a hassle.

I am not alone in this assertion.  A recent Economist Intelligence Unit report indicates that out of over 2,000 people surveyed, 47% said that the elements most important in an ideal customer experience are fast response to questions and problems rather than attempts to ‘wow’ and delight.  Similarly, this same reporting says that the most annoying aspects in customers’ experience are slow responses to questions and problems (38%) as well as inaccurate or misleading information about the product (35%).

Thus, most brands should be thinking about mastering the basics of problem solving, empowerment of staff and making things easy before they move on to things like delight and ‘wow’.  This may prove to be a big ask however as empowering every employee to serve the customer and deliver on the customer experience seems to be ridiculously difficult for so many businesses who demand scripts, time-limited interaction and only manager-approved deviation from accepted solutions.  Without freedom to act and freedom to make customers human, the customer experience, not to mention long-term business success, is doomed.

In an accompanying report to the one above, according to employees, the top two obstacles that stand in the way of improving their organization’s customer experience were silos within the organization and lack of integrated systems for getting correct information.

What does this tell us?  For the forward thinking business, unifying the organization around the ability for all employees to respond quickly and accurately to the customer should be the first priority in the service strategy and ways to ‘wow’ and delight should follow only when priority one has been made a reality.

Everybody’s Here for a Reason

I saw an ad recently about a hospital and it started with a doctor saying, “Everybody’s here for a reason.”  In the case of this ad that quote was about every patient being in the hospital for a reason, an illness, but it got me to thinking about how that quote could actually mean more, and more importantly, change how the hospital team, and all of the rest of us for that matter, might be more engaged to serve.

Imagine that statement, “Everybody’s here for a reason” to be about all people on this planet and the potential contribution everyone makes to the world rather than the reason patients are in the hospital. Imagine how you might work differently if you were a doctor or nurse and you were always thinking that the patient under your care matters to history, perhaps they could be the person who finds the next miracle cure or is the next Rembrandt or will change the course of history in some highly significant way, how would that change the level of your care and change your passion for the work?

All of us who work every day are in a similar position.  What if we all served our customers and fellow teammates with the thought that they mattered to the course of history, that they were vital to the universe in some way, how would that thought change our passion for serving with excellence?  What if our purpose was to make sure we made those we serve successful because they are here for a reason, a reason that could change the world? Would that change how you do things?

What drives your passion?  What drives you to want to deliver excellent work?  Have you ever thought that all of the people you serve daily are here for a reason and that reason could be gigantic?  It’s a pretty simple concept, kind of like that thought about the butterfly whose wings start the winds that cross the earth but imagine the earth without those winds.  I believe we are all in a position to influence life-changing, world-changing things, but to do it we must raise our thinking about others to consider that they might be potential world changers and then serve them accordingly.  Everybody is here for a reason, and although we don’t know what it may be, it is high time to start acting in ways that recognize that.

Make It Easier

Paperwork, forms, performance review documentation, goal setting, bureaucracy… all of the hoops to jump through at work can seriously impact employee attitude and commitment. Although all of this stuff may seem to be or even actually be necessary, when put together over time, it can add up to a whole lot of paper pushing and job dissatisfaction with a negative impact on employee morale and customer interaction.

Ultimately, the ease of doing business inside of a company can have a big effect on employee turnover and addressing it is a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate proactive leadership.  One of the most important things leaders can do for their people is to show them they genuinely care about them as individuals and as a team and one of the best ways to show this is to make all of the internal processes as easy and non-distracting as possible.

While this might sound overly simplistic, I have seen that when leaders work hard to make things easier for their teams, they send a strong message that they care and that they are looking out for their people. Believe me, when people see their leaders making their lives easier and looking out for their best interests, they behave differently and work harder for the leader and for the mission of that leader.
By working to remove the hoops that get in the way, leaders show their commitment to creating an environment where employees can do the work they were hired to do rather than spending time dealing with red tape.

Think about it: What hoops can you streamline or remove in your workplace that would make your team members’ lives easier?