Set the Expectation

I have recently been engaged in a business transaction that requires multiple steps and several different parties.  To make it all happen, there is an intermediary involved who is taking care of getting everything together and putting all the ducks in a row so to speak.

The other day I got an email from this intermediary as follows:  I’d like to establish a time to conduct an introductory call during which we will discuss our timeline and all of the steps in the process.

I was struck by this email and the desire to ensure that I was informed as to exactly how things would work.  They wanted me, the customer, to be comfortable and to have all of the information at my fingertips so I wouldn’t be wondering what was happening.

This is something so many companies forget.  They believe customers are okay not knowing things, they actually think customers would rather not know the details so they can be magically surprised when everything works out.

Brain science tells us a very different story.  According to neuroscience research, we humans like to be made aware of what’s coming our way.  There is a part of our brain that looks for threats and not knowing what’s coming is perceived as a threat, a threat that makes us wary to move forward.  This perception of a threat works against relationships.  “No news is good news” simply isn’t a good philosophy for customer satisfaction.  Business needs to follow in the footsteps of the email cited above and make customers aware of what’s going on in their transactions.

A friend relayed a great example of this.  She was dealing with a business who was working on solving a billing problem for her.  She had called and the associate on the phone told her they would work out a solution and get back to her.  Of course, that was all they said, no time for follow-up and no details as to what they were going to do was given.  After about an hour of waiting, my friend called them back wondering what was happening.  After a little time to look into things and find what was happening, they realized only an hour had passed and told her this solution would take more time. When she asked how long, they said they didn’t know for sure.  This raised some hackles that caused a request to speak with a manager. All in all, it turned into a bit of a mess that could have been avoided if, on the initial call, they had simply given my friend a better idea of how long things would take.  They could have set the expectation instead of leaving my friend, the customer, to make an assumption that caused a perception ending in a negative experience.

Next time you are with a customer, set the expectation by letting them know how long things will take, give them information as to what they can expect and the steps involved.  This simple thing can ward off a lot of problems.  Customers are very wary of being cheated or taken advantage of and a little information – particularly a timeline – can give them just the confidence needed to create a positive experience instead of one surrounded in a haze of questions that lead to distrust.


Want Better Service Scores? Change the Box Top Picture.

I was thinking recently about how sad it is that we have to have training to get people to behave with common decency, a level of compassion, and a desire to help others.

Service, in most places, is pretty poor and the attitudes you get are for the most part just bad.  I mean you step up to a counter and you get no eye contact or no smile or an indifferent tone that seems to say, “I could care less…and if you’re not happy, there’s somebody else behind you.”

How have we gotten to this place?  Why have we descended into indifference and lack of care for customers and quality of work?

I think we can start at the top of the chain, and I mean the highest levels.  Just think of what we see in our national leaders, disrespect, disregard, lying, cheating, stealing, you name it, and that’s just politics, think about other “heroes” that people look to as models.  Sports stars with over-blown egos who cheat on their sport and their families, celebrities with all manner of issues that are flaunted as if they’re a good thing, TV shows that give voice to adult brats who mistreat others and have infantile levels of emotional intelligence, is it any wonder the influence this has?

What I am getting at is not some self-righteous conservatism – I am as broken as anyone and have my fair share of challenges and flaws – but rather, our need for leadership models who show us what we should and can be.  While this is needed in all areas of society, it has become critical in the workplace; if we want the quality of service to improve, we desperately need leaders who demonstrate what it is to care, respect, and treat people with dignity.  This means C-suite executives demonstrating it for their managers and managers demonstrating it to their front-line employees so that front-line employees will deliver great service to customers.  It ultimately means modeling to your employees the actions you want them to display to the people they serve.  In other words, treating your employees the way you want them to treat your customers.

Why all of this though?  Why not just lay down the law and demand the way you want it to be?  Well, when I was a kid, I built model planes, cars, etc., and whenever I was looking at the instructions and couldn’t make out exactly where a piece fit, I would pick up the box top because the box top had a picture of the finished model on it which helped me to get the clarity that made all the difference.

Interestingly, everyday life is not much different.  When people have models, box-top pictures, of how things are supposed to look, they get clarity and this clarity can really help to define how things should be done.  If you’re in disbelief, think about it, how many times when asked to perform a task have you looked for an example from someone who’s done something similar?  How many classes have you been in where the teacher showed you a sample?

And this need isn’t limited to tasks, it is also necessary when it comes to behavior.  People need models for how to act, and when they get bad ones, they act badly as referenced above. However, when they get good models, they can begin to behave in better ways; they can begin to be the best versions of themselves.  The challenge in the workplace is that the box-top picture for employees is the leaders they see every day and many of those leaders are poor box-top pictures, certainly poor pictures of what it is to serve and behave well.

So how can you change that?  How can you be a better box-top picture for your team?  It’s not that hard really; you just have to move from “do as I say not as I do” to “I am going to give you what I expect you to give others.”  In time, and with some diligence, your organization will be transformed from indifference to engagement and caring, which is what you and your customers want, right?

People are bombarded by poor models all day long and you can be a good one.  What will you do today to lead the charge and be a model, a good box-top picture, of what you want things to be?


Two words to change your workplace.

How many people help you (a.k.a. provide some service to you) at work?  Think about it, how many people do things to help you get your own job done?  Whether it’s helping you schedule a flight, do some research for a report, contribute ideas in a meeting or just make the coffee every morning, how many people are factors in your success?

Given this, how many of these people do you recognize for their impact?  How many times have you simply said thank you to these people, or do you just believe it is all part of their job and walk away?  I know for myself that so many people have impacted and continue to impact any small success I have seen and I am often remiss in being grateful.

How does it feel to you when someone just says thank you for what might appear to be simple stuff or perfunctory parts of your job?  Personally, it makes me smile and appreciate that person more than I might normally.  Imagine your workplace with a little more gratitude and good will; imagine more trust and cooperation, is it hard to contemplate?

Well it’s not a fantasy, it can exist and it can start with you.  Starting today, find someone who does one of those, what we might call, mundane, menial jobs and thank them, just go up to the guy who cleans the bathrooms for instance and say, “thank you for what you do every day to keep this space clean for me.”  Find someone every day to appreciate and see what begins happening in your workplace.

“We cut the coal.”

“We cut the coal.”  Famous words from Winston Churchill spoken to coal miners who were leaving the coal pits in droves to volunteer for military service in World War II.  While volunteering to fight was certainly noble, Churchill recognized how devastating it would be to the war effort if too many miners were leaving.  So much of the industry necessary to the war effort used coal, not to mention the need to keep home fires burning.

Coal miners at the time were pretty low on the totem pole socially and were not that well respected; in addition, they had to endure brutal working conditions that were dangerous and physically demanding.  The thought of military service was actually a welcome relief to many so Churchill knew he had to do something to keep as many of the men working as possible.

In knowing that many of these men felt undervalued and that they received little credit for the great work they did, Churchill decided to inspire them to the contrary.  He wanted them to understand their significance and that without the coal they provided the war would actually be more difficult to win, and that the best thing they could do for Britain would be to keep working in the mines.

Standing in Westminster Central Hall speaking to the Conference of Delegates of Coal Owners and Miners, Churchill looked into the eyes of the coal-stained faces of these men who sat in silence and awe and said, ‘We will be victorious! We will preserve our freedom and years from now when our freedom is secure, and years from now when peace reigns, your children and your children’s children will come and they will say to you, “What did you do to win freedom in the great war?”, and one will say: “I was a fighter pilot”, another will say: “I was in the Submarine Service”, another “I marched with the Eighth Army”, a fourth will say: “None of you could have lived without the convoys and the Merchant seamen”, and you, in your turn, will say, with equal pride and with equal right: “WE CUT THE COAL”’

What’s the lesson for us today?  Churchill wanted to help these undervalued workers understand that their efforts had purpose and that they were valuable assets to the British war effort.

You see, people have a primal need to participate in activities that give them a sense of purpose. Most of us are hungry to make some difference to someone and leave a legacy. Churchill was able to show these coal miners that they, each and every one of them, were an integral part of battle plan of Great Britain. He encouraged them to believe that there was a great purpose in their cutting of the coal.

In the work world today, so many people go into the workplace feeling undervalued and that their work doesn’t really matter except to bring home a paycheck.  How can you, as a leader, help the people around you realize that they are valuable and that the “coal” they cut is necessary?  Not everyone has a role that is glamorous but everyone has a role that is necessary whether it is designing the next great product or sweeping the shop floor.  Today, go and find someone that is largely unheralded and unseen and let them know they matter and that their efforts are needed.