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).
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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?

Coaching Success Requires Regular Follow Up

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In a recent post, we looked at a simple approach to coaching employees.  We talked about a coaching conversation model based on three themes – reflection, ideation, and commitment.  In this model, the coach and coacheee get focus on an area of opportunity for improvement and reflect on the current state of that focus area.  They then ideate to define and commit to action steps for moving forward.

This conversation is actually part of a larger process I call FoDAR (Focus, Define, Assess, Refine).  This process is a way to manage execution of moving from coaching to action to results.  Each part of this process has specific functions.  The Focus piece provides clarity on what we are trying to improve or fix.  The Define piece gives us direction on the steps we will take.  The Assess piece provides a sense of how we are progressing, and the Refine piece provides the chance to make our plan of attack even better.

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This process divides evenly into two conversations.  The first is called the Defining Conversation and was described above – get focus and define next steps.  The second is called the Refining Conversation and it acts as a regular follow up to keep all of the actions committed to in the defining conversation alive and on track.  Refining conversations are ongoing affairs that repeat regularly until results are reached.

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The Refining Conversation goes something like this.

Assuming we’ve already had a Defining Conversation with our coachee, we now must assess progress.  This step is another incarnation of the coaching theme of reflection because the coachee is being asked to reflect on the movement they’ve made.

MANAGER:  “Bill, a couple of weeks ago, we discussed restructuring your proposals, I was wondering, how is it going with that?”

BILL: “After you gave me the go ahead, I took a couple of proposals I had in the hopper and rebuilt them in the new format.  I sent them to customers, and in conversations with them, it seems they understand them better and like the overall look and feel.”

Now the coach invites the coachee to refine their plan and make further improvements if possible.

MANAGER:  “That sounds like things are moving along quite well.  Do you think there’s anything else that would make it even better?”

BILL: “I like the way things are going but I know there are further improvements I could make.  The more I speak with customers I am sure something will be mentioned to spark new ideas.  I will let you know as things progress.”

Finally, the coach must invite commitment to any new actions by demonstrating their commitment to help.

MANAGER:  “Is there anything I can do to help you?”

BILL:  “Not right now.  I just want to keep going and get more customer feedback.”

MANAGER:  “That’s great, Bill.  I will circle back around in a couple more weeks to keep on top of this.  Good work so far though, keep it up.”

That’s essentially how the Refining Conversation goes.

In summary, to start, the coach must ASSESS how things are proceeding.  If things are going well, the coach should be sure to praise the efforts.  If things have stalled, they will need to get some idea as to what’s standing in the way of progress.

  1. “A couple of weeks ago we talked about __________, how’s it going with that?”

REFINE the plan with improvements or additions if possible.  This is another manifestation of the ideation theme.

  1. “Is there anything else you could do to make it even better?”

Close the conversation by inviting their commitment to any new actions by renewing your commitment to help them.

  1. “How can I help you?”

As you can see, in one conversation, the Defining Conversation, we get focus and define how we will proceed.  In the Refining Conversations, we follow up regularly to assess progress and refine the plan to continually find better and better practices.

This whole FoDAR/Two-Conversation process accomplishes several things.

  1. It engages employees in improving results and practices rather than commanding them from top down. This approach gives employees ownership and allows leaders to hold them accountable for specific results.
  2. It demands follow up in order to work. Follow up is what is usually absent and a key reason why so many coaching efforts fail.
  3. It gives managers a new view of their operation since employees see things very differently given their unique roles. Managers learn things they never would viewing things from their position alone.
  4. It is simple and uncomplicated. You don’t need a time-consuming class or a psychology degree to get going.  Although training can help to clarify things and give you practice, this method and process can be successfully employed without it.
  5. Finally, it provides a framework that is structured enough to ensure consistent results yet flexible enough to allow coaches to make it fit their personality and timing.

An Experiment in Culture Change

Related imageI’m always surprised at the number of people I see behind counters at stores, banks, limited-service-restaurants, and airports that just seem miserable.  They make no eye contact, mumble, and go through the paces of their job just checking off the boxes on a list of company- required actions.  What can be done?

I tried an experiment.  I thought, what would happen if I made the “counter experience” more human by mentioning the employee’s name?  The first time I did this, I had to muster up the courage.  It seemed odd to read their name badge and call them by name.  I mean, we were not best friends or anything.  No matter, I did it.  What I experienced was a person transformed.  When I said their name, they looked up, smiled, and changed their whole demeanor.  The misery was gone even if only briefly.

Since that first foray into the world of using people’s names, I now do it almost without fail.  And in almost every interaction, the result is similar to the first time; people look up, smile and become human again.

What’s the point here?  Well, it makes me wonder what has dehumanized their workplace.  Why is it that the simple use of their names by someone they’ve never seen before can make them smile and brighten up?  Is it that the company culture has made them drones?  Are they just servants of a paycheck?  My guess is that, while it may not be the entire reason, it is certainly a large contributor.

While it is sad, it is not a surprise really.  Over hundreds of years, the business world has used management techniques to try and get the best out of people.  It is a failed strategy, particularly in our modern world where people are better educated and customers value speed and ease more than ever.  Today’s environment needs employees who can think not just do.  Today’s environment requires employees to step up and lead when the time is right – teams of leaders rather than followers.

Experiment for yourself.  Go to a counter and use the person’s name.  See if it makes a difference.  If you experience it, see how you can make a similar, humanizing difference in your workplace.  Think about how that difference will impact your customers and how that impact will positively impact your business overall. By simply including people as people and giving them the respect of thinking not just doing, it can change the entire game for you, your customers, and your business.  Start the experiment today.