Thursday, September 11, 2014

Do Your CX Improvements Rob Peter to Pay Paul?

Image courtesy of HuffPost
When you make organizational improvements - be they for the benefit of employees and/or customers - are your efforts spot on or misguided?

I recently read an article about a new dress code being imposed on Wal-Mart employees (effective later this month). The purpose of the new dress code is to help customers more-easily identify employees. I don't have a problem with that; given my recent experiences in a few different stores, more stores could benefit from this.

Unfortunately, some employees are groaning because the dress code - which consists of white or navy blue collared shirts, khaki or black pants, closed-toe shoes, and a royal blue Wal-Mart vest - is not being subsidized by Wal-Mart. In other words, employees need to buy the clothes, and Wal-Mart will provide the vest. For part-time, minimum wage employees, this could pose a financial hardship.

The article went on to say that this isn't the first time in recent years that Wal-Mart has imposed a dress code (It doesn't say, but apparently those didn't work?) and that there are other issues Wal-Mart should address, like understaffed stores and product shortages.

Reading the article, I stopped and wondered what was really going on. And wondered if this is a more-pervasive problem, not just one for Wal-Mart. I started to ask some questions:
  • Is there perhaps a misguided focus on what's important to the customer? Is the issue identifying who's an associate? Or is the issue really that there aren't enough associates to begin with?
  • Have they made these changes because of what they've heard from customers?
  • And relative to other improvement priorities, was this one most important?
  • Or did they just go for low-hanging fruit that costs little to Wal-Mart but puts the (financial) burden on the employees instead?
  • Are they making improvements in one area to the detriment of another?
  • Are they making improvements for one constituent (customer) to the detriment of another (employee)?
  • What's really important to their customers?
  • What's most important to the employee experience and employee happiness?
  • Are there other underlying issues that should be addressed first?
Is Wal-Mart robbing Peter to pay Paul? Is your company making customer experience improvements in a vacuum, without considering the full ramifications? Or is it reasonable to request that employees do something that causes them pain but is for the benefit of the customer? After all, the customer is always first and always right, right?

A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul. -George Bernard Shaw

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Trust Isn't About Keeping Score

Image courtesy of Dobi
How is low trust impacting your organization? Your business results?

I've written about trust at least a dozen times in the past. In response to my recent post, A Culture of Distrust, Richard Fagerlin reached out to me about his book Trustology: The Art and Science of Leading High-Trust Teams. He wanted to get my thoughts on his stance on trust.

The book is about employee engagement through trust relationships, or in a nutshell, building a culture of trust. It's a fast read, but make no mistake, it's packed with a lot of practical ideas that you can put to work today.

A few things resonated with me, but this was probably one of my favorites: Trust isn't what we "do" - it's what results from what we do.

I've written that trust is earned and that it's a two-way street: you choose to trust the other party, and they choose to trust you back. And vice versa. And I've said to trust until you have a reason not to trust (or to be trusted).

Richard takes an interesting approach and says that trust cannot be earned; it can only be given - that it is the responsibility of the person who wants to be trusted. He likens earning trust to keeping score; you get points for certain behaviors and lose points for other, less desirable actions. Earning trust is about control and constantly being evaluated. That doesn't sound like a trust or trusting relationship, does it?

Instead, trust keeps no record of wrongs. Richard says to stop keeping score, stop tracking the good and the bad. Trust is not risk-free, but its strength is based on mutual vulnerability. That statement is powerful, and I agree that that mutual vulnerability is the basis of trust.

So let me step back a minute and look at how Richard defines trust: confidence in others. In his chapter on The Trust Model, he further defines trust as confidence in the other person...
  • doing what they say they will do (integrity)
  • having the knowledge and skills to perform the job (competence)
  • having your best interests at heart (compassion)
Trust is strong when confidence in all three exists. He says that confidence equals predictability. And predictability is so important.

In those previous posts I'd written about trust, I attributed things like integrity, consistency, honesty, and predictability to trust and as drivers of trust. I have said in the past that predictability begets trust. So it sounds like we might just be in agreement.

In the book, Richard provides two trust assessments: one for teams and another for individuals. He then follows those up with tips and guidelines on how to fill the trust gap, which is defined as: the difference between where you would like to be as a team and where you are right now; the root problems that keep you from functioning as a high-trust, high-performance team. Here are a few examples of gaps he identifies in his three components of trust.

Gaps in integrity include:
Gaps in competence include:
  • unwillingness to share information or expertise with associates
  • a skill and knowledge gap that slows down the rest of the team
  • frequently failing to meet goals and objectives
Gaps in compassion include:
Once the gaps have been identified, the team must agree on them and then own them. As Richard says, the gaps are OK; it's doing nothing about them that is not OK.

As you can see, there are a lot of great nuggets in this book to help you develop high-trust, high-performing teams. I've only scraped the surface with this post, but it's definitely worth reading to get some ideas on how to identify and resolve trust gaps within your organization.

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. -Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, September 4, 2014

6 Tools to Create a Clear Line of Sight to Customers

I originally wrote today's post for InsideCXM, where it was published on April 2, 2014. I have modified the post slightly since then. 

Do your employees have a clear line of sight to your customers?

First, what does "line of sight" mean? In a nutshell, it's the straight line between you and your target. In this case, the target is the customer and the customer experience. When employees have a clear line of sight, they...
  • know how they contribute to the customer experience
  • know what it means to deliver a great customer experience, and 
  • they have the tools and training - and are empowered - to do so
Attempting to improve the employee experience, transform the culture, and delight your customers without the entire organization, from the CEO down to the frontline, in alignment with the goal(s), is impossible.

I saw this quote the other day, and while it's not specifically about organizational alignment, I think it sums up nicely what I'm trying to say:

Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals, and values are in balance. -Brian Tracy

Think of your employees as that car: they will work more efficiently and more effectively if their goals, values, and purpose are aligned with those of the organization.

That target, ensuring employees have a clear line of sight to the customer, seems clear and straightforward to frontline employees, but the customer experience isn't just created at the frontline. How do we ensure that everyone has their sights set on the right target?

The following six tools are a good place to start.

Vision: An inspirational and aspirational statement, your vision not only outlines what the company is trying to achieve near-term and long-term but also guides decision-making processes and your subsequent, resultant course of action. Presumably, your vision will (a) draw the line between what you're doing and for whom you're doing it and (b) create alignment within the organization.

Values: Your core values are beliefs that guide you in identifying which behaviors and actions are right and which are wrong, both for your employees and toward your customers. Everything you do must be aligned with your values, and they should be integrated into everything you do. When in doubt, ask: "Is this the right thing to do? Does it fit with our values?"

Brand Promise: A brand promise is the expectations you set with your customers.  It’s a combination of the brand purpose and the reality of what the brand can deliver. It defines the benefits a customer can expect to receive when experiencing your brand – at every touchpoint. It's meant for both customer and employees, as employees at all levels, frontline and behind the scenes, must deliver on the promise.

Voice of Customer: Listening to customers and ensuring that their feedback is shared (and acted upon) throughout the organization helps connect the dots for employees - they hear how what they do relates to, and translates into, what the customer experiences.

Customer Journey Map: A customer journey map is the ultimate tool to help connect all employees to how they contribute to - and impact - the customer experience. The map is the backbone of the customer experience, and while it details what the customer experiences as he's trying to complete a task with the company, it's important to add a section to the map that shows when, where, and how employees contribute at each touchpoint along the way.

Communication: Last, but certainly not least, is communication. This is perhaps the umbrella tool over the other five. It's important on its own, but it must also be used in conjunction with the other five tools. What gets shared and communicated is viewed as important to your employees. And communication lends clarity, which is critical to a clear line of sight.

When employees know the target and know how their work contributes - and matters - to the end game, they...
  • Feel a sense of pride
  • Display a sense ownership
  • Are more productive
  • Are less likely to leave
  • Recommend the company, which attracts talent and customers
  • Defend the company and its reputation
  • Make suggestions to improve the business
Yikes! Does that sound a bit like, dare I say, "engagement?"

If you are not working toward something, your life will end with nothing. -Habeeb Akande

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Listen with the Right Intent

Image courtesy of Unsplash | André Spieker
When you listen to customers or to employees, do you really listen? Or are you already anticipating your response or your reaction before they're finished talking?

Stephen R. Covey said:

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

Unfortunately, this is so true.

I previously wrote:  
When we think about a conversation, we typically understand that it has two parts: speaking and listening. It's a two-way street. I would actually add a third component: hearing. Yes, we talk; and yes, we say we listen. But do we actually hear what has been said? I think hearing requires a subsequent action or reaction. And in the customer conversation, that part is often missing.
When you listen, make sure you hear what is being said before you act or react. When you stop, listen, and really hear, you are better able to understand customers' (or employees', as this applies to both) needs and jobs they are trying to do, allowing you to better design for those jobs or to fulfill those needs. You're also better able to understand their questions or issues and address those or point customers in the right direction to get the issues resolved. In a timely manner.

Not only does hearing ensure you better understand but you may also discover that the customer is  saying more than you thought. The tone, pitch, or inflection of his voice or his body language (if you're seeing him in person) can tell you more than the words he is saying. Use those cues, combined with what is being said, to form your response - after the customer is finished talking. If you're ready to reply after his first sentence, you might be missing some things.

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said. -Peter Drucker

If you listen with the intent to reply, you don't hear everything that is being said. The focus of the conversation is singular rather than broader, perhaps opening up doors to other topics, features, sales, options, etc. If you listen with the intent to reply, you...
  • judge before you know all the facts
  • are disrespectful
  • analyze and prematurely form opinions
  • will misunderstand
  • miss opportunities
On the other hand, if you listen with the intent to understand, you open up the possibilities. Better yet, listen with intent to...
  • understand
  • clarify
  • show respect
  • let customers or employees know they are valued
  • improve the experience
  • connect 
  • hear
Use active listening as a way to show that you've heard what is being said. Active listening means that you paraphrase back to the person you're speaking with your understanding of what he just said to you. This exercise allows you to confirm not only what you heard but also what your understanding is. It can really help to avoid confusion.

Have you trained your frontline staff to listen with the right intent in their customer conversations? Do they use active listening? Are you hearing- really hearing - what your employees are saying to you?

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. -Bryant H. McGill

Friday, August 29, 2014

Nurture Partner Relationships: Tough Jobs Require Strong Partners

The famed Capitol Peak Knife Edge
 Today I'm pleased to present a guest post from Sarah Simon.

This post marks another installment in Sarah's series on lessons from the high country.

What the mountain teaches
Just minutes out of camp, Jaimee and I are huffing our way in the pitch blackness of early morning (or what non-climbers might refer to as “the middle of the night”) toward our goal: Capitol Peak (14,131 ft / 3,307 m).  Considered one of the toughest of the beloved “Colorado 14ers” (mountains with an elevation of 14,000 ft or higher in the US state of Colorado), Capitol is no K2 nor is the standard route the Eiger Nordwand, but the easiest route on Capitol demands alpine endurance, reliable decision making, bullet-proof scrambling, and solid route-finding skills - plus a cool head for fall exposure.

Day dawns clear and bright as we reach the ridge crest and the difficulties begin; it’s at this point I realize I left my A-Game at home.  Feeling uncharacteristically slow-witted and timid, I don’t trust my route-finding in this loose and steep terrain, and soon let Jaimee knows I need to rely on her route-finding and follow her lead.  I know this is a big responsibility I place on her shoulders, but Jaimee and I have shared challenging terrain before, and I know she’s up to the task.  For my part, I place a ton of trust in Jaimee to blaze our way through questionable terrain.

A few hours of steep grunt work, vigorous scrambling, sketchy route-finding, and eye-popping exposure pass before we find our way to the summit. The route is deliciously complex, the rock unpredictable and loose, and the airiness exhilarating. But the summit is only the half-way point.  Now we retrace our route back to the saddle, finally relieved to hit “terra firma” where we can walk upright and relax a bit. Strolling down from the saddle through the wildflowers, a wide-open alpine valley below us, I thank Jaimee. I appreciate that she was on her A-Game today and that I was able to rely on her skill and trouble-shooting to get me through the challenging parts of the climb. The hike back to camp gives me time to ponder the importance of quality partners in climbing and the necessity of nurturing relationships with these people. As discussed at length in my post “Balancing Hard Skills and Soft Skills,” it can be difficult enough to find a talented climbing jerk or a nice friend with no climbing skills, so by golly when you find a level-headed friend like Jaimee with a good sense of humor who can handle tough terrain, take care of this person!

What this means for VoC / CX
If your business model relies on a distributed sales channel, value-added resellers, service vendors, or any other partner relationship, please listen up: Your VoC / CX program needs to be leveraged to enhance your relationship with these valued partners. After all, in some industries, the partner is the face of your company the client.  Here are ways to use VoC / CX to enhance and nurture your partner relationships.

1. Listen to the Voice of the Partner

It’s easy to get so wrapped up in listening to our customers and employees that we forget to listen to another key constituency: Our partners.  Partner feedback become background noise, something we’ll “get to” when we have the time. These partners deserve a voice, as well, and that voice should be acted upon tactically and woven into the corporate strategy just like we do with customer and employee feedback.

2. Listen to the Voice of the Customer through the Partner

Your partners are a treasure trove of insight about your customer base. Are you listening?  Like your employees, your partners know customer painpoints, where the service model breaks down, and your customer likes and dislikes. Listen to the wisdom your partners possess thanks to day-to-day contact with your end customers. Keep a feedback channel wide-open (think electronic comment box) to conveniently capture this feedback. Let it be known that such comments, compliments, complaints and innovation ideas are more than welcome.

3. Share VoP and VoC insights with Partners

During a recent onsite, a client shared with me the dashboards he shares with his partners. The field vendors servicing this company’s clients have access to Voice of Customer data and insights through a login to my company’s portal. Can you imagine extending this level of data transparency to your partners? Sadly, if you answer is “no way!” you are in the majority.  But I challenge in response: How dare YOU withhold valuable insights from your partners solicited from your joint customer base.  Leverage customer insights among your partner base to improve the customer experience and resist holding secrets.

4. Act on VoP and VoC insights
This summer a report drafted for a client clearly indicated their partner channel was killing their customer satisfaction and Net Promoter scores. I suggested this client take a careful look at partner relationships detrimental to their customer experience and alter or eliminate these relationships. The response from this client was to order me to remove this finding from the report. “We are not making any changes to our partner channel.” How fair a practice is it to treat quality, trustworthy, producing partners who take excellent care of your customers as equals to those partners who are killing your customer satisfaction one interaction at a time? By contrast, a highly action-oriented client informed me they actually reduced one partner’s business flow in response to weak customer feedback scores.  Which partner strategy do you predict will be most effective in the long-run?

Jaimee on the traverse
5. Express Gratitude
Just as I expressed my gratitude to Jaimee for taking the lead on Capitol Peak, please remember to say “Thank You” to your valued partners. Thank you for providing timely service to our customers.  Thank you for believing in our product. Thank you for marching in line with our vision. Thank you for driving a positive customer experience.

Good partners are hard to come by but easy to take for granted. Don’t let your business partners get lost in the business intelligence shuffle. Integrate them into your customer experience strategy and appreciate the role they play in your business model. Nurture the relationships with your partners, and they will take care of your customers in return.

Sarah Simon is a career insights professional with 16 years of experience in the feedback industry. Specialties include VoC architecture, journey mapping, developing linkages to business performance, reduction of customer defection, results analysis and communication, with expert survey design skills.  She is the survivor of a botched early-generation "big data mining" operation and is happy to live to tell about it.