Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Online Communities: Help Your Customers Help Each Other

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I originally wrote today's post for CallidusCloud CX; it appeared on their blog on May 23, 2017.

In this very social world, customers have a lot of options when it comes to getting support from companies about the products and services they buy: there's phone, email, FAQs, knowledge bases, forums, chat, social media, and much more. Because expectations (including the need for speed and the need for more effortless service) have changed, many customers prefer a self-service route, seeking help through social media and online communities/forums, among other channels or options facilitated by others who have used the company's products and services.

Online communities have become a popular alternative lately. They're much more prevalent now than ever before, and customers are turning to other customers for assistance with common and not-so-common issues. There are both what I'll call "sanctioned" and "non-sanctioned" online communities, where the former is created, moderated, and owned by the brand, and the latter is stood up by fans of the brand or others who are simply willing to help their fellow customer. I'll focus on the sanctioned type.

Online communities that are created by companies have a lot of benefits for customers, including allowing them...
  • to build relationships with other customers and, potentially/ultimately, with the brand
  • greater convenience, i.e., they can get help on their schedule or on their time; sometimes issues happen at midnight, and not all customer service call centers are staffed at that hour
  • to get the help they need, oftentimes bypassing a lot of the most-basic questions that a support agent may ask, thus getting to the root of the matter - and to the solution - much quicker
  • to help others, which is often a motivating factor; this allows customers to build their own personal brands via these communities
  • to share feedback with the company and other customers about the product, the service, and the company, with hopes that their voices will be heard and improvements will be made
  • to talk about their experiences with the product, the service, and the company, again, to be heard and to drive change or improvements
Companies with online communities have reported higher customer satisfaction rates, improved retention, reduced call volumes, and more-efficient support systems. Doing the math on that means that communities not only benefit customers but companies, as well.

Companies get...
  • relationships, i.e., online communities encourage and facilitate customer relationships
  • raving fans who want to help other customers; in the end, this is one of the characteristics of raving fans, i.e., wanting to help the brand, work for the brand, and see the brand succeed
  • feedback about their products; when the community text is mined and analyzed, rich insights can and will be uncovered
  • feedback about other parts of the customer experience; we know that people don't often stick to the topic at hand, and when offered a forum to communicate, they take advantage of it
  • to listen to customers and learn about the overall support experience; they can use what they hear from the community to redesign the phone and email support experience
But these communities don't become successful just by setting them up and having people ask and participate. There must be a concerted effort to ensure this doesn't become an avenue where customers can be disappointed.

For communities to be successful, brands need to be sure to...
  • design the community experience, i.e., design it to be effortless or to require much less effort and more flexibility than phone and email
  • seed help/knowledgebase links and other support content throughout the community forum to address the most-commonly asked questions
  • keep all such content fresh and relevant
  • seed questions to get the community going
  • categorize questions and topics to make the UI, search, and interactions simple
  • encourage and let customers help each other, but...
  • make sure questions don't go unanswered
  • assign and rotate subject matter experts to the forums; these experts will offer assistance, when and as needed
  • encourage participation from influencers and other forum participants, even going so far as to award them with points toward some reward for their involvement
  • reinforce good behavior and professional conversations; nothing makes an online community go south faster than when the profanity and arguments start rolling
  • not just help customers but listen to them, as well
  • make it a great experience for your customers
Companies can reap real financial benefits - in terms of cost savings, process improvements, reduced call volume, and customer retention - if these online communities are managed correctly.

We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. -J.K. Rowling

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

CX Journey™ Musings: Culture - The Soul of the Organization

Image courtesy of Pixabay
In business, your culture is the soul of the organization.

The soul is the essence or the moral force of a person, their emotional or intellectual energy. It's the the part of you that consists of your mind, character, thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.

Translate that to your company, and it becomes a good proxy definition for culture. The culture embodies the soul of the organization. As I mentioned in a previous post, we know that Culture = Values + Behavior. Core values are the fundamental beliefs of an organization. Further clarified, they become guiding principles, which dictate behaviors and can help people understand the difference between right and wrong. 

“The only thing we have is one another. The only competitive advantage we have is the culture and values of the company. Anyone can open up a coffee store. We have no technology. We have no patent. All we have is the relationship around the values of the company and what we bring to the customer every day. And we all have to own it.” -Howard Schultz

But what happens when your executives' and your employees' behaviors don't align with your values? Bad things. Here are some examples, taking us back to the financial crisis of 2007-2008.
  • Take a look at Enron. Enron's core values were: integrity, communication, respect, and excellence. But their leaders destroyed the company and went to jail for fraud.
  • I've searched for MCI-WorldCom's values, but the company is gone, and so are any traces of their core values. 
  • I couldn't find Lehman Brothers' values either, but I found plenty of articles talking about their toxic culture. And I did find an article stating that executives and employees were rewarded for taking risks - at all costs. That led to fudging the books, as well. So, integrity and ethical behaviors went out the window.
  • If you take a look at Goldman Sach's principles and standards, you'll see the first one states that they do everything in the best interest of their customers - and the last one on the page is all about honesty and integrity. And yet, they admitted to defrauding investors in 2008.
  • Merrill Lynch's principles, which were replaced by Bank of America's core values when they acquired Merrill Lynch, were all about teamwork, client focus, integrity, and more. Merrill Lynch was headed in the same direction as Lehman Brothers because it carried a lot of the same toxic debt/assets.
Do you have any more-recent examples? Maybe not a total fail but some bad outcomes of not living your core values? Perhaps Uber? Others with similar issues/stories?

It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are. -Roy Disney

What's my point? 

It's not to belabor the mistakes of those who failed - and failed badly.

The point is this: values are meaningless unless they inspire and drive the behavior that you expect your employees and executives (they're not exempt!) to display. In other words, your core values mean nothing if everyone in the company doesn't live them.

Is there a reason that employees aren't living them? Are the values regularly-communicated, not just posters on a wall? Is it time to revisit them? Once values are defined, they must be communicated regularly, and they must be reinforced. They can - and should - be updated as the business evolves or changes.

If you don't know your company's values, if they aren't a driving force behind your culture - or if you believe they aren't the soul of your organization - it's time to dust them off and put them in the spotlight where they belong. Don't have any core values? Make sure everyone understands why they are critical to the organization, to the employee experience, to the customer experience, to your culture - and then make the time to get the important task of developing them on the docket right away.

It's the job of any business owner to be clear about the company's nonnegotiable core values. They're the riverbanks that help guide us as we refine and improve on performance and excellence. A lack of riverbanks creates estuaries and cloudy waters that are confusing to navigate. I want a crystal-clear, swiftly-flowing stream. -Danny Meyer

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

We Have a Crisis in Leadership

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Why is employee engagement at an all-time low? Why is turnover as high as it is? Why are employees constantly looking for better opportunities?

When you think about those questions, combined with what I wrote in my post on Employee Engagement: A Confluence of Passion and Purpose...

That engagement comes from within the employee, and yet the company has a role in it, as well. When there's some confluence of: (1) emotions, commitment, passion, sense of ownership, etc. on the part of the employee about the brand and (2) what the organization does (mission, purpose, brand promise, etc.) to facilitate and enhance those emotions or that commitment - then we have employee engagement.
... it makes you question where the company is lacking. And, by company, I mean, the leadership of the company.

So let's talk about leadership.

It's been more than five years since I first listened to - and wrote about - Bob Chapman's TEDx talk about Truly Human Leadership. I've included links to that post in several other posts since then. His message is a powerful one and probably resonates with me even more today. It doesn't hurt that I had a great conversation with him a few months after I wrote that post and learned more about what he and Simon Sinek were doing together to stand up a leadership institute. And since then, I've read his book and watched his Amazon Prime documentary short by the same name, Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family.

Here's his basic, yet powerful, underlying message:
We have a crisis in leadership in this country and in this world. ... In the United States, an estimated 88% of the workforce, 130 million people, go home every day feeling that they work for an organization that doesn't listen or care about them. That is seven out of eight people! These are our mothers and fathers, our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters; they all have a high probability of working for an organization that doesn't care for them as individuals but instead sees them merely as functions or objects, as means to the success of the organization.
He goes on to say:
We're destroying people and killing our culture because we send people home after treating them as objects and functions, instead of caring about them as human beings. We want them more engaged because we want them more productive. We want more productivity out of them because that creates more profits and that creates a better future for the company, but we don't care about them as people.
 Ouch! And yet, so true.

And then this...
The good news is we have the power to change this and begin healing tomorrow. We just need to engage our heads and our hearts in an approach to leadership that validates the worth of every individual, an approach in which everybody matters.
Everybody matters. Amen.

Leaders have an awesome responsibility over their employees. Treat people like people. We are all human. Why do leaders fail to see employees as humans? Why do employees lose human status the second they walk into their employers' offices?

There's more - and the quotes above are from Chapter 4 in his book - but you'll just have to read it to find out what's next. (And, no, I don't get an affiliate fee if you click the link, and Bob hasn't paid me to write about his book. It's just that powerful - and that important.)

If you want to better understand the crisis, check out this video.


It's a compelling message; if this message doesn't move you to do something in your organization, I'm not sure what will. We can change the world. We can change how we treat each other, every day. We can change those employee engagement numbers. As leaders, as executives, we choose.

But what can we do? Where does it begin? How do we move from me-centric leadership and a me-centric organization to a we-centric organization? (Sounds a little like Weology, doesn't it?)

It comes down to culture, right? That's one piece of it.

Having the right values and guiding principles in place is a solid foundation and really creates the framework within which leaders can create an organization that puts people first, profits last, aka Truly Human Leadership. Take care of your people, and they will take care of the business.

The other piece of it is that your CEO and her executive team (the entire team, everyone on the same page) must choose to lead differently. It begins with them. The choice is theirs. The day they choose to lead differently is the day employees take notice. And it's the day that they'll want to become part of the change.

How do you lead differently? Consider adhering to Bob's 10 Commandments of Truly Human Leadership:
  1. Begin every day with a focus on the lives you touch.
  2. Know that leadership is the stewardship of the lives entrusted to you.
  3. Embrace leadership practices that send people home each day safe, healthy, and fulfilled.
  4. Align all actions to an inspirational vision of a better future.
  5. Trust is the foundation of all relationships; act accordingly.
  6. Look for goodness in people and recognize and celebrate it daily.
  7. Ask no more or less of anyone than you would of your own child.
  8. Lead with a clear sense of grounded optimism.
  9. Recognize and flex to the uniqueness of everyone.
  10. Always measure success by the way you touch the lives of people.
Imagine if every CEO ran her company based on these Commandments!

Everybody Matters is about what happens when ordinary people throw away long-accepted management practices and start operating from their deepest sense of right, with a sense of profound responsibility for the lives entrusted to them. -Bob Chapman


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

7 Pillars of a Strong Culture

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Culture is best defined as "values plus behavior" and is often described as "how employees act when no one is looking."

Culture is such an important part of your business. It's really the foundation of the organization.

I've previously defined culture as the set of values and norms that guides how the business operates; culture happens when we operationalize the values.

Herb Kelleher's definition of culture is still my favorite: Culture is what people do when no one is looking.

But while some say culture cannot be designed or is not deliberate, I disagree; it certainly doesn't just happen by chance. If you've ever read about Amazon's culture or Zappos' culture, to name just two, they both are what they are because they were designed that way. They were quite intentional, not happenstance.

Their cultures are rooted in strong core values, as should yours.

Culture should really stand on the following seven pillars:
  1. Mission: describes the business you are in, i.e., what you're doing and who you're serving.
  2. Vision: defines where the company wants to go in the future.
  3. Values: the fundamental beliefs of the organization that guide your employees, identifying right and wrong, good and bad, and how to interact with each other and with customers. If there were no other pillars - and all you had was values (and behavior) - you'd still have a pretty solid foundation for your culture.
  4. Guiding Principles: are more specific than values in how they guide the organization through everything it does; they are more prescriptive in nature. Principles are objective "truths" or "laws," while values are subjective and provide a sense of direction.
  5. Purpose: the company's reason for being, the why. It's typically stated in such a way that helps employees understand who the business is trying to impact and in what way.
  6. Legend: if we tell the story about how the company started or where it came from, it creates a connection for employees, perhaps similar to purpose; it lets them feel how special and unique the company was/is and encourages them to carry that legacy forward, every day.
  7. Behavior: driven by all of the above, but especially by values/principles.
When culture truly stands on these pillars, it's really most strongly reflected in the seventh one, behavior. You can have the other six in place, but if what employees and executives actually do doesn't align with any of them, then it's a big culture fail.

Behavior is reinforced in the following:
  • People: it starts with hiring the right people, those whose values and purpose align with the organization's values and purpose. Culture fit is no joke. Hire for attitude; train for skill.
  • Executive Alignment: executives are not exempt from culture fit, and they certainly must all be on the same page when it comes to each of the seven pillars, the goals of the business, and how the business should be run. Key for executives is to lead by example, to model the behavior that they wish to see from their employees; if they don't live the values, why should employees?!
  • Servant Leadership: leaders within the organization must always put people first and recognize that their employees' needs come before their own. This should be a basic tenet of any culture.
  • Rules and Policies: if policies are out of line with the core values of the business, your employees will be confused; as a matter of fact, if your culture is strong, there's no need for excessive rules and policies.
  • Metrics and Measures: measure what matters; if your performance metrics are not aligned with your core values, don't expect employees to live them. Performance reviews should include core values.
  • Rewards and Recognition: reward the behavior you want to see, the behavior that supports your culture, your values.
  • Events and Programs: these should also reflect your core values; if happy and healthy employees are important to your culture (and they should be!), take a look at wellness programs and similar programs that help employees achieve that state.
  • Communication: the way executives communicate with their employees - and the way employees talk to each other - is a huge part of your culture, as well. Communications, including those to/with customers, should reflect the values, always. And, by the way, values should/must be regularly be communicated.
The bottom line is that it's important to have all seven pillars in place, but culture really is best defined as "values plus behavior."

I'll leave you with this quote, which reminds me of the "What the Hell is Water" story.

Determine what behaviors and beliefs you value as a company, and have everyone live true to them. These behaviors and beliefs should be so essential to your core, that you don’t even think of it as culture. -Brittany Forsyth, VP of Human Relations, Shopify