Archive for the ‘Business Processes’ Category

Hammer and NailI’m currently reading the 10th anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto. The first edition came out in 2000, so even this edition is a few years old. For those unfamiliar, it is a classic book that had its genesis in 95 theses posted in 1999 at – a site largely kept as it was then so current readers can have much the same experience and appreciate the beginnings of something remarkable.

The basic premise of the theses and the resulting book is that markets are conversations and if businesses want to remain viable, they will have to get a clue to the impact of the Internet on how those conversations are affecting markets. I’ll write a book review soon and will say much more about it then. For now, I would suggest anyone interested check out the website where you can read the original book for free. You should at least read the 95 theses posted on the home page. The fact that they were written in 1999 may blow your mind. Talk about insightful and ahead of their time! I read them for the first time a few years ago and I am still deeply impressed by them.

That said, the purpose of this post is to relate one story from the book about customer service. All of us are customers of many sellers. We’ve had good and bad customer service experiences. We share those experiences with others and today have incredible potential reach via online social networks to magnify those praises or rants far beyond the walls of our homes.

Enter normally mild-mannered grandmother Mona Shaw. We read about her in the book’s section “Markets are Relationships”:

In August 2007, Mona Shaw took a hammer to her local Comcast office. Literally. First, BAM! She blasted the customer service rep’s keyboard. Then BOOM! She took out a monitor. Then POW! She destroyed a phone. People screamed and ran. When the cops showed up, WHACK! She hammered the phone, one more time. Up to this point, there was nothing exceptional about Mrs. Shaw. She was a retired nurse. A grandmother. She took in stray dogs. She went to church every Sunday, and was the secretary for both her local AARP and a square dance club. What made her snap was something even less exceptional: awful customer service.”

I think I’m in love with Mona Shaw! Who among us hasn’t wanted to do something similar after an infuriating experience of bad customer service?

The chapter goes on to explain the details of what transpired over several days to put Mona past her breaking point. I won’t go into all of those details here, but suffice it to say that numerous things happened, including:

  • service people showing up days late;
  • service people not finishing the job correctly when they did show up;
  • having their phone number of 34 years changed without their knowledge or permission;
  • getting lost in a maze of bad call center phone systems;
  • having services shut off;
  • having to wait outside the Comcast office in August heat in hopes of speaking with a manager, only to be told hours later that the manager had left for the weekend.

The following Monday is when Mona returned with her hammer and sought her revenge.

I’m not advocating violence in response to bad customer service, but I can understand the emotion that leads one to at least think about it. If we have paid our hard-earned money to a company for a product or service, we expect reasonable action if there is an issue with that product or service. We expect a timely response. We expect people to do what they say they will do. We expect things that are wrong to be made right. We expect to be treated with respect and courtesy. We may not necessarily expect to be on the receiving end of the attitude that “the customer is always right,” but we at least expect to be on the receiving end of a genuine effort to help by someone who cares.

This same section of the book begins with a quote from one of the authors, Doc Searls: “When all you’ve got is a hammer, bad service looks like a nail.”

I hear regularly about exceptional customer service experiences with companies like Zappos and Fitbit and maybe a few others. I hear way too often even more stories of bad customer service. I can’t speak for any company – not even my own – regarding matters of customer service because that is not a business area I have ever been assigned to except in a minimal way as it might relate to another role I have.  Therefore, I won’t presume to pontificate about what all other companies ought to do in every customer service circumstance. Those involved know details I do not.

Still, I know that as a customer I have the option of going elsewhere for most types of products and services. If I am disgusted enough with companies I current relate to, or if I am pulled away by better promises and agreements by competitors, I will likely make the move and not look back. I may go quietly, or I may not in this day of social media amplification of an individual’s message.

I don’t expect to grab a hammer and start bashing keyboards, phones and monitors of those who tick me off, but I will take my money and my loyalty elsewhere if needed customer service sucks. I wish more businesses understood that. I wish more businesses cared.

Do you have a story of exceptionally good or bad customer service you’d be willing to share? I’d love to hear it in your comment.

Dilbert Vision

When I think of ambitious goals that I have seen or personally attempted in businesses I’ve worked at, it is easy to recall some that were successfully achieved and others that were not.  Of course, there are many factors that go into the success or failure of each individually, but I’d like to share some thoughts around the high-level components of any major endeavor and the business personnel implications of those components.

Vision.  Someone or some group of people needs to have and share a vision that others buy into.  If the company is to be more than it has been, if it is to make forward advances rather than maintain the status quo, then that vision needs to exist, be communicated, and willingly shared by those expected to implement the necessary actions to support the vision.

Some leaders are outstanding at this, sharing a vision and then providing high-level guidance, wisdom, and inspiration to keep the ship on the right path.  Others, unfortunately, may think they are good at this, fancying themselves as vision casters while the people lower in the org chart know it’s just a passing fancy most likely influenced by the latest book, article or conference to which the leader was exposed – one that will only be top of mind until another book, article or conference replaces it.  People in the trenches learn to not pay much attention to these types of pronouncements.

While those at the helm of organizations should be the primary sources of vision for their orgs, they should not discount the potential insights and contributions of others at any level of the org chart.  Being visionary is not limited to certain roles or pay scales.  Vision from others in the org need not compete with the large-scale vision for the whole enterprise.  It may relate only to a specific part of the business with which that employee has great familiarity.  As long as such smaller scale visions fit within the larger ones, they may be great assets to help move the enterprise forward.

Plans.  Some may not like me grouping strategy in with the plans section here, but I do that with the understanding that strategy refers to the high-level plans which must, of course, be broken down into far more detail for implementation.  How many times in different settings have we heard some grand vision proposed, only to never see it come anywhere close to fruition?  Why does that happen?  Perhaps because the vision was never translated into the necessary strategy and detail plans to make it happen.  Merely thinking about a direction we want to go (vision) doesn’t actually move the needle in that direction.  It takes plans and the people who are good at making those plans to take this vital step.

Action.  Finally, the plans have to be carried out.  They may or may not be executed exactly as originally planned, based on the ongoing evaluation process used to make adjustments and changes as needed, but it’s certain that the vision won’t become reality without people actually taking action to get it done.

It should be obvious that any major initiative in business needs the three components above.  Visions without plans die.  Plans without actions fail.  Actions that are not tied to plans made to implement the larger vision are wastes of time and resources.  That isn’t earth-shattering news.

However, there are personnel implications that we may need to remind ourselves of from time to time in light of the above components.  First, it will take a variety of people, skill sets, and personality types to fill all the roles required to formulate the vision, make the plans, and implement them.  Very few people are good at all three of the above.  Many enthusiastic entrepreneurs ultimately fail because they do not have and do not hire to account for the breadth of abilities it takes to handle everything from seeing the big picture to implementing the detail actions needed.  In a large organization, though, there is more likely a variety of people available to get the job done if they are properly positioned in the effort according to their passions and abilities.

It is tempting when hiring for an organization to hire others like ourselves.  After all, each of us thinks he/she is wonderful, right?  We might think, “How can I go wrong with adding more people like me?”  The truth, however, is that in addition to our strengths, we also have weaknesses whether we see them very clearly or not.  We’re really not good at everything individually, and it’s in our best interests as well as the organization’s for us to know where we need help.  We need people around us who are complementary (as in completing the knowledge and skills needed by a team) rather than just complimentary (as in paying us compliments).

If we do a good job at bringing on a variety of people to make up the right teams, then another challenge will quickly present itself – learning how to get along with a mix of others.  That takes people skills, some positive character traits, and a willingness to work together in spite of occasional differences.  It can be done with the right team.

When our team at work was looking to expand recently, we had to take time to consider where our gaps were, where we needed help, and what new roles fit within the overall vision of where we are going and our strategy for getting there.  I’m pleased to say that last week was the first week for our newest teammate to join us and next week we’ll welcome another addition to the team.  Those additions, along with shuffling some responsibilities between team members, will better position us to move forward the remainder of this year toward accomplishing the vision for our area, one that we know fits within the larger vision of the enterprise.

It isn’t enough in competitive business today to be mediocre, to remain the same, or to cruise along doing what you’ve always done just because that’s the way it’s always been done.  It takes vision, plans, and action to get from point A to point B in a desired time frame, and it takes the right mix of people all working well together to make the journey successful.

Do you know your company’s vision?  Do you know where you and your area fit within that vision?  Do you have a strategy and plans you can articulate to do your part?  Do you have the right team in place to get it done?

I wrote the following while on a Southwest Airlines flight yesterday from San Francisco to Las Vegas.

I have long been a fan of Southwest Airlines for several reasons, and each flight with them reinforces the notion that more businesses would do well to learn from them.

For example, some of the positives include:

  • They don’t gouge the customer with extra baggage fees, still allowing two bags per customer without fees, all while maintaining a low fare.
  • The boarding process is simple – first check-in, first board without assigned seating.  Some don’t like that, but I do.
  • The flight attendants are allowed to show their sense of humor in making announcements.  Moments ago, one announced “If you’re traveling with small children, what were you thinking?” and then after giving the instructions for inflating the life vest in case of a water landing, she said “If none of that works, I hope you can swim really well.”  There were other nuggets scattered throughout the flight.
  • Lastly, they have a long-standing reputation of excelling at customer service.

Too many companies get caught up in presenting themselves in some so-called “professional” manner that they forget to do what is in the best interest of relating to and serving the customer.  Older, larger companies are especially prone to this mindset.  If they would loosen up some, they may just find that people relate to them more and like them better.

Oh, to have more leadership in businesses that value simplicity in business processes and a culture that makes the experience for the consumer a positive one from start to end.

Leap year lesson #237 is More companies should be like Southwest Airlines.

I’ve had a few occasions lately where multiple meetings on a subject are proof that some people are inclined to spend way too much time planning the simplest things.  At some point I want to just say “Stop talking about this and do something!”

In one case, a colleague and I are locked into one meeting a week for more than a month just to plan another series of meetings.  I have a very low tolerance level for meetings to plan meetings.  We know what we need to do.  We could sit down together one time for a couple of hours and do all the planning needed.  All other individuals and departments we have met with about the same process have gotten the idea in no more than 30 minutes and are ready to act on it.  Unfortunately, we are not in charge of these particular meetings or the later ones being planned, so we have to endure the over planning.

The other situation with too much planning is related to a conference at which I am speaking later this month.  What is most needed at this point is for the panelists to have some extended time together to walk through the panel discussion and finalize who will address which topics during the talk.  Instead, we continue to talk about slides and eventually rehearsing the discussion at some point.  I think just doing the rehearsal will be the most beneficial preparation and will, itself, determine which of the many possible slides we include in the final discussion.

Planning is good.  No major endeavor should happen without it.  But it’s possible to plan too much.  At some point we need to act.  We can’t always think through every possible risk or issue that might come up before we try something.  That’s OK.  We learn best by doing, anyway, so we may as well get to the doing part as soon as we can.

There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to planning.  Be mindful of when you hit that point.

Leap year lesson #218 is Stop over planning and do something.

I spent hours today getting only one-fourth of the way through a slow, frustrating process I have to do every few months.  What is it?  It’s going through over 1000 screens of names in an online report and manually pulling out relevant data I need.  The software I must use for this provides no way for me to sort or filter the information by criteria I select, and also provides no way for me to export the data into a format I can manipulate as needed.

1019 screens of 20 names each with one other column of info beside each name…  How could anyone release such a feature in a software application?

Either throwing such a report in the product was an afterthought with no real planning put into it, or it was only envisioned for use with the smallest of companies that wouldn’t have 20,000-member online communities using the product.  Regardless of how it came to be, it is woefully inadequate.

What amazes me is how too many companies rush to get products to market without adequate testing and input from consumers.  It took me all of two minutes the first time I saw this report to come up with the obvious need for filtering, sorting and exporting the data in order to be useful.  Any real customer could have told the vendor that after a few minutes with the product.  Were customers asked?  Apparently not.

I’ve seen our company do the same too many times to count.  A handful of the wrong people are involved in the design of something, neither focus groups nor real users are asked for input, and deadlines driven by arbitrary and unrealistic dates that minimize the time for adequate testing all converge to roll out a product that is mediocre or downright poor.  Then, if anyone cares to correct what is wrong, far more time is given to redo the work than would have been necessary if it was done right the first time.

Businesses and leaders need to stop being driven solely by what is expedient in the short-term and start caring about the quality of what they deliver.

Leap year lesson #212 is Do it right the first time.