The New Corporate HQ Game

We have found a fun thing to do that passes five minutes. Lots of people who have found themselves out of a job are taking the opportunity to start up their own businesses. One of the first things to do is launch a web site, which requires a trading address for contact purposes.
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If the trading address is in a city chances are it will be on Google Street View. The challenge is to link the most ambitious company trading address with the humblest abode. Global House International which is really number 4 Suburban Avenue. Some are in blocks of flats, The Galaxy ‘Suite’ can be a giveaway.

It would be interesting to track these start ups, perhaps they will turn out like Google, starting in a garage and going on to world domination; what they won’t need to do is create a more suitable address.

If you spot an interesting one let us know.

The 10 Causal Reasons Why So Much Customer Service Is Poorly Delivered

Looking after your customers would seem to be the most obvious thing to be focusing on in these difficult business times, so why are service levels still so variable and the customer experience generally so unimpressive?

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  1. Nobody at board level is responsible for service performance, why? Because everybody is responsible. This means accountability is fragmented and responsibilities indistinct.
  2. Service is not contained within the strategic focus of the organisation.
  3. There is no service design, no working definition of service in the organisation, few metrics for service performance and little understanding of cause and effect.
  4. At best service, is measured with a one-dimensional customer feedback instrument. At worst, by the number of complaints received, or in a significant minority, not at all.
  5. There is little understanding of the relationship between the intangible aspects of service delivery (the personal interaction stuff, how a customer feels etc.) and the intangible requirements, the service infrastructure. For example, how a call centre operator makes the customer feel (intangible) and the quality of the organisation’s telephony systems (tangible).
  6. Poor integration of technology with the customer experience. See article Integrating People With Technology To Drive.
  7. Front-line staff are measured on operational performance issues not service delivery: the number of transactions in an hour, the amount of sales made etc. rather the quality of experience delivered. This is because operational things are easier to measure and have a short-time impact on the bottom line.
  8. Front-line staff are inadequately trained in service delivery. ‘Smile training’ doesn’t work. See article Developing The Best Kind of Customer Service People.
  9. There is a large cultural credibility gap between the rhetoric of service and the reality of delivery. This makes the front-line cynical, especially when they see posters exhorting them to ‘go the extra mile’ going up around the business when service levels have recently been cut through redundancy programmes.
  10. Management don’t really get it.

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Developing The Best Kind of Customer Service People

First things first; Smile training doesn’t work. A one-day programme covering how to serve customers better, establish rapport and ‘show you care’ doesn’t deliver any real change or lasting benefit. But there are things you can do to really improve front-line service delivery.
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Below we produce a checklist to test your own practices and cultural norms against:

  1. Get the recruitment policies right. It is much harder to develop the right mind-set than it is to improve skills. Whether you use psychometrics or other assessment tools or just really good interviewing techniques, make sure you recruit people who want to engage with customers.
  2. Get induction right. Customer service starts with expectation setting. What are the minimum standards this organisation considers to be acceptable? Create a success metric for this training phase. Performance, rather than attendance based induction drives the improvement of customer satisfaction levels.
  3. Obsessively product train. A customer would rather be sold/advised on the right product in an unfriendly way, than their new best friend talking enthusiastically about the wrong product. John Lewis takes product knowledge/product application understanding very seriously.
  4. Design service processes that support the front line with minimum bureaucracy and maximum freedom to engage with customers.
  5. Use technology effectively. See article Integrating People With Technology.
  6. Deliver transparent success failure criteria, with clear performance metrics linked to service outcomes that the person feels they have some control over.
  7. Incentivise for the service outcomes you want.
  8. Use service champions as role-model coaches, sharing their expertise and motivating others to put in the extra effort that makes all the difference.
  9. Get directors to champion service, raise the profile and status of front-line people. Develop effective recognition schemes.
  10. Only embark on customer service training when all the previous points have been delivered on. This creates a positive, aligned environment for the training to succeed.

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Integrating People with Technology To Drive Transformational Service Delivery

Effective service delivery can be transformed by the effective and clever integration of appropriate technology.
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Anybody who has ordered over the internet and received an instant confirmation email showing everything is correct will know how effectively it reduces purchasing anxiety, especially when followed up with further emails showing order progress. Or the effective application of a CRM system that gives all relevant customer facing staff a single (and 360°) view of a customer’s status in real time.

But organisations are still getting this wrong. A recent example of bad practice we came across in our work was where instead of being asked to select a product by name on the web site, they were asked to pick an SKU number. The back-office system had not been versioned for the front-end customer.

Effective use of technology is increasingly becoming a condition of play, a price to pay if you want to even remain competitive.

However, what has the capacity to make the service experience transformational is the effective integration of technology with the human experience. This is something SalesPathways term High Tech + High Touch, which is shown below:

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It is the combination of these two things delivered seamlessly that delivers memorable, distinctive customers experiences, which drives up both repeat business levels and referral rates.

The reason many businesses struggle with this concept is because their structures and processes militate against seamless integration. See article The 10 Causal Reasons For Poor Service Delivery.

Rigid, functional structures encourage responsibilities to be atomised into neat silos. The customer experience will cross several functional areas, all of which will have a technology component; how is the voice of the customer championed as they make the journey through those experiences?

Which brings us to the other challenge connected to, but different from structures, that of the management of processes. If you design an optimum customer service process and then map it against what currently exists you will see where the service improvement work needs to be done.

By taking a strategic view of technology, integrated into the roles of front-line customer service people, you can deliver significant competitive advantage to your organisation.

To talk over your own technology/people integration issues please contact us.

Are You Director Material?

This month we provide a checklist for you to test yourself against the benchmark for being an effective Director. If you are already a Director then this will provide a wake-up call to make sure you are still doing all you need to.

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  1. Do you have the required minimum intellectual horsepower to understand and contribute to the conversation around Finance, Strategy, Compliance, & Operational Excellence? If you do, but don’t have the skills, develop your own Personal Development Plan.
  2. Do you demonstrate the required Director legal literacy?
  3. Do you keep your personal learning ahead of the rate of change in the relevant sectors? All Directors should demonstrate relevant market insight.
  4. Are you a Leader? Effective Directors are leaders of people, not simply operational or functional managers in a senior position.
  5. Do you demonstrate a passion for what the organisation does? Are you happy being with customers?
  6. Do you have a track record of success which you apply to the benefit of the organisation?
  7. Does your contribution make a transparent difference to the growth and development of your organisation, in addition to your functional responsibility?
  8. Do other people look up to you as a role model? A Director must have the credibility and respect of all levels of the organisation they come into contact with.
  9. Do you have sufficiently developed interpersonal skills? Are you easy to get on with? Will you deal effectively with conflict and difficult situations? Are you self aware? Emotional maturity gives a sense of being personally secure, making you much less liable to indulge in unacceptable behaviour.
  10. Do you have sufficient personal presence? Can you effectively represent the organisation at external events and at company conferences?
  11. Do you put the organisation first, sometimes even when in conflict with your personal life or personal preferences?
  12. Do you behave pro-actively? Doing what it takes, without being asked?
  13. Do you demonstrate the integrity to uphold the office?
  14. Do you uphold the vision & values of the organisation?
  15. Do you demonstrate a capacity for hard work?

Some organisations get this right, others have very little conscious understanding of what being a Director means, or explicit criteria when making Director appointments. One thing is for certain, making ill-informed Director decisions will have long term negative consequences for your organisation, and getting it right will have significantly positives outcomes for many years to come.
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We spend significant time working with Directors and senior managers, in improving team and organisational performance. For more details contact us.

Interviewing An Apprentice

This year’s Apprentice season has come to an end and not only has Sir Alan given someone a new job, he looks to have landed one for himself too.
The Apprentice makes for great TV viewing, with plenty of lessons to be learned, mostly around not putting yourself or your family through a reality TV show. Feedback we’ve received over the last couple of weeks seems to indicate that some people have been watching the interview episode as an instructional video. HR Managers have reported baffled candidates wanting to understand why they weren’t successful, and asking why the recruiter from the line was asking aggressively phrased yet seemingly irrelevant questions.
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Meanwhile baffled recruiters are asking why people don’t want to accept the jobs they’ve been offered – with those candidates muttering about ‘other offers’ and ‘more attractive industries’, to reveal when pushed that the interviewer didn’t seem in the slightest bit interested in talking about the job or their suitability, but fired one weird question after another, occasionally not waiting for an answer.

Recruitment techniques do need to test a candidate’s capability to do the job, not simply to ‘ace’ an interview, and with interview coaching sessions being commonplace employers do seek to ask unexpected questions and challenge experience, however, the simple recruitment rule remains important, you want to know if the candidate can do the job. The best way to find out is a competency based recruitment approach rather than a trial by confusion.
We work with organisations to help ensure that their people recruit against a fair and consistent process, ensuring reliably good hires and a quick transition from new starter to confident performer. To find out more contact us.

Would Anyone Miss Your Brand?

With mergers, rescues and collapses having been a major part of business life over the past year it’s worth reflecting on some of those brands which have disappeared or will disappear soon. This week Lloyds Banking Group has announced that Cheltenham and Gloucester branches will be leaving the high street. Along with them go Abbey, Alliance + Leicester and Bradford & Bingley as their brands become absorbed into Santander. None of the banks brands have been around too long in their current form, they were already merged or contracted names of local building societies, and whilst no-one predicted the banking crisis, takeovers were mooted for all of them long before the credit crunch.
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Walking along my high street I notice that Woolworths isn’t there any more, or Zavvi. Whilst I may have had no emotional connection to Zavvi it was a useful place to pick up a CD on a whim, and I’m sure each time I need a piñata or child’s dressing up outfit I’ll rue the passing of Woolies, but that’s not a weekly occurrence. It’s not inconceivable that Vauxhall will disappear, along with any number of GM brands which merge into an Oldsmobile blur, and I’m sure not in a hurry to learn how to say Setanta properly if they won’t be around next season.

These disappearing brands have been teetering for years and whilst it’s sad to see some go, it’s not a surprise. With each of them the question seems to be “What were they about? What did they stand for?” Customers and employees find it difficult to express what their unique purpose is/was. Whilst they may have had mission statements, they all seemed to share a lack of clear, differentiated purpose. Without a clear, well articulated Purpose Framework businesses struggle to motivate and mobilise both employees and customers. IS your Purpose Framework strong enough to carry you through tough times? To find out more contact us.

What Does High Performance Sales Management Look Like? (And What It Doesn’t)

Why do we employ sales managers? An apparently obvious question gets more interesting when you look a bit deeper. Many sales managers are seemingly employed for the following reasons:

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  • to simply act as a span breaker between the sales director and the sales team
  • to stop them leaving by promoting them into a sales management role, without thought as to their management abilities
  • to curb their earnings as salespeople
  • to manage house accounts (to stop other salespeople earning too much bonus on the biggest clients)
  • so somebody is making sure salespeople are doing what they should be doing
  • to check salespeoples’ expenses
  • to pull the teams activity data together into a monthly report for the sales director
  • to organise hospitality days
  • to organise and run a monthly sales meeting
  • so the sales director has somebody to kick around

All of the above reasons we have seen in our work. For one unfortunate sales manager we talked to in pulling this article together, he felt virtually all applied to him!

Sales managers should be employed because they create a performance premium, i.e. the team would perform to level ‘X’ without a sales manager and perform to level ‘Y’ with the sales manager in place. In our experience there is a significant minority of sales managers to deliver a reverse premium, their leaving would increase the performance of the team.

Let’s look at the those things added value sales managers are doing:

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  • getting the right people into the right roles so they can excel
  • setting high standards of performance, activity and behaviour
  • constantly coaching
  • not tolerating mediocrity
  • always looking for ways to optimise the sales process
  • seeing their role primarily as one of motivating and enabling
  • fighting to get their people the best equipment, resources and information – first
  • supporting their people with good systems and minimum bureaucracy
  • not trying to be the best salesperson on the team but the best manager
  • auditing their own contribution, making sure they focus as much on leadership behaviours as they do on management activities
  • protecting their people from ‘upstairs’ interference as much as possible
  • obsessing about the relationship between the quality and quantity of sales activity and never getting the emphasis muddled up
  • prompting sales excellence by recognising best practice champions in the team
  • making the sales job as enjoyable as possible

 

Turning Difficult Customers Into Lifelong Fans

Do difficult times produce difficult customers or have they just always been there? We recently received this unsolicited testimonial from a participant on one of our sales training courses.
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“I took the bull by the horns and contacted my ‘difficult customer’. I used open questions to all his objections, utilised the cycle technique and pinned him down to an appointment. Success! ……… it has made me realise, that the techniques learned on the course, do actually work. I thought you would like to know this.”

On the course in question (Selling…The Essentials For Success) we had spent some time looking at specific issues affecting sales people and the ‘difficult customer’ kept coming up. Maybe we have a preconception that the ‘difficult customer’ is a particular type of creature that needs handling in a particular kind of way? Or do we just overlook why that person is a ‘difficult customer’ in the first place?

On the course we looked at different ways to approach new and potential customers where everything from understanding your Unique Selling Point to your personal presentation, makes the best possible impact and pre-empts any ‘difficult’ responses. We also explored the relationship-building elements to sales and different techniques to help maintain strong, supportive and mutually beneficent relationships that minimise the possible areas for confrontation.

Of course, receiving this sort of testimonial is always very rewarding and it was no coincidence that we had also discussed the strategic importance of obtaining references and referrals from existing customers. One of the most powerful ways of moving your business forward is through the recommendations of your happiest customers. If they are delighted with you, they will be your best advocates. We discussed ways of getting testimonials and their place in your approach to promoting yourself, your offer and your business. But the unsolicited ones are by far the most satisfying!
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If you feel that you would benefit from help in turning your difficult customers into lifelong fans why not give us a call to talk through some options. Or perhaps you’d like to attend our Selling…The Essentials For Success course? For further information or to book a place on any of our courses please contact us.