Ten Ways Customer Service Development Is Misunderstood

As many marketplaces increasingly commoditise, the significance of delivering excellent customer service increases. That being the case, why do so many organisations deliver poor service making the majority of customer service experiences at best unmemorable and at worst hopeless?


Below we list the most common mistakes organisation make in delivering excellent customer service:

  1. They have no working definition of service, what it is and what it isn’t.
  2. There is no service measurement, no success/failure criteria.
  3. Having nobody on the Board responsible for service success/failure. If everybody is accountable, nobody is accountable.
  4. Service should be hard-wired into performance management across the whole organisation.
  5. Poor understanding of customer requirements. Often an offering is designed around what works for the selling organisation rather than what works for the customer, Bank opening hours being a classic example.
  6. Too much focus on front line exhortation to ‘go the extra mile’. Delivering excellent service cannot be demanded. Delighting the customer comes from discretionary effort; people have to be motivated to want to serve customers brilliantly.
  7. No service design imperative. Excellent service starts with processes, systems, structures and tools not with smile training. All customers would rather receive right first time service delivered to meet their needs from somebody miserable, than a happy smiling person emphasising with them over why there has been a service failure.
  8. The basics done brilliantly are more important than unasked for extras delivered on top of an unachieved minimum.
  9. A dynamic and challenging customer feedback system.
  10. People in front line roles who don’t like people. This is only a fair criticism of them when points 1-9 have been successfully achieved.


Laying out the issues that surround effective service delivery are straightforward, an organisations’ appetite and ability to make it happen is something else.

Transitioning From Sales Manager To Sales Director – Why Many Find It So Hard

In coaching sales managers a reoccurring development need that comes from their boss is ‘they need to be more strategic’. Below we list the six major issues we’ve found helpful in repositioning sales managers:


  1. Many sales managers achieved the position because of their energy and industry. As managers they still run their teams by being into every facet, making sure everything happens and generally being a constant cheer leader for the performance of the team. This makes them very tactical in outlook. They need to learn to stand back a little more, be less of a ‘plate spinner’ more orchestra conductor.
  2. They often remain the best sales person on the team. This is a dead end. The only way they are going to position themselves differently is by recruiting and developing people who are better than they are.
  3. Many people who go into selling have a very practical, task focused approach to work. To make career progress they need to add (not replace) to that a more conceptual perspective. ‘How’ and ‘When’ are the sales managers watchwords, ‘What’ and ‘Why’ are the Sales Directors.
  4. They need to learn about strategy. They need a bigger picture perspective, their world has been sales targets and budgets, it now needs to be more strategic, as much about tomorrow as today. This intimidates a lot of sales managers; thinking strategy is very theoretical with lots of models to learn. It isn’t. Fundamentally strategy is about a five step process; doing some analysis, making some choices, writing a plan that moves the business from a current to desired state, implementation, and finally reviewing and monitoring progress.
  5. They need to manage up in a more sophisticated way. Rather than simply focusing on the numbers they need to focus on raising their profile in more senior circles. Boss management and internal networking need to move up their agenda.
  6. They need to make themselves available for project work and development initiatives. Always being too busy to widen their role means they will be permanently labelled Manager.

Put simply they need to direct more and manage less.

If You Like Simplicity – A One Page Sales Strategy

Strategy can often become over complicated and the sales version contain too many complex second and third layer requirements.A different approach is to look at what you want your sales strategy to deliver. For a Business to Business sales organisation requiring to develop existing customers and find new ones, we have distilled what people need to do into three actions that, if done properly, will deliver everything a sales strategy should be about:


  1. To constantly increase the number of high quality, profit yielding customer relationships.
  2. To increase and extend lifetime customer value by constantly unlocking new opportunities with all active accounts.
  3. To deliver enhanced customer experiences through revolutionising all interactions – in all (integrated) dimensions – at a constantly lower cost.

For some organisations there will be more focus on point 1, new customer acquisition, for others more focus on the second, increasing the amount of business done with existing customers, but all salespeople will in some way need plans for both of these vital sales activities.

The third area is more difficult simply because it involves other parts of your organisation. All the evidence shows that the way your whole organisation engages with the customer impacts on both your customers’ loyalty and their repeat purchase motivations. Sales people should be at the heart of understanding the levers that affect customer buying decisions and be able to effectively orchestrate their improvement.

Pre and post sales activities need to be brought into the sales persons’ sphere of influence. Too much sales people’s time is spent expediting their own sales, recovering difficult situations and apologising for other departments. By taking a more holistic view of the customer the sale function becomes much more sophisticated is its dealings with its own organisation.
By organising what people do around these three themes you will achieve real strategic clarity.

= deeper engagement with larger numbers of more profitable customers

What Is Really Going On When Designing Sales Incentive Schemes?

You would think wanting to create something that was really going to motivate sales people to perform to higher levels than they would ordinarily do would be positive for everyone. And that’s where you would be wrong.
Below we have put together the five most common ulterior motives we have come across when the subject of sales incentive schemes is on Senior Managers’ agendas.

  1. Depressing salespeoples earning capacity. By far this is the most significant (mostly) unspoken driver. We are quite happy for salespeople to earn some bonus/commission … but not too much. And watch out for a bumper bonus year, the next year’s scheme will be all about clawing back to a more ‘reasonable’ level.
  2. ‘As long as they don’t earn more than me’. It’s interesting how often a cap on sales earnings is closely related to a managers pay. We operate a simple maxim – any individual team member can earn more than their manager, but if every team member achieves more than their target none will earn more than their manager (who should be well rewarded for getting every team member above target).
  3. Something that is just achievable. For many organisations ‘stretch’ means getting a lot more sales from the team with as little pay-out as possible.
  4. Complexity that conceals management manipulation of the data.
  5. First past the post systems that set members of the same team against each other, so rather than focusing on beating their targets, they are encouraged to focus on beating each other. Apart for the obvious inward perspective it also creates more losers than winners – not a good motivational move.

If you would like to design a world class sales incentive scheme we can help. Getting the principles right can have a profound impact of the effectiveness of any scheme you might deploy. For more information contact us.

It’s Time To Get Real With The People You Still Employ

We are seeing an interesting people issue emerging as we move into a post-recession environment.

A strand of the workforce that survived the redundancy programmes but was only just competent in their roles. They were happy to keep their heads down and the employer having cut the overhead dug in for the reminder of 2009.
These businesses are now looking to grow their revenues as quickly as possible back to pre-credit crunch levels, which means having a look at the quality of the people who will make it happen, and they are faced with a stark truth. The quality of your business performance will never exceed the quality of the people responsible for its delivery. The only exception is if you are lucky enough to have a product or service that people want to buy in spite of the people they have to deal with.

Managers who can only rationalise and justify problems are no good to you when your marketplace is sluggish and/or volatile. You need people who can transcend their current environment and develop new conditions of business, moving from a reactive stance to a much more proactive one.

It isn’t the worse performing people which hold an organisation back; it’s having too many mediocre ones in key positions. And there is a further brake on this being sorted out as a function of normal market conditions. Any recovery is unlikely to drive high levels of new employment, slow improvement continues to create a very tight jobs market, so these very average managers are not going anywhere of their own volition. This can create a real sense of negative change inertia, the good people who hoped the leaner organisation would be more agile and innovative find it’s even more frustrating than before.

The challenge for HR is to move from downsizing to genuine building of bench strength. It’s the only way to grow the business ahead of a poor demand curve.

What People Do On Trains

Train travel is instructive for observing the work habits of ones fellow passengers. We think it is a very under researched area of human behaviour deserving of more attention.
Computer Jockeys
Hunt and peck typing is still the most popular form of typing. It’s interesting to see a form of genuine equality, neither sex seeming to have lots of competent typists. Our unscientific research shows Word and Excel being the most common programmes (excluding email see next section) with PowerPoint a very poor third. It’s much more common to see people watching films, although interestingly more in the evenings than mornings, a treat after work perhaps?

Still a common activity. Note taking and list making the most prevalent forms.

Only to people you’re travelling with, otherwise a very weird thing to do.

BlackBerrying (or version of) very popular. Often done with lots of frowning, either due to frustration or difficulty reading the screen.

We think this is less common than it used to be. Very little on the morning commute unless train delayed, evening calls ‘I’m on the train’ still easy to overhear, but generally the serial phoners are a smaller hard core.

Reading/Annotating Work Stuff
Prep for meetings easy to spot. Evidence of lots of printing still going on. Like all reading sends a lot of people to sleep…

Staring Out The Window
Who knows if this is work related?
Non Work Activities

We think more common among younger travellers. Burning multiple ends of several candles perhaps? Snoring seems to be generally tolerated by fellow passengers

Newspaper Reading
If you work for a national newspaper you must weep every morning when you see the number of Metro readers.

It’s in the non work section because so many people are smiling while they do it. People seem to enjoy text messaging.

Book Reading
Pleasingly still common.

Media Players
Noisy headphones the most annoying thing on trains, watching video becoming more common.

What is fascinating to speculate, is how much peoples’ industry on the train has anything to do with the quality of their productivity, and how they contract with themselves around the balance of work/non-work activities.


Managing In A Changing World

We may now know when the budget is going to be, and from that it’s a short logic leap to know when the next general election is going to be, but even William Hill is reluctant to speculate too strongly on who the next UK Government will be. What we do seem to know for sure is that a new Government will bring new changes, and regardless of the ministers in charge it’s safe to say those changes are going to bring at least as many challenges as they will opportunities for the organisations we work in.
Planned change can work really well when organisations have time, resources and clear parameters to work within, and confident enthusiastic managers and leaders to help implement that change. Yet change isn’t always planned and sometimes it’s us that’s reacting to change created by others. The ability to withstand constant change, to remain resilient in the face of relentless change, and to have the confidence and capability to drive yet more change through successfully in change weary organisations will be a key management skill for the teens (the teenies?).

How well does your organisation handle planned and unplanned change? How well positioned are you to be flexible in the face of a changing marketplace?

Change – Nothing Is Secure, Nothing Keeps

We have been doing a lot of work on Change Management recently. The impact of the recession has been felt across both the private sector and public sector alike. The effects of restructuring and cost-saving policies are driving change across organisations large and small. And it’s not just the nature of change that people are struggling with but the unsettling feeling of one initiative after another; so that they hardly get to grips with one new change before another follows hot on its heels.
We tend to think that the rate of change today is faster than ever before and it certainly feels that way when we’re in the middle of the latest round of initiatives. It may be to do with the way we look back on the changes we’ve been through, but in our minds it always seems steadier in the past than it is right now. However, over two thousand years ago, ancient Greek philosophers commented on the pace of change even then, “What can we take on trust in this uncertain life? Happiness, greatness, pride – nothing is secure, nothing keeps” remarks Euripides in Hecuba.

There are some principles and techniques that can help with managing change whatever your circumstances. Here are some the key points we’ve found working closely with very different organisations dealing with large-scale change:
Change is messy by its nature – there are times when it’s difficult to see all the details, where they all fit or how they all join up. We have to step back and focus on taking the ‘helicopter view’ and not obsess over the finer points.

Change means being in-between – neither one thing nor the other, it is the stage where we haven’t quite let go of one way of working nor quite embraced the new way. We need to understand and appreciate how different people respond to change and provide the appropriate support.

Change is disorienting – some people like the feeling of dislocation, some hate it and others are simply sick of too much change. It is important here to provide some clear objectives, no matter how small, towards which people can direct their focus.

Change is challenging – there will always be obstacles and resistance to change; some we can expect and prepare for, others we have to take in our stride. It is crucial that once started, we keep going, keep up the momentum but be flexible in dealing with resistance and not bludgeon our way through.

Change is not and end in itself – change for change’s sake can be counter-productive, without a clear purpose or focus, change becomes a blind force that can do more harm than good. People need to know what is going to change, specifically, and how and why.

What Are The Conditions Required For Effective Sales Coaching To Happen?

One of the most misunderstood and misapplied areas of sales practice is around sales coaching. In a recent conversation with a new client who had been struggling with this for some time, and wasted considerable money ‘training’ people in coaching, they asked if we could put together some material to make sure they don’t make the same mistakes again. They’ve given us permission to share an overview of some of the resulting work.
The prevailing culture has a huge impact on either enabling or inhibiting the development of coaching practice, because good coaching is a non hierarchical, colligate process, not something management ‘does’ to subordinates. Blame cultures are toxic to coaching. A good test for organisational coaching suggestibility is how sales best practice is viewed. Are the most successful salespeople involved in a learning process of what makes them good at what they do? More often they are left ‘to get on with selling’ while the ‘less good’ are sorted out with some ‘coaching’.

The next most significant factor is the role of sales managers – what is the source of their credibility? If it comes mainly from being previously successful as salespeople, or simply from their more senior position, they will struggle to coach. Also we found a direct correlation between the amount of time managers spent in the field with the likelihood of them being good coach material. Desk-bound managers who ran their teams from spreadsheets and through email had less to offer so consequently achieved little learning transfer.

Finally it was the coaching process itself. There are many coaching models, the simplest and most powerful is:

Performance – Feedback – Review – Repeat (differently)

Each of these phases has their own success criteria to work in an optimised way. The faster you can make these learning loops, and the more effective your learning distribution system,the faster you improve performance, both individually and organisationally.

We can help both to create a culture conducive to coaching and embed coaching capabilities into your sales organisation. To discuss further, please contact us.

Notice Board Translations

Spending lots of time in organisations offices you see many things pinned on notice boards, cubicle walls and dividing screens. Below are the most common ones (seen more than three times in different companies over the last 6 months).


  • You don’t have to be mad to work here… but it helps!
  • ABC Always Be Closing
  • Careful, wacky/zany sense of humour present
  • Don’t work harder, work smarter
  • Think outside the box
  • Careful with your work/life balance
  • Careful, you’re attitude is on show
  • You are what you eat!
  • What goes round comes round
  • The Customer is King

After you get past the banality, the most striking thing about them is how desperate they are. It’s a law that anyone with a zany sense of humour would never say so. Also notice three begin with Careful, the parental zeal to admonish is very strong. The lack of ambition/aspiration/originality is very also dispiriting.
But then we realised they are actually written in code. They are designed to send out much more meaningful, organisationally subversive messages.

We think we have worked out the translations below:

You don’t have to be mad to work here… but it helps! – A sense of humour is needed to put up with the awfulness of working here

ABC Always Be Closing – Our sales practices are dreadful and unprofessional

Careful, wacky/zany sense of humour present – Careful, boring people about

Don’t work harder, work smarter – Since the last round of redundancies, we have to do two jobs and take a pay cut

Think outside the box – We have no new ideas and not a clue how to innovate – help!

Careful with your work/life balance – We’re worried about the amount of self-medication people are employing to cope

Careful, you’re attitude is on show – We have lots of racist, homophobic people working here

You are what you eat! – The staff canteen is a health risk

What goes round comes round – Revenge is a dish best eaten cold, be careful

The Customer is King – We are republicans and have a low opinion of royalty

Now these signs are fascinating. We look forward to discovering others and their real meanings.