Thursday, 10 January 2019

Training Counts

I recently returned from a trip to another country where we stayed in a very good hotel in the centre of town for the first time.  Our check in was somewhat “fraught” as the member of staff on duty didn’t seem able to find the reservation we’d made for my wife, myself and our daughter.  I suspect that part of the problem was that we’d used an internet booking site to make the booking, but it also became clear that a lack of experience was also contributing.  In the end, we managed to sort things out. 

What particularly impressed me was that, throughout what was clearly a very stressful situation for the staff on duty, his voice remained calm and he seemed to be going through a mental “troubleshooting checklist” to resolve the problem.  He didn’t try to hide behind excuses, he stayed calm and finally referred to a colleague with more experience who was able to find our reservations.

Training had obviously “kicked in” with the young man and he followed it perfectly.  Although he lacked experience, someone had clearly told him that, no matter what, he should remain calm and keep telling the customer what he was doing (which he did).  The net effect that was that we, as guests checking in, felt that he was doing everything he could to identify the problem and find a solution.  Through no fault of his own, it was simply technical knowledge that was lacking (or forgotten).

Yes, it was annoying that we experienced this at the start of a holiday we’d been planning and looking forward to, but the situation could have been much worse.  Throughout we were handled with respect and kept informed. Often, I’ve found that when there’s a problem, people withdraw and don’t want to tell one what’s going on, or where the problem is and this is how problems escalate into crises and complaints.

Training can’t be underestimated in these cases, and yet the training budget is the first to be cut when times are hard, with the resulting impact on quality of service.  For me, this was a clear-cut case of “training pays”. We’ll certainly stay in that hotel again.



I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My websiteprovides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.


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Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Policy

Every organisation, business and even person lives by “policies”. For organisations, they’re usually written down and given to employees to read when they join.  For individuals, their “policy” is the personal code by which they live.

I was recently at a store at which I heard an employee explaining to a customer that they couldn't take back goods because it was “policy”.  The usual expectation in circumstances when one returns goods is that if one brings them back to the point of purchase along with the sales receipt, one will obtain either a refund or be allowed to exchange (say), faulty goods for ones that work.  

In this case, the customer wanted to exchange an item that was more than one week old (but still in its packaging, so therefore untouched) for one of a different colour.  They didn't want their money back, just a simple exchange.  This particular item had been bought as a gift.  The sales staff was explaining that the store couldn't accept returned items after more than 2 days because it was “policy”.  

The staff concerned was in a difficult situation.  Their job was to follow policy, even though in this case it was unfair on the customer and was clearly resulting in ill will towards the business.  Whatever the legal position vis-à-vis the return of goods, two people were in a situation not of their own making.

Whilst the employee at times seemed to be almost “hiding” behind the phrase “It’s our policy” (they couldn't do anything else), they weren’t in a position which gave them any choice.  They also hadn’t been trained to put things in such a way as to explain why the policy existed (I suspect that they themselves didn’t know).

“Policy” is intended to keep an organisation running smoothly.   At times, however, it interferes with good staff relations and/or good customer service and relations.  In the case above, a strict returns policy should have been explained to the customer when they bought the item.  Equally, a degree of flexibility could have been possible as the goods were still in “mint” condition.

If our policies stop us from providing great service to our customers, shouldn't we be changing them? If, for whatever reason, we can't, should we be explaining the impact they have to customers when they buy goods?

Communication is key, as with most customer interactions.  If we communicate well, we may be able to avoid a lot of unpleasantness.   

I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My websiteprovides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Simple Language is Key

I recently received a message on LinkedIn that started, I am [name removed] from [name of company removed”, an FnB company in the B2B SaaS space helping restaurants retain better and build their brand online.”.

By this time, many would have deleted the message.  What I think the gentleman meant to say was “My name is … and I am [title] for [name of company].  We specialise in providing Software as a Service to restaurants to help them retain customers and build awareness of their services online.”

Whilst this may not appear much of a change, it removes the jargon.  When we're selling to someone we don't know, we need to know who they are and what signals they understand.  If we’re face to face with them, we can see whether they’re male or female, younger or older, and may even be able to hazard a highly subjective guess at their wealth, sophistication, educational level, economic success and PC literacy.  The next part of the interaction is to check whether these guesses are right.

When we’re contacting them over the phone or (in this case) LinkedIn, we only have a name.  

We could do some research on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google or others to see if they have a profile and picture.  If there’s little/nothing, there may be something available about their business. 

Whatever happens, an introduction in simple language is best.  My own reaction if someone approaches me with nothing but jargon is, “If I can't understand you, can I trust you?”  More to the point, I will probably (as I did) just ignore the message and spend my time on things I do understand.  The product on offer may be just what’s needed, but if a busy business owner can't understand the message quickly without having to look up “SaaS” or similar, they're unlikely to respond.

“Plain English“ is becoming the standard in certain UK businesses, mainly due to customers complaining that they can’t understand terms and conditions or other aspects of their relationship.  One of my banks has gone as far as re-heading the columns we know as “Debits” and “Credits” to “Money Out” and “Money In”.  

Jargon doesn't impress. When talking with peers in the same industry, it’s fine.  When talking to customers, simple language works best.  If they understand it, they're more likely to trust the seller.


I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My websiteprovides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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Saturday, 15 December 2018

Technology: Pain or Pleasure?

I saw an amazing infographic that justified the use of technology in disrupting what one might think of as “traditional” industries or services.  It went like this:

Netflix did not kill Blockbuster.  
Ridiculous late fees did.

Uber did not kill the taxi business.
Limited access and fare control did.

Apple did not kill the music industry.
Being forced to buy full-length albums did.

Amazon did not kill other retailers.
Poor customer service and experience did.

Airbnb isn’t killing the hotel industry.
Limited availability and pricing options are.

Technology by itself isn’t the disruptor.  Not being customer-centric is the biggest threat to any business. 

Whether one agrees with all the above is moot. What the message is though is clear: if you don't look after your customers, technology has evolved to the extent that it can take business away from any organisation that can’t provide a great experience.  

There are some things I won’t buy online (however great Amazon’s refund policy and process are – and by the way, they’re terrific!).  I suspect that all of us have certain things that we like to see and feel/hold/touch/test before committing to parting with large sums of money. However, there are certain things we will buy “sight unseen” (except for a picture) based on what we see on a website and any comments from previous buyers.  

I have also come across instances where “technology” itself can’t provide a “customer-centric” service. Most often, this manifests itself is so-called “help desks” not responding to email queries, or sending standardised answers.  Apple, in my opinion, are particularly prone to this as they tend to answer requests for support by sending links to articles on their customer forums.  The problem with this is that some of those answers either seem to assume a level of computer awareness approaching genius level, or are written in a language few can understand.

So yes, even “technology” can get it wrong.  If the technology and its developers aren’t  sufficiently customer-centric, the service will suffer the same fate as the industries above.  Technology isn’t the answer in itself, it’s simply another means to an end – great customer experience.  The problem is that too many forget this…

I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. After more than 20 years in the global financial services industry running different service, operations and lending businesses, I started my own Performance Management Consultancy to offer solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My websiteprovides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

  

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Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Whose “Monkey” Is It?

In management speak you may have heard the expression “to put the monkey on someone’s back”.  This refers to the process whereby one person transfers responsibility for solving their problem to another.  Sometimes, this is correct (e.g. when the first doesn't have the experience, technical skills or authority).  At other times, it’s due to more devious reasons.

The ability to distinguish between when the monkey should be on your back as opposed to on someone else’s is a key skill for managers.  Look at the following two examples and decide whether “A” or “B” should be carrying the monkey.

Case 1
A: Boss, there’s a customer with a problem who wants to see you.  
B: What’s the problem?
A: I don't know, but they asked to see you.

Case 2:
A: Boss, there’s a customer with a problem who wants to see you.  After finding out what it was, I can see that I don't have the authority to approve the refund of the charges we took, so wonder if you could see them.
B: OK.

In the first case, “A” should have found out what the problem was before speaking to his/her manager. It could have been a problem that they could have handled on their own without involving them.  Of course, if the customer demands to “see the manager”, it can be difficult to refuse without making the situation worse, but simply passing the proverbial buck without trying to find out if we can help isn’t the way.

In the second case, “A”, checked what the problem was and realised that he/she wouldn’t be unable to bring it to a complete close.  He/she was right to refer at this time.

Now take a third example:

Case 3:
A: Boss, there’s a customer with a problem who wanted to see you.  After finding out what it was, I realised that I could [insert suitable action here] to sort it out.  I also suggested that they checked back in a week’s time to make sure things were still working and, if not, that we could look at giving them a refund.  As I don't have the authority to approve the refund of the charges we took, I’d need your support on that.
B: OK.

Here, the team member has diagnosed the problem, suggested a solution and worked out a backup in case it doesn't work out.  

In an ideal world, this is the level to which we want to train our team.  For this, they need:
  • Technical knowledge;
  • Experience;
  • Problem diagnosing and solving skills;
  • Limits of authority.

If any of these elements are lacking, they can’t do the job we need them to.  The monkey has to climb onto our backs.  It’s amazing how often one sees exactly these circumstances, with managers complaining that their people “can’t cope” and “pass all the decision-making to me”.

It all starts with selecting the “right” people (and paying them appropriately).  We’ve all heard the classic saying “You get what you pay for” – it applies across the board.  If we want good problem-solvers who really can take some of the strain, we need to pay them and then train them.  Equally, if someone isn't measuring up, we need to train them more or move them.

We can only put the monkey on someone else’s back if they’re trained (and authorised) to carry it.


I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My websiteprovides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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Monday, 26 November 2018

Mistakes Are Good

II imagine that anyone reading this must be wondering if I’ve finally taken leave of my senses.  I haven’t and feel that we can learn from mistakes.  

When we’re young, we learn by making mistakes.  Watch any child playing a computer game and they will master it far faster, simply because they don’t mind making mistakes to learn how to progress in the game. Their goal is to learn to play better, not to avoid mistakes.

As we grow older and start going to school, society teaches us that “mistakes are bad” and that it’s better to avoid them.  In some cases, we can learn not to make mistakes by learning the correct mathematical formula for calculating the answer to something (although we may make mistakes in applying it – that’s why we’re told to “show our workings” in the exam paper).

Mistakes are good because we learnfrom them.  How many times have parents, teachers, relatives or friends quoted “learn from your mistakes” at us?  A mistake is often the best way to reinforce why we do, or don’t do, something in a particular way.  We remember the embarrassment, pain (perhaps) and/or financial cost of a mistake and we learn not to repeat it.  We can say to a child “Don't put your hand on the hot stove, it’ll hurt you.” It’s only when they see (or feel) this for themselves that they learn that it’s a mistake to touch a hot stove with one’s bare hand.  Knowledge, as Hyrum Smith said, is one thing, but experience gives you wisdom.

The first step is to analyse what the mistake was; the next, what caused it to happen.  Next, we ask ourselves whether anything could have been done to avoid it (or can be done in the future).  Finally, we put in place the processes, rules, training or equipment to make sure the chances of a recurrence are minimised, if not eliminated.

I used to do a lot of acting.  I found that the Dress Rehearsal, where we went through the entire performance with lights, sound, and all the people and support crew involved, showed us where mistakes could be made so that we could learn from them and fix them before our first public performance. 

Yes, it’s bad if we make the same mistake again and again.  Making it once is forgivable.  Sometimes, though, we have to fail short-term to succeed long-term.

I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My websiteprovides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Ideas Can Come from Anyone…

I recently finished reading “Break the Pattern- The Science of Transformational Value Creation” by Dr Ahmad Rahman Songip.  I had heard Dr Songip speak at a business forum and his views on bringing about change struck a chord.  His examples range from Ford to Fernandes (think “Now Everyone Can Fly”) …

One of the main points Dr Songip makes is that ideas come from the people who deliver and use our products or services.  Customer Experience and Market Research are about tapping into these ideas, but the “usual” way of going about them sometimes leads organisations up the wrong path, mainly because they fail to listento what’s being said.   It was this that led to the undoing of the Ford Motor Company as America’s top carmaker from 1931 onwards, and Tony Fernandes’(still haven’t looked him up?) ability to tap into what others say that has propelled him  and his business to the top slot in his particular niche.

The ability to understand the true state of our organisation, for Dr Songip, is the starting point in moving forward.  Failing to understand results in changes not being achieved.  What, he asks, are your “pain points” and where do they impact the value chain?  

If our organisational culture discourages honest discussion on what’s wrong, is likely to result in a plan that in neither appropriate nor effective, based on management assumptions and wistful thinking.  

Added to this is the “silo” or “functional” division of organisations into areas of expertise, but which, often, have conflicting objectives which impede smooth service. Silos can (and indeed will) be necessary for the reasons I’ve already mentioned, but to really move an organisation to the next level, they all need to understand how their individual activities impact the whole product or service delivery.  Silos make it easy to distribute goals and orders down the chain of command “top -down management”), but more than ever, exceptional customer experience requires a “bottom-up” approach.  

Our question as managers is how we instil this process without destroying the value already embedded in the organisation.  


I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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