Tag Archives: customer management process

Do You Think Your Employees are the Problem? They’re Not — It’s You!

Blog Pictures 048Placing blame for organizational problems is what executives like to do.  If it isn’t unions or a poor education system, it has to be incompetent workers?  This doesn’t exonerate all workers, but 95% of them — yes!

Have you ever worked in the trenches?  We are not talking about when you were in high school or college, but today.  Since you got that executive position, you have been so busy planning and hitting the numbers that you have forgotten what the work is all about.

Customers are being represented by numbers rather than relationships.  That report tells you nothing about what is important to the customer.  Without a touchstone and principles to guide your path over-control and over-engineering reign supreme.

What is a good touchstone?

The Customer.

That’s the big “C” and not the little one.  Not the internal customer and other such non-sense, but the end customer.  The one that pays salaries and provides profit.

Make a customer happy and you stand a chance.  Bury your head in reports and internal drivel — watch for the downward spiral.

What about principles?

Executives embrace dictates — send me a report, project plan and data.  Make a decision and then follow-up with policies, rules, procedures and scripts.  Next, inspect and audit the worker into submission.

Then ask, ” Why are my workers not critical thinkers?”

Your work design seeks compliance — not thinking.  Check your brains at the door and pick them up on the way out!

Principles are something different.  Principles are guidelines developed to deliver what is important to the customer.  Customer-facing workers can think and deliver with principles.  Rules and scripts do not provide that leeway.

So, the next time a counterpart — because you are not the problem — wants to disparage a worker, tell ’em that we designed it that way.  Don’t blame them.

 

Take a look at your organization as your customers see it – our 4-day workshop has been called “an awakening experience.” You will understand the customer view of your organization and take inventory of the assumptions, beliefs and perspectives that drive performance. Tripp Babbitt is a service design architect and organizational futurist. His company helps service organizations understand future trends, culture and customer. The 95 Method designs organizations to improve the comprehensive customer experience while improving culture and management effectiveness. Read his column at Quality Digest and his articles for CallCenterIQ. Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

 

 

 

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A Process of Discovery

Functionally separated organizations have one thing in common . . . they don’t have a clue.

Each function absorbs the demands placed upon them from some IT application and off they go to work.  The unfortunate workers that have to interact with customers that encounter such work design bear the burden of brutal backlash when the service delivered is pathetic.  Such is the life of workers on the front-line.

Management meantime is busy in their respective offices pouring over the latest scorecards that can’t help them manage.  Both worker and manager are frustrated that the other just doesn’t get it.

Does it really matter?

The pointing of fingers does little but create a divide and some kind of organizational class warfare.  both sides so sanctimonious in their debate that each side is deaf to the real problem.  And we think the US political system is a mess, this is – by operational definition – deadlock.

The deadlock can be broken in service organizations.  Customers represent the tie-breaker and focus of to break the deadlock.  If functionally separated organizations cannot agree on anything, they can agree the importance of the customer.  This is true even with the clouded glasses in which they view customers.  Especially, when they see the same thing at the same time.

Debate ensues when we see things together, but can ultimately be resolved by what matters to customers.  It is a process of discovery that bridges the gaps and refocuses our aim.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the The 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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System vs. Individual – One More Time

The shocked looks on people’s faces when I talk about the 95/5 Rule or the resistance to my writing on such a thing is noteworthy.  Usually, it is HR folks and executives that provide the banter.  This isn’t surprising since many of these same people have been doing it wrong for a long time or maybe even promoted based on “individual performance.”

The reality is that the system dictates performance.  Individuals put in bad systems will lose every time.

So, what is a system?

It’s structure, work design, culture, technology, management thinking, measures, compensation systems, training, etc.  that govern performance.  And all systems are different, that is why they can’t be copied into best practices and the one best way mentality.

This does not mean that the individual is unimportant.  In fact, the individual is crucial to performing good service.  Systems need to be set up to enable the individual not disable them.  Unfortunately, work design and management thinking don’t usually allow this to happen.

Most organizations believe that performance comes down to the individual and so they (erroneously) see their systems up around individual performance.  These assumptions around the individual prevent breakthrough performance and create huge and costly waste.  This comes in the form of costly appraisals and assessments of individual performance.

The damage of an emphasis on individual performance doesn’t end with just appraisal systems . . . careers are damaged every day by this thinking.  I see individual performance in management and worker being labeled and then released for their performance.  Can we first fix the systems workers work in before ruining them?

Whenever I work with organizations and the systems are squarely what is being worked on, you can almost hear and feel the collective sigh of relief. They happily go on with the task of fixing the system and improving performance because everyone wants to work in a better system.  The whole tone and culture changes to something positive.

I rarely find bad individuals, but I find bad systems in almost every service organization.  It is evident in the service their customers experience.  Management doesn’t see the damage of bad systems because they don’t know how to look.  They can’t understand unless they go to the work and get knowledge about how bad these systems are in delivering service.

The 95/5 rule isn’t so much a rule as a way of thinking.  Whether you believe the real number is 70/30 or 80/20 or even 60/40 the system still dictates the performance.  All you have to do is look.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Customer Service is Your Brand

Not long ago The Wall Street Journal had an article called Customer Service as a Growth Engine.  The conclusion was that customer service was going to be key for service organizations to gain market share.

US companies spend close to a $1,000,000,000 (a billion) per year on improving customer satisfaction and yet the customer satisfaction peg has barely moved.  One of the biggest reasons are defections to competitors because of dissatisfaction.  Over 90% of dissatisfied customers will never purchase anything from your service organization.

Part of the problem lies in measurement.  Executives focused on bottom-line results have measures around financials and productivity.  But customers don’t care about such things, they care about what matters to them.

Unlike manufacturing, customers in the service business bring a variety of demands to be absorbed.  A talked yesterday about why this creates problems for standardization in the post – A Service Assumption:  Variety, Not Standardization is the Problem.  Customers want service organizations that customize their experience to the variety they bring . . . not droids that comply to internal mandates and audits.

What gets in the way of good customer service is focusing on the wrong things.  They spend money on marketing to change the perception of the bad service they provision to build a brand, technology to entrap front-line workers in poorly designed systems and other well-intended, but cost increasing activities.  I am not against these things, but I find it better to improve service as more cost and revenue efficient.

Happy customers talk . . . and so do unhappy customers.  These days with the emergence of social media good and bad service is communicated quickly to a lot of potential and existing customers.  Trust can be lost in one or a few errant transactions.

Building a brand should begin with the customer experience.  It is the least costly and most effective way to get and retain customers.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Make the new decade a profitable and rewarding one, start a new path here.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about how to get started at tripp@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

Tripp Babbitt is a columist (Quality Digest and IQPC), speaker, and consultant to private and public service industry.

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Break-Fix Industries Toil in Wake of Distrust

 

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I have worked with several break-fix (HVAC, auto repair, home/commercial repair and plumbing) industries in recent months and all have a significant trust issue to overcome with customers.  The variation of service and recommendations made to customers in a profession where trust is needed.  Advertisements and marketing can not over come the general malaise customers feel when having to pick up the phone and call these establishments for service.

I suspect some are rotten to the core, but my experience working with these folks is that the systems are poorly designed and promote inconsistent and wrong behavior in the eyes of customers.  Sometimes its the incentives and rewards workers get for greater productivity or selling a new unit, other times its just poorly designed systems with outdated management thinking.

Whatever it is, when you work with these folks you get a defensive knee-jerk reaction from customers that trust is not present.  Most customers don’t need to be prompted about their opinion or require only a small nudge when you ask them “how the service is?” 

Missed commitments, unmet expectations, repairs being redone, missing/wrong parts, disappearing acts, over-pricing, under-delivering are just a few of the things customers experience.  These all play into the trust factor that customers feel.

As I have collected customer relevant data in these industries the measured performance has been for the most part atrocious . . . as one might expect.  Leading one break-fix company employee to remark “we are constantly exceeding low expectations.”  Customers can only hope that this is not the vision for a battered industry.

The key to this industry will be to get in touch with their customers viewpoint and not its income statement.  The former drives the latter.  This is a wide-open industry that requires only one really good company to reverse the trend.

Ways to reverse the trend are to Perform “Check” on your organization.  This requires you to go to the point of transaction where the customer interacts.  Here, you will understand the “what and why” of current performance.  Good questions to ask about your customer management process include:

  • What is the purpose of this system? Or the customer purpose?
  • What is the nature of demand?
  • What is the predictability of the system?
  • What is the flow of the work?
  • Why does the system behave this way?
  • What are the underlying  assumptions about how the work is managed?
  • To rebuild trust in customers there is a general need to change thinking.  For management in these industries this will require them to change too.

    Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

    Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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    CRM: Worth the Gamble?

    This video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNJl9EEcsoE is a classic, take a couple of moments to watch.  You will enjoy.

    Is this the future of CRM?  Sounds a bit intrusive, doesn’t it.  As a customer, it gives me the heebie-jeebies.  I really don’t want all that information known about me by every one I do business with.  I just want companies to know what I feel they need to know to provide me with the service or product I desire . . . but please, no more.

    CRM (Customer Relationship Management) has the following benefits from what I have researched:

    • More focused “marketing”
    • A way of tracking customer’s buying behaviors
    • A sales tool
    • Builds better customer relationships 

    I am not sure how much is too much, but the thirst for information by companies is insatiable.  But in the words of W. Edwards Deming, “Information is not knowledge, let’s not confuse the two.”  Knowledge about customers comes at the “touchpoints” of the organization (or the points of transaction as my 95 partners would say).  What this means is that we can be misled by data without understanding the context in which it is used.  In a previous blog, Death by Call Center executives believed (from reports) that sales calls were not being converted into sales when the reality was that they were receiving more calls through the sales line because customers were avoiding their IVR system.

    A better (systems thinking) way to get knowledge is to perform “check” (understand purpose, value, flow and constraints) at your touchpoints so the context of the information can be realized.  You can not substitute information for knowledge.  For this reason, I continue to hear about the failure of CRM and the data analytics that go along with it.  These are expensive propositions with software and databases.  Before gambling on a CRM implementation, a service organization should first take time to understand the customer management process.  I believe it is necessary to understand demand, value and flow, something we don’t see from vendors pushing CRM solutions.

    Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt.

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    AT&T: How Not to Do a Survey

     

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    Recently, the AT&T guy stopped by my house to inform me that “the new fiber-optic cable had been installed in out neighborhood.”  Of course he was trolling for business.  I hadn’t updated my phone plan in a while so I decided to see the latest plans.  By the time we had ended I had an upgraded internet connection, free long-distance from my land lines and signed my cable from Comcast to U-verse.  Oh and by the way, I saved myself a few bucks.  It was a ridiculous process that took the poor AT&T guy over 2 hours to complete the paperwork, phone calls and whatever else he was doing on the phone while I blogged and ate dinner while he sat on my porch.  That is probably a whole separate blog that I will complete after my service is installed, gotten the first bill and have settled into what is a bout to really happen to me.

    The part that got my attention was the survey that I was shown as a precursor to a phone call (I’d be getting) about the service I had received during his visit.  I had seen this little “trick” at Hilton Hotels and other Fortune 500 companies.  Here is how this goes: He shows you a copy of the survey and you rank the service from 1 to 5 (1= very dissatisfied to 5= very satisfied) and instructs me that his pay is based on what you give him and anything less than a 5 = Failure.  How in the world are you going to learn anything of value with this survey approach?  If my service was bad, it wouldn’t likely be from his individual performance as those that read my blogs know 95% of performance is attributable to the system, not the individual.

    Further, I am not ready to judge the service by the visit.  I will judge the whole service not each individual part.  I want to know how AT&T performs with regards to the 4-6 hour installation I am going to have, the first billing understanding and accuracy, the quality of the equipment they are leaving me, how well I understand how to use everything to get my work and play accomplished, etc.  To the customer, they see the whole service not just the parts.  If one part fails . . . the system fails (meaning all individual parts). 

    Do you hear that AIG?  If one part loses a $100 billion and other part makes $10 billion, you are a part of that system that lost $100 billion and you should receive no bonus.

    AT&T is a command and control system that has a customer management process based on scientific management theory.  The sales department can walk with their head held high if I give my AT&T sales guy a “5” across the board for a service that is not completed in the customers mind.  AT&T obviously doesn’t get it, which makes me concerned about the rest of the service, but great blogging material.

    The systems thinking organization seeks out issues to fix and not manipulated surveys to broadcast their World Class service (that isn’t) or meet a bonus target.  They are focused on what matters to the customer and gather metrics relevant to the customer.  In service, they understand that each customer is different and has different demands that don’t fit into a “standardized process.”  They understand that value is determined by the customer and lower costs and better service result from this thinking.

    AT&T you are not the only one guilty of this . . . but thanks for the example.

    Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  He is focused on exposing the problems of command and control management and the termination of bad service through application of new thinking . . . systems thinking.  Download free Understanding Your Organization as a System and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt.

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    SLA = Stupid Limiting Agreements

    SLAs seem to be the staple for the customer management process for contracts, performance and operations.  The first time I heard the word SLA I was consulting for a Fortune 500 IT company and they needed to have a group of metrics because of the poor service they had been delivering to their banking customers.  I already was a student of the statistics of Shewhart and Deming, meaning I understood the difference between “common” and “special” causes of variation and also understood that having a service level agreement (SLA) didn’t improve the performance of the organization.  I used SPC (statistical process control) to determine the differences in variation.  All basic to improving the system.

    The problem . . . I was the only one focused on improving the partnership.  The IT vendor and the customer were focused on the service level and not the system.  The customer wanted penalties and the IT vendor wanted rewards (and to avoid penalties).  The two groups spent an inordinate amount of time dickering over what the rewards and penalties should be and I (working for the IT vendor) was to be sure that the operational definition of the metrics was such that the vendor could not fail.  The slew of waste (manipulation, reward/penalty setting, etc.) between the IT vendor and the customer was astonishing.  No one was interested in working together to improve method or even discuss the validity of the original measures. 

    SLAs are no more than targets and create what I believe to be adversarial relationships and distrust, focusing on results not method.  This is no different when the SLAs are internal. I see this between departments and units. “I will get you my work in 2 days or less.”  The problem is the measure is not tied to any customer metric it is all internally focused.  Additionally, the amount of manipulation begins when you hear things like “the clock doesn’t start until I open your request” and they don’t open their email for a week . . . did they really hit the SLA?

    A better “systems thinking” way is to understand purpose from a customer perspective, derive measures and then find “new” methods.  This avoids the waste associated with measures that do not matter.  Workers that understand good customer metrics and expectations can be creative in changing method.  Partners (like my Fortune 500 IT company and their customers) can achieve continual or continuous improvement by working together on method, not SLAs.

    Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  He is focused on exposing the problems of command and control management and the termination of bad service through application of new thinking . . . systems thinking.  Download free Understanding Your Organization as a System and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt.

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    The Standard Email: Acknowledgement, Order Status and Thank You

    We all get them the standard email when doing business with an organization.  “We acknowledge receipt of your order” and “Thank you for your business.”  It’s appropriate to thank someone and acknowledge their order.  It is just so  . . . automated.  I like the thank you, but it doesn’t sound real or heartfelt.  I will soon forget this company and may buy from someone else just because the experience wasn’t memorable.  Some services may get away with this, but if I am spending money that is significant . . . I want more . . . your customers want more.

    Technology change management has brought us email and it saves money which for the command and control thinker is a bottom-line proposition.  Order status emails makes me wonder how much money they are wasting in technology and other non-value-added tasks to tell me the status, they are locking in waste.  As a customer I am left wanting more service and am more likely to refer business with a feeling of belonging than a “cost-saving” email.  If my experience is bad or didn’t meet my expectations the “standard” survey does not account for the variety of demand that I want from a service.  Standard emails, scripts and technology can not absorb this variety and usually lead to increased costs.

    The customer management process must be appropriate for this variety of demand.  We are in desperate need of methods that lead to absorbing this variety.  Studying customer demand is a good starting point.  The type and frequency of demand will tell us how to redesign our services for customers to “pull” value.  This method will allow a service organization to achieve business improvement, business cost reductions and new business with a more customer friendly and “systems thinking” work design.

    Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  He is focused on exposing the problems of command and control management and the termination of bad service through application of new thinking . . . systems thinking.  Download free Understanding Your Organization as a System and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt.

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    Marriott Hotels: Is Standardization and Profit a Problem?

    I am staying this week at the Marriott World Center where I have done speeches and stayed many times over the past three years.  Every other visit has been for business, but this visit is different . . . this one is the family vacation.  You know . . . wife and two kids “vanilla variety, see Mickey and Minnie, play golf” vacation.  I have almost always been upgraded at this hotel as it is a huge, massive place.  I really never needed the upgrades when by myself on business.  But now that I am on vacation with 3 others, I wanted to be sure I would get a place with plenty of room.  I requested an upgrade half expecting one and when I called a week ahead of time, it was confirmed I would get one of the big rooms.  The internet description confirmed from room details also indicated I would get this large King suite room with sofa pullout and two TVs and pool view. 

    Armed with phone and internet confirmation I felt pretty confident when I strolled into the lobby on last Friday morning that my upgrade would be imminent.  When I checked at the front desk I was immediately told no upgrades were available and that the fact I was using points would get me the least of the rooms available.  WOW, Platinum elite and glad that my points were so valuable when I really needed to use them.  I was sent to the front desk training manager who informed me that I couldn’t get the room I needed until Monday (3 days latter).  I relented weary of finding a new spot at this late date.

    On Monday, I checked with the front desk in the morning and the room still wasn’t ready, “but would be later that evening.”  Never happened (late that evening) and spoke again to a front desk manager who informed me that not only would I not get a suite, but that she would see what she could do for Wednesday.  I’ll let you know what happens from here.

    What I have learned is that the reward points cut into the profitability of a single hotel and this is why they prefer that even Platinum guests not use their points at their destination.  Their customer management process and selection of the “lowest grade” rooms for those using points will discourage a guest from using points at their hotel in the future.  The problem is they take the value from the entire Marriott hotel network and frequent travelers talk about this stuff a lot when they speak with general travelers or amongst other frequent travelers.  The casual traveler seeks the frequent travelers opinion about destinations and experiences . . . word-of-mouth not accounted for on a balance sheet or income statement, but all the more important than all the commercials they run.

    Additionally, I learned that the internet confirmation room detail sheet is a standard and in the words of one manager “not representative of the actual rooms we have” therefore the reason for my misunderstanding.  I have no other source to go to than what they represent to me on the internet.  Another failure of standardization and technology in the eyes of the customer. Customers only know the truth by what they see and hear, they can’t read service organizations minds on what is valid and what is not.  Further, these standards also inhibit the absorption of variety that customers seek in services something again not accounted for in Marriott’s customer management process.

    All I can hope for is that someone from Marriott or other hospitality industry folks read this and start down the path to systems thinking the industry’s service is in a decline and they are sorely in need of business improvement that will keep them focused on the customer and not the financials.  Value before profit needs to be the mantra.

    To learn more about systems thinking, download “Understanding Your Organization as a System” from www.newsystemsthinking.com or read the blogs at blog.newsystemsthinking.com.  These are free resources to a better way.

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