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Evaluating the Evaluators

Companies spend a lot of time and money on evaluating their employees and making sure their frontline employees delivering the best possible service and helping customers as much as possible. However, the same companies often forget to evaluate someone who is just as important: the supervisors and other managers who oversee these frontline employees.
Evaluating supervisors is a subtle science. The supervisors’ supervisors can evaluate them, which is somewhat useful, or better yet, the employees who report to the supervisors can evaluate them.

Companies spend a lot of time and money on evaluating their employees and making sure their frontline employees delivering the best possible service and helping customers as much as possible. However, the same companies often forget to evaluate someone who is just as important: the supervisors and other managers who oversee these frontline employees.

Evaluating supervisors is a subtle science. The supervisors’ supervisors can evaluate them, which is somewhat useful, or better yet, the employees who report to the supervisors can evaluate them.

Try to make it a regular process to send a survey to employees (making sure the feedback they give will be kept confidential) asking them to evaluate their supervisors in a number of areas. Ask how the supervisors encourage career growth and development, ask about how accessible they are, and so on. Consider the problems and issues that have been reported and then ensure the survey contains questions that address those problems and issues.

After the results are in, it should be pretty easy to compare multiple supervisors against each other fairly objectively. If most supervisors do really well in one area and one doesn’t, it’s most likely a problem with that particular supervisor. If the entire group of supervisors does poorly in one area, chances are a policy or a procedure needs to be changed or implemented to address that area.

What is important is that supervisors know that employees have a chance to express their concerns and that they need to be held accountable as well. Employees often have good ideas about the ways things should and shouldn’t be and they work with their supervisors on a day-to-day basis. Chances are, their feedback about how their supervisor works (or doesn’t work) is something that would be useful to know.

Make your systems work for you.

zwei fensterI got an email from the head of customer service at Lawline.com today letting me know about how they recently redesigned their main internal system and made it so it focuses more on customer service and the customer service experience. Having systems that work for you (instead of systems that make you work for them) is absolutely critical to customer service success.

More and more businesses are getting more and more reliant on technology to help them on a day-to-day basis. I work almost exclusively with technology/Internet companies in the work that I do, so my point of view is admittedly biased, but even with that in mind, it’s impossible to deny that customer service and technology are at least somewhat linked.

What happens to a lot of companies is they buy or build expensive software that ends up causing a number of problems for customers. “The system won’t let me do that” is probably one of the worst excuses any customer service representative can give to a customer and should be avoided at all costs. Any system you use should be specifically designed to help customers and to ensure that the customer (service) experience is as smooth as possible.

When you’re designing or buying back-end systems for your company, make sure they’re going to be able to suit your needs and that they’re flexible and extensible. I’ve always loved “notes” and similar features that let you add personal details about a customer and their relationship with your company. Other systems calculate the profitability levels of various customers. Some let customer service representatives know what the customer is and is not using and where any additional sales opportunities might lie.

What the systems need to do really depends on your industry, but make sure that any system you consider buying or building is going to be able to do what you need to do from a customer service perspective. There’s nothing worst than having the people, time, and skills to do some customer service “magic” and being stuck technology that just prevents it from happening.

photo credit: loop_oh

Improving a Department in 4 Steps

Over the last week or so, I have been working with a company on improving the service experience within a small department of theirs. The department has about 5 employees and a relatively simple, but also important job within the company’s broader customer service department. The department was in need of attention, so I took a simple and straight forward approach to improving it. Here is what I did:

  1. Met with the employees. My personal style is to talk to employees about what the problems and opportunities are before I talk to managers about the same thing. Some people do it in the opposite order, but I prefer to talk to the employees first. One of the first things I like to do when I’m given a broad assignment (e. g. “Make this department better.”) is sit down with the employees in the particular  department and ask them what they think they do well, what they think needs to be improved upon, and what their ideas are in a very casual, pressure-free way. Before I go into meetings, I do my own research into the questions and come prepared with my thoughts and opinions as well (going in completely blind is a waste of time).
  2. Took their ideas back to the drawing board. After I met with the employees, I took their ideas and feedback back the drawing board. I did more research on my own and used their feedback and thoughts to come up with a flow chart of how I envisioned the revised process working. I then went through the department’s operating procedures and revised those in accordance with the flow chart I had just come up with. Even though many people hate them, I like flow charts. They’re great at visually showing how something (should) work and what needs to happen when something else happens.
  3. Went to the manager(s). At this point, I went to manager in chart of the department and showed him what I had come up with. In this particular situation, the manager was on board. In other situations, some back and forth between you and the manager/boss/co-worker might be necessary.
  4. Went back to the employees (with the manager). After the manager and I had come to an agreement about how everything should work and solidified some more details, we went back to the employees and pitched/introduced our ideas and what would be happening. This meeting was a lot more formal than the last one. There was an agenda, handouts, etc. There were a few minor suggestions / comments from the employees, which we took into consideration and used to update the procedures accordingly.

This process was highly effective and relatively painless. The time from first meeting to implementation was about a week and we’ve continued to follow up since then to tweak things further, but overall, this schedule and general procedure for making changes tends to be effective within support organizations. When you involve the people who do the work on a day-to-day bas in the decision making process, getting changes made and implemented will be a lot easier.

Is Your Service Edgy?

fireworksThe weather was the type that drives you indoors on a Saturday afternoon. It had been a hard travel week and I needed some unwind time; perfect conditions for two back-to-back Academy Award winning best picture movies. The first was the 1995 winner – Braveheart; the second was the 1996 winner – The English Patient.

The order of movie viewing was a big mistake. I only watched 2/3rds of the second movie. Now, before you play the “Guy Movie” card, you should know I actually prefer movies with more plot and less gore. But, Braveheart was so “in your face,” heart-pounding edgy that The English Patient seemed plain vanilla by contrast. The first movie made me ready to go out in the front yard and charge something; the second made me ready for bed.

I was on the Zappos.com website buying my wife a pair of shoes. I needed to get a bit of help from their call center smart person. The experience was terrific … and, a lot of fun. Then, I tried to order a shirt from another well-known e-tailer, including a conversation with their call center helper. The second experience was as unexciting as The English Patient.

Customers are generally bored with service these days. They long for Braveheart edgy. They want sparkly and glittery; a cherry on top of everything. And, when they get edgy, every other service provider is compared to that memorable experience.

So, what are you doing to stimulate all your customer’s senses? Think of the service provider with the most passion, most pizzazz, or greatest boldness. What if you invited them to reinvent your service experience? How can you decorate your customer’s experience in a way that makes it exciting, original, fun, entertaining, unusual, special, different, amazing, or any other descriptor that can take your customer’s breath away?

Writer Bio: Chip R. Bell is the author (with John R. Patterson) of Take Their Breath Away: How Imaginative Service Creates Devoted Customers. He can be reached through www.taketheirbreathaway.com.

photo credit: E. Bartholomew

Mayo Clinic Changes the System

mayoI got an email about an interesting new book called Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic: Inside One of the Worlds Most Admired Service Organizations. The book obviously focuses on the world famous Mayo Clinc, a non-profit medical center based in Rochester, Minnesota. There is a lot one can learn from the Mayo Clinic (I’m planning on interviewing the book’s authors soon), but one of the interesting things I saw in the summary of the book is the Clinic’s decision to pay its doctors on a salary instead of by procedure.

I know very little about how hospitals work and how the medical profession in general works and that’s not what I’m going to focus on here. What I’m interested in is how the Mayo Clinic went against what might seem like a logical system and instead decided to use something that focused on overall customer satisfaction instead of profits.

This isn’t unheard of. CarMax puts their sales representatives on salaries to ensure the advice and guidance they give is more motivated by eventual customer satisfaction than it is by short-term commission gains.

Your compensation system should be based on the goals of the customer, not the goals of the employee. When the two can align, great, but when they don’t, it’s a problem. For example:

  • Most car dealers are paid on percentage commissions. This encourages the car dealer to sell the customer a more expensive car (bad).
  • Real estate agents are paid on percentage commissions. This encourages the agent to show the client more expensive houses (bad).
  • Plaintiff attorneys get a percentage of the settlement or award. This encourages the attorney to get the most money for him/herself and the client (good).
  • Some sales people are paid based on a flat commission. This encourages them to make a sale, but not a specific sale (better than bad).

And so on. The Mayo Clinic deciding to pay its doctor on a flat salary that wasn’t dependent on the number (or expense) of procedures and focused on patient well being is something they do to ensure long-term patient and satisfaction and well being. If you don’t rip your customers off and instead focus on getting them solutions that actually make sense for them, you’ll make more in the long-term.

Photo credit to Nephron via Wikimedia.