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Four Ways Senior Leaders Can Be Aware of Customer Issues

There are four key ways that senior leaders can make sure they stay in the loop regarding customer issues:

1. Spend Time Talking to Employees
Senior leaders should use a structured process for interacting with employees so front-line issues can be discussed. This is important for both leaders and as well as employees in that it makes workers feel valued but also helps senior management better understand the things staff are dealing with.

I experienced a great model for this which in an organization which invited employees to eat lunch with the organization’s president on their milestone (5, 10, 15 year) anniversary dates. A monthly lunch with front-line employees was hosted by the senior executives and employees were encouraged to share ideas and work related challenges. The model worked extremely well, helped facilitate quick problem resolution and was an encouragement to the employees. It’s pretty amazing to see how quickly some problems can be resolved when an engaged senior executive gets involved.

2. Collect and Analyze Performance Data
Collecting and analyzing performance data is a fundamental management practice for any size organization. Every organization should identify measures of success and monitor them on a monthly basis. Senior leadership is responsible for interpreting the data and responding to data trends.

3. Manage by Walking Around
Walking around and mingling with employees is a great way to better understand operations. This tactic works well because employees interpret leadership presence as an indication that they care and walking around allows the manager to observe behaviors, customer response and potential issues that may not be reported by data.

4. Test the Service or Product
Senior leadership should always be familiar with products or services offered by the organization. Whether it is surfing the company website, sampling the food in the kitchen or watching the printing process in operation, the senior leader should experience what the customer experiences so they can help influence improvements.

The current economic environment demands that issues affecting products and services affecting the customer experience be identified and resolved quickly. Customers today don’t have the patience to wait around for needed improvements, so neglecting to break the Iceberg of Ignorance may very quickly affect the bottom line.

Do you know what your employees know about issues affecting the organization?

Patricia is the President and CEO of The Thriving Small Business, a business performance consulting company. Patricia helps small businesses develop and grow by helping them create infrastructures that support increased revenues, decreased costs and improved customer experience.

Iceberg of Ignorance – Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

IMG_7713I was having lunch with a colleague and we were talking about some issues she was having at work. She was saying how difficult it was to get her senior leadership to understand issues the front-line employees deal with every day. She shared concerns for what she described as a big disconnect between employees who interact with the customers and upper management. It reminded me of some research I was exposed to years ago – The Iceberg of Ignorance.

The Iceberg of Ignorance is based on a study that was done by Sidney Yshido in 1989 which indicated that senior management often fail to understand business operations from the perspective of the customers and employees. The interesting finding of this study was that this can affect a company’s profits by as much as 40%.

The study revealed the following:

  • Issues known to senior management were 4%.
  • Issues known to managers were 9%.
  • Issues known to supervisors were 74%.
  • But front-line employees were aware of 100% of the issues that affect the product or service that was being delivered to a customer.

How can senior management be so clueless?
The art of recognizing and solving problems is essential for leaders. Senior levels of the organization should strive to be in tune with day-to-day issues confronting employees. Unfortunately, if there is not a structured process for gathering and analyzing performance data, executives can fail to see what is affecting employees and sadly their customers. Whether it is a broken purchasing process, faulty manufacturing equipment or an aging facility – senior leaders need to be aware so they can help resolve issues.

What is troubling about these findings, is that the very people with the ability to affect positive change for the organization, are the ones who are not aware of the issues that employees or customers are dealing with.

Four ways that senior leads can be aware of customer issues will be covered in another post this week.

Patricia is the President and CEO of The Thriving Small Business, a business performance consulting company. Patricia helps small businesses develop and grow by helping them create infrastructures that support increased revenues, decreased costs and improved customer experience.

photo credit: Jenny Varley

How to Leverage What You Do Right!

checkI saw a commercial today for an exterminating company that advertised the ongoing training their employees receives. I’m not looking for an exterminator but it made me think about the importance of using what your organization does right and leveraging it as part of your marketing plan.

We moved a few years ago and I researched moving companies to help us. The only way I knew to assess these kinds of companies (this was before Angie’s List) was to ask about their internal practices. I asked if they provided training for their employees and if they solicited customer satisfaction data. I was truly surprised at how different the response was from company-to-company. I ultimately picked a business that did both ongoing training and solicited customer feedback. This was important to me because it told me that employees were put through a structured training program (I didn’t want them dropping my TV) and if they asked for customer feedback, they were probably more likely to respond to customer issues.

So what kinds of things is your organization doing right that you can leverage?

  • Training: Depending on the industry, most people place value on training. Whether it is customer service training or mechanic training, most customers feel a level of comfort in knowing the people who are taking care of their needs have had the appropriate training to do so.
  • Background Checks: Whether you have service technicians who enter customer homes or are a daycare center who takes care of small children, communicating that background checks are part of your screening process can help ease the concern of potential customers. I worked with an organization that hosts a large summer day-camp every year and they do background checks on the army of volunteers they use to manage the children. Parents find comfort with that.
  • Accreditation: Accreditation and certifications demonstrate a person or organizations credibility in providing products or services. Whether your organization is accredited through the Better Business Bureau or have certifications in information technology, the paying customer is interested. These kinds of credentials are what separate the professionals from the not so professionals.
  • Financial Transparency: Nonprofit organizations that solicit and rely on outside funding and donors benefit greatly when they provide financial information to donors. Donors want to know that the money they are donating is being used wisely and for the purpose it was intended.
  • Customer Satisfaction: When a customer purchases a product or service, they want to be reassured that they will receive what was promised to them. Collecting, monitoring and advertising customer satisfaction data can be a powerful tool in marketing to new customers. Customers want to know that their voices will be heard.
  • Quality Data: Organizations that track quality data can use it to advertise products or services. Whether an organization has won the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award or can claim a 0.001% product defect rate, quality data can be a great way to sell your product or service.
  • Best Places to Work: Customers like to do business with organizations that have happy employees. Being nominated or winning awards for best places to work is another way to demonstrate creditability with the community and improve employee engagement.

Organizations that advertise the things they are doing right have the advantage of attracting the educated consumer. The ever-changing consumer driven culture demands more and more transparency in how an organization is run so you might as well boast of your good practices!

What are other things you leverage in your marketing plan?

Writer Bio: Kathy Clark is an MBA who is passionate about helping small business owners see their vision come to life by creating corporate infrastructures that support business development and growth through strategic customer focus. She writes for, and is the founder of http://thethrivingsmallbusiness.com.

photo credit: PNASH

How Do You Know When Your Customers Are Starting to Stray?

Putnam County Route 12 - New YorkMost businesses tend to focus their efforts on growing along a single dimension: acquisition. Good ones take it step further and focus on “service recovery,” making every attempt to retain a customer’s business after something has gone horribly wrong.

Great businesses recognize and actively work a third dimension by paying attention to those cues that indicate their customer is becoming disinterested. When these leading indicators start to show in the customer relationship, great businesses recognize it and begin cultivating the relationship once again to make sure an event never takes place that requires “service recovery.”

So, how do you know when your customers are starting to stray? A recent dining experience with my family is the perfect example.

My family traveled to another town last weekend for my daughter’s basketball tournament, and with time on our hands before tip-off, we decided to grab a bite to eat. I found a few restaurants in the area using the iPhone app Around Me and picked one based on the menu and reviews.

We were initially happy with our selection. The place was clean, had a nice atmosphere, and a great menu. The restaurant was packed, which is always a good sign. But our initial enthusiasm slowly gave way toward indifference when every “leading indicator” I presented went unnoticed.

What were those cues?

  • The first was little or unclear direction from my “coach” — in this case, our waitress, on the product. I was torn between two entrées, and when I pressed for information and a recommendation on each I got a very tepid, non-committal response. The waitress couldn’t speak to either product, probe with any questions around why I picked those two, and basically left me with little to use as the basis of my selection.
  • The second cue was the most obvious: disengagement with the product. The entrée I selected was not good. I made that clear by leaving the plate of food virtually untouched. Strike two was when I declined another drink, and strike three (you’re out!) was when the waitress picked up the nearly full plate at the end of the meal and asked the standard, “Was everything okay?” question to all of us. Recognizing disengagement with the product and proactively saying, “You didn’t seem to enjoy the entrée. Can I ask why?” would have been the right thing to do.

The customer lifecycle can be measured in years, months, or in some cases, in just a matter of hours. Not recognizing the warning signs can result in lost business and unfavorable word of mouth feedback. Recognizing those leading indicators and taking immediate action to put a customer back on the “happy path” are just as important to business growth as acquisition and service recovery.

Are your customers starting to stray? How would you recognize that and what actions would you/should you take?  Share your thoughts!

With twenty-plus years working in a variety of contact center roles, Larry Streeter now heads up the award winning Customer Support team at Constant Contact, the leader in online marketing tools for small businesses. Insuring the 1.2 million calls, chats, and emails his staff handle each year with nothing less than an “awe-inspiring” experience is Larry’s passion. With a keen eye for recognizing service triumphs and failures, Larry loves to shares his experiences on his blog, www.serviceexcellencedefined.blogspot.com.

photo credit: dougtone

How Can FOCUS PDCA Help Improve Business Operations

Improving what we do and how we do it is an important part of business strategy. As organizations develop and grow, there is any number of improvement opportunities along the way. Opportunities can be related to business processes like the accounting function, a manufacturing process or a service process aimed to improve the customer experience. No matter what the process is, there can be a systematic approach to making improvements.

A quality method for improving work processes is a model called FOCUS PDCA. This methodology takes a process through identification of the improvement opportunity, planning for an improvement, implementation and evaluation of the change.

The first step in any improvement is understanding the current process by establishing a baseline. A baseline is measurable data that is collected at the beginning of an improvement project. For example, if you want to improve the wait time for customers, it is important to measure what the current wait time is. Once you know what the current wait time is, you can develop a process to improve those times. Measurement of any improvement effort is done at the beginning, during and after any improvement effort.

So how does FOCUS PDCA Work?

  • Find: An opportunity for improvement.
  • Organize: A team that is familiar with the process.
  • Clarify: Understanding of the process.
  • Understand: Variation in the process.
  • Select: What needs to be improved.
  • Plan: Develop an improvement plan.
  • Do: Execute the plan.
  • Check: Review the results and determine if the plan worked.
  • Act: If the plan worked, standardize the change and write policy. If the plan did not work, go back and try something else.

Let’s look at an example of how this might work. Say you are a small business that does product order fulfillment. There are increasing numbers of customer complaints about the order-to-ship time. The business has been growing but you have a fear that the complaints will have an impact on future orders. Let’s go through the FOCUS PDCA Cycle:

  • Find: The opportunity to improve is the product order-to-ship time.
  • Organize: Recruit a team of employees who work in the order fulfillment role.
  • Clarify: Map out the order fulfillment process in a flowchart. Start with when the order is placed and map the process through shipment.
  • Understand: Collect data so you understand any variations in the process.
  • Select: Identify what in the process can be improved.
  • Plan: Develop an improvement plan.
  • Do: Implement the plan.
  • Check: Collect data to see how the plan worked.
  • Act: If the plan worked, write a policy and train employees on the new process. If the plan did not work, go back to the beginning and try another improvement idea.

This is a very simplified example of using FOCUS PDCA, but what you will find is that if you try this method on a few small improvement opportunities, you will become more comfortable and will be able to use the same methodology on larger system problems.

Writer Bio: Kathy Clark is an MBA who is passionate about helping small business owners see their vision come to life by creating corporate infrastructures that support business development and growth through strategic customer focus. She writes for, and is the founder of http://thethrivingsmallbusiness.com.

Check Sheet – Why Use a Check Sheet?

Check sheets (or tally sheets) are one of the seven management tools that organizations use to gather information to help monitor and improve quality. The beauty of using a check sheet is that it provides data (facts) about how a process is working and offers information about improvement opportunities. The check sheet collects data for the number of times an event occurs. By tracking the frequency of an occurrence, an organization can learn about a process.

Check sheets should be designed to collect information that is needed to assess a process or system. The data collected gives a quick glance at problems with the number of occurrences in a designated period of time.

Check sheets work best when a person can observe and document the number of times an incident occurs.

When deciding whether or not to use a check sheet:

  • Determine what process needs to be observed.
  • Determine the kind of information that needs to be collected.
  • Determine the period of time the data will be collected (days/weeks).
  • Designate a person or persons who have responsibility for collecting the data.
  • Make sure there is a good understanding of what information needs to be collected and the process for collecting it.
  • It is always wise to do a daily check on the collections to make sure employees are being diligent with collecting the information.

The following example shows what a check sheet looks like. In this example, the human resource generalist is tracking the kinds of phone calls she receives regarding benefits and payroll. You can see by the information gathered on this check sheet that this person got the most number of phone calls on Tuesday and most of the questions were about the paid time off benefit. This information is important in that it shows the busiest day of the week for answering questions but it also shows that there are a lot of questions about PTO.

The next drill down on this would be to have the generalist collect data on what kinds of questions are being asked.  This information can then be used to develop a FAQ list, updating the employee manual and/or additional benefit training.

This is a simplified example of a tool that can be used to identify all kinds of improvement opportunities.

Writer Bio: Kathy Clark is an MBA who is passionate about helping small business owners see their vision come to life by creating corporate infrastructures that support business development and growth through strategic customer focus. She writes for, and is the founder of http://thethrivingsmallbusiness.com.

What Employers Can Do to Foster Employee Engagement

With the current economic condition, many organizations have been forced to cut costs and reduce staffing levels. These kinds of business decisions can affect the remaining employee’s ability to stay positive and not focus on the negative. Employees need to be actively engaged so they can add value to the organization. The customer experience can be significantly affected when employees are not engaged. It’s difficult to have engaged customers if you don’t have engaged employees.

According to Wikipedia, “an engaged employee is one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about, his or her work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interest.” According to Scarlett Surveys, 31% of employees are disengaged and 4% of those 31% are hostile.

So what is the purpose of employee engagement? When employees are engaged they are emotionally attached to the vision of the organization. They believe in what they do, the organization’s vision and the direction the organization is going.  Employees who are engaged put their heart and soul into their job and have the energy and excitement to give more than is required of the job. Engaged employees are committed and loyal to the organization.

Here are some tips on how to foster employee engagement:

  • Have a well defined vision that all employees buy into. Organizational leadership is responsible for communicating the vision and keeping it in front of the employees. Employees should be able to recite the vision statement and why the organization does what it does.
  • Good communication within the organization can be one of the most important things an organization can do to foster employee engagement. Employees spend one third of their life in their job and have an interest in what is going on within the organization. They desire to know how the organization is doing financially, how corporate objectives are being accomplished and how what they do contributes to achieving corporate objectives.
  • Employees need to feel like they do meaningful work and that what they do makes a difference.
  • Employees want the opportunity to develop and grow professionally. Provide employees opportunities to develop and grow in their job and within the organization.
  • Create a strong team environment. Strong employee engagement is dependent on how well employees get along, interact with each other and participate in a team environment.
  • Create a culture of trust. Employees need to trust each other as well as their leadership. Employees are constantly watching leadership to see how their decisions affect the strategic direction of the organization and if their behaviors reflect what they say.
  • Employees need to know what is expected of them and need to be given the training, tools and resources to accomplish their goals. They need to be held accountable for achieving their goals.
  • Employees need to feel validated and that they are a valued part of the organization. Leadership needs to show how much they care for their employees and show recognition for efforts.
  • Employees need to feel like they are part of the process, that their thoughts and ideas matter and that they have a voice in how their work is performed.
  • Employees need to feel like they belong to a community, a team, a family. For many employees, coworkers are the only family they have, so maintaining a work environment where all employees get along and work well together is very important.
  • There is a lot of research that supports the fact that employees leave organizations because of their direct supervisor. Strong employee engagement cultures foster manager and leadership development.
  • Competitive compensation, benefits and reasonable working conditions can also significantly impact employee engagement.

Taking the time to strategically foster employee engagement can be one of the most positive things an organization can do to affect the customer experience.

Writer Bio: Kathy Clark is an MBA who is passionate about helping small business owners see their vision come to life by creating corporate infrastructures that support business development and growth through strategic customer focus. She writes for, and is the founder of http://thethrivingsmallbusiness.com.

Photo courtesy of lululemon athletica.

Social Customer Service – A completely different animal?

I'm Watching YouFor the last 30 years, traditional customer service recruiting, training, core skills, and performance management have not changed dramatically. Service professionals and their management teams have been able to hone the delivery of customer needs through various channels. But are the same attributes that make a great traditional customer service representative applicable for Social Customer Service?

Traditional customer channels & attributes:

Channel: In Person

– 1 to 1+, Face to Face
– Visual presentation & interaction
– Immediate responses are critical
– Quality of written responses typically less important

Channel: Phone

  • 1 to 1 voice conversation
  • Improved with personal connection, tone important
  • Near immediate responses improve satisfaction

Channel: Email

  • 1 to 1 digital conversation
  • Persona driven by written word
  • Between 2-24 hrs is expected turn around time

Channel: Live Chat

  • 1 to 1 digital conversation
  • Typically a casual conversation, short responses, and grammar less critical
  • Immediate responses are critical

But are these the same attributes needed for superior social customer service? Let’s look at responsibilities and qualifications of a social customer service representative.

Responsibilities for “traditional” customer service representatives:

  • Monitor Constant Contact social media outlets/networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs) for customer service related inquiries, complaints, concerns
  • Organize customer service inquiries, concerns, and responses for record and reference track the types of questions that appear on social media outlets
  • Distribute and/or partner with various  internal resources to ensure social media generated issues are resolved and communicated
  • Partner with various internal (possibly external) resources to update customers on promotions, technical advancements, general content, issues or changes
  • Facilitate the Voice of the Customer (Social Media) to various internal departments and individuals to enhance the customer experience and product strategy

Qualifications for “traditional” customer service representatives:

  • Excellent writing and phone skills
  • Strong grasp of the structure, purpose, and tone of social networks
  • Ability to think quickly, and formulate responses within a short turnaround time
  • Ability to communicate on social networks in a professional, yet personable, way
  • Flexibility
  • Comfortable presenting organization’s values, positioning and persona potentially to the  entire social universe
  • Able to “Exercise Responsible Freedom” (See Chip Bell’s Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service)

But what about the last channel: social service? Here’s what social service looks like:

Channel: Social Service

  • 1 to many (possibly thousands or millions)
  • Persona dependent upon media type
  • Response dependent upon media type
  • Your response is now your brand

I think we are dealing with a completely different animal.  So if we are dealing with something different, what should we consider changing?

  • New job titles/roles/descriptions
  • Recruiting – should it need to be socially sourced?
  • On-board training – inclusion of marketing, product, service, HR
  • Core skill development
  • Career progression paths
  • Performance Management
  • Continuous education models

Since this is such a new arena, all comments and thoughts are very much appreciated.

Michael Pace is the Director of Customer Support for Constant Contact’s award winning Customer Support Department and on the Board of Directors for the North East Contact Center Forum. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.

photo credit: Sheffield Tiger

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