Category Archives: Business

What makes for an outstanding customer experience? (A visit to the Land of Oz)

Recently, a visit to a local eatery with my wife resulted in an outstanding customer experience delivered by our waitress on this evening. The next day I reflected on why our experience was so exceptional. What was it that the waitress had done that led me to feel this way?

From this experience, I learned that a quick visit to the Land of Oz is the answer; more specifically, the answers are a “heart” and a “brain”!

Sure, there are thousands of books written on what companies and individuals should do to deliver outstanding customer experiences, however, consider these two items as the only ones you need to train and focus your customer facing people on.

I am confident that you are now asking, “What is meant by ‘a heart’ and ‘a brain’?”

Simply put, ‘a heart’ equals all of the soft skills delivered with honesty and sincere conviction from the heart and ‘a brain’ represents the hard facts.

“A heart” includes details such as, remembering to smile (Yes! Customers can hear you smiling over the phone), making eye contact, using voice inflection (especially when over the phone), paying attention (active listening), being positive in your language and, one of the most important items, keeping your customer’s issues at the center of the conversation. Remember, this is a person-to-person engagement, not a person to a machine, or website, and human interactions are like snowflakes, no two are alike, thus these may be soft skills, however, these are challenging to master.

“A brain” is representative of an individual’s knowledge. Does this customer-facing representative possess an in-depth knowledge about their company, products and services? Or, at a minimum do they have access to the tools that will provide them that knowledge? When a customer accepts that the person helping them to resolve their issue is an expert (or at least very knowledgeable), then customers are quick to place a trust in the relationship. With trust, established everything else becomes easier.

If you really want to deliver outstanding customer experiences, and you, or your customer facing team, are missing one of these two simple, but very important items, then you should visit the Land of Oz. First, stop by the corn field and let the Scarecrow direct you to a brain and then travel through the apple orchard and stop by the Tin Man, I am sure he will guide you to your heart.

Last thought:

A heart and a brain should be the foundation for all of an organization’s training efforts, or an individual’s self-development program.

The ability to deliver outstanding customer experiences is quite easy when an individual is healthy and likes what they are doing.  If you are reading this as an individual, are you healthy (physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually) and do you like what you are doing? If you represent an organization, do you have programs in place to support the health of your team, and the training in place to deliver on the knowledge required to work with customers? These are questions for another time; or are they? If you would like some very relevant and specific guidance on establishing programs that will support your teams, then let me know. From my heart and brain, I would love to help.

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“Data can tell any story!”

Data digital flow

Every day, in every office around the globe a report is being generated; the data in that report is intended to serve a purpose, whether that is to validate a hypothesis, show progress (or lack of), track, measure, etc. Database queries, Excel manipulations of pivot tables and many other tasks are regularly being done. Usually, the command is “just get me the data”. However, I am going to propose that business analyst and database programmers take your time and be a little slow in returning the data, after all, “data can tell any story”; at least, till the following points are consider.

  • Access – Yes, everyone wants the data. Experience has shown that the privilege of access to data is very easily provided to anyone who asks. However, without first establishing the program, the project or organizational goals, and the recognition by the program/project manager, or requestor the understanding of these goals, and until there is a clearly recognized confidence by the report producer that everyone is looking in the same direction and using the same “language” (definition of what the data fields are) then the answer is “Access Denied”.
  • Program Objectives – Many organizations struggle with clearly defining their program objectives, both qualitatively and quantitatively. In the B-2-B world and for this discussion, the focus is on the quantitative perspective. Companies want to help their customers achieve their objectives and are quick to provide data in support of these objectives in order to demonstrate the benefit of their product and/or service. To illustrate, let’s say the customer’s objective may be to get their employees registered into an education program by ‘X’ date. Imagine the following; if, after, let’s say 1 month the customer’s program manager comes into a meeting with great enthusiasm because she/he is reporting they have 98% registration and there is only a little time left prior to the end of their stated goal date, then a Director/VP says, “what about [insert new quantitative goal here]?” Without a clearly defined, up-front quantitative objective, the program manager is at a lost.
  • Interpretation – Data, when viewed by different individuals can be interpreted by in as many ways as there are number of viewers. Imagine for a moment that a Manager, a Director and a VP all are in the same meeting, all have generated reports in hand, however all arrive at different interpretations and conclusions of what the data is telling them; think about the ensuing conflict of dialog – not a pretty picture. Who is right?

I propose that 3 out of 5 readers of this topic will get it. Get what?

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The “Bottom Line”

A customer’s experience is the MOST important and critical element to a company’s success! The customer experience is not concluded once they buy. It is not an isolated one-time event. Their experience is the sum of all interactions, formed by an organization’s culture and customer contact points. Every interaction influences the customer’s perceptions of the company’s product and/or service. There is no magic formula or checklist to follow. The customer experience consists of every impression and encounter; or someone closely associated with the customer, albeit they are one of the customer’s co-workers, friends or family members. Whether the customer is making a phone call for additional information, scheduling a meeting, or whether your website is easy to navigate, every interaction impacts the customer experience.

Believe it or not, like it or not, the customer experience is the key to your success. Accept, even a percentage of this idea, and this will lead you to look inward at your culture and not on the quarterly finance statements. If the focus is on the bottom line, you’ve missed the point. Keep the focus on the customer.

Consider this. When you have a relationship with someone and believe they care about you, you are more likely to trust them, follow their guidance and communicate with them honestly. When you don’t create this trust, then you risk losing the opportunity to have a new customer, or keeping the ones you have.

Building relationships with customers is the single most important thing you can do in determining how your product and/or service will be accepted, used and adopted. The focus must be on building a relationship with every customer, every time. (And yes, the bottom line will benefit as well.)

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Why are we doing this?

GoalsThe critical first step in the life of a program is the establishment of objectives. By answering the question, “why are we doing this” provides all stakeholders associated with the program a clearly defined focus. This focus will significantly increase the chances for success.

The challenge in creating objectives is that this activity mandates that a very few sentences need to reflect the commitment and direction of the entire organization.

The best practice for completing a objectives defining milestone is to make the process iterative so that all constituents have had the opportunity to contribute and have their voices heard.

Objectives definition is not something you contract out. Yes, a consulting company can assist with facilitating the process; however, the organization must take an active role in the process. It is only through this active engagement will the organization adopt and take ownership.

The simple view of the process to define program objectives is:

  1. Start at the top – The organization’s President or CEO (pick one) and/or program sponsor (senior level manager) says, “I want….” (fill in the blank). Input from this level of management says, “We know of the work and we approve”. Also, this input will shape and provide guidance to the next steps.
  2. Next – Once step one is achieved, the next level of management needs to be engaged and given the opportunity to respond and/or contribute. From the program manager’s perspective, getting this level of contribution adds further validation for the program. Additionally, step one should reflect the view of how the program’s objectives align to corporate level objectives. (Pity the manager at this level who adds details that do not align to corporate goals; a sure way to lose funding when things get tight.)The easiest way to solicit input from this level of management is to start your correspondence with, “From the desk of [insert President/CEO’s name here], the following program is very important to [organization name here]. We believe that by achieving the following [President/CEO input here], [organization name here] will…”Included in this communication will be a detail about the program’s timeline along with a sense of urgency to getting feedback by [insert date].
  3. Thank you! (Review) – Once you have received key stakeholder information and have crafted a short, precise list of objectives you will want to send a ‘thank you’ communication. This correspondence will include the program’s objectives. At this time, anyone who is not aligned with what you have listed will raise a question or ask for clarification. This is great! This shows that they are interested in this work and want to ensure their interests are recognized in the list of objectives. Again, thank them for their input and inform them that you are scheduling a meeting to review and finalize. (Be sure to say whose coming.)
  4. Meeting (Review) – Invite all key stakeholders, and work hard to get all (most) of them to accept and attend. Prepare the program overview and state clearly that the goal is to finalize the objectives for the program to ensure they are aligned with [insert President/CEO’s name here] and [organization name here]. Get ready for some good dialog as each word is dissected. Once you near the end of this effort, you end the meeting by saying that these objectives will be how the program is managed and measured, and you will provide statuses based on this list. Be sure to get everyone’s agreement.

The steps above will greatly enhance your chances of management commitment, provide a focus for the program and act as a foundation when the program encounters business challenges, such as budget, resources and scope.

Why are we doing this?

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The “Two Step”

This short piece presents a concise approach to how prominent organizations can manage the challenge of enterprise-wide project management.

Companies extend substantial resources (people and time) across important initiatives and then never really know what is happening to their investments, so how do they solve this?

The challenge is that organizations typically align their scarce IT resources within separate teams working on different projects, leaving each to roll up their reports. This “roll-up” activity usually consumes additional time by an individual, or group of individuals, consolidating the information and putting into a singular, readable format. Each of these roll-ups may be evaluating and identifying statuses that the project manager or sponsor believes is important (which might be very true) to the initiative. But, does this consolidated report address the corporation’s needs? Does an executive quickly recognize the information and can make decisions? How does an organization address these questions?

The solution is:

Get the organization to accept the concept and structure of a Project Management Office (PMO).

Once this decision is made the company can look internally to assign this responsibility to a resource or hire a company with PMO experience. If a company opts for the former, this individual should be experienced in not only the benefits of a PMO but must be equally strong in change-management. Otherwise, look for a company with this experience along with familiarity within their industry. Of additional significance will be that an outside company be able to present themselves with an ability to align to the company’s culture.

The next step, whether by the individual or the hired company, will involve rigorous observation and analysis. The objective is to build a uniform platform tailored to meet the organization’s needs. Once the platform is constructed, a project dashboard is created. This dashboard will enable management to quickly measure the health of any single project, as well as the cumulative effect to the organization. The most notable items in most dashboards look to address are costs and time. Beyond these an organization  can look to benefit from specific key indicators in the areas of budgets, vendors, team skills, scope, etc. With this view, the management team can quickly identify where and why a project might be off target and make necessary adjustments. This new standard within the company can, and should be applied to all projects regardless of size and scope.

The final element to internalize is to remain committed to this new paradigm and this involves change (and people and organizations do not typically embrace change). Thus, the PMO must have the skills and experiences to be and deliver on the role of a change agent.

So, how do companies know what is happening with their investments across projects?

  1. Implement a PMO
  2. Adopt and commit to this new model

Wasn’t that easy?

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