Friday, December 30, 2011

Can Introverts Lead?

Given that society seems to correlate outgoing personality with leadership ability, many introverts question in silence if they'll ever be considered for leadership positions, and if they were, would they even make good leaders.

I recall in a session I was conducting, couple of introverts asked me if they should just stick to technical work since they are introverts.  And another one of my blog readers who is an introvert recently wrote to me saying that it seems organizations consider extroverts more talented. 

As I see it, introverts can and do lead, and they can do it well.  In fact, in today's turbulent rapidly changing times, I believe introverts bring a sense of calmness which is so in need.  Furthermore, according to Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leader, nearly 40% of leaders actually are introverted.  While this is good to know, as many of my blog readers are introverts, I wanted more information to share here as to why introverts too can and do make great leaders. 

With that said, I refer here to an article that was published in the June 2004 issue of Harvard Business Review.  Article entitled is "What Makes a Leader?" by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More then IQ.  In the article, Goleman shares 5 key skills that enable leaders to maximize their own and their followers' performance.  He also states that when leaders posses these characteristics, they outperform those who don't, regardless of their personality type.

These 5 skills, along with how Goleman defines them, are:
  1. Self-awareness: Knowing one's emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drivers, values, and goals-and their impact on others. 
  2. Self-Regulation: Controlling or redirecting disruptive emotions and impulses.
  3. Motivation: Being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement.
  4. Empathy: Considering others' feelings, especially when making decisions.
  5. Social Skills: Managing relationships to move people in desired directions.
I believe you will agree that possessing these is certainly far less a matter of one's personality type and instead more to do with one's own development.  With that said, again, introverts can and do lead.  So for you introverts, take heart and stop doubting your leadership abilities.  If you possess skills such as those listed above, you too can lead.  And if you don't have these just yet, you can certainly work towards developing them. 

Having said the above, it's point number 5, social skills, where many introverts tend to be challenged.  In the coming year I will share some simple tips that are easy to apply and yet very effective in further developing social skills and through it building strong relationships.  So be keeping a look out for these upcoming posts.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Can Introverts Sell?

Having read my post "Selling for Introverts", a senior level professional at a well known US institution recently shared with me that she is being considered for a promotion, and that position will require her to drive revenue growth as part of her role, i.e. sell.  Given her introverted nature, she asked if I thought she could be successful in such a role.  She was experiencing self-doubt and wondered if an extrovert would be better suited for the role.  

In our society, sales is traditionally viewed as a role for those with outgoing personalities.  Yet I believe introverts too can and do succeed in sales.  The real question to me is: In which types of sales and sales environments are introverts likely to be more effective and more successful, for both themselves and their organizations?  I will answer this question in this post.

To use the classic metaphor, there are two types of sales environments.  First type is in which one is required to possess excellent hunting skills and in the other farming.  Thus, two types of sales people, the hunter and the farmer.

In an organization where sales success depends on hunting, that is you "eat what you kill", I would not recommend it for introverts.  In these situations, one has to be in essence constantly "Dialing-for-Dollars", be on the go searching and hunting for deals.  Here you close one deal and then move onto finding your next one.  It's endless. Sales in such environments tend to be very transactional, relatively simple from complexity view point, and with little opportunity for reoccurring revenue.  For example, think selling life insurance, vacuum cleaners, driveway sealing.

If however the sales position is within an organization that meets the following criteria, then it's a great fit for introverts.  These criteria include:
  • Solutions are complex, requiring in depth subject matter expertise
  • Success depends on cultivating and building long-term relationships
  • Markets are highly targeted
  • Sales once made turn into reoccurring revenue
  • Opportunities exist to implement multiple solutions within clients organizations
  • Achieving success requires long-term mindset and one that is focused on providing solutions to complex problems rather than selling simple products
  • Organization supports, and even actively encourages, your being active in groups such as associations that represent your target markets, publishing articles, speaking at conferences, conducting workshops
If you're an introvert and are contemplating a career in sales, or you are in a position that requires you to sell as part of your role, ensure you are in the second type of organization where your success will be based more on your farming skills than hunting. Given your expertise, here you will sell from a place of being an expert, a consultant, an advisor.  In such an environment, you are bound to succeed, provided you:
  • Patiently, consistently, diligently follow a sales process
  • Enjoy being the expert and freely sharing your expertise to help customers solve their business problems
  • Take time to not only understand technical nature of your offerings but also how they apply to your customers to help them achieve the business results they desire
  • Grasp both technical language and business language and become comfortable in both worlds
  • Enjoy getting out and building strong relationships
  • Enjoy helping others succeed as well as find joy in winning, for simply the sake of winning and being your best at what you do
If you're an executive within a sales organization, just look around and see for yourself which types of sales professionals are being more successful within your own organization.  I believe you'll see a pattern as to which types achieve greater long-term success given what you are selling and your sales environment.

So to answer the question stated in the subject line, yes, introverts can absolutely sell, and do.  And to achieve long-term success, just make sure you're in the right environment where you will be able to leverage your strengths, maximizing your success as well as that of your employer.

*****
PS. For those of you who have some fear selling, I like to recommend a fun and inspirational book, written by my good friend Myron Radio.  It's called Dream Makers and is available at Amazon.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Introverts: Rise Up and Leverage Your Strengths

Back in January 2010, nearly two years ago, I wrote a post entitled "Workplace Challenges Being An Introvert".  Since that post, I have received emails from around the world from fellow introverts.  Here's what they wrote:
  • I'm facing the possibility of being fired for this very issue.  I'm somewhat dumbfounded.  On one hand I'm being told I'm doing a good job but on the other that I don't come across as a "team player".  It's awful.
  • I have built a successful business and I really care about my people.  Yet there are many who think I am cold, impersonal, distant, uncaring.  Look, I am just quiet by nature and I don't say much.  What am I supposed to do?  How do I show them I really do care?
  • Since I am not talkative with an outgoing personality, I am not seen as a leader.  As a result, I am feeling stuck where I am.  What do I do?
  • I find myself uncomfortable talking in groups.  I have seen many who are open and don't feel shy.  Organizations consider them more talented.
  • My year-end reviews usually start out with how talented I am but end up with how I need to engage more.
  • I've been able to function at a pretty high level, but that's only gotten me promoted to a job that requires cold calls.  I can't see a way to get around it.  Can you offer guidance to make these as painless as possible?  It's fear of rejection that holds me back.  And being an introvert, I wonder if I can really succeed at this?
  • I am an introvert and I know my stuff.  But part of my role requires me to sell, which I am very uncomfortable doing.  Should I just find another job?  I mean, can I really sell since I am not one of those outgoing types?
    Look my fellow introverts, I understand what you are going through for I am one of you.  I live where you live, face what you face, and I know what it's like.  To quote a famous line by US President Bill Clinton, "I feel your pain".

    With that said, have faith and know that you are not alone and that you have so much to offer.  If my experience serves as an example, I know you can succeed as an introvert, not in spite of it but because of it.  To do that, you just need to recognize, accept, and leverage your strengths.  Here are some which I am confident you possess, as well as ways you can leverage them:
    • Expertise: You have innate ability to focus intensely on a subject, allowing you to go deep into it, master it, and internalize it.  Therefore, continue to learn and strive to become THE best at what you do, which I am confident you do now already.  You want to become, and will in due time by following what I am going to share here, the go-to-person for your expertise.  This is a great place to be and it's one of the ways introverts can shine.
    • Share Your Expertise:  Deriving benefits from your expertise occurs when you share it with others.  Therefore, while as an introvert you may not prefer to talk much, you can I am sure write, which comes naturally to many of us introverts.  I know I can spend hours on my laptop and totally love every moment of it, just like I am doing right now.  Therefore, freely share your expertise by blogging, writing and publishing articles, books, manuscripts, contributing on various discussion groups.  I do just this.  To get an idea of how I do this, read my post Association Membership: An Introverts Best Friend.  
    • Ask Questions: Given your expertise in your subject matter, you are well positioned to ask intelligent, probing, thoughtful questions.  This is what I do mostly.  It comes naturally to me and I really enjoy it for by asking questions, I don't have to talk much, I am constantly learning, AND people get the impression I am a great conversationalist.  Frankly, all I do is mostly ask broad open-ended questions, sit back and listen, and continue to move the conversations forward.  
    • Self-Improvement: For those who tell you you're not engaged and that you're not a team player, ask them these types of questions:  What am I doing, or not doing, that gives the impression I am not engaged, am not a team player?  What would I need to do and say differently that would demonstrate I am?  Probe.  Ask questions.  Subtly challenge their thinking.  Then apply what you learn to yourself (more on this later in this post).  Try it.  One important point here to note though.  Do this not to prove others wrong.  Instead ask from the point of view of having a sincere desire to  learn and improve.  To do this, you'll need to ask questions to find out how you're being perceived and what you need to do differently.  If you ask, they'll tell you.  For in the end, we can only change ourselves, not others.
        • Listen: Connected to your asking questions, leverage your listening skills.  In fact, being an introvert, you probably don't listen only with your ears, you listen with your whole body.  For good listening isn't about just capturing words.  It also involves being comfortable with silence and quietly paying attention to factors such as body language, picking up emotions, tones, the spoken AND unspoken, to name just a few.  Therefore, as an introvert, since you are not busy running your mouth, you can actually hear much more then what is said.  By doing so, you can capture very detailed and very valuable information and insights that can help you and your organization.  In addition, keep in mind that most people don't feel truly heard and they are dying to be understood, to be heard. You can give them that precious gift.  By doing so, people will begin to actually reach out to you.
        Having said the above, there are times where you still have to push yourself out of your comfort zone.  By doing so, day by day, with practice your comfort zone will become bigger.  In my own case, when I now attend gatherings, people are often surprised when they learn I'm an introvert.  What they don't see is that I have to muster up my inner strength and self-confidence in such settings and push myself. It's not always easy but it's doable. So if I can do it, so can you.  To get more tips on pushing yourself, read my post Public Speaking for Introverts.

        In the end, know that at each moment, you have a choice.  You can continue to let your introverted nature hold you back, keeping you where you are.  Or you can choose to push yourself forward, and leverage your immense strengths, your talents, your God given gifts, that are inherent to being an introvert.  If you choose the former path, and please allow me to be direct here, you are being a victim. If you choose the later however, you are choosing to be powerful.  Which path will you choose?  And yes, you do have a choice.

        Having said all this, start with applying what I have shared here and then please follow back and share with me what you have experienced.  Now go out and make this coming year a great year for you.  I know you can do it.  And along the way, should you have any questions or if want to talk, feel free to reach out to me.  I am here for you.

        In closing, let me leave you with this: Given what I have shared here, what's the one thing you will do differently going forward?  Once you have answered this, go out and do it. For in the end, it's only action that moves us forward.

        All the best to you!

        Saturday, December 24, 2011

        Thank You for Making A Difference!

        First, I want to wish each and every one of you very joyous holidays. I also want you to know that you make a difference for me, which you may not realize.

        Your subscribing to my blog, commenting on my posts, emailing me your thoughts, and sharing with me how something I posted shifted your thinking and which led to a positive result for you, has meant much to me.

        As you may have noticed, I enjoy sharing my thoughts, and which I do only as they arise.  As a result, my postings come in waves for I don't force these writing but rather I let them emerge.  And while I experience joy through sharing, knowing I have you to share with, that gives me even greater energy, and purpose, to continue doing so.  For I can't imagine what it would be like to write without having anyone to share these with and not knowing it they matter or make any difference. 

        In addition, from these writings so far have emerged my very first book (Customers: Love 'Em or 'Lose Em) and 4 articles that have been published in Association Now, a national magazine published by The American Society of Association Executives.

        Moving forward, my post would not be complete if I did not also provide something for you to think about, to reflect on.  With this in mind, as we come to the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012, I invite you to reflect on the following questions:

        In regards to 2011:
        • What were some of your biggest accomplishments, ones that you are particularly proud of and you feel are worthy of celebration?
        • What are your top 3 lessons learned, ones that you will take with you into the future, that will help you personally and professionally?
        Looking to 2012:
        • What do you want to accomplish by end of 2012?
        • What challenges and obstacles do you anticipate?
        • What support do you think you will need to overcome these and where can you get this support?
        • What do you need to pick-up, and more importantly let go of now?
        Thank you and I wish each and every one of you much continued happiness and success in the coming year, and beyond.

        Wednesday, December 21, 2011

        How Long is A Minute?

        In response to my recent post So, What's Constant About Change?, Myron Radio, President of The R Group, and an authority on successfully guiding organizations through change initiatives, emailed me the following.  

        "In reference to the concept of Constant Change, Anthony Robbins once said, "If you're not moving forward, you're sliding back."  In my experience, there are three types of Change... Evolutionary (constant improvement), Revolutionary (a major change taken on to vastly improve one's position) and Chaotic (we don't ever see it coming - think 09/11).  The range of emotions one encounters across this continuum vary from "OK let's do this" on one end to "Oh no - what just happened"."

        As I read this, I was reminded of an exchange.  It went like this. Question asked was, "How long is a minute?".  Response given, "Depends on which side of the bathroom door you're on."  I believe this captures well the essence of how change is often viewed.

        Returning to types of change Myron mentions, using 9/11 as one example, for those who planned it, it was most likely Revolutionary.  Yet for those who didn't see it coming, it was Chaotic.  In the business world, say executives of a large corporation decide to close an office.  By these executives it may be viewed as Evolutionary, yet by those impacted, Chaotic.  Of a reverse example, say there is a major earthquake that causes severe damage. For those affected it's chaotic, yet when viewed from a geological time perspective, it's evolutionary. 

        Based on the above, it becomes apparent that change has two sides.  That is on one side there's the initiator and on the other those who are impacted.  How then one views and responds to change becomes largely a function of one's frame of reference, one's mindset. 

        With this said, when change happens by which you are impacted, how do you see it, and respond to it?  And on the flip side where you are the intiator, how do you see it and how do you expect others to see it and respond to it?

        Monday, December 19, 2011

        So, What's Constant About Change?


        There is a popular saying: The only thing in life that is constant is change.  Given this, what I am questioning is within the constant change, what's constant? My thought process is that if we can recognize the constant within the change, and become comfortable with it, then change may not feel so much like change? Thus making it easier to accept and successfully navigate it?

        As I reflect on these questions, I come to see that there are 2 elements within change that are constant.  They are:

        1. Existence of Gap

        Everything that I can think of in our universe, including us humans, is in constant motion. At any given moment, we are here and moving towards there, where ever and what ever there is.  It's different for different people, and we are often moving towards there on many fronts at the same time. This includes for example our careers, businesses, health, finances, relationships.  This constant movement from here and there results means the existence of gaps. While nature of here and there as well as the gaps are ever changing, the presence of gaps is permanent. 

        2. Letting Go, Picking Up

        To successfully and effectively move through these gaps, we are required to continually adjust metaphorically speaking our road maps.  As in traveling, when current conditions and/or the destination shifts, so we must also make changes to the route.

        Similarly, in change we are required to constantly let go of what no longer makes sense, and stop doing it.  As well as we are also required to pick-up what is now needed, and start doing that.  And this letting go and picking up becomes easier when we keep ourselves open and flexible to how we see and think.

        In other words we don't get locked into our thinking, and when we find ourselves doing so, we are able to catch ourselves.  This can happen when we continually intentionally challenge how and what we think--our thoughts, our assumptions, beliefs, perceptions and judgements. This means we don't get so comfortable in what is and instead that we remain open to what could be, what will be, the new reality.

        By such constantly challenging, by choice, our thinking and looking through new lenses, we can become more comfortable with this way of being.  Then overtime it can become easier to stop doing what no longer makes sense and pick up what does, given the change.

        Therefore when we can become more comfortable with the idea of having a gap as well as letting go and picking up, perhaps change won't feel so much like change?  What do you think?

        Saturday, December 17, 2011

        Can Change Really Be Managed?

        I frequently hear the term "Change Management", and each time I ask myself, what does this really mean? And moreover, can we really manage change?

        Think about it.  Climate changes.  A competitor develops a new technology making yours obsolete.  A visionary CEO, as did Steve Jobs of Apple recently, passes away. In each of these situations, change happened.  Could such changes really be managed?  If they could be, what exactly would be managed anyways?  What would one say or do?

        The more I think about this, what occurs to me is that its not so much that we manage change but rather we manage how we view it, think about it, and respond to it.  If you agree with this line of thinking, question then arises, what is meant by managing thinking?

        As I have come to see it, it means continually bringing to surface, with sincere desire to understand and challenge one's own as well as that of others', underlying beliefs, assumptions, perceptions and judgments about the change.

        It also means I believe to remain open to not only taking a look at the change from various perspectives but to then also take action to find solutions that take into account various perspectives.  In other words, with this broader understanding, working together to develop appropriate response(s) to the change.

        With that said, I believe that we don't really manage change.  Rather, as stated earlier, we manage how we view it, think about it, and respond to it.  Perhaps this is what is meant by Change Management?

        What do you think?

        Wednesday, December 14, 2011

        7 Questions to Ask, to Keep Your Good People!

        Having a tough time keeping good people? Are you sick and tired of having to constantly hire and retrain? Is it draining your energy, and costing you a fortune? If so, read on.

        Part of my work involves leading teams of highly qualified, technical experts who have significant experience within a very targeted niche. If any one of them left, it would be disruptive and very time consuming and costly to replace them.

        When this realization occurred, I felt vulnerable. Then the more I thought about it, the more I realized how little I knew about each of my team members in-terms of what's truly important to them. In the absence of knowing that, I figured my odds of experiencing turnover would be greater. With this in mind I proceeded to schedule 1-to-1 meetings with each team member.  After setting the stage, I asked them following questions, with desire to learn what's truly important to them, and what they were feeling and thinking in-terms of where they are and what they are doing.
        1. What do you want out of your life and how do you see this position helping you?
        2. When you think of your work, your career, what's most important to you? 
        3. What do you like about your work, and your being part of this organization?
        4. What don't you like?
        5. What would make your job more enjoyable for you, and support you in your goals?
        6. What would cause you to start to think about moving on?
        7. Going forward, how would you like me to support you?
        While thankfully, overall team members were happy, here's some of what they said as to what more could be done to make 'em happier:
        • I want to get experience in managing people
        • I no longer want to manage people
        • I want to learn new things
        • I want to teach
        • Recognize me privately, not publicly
        • I want to go part-time
        • I want to do more research
        Notice that not a single person said anything about wanting more money.  While couple did say that they would welcome more of it, that was not their primary request.  One person, who is in her 60's, even said this:
        • "What a fascinating approach to find out what makes me tick.  I am totally honestly impressed! I have been employed since the age of 13 and can remember being asked directly such questions only once before; it was during a job interview rather then after being hired."
        Since these interviews were conducted, with support of leadership, some small yet meaningful adjustments have been made allowing each team member to get more of what they want, and less of what they don't.

        As a result, today the team I sense is much stronger, happier, and working better together.  In addition, I am personally more at peace knowing we have a solid team in place.  Of course, I continue to check in with each of them to see how they are doing for I see my role as to help them succeed and provide them resources they need so they can do what they do best.

        If you're faced with good people leaving, I encourage you to give this approach and these types of questions a try, and then share with us what you learn. I believe you'll be glad and will be better off for having done so.

        All the best to you.

        Sunday, December 11, 2011

        8 Business Lessons from Santa!

        Have you ever wondered what business lessons we can learn from Santa, and his enterprise (Christmas Inc.)?  I have been thinking about this and here are some lessons that I have learned.
        • Clear mission and clear primary target market:  This guy has been bringing joy to millions of  children year after year for eons.  And so clear is his mission that pretty much everyone, from young to old, knows it.
        • Strong brand: Red suite, white beard, memorable jingles.  So simple, so powerful.  Even Steve Jobs would be envious.  Think about it, lining up for iPhone is nothing compared to the number of people who line up year after year to see Santa.
        • Multiple offerings for his target market:  Lighting products, forest products, candies, clothing, toys, music, decorations, souvenirs, TV shows, movies, to name just a few. He is clearly after share of your wallet.
        • Reoccurring revenue:  Have you ever heard of Christmas being cancelled?  Regardless of weather or economic conditions, business goes on.  In addition, as population grows, so does his customer base.
        • Strong customer retention:  Not only are his customers very loyal, they even actively promote his business.  I bet Santa doesn't spend a dime out of his pocket on marketing, sales and advertising.  Even Southwest Airlines I bet, no matter how great their service, doesn't enjoy such loyalty.
        • No turnover:  Have you ever heard of one of his elves jump ship to another holiday?  Ain't happening.  So imagine, no recruitment costs, no retraining costs, no unemployment insurance to buy. And happy elves I am sure also means much lower health insurance premiums. 
        • Strong team work:  Clearly his team enjoys what they do and feel appreciated.  Just imagine, as in Santa's workshop, what would your place be like if your people sang happy songs while working together side by side, day after day, year after year? 
        • Clear roles and responsibilities:  No confusion here.  The Mrs. is in charge of operations, Rudolph and his team run the delivery vehicles, elves make the stuff.  As for Santa, he does the delivery and is the face of the business.  The allows him to interact first hand with his customers which allows him to gain first hand information on what's happening in his market. 
        Gosh, come to think of it, if he can run such a successful enterprise that truly is Built to Last, I wonder if he can get our economy and businesses back on track.  Do any of you know if he provides business consulting?  Would any of you happen to have his email address?

        Saturday, December 10, 2011

        16 Ways to Show Staff You Care

        Having a firm belief that when you hire right and take care of your people, they in turn will take care of your business and the customers it serves.  With this in mind, my friend Joe Isaacs, an association executive, and I published an article in this December's (2011) issue of Association Now. 

        The article is entitled "16 Ways to Show Staff You Care".  For the benefit of my blog followers, I am posting the text of that article here.  Hope you find some nuggets that you can apply to strengthen your own teams, and therefore your business.

        *****

        We've served associations as both senior management and as trusted vendor partners for more than 30 years.  Over the years we have observed what contributes to organizational success among those who take seriously the adage "we are only as good as our people." 

        The art of developing positive staff relations can fill books, but here are 16 simple truth that we believe will foster trust and dedication, promote a shared vision and performance excellence, and inspire staff leadership and creativity.
        1. Show faith in your staff's capabilities: Set expectations, provide needed resources and tools, encourage measured risk taking, and offer specific feedback.
        2. Recognize it's not all about you: Know that your success is derived from your staff's success.  Your role is to insure and help them be their best, not respond to your whims.
        3. Watch performance and outcomes, not the clock: Work them hard when you need to and give them time off and the opportunity to work from home when they need it.
        4. Get to know them as human beings: Recognize them by name and try to reward them based on their personal interests and preferences (e.g. concert tickets to a favorite performance for some, verbal praise for others).  It will often mean more to them then just money.
        5. Don't micromanage: Ask staff what they need to get the job done, but don't dictate how they should do it.  Listen to staff for their important insights from the trenches.
        6. Play to their strengths: Help staff find work that fits their natural talents and that they enjoy (even if it means a job elsewhere), and provide additional professional training when needed.
        7. In case of mistakes, don't shout or punish: Talk it out, allow the staff member to explain what happened, and use it as a learning and growth opportunity.
        8. Hold staff accountable for their efforts: Everyone brings something different to the table, but you don't want free riders or a sense of inequity to pervade.
        9. Encourage managers to serve as mentors: A good manager is like a good coach, not merely a delegator.
        10. Praise in public; criticize in private: Acknowledge staff's contributions in public every chance you get (including listing all staff on your website when possible and practical), and reserve sharing individual criticism for private moments.  Do keep in mind though that some staff members prefer more recolonization to be private.  When in doubt, ask them how they like to be acknowledged.  They will respect you for asking.
        11. Treat staff with respect: Model positive behavior you expect from them and you are more likely to have it reciprocated.  Reflect professionalism but have a sense of humor.
        12. Treat staff like adults and they'll be more likely to act that way: Make time for them when they need to talk to you and do so without judgement.  And when appropriate, ask them for needed advice.
        13. Recognize that some staff may not fit the culture: Remove staff members who are toxic to the workplace, no matter how good they are technically.  Your organization will go on and be healthier for it.
        14. Don't ask staff to do anything you wouldn't do yourself if asked by a supervisor: Listen to your gut in those instances and buffer your staff from unreasonable requests from individual board members.
        15. Give them credit: Acknowledge to them and others routinely that organization's accomplishments are a result of staff's talent and their support of the organization's strategic directions.
        16. Communicate honestly and fairly: Keep staff informed about the organization's progress as much as possible, and don't shoot the messenger when someone informs you of a problem.
        *****

        If you have additional suggestions, I hope you will share them.  Thank you.

        Sunday, December 4, 2011

        How Do You Get the Best From Your People?

        Do you know people in the workplace who are physically present but mentally checked out?  Can you imagine the costs alone associated with such a situation, especially given that payroll cost is one of the single biggest line item expenses in majority of businesses?

        Most of my work is in the area of people development and helping people build strong workplace relationships.  This includes relationships not just with peers but also customers, for in the end people give their best when they work and do business with people they know, like and trust.

        Building lasting relationships and helping people succeed in getting what they want is something I really enjoy.  Plus I have learned from experience that not only do strong relationships bring great joy and make work more enjoyable, they also lead to strong results.  And the opposite is true as well, where poor relationships lead to poor performance.

        So as I move about my days, I am constantly asking what is it that gets in the way of strong workplace relationships, and getting the best from people--and then how to make all that better.  So far, I have come up with the following list as to what gets in the way, for once the causes are surfaced, then solutions can be developed. 
        • Poor role fit, where individuals are in roles that don't play to their natural strengths and don't satisfy their intrinsic motivations.
        • Not having clearly defined roles and responsibilities so team members know what's expected of them.
        • Not receiving timely and effective feedback so they know where they stand and how they are performing.  I find that no one likes to second guess in this area and they really do want honest and direct feedback.
        • People not seeing a clear connection between the what they do and their personal long-term life goals, as well as organizational goals. 
        • People feeling unappreciated, unheard, and uncertain.  
        • People not feeling safe, due to often poor (or lack of) communication and lack of trust.
        • People feeling misunderstood, as well as misunderstanding others.
        I would welcome your thoughts on the above, based on what you have experienced and observed.  Thank you in advance.

        Friday, October 28, 2011

        Do You Show Up?

        Needing electrical work, few thousand dollars worth, I recently called an electrician who was referred to me.  His speciality was doing just the type of work I needed done.  He promptly returned my call, came over to the house to look at what needs to be done, and left promising he'll call back with an estimate. I said great, and let him know that as soon as I have that, he can get started (a dead give-away he got the job). 

        Unfortunately, he never showed up again, nor called.  I called him several time to see what happened. Each time he said he was not well and that he would call me in couple of days. Those couple of days never came.  I then called another electrician, also referred.  We scheduled a time for him to come check out what needs to be done.  He too never showed.  (Hmmm, I was beginning to think if it was me or quality of referrals).  In any event, we called him asking why he didn't show up.  His reply was that we were too far away from his place.  Well, geez, one would think he could have told said that when we first spoke rather then setting an appointment and then not showing up, and not even having the courtesy to let us know he won't be coming.

        This reminded me of a situation many years back where Reggie sent me an estimate request for a very small project. I promptly responded and we got the job.  Over the years Reggie gave me lots of work and size of projects also became bigger and bigger.  What started out as a very small project turned into a very profitable relationship over the years.  One day I asked Reggie what lead him to choose me, over others, on that first request.  His response: "Vinay, you were the only one responded and then followed up, as well as then stayed in touch with me". 

        Amazing, how true that so often it's simply a matter of showing up which leads to work.  So when someone reaches out to you, do you show up?

        P.S. In case you're wondering about that electrical work I needed done.  We finally called a professional company. They promptly showed up and followed up with the estimate as promised.  We happily gave 'em the work, and they got the job done when they said they would, did it right the first time, and they were pleasant to do business with.  Perhaps that's why they are a big company today, because they simply show up and do what they say they are going to do.  Pretty simple. 

        Saturday, October 22, 2011

        Magic Words Customers Love to Hear!

        I have a firm belief that words have immense power.  So I asked myself, when it comes to serving customers, what are those magic words that contribute to building strong lasting meaningful relationships? 

        Based on my nearly 3 decades of serving customers, I came up with the list below.  Using these with sincerity, combined with your keeping your promises and delivering high quality products and services, lets customers know you love them, that they matter to you. In turn this results in customers loving you.  As a result, everyone wins.  Use these words generously and often and experience for yourself the very positive results that will follow.
        • Thank you
        • Sure, no problem
        • We'll take care of it right away
        • Consider it done
        • I'm sorry.  Will you please forgive me.
        • Please accept my apologies 
        • I'll fix it right away
        • Problem solved
        • All done, taken care of
        • Yes, we can do that
        • Sure, we can do that
        • When you're happy, we're happy
        • What can I do for you?
        • We're on it, no worries
        • We're looking into it right now.  We'll be back in touch very soon.
        • What can I do to make it right?
        • I don't know, but I'll be sure to find out and get back to you.
        Which magic words can you add to this list?  Please share so everyone reading this blog benefits.  Thank you.

        Thursday, October 20, 2011

        How Sticky Are Your Customer Relationships?


        I have been reviewing a training manual, for a course on developing strong customer relationships.  Part of that course work includes stats which really grabbed my attention.  As they are so relevant to many of my readers who are involved in getting and keeping customers, I wanted to post them here for your benefit.  These stats are:

        If your customer has.......The odds of keeping him or her are.......:
        A checking account.......1 to 1
        A savings account.........2 to 1
        Checking and savings accounts........10 to 1
        Checking, savings, and a loan..........20 to 1
        Checking, savings, a loan and a safe-deposit box........100 to 1  (Wow, what a jump)

        While this is for banking, concept applies to all businesses.  Furthermore, it's important to note that stickiness increases exponentially, as increasing numbers of offerings are used by the customer.  Very interesting and very powerful indeed.

        By the way, what's the glue here that leads to customers buying more and buying more often?  Simple.  It's making sure they feel loved and cared for.  That each and every interaction they have when dealing with your organization is a pleasant one.

        If you agree with this, what steps are you taking to ensure each interaction your customer has with your organization is a pleasant experience?

        Saturday, October 15, 2011

        My Very First Book, Just Published. :)


        Available at Amazon and Barnes 'n Noble.

        Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Customers-Love-Em-Lose-Ways/dp/146205658X

        Barnes 'n Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/customers-love-em-or-lose-em-vinay-kumar/1106019203

        Check it out.  Thanks. 

        Sunday, October 9, 2011

        The Kingdom of God

        For some time now, I have wondered what the following passage means:  "Unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God".  I have come to finally understand what it means, to me anyways.  And the more I think about it, the more it occurs to me what a profound statement it is, and one that applies to all, regardless of one's faith.

        As I have experienced it, when we are first born in this physical body, many of us do not possess sufficient self-awareness nor the inner strength to make decisions that are in alignment with our true nature.  In regards to career choices for example, we end up doing what others think we should do, what we think will make us look good, what will make us money, more loved, and so on. As Parker Palmer would most likely say, we end up living a life that is not our own.

        Lack of self-awareness combined with strong ego that strengthens over time ultimately leads us to make choices that contribute to our living a life that is out of alignment with the life that life wants us to live.  As a result, while we may become materially successful and look good on the outside, deep within we don't feel successful.  Instead, we feel as if something is still missing.  We experience dissatisfaction and emptiness and we long to feel fulfilled.  In some cases, we even silently suffer. I know for it's a journey that I can relate to.

        Ultimately we come to a fork in the road where this inner suffering either destroys us, or we come to point through surrender where the suffering destroys the ego itself, which often is itself the source of our suffering.  In a sense, suffering destroys the very thing that causes it.  Once this happens, we begin to realize our true nature and it begins to guide our lives from a place of wholeness.

        While it's a painful journey, it is one that ultimately leads to our rebirth, to our being reborn.  And we then begin to take steps towards living a live that is more authentic, being true to what we were built to be.  Then as we begin to live with this alignment, life begins to feel more joyful, for we no longer feel the need to prove but rather be true to ourselves, to our inner nature.

        This I believe is what Jesus meant.  So the Kingdom He refers to is right here on earth and when we live in alignment with our natural being, we experience bliss right here in this life itself.  And to experience that, we must first die, dissolving our ego, and thus the referral to being born again.

        I have read the Bible only a little, so what exactly is meant I don't know. But this is my interpretation of it. What does it mean to you?  And how have you experienced it in your own life?

        Wednesday, July 27, 2011

        What Do You Mean?

        The other day I drove past a truck displaying the sticker "Factory Trained".  It occurred to me at that moment how for the longest time I used to equate this to mean the technician is highly trained, an expert in his field.  But this time I wondered, is that really so?  Could it also mean that this individual simply attended say a short education program held at the factory, thus "qualifying" him to display the sticker? 

        As I reflected further on this, many other such commonly spoken statements came to mind and I wondered, what do they really mean.  Statements such as:
        • Quality first
        • The ultimate driving machine
        • Best in class 
        • World class
        • Original Copy
        • Certified Pre-owned
        • Genuine imitation
        • She is so beautiful
        • He is so smart
        • I need some space
        • Grow up
        • They are so successful
        The older I get, the more I am realizing how very few things in life are absolute, and instead majority of things are relative, subject to one's assumptions and interpretations, and how much I tend to assume that what I am understand something to mean is what the other really means to convey.

        As a result, more and more when I now hear such subjective statements, I am starting to ask "what do you mean".  As I do this, I see the gaps in communication surface, resulting communication becomes much more effective, and misunderstandings decrease.  And equally importantly, I am realizing how much my own views are limited due to my limited experience.  So by asking the question, others views come out into the open and in the process I too learn and grow.

        So next time you hear such subjective statements, ask "what do you mean".  This will invite dialogue and as you truly listen, you will experience for yourself further learning/growth, better decisions and therefore outcomes, and stronger relationships.  It's absolutely beautiful. 

        Go ahead, give it try.  Start asking, what do you mean, by...?

        Friday, July 22, 2011

        What Led to My Success, and Failure?

        In my business life, I have experienced both tremendous success and utter failure.  In both outcomes, I was the same person possessing the same habits, intellect, skills, and abilities.  Therefore, I have often wondered why is it that at times I have succeeded and at other times have completely failed, by any external measure? 

        I have been quietly reflecting on this question for over 2 years now.  I wanted to understand what was it that led to each outcome and going forward what can I learn from these experiences. I have finally come to see that when I have succeed, I have met 3 critical aspects and none have to do with my intellect, skills and abilities.  Here they are:

        Clear Vision:  I could see clearly my desired outcomes (goals), see myself doing what needed to be done, who I was serving, what value I was delivering, how I was delivering the value, the business strategy (road map), to name just a few of these elements under vision. 

        Strong Belief:  I firmly believed in the business, the business model, the team, the value being delivered, and how in the process I, my team, my family, and my clients were benefiting. 

        Outcome Oriented  Focused Action:  Upon the foundation of clear focused vision and strong belief, I was able to act with conviction.  Bumps, while stressful at time, didn't throw me off course.  And the more I succeeded, the stronger my beliefs became, energizing me even further.  Nothing could shake me from my path.

        On the other hand, when I have failed, I now realize that each of these aspects were missing.  My vision was cloudy. I didn't have a strong sense, and therefore belief, of who I am serving, what value I am delivering, and the business model.  In the absence of these factors, my efforts were half-hearted at best.  No wonder I failed.

        While experiencing failure by no means was a pleasant experience, and I don't wish it on anyone, looking back I am thankful for having gone through such experiences.  I believe that today I am a better person because of it for I have learned invaluable lessons in the process.  And I see these experiences as having provided me with inner growth and now serve as stepping stones into my next phase.

        So if you're in a place where things just aren't working out, ask yourself, with brutal honesty, are you clear about your vision, do you believe in that vision as well as in yourself, and are you willing to do whatever it takes. If you lack in any of these, I urge you to step back for a moment and do the work necessary, starting with within yourself, to achieve the clarity and conviction you need and then start again from that place. 

        Remember, to succeed, you need all 3, and that there are no short cuts. And when you do experience set-backs, have faith that they are there for a purpose, even though you may not see it just yet.

        Saturday, June 11, 2011

        The Human Tapestries

        Many years ago, visiting The Vatican, I saw numerous tapestries lining the hallways.  They were so colorful and so beautiful. 

        Only recently it occurred to me that those images would not have been possible were it not for the fabric on which they were woven and for the knots in the back (which are covered with a cloth...hiding the not so beautiful aspects) holding the images together.

        I have come to realize that it is similar with us human beings.  We too are like the tapestries.

        For so many reasons, understandably, we are told from early on to put our best foot forward, show only our bright side, our unique abilities, potentials, strengths, and so on.  In essence, to show only the front side of the tapestry.  Yet spite of all that, at times deep within many of us feel incomplete, empty, as if something is missing. Why is that and what is that we long for, I wonder.

        One of the things I have learned is that we are already complete but we lose touch with that aspect.  And to feel whole again, it becomes important to also recognize and embrace our dark side, which we tend to avoid, cover up as in the tapestries.  These include elements such as our weaknesses, limitations, things we have become ashamed of, regrets, shortcomings, things we don't want others to know, things that pain us, and so on.  But they too are an integral part of us and we must honor, respect and embrace those aspects of ourselves as well.

        For example, by nature, I am not a very aggressive individual, I am not the sharpest pencil in the box, I am not very quick on my feet, and I don't have the gift of being talkative When at gatherings, I tend to be fairly quiet for I don't have the gift of, nor frankly the interest in, small talk.  There was a time I used to think something is wrong with me and I wished I had these talents as I see others having. 

        I now see, after all these years, that there is nothing wrong with me and it is my very limitations that on the flip side allow me to create safe spaces, ask probing questions in a way that they are heard and people feel comfortable responding, and for me to truly listen to both the spoken and more importantly the unspoken.

        I realize now that these are my gifts and they become possible because of my limitations.  Two sides of the same coin.  So by accepting both sides of myself, my limitations and my potentials, I have come to  feel whole and complete and am able to live more joyfully, more at peace and do work that is more aligned with who I am.  I no longer try to be someone I am not.  Trust me, I have tried and its really no fun.

        In addition to what I have already shared, I have come to also experience that once I was able to accept myself fully as I am, and then live in alignment with my uniqueness, not only does that bring me greater personal happiness, that then gave me greater capacity to also accept others, without judgement, as they are, how they are. And to me, that's a beautiful thing.

        Wednesday, June 8, 2011

        Thank You!

        Over the last couple of weeks, several of you have called asking me if I am OK, as it's been over 3 months since I have posted anything.  I must say I am deeply touched by your caring. Thank you.

        It seems that my mind has gone quiet and I just haven't had anything of significance surface to write about.  In the past, this may have bothered me.  Now though, I have come to realize that as in nature, there is a rhythm in life, to which if we can get in sync with, life become joyful.  So with this in mind, if nothing surfaces to write about these days, I am at peace with it. 

        What am I doing these days, in case you're wondering.  In addition to my work, which I am enjoying very much, I am spending more time with my family, more times in quiet reflection, as well as rereading some of the books I read during my journey over the last few years but which didn't make complete sense to me at the time.  And the books I am rereading, they have been coming up in my consciousness telling me to go back and reread them.  So I pick them up as and when I am called to do so.

        Books I am reading include Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer, Living the Truth by Keith Ablow, and others like these.  This time though I am finding that I am reading them through a new lens and they are making sense this time around, and it's helping me finally make sense of my journey.  I can now see what a blessing the journey has been, even though when I was in the midst of it, I must admit it felt very confusing and even painful.  Today, it's as if the tapestry is emerging where the various events I went through are starting to connect and a beautiful image is appearing.

        I am also now giving even more of my time to volunteering, to help others heal and live more joyfully.  For this, I have started to serve on the Board of The Mankind Project (www.mkp.org) DC Chapter as well as will be staffing as a volunteer more of their upcoming retreats, as well as participating at other such gatherings.  Through this, not only do I continue to personally grow, it also gives me great joy when I see others experience the same.  It's truly fulfilling and the feeling is priceless.

        In closing, I want to share with you a portion of a beautiful piece written by May Sarton many years ago, to convey a sense of where I am today:

        Now I become myself.
        It's taken time, many years and places.
        I have been dissolved and shaken,
        Worn other people's faces...

        Well, that's all for now.  Till we meet again, you all take care.

        Saturday, March 5, 2011

        Me, My Dad, and Home Depot

        This morning I went to Home Depot to pick-up a piece of molding strip.  As I was walking towards the molding section, I ran into a group of toddlers huddled around tables happily assembling wooden toy cars, with the help of their parents.  Some were still in assembly phase while others were sitting on the floor rolling their cars back and forth with their moms and dads.  What a special sight that was.

        As I later reflected on this, both from a human as well as business perspective, the more it occurred to me that this is one car I'll bet they will keep probably for the rest of their lives. 

        At the moment I am sure it's just another toy for them.  Yet one day when they will look back on it, I am sure they will find themselves walking down memory lane, recalling that special moment they spent with their parents.  Along the way, they'll have purchased and thrown away many expensive toys.  But this little toy car, which probably cost less then couple of bucks in materials, will become priceless, a much cherished memory. 
        And guess who else will become part of this special memory?  Home Depot and Toyota.  After all, they put the car together at Home Depot and one of the logos on the car is that of Toyota Camry.  

        I wouldn't be surprised if one day these very kiddies find themselves driving Camry's and shopping at Home Depot, with one of the subconscious reasons being that they come to associate these companies with the special happy experience they had with their parents.  What a great example of doing good and doing well.

        Oh, yes, one more thing.  Overcoming my initial hesitation, given I was so much older then these kiddies, I finally decided to ask the Home Depot man if I too could make a car for myself.  While he looked me a bit funny at first, he then smiled and handed me a kit too.  And I sat there right along side those kiddies making a car for myself too.  What a joyful experience that way.  And here's a picture of my very own masterpiece which I am sure will become part of my office for years to come. Thank you Home Depot and Toyota.

        Tuesday, March 1, 2011

        Moments of Truth

        In 1987, Jan Carlzon, then President of Scandinavian Airlines wrote Moments of Truth, one of my favorite books.  In it one of the statements he makes is that "Coffee stains on the flip tray suggest to the customer that we do not service our engines properly."  I read this book when it came out and this statement has always stuck with me.  While I understood it, I never quite experienced it as strongly until the last weekend.

        My wife and were recently in Pittsburgh where we stayed at the Holiday Inn, located on the University of Pittsburgh campus.  It's a nice clean facility with overall friendly service and reasonable rates.  We have stayed there many times and we certainly plan to stay there many more times.

        On this recent visit though, we decided to have dinner at the restaurant located inside the hotel.  When the server brought out the salad, they used the tray shown in pictures above.  It had plops of dressing, beacon crumbs, salad droppings, etc. all over the tray.  What an unappetizing site it was.

        As I saw this, while logically it may not make sense, I wondered if this is how they serve food out in the open, then how must they handle food in the back, how dirty must the kitchen be, how dirty must the rooms be, and so on.  What started out as just a dirty tray turned into my questioning how they must maintain their entire facility. 

        This particular incident really hit home the message of Moments of Truth. That being it isn't the big things but rather little things that lead to big impacts.  If you haven't read the book, it is a very worthwhile reading.  Apply what is presented in the book and watch your business grow.  It certainly worked for me when I was in my own business.  It was in fact one of the big secrets behind the growth we experienced.  I am confident it can have the same impact for you.

        Sunday, February 27, 2011

        Do You Love The Work But Hate to Sell?

        From time to time, I am asked the following question: Vinay, I love what I do, but I hate the selling part. What do I do?

        If you're like me, you don't particularly enjoy selling, nor the constant pressure of having to chase and close deals.  While I understand the sales process and the need to drive revenue, the use of war like language often used in sales (closing, chasing deals, breakthrough resistance, get 'em to say yes, etc.) is a turn off for me.

        I am certainly not implying it's wrong but just that it doesn't work for me. You see, to me people aren't to be conquered, nor are they just deals to be closed, trophies to be won.  Rather they are real living human beings, just like you and I and therefore deserve to be served, to be helped. To me "selling" is the start of a relationship, not the ending, the closing.

        While I don't particularly enjoy selling per se, I do love helping people.  I love becoming an expert in something and then sharing that expertise with others as well as using it to help.  So if you're like me, I say to you, stop selling and start helping.  Here are some of the ways you can do that:
        1. Write:  Write articles, start a blog, participate in various electronic discussion groups in which your target audience participate, write books, short booklets, and tips.
        2. Teach: Develop and deliver educational programs.
        3. Present.  Develop short talks.  Speak at conferences and other various gatherings.
        4. Serve: Get involved, serve on committees, boards, and other such groups.
        As you get in front of those you want to serve and share your expertise in these various ways, you'll start to get to know people, and more importantly people will start to get to know you.  Through such efforts, your network will grow, leading to conversations, some of which you'll initiate and some others will initiate.  In due time work will flow to you.  Working this way not only leads to work, it also leads to more joy and fulfillment, for both you and the people you help.

        Now some may question if this just a mind game for at the end of the day we still have to drive revenue.  After all, just helping with no returns doesn't work for too long either. What I do know and have experienced is that if you love your work but hate to sell, shifting the mindset from selling to helping can make all the difference, in both your own success as well as those you help.  So stop selling and start helping and you'll be well on your way.

        Tuesday, February 22, 2011

        Little Things Lead to Big Things!

        When I was in printing, we did our best to ensure our products were done right, done beautifully and delivered on time.  Yet some customers were still unhappy with us.  What gives we wondered.  After all, we delivered what we promised. 

        That's when we learned an important business lesson, among many others. 

        Over 90% of our clients were women in their 20's to 40's.  Many were busy, going to school at night, raising families, juggling many things.  And many wore dresses and shoes with high heels.  As this became clearer, our thinking began to shift and we started to see our business in a new light, came to realize what business we were really in.  It wasn't just about delivering the products but also how we delivered what we did.  In other words, product delivery was only part of the overall total experience that was important to the customers.

        As one example, in-terms of delivering our products, we would be packing them in big boxes, making them very happy to lift and move around.  They were heavy for men too, but they didn't say anything.  We would also label the boxes on the side.  This made it difficult for women, particularly those who wore tight skirts to bend and read the label.

        Once we realized who are real clients were and the challenges they face, we started to shift how we looked at our business. Connected to the example I just shared, we started to use smaller boxes, ensured our drivers placed the boxes at client sites where the customers wanted them placed, and began to label the boxes on the side and on the top.

        Result being through many such small steps, our client became happier with our service, thus helping us stand apart from other providers.  While we weren't always perfect and we made our share of mistakes, each and every day we strove to do better then we did yesterday. Overtime, small on-going improvements added up to big impacts.  Even in the competitive landscape, we became known for service and as a result, our clients stayed with us for long periods of time, purchased more and more, paid higher prices and provided numerous referrals.
        The foundation for this shift though had to first take place in our minds.  We began to ask our clients what's important to them, beyond just getting products done right and on time.  We started to look at our business through their eyes, finding out what they wanted and what were those little things that frustrated them. In fact, I would turn to spending more and more of my time with clients, then internally.  I wanted my fingers on the pulse at all time, getting first hand knowledge.

        We also shifted our thinking realizing that we really weren't in the business of printing.  While that's what we produced, we saw our business more as reducing stress, reducing anxiety, making life easier for our busy clients.  Once we saw our business through this new lens, what our business was really about, we continued to look at each and every aspect of our business, all with the goal of making our clients life easy and stress free as possible.  Rest, as they say was history. 

        So, what business are you really in?  What do your customers want?  What are those little things that you can do and do more of that can lead to big impacts for you and your customers?  If you're unsure, I encourage you to talk to your clients.  Ask them, and they'll happily tell you.  Then apply what they tell you and watch your business and your profits grow. It's that simple.

        After all, success is the sum of small efforts, done over and over on a consistent basis and in the process big things emerge from those little things.  

        Sunday, February 20, 2011

        Which Stool is More Stable?



        Naturally, the 3-legged stool is more stable and more difficult to knock over.  Same applies to those who sell. Too many sales people rest on their laurels thinking they have a strong foot hold when they have an excellent relationship with their contact at their customer's organization. But what happens when that person leaves, or has a change of heart?

        If your relationship with a customer rests on a single contact, you could easily be pushed out. While certainly enjoy the relationship, be sure to also cultivate additional relationships.  Do this both vertically and horizontally, going high, deep and wide. This will give you a much stronger foot hold, as well as potentially lead to additional revenue opportunities.  And the more people you know, the more referral potential as well. 

        I strongly urge you to review your client list and ask yourself, in which organizations is your relationship like a 1-legged stool and then identify steps can you begin take to convert those to more like a 3-legged stool.  It's well worth the investment.  Don't delay.  Do today, as if your future depends on it, cause it very well may.

        PS Similarly, actively strive to get more and more of your products and services into your customers organizations for this too makes it harder for a competitor to enter your space as well as for your customer to displace you. Moreover, it's easier to sell more to your existing clients then to get new ones.

        Saturday, February 19, 2011

        Box of Chocolates or Unpleasant Surprises?

        “Life is like a box of chocolates...you never know what you're gonna get.", said Forrest Gump.  While I certainly admire Mr. Gump's positive outlook, when it comes to customer service however, there is perhaps another saying that is more apt.  That is "Better the devil you know, then the devil you don't."


        Nothing upsets customers more then receiving inconsistent service, never knowing what they're going to get.  While occasional unexpected pleasant surprises are nice, overall though, it's far better to provide consistent and predictable service.  

         

        Case in point.  My wife and I run long distances over the weekends.  Given the times involved, naturally we have to make pit stops along the way.  On some of the "trails", along the way are 7-11s which also serve as a nice rest areas.  But that's when it all changes.  

         

        Some have facilities for public use, some don't; some have them placed such that they are openly and easily accessible and some in the back hidden; some allow customers to use their facilities, others don't; some allow you to use their facilities regardless of placement (out in the open or in the back somewhere), others require you to first seek permission from the staff (talk about feeling as if I am back in kindergarten).  You just never know what you're gonna find. Depending on the situation, what otherwise is no bid deal can turn into a painful experience. 

         

        I would think for a national chain such as 7-11, it would provide a consistent experience, regardless of location.  This is where chains such as McDonald's shine for no matter where you go, the offerings and service are consistent. But even if you're not a chain, it's still important to be consistent, boringly predictable even for there is great comfort in that.

         

        So, how consistent are you in the service you provide to your customers?  Can they depend on you completely, or are they never really sure what they will receive at any given time?  If the later, what actions can you start to take to provide more consistent dependable experiences?  


        Thursday, February 17, 2011

        How Responsive Are You?


        Many years ago, I received a bid request for a very small project, valued at only couple of hundred dollars.  Given my service orientation and nature to be responsive, I quickly called the requester for additional information and then followed-up with an estimate, in my usual very timely manner.

        As it's something I have experienced with numerous organizations over the years, what started out with a small project, many more projects then followed, and became bigger over time.  Turning back to the client I refer to, not only did I keep him, as he moved around to other organizations, he took me with him, leading to additional clients over the years, as well as many referrals.

        One day I asked Reggi what lead him to choose me on that original bid request.  His response: "You were the only one who responded."  Imagine, if I had ignored his request, I would have missed out on a beautiful friendship that we developed over the years, lost ten's of thousands in very profitable revenue, as well as numerous referrals. 

        I am reminded of this because earlier this week, in my search for a ghost writer, I sent emails to 3 firms in New York City requesting additional information on their services, and a request for a phone conversation. 

        Nearly 3 days later, 2 have yet to respond, and the one who did, did so in a very timely manner, responding with a very thoughtful reply and detailed information with what I requested. Since then we have exchanged several emails, all before we have even talked, and each of his responses have been timely, thorough and warm. From what I can tell from his communications, his firm is very successful.  Perhaps it's because one of his traits is simply that he follows-up on requests, whereas others don't?  

        So, how responsive are you to the various requests you receive?  If you're not, what could you be missing out on?  And if you were, what more would be possible for you and your business? 

        Monday, February 14, 2011

        Lesson in Service Recovery!


        No matter how good a systems and people are put in place, mistakes happen.  After all, to err is human. So what is one to do when something goes off course?

        To me a sign of a service minded organization is not that they are perfect but more how they respond when something goes off course.  Do they fail to respond? Do they play the blame game?  Or do they step-up thank the customer for letting them know about the issue, apologize and offer to make it right, all in a timely manner?  The later is what I refer to as Service Recovery and it is a sign of a service minded organization.  In fact, here's real example from today that I want to share with you.

        This morning you received my post entitled "What's Your Customer Experience Score?"  In it I site two examples, Sport & Health and Verizon. Well, to my pleasant surprise, within 12 hours of that post going out, I received a thoughtful email from Colleen Wolak, Email Marketing & Social Media Director at Sport & Health thanking me, apologizing for the indifference I wrote about and letting me know they are working on improving their service.  A great example of Service Recovery. Thank you Colleen.

        Now, as for Verizon?  Nothing.  Sounds to me they need to speak with the folks at Sport & Health and learn about service.  

        Sunday, February 13, 2011

        What's Your Customer Experience Score?


        A chain is only as strong as it's weakest link.  Similarly, when it comes to providing outstanding customer experience, it is only as good as the weakest link in your service chain (series of customer touch points).  Please allow me to elaborate.

        I belong to Sport & Health, a local gym chain.  Equipment is the latest, facilities are clean and well stocked, instructors are experienced and make exercising enjoyable.  Yet the person I see first nearly every time I enter the gym at this particular location has an attitude of indifference.

        Too frequently she has her head buried in a book and therefore when I check in, I feel as if I am intruding.  Rarely does she smile, say hello, welcome, have a great work out, have a nice day.  In fact, she often doesn't even look up, no eye contact, no smile.  It's simply a transaction where she scans my entry card and she is so good she can do it without ever taking her head out of the book.  I hate it for it feels so cold to me. No warm and fuzzes what so ever. What otherwise is a good experience is dampened for me as I enter as well as when I leave. Please note that this does not mean she is a bad person.  In fact, I have found her to be a very warm and genuine soul whenever I have engaged in a conversation. Perhaps it's just a matter of wrong role fit,or lack of training, and so on. But that's another topic for another time.

        As another example, we use Verizon Wireless at home for our phone, cable and internet service.  Verizon spends millions each year promoting their services. And their network technology is excellent, very reliable, which is important to me.  Yet rarely does a month go by when I don't experience billing errors. 

        For Sport & Health, their front desk reception and for Verizon Wireless, their billing system are the weak links in what otherwise are fine organizations.  Improve those areas and the overall customer experience score would increase significantly-at least from my vantage point.  Therefore, to improve your overall customer experience, a great place to begin is to identify your weak links and begin to strengthen them.

        So, how do you identify your weak links?

        Easy, interview your customers. They'll happily tell you, if you ask.  And as you have interview your customers, patterns will begin to emerge providing you invaluable insights on where to begin.  As you start to improve those areas, your service chain will begin to strengthen, leading to better overall customer experiences, and ultimately higher retention and profitability.  It's the right thing to do and it's good business.  Everyone wins.

        Go ahead, do it. It's a great invest of time and resources and the rewards well worth it.  I guarantee it.