Networking and the Internet

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Next week I will be speaking at the Jamaica Employers Federation Convention 2007 on the topic of networking in the Caribbean region.

As I prepare, it has struck me that this kind of networking is based on some fundamental differences that all professionals across the region must come to terms with.

The first is that there is absolutely no way to network across the region without using the internet.

The second is that internet-based networking is actually happening whether a given professional is actually actively involved or not.

How so?

Imagine that in five years or so your name will be all over the internet. Today, a Google search done on a professional’s name probably picks up some small scrap of the total content that will be available in 2012. who will be creating this content that will be picked up the search engines?

Good question, but I can’t really know the answer. I can say with full assurance that a working professional who is committed to either growing their business or rising through the ranks in some company is going to find their name mentioned in the press, on their employer’s website, in meeting minutes of conferences, in their friend’s blogs and at their cousin’s myspace.com website.

In other words, if they do nothing, then others will be defining who they are to the world. More specifically, they will be defining them to the rest of the Caribbean region.

What is the professional to do?

One approach is to stick one’s head in the sand and hope that all this internet nonsense will just go away.

A better approach is to start today to create a profile of oneself on the internet, by engaging in the following kinds of activities:

  • set up a myspace.com page
  • start a blog
  • have conversations in chat rooms, message boards and mailing lists
  • speak at conventions and conferences
  • author papers and columns in ezines
  • upload videos to YouTube
  • write letters to the online press
  • post up a bio to the company website

These are just some of the ways in which a professional can create content that demonstrates who they are to a global audience. Sharing interesting ideas is probably the most effective way to become known in this, the information age.

Not so long ago, only 15 years in fact, there was very little understanding about this new thing called “email.” Today, email is a staple of doing business, moving from complete obscurity to the kind of ubiquity that makes not having an email address a kiss of death.

In the future, putting one’s head in the sand about their “internet brand” will be just as deadly. A good time to start to build that brand is right now.

Ideally, a Google search on our own name should yield a combination of items that we want our fellow professionals to see, rather than some random smattering of stuff other people have decided to say. It is critical that our region’s professionals take the task of managing their online brand as an essential one — as essential as deciding what to wear to work each day.

Job Creation

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As we enter the political season here in Jamaica, there is a growing topic of conversation about what the country needs to do to grow, and thereby reduce unemployment.

I found the following article to be quite interesting, and emphasizes some of my own concerns about hiring employees.

I consider myself to be a typical example — I have done business in Jamaica for years and am yet to hire a single Jamaican.

Not that there is anything wrong with professionals here. It’s just that my impression is that it is just too difficult a process to endure.

Click here to access the article entitled “Jamaican Job Creation — The Problem.”

FirstCuts ezine Issue 10.0

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FirstCuts Framework Consulting logo

A Framework Consulting Online eZine

High-Stake Interventions — New Ideas Issue 10 April 15, 2007

A Caribbean Branded Experience
by Francis Wade

Editorial

For better or worse, the Cricket World Cup has put our region firmly on the world stage as a united entity, jointly accountable for the success of the event.

It is the first time that we are coming together to host an event of this magnitude, and I felt proud of us as a region after the Opening Ceremony in March.

Since then, I have only wished that we had taken a stand for making it more of OUR world cup in every dimension, rather than something that feels imported. This issue is devoted to one element that we could have made our won, but didn’t — the customer
experience.

I find that we as a region are sometimes too shy to promote ourselves and our strengths on the world stage, and don’t appreciate the value and impact of our own brand in the world. Hopefully, after the matches are over we will have learned how to better harness our own strengths, especially outside of the realm of sun, sea and sand.

Until next month,

Francis

A Caribbean Branded Experience

There is a quiet revolution underway in which leading companies are changing the way they’re thinking about customer service.

Since the advent of the “total quality” movement in the 1980s, companies have been happy designing customer service to “meet or exceed customers’ needs or expectations” and to provide “excellent
service.”

Marketers are now saying that this approach is not sufficient and that they want customer service that fulfills an important role in brand building. In other words, they’re saying that service quality must do more than meet expectations. It must also create a “branded experience” that the company can use to clearly differentiate itself from competitors and deeply embed itself in the customer’s
psyche.

When companies fail to create a branded experience, they run the risk of either providing a bland experience that customers do not value or even creating a negative experience that customers actively avoid.

Such is the case of the ICC Cricket World Cup currently underway across the West Indies. The promise seemed simple: create a world-class event and cricket lovers the world over would come.

Unfortunately, the delivered experience has driven away local fans and turned off visitors, and there is universal recognition that something must be done to correct this.

What could the ICC Cricket World Cup organisers have done to prevent the fallout that’s now occurring? What went wrong in their planning? What can regional companies do to prevent their own customers from abandoning them at key moments?

In our most recent endeavor at Framework, we have been looking at this question for several clients—and we think that the ICC could have followed a simple process to craft a precise experience from inside the world of their customers, create channels to deliver the experience consistently, and ensure that interventions to restore the desired experience are timely and authentic.


Customer’s Experience vs. Customer’s Expectations


As companies change the way they think about the customer’s experience, savvy firms are focusing on creating specific “experiences” comprised of actual emotions they want their customers to retain after an encounter with the company.

For example, customers of an excellent hotel may leave their weekend stint having had experiences of “care, opulence, and comfort.”

In this context, the experience is a possible differentiating factor, built by the hotel, based on an understanding of what its target customers want—and what the hotel can actually deliver. Obviously, no set of experiences are universal and apply to all customers. Equally obvious is the fact that not all hotels are interested in delivering the same experience. A different hotel might be interested in creating an experience of “adventure, thrift, and practicality” for its customers.

If both hotels were effective in creating these experiences, they would appeal to very different segments, with brands that overlap only rarely.

In the case of the ICC Cricket World Cup, the “world-class” experience that’s associated with sporting events in developed countries has done much to turn away local lovers of the game.

The truth is, although half of the world lives on less than US$2.00 per day, the idea of what is world-class probably wasn’t defined with the “lower half” in mind. Instead, it most likely came from feedback gained from the 20% of the world’s population in the developed nations who consume 86% of the world’s goods (and perhaps even more of the global, live sporting events.) Here in the Caribbean, with our developing economies, we are hardly a part of the influential 20%.

A conversation with the average man in the street, or a visitor to the region, would reveal that our cricketing customers are very different from those envisioned by the typical customers of world-class events. The experiences we value are very different— more noisy, spontaneous, and reliant on people interacting with one another.

The ICC seems to have realized that a mistake was made and that the experience they were intent on delivering is not the one that customers are interested in having—even if it is “world-class.”

Unfortunately, companies in the region often assume that world-class is better. This is an excellent example where that thinking is just plain wrong.

The problem was created when the term “world-class” was not translated into specific experiences.

For example, a great deal has been made of the fact that local customers have not appreciated that tickets have been available online for several months. In a world-class event, an e-commerce channel is usually experienced as “helpful.” In the Caribbean, where less than 20% of our citizens have Internet access, the experience was one that was “exclusionary” and “difficult.”

Furthermore, foreigners have been complaining that the cricket experience they are having is sterile, and “not Caribbean enough.” One visitor quipped that if he wanted that kind of experience he would just have stayed home in England.

Shifting from vague ideals such as “world-class” to specific experiences is more than just a cosmetic play of words. When experiences can be understood as a combination of critical emotional outcomes, practices can be customized to produce them.

Take, as an example, interactions between the flight crew and customers in the airline industry.

A company that intends to create the experience of “peace and quiet” would train the staff in very different practices from one that creates the experience of “spontaneity.” The practices would contrast in tone, length, volume, and warmth.

To illustrate, Southwest Airlines is well known for the jokes, contests, and songs that its flight crew (including the captain) tell over the intercom at different points in the flight. As a customer of Southwest, which specializes in short-haul flights, I can report from the experience that it was fun.

However, I also truly appreciate the peace and quiet provided by a British Airways business-class seat on a long trans-Atlantic flight.

As another example, here in the Caribbean, a company that tries to deliver the same experience to its clients, regardless of the culture of each client’s home country, can run into serious trouble. A Trinidadian customer may respond very differently to an invitation to go out for drinks and a lime after work compared to a Barbadian in the same situation.

A savvy company accounts for regional differences and customizes its practices to carefully produce the desired experience, while monitoring the actual experience its customers are having.

Unfortunately, international research conducted by Bain & Co. shows that most companies are in the dark. Some 80% of companies believe that they are delivering “a superior customer experience,” while only 8% of their customers agree.

The best companies go further than customizing their practices, however. They also define what happens for customers at each point at which the company interacts with the customer.


Delivering the Experience Through Touch Points


Critical to delivering the experience and customizing practices is understanding that customers build up their experience of companies through what are called “touch points.”

Recently I made my first visit to a new bicycle shop here in Kingston, Jamaica. The outside looks rather ordinary, as the shop is tucked away between other stores behind a very shallow parking lot. However, when I entered it for the first time, I had only one thought: “This feels like America!” The layout was superb, the store was air-conditioned, and the merchandise was well lit and attractively displayed.

It was a vivid touch point, and I have not visited another bicycle shop since then, as this one is a clear step above any others in terms of its environment.

Perhaps the owner designed the store’s interior with a particular experience in mind: “inviting.” If so, he has succeeded—the layout invites the customer to linger, and, in my opinion, it’s the only bicycle shop in Kingston that comes close to accomplishing this feeling. The first entrance into the store is a powerful touch point.

We at Framework have developed tools to help companies define the desired experience, inventory the touch points, and define standards of behaviour and process that deliver the experience. (See the footnote to this ezine about how to obtain more information on one of these tools.)

When I first did this exercise for Framework Consulting, the insights I gained were stunning. When I stepped into our customer’s shoes, seemingly trivial details became critical.

When I made the first list of touch points, I realized that the firm’s brand was being experienced through multiple channels, some of which were as follows:
• A visit to the company website
• How long it took to get a reply to an email
• The length of the voice mail message I heard when I called
• The fit between my proposals and the client’s budget
• A casual encounter in the mall or on an airplane
• A speech heard at a conference

These are all valid touch points, and they all work together to create our company’s particular brand and some overall experience for our customers. I found that I was managing a mere subset of all potential touch points.

Unfortunately, in the case of the ICC Cricket World Cup, the touch points that I personally encountered were a mixed bag of positive and negative experiences:
• The press was full of reports of things that we West Indians were not allowed to do on match day
• When I called to order tickets, I was told quite unprofessionally that “they were sold out”
• When I bought a ticket online the following day, the website was confusing and would not allow me to pick the row or seat, just the “section”
• When I picked up the ticket, the agent appeared unconcerned that I was given incorrect information
• It was amazingly easy to be transferred from the parking lot to the ground itself
• The degree of security (in crime-ridden Jamaica) was wonderful to behold
• I was told I could bring in no food or drinks, but I saw people do both
• The ground’s vendors ran out of decent meals, and my family ended up eating something awful for lunch
• Sabina Park never looked more beautiful, or better prepared, as a physical facility
• There was none of the noise that’s always a part of cricket in the Caribbean
• The brand name of the toilets was neatly (and bizarrely) covered with duct tape . . .

All of these touch points together—good and bad—helped to make the total experience.

A note about the duct tape on the toilets: While covering the brand name on a toilet may have something to do with a world-class standard (i.e., ambush marketing), the feeling of outrage that I felt at that moment has stayed with me. (Apparently, the manufacturer declined to be a sponsor, hence the peculiar need to hide its name from the public.) I cannot imagine that too many West Indians would take this particular tactic lightly, and many sportswriters have written about the greed and selfishness that it exemplifies. Clearly, this touch point created an experience that was foreign to the majority of the ICC Cricket World Cup customers.

Taken together, the mixed bag of experiences, via different touch points, has resulted in empty stadiums (to date) and a bitter taste in the mouths of many fans—a bad taste that the organisers are now desperately trying to correct.

Unfortunately, some recent public pronouncements by the executives of the ICC Cricket World Cup have only added more negative experiences. Apparently, they deliberately decided to overlook the
customer’s experience and instead tried something bolder—to “change Caribbean culture,” in the words of Stephen Price, the tournament’s commercial director.

Needless to say, it’s much more difficult to “change” customers than it is to provide a particular experience that customers value, and more recent actions seem to indicate a course correction.

This is not to say that there aren’t aspects of the Caribbean culture that work against us, but the customer is the wrong element to try to change. Instead, the tournament staff—those who deliver the bulk of the experiences to the customer—should be the real point of focus.


Interventions to Deliver the Desired Experience


Companies that decide to transform themselves to deliver a consistent customer experience must start with the people who deliver the experience. Coaching and training interventions are the best way to change the knowledge, skills, and motivation required.

Unfortunately, the average employee in the Caribbean region is at a severe disadvantage.

One benefit of being a service worker in a First World country is simply having consistent exposure to companies that deliver better service, or even world-class service. Contrasted with the average Caribbean employee, First World employees can more easily become savvy service providers as a result of having had a direct
experience.

Here in the Caribbean, however, the average service provider just hasn’t had that same experience. In fact, the average Caribbean national is hard-pressed to identify a single company with which they interact that provides excellent service.

That doesn’t mean that Sandals, for example, isn’t providing excellent service. However, the income gap between our average service worker (earning perhaps US$200 per week) and the average Sandals customer (paying $US200 per night) means that the majority of workers will never spend a night at Sandals.

Caribbean service workers are therefore in a bind—How do they meet customers’ expectations when theirs have never been met? How do they provide a service level that they’ve never personally witnessed? How do they effect behaviours that deliver an experience that they’ve never had?

This question is not an easy one to answer, as we at Framework are finding, but we have had some success by taking the following two steps.

1. Use Specific, Familiar Language
Managers must define the customer experience in terms that the service worker can appreciate and understand. This may mean using language that’s colloquial, based in patois or local jargon. The point here is to make it easy for the service worker to remember and focus on delivering the experience.

The benefit derived from making the experience explicit is that the service worker is better able to judge whether or not the experience is being delivered. When general terms such as “world-class” are used, that actually communicates very little to the service workers—leaving them unable to correct their behaviour, even if they want to.

This is quite different from a situation in which a manager asks his worker whether or not a particular customer was “delighted, inspired, and energized.” A manager who uses such terms is more likely to get an intelligent response than one who asks whether or not the customer was merely “satisfied.” Using specific language is
the key to communicating what the goal of each interaction actually is.

2. Develop Emotional Intelligence
Managers must train workers to develop aspects of their emotional intelligence that emphasize the ability to recognize, and respond to, the emotions of customers—especially when those emotions might be negative.

At one extreme is the kind of worker who cannot recognize the emotions of others, even when those emotions are obvious. These workers probably should not be in the service industry at all. Further along the spectrum are those who recognize the feelings of others, but react in a way that’s inappropriate because they cannot
control their reactions.

The emotional intelligence needed to consistently deliver a customer experience can be learned. With consistent coaching, an employee with a basic level of empathetic skills can learn how to use touch points to accomplish the company’s goals.

Most are not able to turn themselves into experts overnight, however. Managers must make time to not only train, but to serve as role models for the standards it takes to create a desired experience.

The best managers believe this rule: service workers will not deliver an experience to a customer that exceeds the experience that they’ve had with their own management. The best managers give enough of the “right” experience to their front-line workers in order for those workers, in turn, to be able to give that experience to others. For this reason, the first-level, or front-line manager’s role is a critical one.


Summary


Long after the ICC Cricket World Cup has come and gone, companies in the region will be able to use the example of its citizens direct experience to see that delivering good service is not merely a matter of repeating what is done elsewhere.

Instead, it takes the precise application of touch point standards and interventions in every case—and when the job is done well, the customer’s experience is assured.

*

P.S. We would like to offer you a paper with more details on Framework’s Service Inventory — a tool to capture critical information at company touch-points. To receive the paper, send email to fwc-serv-inv@aweber.com


Useful Stuff

Tips, Ads and Links
I will be speaking at the upcoming Jamaica Employees Federation conference from May 3-6 in Ocho Rios on the topic: Building Bridges across the region: Networking Strategies and Techniques for the New Breed of Caribbean Managers.

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Surpassing Customer Expectations and A Happy, Fun Workplace?

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In a Harvard Business Review article dated from July 2003 entitled “What Really Works” by Nohria, Joyce and Roberson, the authors reveal some interesting research that makes a couple of very different points.

The two points come from their observation that winning companies use a combination of management practices that can be thought of as 4 mandatory practices and 2 optional practices.

The mandatory practices are strategy, execution, culture and structure.

The 2 optional practices can be chosen from a menu of 4 practices. They are Talent, Leadership, Innovation and Mergers & Partnership.

Among the many items of interest are a couple of points.

The first is the following:

“Evergreen winners deliver offerings that consistently meet customer’s expectations, and they’re very clear about the standards they have to meet. But they don’t necessarily strive for perfection… In fact, fully one-third of winning companies offered only average product quality. Which goes to show that many customers don’t care about a level of quality that goes beyond their needs and desires; they won’t necessarily reward you for exceeding their expectations. They will, however, punish you severely if you don’t meet their expectations. You tumble quickly when you fail on execution.”

In a prior blog, I wrote about the fact that the ICC Cricket World Cup, with its emphasis on “World Class Standards,” has so far failed to create an experience that West Indian cricketing fans are interested in paying a premium for.

This research finding seems to back up that assertion by showing that expectations that customers don’t have might not be not worth meeting. (I prefer to think in terms of customer experiences, as that is much more precise than talking in terms of vague “expectations.”)

In other words, then, experiences that customers are not willing to have just might not be worth creating.

On the other hand, experiences that customers believe that they must have are absolutely necessary, and not in some theoretical way, but in a felt way – deep down inside the bones of the customer. Mangers need to be careful not to superimpose experiences on the customer they do not want.

For example, it may very well be that a customer of world class standard cricket wants to be able to watch the game without having someone next to them blowing a conch shell… or selling peanuts… or shouting loudly… or dancing at every minute, or offering them food to eat that their “Auntie” made just this morning including something from a goat.

However, for a Caribbean customer, these are required experiences that make Caribbean cricket what it is.

The second point was the following:

“Our study made it clear that building the right culture is imperative, but promoting a fun environment isn’t nearly as importing as promoting one that champions high-level performance and ethical behaviour.”

In effect, the authors’ research results disprove the myth that if the company creates a fun environment, then employees will be so happy and “all else will follow.”

The problem with trying to create an environment based on “fun” is that not only is the stated value wide open to interpretation, but it also leaves management chasing after every employee complaint that they are not having “fun.”

Improvement then becomes a matter of trying to plug all the leaks in the fun people expect to be having. Unfortunately, no company can be expected to be the grand provider of all things that are fun… in fact, to commit to this goal seems to me to violate the principle that each person is actually responsible for their own fun in the first place.

Fun, and happy employees, seem to me to be more of a fortunate by-product for those people who happen to enjoy cultures of high performance and ethical standards. For those employees that do not enjoy such cultures, then the workplace will always be a miserable place.

Companies that try to make their employees happy run a grave risk of putting the cart before the horse.

Individual Brilliance, Collective Stupidity

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I just got up from in front of the television, where the West Indies is, once gain, disappointing this cricket fan.

At the moment the score reads 48/3 against Sri Lanka, and it looks like we are in for our third beating in a row.

So, I thought I would take a break… Lara’s recent soft dismissal was the icing on the cake. Onto other more uplifting topics…

Yesterday’s Boys and Girls High School Champs was yet another triumph, not just for the winners (Calabar) but for the Jamaican sporting fraternity. Last year, I wrote about my experience at Champs, and why attending it was so absolutely inspiring.

Not coincidentally, Patrick Robinson’s new book: “Jamaican Athletics: A Model for the World” was also launched, describing how the structure and spirit of our homegrown athletic system that has produced more currently top rated athletes that any other country in the world apart from the United States. At the heart of our system is our Boys and Girls Champs — the greatest athletic competition in track and field in the world for high school students.

What impresses me, however, is that Champs stands out as an exception to what I would describe as a general Caribbean weakness in our ability to work together in groups. (Trinidad’s Carnival is also another exception.)

In my work in corporations I have noticed the same phenomena: very sharp people who are unable to work together.

In politics the same: very smart politicians who are rendered impotent by each other, effectively nullifying whatever interest they have in serving the people of Jamaica.

In communities our very high murder rate here in Jamaica is driven by disputes large and small between individuals, gangs, neighborhoods, schools and sports teams.

What is it about us Jamaicans that make working together productively so very difficult?

In a prior blog I mentioned the idea that the pursuit of self-interest is a good thing, if it is allowed to blossom and grow into a realization that your best interests are also mine, but turns into something dangerous when we either pretend that we have no self-interest, or we stop, and fail to take our pursuit past the point of a narrow selfishness.

Often, we are our own worst enemies.

Recently at the corner of Ardenne and Hope Roads thieves stole the controller to the traffic light, rendering it useless.

I can imagine the same thieves riding on the bus later that week, complaining that the government has done nothing to fix the lights… without any sense of irony.

Yet, this is often what we do. We create our own problems, at first for each other, and then for ourselves.

We are undoubtedly a smart set of people, but that kind of brilliance we show is probably not as important as the kind that we need — if there is a thing called “group intelligence” then that is what we need to order up as quickly as possible.

It is only now that I am back living in Jamaica that I can say that there is a kind of group intelligence that I observed in US companies that I don’t see here to the same degree — this in total hindsight.

From my recollection of working abroad:

  • In discussions, I often observed people make a deliberate decision to step back in order to allow a consensus to form.
  • In meetings, I remember participants willingly surrendering their positions, in order to allow the group to move forward.
  • When dealing with companies as a customer, a customer service agent would make amends in order to keep me as a customer.
  • At stoplights, drivers would yield the right of way.
  • Upon being introduced, people would start by finding common ground.

These might all be taken to be the marks of polite company, but I think there is more to it than that. After all, Americans are not altogether a polite people, in the sense that the British are.

They are a very practical people, however.

Perhaps one aspect of group intelligence is knowing when to yield, in order to maintain a certain cohesiveness.

If so, then it is a skill we are sadly lacking here in Jamaica.

Instead, our particular determination to succeed comes from our commitment to justice and on protecting our ” rights.”

These are powerful, potent points of focus — they have motivated the “creation”/revelation of a religion such as rastafarianism, the rise of a leader such as Marcus Garvey and the fame of Bob Marley, among others.

They also lead to protest, murder and mayhem, with our irrational sensitivity to being “dissed.”

However, they are not enough, as our economic failures have demonstrated.

The recent lawless activities taking place in our schools has had some commentators talking about our “insistence on having things our way.” When we all engage in actions designed to get what we want, others be damned, we doom ourselves, because in a small country such as ours what goes around, surely comes back around. The movie “Crash” comes to mind.

It seems that we need to develop an ability to think about the welfare of the group, in addition to our own, and to act accordingly.

However, Boys and Girls Champs are a clear exception to the rule, rising from a 6 school event with 70 athletes (all male) in 1910 to one in 2007 that that has 63 schools and 2200 athletes.

Sadly, I don’t have answers to my all my questions, but I will pursue them until something structured opens up.