Forward-Leaning

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It strikes me that the one thing that employers in the Caribbean most want from their employees is that they take initiative and demonstrate a willingness to be responsible.

It seems to me that when they complain about workers coming late, leaving early, being unproductive etc. what is at the heart of it all is a feeling that companies suffer from having too few employees engaged.

In other words, there are too few who are forward-leaning.

The default Caribbean behaviour in the work-place is to be laid-back, and to give as little as possible to the company.

I am coming to believe that the most effective transformation is one which leaves more employees engaged than before, as measured by the number that are forward-leaning.

Strategy and the Fat Smoker

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I haven’t read his book yet, but David Maister’s new book on strategy seems to be right on target.

I recently read an article that he wrote by the same name in Consulting Magazine that shared some of the book’s ideas. The title? – Strategy and the Fat Smoker.

He makes the point that fat smokers know what they need to do to lose weight, and to ward off a heart attack and cancer. However, knowing what they need to do is just not enough. Instead, the
real question is whether or not they can do what it takes to sacrifice present discomfort for future gain.

Companies have habits, just like people, and changing habits takes diligence, discipline and perseverance, plus a tolerance for multiple failures.

On the smallest of micro-levels, it takes waking up each morning and starting the day on a different foot, determined to take actions that push the envelope on new-habit creation, or old-habit deletion. This is where the strategy gets implemented — on a person by person basis, in the quiet moments when they have a choice to act differently, and move out of their comfort zones in order to make it happen an inch at a time.

I happen to be doing an experiment of sorts to change some of my habits. Inspired by a blog I read on creating a ‘Scaffold’ for each day or repetitive actions, and also by the recent literature on what it takes to change a habit, I have been daily working through a checklist of new
habits that I am trying to follow.

I have been using a 30-day checklist that has helped tremendously as I keep the sheet in front of me as a guide to making sure that the essential actions are being followed each day.

I agree with him about the challenge it takes to change habitual actions. In his article, he says that “Discussing goals is stimulating, inspiring, and energizing. But it feels tough, awkward, annoying, frightening and completely unpleasant to discuss the discipline needed to reach those goals.”

This strikes a chord with me as I get to the end of the year, and notice which of my goals remain unfinished. When it comes down to it, for a few of them I just didn’t know how to accomplish the goal, but on others, I knew exactly what to do but didn’t muster up enough habit-breaking
will-power to get the job done, and that’s the truth.

Customer Experience Programmes Falling Through the Cracks

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Customer Experience programmes are some of the most difficult for large corporations to manage, and many end up falling through the proverbial cracks.

I remember when I first heard the concept a few years ago, and applied it to my company newsletter, FirstCuts.

I found myself undertaking an out of body experience that was difficult. I had to imagine what it was like for a subscriber to go through all the touch-points that they would encounter, regardless of whether or not I had control over them or not.

Luckily, I subscribe to many newsletters, so I had a way of thinking about the service I was providing in terms of what I would have liked to see someone provide to me. It still was not easy, however, and resulted in my having a to create a tool to understand the different experiences that a customer could have at each touch-point (The Service Inventory.)

The problem is compounded tremendously in corporations.

Unfortunately, the touch-points that a customer experiences don’t all fall into one nice department called “customer experience”. In fact, most customers’ first touch-point has nothing to do with service in many cases. Instead, people’s first impression might be through the company’s advertising, a speech given by the CEO, what their cousin told them about the company, or the fact that they couldn’t find parking when they made their first visit.

These are all critical touch-points that help to create the emotional bundle of experiences that customers are left with at the end of the day.

What makes this all hard for companies, and for the heads of customer experience departments, is that they must somehow find a way to influence the entire company to provide a different set of touch-points for customers.

And this is why customer experience programmes often fail — companies either reduce them to mere customer service, or they fail to get the entire company to buy in on the importance of looking at all the touch-points, from the CEO on down.

It takes a total commitment to deal with all the touch-points that customers experience, and the truth is that customers don’t care which department is failing to give them the experience they want at the moment, all they know is that the company is bad.

Press Release — Upcoming Customer Experience Speech

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

A NEW FOCUS ON CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE COMING

Companies are betting that a new focus on “experience” will help them better serve local customers

One of the major trends in the world of customer service seems to making in roads in Jamaican corporations. Instead of merely serving customers, companies are hoping that by going after a precise experience they will be able to motivate employees, raise standards and provide customers with more of what they are looking for in their interactions with companies.

Local companies such as Scotiabank, Cable and Wireless and Victoria Mutual have all recently appointed high level executives in charge of “Customer Experience.” They understand what many companies are trying to grasp: the customer’s experience is impacted by every single “touch-point” or interaction they have with a company, including their website, the front-line staff, how they pay their bills or make deposits, and even what they see in their advertising.

On November Wednesday 21st, Francis Wade of Framework Consulting will be addressing the Jamaica Customer Service Association’s International Certificate Graduation, and will be describing this important shift in emphasis that is already positively impacting service standards in the Caribbean region.

According to Wade, “Employees across the board are finding it much easier to appreciate this new approach. Companies are finding that they can tap into an employee’s understanding of “experience” more easily than they can describe to them what happens in some far away company they have never visited.”

“Managers that are still talking about Walt Disney or the Ritz Carlton are speaking over employee’s heads, and are having a hard time relating to their daily experience of the service they experience from their minibus driver, post office, bank and grocery store.”

By adapting this new best practice, local companies are able to do what many companies around the world have done, and start with a set of “target experiences” that the company has decided will support its brand. Once these experiences are defined, they are translated into standards at each “touch-point.” Employees are taught how to deliver these experiences consistently, and how to monitor the customer’s reaction with a combination of advanced interpersonal skills and personal intuition.

Websites are tweaked, process are changed –all in order to produce the particular experiences. Wade said “Managers who think that they can motivate employees by speaking about the service they experienced at their last trip to Sandals are mistaken. They don’t appreciate that a major reason that front-line employees deliver better service in North American companies, for example, is that they have many, many examples of good service that they have seen first hand.”

“They merely have to copy the service levels that they see every day. In Jamaica, employees cannot do the same, and their job is much, much harder.”

Culture Change Gone Bad

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While a culture change is very hard to do well, it is very easy to do badly.

In this article from CNN, entitled “No storybook ending after tycoon dolls up vilage,” a millionaire adopted a US town, and attempted to give it a makeover.

As could be predicted, she ran into resistance, as the towns-people gradually developed a hostile resistance to her ideas and interventions.

I think she misunderstood her challenge — it was not to change the physical environment, but instead to cause a shift in the culture of the people in the town.

This is a mistake that CEOs often make – believing that money can buy just about anything.
Sometimes it can buy hearts and minds, but when it does the kind of people who end up being bought are usually not the strongest characters, and they are not likely to stay bought for long.

This approach just does not work, as this tale amply demonstrates.

Heedless Self-Interest

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In an article from the New York Times, I found the following quote:

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,” said F.D.R. “We know now that it is bad economics.” These words apply perfectly to climate change. It’s in the interest of most people (and especially their descendants) that somebody do something to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but each individual would like that somebody to be somebody else. Leave it up to the free market, and in a few generations Florida will be underwater.


In a prior post, I wrote about the importance of appealing to people’s self-interest as a way to change the culture of a company. With more information, I argued, people naturally do what’s best for them and others, once they can see the apparent interconnection of all that is.

The Course in Miracles says that the fact that we are all connected means that attack is impossible, as it rests on the idea that we are somehow separate.


Coke Prices

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I recently heard that a US$500 kilo of cocaine in Colombia can be sold for US$10,000 in Jamaica.

By the time it gets to the US, it fetches a price of US$30,000.

If it reaches the UK safely, that goes up to $35,000.

Given these prices, and our location right between Colombia and Miami, it does seem as if we have a problem of geographic proportions.

The Put-Down: A Guy Thing

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I read the following excerpt of an article on humor from the 2003 Harvard Business Review that I find interesting.

“Female executives in this research consistently used more humor than their male counterparts, but men used more put-down humor. Women were more likely than men to use complimentary humor or humor that otherwise expressed caring, warmth, and support; they used significantly less humor that put down subordinates and marginally less that put down superiors.

Researchers have shown that in interpersonal relations, men tend to assert rather than downplay status differences, while women do the opposite.

Although people of both sexes use humor largely to build bridges, some organizational psychologists believe that for men, put-down humor may also be a way to establish and maintain hierarchical status.

Taking the Hard Road

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Managers (and parents) have the very difficult job of leading others, but are often amazed when others do not take their advice.

The obvious and most frequent response is to blame those who refuse to take the coaching for their attitude, laziness and lack of discipline.

Yet, it is the rare manager who takes Gandhi seriously: “If you want to change the world, become the first change.”

In a culture change initiative, for example, mangers come up with a list of new “values” that they continually exhort their employees to follow. They repeat them in speeches, create colorful posters and pass out lists of values to be displayed prominently in each cubicle.

When the lackadaisical results are realized, it is the brave manager who is willing to discover what was wrong in their approach, rather than to seek fault in others.

The good news is that the brave manager who sincerely asks these questions and shares the process they are engaged in openly with their employees is demonstrating some powerful behaviours.

  1. They are showing the importance of being willing to struggle openly in living the values
  2. They are teaching the process of living the values, rather than the process of “talking about” the values
  3. They are demonstrating courage by showing their weaknesses, rather than demonstrating arrogance by showing their “strength” in living the values.

If authenticity is the currency used to build trust, then the managers who demonstrate these behaviours are more likely to be followed by their employees, and are more likely to engage in the challenge of living by a new set of values. This is a powerful place to start, albeit infrequently observed.

Measuring the Mood

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Now and again I read an article that takes my breath away. Taking the Measure of Mood by Patrick O’Connell appeared in the March 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review and it did just that.

The idea is simple and has powerful ramifications for our region.

But first, a little background. The author is a chef at The Inn at Little Washington in Virginia. Their goal is to provide customers with nothing less than a transformative experience.

They do so by training their staff to be keenly observant and sensitive to guests’ words and behaviour–especially to body language. They also developed a system for tracking and communicating this information to everyone who needs it.

They are trained to quickly evaluate the mood of a party, by using the indicators that we all use–body language, eye contact, voice tone, etc. They start off by assigning the party an initial score on a scale of 1 to 10, and logging that score into their database.

They go to work on those parties that enter the establishment with low scores to increase this subjective assessment to at least a 9.

They use common facilitation skills — asking questions, paraphrasing, clarifying, asserting, etc. Actually, they use ALL the means at their disposal to increase the score, including the choice of waiter, speed of service, taste of entrees, seating, music, etc.

They consider the job done when the customer volunteers their personal story, which for the staff is the proof that an emotional connection has occurred.

While I have tackled the issue of customer experience creation at different points in this this blog — click here to see a page of past Chronicles entries on the topic — this takes things to another level.

Something about this article brings me home to our region. In the past year, I have spent nights at hotels in a variety of countries, and there is truly something distinct about the service we render here in the Caribbean.

In other posts, I have referred to it as “Friend Service.” This is the closest I can come to describing the feeling that happens when an emotional connection is made, and the switch is turned ON with a Caribbean customer service provider.

(When the switch is OFF, by contrast, the experience is positively painful.)

This article has led me to think that a service provider who is emotionally intelligent, is better able to read the mood of a person or group of people However, if I use the definition of Emotional Intelligence that I have been using lately, that explanation seems inadequate.

How to define the skill is the next problem I’ll be tackling, but my instincts tell me that we have an advantage over service providers in other cultures, for whatever reason, in detecting the unspoken experience that other people are having. I am guessing that this advantage carries over into the customer service profession.

I have my theories regarding slavery, our education system or our parenting styles that are my best guesses, but I will be exploring the subject further in future posts, and in my work.