Evolve and Adapt to Remain Relevant in Today’s Working World

Scott Burns, a noted financial columnist, posted a column about a woman who showed that the recent economic upheavals did not have to end in disaster. Kristen Hertel had been a successful employee of a large real estate brokerage firm. When the bottom dropped out, Hertel determined to go out on her own but she was smart about it. She got her licenses and opened, not one, but four small businesses, each of which answered a particular niche in the market. These businesses also looked at target customers who have a higher budget for the types of services she offered.

Two of her businesses that arose out of the housing crisis specialized in short sales. She provided sellers and realtors with the tools and services to complete the short sale with less hassle. Another business offered more mainstream services such as title and closing services. The fourth provides outsourcing for real estate agent support.

The word for quite some time has been to keep up your knowledge base and broaden your experiences and skills. Something else to think about is what you could do with those skills if jobs were scarce. Not all of us are cut out to run our own businesses, but with entrepreneurs like Hertel there will always be smaller niche businesses that could offer you a way to start a new career or advance the one you have. Granted, benefits may be slim, but if you are working, you are keeping up your experience and gaining new insights, much more so than acquiring a degree. Smaller businesses can also offer a broader range of experience because everyone tends to wear multiple hats.

With this in mind, when you are keeping up with news in your industry or interests, make sure to include start-ups and other new businesses related to your field. Find out what they do and keep it in mind if you ever find yourself on the receiving end of the proverbial pink slip.

Here are links to Hertel’s companies:

Advanced Title and Escrow
Advanced Short Sale Negotiators

No matter what field you are in, there are always support businesses for it. Don’t neglect them in your job search or when going out on your own.

Another Nail in the Post Office Coffin

Even before the Post Office’s current problems, stemming from a requirement for prepayment into retirement programs, it hadn’t been a place you wanted to business with. It has been the butt of jokes for years about their service record:

  • Slow service at the counter
  • Lack of technology for payment
  • Package and letter handling disasters
  • Attitude of workers toward the public

The USPS was pretty much a monopoly for years. As such, it engendered all the bad habits of a monopoly; the attitude that since you couldn’t get the same service elsewhere they knew you were stuck with the system. Granted, the United States has had the privilege of low costs for mailings for over a century. And it does still turn a profit.

But changes came fast and furious. Private enterprise had trouble keeping up. Could anyone actually expect a bureaucratic behemoth like the postal service to be any better? Or even as good as? Now revenues are dropping as more the post office’s work goes online. Talk about a new sense of convenience and efficiency…just what we humans like – everything made easy. Why go somewhere that went out of its way to make it hard to do business?

Even now, when I can see some workers trying to make a better effort at customer service, too often the post office doesn’t seem to be able to convince all their workers that the post offices future lies in being of great service. Now the USPS has another trouble of private enterprise: not enough revenue to pay for more workers, training, and technology to pull itself back to the top.

No Joy in Dirtville: The Rangers Lose Steam, Could Your Employees Run Out of Gas, Too?

I’m not really a sports fan but I got a little excited last week when it looked like the Rangers were about to win their first World Series. That was a heart-breaker, not being able to come back in that final game and git’er done.

Hence, my title “No Joy In Dirtville.” We haven’t had enough rain this year to be Mudville.And it wasn’t mighty Casey striking out, it was just lackluster performance. The 6th game just seemed to suck it all out of them and they couldn’t shake it.

Be aware of something similar happening to your employees. On those days when the customers have been especially tough on them or when they are just having a day where nothing goes right, it may be that the next day or two could be less productive for them. As a manager, just like Wash, you need to find a way to keep it from getting your team down.

It can get particularly dicey around performance appraisal time. This once a year data dump that should have been parceled out over the last 12 months can lower morale like nobody’s business if poor performance marks come as a big surprise. Can you imagine how productive you would be after being told that the past year of your life has been a series of mistakes and mediocre work even though nothing was said before this?

Nobody likes to tell someone they aren’t doing it right, but as managers we need to find ways to coach our teams to better work habits and higher skill levels. This can’t be done once a year, it has to come to your employees all the time so they can make those little course corrections.

At the end of 12 months you would be amazed at the road your staff can be on if they are guided throughout the year.

Customer Service R&R: Metrics and Rewards & Recognition

90% (of) Employees say customer experience is very important or critical in their company’s strategies
31% (of) Employees say company recognized or rewards employees for improving the experience.
from How to Build a Customer-Centric Culture

That’s quite a contrast. What it tells me is that most customer service employees want to provide a good customer experience but that little in the way of incentive comes their way for doing so. Since people generally do what they are incented to do it might be time to investigate what your employees are being incented to do.

Take a look at the metrics that are measured in your customer service center. Do they encourage staying with the customer until everything is fixed? Or do they encourage hanging up as soon as possible? Do you measure metrics that let employees know that customer experience is top of mind or do you measure performance by how many calls the employees can take in an hour?

The metrics you measure tell employees what your expectations and priorities are. This means any rewards and recognition tied to those metrics guide where they put their efforts on behalf of your company. Be certain that what you are rewarding is the behavior and performance that meets your stated goal of making a customer-centric customer experience, not one of efficiency at all costs.

It may cost customers.

When VOC Calls – Listen

I don’t know about your newspaper, but mine seems full of bad news today. Housing prices are sinking, the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas says the economy is near stall speed, and Reddy Ice Holdings is in danger of being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

Real downer, dudes and dudettes. But do not let these types of goings on rattle your cage, especially if you are about to cast an eye at slashing customer support. You have a gold mine there in case you don’t know it.

Your customers are feeling the pinch, just like you. Ask yourself, do I feel like making any cash outlays right now? Or would I like to know my vendor has my back until things stabilize but making sure what I already have keeps working right and that I learn about any great deals quickly?

These are the same feelings your customers have. And you should be able to tell from the feedback you get whenever one of them contacts your organization. If you are doing it right, customer service and customer support are putting some valuable information into the customer service management system.

By finding out how often and why people are calling, you can target incentives, sales collateral, and good karma toward your existing customers. These are the ones you want to stay around until things are more flush. It’s fun to get new customers, sure, but expensive. The ones you already have deserve your undivided attention for remaining loyal.

Get your system to tell you the trends in parts replacements, problems, requested features or products, and where all this is coming from. Make sure you are alerted as early as possible about customer dissatisfaction so you can catch them and fix it before they go to a competitor. Work with them so they know you understand their situation so that, even if they leave, when they feel more able to afford it, they will come back.

You can’t find all these things out if you don’t listen. The Voice of the Customer shouldn’t just blow in the wind. Even now your have information that you can use and you can find out more by adding some feedback management to your customer service and support.

Just like you can’t fix what you don’t measure, you can’t improve if you don’t learn precisely what is needed from the very people you need to keep your company afloat.

Congratulations CRM Idol 2011 Finalists!

The list is out and the competition is stiff. Out of a field of 22 contestants, Paul Greenberg and friends have whittled the field to four finalists:

  • Assistly
  • Crowd Factory
  • Get Satisfaction
  • Stone Cobra

Be sure to read Paul’s comments about Assistly’s eligibility.

This has been like the Westminster Dog Show so I congratulate the judges because, just like in a dog show, they were asked, not to judge these companies against each other, but against “best of breed”. See, the companies weren’t all the same thing.

The call for contestants went out for “CRM-ish” companies of particular revenue levels. They got everything from pure customer support applications to social marketing applications to a community/forum application. On one hand it made it nice because as a contestant you could be comfortable cheering each other on. But it also made it hard because it seemed like you couldn’t always define what the judges might be looking for.

This contest shows there are myriad ways to keep up with your customers. All of these companies have had success with a variety of ways to learn, serve, and support customers over multiple channels while learning best practices along the way. How do you know what you need in your organization?

The same way we have always touted: know your customers. Find out how they like to communicate. Make it easy for them to help themselves AND get to a human when needed. Don’t just take in the information, sift it and grind it to find actionable data that can help you improve your business. And take that action, don’t just research and report.

There is no one size fits all in customer service and support anymore than there is in clothing. But you need to define your requirements before looking at systems and definitely before making a choice. This choice is going to be around awhile. Make sure you and your customers can live with it.

Customer Service in a WIIFM World

HubSpot CMS graphic

Bruce Temkin released a paper in 2008 called The 6 Laws of Customer Experience. Law #2 said:

People are instinctively self-centered.

We have all been told about the “radio station” WIIFM – What’s In It For Me? So it should come as no surprise that your customer’s first thoughts are not about your product but about how they felt while dealing with your company. Thus giving rise to the “customer experience” and “voice of the customer” programs.

The thing is, even though people have definite opinions about how they were treated it can be like pulling teeth to get them to tell you about it. At least directly.

On Facebook and Twitter, sure….but not directly to you. And really, the percentage of people who even go to the trouble of putting their reactions out there on the social media is pretty low. Let’s face it, it takes effort to walk over to the computer, log on, and write even 140 characters unless we are extremely motivated. At which point your business has been thrown out the window…to late for fixing anything.

Just like you need to make it as simple as possible for customers to find you, shop your company, and buy from you, it has to be just as simple or even more so to get them to give you feedback.

“How?” you say.

It depends. I know, I hate that answer too because it usually means more work for me. But in this case, the work is an investment. Just like you determined what channel your customers preferred to use to interact with your company, you need to find the ways your customers are most comfortable telling you what it is really like to be your customer.

There will always be a few who are willing to tell you to your face but most of us would rather be polite, say something non-committal, and scoot out the door. Same for the phone. Many places have a website they direct people to where they can answer “How are we doing?” and there have always been email surveys.

But we’re dealing with WIIFM here. This means customers don’t care that what they tell you can help “improve our service to you”. That’s too nebulous and far away. They need an incentive.

Many incentives are freebies or coupons for one thing or another. Some are contests: “Fill out our survey for a chance to tin this iPad!”. But your customers may not need or want those things.

You know what can get people going? Some of the craziest things that won’t cost you a cent.

  • Many people will be happy to get a badge for their facebook page for filling out your survey.
  • Others would love being tagged as an expert in your online community.
  • Find a way for them to earn complimentary titles and who knows how much you can get from them.

An example is HubSpot. They have a very active online community and probably people would participate regardless. But HubSpot keeps track of how many times you answer questions or interact and gives you a successively higher title. You might start as a HubSpotter Newbie but then go on up through HubSpot Guru.

You know your customers, or you should. Think about what makes them react and offer them an incentive geared toward making that reaction. If the first thing doesn’t work, tweak it and try again. Don’t just forget about it.

It’s your business, your company. This is a WIIFM for you and what’s in it for you is a successful organization. So get out there and get feedback and give something in the process.

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