What is it that makes customer service extraordinary?
This week is Customer Service Week, a week to remind organizations of the importance of customers and the week to especially celebrate those who provide this service day in and day out.
In honor of Customer Service Week, I want to share a conversation I had with an expert in the field of customer service, Mark Sanborn. Mark is an extraordinary professional speaker, the bestselling author of numerous books on customer service and leadership, and a personal friend. His many books have inspired me and countless others to raise our own performance and deliver exceptional service.
In this brief nine-minute conversation, we talk about:
What differentiates extraordinary customer service from average service
How good recovery means everything if you miss
How to use creativity instead of capital to fix customer service problems
The danger of indifference
Overcompensating for customer service misses
How leaders can develop a customer service culture throughout an organization
Companies, like people, can go off track. A simple error compounds. The wrong attitude takes root. A poorly designed strategy is implemented. Perhaps the focus is just a bit off, sending everything off course. It happens.
What do you do if you are off track? How do you recognize the signs?
There are two branding experts that I turn to when it comes to branding and revitalizing brands: Larry Light and Joan Kiddon. They not only have the experience, but their advice is my favorite kind: practical and actionable. I’m not one for studying theories that I can’t immediately use.
I recently spoke with the authors about the troubling behaviors and attitudes that cause companies to mess up their brand. They have identified 12 ways that brands go awry. Their updated book on branding, Six Rules of Brand Revitalization, is a must-read on the subject.
“Arrogance leads to complacency which destroys innovation and leaves you out of date.”
How do you pull a culture out of arrogance, especially if they don’t realize it?
Often it takes a sense of urgency, a perception of an impending crisis. Change is difficult. An arrogant culture resists change until it seems that there is no option. Change or die. Dramatize the need for change. The most dangerous disease is complacency. Arrogance can lead to complacency. Complacency can keep your eyes closed to innovation and leave you out of date with your customers. The common expression, “Go back to basics,” is often used to defend resisting change. Going backwards will not guide marketers how to best go forward.
“Culture change is led from the top. The leader sets the tone.”
Culture change is led from the top. The leader sets the tone. Sometimes a leadership change is necessary. This is what happened at McDonald’s in 2002. The new leadership immediately dramatized the need for change. Jim Cantalupo, the new CEO, created a sense of urgency.
We recommend the four steps of Breaking the LOCK on Brand Troubles: Fix Leadership; then leadership can fix the Organization alignment. Cultural change is an imperative. Knowledge is a powerful force. Become a learning culture…
12 Branding Sins
1: The arrogance of success
2: The comfort of complacency
3: The building of organizational barriers and bureaucratic processes
4: The focus on analyst satisfaction rather than on customer satisfaction
5: The belief that what worked yesterday will work today
6: The failure to innovate
7: The lack of focus on the core customer
8: The backtracking to basics
9: The loss of relevance
10: The lack of a coherent Plan to Win
11: The lack of a balanced Brand-Business Scorecard
12: The disregard for the changing world
Is there one that is most often the culprit in brand failures?
As we say in the book, the Twelve Tendencies for Trouble are not independent of each other. These are all interconnected forces. A company that succumbs to one seems to succumb to more than one. There is no single culprit. Each of the Twelve Tendencies for Trouble must be avoided.
“Problem solution is the most effective way to stay relevant.”
Starting a new job is one of life’s big stressors. You want to make a good impression, hit the ground running, and have an immediate impact. Today employers have little room for someone who doesn’t. Honeymoon periods seem to last all of thirty seconds.
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” –Winston Churchill
No matter how savvy you are or how many jobs you’ve had, you should think carefully about your onboarding process into a new company. Learning the culture, understanding what success looks like and building key relationships are unique to each organization.
Studies show that a great onboarding process can increase productivity and dramatically improve executive retention.
Onboarding can cut time to productivity by a third.
Walking through a busy convention floor at Book Expo America, I nearly bumped into him as I dodged through a publisher’s stand on my way to an appointment. It was one of those chance meetings, the ones you don’t expect but you figure somehow it was arranged or planned to happen just that way.
Dr. Samuel R. Chand and I collided, and it started a conversation about leadership and what makes it possible. After our meeting, I had the opportunity to read his books and soak in his ideas. I’m delighted to introduce him to you and share some of our conversation.
“The best use of power is to give it away.” –Sam Chand
Waiting for someone to call me into the auditorium, I stared out the window. As I meditated on the points I wanted to cover as a featured speaker at this leadership conference, something in the street below caught my attention.
A man stood on a ladder painting—not that uncommon a sight. I smiled, remembering my student days in college. I had spent my summers doing that kind of work. Yet I couldn’t take my eyes off the man. For several minutes, I watched his graceful motions as he moved his brush and roller across the surface.
As I watched, I noticed that this painter was only covering a limited area. He stretched as far as he could to the left, to the right and even reached above his head. It also occurred to me that he was only going to the height that he was comfortable at, even though the extension ladder he was using could reach much higher.
From my painting experience, I remembered that once I was on the ladder and had the necessary resources, I painted a much larger area before taking the additional time needed to climb down and relocate the ladder. It was an efficient method.
“Those who know how will always work for those who know why.” –Sam Chand
“Why isn’t he going higher to paint all the way up? What would allow him to go higher?” I asked myself. Then I saw the reason—no one was holding his ladder. By himself, the painter couldn’t go any further. He had done everything he could by himself. He needed help.
As I watched his graceful strokes, I realized the leadership parallels. Whether we’re talking about churches, businesses or non-profit organizations, the effectiveness of a leader depends on the person or persons holding the ladder—those who are in support roles.
The height that a visionary leader reaches on the ladder to their vision is not controlled by the leader’s capabilities. It’s not even controlled by how inspiring their vision might be. It’s controlled by who’s holding the ladder.
Then another thought struck me: Those who hold the ladders are as important as the leaders themselves.
The visionaries could have all the training possible, the most expensive equipment, years of experience and knowledge about painting, and a blend of expertise and passion about their craft. But that’s not the deciding factor. The ladder holder determines the height to which the ladder climber ascends. “That’s it!” I cried aloud. “Those who hold the ladder control the ascent of the visionaries.”
“When you’re 100 percent certain, you’re too late.” –Charles W. Robinson
Additionally, a ladder holder who may be very capable with a 20-foot extension ladder (or vision) may not be the person you want holding your 45-foot extension ladder (a new or enlarged vision). Old ladder holders are rarely adequate at holding new ladders.
I love your focus on those who hold ladders. How should leaders acknowledge the ladder holders?
The greatest acknowledgement is for leaders to recognize that no one would be the leader that they are today had it not been for someone holding their ladder. There’s no such thing as a “self-made” person. Someone gave us our first break. Someone took a risk and believed in us. Someone leveraged their credibility for our sake. Someone forgave us and gave us another chance. Someone knew we had messed up yet defended us to those who wanted us vanquished. Someone funded that shaky idea. Someone gave us our first job. Someone…
Therefore a spirit of humility and dependency will be the attitude that exudes appreciation for our ladder holders.
“More than anything, leadership is about managing expectations.” –Sam Chand
What makes businesses vulnerable to disruptive change?
There are 2 main messages in my book.
First, that while we think the world is changing rapidly, in fact, we continue to rely on a platform that arose from the invention of 3 general purpose technologies in the 1870’s: the internal combustion engine, the light bulb, and the telephone. Even with the computer and the Internet, we have spent decades boxing in this amazing new technology to fit our paradigm need for a faster, smaller, cheaper phone. So, while we think we are in the midst of rapid change, the western world is in fact obsessed with ensuring we stick with the old world and reward refinements of tired mature ways of doing things. When real change comes, will business leaders be prepared? I don’t think so.
One of the reasons why we won’t respond well when real change comes is that while ideas are abundant, small start-up ventures lack the resources – people, money, physical assets — to launch these ideas. They also lack the credibility, networks, access to customers, suppliers, government officials, etc. This limits their ability to move these ideas forward, no matter how great they may be. At the same time, existing companies are flush with people, money, networks, customers, and, most important, credibility and brand value. But what they lack is an entrepreneurial mindset. To move forward, companies need to resist the rhetoric of finding and sticking to a narrow form of sustainable competitive advantage, and instead adopt a model of strategic entrepreneurship that promotes transformational growth and longevity.
The fundamental impact of disruptive change is that our organizations are not built to manage change very well. Through principles such as sustainable competitive advantage, we tend to use fixed mindsets that build a sort of impenetrable armor around the firm’s processes and procedures, instead of being flexible and adaptable. When disruptive technologies or business models present an alternative, firms resist. Indeed, even customers often resist, as we remain stuck in our paradigms formed as noted above. However, in time, customers adapt because they do not have the level of sunk investment in the old ways that companies often do. Time and again, rigid non-entrepreneurial firms fall by the wayside.
There are many very extreme examples of this phenomenon. Think of Kodak, which is a firm that actually pioneered digital photography, but in the end was unable to adapt to this powerful disruptive technology.
“Progress is a nice word we like to use. But change is its motivator. And change has its enemies.” –Robert Kennedy
How can large organizations embrace a spirit of entrepreneurship?
I emphasize the importance of adopting three points:
Recognize that opportunities are developed at all levels of the organization.
Build a culture that embraces and supports entrepreneurship.
Consciously develop support for entrepreneurial initiatives through effectual processes or bricolage.
The key is leadership, not only in words, but in action. It is imperative that the CEO endorse an entrepreneurial culture by example – championing new ideas. In fact, a failure or two is good because it demonstrates that even the CEO recognizes that not every entrepreneurial idea is destined for success, and it is important to manage your investment and ensure that no one new venture will take down the ship.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” –Peter Drucker
What are the elements of a good corporate culture?
There are many theories on this question, and I included quite a few in my book. In the end, the key elements are:
Provide open opportunities for opportunity development – these include group time (because we know that mixing people with diverse expertise and background can lead to innovative solutions), plus unstructured open thinking time (such as 3M’s famous “tinkering” time).
Adopt a learning culture – growth mindsets are essential, pursuing what could be as opposed to why this won’t work.
Accept failure, and the importance of learning from failure.
Adopt bricolage (known outcomes, with unknown ways of getting there), or effectuation (building on invention, experiment, and science) as frameworks for pursuing each entrepreneurial initiative (purposefully).
“The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition.” –Peter Senge
How do leaders encourage creativity at all levels of the organization?
The first thing I would say is that leaders must recognize that organizations need time to change. This is not an overnight process and will require considerable and repetitive actions and wins to change. And failure is a key component – an organization can move far closer to being creative and adopting entrepreneurial thinking by showing that a person with a great idea that failed in implementation is celebrated as thinking outside the box, rather than penalized for failing.
Researchers have studied the importance of story-telling in organizations, and how a lasting culture can be built around well-known, maybe even legendary, stories that come from the history of the organization. The dimensions of story-telling I describe in my book include equality (versus inequality), security (versus insecurity), and control (versus lack of control). Through story-telling of actual events that happened in the organization’s history, employees are able to gauge whether the organization will endorse or shun creativity at all levels.
“Successful innovators are..not risk-focused; they are opportunity focused.” –Peter Drucker