Profiting from CustServ: Know Your Customer

This post is from Penni Wells, our Leadership Quantified Expert in internal and external Customer Service - and, particularly, how to profit from the big and little things that you can do...starting now.
Today I forgot to bring lunch to the office, so I wandered over to the 7-Eleven convenience store on the corner. It was there I was reminded, once again, that effective customer service - which is even more profitable in the long run - is the result of people in tune with their jobs and with their customers. The rest just comes naturally. 

Purchasing my favorite tuna sandwich and a bottle of water from the gentlemen who I often see at the counter, I took my change and said “Thank you”.  As I was turning to leave he said “Thank you, mija.”* 

I couldn’t help but smile.

First, at fifty-mmfph years of age, I am nowhere near a mija, but I had been in the store with friends a few weeks earlier when the same man was at the counter. He had referred to me then as "mija." I had smiled, remarked how pleased I was that his eyesight was so poor and thanked him for making my day. We all laughed and left the store.

Although I'm quite sure I'm not the only one who receives such flattery there, it was clear today that he remembered the exchange and me. Even more compelling was that I saw actual children making purchases, yet he did not refer to any of them with any sort of label. 

I walked back to my office marveling at how smart this is! Adults like to feel younger and children like to feel older, no matter how old we are. But the respect shown in NOT referring to the kids as mija/mijo and the obvious flattery of a ‘mija’ tossed in my direction was not only fun for me, but good for business.

Here’s how I know –
Although early in the day and late in the afternoon the store can get crowded with kids from the nearby middle-school, it never seems overrun or out of control. People of all ages seem to be there and everyone gets helped.  
There are three other establishments within 50 feet that offer many of the same or similar items, and two of them are often empty when I walk by.
Our office is near a corner, but can be a little tricky to find. When providing directions we have a tendency to say “the third building over” or “next to the Café” (an establishment we all frequent as well). But I find myself saying, “Two doors down from the 7-Eleven.” True, it’s an obvious indicator, but I use it as a landmark because of the sense of connectedness I feel with this particular store.
So what does this mean to you, as a small business owner - or, for that matter, anyone who works with the public? Stores in this particular chain are franchise owned. Although they are identified with 7-Eleven, Inc. each has to make its own way to gain market share in their area. And even the busiest store can suffer losses (in merchandize, time, return customers) if the climate and the culture are not tuned in with its constituency. 

I have no idea what kind or extent of customer service training 7-Eleven, Inc. provides its franchise owners or their employees. I do know that in 2006 there was a shift in company culture to "Servant Leadership" with the “I C.A.R.E. About People and Teamwork” program - but I don’t know how much influence this had or has on our particular store on the corner.

What's more important - and is very clear - is that the behavior of the staff and the culture in this store are not the result of a corporate initiative, campaign or contest. The management and staff of this store understand their client base and manifest that understanding through engaging with customers, respectfully, exactly where they are. 
* Slang of the Spanish phrase mi-hija or little daughter. Used as a term of endearment for young women. Mijo is the male equivalent.

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Lean In Applied: The Secret for Your Success

While I wholeheartedly recommend that you read the whole of Sheryl Sandberg's wonderful book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, there's one secret that will ensure your success from your start to wherever you want to go.

It's adopting what I've come to call The Zuckerberg Question as a mantra. That question is:

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

This question, consistently posed by Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is plastered and painted on the walls of Facebook and Ms. Sandberg correctly plasters it right up front in her book, using it as the subtitle to her first chapter.

Only it's not a subtitle. It's not a sub anything.

It's everything.

Because one of the most important things I learned as I worked with C-level executives and Board members is that - men and women, both - they make far too many of their decisions based on fear. Oh, they wouldn't admit it and they always had excuses - but, far too frequently, the decisions they made came from that one devastating emotion:


As a result, those supposedly brave executives and Board members on whom employees, shareholders, customers, suppliers and local communities were relying didn't do the things they knew were right. Because they were afraid.

What or who were they afraid of? It varied - but there was always some outside entity that drove them in a direction they knew wasn't best but was workable. Sort of.

That led me, over the years. to consistently remind my clients - whether applied to a specific person, a competitor or the unknown 'other':

They don't matter.

Because they don't.

What does matter is that you do what you know is right - recognizing but not becoming a victim of your fear - moving ahead in achieving your goals for yourself and, if they're smart, your organization.

To solve that potential dilemma and get away from the fear requires putting it together with one of Ms. Sandberg's other early stage crucial points about what holds so many women back:

Likability and Success.

What it comes down to is that, for men, there's a positive correlation between success and being liked - whereas, for women it's exactly the opposite.

Yup. If you're a woman and you're successful, chances are people aren't going to either actually like you or think that you're as likable as you would be if you were successful and were a man.

Why do you think that Time magazine put the headline "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Successful" over their cover photograph of Ms. Sandberg? They weren't kidding - as the research Ms. Sandberg's cites in her book clearly demonstrates and as she, herself, has experienced since going live with her book and Foundation.

(For those of you old enough to remember - or want to find it on YouTube - it's all reminiscent of the supposedly tongue-in-cheek, but very intentional Kelly LeBrock Pantene commercial, "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful.")

So let's take a look at this for a moment.

When you're dealing with success, you'll find that there are generally three kinds of people in an organization:
  • The Glommers (people who ride your success),
  • The Underminers (people who do everything they can to take away your success), and
  • The Supporters (people who believe in what you're doing and support it with their own actions).
Frankly, you're not going to avoid any of them so the trick is to plan for them even before you've achieved your success. Then remind yourself of that plan every day as you see them pop up.

So, let's play for a moment. Let's say an opportunity arises and you want to move on it - or at least you think you do. Here's what you do in five easy steps:
  1. Ask yourself: What would I do if I weren't afraid?
  2. Using that answer as a foundation, put together a plan or a means of demonstrating why you're the right person or you've got the right solution.
  3. Don't wait for permission to execute. Do it. Act on it. Find all the ways you can to move forward what you're offering or have to offer, positioned in such a way that others simultaneously see the value of your solution and how valuable you are because you're the one who came up with it and knows how to execute on it successfully. That's because you're already doing so - whether in stealth mode (so that no one can steal your solution or your success) or outwardly (if there's low risk of theft of your Intellectual Property...because that's what your solution is).
  4. Remind yourself that you're not afraid - and if you find yourself falling back into fear, ask The Zuckerberg Question again: What would I do if I weren't afraid? then move forward with your fears back in check.
  5. Watch those around you. Look for who is falling into each of the categories - Glommers, Underminers and Supporters - and act accordingly. Specifically: 
  • Build with the Supporters. Get them more involved. Learn from them. Incorporate their ideas. Make your idea or solution even bigger than it was. Remember - you're not afraid and that means that there are no limits on your thinking.
  • Study the Underminers. Figure out their strategy and the arguments they're using (or trying to use) to undermine what you're trying to do. Then reverse engineer them so that you preemptively build on what they're trying to do and undermine them before they can undermine you. Other than that, ignore them. They don't matter.
  • Keep an eye on the Glommers. For the most part, they don't matter either - but, depending upon how they use what you're doing to fulfill their own agenda, you want to be aware of any personal or professional undermining that they may create. 
And, throughout, don't sweat being liked. Clearly, based on the categories, some folks will and some folks won't.

For the ones that do like you and show it by supporting what you're doing, good for them. They're the smart kids and you want them in your cadre.

For the ones who don't, they don't matter. Seriously. They don't.

There are over six billion people in the world. Some of them are at work with you. Most of them aren't. Keep that six billion number in mind when you lean in - because for the ones who are waiting to lean in and simply need a catalyst, that's you.

Because you're not afraid.
More on Leaning In:
   Sheryl Sandberg and Lean In: Why the Time is Now (llk)
   Preparing to Win: When you Lean In...there be monsters (llk)
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (sandberg)
The Lean In Foundation

Innovation and Strategy: What's Wrong with Facebook?

Yesterday I wrote about a talking head on a business news program that was explaining why it made sense to dump Apple stock. (The link to that post is below.)

In that same program, he also talked about why it makes sense to run like the wind away from Facebook.

That got me wondering:
While the talking head's logic about Apple's future innovations made no sense to me, why is it that when that same logic is applied to Facebook there's a core of sense that makes me think he might be right?
Here's my thinking:
Where Apple innovates outward, Facebook innovates inward.
Let me explain.

Facebook's strategy, in some ways, mirrors Apple's (and Google's and Amazon's). Once you get your users into your ecosystem, whatever you do, don't let them go!

It's the "Cheerful Ruthlessness" strategy I've described before. (The link to that post is below, too.) Under the guise of "You're our customers and we love you" you're actually being held prisoner as they take down everyone in their way.

But, where Apple and the others innovate outward into markets, Facebook is building its business based on what it can provide to other Big Boys from within:
  • Its users. 
  • Its data. 
  • Its targeting.
Facebook is operationalizing the marketing concept of "mass customization" to a whole new level.

But will it translate?

When Amazon "mass customizes," it looks like personalized recommendations from Amazon to you.

What's key about that - and also how Google's algorithms have evolved - is that it looks like it's the company, itself, that's doing the personalization. Not someone to whom they sell their data.

And that's why I'm uncomfortable with Facebook's strategy on a long-term basis. Even its new services - like "Gifts" and "Graph Search" - that give its users access to information about other users, are inward directed. It's all about the data.

The question is: What about the humans?

Targeted ads are great - but if they look, in any way, like the only reason that those advertisers know to target you is because Facebook sold them data that led them to you, you feel more used than user.

It feels like an invasion of that privacy that's so hard to keep on the platform.

Don't get me wrong. I think Facebook is an amazing company. It really did change the world - both personally and on a corporate level - fast and furious. It enculturated social media as part of how we live and work...and that's not going to go away.

The question is whether, 1+ billion users and still but more slowly growing, it will stay the leader in its space.

Facebook needs to do more to understand the human aspect of social media. Not the technology nor the data nor the algorithms. Those are for them.

What will keep Facebook viable - as the industry leader and innovator for the long-term - is looking at and incorporating the satisfaction people find in all the other ways that humans socialize with and without social media.

It's not about what Facebook can do. It's about what they're not doing...for their human population. Not their advertisers.

This is a hard one in the strategy world. It's when you've got the operations to execute on just about anything - which they do - and are hard-pressed to figure out what to execute on.

But, just as Starbucks (another Cheerfully Ruthless company), began to cannibalize itself and had to do a u-turn on its growth, products and services to save itself, so does Facebook need to stop looking at its data as the only answer. By looking in that one direction, only, it, too, cannibalizes itself - only in this case, it's the data that drive the users away.

So the question for you is:
How are you, by what you're doing now, making it easy for your customers to want to find someone else to provide your product or service?
If your focus is wholly internal, you're missing opportunities all around you. Go back to the five questions I laid out for you in my Apple post. That will get you going in the right direction...and keep you there.
Innovation and Strategy: What's Wrong with Apple? Nothing. (llk)
The Secrets of Success: Cheerful Ruthlessness (llk)

Customer Service: The Saddest Thing I've Seen This Year

This post was written by Penni Wells, one of the finest experts in customer service I've ever encountered. When you read this, you'll agree with me completely.
The saddest thing I've seen this year was in Liz Gaines’ recent column about - a new service that allows users to pay/donate funds for an answer to their questions and/or to solve problems with one of a couple dozen national and multi-national business.  I’ll bet you can guess some of them already: AT&T, Chase and, my personal favorite, Bank of America.

It was sad enough when American business saw Customer Service as one of the first areas to compromise in the name of cost outsourcing and off-shoring the ongoing needs of their customers to low-paid, minimally trained individuals with little or no knowledge of their product or the profile of their customer.

But we have come full-circle. And because nature abhors a vacuum - and an innovator will always see an unmet need and work to fill it - here is a whole new company that will make money...and probably lots of it...because the Big Dogs' decision-makers have moved so far from their core business that they've forgotten how valuable ‘first-person’ information can be.

If you peruse the majority of Call-Center analytics you'll see the statistics they bank on:
  • The number of calls per minute
  • Average hold time
  • Average length of call, etc. 
Call-Center staff are rewarded on how fast they resolve a call, the number of calls they complete in a shift or something similar.

But what are the metrics a Call Center should be looking at? Just two:
  1. The number of calls successfully completed vs. those that could not be resolved, and 
  2. How quickly the number of calls is diminishing regarding any given issue.
There will always be calls from customers - complaints, concerns, confusion, etc. But what companies should be looking at is how they can use the calls they receive to improve what they’re doing. In all areas, all the time. This is continuous improvement.  This is using your resources. This is serving the customer and improving the organization.

Sadly, the Big Dogs won’t have a chance at this much longer. Because really smart people like the folks at Directly will have the data on the customers, the loyalty of the customers and probably end up as the Big Dogs’ consultants.
More about Penni Wells
Read Liz Gaines' article

An Open Letter to Facebook Employees

Dear Facebook Employees:

You don't know me. I'm not an investor and don't even have a Facebook page. But I'm hoping you'll give me a moment to give you some perspective based on my many years of helping organizations under attack.

Because that's what you and Facebook are: Under attack.

It's typical, just so you know, and to be expected. After all, unless the people involved (in this case the investment industry analysts and talking heads) are the ones benefiting from having been "right" (which is always a moving target), they're going to diss the company anyway.

The good news is, that means that you get to ignore them. Seriously. Just ignore them. Quite frankly, they don't know what they're talking about. They can't. They're not inside. They don't know the amazing work you've done, are doing and have in the pipeline.

Even with all the publicly required information, they don't know what your current or future products and services are. They can't. Nor should they. That's proprietary - and needs to stay that way.

The other ones who benefit from you being under attack are your competitors - existing and emerging. They're hoping you get distracted...and maybe even that you take your eye off the Facebook ball.

Don't. Don't let them win that way. It's too easy - and underhanded, too. If they're going to win, they should win on product and service. Not because they like watching you being kicked when you're ostensibly down.

Which leads me to the most important point of all. It's that word: "ostensibly."

You're not down. You're Facebook - with your hundreds of millions of users, with millions more to come. All of whom will be participating in creating the social and financial success everyone envisioned.

Are you at a turning point? Sure - but so were Apple and Google and Amazon when the analysts were saying the same things about them and their management teams at their respective turning points. And look where they are now.

Follow the guidance your COO, Sheryl Sandberg, gives: Don't leave before you leave. Lean forward.

You joined Facebook because you wanted to. You believed in it. You saw it for all the opportunities it provided - and still provides. That hasn't changed.

So, do what your CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, says: Stay focused and ship.

You'll win - and then the talking heads will say they knew you would all along.
An earlier version of this post was published on Technorati.