Sunday, June 24, 2012

Amazon-Like Customer Service

Amazon is known not for its books, nor for its now thousands of electronics, furniture, clothing, and the other 20 million products it sells, but for its extraordinary obsession with providing great customer service. This obsession was instilled into the company at its earliest phase.

Every employee knows that customer service is the top priority at Amazon because CEO Jeff Bezos makes sure that they know. At every meeting of his top executives, Bezos places an empty chair at the table and explains that the chair is for the customer. If he is sitting in that chair, what would that customer want to tell us. Bezos has been bringing in the empty chair sense he started the company in 1995. The company now has over 56,000 employees and all of them come second, which is unusual in today's world of free Google and Mircrosoft meals, haircuts, and babysitting. Amazon provides cheap furniture for employees in order to spend more on efficient customer service.

While there is a direct correlation between how employees are treated and how customer service is perceived, these four customer services nuggets can still be applied to your business.

1.) Obsess over customers- Use the empty chair example or even bring customers into your employee meetings for constructive feedback, but do whatever it takes to create a culture of extreme addiction to great customer service.

2.) Use customers to define what they want or need- Don't rely on in-house engineers or creative employee experiments to determine what your company will provide for customers. Listen--- really listen to your customer's needs and wants. They will tell you if you'll only listen.

3.) Put every team member on the phone- This is a good practice to implement periodically. Your salespeople, your COO, CFO, and top team leaders need to be in your call center or receptionist desk to here what your customers are saying; to feel what your customers are feeling. This is also a good exercise to discover what those employees that normally do this work are experiencing.

4.) Commit to spending 70% of your day on customer service issues- This is not what normally happens. Most business leaders spend 30% of their time on customer service thinking that their time is more valuable in other areas. If a business leader were to take just the next 90 days spending 70% of their day on customer service issues--- improving response time, correcting billing issues, making on-site employees more presentable-- as well as preventing future customer service issues, they will see a dramatic increase in repeat business as well as positive word-of-mouth marketing.

Be like Bezos and go crazy over customer service!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Wisconsin Recall

"Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind" --- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Big uproar in Wisconsin. As you've may have seen in the news, voters in Wisconsin are divided on whether to keep Governor Scott Walker in office or boot him out. There are heated issues on the table based on decisions made by Governor Walker.

Regardless of which side you may lean on this issue, one statement the Governor made stands out when he said, "I made promises to get to this office and now I am keeping them." Oh how we wish that every politician kept his or her word.

Oh how our employees wish we would stick to our words. They wish we were the leaders they thought we were when we hired them. We can regain our employees trust by avoiding some of the following pitfalls:

1.) Hinting, rather than speaking straightforwardly. Some managers feel kinder or more polite sugarcoating a difficult conversation, but it's not at all kind to let someone miss an important message. When a manager sugarcoats a message, the meaning is missed, or the message presents requirements as mere suggestions and team members end up confused about expectations. Most employees prefer straightforward communication so they don't need to figure out what they're really supposed to take away.

2.) Delegating, but not really. Sometimes a manager is so nervous about, or invested in, a project that even though he or she has technically assigned it to another team member, the manager doesn't really let go of it. This leads to confusion about who is actually responsible for getting the work done and diminished ownership (and therefore diminished performance) on the part of the team member it was assigned to.

3.) Being afraid to make hard decisions. One common way this plays out is with managers who won't address performance problems or fire under-performers—and if you've ever worked somewhere where laziness or shoddy work was tolerated, you know how frustrating and demoralizing this can be. But it plays out in other ways as well. For example, a manager who's afraid of conflict may hesitate to make necessary course corrections mid-way through a project, but then be unhappy with a team member's final product. Good managers know that their job is to help solve problems, not avoid them, and that they can't value preserving harmony or avoiding tough conversations above all else.

4.) Making social events unofficially required. Employers frequently assume that employees will view office social events (like holiday parties) as a treat—and then get offended when employees don't want to go. Most employees would prefer that employers make it clear when events are mandatory, rather than implying they're optional and then penalizing people who don't attend. And managers should realize that not everyone wants to socialize with their co-workers. Requiring employees to attend events that are ostensibly to build their morale may have the opposite effect.

Of course there are more, but these are just a few of the top pitfalls that lead team members to believe a business leader to have forgotten what was promised, whether spoken or implied. If a voted-into-office business leader performed like this, his or her employees would be fighting for a recall.
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