Tag Archives: culture

Why Bad Customer Experience Is Toxic

While executives have come to understand that happy employees mean satisfied customers, they often miss the other side of the coin. Poor customer experience creates a toxic environment for employees.

Are you trying to create a great customer experience in your organization? If you’re focusing on your customers to accomplish that, then you’re already missing half the story.

That’s because the quality of a company’s customer experience is inextricably linked to the quality of its employee experience. Over the long term, you can’t deliver a great customer experience unless you have employees who are engaged, inspired and equipped to do so.

For many people, this concept makes intuitive sense. After all, if you’re a customer, a good part of the experience you have with a business will be shaped by the staff with whom you interact. If employees are happy and engaged in their jobs, that sentiment will inevitably bleed into their interactions with customers. The staff will be more positive, more solicitous, more helpful—and customers will notice the difference.

What’s often overlooked, however, is that the relationship between employee engagement and customer experience is bidirectional. Yes, engaged employees tend to deliver a better customer experience. But a better customer experience also tends to create more engaged employees.

Here’s why. Imagine working in the call center of a business that has a horrible customer experience. Nearly every call you take is a complaint—a customer who’s frustrated, annoyed and lashing out because the company has failed to deliver on its promises. Every time that phone on your desk rings, you look at it with trepidation, knowing that, when you pick it up, you’ll likely be the target of another dissatisfied customer’s ire.

See also: New Customer Decision Models  

Do you think you’d like that job? Would it engage you, make you happy, propel you out of bed in the morning? Probably not.

No matter how many cool perks might come with the assignment, there’s no getting around the day-to-day agony of having to repeatedly deal with angry, unhappy customers. It literally saps the engagement and energy from even the best-intentioned employees.

Now imagine the other end of the spectrum, working for a company whose customers are consistently satisfied—if not impressed—with the products and services they receive from your firm. Sure, even an organization like that will have its share of customer experience failures that employees need to address. But those would be exceptions rather than the norm, making for a much healthier work environment.

Instead of cringing every time the phone rings or a customer approaches, employees would be able to adopt a more positive and constructive stance. Instead of shrinking from customer interactions, they would lean into them with enthusiasm. Instead of focusing on defense, they would focus on delight.

Executives often don’t fully grasp how toxic a poor customer experience can be to their employees (let alone their customers).

Keep in mind, it’s usually not the employees who are principally at fault for a poor customer experience. Their best efforts are constrained by the systems, processes and workplace infrastructure in which they operate.

Consider, for example, how much better a call center representative’s job is when the longest call waiting rarely exceeds a couple minutes. Or how much better a claim adjuster’s job is when policyholders aren’t surprised by “small print” coverage terms. Or how much better an agents’ job are when they don’t have to spend hours helping customers decipher unintelligible premium and policy notices.

These are just a few examples of common customer experience friction points whose negative influence can be felt not just among customers but employees, as well.

It’s important to understand the bidirectional relationship between customer experience and employee engagement because it truly amplifies the value of customer experience excellence to any organization. The impact of experience enhancements, and the return on such investments, must be considered in a more holistic context.

See also: Much Higher Bar for Customer Service  

Yes, a better customer experience helps raise policyholder retention, increase cross-purchase rates and boost revenues, among other benefits. But it also improves employee engagement, which triggers a whole host of additional benefits, such as reduced staff turnover, lower absenteeism and higher productivity, just to name a few.

It’s for this reason that the economic calculus around a great customer experience is far more compelling than many organizations recognize.

Happy, engaged employees help create happy, loyal customers who, in turn, help create happy, engaged employees. The value of this virtuous cycle cannot be overstated, and it’s why the most successful companies appreciate—and act on—both sides of the equation.

The original article was published here.

Culture Side of Digital Transformation

Technology is changing at an exponential pace, and so are consumers’ expectations of having products and services that come with a digital experience. Perfect example: Our Benekiva team recently rented office space and were shocked by the request of our future landlord to mail two signed copies of the contract. As we were discussing this crazy request and wondering why technology wasn’t used to solve this simple problem, another startup complained to me about the same issue. Did we get the space? Yes. Did we have a bad taste in our mouth about the process?  Yes.

One of the most memorable projects that I led earlier in my career was when I automated cash processing. Previously, a team of 15 took turns printing mainframe screens. Afterward, they had a searchable database with the data at their fingertips.

Before I started digging into this issue, I was advised: “You are working with legacy technology; data is not accessible.” and, “The mainframe replacement project is almost approved. Wait another year.” (Yeah, right. ?)

If I hadn’t rolled up my sleeves to dig into available data feeds, this problem would have continued until the mainframe replacement project was finished, which actually occurred 3 1/2 years later. This project yielded immediate benefits of one full-time employee, not including the money and trees we saved by not printing paper every morning.

Years later, when I came across the Center for Creative Leadership’s direction, alignment, commitment (DAC) model, the reasons for the project’s success became clear.

See also: 3 Ways to an Easier Digital Transformation

Here is a synopsis of the organization I was working for at the time:

  • Innovation was encouraged at the very top of the organization, and it didn’t stay at the senior level. Employees across all salary grades were invited to participate.
  • There was a culture of celebration. If employees found a better way of work, they won awards and were recognized.
  • Technologists were embedded throughout the business. I was one of the first hires of this kind, and we paved the way for others. My role was to learn the business and find ways to improve processes and automation.
  • Data drove decisions. Tasks, people, managers, etc. were measured, which allowed bottlenecks to be seen quickly and a course of action determined.
  • Most importantly, there was a strong sense of DAC. Direction was articulated and communicated to ALL levels of the organization by the senior-most person. This individual would make his mission to get out of his office and walk the floors – get to know people and share the vision. There was clear alignment of goals and initiatives. If something didn’t meet our key objectives or targets, it wasn’t a priority. No sneaking in projects. Finally, there was a strong sense of commitment at all levels of the organization.

Here is how the DAC approach turned into success at that organization:

  • Relationships. You don’t have to be best friends or go out for drinks, but having a good working relationship can make or break initiatives. I was new in the organization but already had started to form a peer group. I was also involved at all levels of the organization – from the cash processor to leadership. After discussing the manual processing with my IT peers, I was introduced to a mainframe analyst who started looking through data feeds that were already being created. She eventually found one that I could use to build a tool that made the data accessible to the cash processing team. Whether you are a startup working with an organization or an employee, learning the organization and the key players (not every key player is a C-Suite executive) is critical to your success. Don’t get fooled into thinking that, if you have upper-level buy-in, you get the golden ticket. Success is involving essential stakeholders at all levels of the organization.
  • Culture. This organization took risks, tried new things and explored possibilities. Technology is often the easy part. Where most failures occur is on the “soft” side of project management. Is your team equipped with the right people to navigate beyond the tech? Digital transformation initiatives are hard. If you are a tech startup working with organizations on their digital transformation initiatives, ensure you have people on the team who can handle the change management side of the house.
  • Questions. When you hear a no, take the attitude that the “yes” is around the corner. Ask questions various ways to collect data and information. Don’t be afraid to poke around – what is the worst that can happen? I’ve never seen anyone get fired for asking questions. If you have, then you were working for the wrong organization.
  • Collaboration. I involved various teams and departments to solve the cash problem. Soup to nuts, we implemented this solution in less than two months – from discovery to implementation. We had so much buy-in and excitement that we won a teamwork award for this project. It was fun to get to know others, and collaboration allowed other problems to surface that some of this team solved quickly.

See also: Innovation Imperatives in the Digital Age

If you are an employee of an organization managing digital transformation initiatives or a startup going in as a vendor, don’t ignore the culture side of your projects. Go in with an open and collaborative mind. As Covey states, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Keep building relationships and asking questions. Finally, seek to build DAC. Without direction, alignment and commitment, no matter how much money or resources you throw at the problem, your car is stuck in mud. The wheels are turning, but you aren’t going forward.

Building a Customer-Service Culture

First, let me say that I don’t make a habit out of staying at Ritz-Carlton hotels. But I have had occasion perhaps a dozen or more times to stay at a Ritz while attending a conference. I’ll have to say that, not only did I never experience a problem, but, without exception, each stay was an exercise in indulgence. I’ve also experienced several outstanding displays of excellence in customer service.

On one occasion, I was preparing for a workshop and realized that I had forgotten my overhead markers. Stepping into the hallway outside the meeting room, I asked a housekeeper who was dusting ashtrays (really) if she knew how I could get in touch with the A/V people. In many other hotels, I’ve been lucky to get a shrug or Freddie Prinze-ish, “That’s not my job, man.”

Not at the Ritz. The lady insisted on tracking down the markers herself (my program was scheduled to begin in minutes) and, remarkably (no pun intended), she returned with a new, unopened pack of markers within five minutes. She had been taught that SHE “owns” any request by a hotel guest.

On another occasion, I was convinced there was a shortcut to a meeting room on the second floor (where my sleeping room was located), so I wouldn’t have to go down and through the lobby, then back up some stairs to the second floor again. I stopped and asked a guy who was painting some trimwork if he knew how to get to the room. It would have been easy for him to say he didn’t know, but this guy laid down his brushes and escorted me through a maze of corridors to the meeting room. What this gentleman did is the rule, not the exception, at a Ritz-Carlton hotel.

If you’ve ever stayed at a Ritz-Carlton hotel, I’m betting that your experience was outstanding, too. (In an independent survey, 99% of Ritz-Carlton guests said they were satisfied with their experience, with more than 80% “extremely satisfied.”) How can they do it so much better than most hotel chains? Yes, you do pay a premium for their services, so we can attribute some of this to a larger budget. But, for the most part, the Ritz does it by creating a corporate culture almost solely devoted to serving the customer. If you spend the night at a Ritz, chances are the person making your bed received more training than you did getting licensed!

EVERY Ritz-Carlton employee receives a minimum of 120 hours of customer service training. That’s THREE WEEKS or more of training devoted to one discipline. Most first-year employees receive 250-300 hours of total training. How many of your CSRs have received 120-300 hours of any kind of training? This type of commitment to service and training pays off by allowing the Ritz to charge significantly higher rates for rooms and facilities while developing a clientele that is fiercely loyal. Many people WILL pay more for greater quality and service…the kind of people most businesses would want as long-term customers.

See also: How to Enhance Customer Service  

The Ritz-Carlton, at the time this article was originally drafted, is the only hotel chain to receive the coveted Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and the only two-time winner (1992 and 1999) in the service category. In a study by Cornell and McGill universities, the Ritz was selected “Overall Best Practices Champion” from a field of 3,528 nominees.

Let’s take a look at some of the foundational principles of the Ritz:

The Ritz-Carlton Motto:

“We Are Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”

The Ritz-Carlton Three Steps of Service:

  1. A warm and sincere greeting. Use the guest’s name, if and when possible.
  2. Anticipation and compliance with guest needs.
  3. Fond farewell. Give them a warm good-bye and use their names, if and when possible.

The Ritz-Carlton Credo:

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission.

We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests, who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed yet refined ambiance.

The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.

The Ritz-Carlton Basics:

  1. The Credo will be known, owned and energized by all employees.
  2. Our motto is: “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” Practice teamwork and “lateral service” to create a positive work environment.
  3. The three steps of service shall be practiced by all employees.
  4. All employees will successfully complete Training Certification to ensure they understand how to perform to The Ritz-Carlton standards in their position.
  5. Each employee will understand their work area and Hotel goals as established in each strategic plan.
  6. All employees will know the needs of their internal and external customers (guests and employees) so that we may deliver the products and services they expect. Use guest preference pads to record specific needs.
  7. Each employee will continuously identify defects throughout the Hotel.
  8. Any employee who receives a customer complaint “owns” the complaint.
  9. Instant guest pacification will be ensured by all. React quickly to correct the problem immediately. Follow up with a telephone call within 20 minutes to verify the problem has been resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. Do everything you possibly can to never lose a guest.
  10. Guest incident action forms are used to record and communicate every incident of guest dissatisfaction. Every employee is empowered to resolve the problem and to prevent a repeat occurrence.
  11. Uncompromising levels of cleanliness are the responsibility of every employee.
  12. “Smile – We are on stage.” Always maintain positive eye contact. Use the proper vocabulary with our guests (Use words like – “Good morning,” “Certainly,” “I’ll be happy to” and “My pleasure”).
  13. Be an ambassador of your Hotel in and outside of the work place. Always talk positively. No negative comments.
  14. Escort guests rather than pointing out directions to another area of the Hotel.
  15. Be knowledgeable of Hotel information (hours of operation, etc.) to answer guest inquiries. Always recommend the Hotel’s retail and food and beverage outlets prior to outside facilities.
  16. Use proper telephone etiquette. Answer within three rings and with a “smile.” When necessary, ask the caller, “May I place you on hold?” Do not screen calls. Eliminate all transfers when possible.
  17. Uniforms are to be immaculate. Wear proper and safe footwear (clean and polished) and your correct name tag. Take pride and care in your personal appearance (adhering to all grooming standards).
  18. Ensure all employees know their roles during emergency situations and are aware of fire and life safety response processes.
  19. Notify your supervisor immediately of hazards, injuries, equipment or assistance that you need. Practice energy conservation and proper maintenance and repair of Hotel property and equipment.
  20. Protecting the assets of a Ritz-Carlton Hotel is the responsibility of every employee.

How to Create a Culture of Innovation

Innovation is the key to staying relevant, differentiating your brand and gaining competitive advantage, but who is consistently driving innovation in the corporate world?

The new state of affairs can be daunting. I don’t envy the work of talent acquisition teams. Stakeholders and business partners struggle to define the skill sets required, and, even when there is a clear mandate and job description, it can be so hard to find talented innovators that create real value and impact amid all the hype, fluff and buzzwords.

The driving forces of innovation are human behavior, advancements in technology and economic viability, but for real, tangible innovation that creates and captures new value in new ways, diversity is crucial.

See also: Innovation Happens at the Edge  

Diversity is two-dimensional: inherent and acquired. Inherent diversity is associated with “who we are”, i.e. the personality type we are born with, our gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Acquired diversity is about “how we behave” as a result of what we’ve learned and experienced. It consists of our mental models and mindsets developed over time.

For example, I’m a Persian Hebrew, straight, woman with a commanding personality. Being a third culture child and having lived around the world, I am home everywhere and nowhere at all. My natural desire to grow, expand and explore leads me to travel, taking on eclectic responsibilities and experiences. I embrace the differences in people and connect the dots among those differences to achieve exciting outcomes, that continue to build trust and value in the digital age and expand the realm of the possible. But I am a rare breed.

Two-dimensional diversity creates a powerful dynamic at work between diverse leaders and teams who know how to unlock each other’s contributions. Inherently diverse people bring to the team an understanding of unmet needs in underleveraged markets. People with acquired diversity bring fresh perspectives, mindsets and notions that are globally relevant and connect to a wider consumer base.

It takes leaders with inherent and acquired diversity to establish a “speak-up culture,” which is essential in unleashing the innovative capacity of the team to its fullest. By giving equal airtime to diverse voices, these leaders are more likely than non-inclusive leaders to derive value creating insights. They ensure all members of the team get constructive feedback and support to extract breakthrough ideas. Listening to contrarian input and taking corrective actions that alter the course, they are more likely to arrive at effective solutions.

Creating a culture of innovation is important for great ideas to translate to market share. As with any form of change, transformation of culture requires catalysts. In my experience, that means a vertically diverse workforce with strategic leadership that creates alignment to the vision. Research shows that executives must both embrace and embody the power of differences. After all, innovation stems from the collective genius of diverse teams managed by leaders who value perspectives and approaches outside their own experience or expertise.

See also: Innovation: Not Just for the Big Firms  

I am dedicating this article to one such leader : Derek Low, executive vice president, Liberty Mutual, a humble and passionate leader whom I respect, look up to, learn from and admire professionally.

Culture Defeats Strategy Outright!

Valentino Rossi (a.k.a the living legend of MotoGP) is 37 years old (a lifetime in motorsport years), is first in all-time 500cc (MotoGP) race wins standings with 88 victories and is second in all time overall wins standings with 114 race wins (just behind Giacomo Agostini, with 122.) But it’s not just Rossi’s stats, victories, poles, podiums or championship wins that lure the crowds to rally behind him no matter which team he’s on.

Watching riders close up in action is like seeing someone ride a 241 km/h rocket — with riders disappearing over the sides of their bikes, one knee grazing the tarmac, and riders leaning over at angles that seem to defy the laws of physics. A very obviously skillful, fast-moving spectacle with crashes and passing galore, it is more gladiatorial than car racing.

Rossi’s fans are the maddest of all. Every year, hundreds of motorsport fans have pictures of Rossi tattooed on their backs, while others have Rossi’s number, 46, tattooed on their chests. At the Italian GP, hillsides are covered in yellow, Rossi’s color. In Germany, fans turn up on medical drips in homage to the “Doctor,” as Rossi is known.

See also: Does Your Culture Embrace Innovation?  

We can easily identify the Rossis in our workplaces. They are the folks who take responsibility, the connectors, the ones with insight, those who are fair and never lose hope even when the chips are down. The leaders, the innovators, the promise-makers and the supporters. Those who do more than they are asked, care, speak the truth, change things for the better and inspire others. It is the personality and energy that is unique to the individual that makes all the difference. It is the skills that really matter — the human skills that indicate a high level of emotional intelligence (EQ) that make things happen, propel projects forward, create and sustain partnerships and facilitate collaboration. Without these skills, we’d all be rendered bots.

Yet we persist, hiring and promoting based on easily defined skills that can be measured like the stats in motorsport. We can all agree that a rider needs to know how to ride, a designer must know how to design, and an underwriter must know how to assess risks. But when an employee demoralizes the entire team, undermining a project, or a bully causes future stars to quit the organization, we practically need an act of Parliament to get rid of him (even though that person is stealing from us!). We know how to measure productivity, but we have trouble measuring commitment and passion. Would we rather be powerful bystanders? Is the professional expertise all that matters? How, then, do we explain the different outcomes achieved by similarly skilled professionals?

Rossi’s dominance in motorcycle racing, along with his philosophy that generating excitement is more important than winning, has given his sport mainstream appeal and has made him a superstar worshipped as a living legend by countless adoring fans. Rossi’s energy, style and panache draws crowds from around the world. He has made motorcycle racing fun, interesting and meaningful.

See also: Building a Strong Insurance Risk Culture  

We only have to look at any thriving organization and we’ll find what differentiates it from the organizations that are struggling is the difficult-to-measure attitudes, personalities, processes and perceptions of the people who do the work. Culture defeats strategy outright!