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Posts Tagged ‘Value Enhancers’

Every interaction with a customer including complaints is an opportunity to build or strengthen our bridges with our customers.  Very often we find our customer-facing staff blowing away this opportunity that lands on our lap for free. To better understand this gift recall what we go through when we go out to engage a customer unsolicited.  

And how do we blow it away? Usually by keeping our interaction down to a crisp and a minimal response demanded by the context.  Technically flawless, business-wise not so wise.  Of course at the other extreme, we might have a loquacious rep overdoing it pushing the customer to annoyance.

What then do we do with this opportunity? Well, there are several avenues to be explored: we could gain useful insights into his decision making process (why or how did he settle on our product?), his experience with competitors, his post-purchase impressions, what else would he like to see as features, does he see enough of our brand publicity… If it is a complaint, information about events leading to the failure could be collected.  Did he have other issues/signals before the failure occurred?  Does he have thoughts on how this failure could have been possibly averted? Of course what would work depends on the temperature of the call.

All of these cannot happen without orienting our customer-facing staff adequately, constructing different possible scenarios and outlining avenues for enriching the interaction.  

Note outsourced call-centers are optimized to enhance calls handled in a day rather than quality engagement with the caller, at once totally eliminating this opportunity.

Incidentally all of the above apply to our interactions with prospects too.

Here’s a short well-written piece from Art Petty on this same theme exhorting us to have transformational interaction instead of transactional. A personal experience included. So why settle for less when its potential benefits could be dramatic?

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A recent segment on the CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood had an amazing customer service story. Krystal Payne, at a Starbucks in Leesburg, VA, noticed that one of her customers, Ibby Piracha, was deaf. One day Ibby came to get his usual coffee and Krystal handed him a handwritten note, which read: “I’ve been …

Source: An Amazing Customer Service and Leadership Story to Learn From

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Project-Management premium.wpmudev.org

There was a news item recently in the press about Tata Consultancy Organization (TCS) planning to lay off 30,000 professionals accompanied by words on the ‘big corporate for-profit exploiter’ from some of those impacted or to-be guys for the human element in the story. The guys, it seems, are largely managers with 8 to 10 plus years of experience.

The company has denied it saying the annual weeding out exercise would be only to the extent of 2% to 3% of total strength as it has done in preceding years.

Let us assume for a moment the company is true to its word and there are no compelling reasons of business downturn warranting a bigger-than-usual axing.

While the development is certainly unfortunate especially for the affected, it is hardly surprising. And I’m sure it is neither sudden.

Why does this happen?

When it comes to weeding out, the organization looks at the value an employee brings to the operations in a series of assessments. This is even more significant at senior levels as these guys are pricier and hence most vulnerable.

The avenues available to a senior (a project lead or a manager) to enhance his contribution are essentially in two directions: a) He contributes to the project he is managing/involved or b) He contributes to some corporate objectives not linked to his project. In many organizations seniors are mandated to wear both the hats to get more out of their strengths and maturity.

As far as direct contribution to the project goes, opportunities are many:

1. Of direct and high impact for the organization of curse is to mine the project/account to increase the billing incrementally/strategically. Or, to wow the customer on scope,cost, time, performance or quality parameters of the project.

There are a number of other ways to step up the value (not in any order):

2. Reduce income leakage by handling the lost hours.

3. Increase productivity by using tools, cutting waste, streamlining processes, etc.

4. Flatten the cost pyramid by substituting more junior resources in place of seniors

5. Get the customer to sponsor an incentive plan and other recognition schemes for the team. While the costs incurred in these schemes are low the returns are manifold.

6. Develop it as a reference account/project by putting together, solution stories, application/technical notes, and other marketing/sales assets.

7. Get the customer to agree to site visits by prospects.

8. Get the customer to speak in the organization’s promotional events.

9. Generate newer views of the project by formulating imaginatively metrics to address his pain areas. For example, mapping the change-requests to physical pieces of code would be useful in pointing out which modules are hit by poor articulation of requirements, lack of coding skills or sheer business volatility.

10. Reduce the hassles of dealing with the team in some perceptible manner. For example, cut back on the communication load.

11. Alter some service parameter to customer’s advantage like coverage/turnaround times.

12. Engage the customer to gain a business perspective and his plans, to support mining efforts.

13. Harvest reusable/training assets.

14. Validate and refine quality assurance/productivity/staffing/estimation/methodology models/norms.

15. Groom junior resources in technical and soft skills. In one project, juniors took turns to be present when the lead reviews with the customer to improve their reviewing, communicating and objection handling skills.

16. Stand by him by going beyond the letter during his crisis time.

I’m sure you have a few other ideas too. The opportunities are many limited only by imagination.

So what is holding you back, friend?

If the project is a dead-end kind offering no scope for any initiative at all over an extended period of time, it’s time to move on to another project or even organization.

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One of my recent experiences.

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A few days ago, I was at the pharmacy/chemist, my Family Warrant holder for years now.

Stacks of baby-food tins, packs of sanitary napkins and crates of bottled water reduced the customer space to a single file in the small shop. The short guy spotted me patiently waiting behind a lady unhurriedly examining the label on a diet kakra pack. He is one of the guys – there are two or three of them – filling my orders regularly over the last three years. I shouted out my usual order for insulin cartridges and some OTC items. He pulled them out one by one from the fridge, shelves and cabinets and piled them up on the counter, punctuating regularly with a ‘What else, Sir?’

I wasn’t sure if he remembered. Disregarding the awkwardness, I asked him for the Senior Citizen’s discount on the bill. Transaction completed, I stepped out.

Gone for a few minutes on my next errand, I remembered. I returned to the pharmacy, got the attention of the short guy.

‘Hey, you did not give me needles for the insulin pens.’

‘Sir, I asked you ‘What else?’ and you didn’t tell me,’ he looked hurt at my unfair accusation.

He didn’t suspect I would need the needles to get the insulin into my blood.

If this is my pharmacy, it is the same with the appliances store where we’ve bought for last 25 years and all other businesses we transact with. My government does even better – it needs me to have my ration card (used more for identity proof than for buying provisions through government shops at subsidized rates), PAN card for income-tax, Election Card for voting, Know-Your-Customer for some financial transactions and of course, passport for travel, not to mention telephone bills, electricity bills, cooking-gas bills, rent receipts, etc., etc. for identity/residence proof. I’m sure I’ve overlooked a few.

On my part, I’ve been remiss of one thing – on my next visit, I’ll find out the name of the short guy.

While on the subject, there is an interesting post from Bernadette Jiwa’s blog at thestoryoftelling.com that succinctly captures the essence of personalized service – her posts are always short, easy-to-read and jogs one’s mind. Note she is talking about organization consciously basing its entire service model on what it knows about its customer – it’s a lot more than customizing web pages on browsing history or profile data entered/collected or even CRM.

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Credits: thestoryoftelling.com and hahastop.com

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I am on a constant prowl to collect stories on what companies do to enhance their customer’s experiences employing a variety of different strategies.

While on this subject, not entirely unrelated, I’m reminded of the question of ‘Employee Satisfaction’ in a software services company I was associated with. The attrition of professionals in the company was higher than the industry average. As customary the managers including the HR confidently diagnosed the problem as one of substantial wage disparity – salaries outside were easily 30% or more than what the company was paying. Unfortunately this coincided with downward business cycle leaving not much room for any significant revision. 

While the issue of compensation cannot be easily brushed aside with the younger lot in software industry, I’m dismayed to find it occupying all of the center-stage to the entire exclusion of what other things could be done for the employees.  Mumbai as a city and software services as a job leave very little time for anything else. A good number of professionals spend 2 to 3 hours daily just commuting to and fro in crowded trains/buses.  Many of them hail from other cities living in spacious accommodation before moving to closet-sized apartments in Mumbai. Given this background, reducing the hassle of living in Mumbai is a strategy worthy of serious consideration. But that doesn’t happen. A few token steps are kicked off without a cohesive strategy on this theme, more as an apology – such as providing assistance in paying utility bills, credit card bills, etc.

‘Managers’ don’t much buy into all those industry reports that cite a number of factors up there besides doling out hefty increases in compensation for employee retention/satisfaction. 

 Coming back to customer experiences, here is a simple story on the same theme of making life a wee bit easier.

This is from ‘Through the Eyes of the Customer.’  James Watson makes the point in his post so well I did not try paraphrasing it.  

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I love it when someone makes my life easy.

CVS Pharmacy did that this morning.  

I’ve been taking an daily allergy prescription for the past three years.  Once a year, my doctor has to re-approve the prescription so  that CVS can refill it.  And that once-a-year event happened to coincide with this month’s refill.

 Pharmacy

So, I expected that  I’d have to call my doctor, and request to have  the prescription renewed.  Or worse, schedule an appointment to get into my car, drive to the office, and endure a check-up. Either way, I’d be forced to break out of my normal routine of simply picking up the prescription at the CVS Drive-Thru and do some extra work…. 

… so I thought….on

But when I dialed the local CVS pharmacy, and punched the Prescription number into the keypad on my phone, that friendly recorded voice told me that my auto-refill had ended, and that my physician must approve the refill.  

“Damn,” I thought… Here goes”….

But the next automated message made my day:

“Press “1′ if you would like CVS to contact your physician on your behalf.”

Yes!!!  One less thing for me to do, because CVS would do it for me; they’ve designed their customer-facing process in a way to reduce work for the customer; they’ve made my life easier!!! I was delighted.

Now, it might only take me five minutes to call to my doctor’s office and make the arrangements myself.  And a five-minute task done once a year may not seem like much of a hassle. Over the course of that year, it’s really not – except when it is.  Like this morning.

The point is not the CVS saved me five minutes; the point is that CVS eliminated a Task from my To-Do-List.

Most people don’t keep track of time as clearly as they keep track of tasks that need to be completed.  Saving a customer “a few minutes” may not be clearly visible to that person, but if you save the customer from having to perform a task, they’ll notice it every time, and they’ll precieve it as a BIG convenience.  And it’s the customer’s perception that drives their behavior and loyalty.

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I recall a similar experience I had with a mobile service provider a couple of years ago. I went in to purchase a replacement SIM for my cell-phone. When I took the form with me duly filled in, at the store they pointed out I had overlooked pasting a mug-shot on the form. It meant going back home to fetch a photo. While I was ‘Oh sh##t’ing, they made me stand against a wall, got a camera out and took a shot right there in the store!   

Whether the business is of providing services or supplying products there are opportunities galore to mitigate the hassle factor for the customer in his interaction, surely  a worthwhile goal for businesses to go after.   

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Credits:  jlwatsonconsulting.typepad.com/my-blog/

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On reaching the airport he completed the check-in formalities and had an hour on hand before boarding announcement. He headed for the club, a special lounge offered by the airlines. As a frequent traveler, he was entitled to free admittance to the lounge.

He freshened himself up and settled down comfortably. A rack on the far side held newspapers of the day and some magazines. He picked up a magazine – he had already read the papers at home. The weekly was two-weeks old. A trifle irritated, he went for the monthly magazine on current affairs. Here again he had seen a more recent new issue with a magazine vendor.

He was not one of those guys to let the sleeping dogs sleep. He went up to the hostess in the lounge and drew her attention to the stack of dated magazines lying on the side-table.

j4p4n_Thinking_Woman

The lady made a quick check and found it so.

She apologized to him and withdrew to her desk promising to take up the matter with the organizational function responsible for timely replenishment.

That was that. He resigned himself to reading advertisements, obituaries and reviews of some art shows.

In less than five minutes the hostess stood before him.

As he looked up, she handed him a stack of fresh magazines.

When his eye-brows arched up, she volunteered: ‘I bought them now, Sir.’

The magazines would have cost at least fifty rupees. He was certain she did not have the time to take it up with her back-office.

He was overcome with a sense of guilt: ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…you didn’t have to buy them out of your pocket.’

‘Don’t give it a thought, Sir. My company pays for it.’

Seeing a quizzical look on his face, she explained: ‘Sir, I’m allowed to spend up to fifty rupees a day for right reasons. This was one.’

This is a simple yet powerful story on enabling the (wo)man on the job to respond to unanticipated situations in the field towards an endearing outcome. It was shared with us as his personal experience by a senior executive – I cannot recall who it was – in an internal training program.

It is easy to imagine any number of scenes of a similar kind:

A staff in a shopping mall gives out a candy to distract a child throwing tantrums.

A cabbie takes a cut in the fare because of a detour made that his customer did not need.

A stores clerk taking in a return of goods when it could be argued both ways.

Etc. etc.

These acts are more commonly observed in operations that are not encumbered by thick policy books. This is not an argument against policy books. It’s just that a policy book must allow room for an employee to respond appropriately if the situation merits.

What about some corporate examples?

Lack of empowerment manifests in different flavors and is usually much more debilitating. That’s a story for another day.

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Credit: openclipart.com(j4p4n)

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On a weekend a mirasdar (a big land-owner) went to his mango orchard accompanied by his son. The resident guard received them and conducted them around the numerous fruit-bearing trees in the orchard. At the end of it, the visitors rested in a hut and called on the guard to fetch some mangoes.

When the mangoes came, the mirasdar and his son feasted on the ripe, juicy and sweet fruits. Verily food of the gods.

They happily took leave and made to the second orchard nearby also owned by the mirasdar.

Here again, he ordered the guard working in this orchard to get some mangoes.

When the mangoes came, the mirasdar took one bite and rejected them: ‘These taste sour, get some sweet ones.’

The guard brought a second lot.

These too were set aside by the visitors as not sweet.

A few more rounds happened of the guard fetching the fruits and their rejection by the mirasdar.

Finally the mirasdar and his son got up to leave disappointed at not having had good mangoes.

The mirasdar pulled up the guard: ‘You’ve been working here now for over a year. Don’t you enough to identify trees with sweet fruits?’

The guard politely told him: ‘Sir, frankly, I’ve not tasted these fruits myself. I see you paying me to guard the orchard against pilferage of fruits and not for tasting them.’

The son drew himself up to admonish the guard, but was restrained by the mirasdar.

On their way back, the mirasdar asked the son who of the two guards should be given charge of the new orchard the mirasdar was buying.

The son’s choice was for the first guard who knew about his trees.

The mirasdar had a different view: ‘You see, the first guard knew which of those fruits were good. How do we know if he hasn’t taken bags of them for himself? Only a step away from tasting the fruits. On the other hand second guy was doing an honest job. We need people like him to work for us.’

OpenCA thinkingboy ryanlerch

This is an old story of wisdom that may not hold in present times.

Today the first guy would be the man of choice. He had knowledge of his trees. He would use it to take extra care of those trees bearing sweet fruits. Who knows – he might even hold those fruits separate from the other produce and recommend they be priced with a premium. Clearly he has enlarged his job for the mirasdar’s profit and hopefully his too. The gains of his empowerment and initiative far outweigh loss due to pilferage if any.

Admittedly a possibility, pilferage – the downside of empowerment, a far less problem, could be addressed by other means.

Winners secret sauce today is to find imaginatively newer ways of empowering those who are on the job, and the latter seizing the initiative to enlarge and enrich their jobs, of course with checks and balances against possible abuses.

This is an obvious corollary emerging from today’s reality – it is neither feasible nor wise to comprehensively anticipate every possible situation faced by one on the job and specify in advance responses for the same.

How often we forget every pair of hands comes with a head of their own! And unfortunately, more often than not, so do the hands.

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Credits: ryanlerch at openclipart.com

PS: This post was originally written for madgigs, a company implementing an interesting concept for both the professionals and the prospective employers. For more information, visit their site at madgigs.com/

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