So Why is Great Service So Hard to Come By?

Today I had two experiences that made me want to let off steam about customer service. Or rather, the lack of it. I feel I may have reached that age, the age where one turns into a grumpy old man. Some may argue that ship sailed long ago.

Please don’t tell my wife, but I visited a well known fast food chain for my breakfast, my weakness the sausage and egg McMuffin. I used the drive through and when I came to pay the server  was bright, bubbly and smiling. Wow, I thought.  She’s enjoying her day. Two seconds later I approach the main event, the bit where I get my snap. This server was the polar opposite. Efficient, yes, but very dour.

Later the same day, I have the misfortune of talking to my business bankers, an experience to behold. I interacted with a call centre, my online account and the online chat.

Let’s start with the online chat. I went through the entire process only to be told I would have to start again as this chat was not secure. That meant I had no option but to contact the call centre. Including the 15 minute wait to be connected this whole process took up an hour of my time.  All because they cannot communicate swiftly and efficiently. This gross inefficiency (or incompetence) is causing them and more importantly their customers to waste valuable time. All because they have failed to design their systems and processes with their customer at the heart.

To add insult to injury, I decided to give some constructive feedback (see paragraph one, grumpy old man). I presented my facts in four clear bullets only to be thrown off the page because I failed to complete my mobile number in the way they wanted. The contact form deleted everything on the page and forced me to start again, or abandon. So now, if transacting with them was not hard enough, complaining was even harder.

Now, banks will hide behind a load of rules and regulations. I know, I used to work in one, and that was over 20 years ago. I see nothing has changed.

Service is a lottery, and yet it is the one thing that all organisations have in their gift.

I put it down to two things:

1. The systems and processes make it impossible for the decent people in the service industry to deliver the service they can. The system disempowers them.

2. The engagement of their people is so poor that they have failed to communicate their vision and purpose in a way that their people can connect. If they don’t get why service is so important to the customer, then businesses are putting more than that customer at risk, the brand, future revenues and a lot more besides.

Of course, individuals can take ownership for how they behave but businesses, please stack the deck in your people’s favour and give them the tools to deliver, both they and your customers will thank you for it.

Is your CI Team the problem with your CI programme?

A UK food manufacturer was looking at investing in a formal Lean and Six Sigma programme, as they believed that they had done everything they could to optimise their plant. Across the business, there was evidence of people operating in silos, and a fragmented attitude towards Continuous Improvement with a perception that CI was purely for the manufacturing process.   The business driver was to continually find year on year savings.  The challenge was that they believed no further savings were possible.

Why is having a dedicated CI team such a problem?

Typically, businesses invest huge amounts in business improvement methodologies. They create a CI team to drive the improvement agenda seeking to save money on their production and processes. The trouble with that is that the rest of the business sees them as the owners of CI.

By having a team dedicated to CI, you inadvertently create abdication amongst the rest of your business. Your people look to your CI team to solve problems, own the reporting and expect them to take the heat when the benefits of CI do not materialise as expected. After all, you created the CI team to ensure your CI investment pays off. CI is cultural, adopted at all levels of the business. Everything you do needs a CI lens to look at process optimisation, waste reduction and process improvement. You need an environment where everyone can and are encouraged to get involved in the improvement agenda.

What are their limits? 

The CI team have limited reach. When they intervene, they are dependent on the individual or team adopting the revised approach. Much will depend on how they manage the change process. The CI team have the process knowledge but do they have the change skills to take people with them? Are the CI team fighting the culture, the business mindset? Your CI team become frustrated at a lack of support, perceived or real. The overall impact means the business loses out on many levels. You do not realise efficiencies and savings; waste is created by people not being engaged effectively and leaders go looking in the wrong place for reasons.

Back to the food manufacturer

Let’s get back to that food manufacturer. The issue was that their culture was not one where CI was central to everyone’s role.

How did they solve it? They developed a programme which brought together cross-functional teams to tackle seven business projects. The leadership team sponsored the key projects and the project groups were equipped with mental models and tools and then challenged them to apply them to the business. They created an environment where people felt able to have a go.

The impact was a real cultural shift. 

The CI team became enablers, not owners of CI. They provided expertise but didn’t own the problem. In just 90-days they have not only identified over £500k of savings across the business, but improved engagement, streamlined processes, and freed up almost 30 hours a week by removing duplication.

 

Are you getting the bang for your CI buck? If not, I recommend you look at how your CI team operate. A CI team who act as enablers in a culture where the whole business owns CI will unlock huge productivity gains and better still your people will own it! A CI team who own the CI agenda will never realise the potential that exists in your business.

How does visualisation help goal defining?

Is visualisation an effective goal defining technique, or is it just day dreaming.

If you have big goals or aspirations, visualisation can be a very effective technique.  Rob discusses with Ricky how you can use your imagination to define your future.

None of us know what the future holds but visualisation can be a helpful way of gaining clarity and harnessing our imaginations. Rob and Ricky begin by exploring how some goals are clinical and straightforward, set targets for example. But bigger goals focused on the future require a different approach and this is where visualisation comes into play.

They explore the issue of retirement as another example. Many people can talk very precisely about their retirement even though it may be as far off as 15 years away. To have such clarity, they must have thought about the matter a lot and be very motivated about what retirement is going to bring them. Essentially, they have achieved a level of clarity through visualisation.

Rob and Ricky go onto explore how visualisation has a couple of elements: the first is clarity and the second is focusing on what we want to achieve. By using our imaginations to build a picture of the future, we can define our goals.

Senior Managers will often spend a lot of time thinking about the future. Rob and Ricky explore how they can bring that visualisation to life, enhance their passion and energy, to take the rest of the team on the journey.

Visualisation helps us to turn off rational or scientific thoughts and tap into our imagination enabling us to work towards something we really want to achieve at a future point. To all sense and purposes, it’s about sketching a picture and then giving others the opportunity to add colour and fill in the gaps.

How can you write goals for things that are touchy feely?

 

Some goals are easy to write down, they have clear defined outcomes.  However, goals for feelings, such as confidence, or for perceptions such as relationships or expectations are much harder to articulate.

In this episode, Rob explains to Richard how you can use a benchmark within SMART to create clear simple goals around these harder to define areas.

When it comes to the best approaches for writing down goals around emotions and feelings, there are still useful techniques that can be applied. Rob explains to Richard how you can use a benchmark within SMART – specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time related – to help you achieve a written down goal.

But how do we measure something that is a feeling or a perception? Rob explores how a useful technique is to consider the feeling on a scale of one to ten and then apply a numerical figure. For example, you may judge your feelings to be 4/10 at this moment in time but where do you want to be on the scale by a particular date?

Rob and Richard discuss how this approach allows us to write the feeling down in a SMART goal format: by this date… I will have…. improved to a specific number.

Rob adds that it’s important to use our imaginations. For example, on the scale we know what 4 feels like right now but how much would we like it to be? What would this feel like? We may feel an improved level of confidence in specific situations.

It’s fair to say goals around feelings are more difficult to write but as Rob and Richard explain in the podcast, there are useful methods that enable us to put these to paper.

The Thinking Focus: The Question Is podcast series is available to download on ITunes.

How can you get your team to contribute more ideas?

 

Ever asked one of your team, what do you think we should do?

Did you even get an answer?

Getting people to contribute ideas sometimes can feel like pulling teeth, but it does not need to.

Rob explains to Paul how, with a few simple steps, you can help everyone channel their creativity and expand the range of ideas available to you.

It can sometimes a feel a bit like pulling teeth when it comes to getting people to come up with ideas. In the podcast, Rob and Paul explore a few simple steps that can make the whole process run more smoothly.

At the outset, we need to be clear of the benefits when engaging a team to generate ideas. In the podcast, Rob and Paul discuss how it’s a two-sided equation. As team leader, we must be willing to let go and let others come up with their own ideas in the knowledge those ideas will subsequently be valued and considered. In turn, the benefits to the organisation are you can harness the collective thinking power of the group rather than just relying on one source.

Rob explains a lot of creativity comes from a combination of different ideas. It’s important to break the process into two parts. Some people are very good, for example, at coming up with lots of ideas whilst others are talented at evaluating those ideas. There needs to be a clear topic and a clear rationale: we then need to apply techniques to generate ideas and establish afterwards how these will be taken forward.

The pair conclude their discussion by focusing on a strategy known as the 20-idea method. It’s a simplistic but powerful way to solve challenges and get the creative juices flowing. It involves setting out a clear topic which is usually posed as a question. Everyone then individually writes down their ideas. Not only does this method generate a volume of ideas, we can achieve a wider scope of ideas. It allows us to compare, contrast and add to ideas with the further benefit of ensuring the whole group is involved.

The Thinking Focus: The Question Is podcast series is available to download on ITunes.

Should the R in SMART be Realistic or Relevant?

Have you noticed how some people use realistic, while others use relevant?

So which is the right one, does it even matter?

Rob and Rich discuss the merits of both.  Maybe they might change your mind about which one to use.

It’s fair to say the acronym that gives us a guide to setting goals and objectives, SMART, has been around for some time. In our podcast, we explore how you get better value if you consider the R stands for relevant.

Rob and Rich begin their discussion by reminding listeners what SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic/Relevant and Time-bound. Many people use realistic because that’s what they know but Rob is a big fan of applying the term relevant instead. He maps out how if you have a list of tasks to achieve on a day, we can always choose something that’s realistic. Just as an example, we could easily set ourselves the limiting goal of running 100 metres in 14 hours.

It becomes a different question if we ask how relevant is the goal? We should be looking at the relevance of achieving our tasks rather than just asking can I achieve them. By applying this technique, we can reach a meaningful goal.

Ricky adds that we bring into play questions and thoughts for the person writing the goal about their motivation if we use the term relevant.

Both agree that realistic and achievable can almost be interchangeable when considering the SMART framework. Substituting the R for relevant can help us to prioritise and consider our motivation therefore adding more value to the whole process.

There really are no right or wrong answers but using relevance in their expert opinion will add more depth and value when it comes to achieving our goals.

Why we dread difficult conversations

The ‘difficult conversation’ is something that, as managers, we all have to face up to at times in our careers. Whether it is having to tell someone that their performance is not up to scratch, having to share changes to the structure, process or work environment or let someone go, it can be a daunting prospect whatever your level of experience.

Why do we find it daunting? The answer lies in how you talk to yourself.

Your self-talk is the voices in your head; we all have them. You ask questions and say things about people, about the situation or yourself. These voices will either be helpful or unhelpful.

Is your self-talk working for you or against you? 

We are great imagineers; we play out given situations in our mind. We search our memory banks looking for examples from the past; we look to the future playing out the conversation with the person.

You imagine their reaction. You can almost see them vividly kicking off, crying, shouting or arguing. You remember similar situations and how others may have behaved/reacted to this type of news. This imagined future will create emotions and will position our state of mind.  Do we see this in a calm, rational way or how most of us see it: as difficult, challenging or potentially confrontational? Our imagination creates the story, the narrative of how we see the conversation going. It is this story that informs how we prepare. If we have imagined a difficult conversation, we are likely to go into it with a level of emotion, expectation and tension. Hardly the best preparation!

What can we do to prepare ourselves for these types of situations?

The great thing about your self-talk is that you can control it. You just need to programme it in the right way. If you find yourself in an unhelpful mindset, the simplest way to change that mindset is to ask yourself three questions:

1.     What could you say that might be more helpful?

2.     What memories could you recall that might be more helpful?

3.     What future could you imagine that might be more helpful?

These questions are part of the Thinking Focus Self-Talk Model, a mental model designed to help you to find ‘ingredients’ to create a more helpful mindset. You can harness the helpful mindset to prepare yourself better for the conversation you need to have.

 

We believe that individuals, teams and business units underperform. Not because they want to, not because they intend to, but because they can’t get out of their own way.

This may not be down to them; it could be the culture or work environment. Our experiences shape our mindset and work habits, often causing people to get stuck.

 

What’s the best tool to use for writing a goal?

 

Is there just one way to write a goal, or are their different techniques?

In this episode, Rob and Richard discuss how to select the most appropriate approach making defining your goal easy.

How many ways can you write a goal and what methods are best? In our podcast, Rob and Richard discuss the most appropriate approach to make defining your goal easy.

When it comes to the best approaches for writing down goals, there are a few elements to consider. In the podcast, Rob and Richard discuss how it all depends on what the goal is about.

Among the questions to ask ourselves are: is the goal specific or big picture? Rob explains that SMART is a useful technique if the goal is quantitative and you want to achieve it in a certain amount time. This acronym stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time related. On the other hand, if the goal is around feelings, a benchmarking technique is a better approach.

Richard goes onto examine how aspirational goals are another matter and you can break these down into different parts by using a ‘chunking’ strategy. For example, if the goal is to run your own company before you retire, this can be broken down into chunks so it becomes achievable.

Goals set around feelings are more difficult to measure but Rob explains benchmarking can be a useful technique. We can ask ourselves questions about where we are now, where we want to be in the future and look at closing the gap.

The pair summarise the discussion by focusing on the approaches they have examined including SMART and benchmarking. They explore how it’s important to be able to describe and measure the goal in some way. This gives us greater clarity as to whether we buy into the goal or not.

The Thinking Focus: The Question Is podcast series is available to download on iTunes.

How does your leadership cocktail taste?

We’ve all met leaders who are driven. They have a particular mindset; one of constant improvement, of never wanting to stand still. They are relentless in their quest to deliver. They blend key ingredients to unlock that perfect flavour of performance.

When was the last time you tasted the ideal blend of leadership? How did it taste?

When it comes to inspiring team to perform, there are some key ingredients and some leaders are driven to find the perfect balance of flavours to inspire their team to achieve their goals.

So when you think back to the last time you saw strong leadership, ask yourself what key drivers informed that cocktail. Was it driven by the need to be more productive, maybe increase efficiency, be more innovative and creative? As leaders, we have to find the ideal mix of ingredients to get our teams to perform. What is your ideal ‘taste’? What is the blend you need to achieve your objectives?

The test of leadership is to get the ingredients right. To blend those ingredients in perfect measure and most importantly to maintain the right mix to ensure sustainable performance.

It is my view that leaders are responsible for blending three (not so secret) ingredients; to provide clarity and purpose for their organisation, to create an environment where their people can and (more importantly), want to perform, and finally, to equip their people with the capability to deliver. This seems to be a complex cocktail. Getting it right will have huge benefits. Get the right blend, and you instantly recognise it and the taste is amazing.

What happens when the flavours don’t work? 

If the mix is slightly off, the imbalance leads to a plethora of issues. Amongst other things; disengagement, missed opportunities and worst of all a dissatisfied end customer. All of which have a cost and, like a dripping tap, will have dripped away before you even realise.

People are your greatest asset; they are key to your business achieving its strategic aims. Business invests heavily in kit, inventory and machinery, they protect it, service and maintain it. They look after it to best optimise it. Do you approach your people in the same way? Do you invest in them the way you do your systems and machinery? After all, they are the ones who can make or break a process, optimise a machine and delight your customers.

A major bank I worked with embarked on a development programme to get their ‘mix’ right. They involved the people and outlined the aims of the programme. They created an environment where their people could own a challenge of their choosing. They could approach it in any way they chose. Before they started, they equipped their people with tools to help them. The impact was huge.

The bank found that their people picked things that bothered them the most, they challenged assumptions and broke down cross-functional barriers. They reduced call wait times by two-thirds. They saw 30% reduction in calls into their contact centre by increasing the quality of customer communication and through challenging their processes they reduced operating costs by 25%. Their single biggest win was to challenge the perception that the IT team were too busy and together they fixed a long-standing technical issue that released capacity they valued at nearly £4m.

They achieved a perfect blend for them. People had clarity and were invited to take the challenge. They understood how they could make an impact and received development with the tools and an environment in which they could perform. And, perform they did, beyond the expectations of anyone!

My challenge to you as a leader is to ask yourself and your teams:

  • How clear are you about what you want and what is compelling about it that your people should come with you on your journey?
  • What environment do you have, is it conducive to delivering your strategy?
  • How effective are you at optimising the capability of your people, with tools, systems and process?
  • What impact would the perfect cocktail have on your business or team?

 

 

We believe that individuals, teams and business units underperform. Not because they want to, not because they intend to, but because they can’t get out of their own way.

This may not be down to them; it could be the culture or work environment. Our experiences shape our mindset and work habits, often causing people to get stuck. 

We create mindsets that unlock productivity and realise potential.  

Why can’t goal writing be easy?

Goal writing sometimes seems like a mystic art form, limited to a very few highly trained experts.  Are goals really that difficult?

Richard and Paul discuss how to make goal writing really simple.

Goal writing sometimes feels like a complex task that requires specific training to get right. In our podcast, Richard and Paul discuss how to make goal writing really simple.

There are times in the workplace when we’re asked to focus on writing down goals but for many of us it’s not always a straightforward process.

In the podcast, Richard and Paul talk about how we may never have been shown how to put goals to paper before starting work. Sometimes people talk about goals as though there is a magical way of writing them but in reality, if you have a decent structure, the entire process can be simplified.

The easiest way to begin is to set out what you are trying to achieve. Crucially pick a date and then focus on the positive ‘I will have.’ Richard and Paul explore how there can be a nervousness around choosing a specific date but once we commit it allows us to start focusing and really working on the goal.

They go onto examine how many of us play it safe when it comes to writing down goals keeping them vague. But goals need to be sharp: we need ‘picture, perfect, clarity’ and a real point of time in the future by which the goal will be achieved. Sometimes if we feel unsure about a written down goal, it’s because we haven’t given it enough thought.

Richard and Paul conclude their discussion looking at the issue of accountability. If we share a goal, we are more likely to achieve it. Essentially, they say writing down goals is about having a go. Keep it simple: what do I want to achieve and when do I want to achieve it by?

The Thinking Focus: The Question Is podcast series is available to download on ITunes.