Employee Engagement

Knowledge Check!Recently this topic was raised in a town hall style meeting, and the comments from the leadership raised several concerns.  It appears that employee engagement is attempting to become a “buzzword” instead of an action item, and this bothers me greatly.  Worse, many people lead teams with vague ideas about what employee engagement means and then shape their own biases into the employee engagement program, making a pogrom of inanity and suffering out of a tool for benefiting and improving employee relations.

When discussing employee engagement, we must first begin with a fundamental truth; employees do not work for a company, do not work for a brand; they work for a manager.  An employee might like a company; they might enjoy having their professional brand aligned with a known branded organization. The employee might feel pride in associating with other employees under that brand.  When the road gets difficult at the end of the day, an employee works for a manager.  The relationship between a manager and an employee is one of trust operationalized and honed through shared experiences.

Employee Engagement – Defined

ProblemsAccording to several online sources, the definition of employee engagement is, “Employee engagement is a fundamental concept in the effort to understand and describe, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the nature of the relationship between an organization and its employees.”  If you believe this definition, you will miss the forest for the bark you are fixated upon!  Employee engagement is fundamental; it is not a concept, a theory, or a buzzword.  Employee engagement is a relationship between organizational leaders and the employees, but employee engagement is not about collecting qualitative or quantitative data for decision-making policy-based relationship guidance.  At the most basic level, employee engagement is the impetus an employee chooses to onboard because of the motivational actions of the manager they report to.

Employees must choose to engage; when they choose not to engage, there is no enthusiasm in the employee, and this can be heard in every action taken by the employees on the company’s behalf.  Is this clear; employee engagement is an individual action, where impetus leads to motivated and enthused action.  While organizational leaders can and do influence motivation, they cannot force the employee to engage!  Thus, revealing another aspect of why the definition found online is NOT acceptable for use in any employee engagement effort!Leadership Cartoon

Employee engagement is the actions an employee is willing to take, indicating their motivation to perform their duties and extra-duties for a manager they like.  Employee engagement is the epitome of operational trust realized in daily attitudes, behaviors, and mannerisms of employees who choose to be engaged in solving problems for their employer.  While incentive programs can improve employee engagement, if the employee does not first choose to enjoy the incentive, the incentive program is wasted leadership efforts.  The same can be said for every single “employee benefit.”  If an employee cannot afford the employer’s benefits, those benefits are wasted money the employer needs elsewhere.  Hence, the final point in defining employee engagement is the individualization of incentives and the individual relationship between managers and employees.  Stop the one-size-fits-most offerings, and let’s get back to talking to people.Anton Ego 4

Reflective Listening

Listening has four distinct levels; currently, these are:

      • Inactive listening – Hearing words, seeing written communication, zero impact mentally. Mainly because your internal voices drown out the possibility of communication.
      • Selective listening – Hearing only that which confirms your own voices, opinions, and biases. While others are speaking, you are already forming your response.
      • Active listening – Show the other person you are paying attention to, engage with meaning in a reply. You are focused on removing barriers to get your point across.
      • Reflective listening – Paying attention to intent and content, reducing emotion, two-directional as both parties are engaged in achieving mutual understanding.

Chinese CrisisInactive and selective listening can be heard through phone lines, instant messaging, text messaging, and easily observed during face-to-face communication.  Worse, active listening launches trust, and when faked, destroys credibility, ruining relationships.  Reflective listening can only achieve mutual understanding when both parties are choosing to listen intently and with the purpose of reaching mutual understanding.  The most powerful tool in an organizational leader’s toolbox for quickly rectifying employee engagement is reflectively listening.

Communication occurs in two different modalities, verbal and non-verbal.  Good communicators adapt their message to the audience using reflective listening and careful observation.  Adapting the message requires first choosing, determining who the primary and secondary audience is, and then focusing the message on the primary audience.  Next, adaptation requires prior planning, which includes mental preparation, practice, and channels for feedback.  Finally, adaptation requires listening to achieve mutual understanding, careful observation, asking questions designed to lead to mutual understanding, and clarifying what is being said to achieve mutual understanding.  The pattern described can be the tool that begins employee engagement but is not an end-all solution all by itself.Anton Ego

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative inquiry is a growth mechanism that states that what a business organization needs, they already have enough of, provided they listen to their employees.  Appreciative inquiry and common sense tell leaders who want to know and change their organization and how and where to begin.  Appreciative inquiry-based leadership is 6-continuous steps that start small and cycle to more significant problems as momentum for excellence permeates through an organization.  But the first step, just like in defeating a disabling addiction, is admitting there is a problem.

Here are the six operational steps for appreciative inquiry:

      1. Admit there is a problem and commit to change.
      2. Define the problem.
      3. Discover the variables and stay focused on the positive.
      4. Dream BIG!
      5. Design the future and outline the steps to that future.
      6. Destiny, create the destination you desire.

Bait & SwitchFollow the instructions on a shampoo bottle, “Wash, Rinse, Repeat.”  The appreciative inquiry model can be scaled, repeated, implemented into small or large teams, and produce motivated members who become the force to create change.  Allow yourself and your team to learn, this takes time, but through building motivation for excellence, time can be captured to perform.

Of all the steps in appreciative inquiry, it must be stressed that focusing on the positive is the only way to improve people.  Even if you must make careful observations to catch people doing good, do it!  Focusing on the positive provides the proper culture for engaging as many people as possible.  Criticism, negativity, aspersions, and insults all feed a culture of “Not my problem,” and when the employee claims, “not my problem,” they will never engage until the culture changes.

Organization

Andragogy - LEARNEmployee engagement requires structural changes to the organizational design.  Employee engagement is going to bring immediate change to the organization.  If the leaders, directors, managers, supervisors, team leaders, etc., are not prepared for and willing to change, employee engagement will die as an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.  As a business consultant, I have witnessed the death of employee engagement, and the death is long, protracted, and disastrous to the entire business.  Worse, individuals refusing to change stand out like red dots on a white cloth as employee engagement dies.

Thus, the first step in employee engagement belongs not to the employee, but the employer, who must answer this question: “Are we a learning organization willing to change, or are we a knowing organization who does not need to change?”  How the leadership answers this question will speak volumes to the employees closely observing and making their decisions accordingly.  Depending upon how that question is answered will depend upon whether the business can move onto the second step or remain stuck on the first step.

Andragogy - The PuzzleThe second step in employee engagement is training the organization to accept change and failure as tools for learning, growing, and developing.  A toddler learning to walk will fall more than they stay up before they can run.  The same is true when initiating employee engagement.  Guess what; you are going to fail; can you as an organizational leader accept failing?  Are you willing to admit you failed, made a mistake, and publicly acknowledge the blame and consequences?  Are you willing to allow others to accept the praise for doing the right thing?  Will you as an organizational leader accept change?  How you answer these questions also speaks volumes to the employees you are trying to engage.  Depending upon how you individually and collectively as a team answer these leadership questions will decide if you fall back to step one or advance to step three.

The third step in organizing employee engagement is total commitment.  Are you onboard?  Are all the leaders onboard?  Being onboard means 100% commitment to the organization dreamed in the operational steps to appreciative inquiry.  If not, do not launch an employee engagement program, for it will fail spectacularly!  Never forget the cartoons where a character has one foot on a boat leaving the pier and one foot on the dock; they get wet and left behind!

Have FUN!

Semper GumbyEngaging with employees should be fun, it should be an enjoyable experience, and it should bring out the best in you!  All because you want to see others engage, grow professionally, learn, develop, and become.  Your efforts to teach engagement lead you to learn how to engage better.  Seize these learning opportunities, choose to grow, but never forget to have fun.  My best tool for engaging with employees, dad jokes!  Really, really, really, bad dad jokes!  For example, when Forrest Gump came to Amazon, what was his computer password?

1F@rr3st1

When you get that joke, laugh; but wait for others to get it as well!  Employee engagement is fun, exciting, and can be the best job you ever had as a professional.  Just believe in yourself, believe in and invest the time in appreciative inquiry, organize yourself and your business, and always reflectively listen.Never Give Up!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

Insane Abuse – The VA Edition: The Leaders of the VA Must Shift the Paradigm

I-CareDuring new hire training for working at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) New Mexico Medical Center (NMVAMC), the first day contains a lot of warnings about what you can and cannot do as a Federal Employee.  Annually, there are mandatory classes that must be passed to remind an employee of their obligations as a Federal Employee.  Leading to a question, “How could an attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of General Counsel (OGC), be allowed to break the law for eight years?”  The department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigated after a second complaint about the same person was received, and only then did the OGC take action.  The attorney in question was released from government employment, but where is 8 years’ worth of wages being requested back?  Did the attorney lose anything other than an undemanding job and title where they could be paid for not working for the Federal Government while advancing their private practice, violating ethical laws, and breaking several Federal Statutes along the way?

What this attorney has done is insane, it is an abuse of trust, and for it to go reported and not acted by the senior leaders at OGC represents inexcusable abuse!

ProblemsOn the topic of insane and inexcusable abuse of the VA, the VA-OIG investigated the Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System in California and found a supervisor in an “other than spouse” relationship with a vendor and they used the VA property to improperly conduct business on contracts the supervisor oversaw.  These actions are a clear and blatant violation of the Federal Statutes on contracting as a Federal Employee, even if these consenting adults were married, it would remain illegal, unethical, immoral, and inexcusable!  Yet, because the supervisor quit during the investigation, the VA-OIG has no power to take any action.

Federal Employees are blatantly breaking the law, abusing the trust and honor of their stations, flagrantly flaunting ethical, moral, and legal regulations with impunity.  Why?

From the VA San Diego Healthcare System, California, we find another VA-OIG inspection. Staff manipulated time cards for seven fee-basis medical providers to pay these individuals on a salary or wage basis rather than a per-procedure basis.  While the medical center took appropriate action and no VA-OIG recommendations were made, the question remains, “Why was this behavior allowed in the first place?”  Another supervisor, improperly acting in their office, and abusing the VA; this behavior is inexcusable!

moral-valuesThe VA-OIG performed an audit, also referred to as a “data review.” “The data review consisted of a sample of 45 employees and found the employees were paid an estimated $11.6 million for overtime hours for which there was no evidence of claims-related activity in the Fee Basis Claims System in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, representing almost half of the total overtime paid. Significantly, 16 of the 45 employees each received more than $10,000 in overtime for hours during which there was no claims-related activity.”  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Community Care (OCC) is backlogged and this is leading to late payments to providers, delays in care, and is generally a bad thing.  However, the sole reason for the overtime being abused was due to a lack of processes, poor supervision, and training.  These are the same three excuses that are used by the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and is designed incompetence at its most disdainful and egregious level.  Worse, this was a sample of employee misconduct on overtime pay.  How many more cases are floating in the OCC that were not included in the audit that will pass unresearched because the VA-OIG did not refer the cases for disciplinary recommendations?

The VA-OIG cannot be everywhere and clean every hole in the VA organizational tapestry.  This is why supervisors and leaders are in place to execute organizational rules, regulations, policies, and monitor employee performance.  Why are the supervisors and mid-level leaders not being held accountable for failing to perform their jobs?  If overtime pay is going to be clawed back from the employee, the managers, team leaders, and supervisors need first to write and train to a policy standard.

Root Cause AnalysisThe VA-OIG conducted a comprehensive inspection of the Eastern Kansas Health Care System, Kansas, and Missouri.  The findings are startling for several reasons, one of which being the deficient lack of leadership leading to poor employee satisfaction, patient care issues, lack of knowledge in managers and supervisors, and minimally knowledgeable about strategic analytics.  Essentially, there is a lack of leadership in this healthcare system.  The director has been working with a team for 2-months, but the director has been in charge in 2012.  Leading to questions about long-term staffing replacement, staff training, building the next generation of leaders, and why this long-term director can brush off the criticisms of leadership failure because the team has only been in place for two months at the time of the inspection.

Again, the VA-OIG audited a system and found a lack of training, lack of oversight, lack of leadership, and made recommendations to “close the barn door, after the horses got out.”  From the VA-OIG report we find:

“The VA-OIG found that VA lacked an effective strategy or action plan to update its police information system [emphasis mine]. In September 2015, the VA Law Enforcement Training Center (LETC) acquired Report Exec, a replacement records management system, for police officers at all medical facilities. Inadequate planning and contract administration mismanagement caused the system implementation to stall for more than two years [emphasis mine]. LETC spent approximately $2.8 million on the system by the fiscal year 2019 [emphasis mine], but police officers experienced frequent performance issues and had to use different systems that did not share information. As of April 2019, only 63 percent of medical facility police units were reportedly using the Report Exec system, while 37 percent were still using an incompatible legacy system. As a result, administrators and law enforcement personnel at multiple levels could not adequately track and oversee facility incidents involving VA police or make informed decisions on risks and resource allocations. The audit also revealed that information security controls were not in place for the Report Exec system that put individuals’ sensitive personal information at risk [emphasis mine].”

Behavior-ChangeNo controls, no direction, no strategy, no tactical action, losing money, and not even scraping an F in performance.  The repetition in these VA-OIG investigations is appalling!  Where is the accountability?  Where is the responsibility and commitment to the veterans, their dependents, and the taxpayers?  Where is the US House of Representatives and Senate in demanding improvement in employee behavior?  Talk about a culture of corruption; the VA has corruption in spades, and no one is taking the VA to task and demanding improvement.

The VA is referred to as a cesspit of indecent and inappropriate people acting in a manner to enrich themselves on the pain of veterans, spouses, widows, and orphans.  There have been comments on several articles I authored which would make a non-veteran blush in describing the VA.  These actions by supervisors and those possessing advanced degrees do not help in trying to curb or correct the poor image the VA has well and truly earned.  A behavior change is needed, culture-wide, at the VA for the tarnished reputation of the VA to begin recovering.

Only for emphasis do I repeat previous recommendations for a culture-wide improvement:

  1. Start a VA University.  If you want better people, you must build them!  Thus, they must be trained, they must be challenged to act, and they must be empowered from day one in the classroom to be making a difference to the VA.
  2. Immediately launch Tiger Teams and Flying Squads from the VA. Secretary’s Office, empowered to build, train, and correct behavior. These groups must be able to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and make changes, then monitor those changes until behavior and culture change.
  3. Implement ISO 9000 for hospitals. If a person does not know their job but has held that job for over a year, every person in that employee’s chain of command is responsible for training failures.  Employees need better training, see recommendation 1, need clearer guidelines and written policies.  Hence, with the VA University training, each process, procedure, rule, regulation needs written down, and then trained exhaustively, so employees can be held accountable.

There is a theory in the private sector called appreciative inquiry.  Appreciative inquiry is the position that whatever a business needs to succeed, it already has in abundance, the leaders simply need to tap into that reservoir and pull out the gems therein.  Having traveled this country and witnessed many good and great employees in the VA Medical Centers from Augusta ME to Seattle WA, and from Phoenix AZ to Missoula MT I know that appreciative inquiry can help and promote a cultural change in the VA.  I do not advocate a “one-size fits most” policy for the VA, as each VISN and Regional Medical Center has a different culture of patients, thus requiring differing approaches.  However, the recommendations listed above can improve where the VA is now, and form a launch point into the future.Military Crests

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Relieve the Suffering – I-CARE: Shifting the VA Paradigms

I-CareDuring my tenure as a medical support assistant (MSA) in the emergency room of the Albuquerque, NM VA Hospital, I took a class being offered on the new direction the VA customer service was going to embody called I-CARE.  I-CARE became my objective, as a customer service professional. As a dual-service/service-connected disabled veteran, I saw the abuses prevalent in the VA Hospital and wanted to change myself and provide mentoring to my co-workers in adapting I-CARE principles into their daily efforts.  Unfortunately, because of labor union interference, leadership failures, and supervisor efforts to counter I-CARE implementation, my efforts were discounted, denigrated, and derided until I was discharged from VA employment.  But, I-CARE remains a part of my commitment, my professional outlook, and personal commitment to customer service was forever changed by implementing the principles of I-CARE.

Leadership CartoonI write harshly about the crimes of the VA because I-CARE and deeply desire to see the VA bureaucracy changed, to witness the adoption of I-CARE into the daily efforts of every VA employee, and to see the VA leadership teams develop policies and procedures that will benefit the veterans, and relieve the suffering of veterans, their spouses and children, and live the VA mission of bearing up those who have born the pains of battle.

ProblemsI have seen veterans blithely refused prompt care because of the frequency that veteran had been seen, the lifestyle choices of that veteran, or simply because a charge nurse or doctor did not like the politics of the veteran as displayed by their clothing.  I have seen illegal actions taken to turn people away from care at a VA Hospital Emergency room by VA Police officers, charge nurses, and other nursing staff, and been powerless to stop these crimes because the hospital leadership refused to act, and became hostile to the employee’s reporting the problems.  I have witnessed leaders delete emails reporting problems as those emails were proof and evidence of crimes cannot be allowed to remain at the VA.  I-CARE about these issues; I report these problems, but because I-CARE I also provide solutions, easy fixes that could be applied and adapted for the relief of suffering and reduction of risk to the hospital.  My reports all were ignored while an employee, from the team leader to the director of Hospital Administration Services (HAS), to the hospital director’s suite, all sorts of deaf ears and crickets were in attendance.  I reported issues to the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) which is a geographic group of VA Medical Centers under common leadership; also, to no avail, crickets, and deaf ears.

I-CareYet, I-CARE; still, I-CARE drives me and motivates me to see change occur at the VA.  To right the wrongs, and rebuild the VA.  One of my early leaders at the NM VA Hospital said something very prescient, “If a civilian hospital did half-the things the VA Hospitals get away with, they (the civilian hospital) would have been shut down and the leaders imprisoned.”  Having witnessed a year of crimes personally, seeing the inability for change to occur due to leadership, watching talent wasted, and monitoring the revolving door of employees in the VA, I concur with that statement.  The leader who spoke had 25-years of civilian hospital administration experience, before coming to the VA, and the VA would only hire this well-educated, highly experienced person as a GS-7, an entry-level employee.

Image - Eagle & FlagIn the coming days and months, I will continue to write about the VA.  Using personal experience, patient experiences related to or personally witnessed, and the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General investigation reports, as the reasons for the solutions I propose.  I-CARE, enough to stand as a witness that the VA in its current form cannot, and should not, be allowed to thrive any longer.  Change must come to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), including to the Veterans Health Administration (VHA; hospitals and clinics), the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA; compensation and pension claims), and the National Cemeteries.  Thus, I witness my commitment to I-CARE and the VA.

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Let’s Talk Customer Service – Internal and External Processes

I have been shopping for a new financial institution since Washington Mutual was gobbled by Chase ten years ago this October.  Washington Mutual was not perfect, but they offered two things I rate all business transactions upon, ease of business, and functionality.  The functionality occurred with precision, veracity, and good customer experience.  Ease of business meant that the customer experience was not inhibited by internal processes, the need for conducting business (external) was not clogged or overshadowed by processes (internal).

Why does this matter? – Because when the customer needed a transaction concluded at Washington Mutual, the bank philosophies of ease of business and functionality made the customer experience more robust and easier for employees and customers alike.  It is to ease of business and functionality, as a core business mentality, the following is addressed, in the hopes of promoting improvements in customer attention, focus, and support.

Blue Money BurningAs a financial institution shopper, especially when the customer approaches a manager or assistant manager, regarding a poor experience, the mentality of ease of business and functionality should be the cornerstone of the conversation with customers (external & internal).  10 October 2019 – I approach the “Welcome Desk” at Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU) and ask to speak to a manager.  The person behind the desk claims, “I am an assistant manager; how may I help?”  I explain, I am shopping financial institution shopping and have a problem depositing a check using the NFCU App.  Then I ask if the check I was presenting for the deposit, and the endorsement were acceptable for both an ATM and the counter.  When the endorsement was verified as acceptable; I asked, “Why is the endorsement unacceptable for the NFCU App?  To which my answer was, “The verbiage specified for deposits through the APP is different to protect NFCU from double or triple deposits of the same check.”  Interestingly enough, the verbiage is not standard across the website, the NFCU App, or the email received rejecting the deposit through the NFCU App.  Meaning, my check deposit was denied through the App because NFCU’s internal processes are insufficiently designed for ease of business and functionality; thus, the customer is inconvenienced because NFCU cannot function properly in the back office in support of front office customer facing-transactions.  Why is it an external customers job to make the back-office employees work less?

There is a trend in financial institutions, Government offices, and emergency rooms to hide the employees behind the double and triple walls of an impenetrable polymer.  Chase branches have all been upgraded, my local VA Hospital is being updated, and the local Social Security Office was upgraded several years prior.  At the Chase branch, the counters appear to have shrunk to improve the ability to hear and be heard through the thick polymer; good job Chase, Thank you!  The VA ER, no such luck, no such plans, hearing a patient’s concerns has been trumped by the business stated need to “protect the worker.”  At the local Social Security Office, the desks and counters equate to more than 4-feet of separation between the speaker and the listener, and communication is non-existent for anyone with hearing difficulties, speech difficulties, etc.  Functionality and ease of business have been eternally sundered, and the customer pays the price in time, frustration, aggravation, and the inability to conduct business.  In the dangerous times we live, it only makes sense to have a security plan, to implement security options, and to support a safe business environment.  However, security should never be the excuse for killing ease of business or functionality.  I recently traveled from Albuquerque, NM to El Paso, Texas, to visit my “local” Chase branch.  Where I then had to repeat myself no less than twice for every verbal request, and the teller had to repeat themselves the same to conduct business.  Was a transaction concluded; yes, but the functionality and ease of business were abnegated and not conducive to continuing a customer relationship.

3-direectional-balanceEase of business and functionality should not be sacrificed as a cost-savings measure or staff reduction model.  The Chase branches I have visited in the last two-to-three years have been changing, staff reductions have occurred, while automation has increased. During a previous visit to a Chase branch, three teller positions had been replaced with ATMs inside the branch office.  I applaud Chase for the investment made in making technology work; but, when I visit a branch, I want to speak to a person, not be hassled by another machine.  I want to be treated as a person whose time is as important as the banker/teller’s time, and have a human experience.  Hence, when I witness people replaced by machines, no matter how good the technology is, my cherub-like demeanor takes a significant hit.  I understand Federal Minimum Wage, State, County, City Mandated Minimum Wage Laws have all gone crazy increasing the human cost in business, I understand the need for physical security increases costs for human transactions, and I know that the human element is expensive in other ways and means, requiring more back-office work and humans.  Do not sacrifice ease of business and functionality on the alter with the humans.  If you have physical, armed guards, checking, x-raying, and hassling customers, you should not need the polymer and technical stations.  Strike a balance and err on the side of human-to-human contact, not technology.

Corporate LogosSpeaking of the need to strike a balance between technology and human-to-human contact, ease of business, functionality, and customer service, those “Self-Checkout” stations forced upon customers in retail stores remain a significant point of contention.  Home Depot and Lowe’s, thank you for not sacrificing customer attention and customer responsiveness on the altar of technology as “Self-Checkout” has proliferated in your stores.  Walmart, Smith’s, Kroger, Fry’s, and so many more stores could learn from your example.

My spouse has several Walmart locations she visits as “local.”  In every one of these stores, the same thing has transpired, the self-checkout stations have multiplied exceedingly, but the number of floor employees has dropped exponentially.  In fact, there is less customer attention in Walmart since the explosion of self-checkout than before across the five states I have been measuring; thus, I can only conclude, this is a tactical exercise from Walmart Corporate Offices to reduce staff, while not improving the customer experience.  Between the constant game of “Musical Shelves,” where products are in continuous movement from shelf to shelf and location to location, and the reduction in customer support, I find myself losing my cherub-like demeanor when trying to complete shopping.  Back in the 1990s I read a research report discussing how for every minute spent in a store, the balance of the shopping cart increases $10.00; thus, I understand the psychology of playing “Musical Shelves,” but the human-to-human involvement has led to less functionality in the shopping experience, throwing ease of business in the garbage.

Leading to the following suggestions:

  1. When looking to strike a balance between expenses and functionality and ease of business, err on the side of ease of business. Functionality will automatically improve when ease of business is sufficiently provided.
  2. Never allow a process, a procedure, and a business standard of measure to celebrate a second birthday. The ease of business should be a constant aspect of the daily workflow.  Functionality, as an extension of ease of business, should be the second prerequisite in the evaluation of processes to meet customer service goals.  Never forget, if a process, procedure, or business matrix cannot be explained completely in a single elevator ride, then that process, procedure, and business matrix are too complicated and need revision.
  3. Customer service should never involve telling a customer about an internal process. Thus, if the back-office is demanding a customer inconvenience that hinders ease of business or functionality, the back-office needs to be held to task and the process changed.

Businesses cannot long shirk ease of business and functionality and survive.  Human-to-human interactions are customer service, and when anything gets between the customer and the employee, business leadership must return focus to ease of business and functionality, not cut out the human.  Customer service should never be tossed because of technology, ease of employees, or as a staff reduction effort.  Your employee today is your customer tomorrow, and your customer today is your employee tomorrow, do you really want to proliferate problems handed to external customer’s as they become tomorrow’s internal customer?

Trader Joe'sTrader Joe’s remains the pre-eminent example of ease of business, functionality, and customer service working in an environment that is well balanced.  No self-checkout, no hassle when asking questions, and several of my local stores have added physical security without changing the human element.  Ease of business and functionality are apparent from the prices to the products, the shelves, to the physical store environment.  No technology separates the customer from a robust shopping experience that is both pleasing and adventurous.  Nothing special is done as a process by Trader Joe’s, but the ease of business and functionality promote the customer experience, which is shared by customers who spend short or long periods shopping and desire to return.  I recently witnessed a Trader Joe’s employee explaining to a customer how to improve fruit ripening techniques, the employee then went out of their way to guide the customer through what to buy and how to use the methods discussed with several different varieties of fruit.  This example is not a one-off singular event, but a regular occurrence at every Trader Joe’s store I have visited.  When you commit to ease of business and functionality, as a person and as a professional, opportunities develop.

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

Defining Customer Service: Some Examples – Shifting the Paradigms

Gitomer’s, “Customer Service is Worthless: Customer Loyalty is Priceless (1998),” customer service has changed in ways that motivate me to investigate, cheer when found, and when negatives are experienced I want to help fix the problems. Several books and research papers in my library confirm every point Gitomer makes; thus, the following four interactions are compared to Gitomer’s text to supply solutions that can be benchmarked as Gitomer is much easier to read. The intent of this article is to power enthusiasm for change in how customer service is found and improved to inspire customer loyalty.

The Chase bank app delivered an error that made no sense. I called the “Mobile Banking Line,” and then was transferred to another department with “tech-savvy people who could assist me further.” Those representatives were not only unable to aid, but they also could not understand the problem as described, and offered a “local branch.” Upon learning that I lived 264 miles to the nearest Chase bank branch in El Paso, Texas, the representative had no other solution, offered no additional explanation, and for being a senior, tech-savvy representative, was less useful than the first representative I spoke with. Thus, I drove the four hours to El Paso, to be at the Chase Bank branch by opening. Not only was the teller having difficulty performing the transaction, the Chase Bank “Customer Service Star” desktop guide posted where I could see and evaluate performance. I was correctly greeted, in the standard big bank demanded-greeting that means nothing and has no humanity, good-job. Everything after that went downhill. When the teller was told that the El Paso branch is the “local” branch for Albuquerque, NM., there was no response. Eventually, the transaction was finally completed, and I was offered a big corporate bank, no humanity farewell, good-job. For a transaction that I can normally complete on my phone, to take 25-minutes in the branch, after a four-hour drive, you would think the teller would have cared, responded, or simply had humanity.

Gitomer offers several suggestions that a customer needs; I offer the most critical customer need, “Response!” When the customer begins a conversation about having to drive from another state to your location, respond. Show an attitude of gratitude, express amazement, ask about the trip, but to ignore the customer and only focus on the transaction, I could have stayed in Albuquerque and gotten that response from the telephone line. Gitomer claims the best customer variable is loyalty. Washington Mutual was my bank; I was loyal from the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night, I told everyone to change to Washington Mutual. Chase acquired Washington Mutual during the banking crisis, and I have been provided a reason to be loyal to Chase to date. I have not been presented a reason to enjoy banking with Chase. Why; because every transaction is ruled by the corporate thinking and inflexibility of big banks who consider themselves “Too big to fail.” Well, lose some more customers, keep ignoring the customers you still have, and another merger to an even bigger corporate bank will be the future.

AT&T, there are several issues in the following story of recent customer service. Frequent readers of my articles will see a common trend, training. Here is another matter where training wins customers. February, I called AT&T looking for a solution; I got a larger price plan and thought all is well. March, I am introduced to the mouse print and discover that “Unlimited Data” has several limits; who knew, obviously not the AT&T telephone representative, or the online Chat representative, I had to visit a local store for an explanation. April more calls to the telephone line, more guesses to close the call. Another visit to the local store for help. Like the shampoo bottle’s instructions, “Wash, Rinse, Repeat” May, June, July, and August will see me going into the local store again on Monday. I promise, my trips to the store are not because I am finding customer service, especially since I must keep dodging sales to get questions answered. AT&T, what is your company training philosophy, procedures, and strategical and tactical reasons for conducting employee training? The current results are not satisfactory, and that problem is not improving.

Gitomer discusses how converted employees become loyal employees. I was a converted and loyal customer to Cingular Wireless, which was bought by AT&T. I was a converted customer of Alltel, which was merged into Verizon and AT&T. I was converted to these companies for the service, clarity, and the lack of mouse-print conditions that the employees do not even know or can explain. Banking and Cellphones have something in common, the product is remarkably similar, and the service provided by employees is the only separating variable between your company and your competition. Chase, AT&T, where is the employee training on distinguishing service and building customer loyalty?

“#6 WOW! Variable: Truthful – Customers want the truth! The customer will find out eventually, so you may as well start with the truth – [especially] if [the truth] hurts” (Gitomer, 1998, p. 97; emphasis mine). AT&T, please heed! Chase, you might want to have the same conversation in your call center as well. When customers start with the telephone line looking for information and receive a lie, you are building a customer event that will cost your company customers! Lying loses customers; this equation should be the number one discussion with every employee. I have spent hours on the phone receiving one piece of information, only to walk into the AT&T store and get handed more mouse print. Thus, when training, emphasize the need for clear, concise, truth; served openly and with conviction.

Like many US Military Veterans, I am regularly stuck between two bureaucracies in dealing with the Veterans Administration. However, there is nothing more frustrating than getting the same issues in non-government health administrations. Corporate medicine began in the late 1980s in America, and since then community hospitals have become giant behemoths where bureaucracies reign.  These establishments have yet to understand they must pay attention to the customer/patient, not the insurance company, and indeed not the voices in their heads. Hospital directors, leaders, and providers, what do you do when a patient/customer walks in with cash and asks for service? I walked into the University of New Mexico, Orthopedics Department, plopped $2000.00 in cash down and asked for 60-minutes of time with any provider who was available for a letter I need. Records were available, x-rays, MRI’s, and a host of data. The letter would take less than 60-minutes, and I do not know anyone who would turn down cash and a payday of $2000.00 for an hour or less of work. Yet, not only was I turned away by the bureaucracy, I was informed I would have to travel an hour to another location instead of where I was, because I had been treated there two-years prior. But, I would still not be able to obtain the letter I needed as the other department is neurology. To receive treatment at the specialist demanded by the VA bureaucracy, I must first find a primary care provider who would refer me to a specific provider in orthopedics, before I could finally discuss the potential to fill my need.

Gitomer talks about this principle. The customer does not care about your processes, procedures, policies, and propaganda. The customer cares about what they need, what they offer, and how to obtain what they need. When I called AT&T this week, the third person I spoke with started every answer with “I apologize.” The UNM representative did the same thing in refusing my money and their services. The UNM representative also pulled the “Let me check” run out the office, reappear, helpless, act, to attempt actually to be helpful. The same act is done by telephone representatives who place a customer on hold to “check with a supervisor.” The customer knows what you are doing, and I, for one, am not impressed! Gitomer emphasizes on this point, and if the apology does not come with a solution that gets the customer to what they need, the apology is an excuse that is lame, weak, and useless.

03 August 2019 email messages were sent to three Federally elected representatives of New Mexico, Congresswoman Debra Haaland (D), Senator Tom Udall (D), Senator Martin Heinrich (D). I asked them if they were interested or cared about the veterans in their districts and what is occurring in the Albuquerque VA Medical Center. Their silence testifies to their disregard to their constituents. Unfortunately, this treatment or abuse of their constituents is not limited to the few representatives from New Mexico. Friday, I received a boilerplate email response from Senator Tom Udall’s staff, auto signed, with wording that clearly claims, I do not care about you or your issue, leave me alone, and stop bothering me. As the sole respondent in three elected officials, as the customer, voter, and citizen, I am not pleased!

Each of the above situations breeds a question; “Why should I remain a customer, patient, voter?”

The solutions are clear:

  1. Train employees. Encourage employees to walk customers through different solutions using the truth mentally. Apologize only when you have a solution and mean you are sorry. False apologies are as useful as a blunt needle, you might get the job done, but you are going to drive yourself and everyone else crazy doing the job. Show why training is occurring. State the strategy, so the tactical actions requested make sense to those being trained.
  2. Respond to the customer. Active listening is only half the communication effort, forming proper responses means building upon what the customer said with your response. Failure to respond appropriately, and the customer situation is worsened for the next person to communicate with this customer.
  3. Gitomer asks the following question, “What will it take to end measuring ‘[customer] satisfaction’ in your business” (Gitomer, 1998, p. 257)? I guarantee that the answer to this question is going to cause significant angst in why and how you communicate with customers. I am fairly certain, the answer to this question is going to disrupt every communication channel’s operations and daily tactical actions requiring a review of operational strategy. Business leaders, do you dare to ask the question? Are you prepared for the answer?
  4. Gitomer, Chapter 16 (p. 234-248) details change and how to make the change effective in your operations. The 10.5 points are useful, but what comes next is the best plan for moving forward successfully.

Leading to the final question:

“What will you do now?”

 

Reference

Gitomer, J. (1998). Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless: How to Make Customers Love You, Keep Them Coming Back and Tell Everyone They Know. Atlanta, GA: Bard Press.

 

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Customer Service Surveys – Bringing Sanity to the Survey

Nissan sent me a post car sale survey. I answered the questions honestly, and the sales rep did a great job; yet, those servicing and supporting the sales rep did some stuff, and I am not particularly pleased. I was specific in the comment section, praising my sales rep, and particular on who and where the ball was dropped creating issues. Not 30-minutes after completing the survey, I receive a call from a senior director at the Nissan Dealership who said that my sales rep was going to be fired and lose all his commissions for the month because the survey is solely his responsibility. The senior director went forward and said, “This is an industry-wide practice and cannot be changed.”

I disagree!

As a business consultant, long have I fought the “Voice-of-the-Customer” surveys for measuring things that a customer service person, salesperson, front-line customer-facing employee, does not control. If the customer-facing employee does not control all the facets that create a problem, then the survey should only be measuring what can be controlled. For a car salesperson, they have a challenging job, and they rely upon a team to help close the deal. Including a service department, a finance department, sales managers, and more. The blame all falls upon the sales rep for problems in the back office.

I sold my Kia Soul for a Nissan Juke, my salesperson at Peoria Nissan was excellent and I wound up purchasing three vehicles from Peoria Nissan. I have purchased a Rogue from Reliable Nissan, and a Juke from Melloy Nissan, both of which are in Albuquerque, NM. Tonna Yutze at Peoria Nissan is a great salesperson. Shawn Walker, at Reliable Nissan, is a young salesperson, with great potential. Of all the cars I have purchased, these are the car salespeople who have made a sufficient impression that I remember their names long after the sale — speaking more about the salesperson, than a post-sale customer survey.

Quantitative data is useful but means nothing without proper context, support, purpose, and a properly designed survey analysis procedure. Even with all those tools in place, at best, quantitative data can be construed, confused, and convoluted by the researcher, the organization paying for research, or the bias of those reading the research report.

Qualitative data is useful, but the researcher’s bias plays a more active role in qualitative research. Qualitative research suffers the same problems as quantitative research for many of the same reasons. Regardless, quantitative and qualitative data does not prove anything. The only thing qualitative and quantitative data does is supports a conclusion. Hence, the human element remains the preeminent hinge upon which the data swings.

Leading to some questions that every business sending out a “Voice-of-the-Customer Survey” instrument needs to be investigating and answering continuously:

  1. Is the data being captured relevant, timely, and accurate?
  2. What is being measured by the survey instrument, and why?
  3. How is the information being used to improve upon that which is measured?
  4. Who benefits from the survey and why?
  5. Who is harmed by the survey, and why?

Even with all this taken into consideration, business leaders making decisions about “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey data need to understand one person can make or break the service/sales chain; but, it requires a team to support the customer-facing employee.  Juran remarked, “When a problem exists, 90% of the time the solution is found in the processes, not the people.” Hence, when bad surveys come in, defend your people, check how your business is doing business, e.g., the processes.

The dynamics of “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey instruments require something else for consideration, delivery. AT&T recently sent me a “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey via text message. Collecting the barest of numerical (quantitative) data, three text messages, three data pieces, none of which gets to the heart of the customer issue.  Barely rating the salesperson in the AT&T store I had previously visited. Recently, I received a call from Sprint, where the telemarketer wanted to know if I wanted to switch back to Sprint and why.  The nasal voice, the rushed manner, and the disconnected mannerisms of the telemarketer left me with strong negative impressions, not about the telemarketer, but of Sprint. Nissan sends emails and while the data collected has aspects of the customer’s voice (qualitative) and numerical rankings (quantitative), my impressions of Nissan have sunk over the use of the survey to fire hard-working sales professionals. My previous bank, Washington Mutual, had a good, not great, “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey process, but the customer service industry continues to make the same mistakes in survey delivery and application.

How and why in “Voice-of-the-Customer” surveys, or the delivery and use of the survey data, leaves a longer-lasting impression upon the customer than the actual survey. Thus, if you are a business leader who purchased an off the shelf “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey analytics package, and you cannot explain the how, why, when, where, what, and who questions in an elevator, the problem is not with the customer-facing employees doing your bidding. If your back-office people supporting the customer-facing people are not being measured and held accountable, then the survey is disingenuous at best, and unethical at worst.

I recommend the following as methods to improve the “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey process:

  1. All business leaders using the customer service survey data must be able to answer the why, what, when, who, and how questions clearly to all who ask about the survey tool.
  2. If you have sections for the customer-facing employee and mix in other questions about the process, the customer-facing employee’s responsibility begins and ends with the specific questions about the customer-facing employees’ performance. You cannot hold a customer-facing employee responsible for broken back-office processes!
  3. Revise, review, and research the data collected. Ask hard questions of those designing the survey. Know the answers and practice responding to those asking questions.
  4. Get the customer-facing employees involved in forming what needs to be measured in a survey, have them inform and answer why. You will be surprised at what is discovered.
  5. Use the data to build, teach, train, coach, and mentor, not fire, customer-facing employees. Support your people with data, not destroy them.
  6. If you cannot explain a process or procedure in an elevator speech, the process is too complicated. No matter what the process is, use the elevator as a tool to simplify your business organization, processes, procedures, and tools.
  7. Be a customer! When a customer, ask tough questions, drive for answers that work, and if the customer-facing employee is struggling, train through the chain of command!

Never forget, the value of the “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey is found in actionable data, to improve cohesion between the front- and back-office, training talking points, and the power to return a customer to your business. Anything else promised is smoke and mirrors, a fake, a fallacy, and sales ruse.

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.