SMART Training –Shifting the Paradigm on Corporate Training

GearsCorporate training continues to be a difficult topic to describe, mainly because everyone seems to “know” what training is, but cannot understand what it is not, even when receiving inferior corporate training. As an adult educator, schooled and experienced in corporate training, let’s discuss corporate training, the principles, the need, and the student.

One aspect of organizational development needs to be considered at the outset, the difference between active and reflective listening. In active listening, the person not currently speaking pays attention to content and intent, engages in emotional meaning, focuses on removing barriers, and remains non-judgmental and empathetic. In reflective listening, the speaker and the listener take active listening and employ two-directional messaging to ensure mutual understanding. The central aim in reflective listening will always be the desire to achieve mutual understanding in communication.

The importance of understanding listening in training remains the utmost concern as the process of engaged, reflective listening producing the environment for the most potential positive training results. The needed 360-degree or two-directional communication to safely and more efficiently operate is critical in training and necessary in communication. Trainers must be able to gather anecdotal evidence and hard data to check for validity and veracity in training operations. Without a quality control mechanism that includes open and honest feedback, the trainer is operating in a vacuum and wasting corporate resources.

The majority of adult educators in the US today, and possibly much of the world, have become convinced of several untruths because the colleges teaching adult education seem fixated on teaching misleading concepts that ultimately do more harm than good. For example, ADDIE, as a methodology tool used to govern training, is useless without a quality control and a return and report function, both of which must be added to the basic ADDIE model; thus changing the design and interposing more personal opinion and bias into what became, with the addition of quality control and two-directional communication, an untested model. Colleges continue to press the ADDIE methodology as the only proper method for instructing adults, without changing or testing the basic ADDIE model. Other untruths include Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs,” which has been researched and found not entirely accurate, nor does it explain the natural needs and the current model of the world; thus, remaining just Maslow’s opinion.

By teaching untruths to the soon-to-be-adult educators, the adult educators go forth professionally to train other adults, using the same untruths. Thus fulfilling the axiom of GIGO, programmer’s aphorism meaning, “Garbage In results in Garbage Out.” Hence, the untruths are disseminated into future classrooms, and the company and the adult students lack proper training, resources are wasted, and the potential in training is lost.

Putting the value of training in dollars and cents is difficult, but the following will give an idea of the problem. Two kinds of money govern business, blue and green. Blue money is all about the potentblue-moneyial for good or ill to the bottom line of an action, process, tool, employee, etc. Green money is cold, hard, cash, and the food of bottom line health. What is the potential of cross-training employees? If done properly, incalculable positive results and consequences are forthcoming. If done incorrectly, immeasurable adverse effects and consequences will abound. Leading to a stunning observation; if enough blue money is burned, green money evaporates, and the business leaders have no idea how or why the bottom line is vanishing, and market share is shrinking. Since training is all about increasing an employee’s potential and runs the risk of the employee leaving the company, the potential costs and benefits remain difficult to quantify in dollars and cents.

As a newly hired operations manager, I made three expensive presumptions: 1. All the production employees were cross-trained. 2. The machine maintenance had been done properly, and the production machines were in top order. 3. The production employees knew the jobs they were being paid to accomplish. The presumptions cost a lot of blue and green money until rectified, which cost the plant valuable production time, temporary staff increased costs, and the need to perform the production floor manager’s position as well as the operations manager’s role until these three presumptions were corrected. Total cost from my hire date until resolved, 3-months of 50-hour weeks, and more than triple my annual salary in green money. With the total savings from higher potential after addressing the deficiencies, the annual salary of every employee in the plant multiplied by five.

Leading to how to increase potential, decrease blue money evaporation, and develop SMART Training, I have found the following ideas helpful to consider in creating hybrid solutions:

  1. Quantify and Qualify blue money loss. This sounds technical but is quite easy to implement.   I suggest the following principles for review and application:
    1. Respect those around you as potential superstars. Respecting includes employees or customers, vendors or shareholders, deemed less useful. Respect first, last, and always. People will always rise to the level of respect shown.
    2. Change your perception. How valuable or costly is a hammer when directly proportionate to the amount of training in the hands of the operator? If you, as the business leader, are not willing to change how you see the hammer, then it will be impossible to see the worker differently.
    3. Focus on people. Processes are how work is accomplished. Products and services support the company, but the people remain the variable requiring attention. Get out of the office, get onto the production floor, interact, ask questions, and know people.
    4. Freedom to act is a blue money saving principle. If the actions taken by individuals are rigidly controlled, the customer is not served, the problems multiply, and the result is wasted potential. Remember, for every dollar in potential money spent, five dollars in cash evaporates.
  2. Believe in cross training. It is said that Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines love to train. They might grumble, moan, and complain, but the training helps lift the morale, empowers the individual, and enhances the individual self-image and self-worth. The same is true in business and every other human endeavor; embrace a love for training.
  3. In accordance with item two above, make sure that the training is valuable and SMART. Relevant training is a knowledge object that can be used immediately, often, and is easily recognized by other employees as something to aspire to obtain.
    1. SMART training is specific; if the employee is to be a cashier, do not include forklift training with cashier training.
    2. Measurable, can the employee feel they learned a job-ready skill. Attainable training is training that can be achieved. For example, not everyone needs to be a nuclear physicist to perform well in customer interactions. Scale the training to meet the tasks at hand. Yes, training should be tough, but attainable.
    3. Realistic training is directly applicable to daily tasks, not trying to cover 20-years of hypothetical nuance, but realistic to daily production goals.
    4. Timely training means to train the employee to the job standard, as it is designed currently, not 5-10 months down the road.
  4. Training has a shelf life; thus training must adapt and change as the business changes. Allow training to live and die as needed to meet the business needs. This also requires cognizant and purposeful planning for strategic and tactical goal realization. Nothing is worse than receiving training in a classroom, then needing to receive different training on the floor because the trainers do not know current operations.
  5. Organizational design. This topic seems peculiar to mention in an article regarding training, but please note, many times, the disconnect between training and operations is not the training or operations, but how the organization is designed. An example, during a project recently concluded, I saw this principle first hand; a common theme on the production floor was a feeling of disconnect between higher levels, e.g. director level and up leadership and senior manager level direction and down. Because of the perceived disconnect, e.g. front-line employees thinking and feeling the higher level leaders are not interested and engaged, and the real disconnect, e.g. the leaders changing methods of work without understanding the processes, procedures, and technology in the work performed, many problems on the floor were never discussed and resolved, simply Band-Aid solutions applied with the hope the core problem goes away, while complaining that the leaders did not have a clue. Use the following to improve organizational design concerns:
    1. Problems in organizational design are easy to spot and discern during process reviews; this is a valuable time; use it well. Thus, never let a process age beyond 18-months and always ensure each process has a single individual responsible for the shelf life of the process.
    2. Use the quarterly, semi-annual, and annual employee events to listen to employees, talk with staff, and take these thoughts back to strategic and tactical planning meetings to direct resources to qualify and quantify the comments from employees, then act promptly, and keep the employees in the communication loop.
    3. Stop the Band-Aid solutions. If the problem needs a Band-Aid, the problem is bad enough to invest actual time and resources in fixing properly. Communicate using reflective listening to achieve two-directional communication with mutual understanding.blue-money-burning
  6. The student in corporate training can be the customer, a shareholder, a vendor, another employee, etc. Training should be an ongoing topic looked forward to as an enabling event. Want to quickly see if the training is SMART? Listen to the comments made by employees when annual compliance training is announced. If there remains a monumental lack of enthusiasm, training is not SMART, not valuable, and blue money fire pits are raging, burning potential directly and green money by remote. Hence, the following tips should help in understanding the student more completely:
    1. Regardless of mode, make sure the student is known before training occurs. Knowing the student ensures the proper language is employed in offering training, and the trainer and the student can relate to each other and the topic under discussion.
    2. Know what the student expects to receive from the training and then adapt the training to meet the expectation. Even if the student does not know what they desire in post training, allow the student to vocalize and establish expectations.
    3. Confidence in training comes from trainers knowing who they are and what they offer. If teachers are not confident, students will never be confident and will have been taught how not to be confident in acting upon the training principles.
    4. “Enthusiasm,” per Henry Chester, “is the greatest asset in the world. Enthusiasm “beats money, power, and influence.” Enthusiasm is sourced in confidence and trust. Faith in the topic is acquired by being trained and trusting in the application and organizational design to support the issue being taught. Enthusiasm is easily taught; teach by example and others will follow!

Employ voice-of-the-customer (VoC) surveys more completely. Make a team of highly professional, and soon to be promoted to team leader, employees and have them administer the VoC program. Employ the VoC as a tool to improve the business processes, procedures, and organizational design. Possessing inputs for training topics, directing customer interaction resources for marketing, and understanding the role of potential (blue money) inherent in the business products and services, as well as the employees delivering on the company promise for customer interaction, improves the business processes, procedures, and organizational design. By employing seasoned employees, the VoC becomes an organizational tool worthy of the customer and the cost of collecting the customer’s input.

There remains a great need in business for SMART training, which includes realizing the potential in people and processes to influence for good or ill. Tooblue-money-burning-2 often the problem in lost bottom-line or dropping market share is not found in green money costs but in blue money waste. When costs need cutting, always look first for lost potential and save the potential first. If the potential waste is not stopped first, the blue money will continue to burn and will morph into different budget areas because the potential lost is a raging forest fire untended and burning green money.

© 2017 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
Copyright for images used is retained by the original creator and used under fair use.

Man’s Inhumanity Towards Man: Shifting the Leadership and Customer Service Paradigm

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Recently, I was asked, “What does customer service mean to you?” The question continues to reverberate in my mind. Drawing upon several recent experiences, let’s discuss why customer service continues to be useless, debilitating, and demeaning. Finally, let’s imagine a way forward, a new paradigm for understanding the relationship between people as human beings, customers, and employees, who all deserve the best customer experience we, the professional customer-facers, can provide.

For the record, my wife considers the first example a genuine customer service success and remains a pleased customer. Since the first example concerns both of us, I see the customer service provided as a fail and will explain in greater detail below. According to my wife, this example is a win because of the treatment and ease of concluding her part in the customer service example. This separation of beliefs highlights another reason why voice-of-the-customer surveys (VoC) should not be a knowledge performance indicator (KPI) for service professionals. Service delivery is ambiguous, and as the disconnection between my wife and I represents, service value is in the eye of the beholder.

The first example begins with Amazon.com. The end user received their order for a product (the customer was served), which also contained two items not requested, not ordered, and not paid for (an additional hassle for the customer). The customer service department, at Amazon.com, was consulted and the agent informed the customer, “Since the cost to return the products did not justify shipping the products back to Amazon, the customer could keep the products” with Amazon’s blessing. This is not a good customer service experience for several reasons:

  1. The customer now has to dispose of new products not needed or wanted.
  2. The only justification for not returning the products was the cost, e.g. inconvenience, to Amazon.
  3. The underlying problem, receiving parts not requested, did not come with a solution that served the customer; nor, did the option to keep the parts improve the customer experience.

While the customer-facing agent was kind, considerate, and per the company guidelines acting in all good faith to the customer, in the interests of the company the customer was not served even though a solution was generated and the customer went away. Consider the person who was supposed to receive these parts. They will have to call and either receive a bill credit or the parts need to be shipped, thus delaying the other customer as well as not serving that customer by respecting their time, resources, and honoring the customer’s commitment to using the retailer Amazon.com. With both customers not being served, how can Amazon.com, or any business organization, dare refer to these customer interactions as “service.”

Regarding the next two examples, I am purposefully vague about the entities committing the customer “dis-service” at this moment, for a reason. I do not want distractions, e.g. reader bias, to interrupt or interfere with the focus upon the incidents by naming the organizations. The second example comes from an infamously poor government office that has a reputation for providing poor service to their customer base. The third example comes from a truly infamous retailer who is already struggling but generally has much better customer interactions. The second and third examples’ names will be provided later in this article.

While dealing with a large government entity, both in person and over the phone, three separate and divergent answers to the same problem were received over the period of five different opportunities to assist the customer. By stating this experience happened with a government entity, many people already are presuming the experience was bad. It was, and this is an acceptable and reasonable policy for bureaucrats to exemplify. I disagree most heartily that any government office can produce poor customer interactions and skate by blithely. Since all governments cannot operate without forced taxation, the government entity should be providing better, not worse, customer interactions than those found in the private sector and the need to hold the government to a higher standard is sorely lacking. More to the point, the original problem remains unresolved more than 15-days after the problem was promised a solution within 5-business days. What amazes me the most in this affair is the nonchalance, non-interest, and forthright noncommittal that government employees are allowed, nay encouraged, to get away with in customer interactions with those same taxpayers, who both need help and pay the taxes to keep the government employee employed.

Third, a recent example occurred during this now past holiday season; a customer approached a company representative for directions; the company representative did not have any pressing duties to occupy his/her time and can leave his/her assigned post to aid customers in improving the customer experience. I know this, as I checked with the manager and witnessed the customer service provider playing on a cell phone moments before being asked a question. The company representative gave a broad hand, and arm gestures yelled at the customer and appeared in all appearances to be inconvenienced by the customer’s request for directions. The company’s policy states the company representative is to walk the customer directly to their desired destination and await the customer’s pleasure to return to their original post as the only method to handle this type of service request. When this was brought to the manager’s attention, the manager acted shocked in front of the customer raising the complaint, and then took no action, as the additional action was deemed “not warranted” per the manager’s murmured comments to other employee’s in the vicinity. More to the point, the manager took the opportunity to bad mouth the customer raising the complaint and presented the complaint to other employees, who “snickered” at the language the manager used to describe those making complaints, while falsely thinking the customer who is raising the concerns was not paying attention.

Finally, a recent example from a major fast food franchise, while Burger King as a corporation should not be held accountable for the work the franchise performed, the customer service example remains priceless in showcasing the uselessness of serving the customer and the need for training customer interaction professionals. While using coupons, the customer became confused in the “legal print, ” and the order took longer to place and pay for than normal. The cashier at this point does three things: 1. Assumes the confused customer cannot hear; 2. Bad mouth the confused customer to the next three customers who were waiting patiently; and 3. Blames the customer for taking too long to order their food. Later, the cashier approached the confused customer, blamed the incident on him, offered a faux apology, and walked off muttering about stupid customers not understanding the reality of fast food restaurants.

In the third example, do not be distracted by the poor leadership being presented by the manager. Focus instead on the customer interactions: two different customer experiences, both deemed “acceptable customer service” by the powers that control the experiences. Neither customer was served nor was the problems solved. The first customer found a more helpful company representative who followed the company policy, and the second customer interaction with the manager only strengthened the customer’s resolve to continue to avoid the retailer. Two opportunities to grow a new relationship, enhance a new paradigm upon the customer, and promote goodwill and loyalty with the local customer base were missed. Customer interactions can and should be held to a higher standard, and the following defines my position that focusing solely on customer service is useless along with steps to improve.

Focusing solely on “serving the customer” is useless as all the customer receives is a meeting of their stated needs. In the third example, the customer received directions; thus, the customer’s need was met, and service was provided. In the first and second examples, the customer needed information and a plan of action to overcome the situation experienced. Even if the work resulted in the customer needing to take more action, the customer was “technically” served. In the fourth example, the confused customer received his food, was able to use a coupon, and was thus “served.” Is it apparent that merely serving the customer is useless?

The service to the customer, while technically meeting the customer’s needs, remains not just poor but pointless; all because the focus of the organization is honed to simply provide “service” or meet the customer’s stated need at the lowest cost, the fastest interaction, and the least amount of effort for the company and those employed to provide customer service. Sometimes all that is wanted by the customer is to resolve the problem quickly and efficiently and courteously and move forward with their lives. This is yet another reason why freedom is needed in customer interactions to serve as needed for each customer making contact. Customer facing professionals deserve better from their leadership than simply “providing service to customers.” Customer facing professionals need leadership, guidance, and freedom to develop the rapport necessary to shine their personal, professional pride into the customer interaction, all with the intent of not merely “serving a customer’s needs,” but providing opportunities for the customer to be motivated to brag about their unique customer experience.

In practice, the following steps should be the underlying governing principles to move from service to professional pride.

  1. No matter the method for customer interaction, make the time to show genuine interest in the customer. This will require making conversation, employing reflective listening techniques to ensure mutual understanding of the customer’s position, and representing the company with professional pride. For the customer-facing employees to show pride in the company the company leaders need to ensure the “What” and the “Why” is known to the employees’ so the employee can exemplify the “What” and the “Why” to customers. Leadership is key to communicating with a purpose and promoting the spirit of reflective listening in an organization. Make the connection of mutual understanding and most of the customer problems shrink in size.
    1. Active listening is good, but it doesn’t make the grade anymore.
    2. Reflective listening is all about making sure mutual understanding has been achieved.
    3. Mutual understanding provides one interaction resolution, goes beyond simple servicing needs, and displays the pride and professionalism of the company’s commitment to customer interactions.
    4. Reflective listening can be employed in voice, email, instant message, and face-to-face customer interactions and reflects an easily attained step up from only actively listening.
  2. Promote the customer experience by not differentiating between external and internal customers, treat them all as valuable customers deserving attention, focus, eye contact, and validation that their concern is justified and worthy of attention. Act in a manner that the customer deserves the best, and the spirit of customer interactions will infuse all the customers with a commonality of desire, hope, and professionalism. As a customer interaction professional, how much better do you offer superior interactions with customers when you, receive excellent customer interactions from the company you spend time representing?
  3. Remember to make the human connection in human interactions. Using reflective listening, focus on the clues, the body language, the tone of voice, and acknowledge these communication streams through competent action. For example, if the customer is perceived as stressed and is speaking in a clipped and hurried manner, respond kindly, but through accurate and speedy action acknowledging the customer’s stress and meeting the customer’s need by respecting their time. Human interactions are improved through human connections that reflect respect and that embody this principle in every human interaction, and the customer-facing employee becomes a customer’s hero. Using the information above, are we not all customer-facing employees; yes, we certainly are!
  4. Freedom to think and act in the interest of the customer, based upon sound critical thinking skills, is exemplified at the time of the interaction without second-guessing after the interaction. This happens more often in call centers, but every customer-facing employee has had this occur to them. At the moment, the decision appeared the best course of action, but after the interaction/interference of a manager or a quality assurance (QA) employee has second-guessed and provided “advice” that does not provide value to future customer interactions, doubt is planted removing confidence in acting appropriately in the future. Does this mean allowing poor judgment to survive? Absolutely not; it does mean that the “advice” needs to model and reflect value for future decisions, not cast aspersions upon the previous decisions.
  5. SMART Training. Everyone knows the axiom for SMART Goals; training should also embody the principles of and reflect SMART, “Specific, Measurable, Applicable, Realistic, and Timely.” If the training does not meet SMART levels, the training is not valuable to the persons receiving the training. Make the training SMART, and the potential for improving professionalism in customer interactions grows exponentially.
  6. Never stop learning, never stop reaching, and never stop growing. How often does training cease for employees after the new hire training concludes? How is a new employee supposed to meet the demands of a constantly changing customer population without ongoing training? More specifically, should managers, team leaders, directors, VP’s, and the C-Level leaders also continue to learn and receive training in their positions, roles, and company? If the front-line customer-facing employees need constant refresher training, then every customer-facing employee needs constant refresher training that meets the SMART training guidelines and provides value to the individual using that training.
  7. Stop wasting resources on unproductive goals, e.g., serving customers with excellence. Serving customers, even with “excellence,” remains a useless and wasteful activity; eradicate the term “customer service” from the company vernacular and memory. Begin by realizing the opportunity provided in customer interactions to grow the business, supporting customer interactions through reflective listening where mutual understanding is the goal, and by acting upon the mutual understanding achieved.

We, the professional customer-facing providers, can and should be able to onboard these principles and lead the eradication efforts to remove customer service from our focus and professional labels. The importance of not serving the customer, but elevating the customer interaction, cannot be understated. The customer experience needs to be elevated with reflective listening and prompt action to mutual understanding and a sense of mutual growth as partners in using the company’s products and services. The customer is too important to continue to waste resources only to serve. Make the opportunity to deliver and elevate, and the bottom-line will take care of itself abundantly. The organization in the second example is the Department of Veteran Affairs. The organization in the third example is Target.

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© 2017 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved – Image Copyrights used under Fair Use and are not included in the authors copyrighted materials.  AZ Quotes retains image copyrights.

Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s): Shifting the Paradigm and Bringing Balance to Measuring Employees

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Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) continue to be a “buzz phrase” and a measuring tool, a flavor of the month managerial concern, and a disastrous issue in employee relations.  Why is this a disastrous issue in employee relations?   KPI’s have no meaning, no value, and are not grounded in reality.  For all the resources invested, KPI’s continue to reflect a bad investment at best.  Yet, hope remains for KPI’s if the paradigm is shifted and new thinking on an old topic is undertaken.

KPI’s are to reflect what is needed for an employee to be adequately measured for performing the role of the position hired.  This KPI definition is the simplest statement on this topic and forms the backbone of the discussion herein.  Since KPI’s are all about measurement, knowing what is being measured, and why this particular aspect is being measured, the specific actions required to improve must be clear, concise, and easily discussed.  Please consider a common thought:  when was the last time KPI’s were reviewed for accuracy and the information being produced evaluated for veracity and actionable application?  If the answer is “I don’t know” or longer than 24-months previous, this is the first problem.

KPI’s should be producing actionable data.  For example, Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a KPI in which a baseline is established.   What is the baseline?  What are the parameters for high/low?  What specific actions can an employee take to improve NPS to meet the parameters?  Does the KPI standard make sense to the new employee?  Can a seasoned employee easily explain improvement to a new employee?  Actionable data is crucial in KPI discussion.  If the KPI is not directly tied to actions, why is this a measurable KPI?

Here is another point regarding actionable data in measuring KPI’s. Active Issues (AI) is a general KPI in many service related call centers.  Can an employee receive a zero (0) as a measurement?  The most frustrating conversation I ever had on a project was being charged an AI because the measurement system could not accept a zero in this category, even though the company preached zero-AI to all employees.  Obtaining the desired KPI meant the employees had to be charged an issue and, in being charged the issue, were then held accountable for not reaching the desired AI goal of zero.  Actionable data must be able to accept the performance desired and achieved to meet the employee performance.

KPI veracity is found in the usefulness of the data to the individual employee and direct supervisor.  KPI actionable application is found in being able to specifically identify actions the employee can take to improve performance on a single indicator.  This actionable application hinges upon the need to understand what is being measured and being able to explain why it is being measured along with the value of that measurement to the overall organization.

For example, Average Handle Time (AHT) is a common call center KPI measurement.  Is AHT being measured because you do not want employees on the phone too long or what about too short handle time?  What value is AHT measuring and how does AHT benefit the company overall?  Can the direct supervisor specifically speak to actions the employee is making to improve performance?  All of these questions must be addressed to empower the employee in how to improve based upon KPI measurement.

During my first performance interview in a call center, I asked about KPI’s, specific actions to take, what the numbers meant and what did improvement look like for each of the 40 KPI’s being discussed.  The answer on the majority of the KPI’s, from my front-line supervisor, was “I don’t know.”  More egregious was the insistence that “it works” and to not “rock the boat.”  The supervisor refused to find out what the KPI’s meant because the supervisor had no idea where the measurements came from, who was responsible for the KPI’s, and did not want to “rock the boat.”

Another issue regarding actionable application and veracity is the power of surpassing expectations.  Should an employee surpass the expectation, is the employee harmed because of being better than the KPI dictates?  An example of this is found in another common call center KPI, After Call Work (ACW).  If the standard for ACW is 10 seconds and the diligent employee drives their ACW to zero (0), per the published company desired goals, can the KPI measurement accurately reflect the employee’s performance?  If not, the KPI process is having significant issues in delivering actionable and truthful data to organizational leaders.

Here is another real world example on KPI failure.  While working a project in a call center, I discovered how to obtain KPI excellence in ACW and taught managers and other employees how to obtain KPI excellence in ACW.  At the end-of-the-month meeting for KPI adherence, I won an award for obtaining 0 ACW, but the bonus check was based upon 1-second ACW because the KPI measurement system could not accept a 0.  More to the point, I also received a counseling statement for having time in ACW.  The award and counseling statement were delivered the same day, and the manager did not see the irony or problem with the KPI issue.  The insult to injury came when pointing out this error and being told by the VP of Customer Service that the business will not change to accommodate.

When working with KPI’s, the data must be able to be tied to specific actions of those being measured.  The actions are being measured and weighed, and the actions need to make sense by providing logic to the employee.  The KPI might make sense to an organizational leader or a high-level manager, but if the employee being measured cannot logically understand the KPI, the measurement cannot accurately reflect actionable data.

For example, “Voice-of-the-Customer” (VOC) remains a favorite call center KPI, but many times, the VOC score does not make sense as the actions the employee is told to take often do not impact a VOC because the customer survey is all about the perception of the customer, not the work of the employee.  If the customer does not like the data presented and with spite and envy fills out the VOC survey with malice and vindication, how is the customer agent expected to make improvement inVOC?  The customer service representative cannot influence the customer after the call and before the survey is completed; the customer is making choices; providing the best service is irrelevant and the employee is punished for a low VOC.  If the agent delivering service does not control the actions, the KPI is both inaccurate and ineffective!

ACW and AHT bring up an excellent auxiliary topic, baselines.  Baselines are averages and beg the questions as to when and who established the basic data being averaged to measure performance?  How were the baselines established originally?  Have the baselines been reviewed for application in the current business environment?  Do the baselines still make sense?  More specifically, if the baselines and averages do not reflect current reality, why are they still a KPI?  If training to meet the KPI is insufficient, how can an employee meet the rigors the KPI demands?

On a call center project, I asked when the AHT/NPS/ACW/VOC and other KPI’s were established.  The front-line supervisor was part of the project in their first year of employment to establish KPI baselines.  The supervisor was a 15-year veteran of the company and I asked when the baselines would be reviewed due to new technology, new processes, new procedures, and business changes since inception of the original baselines.  The response remains classic, “Why should the baselines change.  This is why they are called baselines.”  Baselines should change as the KPI’s are reviewed.  When products and services change, the baselines need to be reviewed to ensure veracity and applicability.  More specifically, actionable data takes a downturn when baselines are insufficient to proper measurement of performance.

What does this mean for the paradigm?

  1. Plan to review the KPI as a process at a minimum of every 18 months and sooner if products and services change. Review sooner if technology shifts and every time a trigger in the company processes occurs, e.g., back office changes, legislation, etc.  Regardless, set in place plans to maintain KPI shelf life and allow the KPI process to live, change, and become a tool to improve people.
  1. Make a single person responsible for each KPI being measured. For example, if there are 15 KPI’s in an employee’s performance review, then 15 different people should have a collateral duty to be responsible for the life of that KPI.  These people should be approachable, knowledgeable, and have an in-depth knowledge of the job being done to adequately measure the performance of others and how this influences the company’s goals and objectives overall.  More specifically, if those in charge have not performed the job, why are they in charge of the KPI to measure the job?

I worked on a project where the senior leaders, team leaders, directors, etc., were required to spend 8-hours a month on the phone as a front-line customer-facing representative in an effort to keep the leaders knowledgeable of the front-line tasks, current customer environment, and to gage process and procedure application in a real-world.  The customers and the customer-facing employees appreciated seeing this, and it made the leaders more cognizant of what is happening in the business from a front-line perspective.

  1. Never allow the KPI to be a punishment tool. Training, yes; development, absolutely; punishment, never.  Should actions have consequences, yes; but these consequences must be separated from the KPI measuring system.  Triggers for front-line supervisors from the KPI’s need to be removed and placed into the hands of human resource managers and non-frontline superiors/directors.  This allows for the relationship of training to remain with the front-line supervisor and places the control for KPI consequences at a level where the employee can receive a neutral assessment of performance.
  1. Never allow a KPI to be measured if the employee does not have 100% control over how to improve that KPI. While NPS is a fine item to measure, do not allow NPS to be a performance item, use this as a bonus item at best or a team item for judging team performance, but individuals must have 100% control over their own performance for a KPI to be actionable.
  1. Simplify KPI’s. Remember the elevator speech.  Can the KPI measurement be discussed in an elevator speech?  If not, the KPI’s need to be simplified, honed, and focused.  Imperative to effective KPI’s remains actions the individual can control.
  1. Drop the canned phrases, key words, and other “flavor-of-the-month” managerial gimmick. KPI’s should never be based upon word adaptation.  Every person does not successfully use terms someone else uses to succeed.  Personalization helps the customer feel their problem is original.  Canned responses rob the customer of this feeling and the customer feels “shoehorned” into the one-size-fits-all answer.
  1. Remember the individuality of the employee when choosing which KPI is to be measured and how that measurement is created. For example, once a baseline is established, does the employee retain the freedom to control their own destiny in meeting the KPI or is the employee “shoe-horned” into one-size fits most measurement device?
  1. Action plans need KPI’s; KPI’s need action plans. As a measurement tool, gauging actions and placing a statistical variable onto that tangible, a non-static atmosphere enveloping the KPI conversation is needed.  If the plan needs measuring, there must be a KPI.  If the KPI is to achieve the most use, an implemented action plan to be measured must exist.
  1. Don’t settle for what every other business measures in the industry. If AHT does not fit your call center, remove it.  If a manufacturing employee cannot control cycle time, do not use it to gauge employee performance.  KPI’s should be a hybrid solution to measuring employee actions and not represent KPI measuring to an e3-direectional-balancentire industry.  Allow the KPI measuring system to be individual, explainable, and conducive to all employees being able to detail the “why” and the “what” in measurement.
  2. Do not forget to include the “how.” How does an employee improve?  How do the numbers directly represent actions?  How easy is the KPI measurement system explained to another person?  Once the “why” and the “what” are known, the “how” should be a simple extension of the logic in the KPI process.

 © 2016 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved – Note: I do not own the rights to the images used.

Fundamentals of Customer Interaction: A Leadership Primer

Gitomer (1998) was very specific about why customer satisfaction is worthless and provided keen insights into how to build loyalty.  While many businesses value and find the “voice of the customer” desirable to the organization, the focus is on satisfying the customer and not interacting with the customer.  Sinek (2009) adds the variable needed, why, as in why are businesses still trying to satisfy when loyalty is needeAre we in trouble?  We didn't do it!!!d?  Why are customers still being taken advantage of when logic claims the long-term relationship is more critical than short-term gains; thus, making the need for loyalty that much more valuable in dollars to the business.  Why serve the customer when the customer needs more than simple “service?”

Customer service is simply geared to expeditiously interacting with the customer in a mass environment.  For example, a recent call to a cell phone provider remains an excellent illustration of mass service hysteria.  During this call, a simple question was asked, why is my statement so high?  The representative placed the caller on hold four separate times, never answered the customer’s question, and because the customer changed their plan, the call was considered a success.  The customer then went online, spent an additional hour in Instant Message (IM) with a second customer service rep, and finally was given less of an answer before quitting in exasperation.  Foolishly, the call center sends an automatic survey to the customer asking for his or her opinion.  The customer is going to express his or her dissatisfaction in the “customer satisfaction survey.  Why was it sent?  Why place the financial future of a low-paid customer service rep in jeopardy simply because the customer remains upset, and the managers deem that information valuable?

The customer call center remains the epitome of the carrot and stick approach to customers with the customer and the front-line customer-facing representatives squeezed into numbered boxes, small cubicles, and an individuality draining environment making the customer and the customer representative soulless zombies held captive in an endless cycle of frustration.  Offer a carrot to a customer to go away, threaten the customer representative with a stick if they do not fit squarely into the business environment and achieve all the key-performance indicators (KPI’s) demanded by the business, although the KPI is in direct opposition to serving the customer.  The above incident is a perfect example of KPI’s being anti-customer.  The representative needs to make a quota for call plan changes and sales, the customer needs serviced, but to actually answer the question means that the time the representative spent on the phone would have surpassed a KPI.  The carrot and stick approach is to offer the customer bill credits to go away quickly so the representative can move onto the next call, a KPI mindset causing frustration for the representative and the customer.

Let’s use one more recent example as a comparison.  The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has been in the news a great deal recently.  Veterans remain the forced customer trapped in an endless cycle of bureaucratic red tape.  The result is that veterans are now being called for a customer service survey to determine how veterans feel they were served.  Why would this information be valuable with all the customer hostility in the veteran population?  Why waste taxpayer dollars to obtain veteran “customer” insight when the bureaucracy has not changed, the red tape remains stifling, and the officers enforcing the bureaucracy continue to kill and harm veterans as the captive customer?  Veterans are reporting that after every interaction with the various VA bureaucrats a customer satisfaction survey is thrust upon them and sold to them as an improvement tool.   Doubt remains as to the value to the veteran, and to the VA as a whole, and provides more KPI’s harming the customer, eliminating service to the customer, and destroying any hope of correcting the actual problems; but the VA is gathering a ton of additional information for office clerks to sort through and make reports upon.

With these thoughts in mind, what do we do and where do we go from here?  Better yet, why are these the preferred actions when logic relates there is a better path forward?  Finally, since KPI’s are needed, how should KPI’s be adjusted to provide more actionable data personalized to the individual employee while remaining valuable to the entire business?

On the subject of KPI’s, when was the last time that each KPI was evaluated and the questions “Why” and “What” were asked to justify that specific item on a list of measurable actions in a KPI process review?  If the answer is “I don’t know” or longer than 18-months, there is a significant problem with the KPI’s reporting obsolete data and doing more harm than good.  As a consultant in a call center, I walked item-by-item through the KPI matrix my first day on the job and successfully concluded a project shortly thereafter by simply moving the KPI matrix back into providing actionable and non-obsolete data.  If each piece of data cannot be explained and justified by the newest member on the floor receiving scores on performance, the KPI matrix is obsolete, confusing, and ineffective in driving actions that actually benefit the employee and those the employee contacts.  Ask the managers to define what the KPI’s are, what is being measured, and detail specific actions an employee should be coached in to improve a specific indicator.  If the answers are not clear and easy to understand, the KPI is ineffective and doing more harm than good.

Juran’s rule that the KPI is expected to form a pathway to progression as a business process remains powerful.  When problems arise in KPI data and employee adherence, the problem is 90% of the time not the employee, but the KPI in question.  Is Juran’s rule being applied consistently, effectively, and powerfully to drive understanding and communication in the organization or is the answer to “blame the employee?”  Dandira (2009) remains powerfully applied here: ineffective KPI’s can be, and many times are, a dynamic source of organizational cancer because of employee confusion about what to do to improve, resulting in employee morale problems.

Moving forward, the way remains clear:

  1. Never allow a business process or procedure to be older than 12-months without a full and comprehensive review justifying that process and every step in that process.

I was called in to discuss a customer influencing process.  The process had more than 30 steps involved and 12 separate employees to accomplish the task.  The process could not be described in 30 minutes, and customers were upset from experiencing this process, adding to the already upset nature of the involved customers and the frustration in the front-line employees assisting them.  Technology improved this process by a third, but the company could not determine how to improve the process.  I asked why on each step and employee involved.  Four hours of discussion resulted in cutting 8 of the involved employees from the process.  Asking “what” resulted in further steps cut in the process.  At the conclusion of the contract, the complicated process was described in a single elevator ride, which simplified the results for the customer and set the business on the road to continuous improvement of business processes.  Pick a process, look at the age, and ask in an elevator ride for the process to be described.  Keep riding the elevator until the entire process from beginning to end is detailed.  How many elevator trips were needed?  Never create a process or a measurement that cannot be explained in a single elevator ride.

  1. Who is catching the blame on recorded calls: technology, the customer, or the customer service rep? The problem is not with any of these parties, and properly naming the problem remains the first step in solving the problem.

For example, on a contract for a manufacturing company, a problem existed that could not be explained causing issues in quality control and proper billing to customers.  The problem observed was not the problem; the process and actionable data capture were the problems.  Until the company could properly identify and act on the real problem, they continued to blame the employee and burned through several highly talented employees in the process.  The action taken began with identification of the real problem and the underlying processes.  Then, we began working out the actual solution.  The first and second actions projected and beta-tested were abject failures.  Once the full measure of the problem was identified in a series of continuous events, the third proposed solution worked, not great, but worked.  The fourth and fifth solutions worked better.  Finally the sixth review fixed the problem.  Identify the problem, and then make the resolution an intuitive process of learning and developing.  Failure is okay provided the current failure is moving the problem forward towards solutions and new thinking.

  1. Who is the customer? Are we wasting time on separating internal and external customers when that time would be better spent treating them both equally?  Rarely should the internal customer be treated better than an external customer, but many times resources are limited and external customers must come first.  Do internal customers know why this decision is being made and when the experience is projected to end?

During a merger, I was contracted as a W-2 employee on start of contract.  At the conclusion of the merger, employees were told external customer resources were being moved back to support internal customers, and benefits and resources would flow back to the employees.  Upon the successful completion of the merger, this policy was not honored, and the mass of employees leaving the company was monumental, as employees felt betrayed.  Knowing the “why” and the “what” behind organizational decisions by all customers is important.  If this company had been more forthcoming about the “why” and the “what,” the loss of so many employees would not have been so great.  More to the point, the loss of employees created post-merger problems resulting in “right-sizing efforts,” “down-sizing,” and finally “post-merger consolidation of facilities,” all of which are euphemisms hiding the real problem, failure to treat all customers with respect and valuing the customers.

  1. The “Why” and the “What.” While the “Why” is critical, both remain powerful, and communicating these simply, effectively, and persuasively remains the role of leadership.  Ask yourself, can employees define “what” we do?  Can employees define “why” we do the things we do?  Do employees know “why” we compete in our marketplace the way we do?  What are the answers and why are the answers coming in with the trends?  Can you answer this, and what is the action to move forward?

I had the pleasure of working as a W-2 employee for a company that did this right.  On the first day of training, the employee learned the “Why” and the “What.”  Then, everyday the employee learned how each process, procedure, and daily task fed into the “What” and the “Why.”  This promoted the employee to understanding and becoming an agent for action in the business.  This pattern is replicable, but employees must know the “why” and the “what” and business leaders must know the “Why” and the “What” and disclose this information to the full organization?

  1. Stop only “serving” the customer. “Serving” the customer is useless, wasteful, and ruins the power of customer interactions reducing these opportunities to filling needs, not building relationships.  If your customer-facing employees are only providing “service,” the business has settled for failure and has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is not a subject of semantics, word plasticity, and mind games.  This is a fundamental mindset of the power possessed by loyal customers acting as marketing tools to drive profitability.  If the customer only receives “service,” the customer is not satisfied, the customer-facing employee is not satisfied, and precious resources are wasted on fruitless gimmicks and useless action.  Worse, the ROI is zero at best, but usually negative.  If internal and external customers are simply treated as customers, how can a business leader expect to build customer and employee loyalty or experience bottom-line growth?  Make time to build customer-reaffirming experiences and the bottom-line will grow.  Stop serving the customers, stop blaming the employees, stop looking for solutions in technology without knowing the business and identifying the problems.  If not, Dandira’s (2012) counsel will be the reward, organizational cancer, and organizational death.

References

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17515631211246267

Gitomer, J. (1998). Customer satisfaction is worthless – Customer loyalty is priceless. Atlanta, GA: Bard Press.

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

 © 2016 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved

Assimilation: A Plea to All Immigrants and Americans!

America has recently opened its doors to large groups of people from countries around the globe, but especially from war-torn and ravaged lands.  Welcome, I am glad you are here!  The Mayor of London recently came to America and derided, denigrated, and demeaned America for asking immigrants to assimilate.  Yes, America will ask you to assimilate; yes, this request includes those legal and illegal immigrants and refugees; yes, assimilation is hard but worth it.

Assimilation is simply taking the best of your native culture, ideals, values, and beliefs, and adding them to the best America has to offer.  America is not a perfect country; we are asking for your help to improve our country by adding the best of your experiences to our best experiences and build America into a greater nation with greater opportunities for freedom.  Why does America ask you to assimilate, even though it is hard; the answer lies in the principles of unity, responsibility, and achieving the “American Dream.”

What is the “American Dream?”  Simply put, the “American Dream” is to realize freedom, all the benefits of freedom, shouldering all the responsibilities of freedom, and achieving these freedoms through work, education, and self-discovery.  A lesson many Americans need to be reminded of is that the “American Dream” has nothing to do with acquiring stuff.  The “American Dream” has nothing to do with spending money, although great freedoms are found in earning money and spending that money according to our own desires.  The “American Dream” has nothing to do with purchasing a home, even though owning property is a cherished freedom.  The “American Dream” is realizing freedom in all its glory and all of its reality.

The “American Dream” means failure, struggle, hard work, loss, gain, understanding value, and so much more.  The “American Dream” has tragedy and heartache, misery, and the ultimate joy of achievement.  Some of the hardest struggles in understanding the “American Dream” are found in sending loved ones marching to war and not seeing those same loved ones marching back home.  The “American Dream” is to understand and embrace freedom, to see the best and worst of humanity and realize that freedom is still the best form of government available, notwithstanding all the imperfections.  The “American Dream” means unifying around a single standard.

What is the single standard to rally around?  That single standard is the US Constitution and the American Flag.  Does rallying around this standard mean suddenly easy street, riches, and smooth sailing; absolutely not!  Rallying around this standard simply means unifying, dropping the labels, the hyphenations, the separations, and realizing that together we are better than we are separate.  Again, the “American Dream” is all about understanding freedom in all its glory, majesty, and terribleness.

The principles of unity are many, but also very few.  Unity is all about choice, choice is all about freedom, and freedom is all about shouldering the consequences of making choices to either become more unified or less unified.  Simple and complex, easy and difficult, unity is not a paradox; unity is a learned principle.  Consider the young child. Being a child is hard, learning the language, culture, basic standards of education, and growing.  The same is true for immigrants.  Many come here and are overwhelmed.  Like children, simply asking for help becomes a great challenge, and many times that challenge is because immigrants do not realize that help is available and simply requires asking.  Hence, the responsibility is on you, not everyone else; this means the consequences for asking or not asking are also on you; this is freedom.

The principles of unity are found in a common language.  America is the only country on earth where you can keep your language, and the national language, American English, can be a second or non-primary language.  Yet, the choice to learn American English has consequences, and those consequences come with a cost.  Learning American English is hard, requires work, and many times will not make sense until time and experience are added to learning.  Not learning American English is harder, restricts freedoms and the ability to enjoy all America has to offer, and forces you to forever remain outside America’s embrace.

The principles of unity include understanding, learning, and choosing to plot your own path.  No one is going to run your life for you.  Choosing to run your own life requires learning, understanding value, and shouldering the consequences of choices for good or ill.  In America, you can choose to be homeless, and this is perfectly acceptable.  You can choose to chase money; acquiring great riches is possible and completely acceptable in America.  Acquire those funds legally and America rewards greatly.  Acquire those funds illegally, and eventually, American justice will prevail, and those funds will be lost in a very public trial.  Again, we see unity combined with choices leading to coming together under the same standard and enjoying positive consequences or refusing to come together under the standard and enjoying negative consequences.

The principles of responsibility go hand in hand with the principles of unity.  In fact, many of the principles of unity overlap with the principles of responsibility.  For example, failure to rally under the standard of the US Constitution by breaking a law will reveal how quickly the consequence leads to being forced to shoulder the responsibility of failing to unify and how it affects you personally with the full weight and scorn of the American people.  Do illegal actions sometimes not get caught and punished; yes, but eventually society will know and act scornfully.  Justice gets served in myriad different ways.

Consider dishonest politicians.  Sometimes, dishonest politicians are not apprehended and exposed to the harsh reality of the American justice system, but they lose the respect of voters, lose their title, and remain outcasts and pariahs in American society through the media retelling their stories, through a loss of income, and through American society continually chastising them for their misdeeds.  American society can be very harsh for those choosing to not assimilate because the refusal to assimilate means a refusal to unify under a single standard, which requires everyone to do their part to make America better.

Making America better is not a job that can be shirked, forgotten, ignored, or refused.  America is all about working together.  Work requires sacrifice, learning, and properly using freedoms to achieve more freedoms.  Working together requires a common language; the common language signifies a common bond amongst those striving to achieve freedoms as a symbol of desiring more freedoms.  Please, take the best you have, add it to the best America offers, and assimilate into America.  Unify with us in a beautiful patchwork quilt of diversity and togetherness.

Diversity should never be sacrificed for unity, and unity must never be sacrificed for diversity and individuality.  It takes both diversity and unity to make America.  It requires sacrifice and responsibility to make America.  It requires a willing mind and open heart to achieve freedom and to understand more freedom is possible with assimilation than without assimilation.  The choice is yours; the consequences are yours; choose carefully.

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved