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When the Leader is the Problem

As an operations/customer service consultant, I get a first hand view of the internal workings of multiple companies. I have the privilege to observe the corporate chemistry – how leadership interacts with employees, how employees interact with leadership, how employees interact with one another and how leaders and employees interact with customers. I get to observe unspoken words cloaked in body language and behavior. When approached by frustrated leaders, it is necessary to be honest in regards to what I feel is creating a negative atmosphere – I sometimes have to tell them that they are the problem. Here are a few instances that I observed where the leader is the problem.

Undefined Expectations
When expectations are clearly and well defined, employee accountability is usually crystal clear. When the leader assumes and verbalizes that employees should “just use common sense”, trouble is not far behind. It is imperative that expectations are clearly communicated – primarily via a job description and a set of performance standards. Leaders must be serious about taking the necessary steps to developing and communicating expectations.

Poor Employee Relations
Some of the most shocking behavior that I have witnessed has come from leaders. Condescending communication, temper tantrums laced with profanity, the “blame game” just to name a few. Cultures where the leader is prone to any of these is not conducive to long term productivity and a high rate of employee turnover is sure to follow. Disrespectful actions must be eliminated before a positive environment can exist.

Unclear Direction
In business, it is sometimes necessary to alter course in response to one’s market or to other economic pressures. When altering course becomes a weekly activity, it creates unnecessary chaos. It’s as if current projects have no meaning as it has now become necessary to “take a different approach”. Employees are caught up in the helter – skelter environment and soon grow indifferent to any ideas presented by the leader as they realize that their hard work never fully reaches the implementation stage – because the leader will soon present something “new” to chase.

Know it All Attitude
When one has a “know it all” attitude, it’s almost impossible for new ideas presented by others to receive any form of consideration. Leaders exhibiting this type of behavior rarely have the ability to keep good people on staff. Employees become exasperated by the leaders inability to consider that someone else can think. Meetings with this type of leader become a lecture vs a give and take session. I have witnessed employees falling asleep in meetings as the leader rambles on and on as if to impress everyone with their knowledge. Employees consider these meetings a waste of time, become reluctant to attend (sometimes communicate reasons that they cannot attend) and often find another place to work.

These are just a few of the behaviors that I have witnessed. Leaders often state to me – “I wish that I had employees who really care about their job, I wish I had employees that I could depend on. I wish my employees could understand what I encounter in trying to keep this business afloat.” I often in turn ask “Is it really the employees that are the problem? Have you considered what role you play in your employees behavior?”

As an operations/customer service consultant, I get a first hand view of the internal workings of multiple companies. I have the privilege to observe the corporate chemistry – how leadership interacts with employees, how employees interact with leadership, how employees interact with one another and how leaders and employees interact with customers. I get to observe unspoken words cloaked in body language and behavior. When approached by frustrated leaders, it is necessary to be honest in regards to what I feel is creating a negative atmosphere – I sometimes have to tell them that they are the problem. Here are a few instances that I observed where the leader is the problem.

Undefined Expectations
When expectations are clearly and well defined, employee accountability is usually crystal clear. When the leader assumes and verbalizes that employees should “just use common sense”, trouble is not far behind. It is imperative that expectations are clearly communicated – primarily via a job description and a set of performance standards. Leaders must be serious about taking the necessary steps to developing and communicating expectations.

Poor Employee Relations
Some of the most shocking behavior that I have witnessed has come from leaders. Condescending communication, temper tantrums laced with profanity, the “blame game” just to name a few. Cultures where the leader is prone to any of these is not conducive to long term productivity and a high rate of employee turnover is sure to follow. Disrespectful actions must be eliminated before a positive environment can exist.

Unclear Direction
In business, it is sometimes necessary to alter course in response to one’s market or to other economic pressures. When altering course becomes a weekly activity, it creates unnecessary chaos. It’s as if current projects have no meaning as it has now become necessary to “take a different approach”. Employees are caught up in the helter – skelter environment and soon grow indifferent to any ideas presented by the leader as they realize that their hard work never fully reaches the implementation stage – because the leader will soon present something “new” to chase.

Know it All Attitude
When one has a “know it all” attitude, it’s almost impossible for new ideas presented by others to receive any form of consideration. Leaders exhibiting this type of behavior rarely have the ability to keep good people on staff. Employees become exasperated by the leaders inability to consider that someone else can think. Meetings with this type of leader become a lecture vs a give and take session. I have witnessed employees falling asleep in meetings as the leader rambles on and on as if to impress everyone with their knowledge. Employees consider these meetings a waste of time, become reluctant to attend (sometimes communicate reasons that they cannot attend) and often find another place to work.

These are just a few of the behaviors that I have witnessed. Leaders often state to me – “I wish that I had employees who really care about their job, I wish I had employees that I could depend on. I wish my employees could understand what I encounter in trying to keep this business afloat.” I often in turn ask “Is it really the employees that are the problem? Have you considered what role you play in your employees behavior?”

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Don’t Skip the Fundamentals!

It’s important to remember that being fundamentally sound will certainly help in the quest to operate a successful company. Now one can have a great product or service to offer to one’s market, but it’s the ability to operate in an efficient, employee and customer friendly manner that will lead to long term success. Here are a few fundamentals that I feel are important.

Leadership Fundamentals
Make sure that whoever is in charge has the ability to lead. Does this person possess the characteristics to properly lead a group of people? Do they have the ability to see the big picture and understand how all the pieces of the company function as a whole? Can this person think in times of duress versus making hurried decisions that may prove to be disastrous? Are they able to listen and empathize with the employees for whom they are responsible? Do they take the time to understand how the customer experiences the company’s products or services? These are just a few questions to consider for determining if your leaders possess the right fundamentals.

Hiring Fundamentals
One’s hiring process must be just that – a process. Does your company have a written hiring process? Can one quickly determine what steps are required when hiring a new employee? Is one able to identify what skill set a candidate should possess? Have you considered what type of interview methods to utilize – one on one or group interviews?

Training Fundamentals
Training is key to an employee’s ability to provide the best customer experience possible and to meet employer expectations. Does your company have a formal training program? Are employees probed for feedback regarding training effectiveness? Do not, Do not skip this fundamental!

Management Fundamentals
How one manages employees can determine how long they decide to remain with your company and will also impact the level of service received by your customers. Do you have job descriptions and performance standards for each position in your company? Can you get employee performance results on a daily basis without having to ask employees for the information? Are there regularly scheduled feedback sessions – independent of the employee performance review? Do employees know what company key performance indicators their tasks impact? Are performance reviews objectively based or are they vague and subjective?

These are just a few of the fundamentals required for the long term success of any company. Flash and dash is good, but fundamentals create the foundation on which to build a solid organization.

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Management Skills Do Create Customer Experiences

When leaving a recent late lunch with a good friend here in Houston, Texas, we witnessed something that I personally had never seen before. The manager of the restaurant was loudly chewing out a waiter – right in front of customers! My friend and I were both taken aback by this behavior. What level of service did the manager expect the waiter to deliver after receiving a public tongue lashing? In continuing our series on tangibles that create customer experiences, let’s identify a few ingredients for successfully managing others and how a set of management skills can shape customer experiences.

Communicate Respectfully
In the above mentioned example, the manager’s behavior was most disrespectful to the waiter. Managers must be mindful to remember that employees are people and not machines. Heck, if you disrespect a machine by not recognizing its need for maintenance or adhering to proper operating procedures, it too will soon cause anguish via being less productive and eventually becoming non-productive! Humans are the same. Strive to always preserve their dignity as people. When it becomes necessary to issue a reprimand, do so in a manner which allows the employee to receive it. Stick to the facts of the situation. Never, ever reprimand an employee in front of peers or customers. Doing so is sure to result in a decreased level of service provided to customers.

Take Responsibility for Employee Success
It’s often been said that employees must be responsible for their success within an organization. In my opinion, managers are responsible for the success of those over whom they have authority. Being in this mindset is critical when those one is responsible for interacts directly with customers. Make sure that your management skills repertoire includes the ability to create skilled employees. Are they receiving adequate training? How much time are you spending with employees to insure they are able to successfully apply the training to their everyday tasks. Now I can hear some managers say “I’m too busy to spend time with my employees.” My response to that is – Take a look at what is keeping you busy. Are you busy putting out fires? Are you busy returning calls or visiting with upset or unhappy customers? Perhaps spending time with your employees might result in a decrease in your firefighting duties. These are opportunities to insure tasks are handled properly as well as to identify additional training needs. In addition, your employees will appreciate the personal attention!

Recognize and Reward Excellent Service
Make it a point to identify and celebrate the positive aspects of employee performance. Customers are the beneficiary when managers take the time to let employees know how they are positively contributing to the success of the company. When employees are recognized for their positive actions, high morale is usually not too far behind. An atmosphere of high morale results in customers receiving a high level of service. Develop performance standards that encourage employees to provide great service to both external and internal customers. Make sure that speed is not the primary factor in your standards as this will surely encourage a lower quality of service received by customers. Take all of the factors that are important to customers into consideration when developing performance criteria. Doing so insures that you are rewarding employees for creating great customer experiences vs meeting a speed goal. Make a big deal out of rewarding excellent service!

As a manager, always remember that you are ultimately responsible for both the customer’s and your employee’s experience. Think about Communicating Respectively with employees, Take Responsibility for Employee Success and Recognize and Reward Excellent Service. These three simple steps for employee management will certainly create great customer experiences.

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Why Are Your Customers Waiting?

During a recent client assignment, I noticed the frequency in which customers found themselves in the waiting mode. Waiting to be told what to do next. Waiting to be acknowledged. Waiting to be serviced. Now there’s one thing that customers delight in and that’s being provided with service in a timely manner. Waiting is high on the how to antagonize customers list. Can you put your finger on the reasons your customers wait? Here’s a few of the more common reasons customers wait.

Supply vs Demand
Oftentimes there’s just not enough personnel available (supply) to handle the number of customers (demand). Is the demand the result of a marketing campaign or new product release? Perhaps a glitch in your product has created an unexpected influx of customer inquiries or complaints. When you know what the issue is, take a moment to proactively advise your customers. If yours is a call center, utilize the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to advise customers that you’re aware of the issue and include an estimated resolution time, instructions to obtain a replacement product or whatever it is that you want to communicate. Most customers will simply choose to take this as enough information and disconnect the call. Is it possible to place the same information on your website? Perhaps in a retail environment, data mining can assist in determining the peak periods for customer/employee interactions resulting in proper scheduling of personnel in accordance to historical data. These are just two examples for possibly alleviating stress for both customers and employees.

Seasoned vs Non-Seasoned Employee Ratio
Perhaps the “seasoned to not quite seasoned” employee ratio is somewhat on the low side resulting in a longer than normal transaction/customer interaction time. When there are not enough properly trained personnel available for customer interactions, more often than not, customers will find themselves in the wait mode. However you describe this mode – queue, line, column, etc – most customers prefer not to be there. It’s important to combine great training with great employee relations to reduce personnel turnover. The more tenure an employee obtains, the more nimble he or she becomes at servicing customers. I have a saying – “Knowledge coupled with repetition creates experience. Experience assists in creating efficient interactions.”

Options for Self Service
It’s a good idea where possible to allow your customer to self-serve. Most customers today don’t mind serving themselves as long as the transaction is easy to complete. Oftentimes when given the option to self-serve for the checkout procedure, I’ll choose to do so rather than wait in line to be checked out by an employee. What self-service opportunities are available within your organization? When the customer has the option to order products and services or set appointments via your website, is the process seamless and easy to complete? Are you able to verify the number of transactions actually completed via your self-service options vs those customers choosing to opt out to a live person (either via phone, web chat or in person)? Monitor your self-service options to insure customers find it easy to complete interactions.

Customers are depending upon companies to provide prompt efficient service. Make sure your company is ready by checking to insure Supply Meets Demand, that the Seasoned Vs Non-Seasoned Ratio indicates you’re successfully retaining tenured personnel and that your Options for Self Service are efficient and effective for the “I Like To Do It Myself” customer.

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