Customer Service

“You are serving a customer, not a life sentence. Learn how to enjoy your work.”                      – Laurie McIntosh

This weekend I had to run some errands and I arrived at a local business just as they were opening to pickup a delivery. I stopped at the drive up window, rang the bell and patiently waited. A clerk came rushing in sat her items down and opened the window … “Name”, she asked sharply to which I provided her my name. She fumbled around and said in a tone as if a burden were being placed upon her “We just opened. It will be at least 30-45 minutes”. I thanked her and said I would return in about an hour. She closed the window and walked away.

As I drove to another place where I could occupy an hour (as returning home and then coming back would be pointless due to the drive) I began to think about customer service. Not about this particular incident specifically but what “customer service” really means. Customer service is defined on the interwebs as “the assistance and advice provided by a company to those people who buy or use its products or services.

This being the case, on face value, this woman provided customer service as she indicated how long I should expect before my delivery was prepared, correct? Sure, she absolutely met the definition of “assistance and advice”. But did she delivery it in a way that made me happy to be a customer? I would say not. Her rush into work and exacerbation from that experience translated to how she provided that customer service. I get that we are all human and are affected by life’s experiences but sometimes in the service of others we have to rise above all that. Easy to do, no. But something we should think about in terms of customer service.

The reason I began thinking of this as it made me reflect on a story I had read about Zappos and its early beginnings. One of the values that Tony Hsieh strives to instill in each and every employee is the ideal of amazing customer service as the experience from that places an imprint on people that make them want to return and do business again.

When his company was first starting out, he was courting  all of the major shoe manufacturers to stock his warehouse (as they learned that controlling the shipping timelines was another way to maintain a good customer experience) with their brands so he could provided diversity and brand loyalty names. On one particular case, he had been out for dinner and a lot of drinks with a particular rep from a company and they returned to the hotel at the early hours of the morning. Tony had spent the night selling the representative of this manufacturer on the core customer focus that Zappos had and how their superior customer service. The representative, probably a bit tipsy, told Tony that he wanted to see how “customer focused” his staff really were and if they were as he said, he had their account. Tony agreed to take that gamble.

The representative called Zappos, again in the wee hours of the morning, and got through to a customer service representative. The call center responder answered with zeal and said “This is Zappos, how may I help you”? The shoe representative said; “yes, I would like to order a pepperoni pizza please” in a tone of seriousness, fully expecting the call center to become angered and explain to him :”that is not what we do here sir”.

Instead, the call center representative said in a pleasant tone, “may I have your location sir”? The shoe manufacturer provided it to which the call representative stated “please hold one moment, sir”. The shoe manufacturer waited a moment and the call center came back on the line. “Sir, I apologize that we are unable to meet your need directly, however, based on the location you have provided to me, I have a list of local pizza shops that I can provide to you, the closest being open until 4 a.m. Is there any other way I can assist you sir?” Flabbergasted, the  shoe representative took the number and thanks the call center representative. The call center representative closed the call by thanking the customer for their call.

Over a late night pizza, the shoe manufacturer gave Zappos their business.

This may be an urban legend, but it makes for a good story for sure it demonstrates to me what customer service really entails. The call center representative adapted to situation. They did not become frustrated because some intoxicated person called wanting to order a pizza, clearly not what they did. Instead, they used the situation to continue to provide excellent customer service and potentially establish a customer for tomorrow.

Isn’t that the core of customer service? Our goal is to “help the customer”. This is something that we cannot always do directly but if we go back to the definition of customer service as “the assistance and advice” this means that sometimes we help them by providing them with a direction, not a solution. We have to be willing to maintain that focus to help assist and advise even if out of scope. Does it take more time, sure. Does it mean we may have to try and find information that they could have found for themselves, absolutely. But being focused on customer service means you are there to guide that customer to solve that problem through your direct action or by helping them get a point of direction to that solution if at all possible.

So, coming back to my experience; did the lady provide customer service? Of course she did. She told me when I should return and my order would be ready. And when I returned, it was ready. I thanked her and went on my way.

Could she have left her frustration for being late for work out of the context of her customer interaction with me? Maybe. But that is an area for personal growth for her, not the basis upon which I judged if she provided the end customer service. I weighed this against the outcome. Her brief frustration did not make it a situation where I felt as though I received bad customer service. She was rushed from being late to work. It happens and as a result if we are faced with an immediate interaction, I cannot say that I would have handled it any better.

Are you “advising and assisting your customers” or just merely dealing with them?

 

 

Recommended Read

“If you’re comfortable with the amount of freedom you have given your employees, you probably have not gone far enough”. – Lazlo Bock (Work Rules!)

I recently completed the audiobook of “Work Rules!” by Laszlo Bock (I went back a read passages I really wanted to dig into in the paperback as well). For those of you who are unfamiliar, Laszlo Bock is the Senior Vice President of People Operations for Google. He shares a very interesting insight into how they apply programs, policy and practices that impact employees and surprisingly how much data they collect to understand if they are actually making any real impact to the employees or the culture at large.

Some of the mystery about what/how and why Google does some of the things they do were outlined in the book. A few of them were:

  • Many of the services (like the haircut bus) provided to Googlers are at no cost to the company. It is often a brokerage between people operations and businesses for them to generate business buzz and customers. Many of things are often out of pocket for employees but adds a convenience factor for them to not have to schedule time to go and do these things.
  • The “micro kitchens” famously known at Google that allow googlers to grab a snack, a coffee, water, etc are actually spaced throughout the campus with intention to stimulate “unplanned interactions” where people from groups that might not directly work together might interact or spark and idea in one another.
  • Google has a performance management process and it gets scrutinized for effectiveness and adapted to bring the most value.

There are some really interesting ideas in this book. Not all of them are applicable to every organization but the underlying message is. If we have people focused on the operations of people and people are our greatest company investment, where is the downside?

The spirit of this book will hopefully inspire you to just think differently about how you can impact your culture in small ways and use data to determine if the “perks” you are providing are doing what you intended. I was so inspired by this book that I bought an extra copy so I could share some of this with our human resources, who are progressive thinkers as well.

I would highly recommend this book if you are leading a team, transforming an organization or maybe are part of people operations in your own company.  It will definitely inspire you to think about what things that you might be able to do to enhance the work environment and how you determine if it is working.

Stay Agile! 😀

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being Genuine

“You need to believe in yourself and what you do. Be tenacious and genuine.”

– Christian Louboutin

Genuine. Authentic. Real.

I think about these words a lot. I continuously question myself if I believe what I believe or do I just do what I do. Sounds like a lack of faith and maybe it is. I can exude real confidence in ideas I believe in as ideas are often very meaningful to me and my life.

I love to think, discuss, brainstorm, pontificate, learn, grow, teach, coach and collaborate. So ideas hold a real tangible value for me. But often times, as I awake in the morning or make my drive home in the evening, I stop to question myself as to what my true beliefs might be and if the allure of the idea has me thinking I “think” that way.

You may wonder why so I’ll tell you.

One thing, if I had to identify that thing, that makes my blood boil or loses my respect is people who talk about doing something a certain way or following a certain path and then abandon all those things central to that in reality of what they do.

They “talk the talk” but are unwilling to “walk the walk”. The reason I question myself is that I believe in agility, the power of teams and the ideal that amazing things can happen through motivated, collaborative teams in which the economy of scale is end value and not time. This means something very special to me as I not only believe it, I have seen the power in it actually working.

However, being human, I am inherently fallible. My biases, my environment, my mood, history in general can all push me away from making decisions in alignment with these beliefs I hold. I realize that and always question what I know and what I am doing to ensure I am truly being genuine in my thoughts and my actions. And guess what, it’s a struggle. It’s a battle. You stay on the defense for this creepy crawly to come along and get you.

Just like the dieter who struggles to avoid Krispy Kreme donuts brought to the office, sometimes it takes will-power and the admittance of failure. But my realization of my ability to be wrong and my willingness to admit and learn when at fault keeps me going where I want to go at this point.

I am very fortunate presently to have one particular person that keep me honest that works in my group. They challenge me regularly about my thoughts and often make me examine things that might be uncomfortable to think about from a perspective of an observed flaw. They basically exercise the carte blanche that I extend to the people I work with to call me on my B.S.

But I truly respect and appreciate it, even if sometimes at the onset I may not be too  as often happy, feel annoyed at the challenge or just clouded from the value I am receiving from those conversations. What they do for me though, more than anything, is they force me to evaluate the perception of another about me and probe more deeply into myself to see if my actions are genuine and in alignment to my beliefs and values. This often helps me examine why I might be out of sync to my beliefs or presenting a poor perception of my intentions or actions.

In the grand scheme, I am respect and appreciate this relationship that I have with this colleague. One thing it does is allow me to gauge myself on my skills to actually listen to this feedback without feeling the need to respond. I know that this is a skill that I need to continuously work on. If you have never done a “seatbelt meeting” (where you strap yourself in and just listen to the good, the bad or the ugly feedback without response or defense but simply allow you to hear someone else’s perception) with someone, give it a shot. Not as easy as it sounds to do.

So take a moment and think about yourself and your actions. Are you being genuine?

 

 

 

Draw How to make Toast

Just a quick redirect to something I have stumbled across and found fascinating and wanted to share. This approach is an introduction to systems thinking and what they call “Wicked Problem Solving”. This is another approach from Tom Wujec who outlined another team approach to iterative innovation in the Marshmallow Challenge Website.

I just found this a very interesting way to get to core problems to solve for a group. Check it out:  Draw How to Make Toast Website .

Hope this gives you another tool in your agile toolbox to do great things!

Scrum Alliance Webinar

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is listening to what people have to say”

– Bryant McGill

I was very honored to be asked to conduct a webinar for the Scrum Alliance with my colleague and friend, Mr. Joe Kirk, about our agile transformation work with a state transportation department this week.

I really enjoyed discussing our journey and addressing questions for attendees.  The scrum alliance should be posting a follow-up to the talk soon in which we addressed questions for which we did not have time to do so during our talk.

Agile Transformation at Tennessee Department of Transportation

 

Lab Days

“Curiosity.  It keeps us moving forward, exploring, experimenting, opening new doors”

– Walt Disney

When I first was asked to build a new culture surrounding software development for my organization, I knew I had a few guiding principles that I was unwilling to compromise in doing so.

  1. We would create an agile culture focused on building software with self-managed and self-organized teams making working collaboratively and owning the commitments they make (and taking this ownership as a trust between people). We used the scrum framework to allow us to do this.
  2. I would hire the “right people” and in turn trust those people to do amazing things by handling details outside of doing what they do and getting out of their way.
  3. I would consciously ensure that continual learning and experimentation were a core component of how we worked.

This article is centered around this third value of which I think is important to how our teams function.

I outlined our sprint cycle in a previous blog post. In this post, I talked about our use of what we call “Lab Days”. I wanted to explore the topic a bit more in depth, talk about where it came from and why we have included it in our standard development cycle.

So what is Lab Day?

Our lab day is the final day of our 13 day sprint cycle. It is a moment to “take a breath” between sprint iterations and allow for additional self and team focus. The idea of making it a brief pause between iterations was something that some of my most senior developers and I liked the idea of as it makes for a more natural state of transition into the next sprint cycle and allows the team to have a moment to focus on the people, not the product. Plus, I personally feel that if we want to foster innovative thinking, we have to reinvest into allowing this time for creative thought.

Just to put some more shock value into business owners, this is an investment into the people we hire to reinforce the skills the need or more deeply explore the skills they possess. Sometimes it boils down to merely “scratching a creative itch”. What I am alluding to is that the activities for this day are self guided and we trust our shared cultural beliefs and an understanding of this investment to inspire people to use it wisely.

This is a self-guided activity and there is no expectation of some sort of delivery. It is an investment in the people you have hired and an opportunity for them to build upon themselves, collaborate with others on side projects or just briefly explore an idea.

Giving people a day of self-guided learning? That’s crazy!

Is it? Is it really? Backup and take a brief assessment of waste in your company(and let’s be honest as ALL companies have waste). All the perks to make out offices the “hip” are great but it fades unless it has a more intrinsic benefit that “that thing”.

Having a foosball table is something that makes envious of those who do not have it but what does it do for the people you hire? All those pointless meetings or retreats where everyone goes off site but really gain little from the experience? There is always some waste. And this is far from waste. If I am going to make a significant investment in a company, it will be into the people that are delivering the value to the company and fostering lack of fear and encouraging people to explore so that they can help us find new ways to do amazing things. If we accept that people are our greatest commodity and drive our success through value delivery, how can we not invest back into them?

Lack of doing so seems crazy to me!

Lab Day is not unique.

As early as 1948, the company 3M provided exploration time to its engineers. This allowed them to think and experiment to create new and exciting ideas that might be future products. One such product that I am certain you are familiar with came about through a collaboration of two engineers in 1968. It was later branded and sold as “Post-it Notes”.

Google has been known in the past for use of the 20% time (which officially they have abandoned in  favor of a dedicated exploration group looking at “moonshot projects” called Google X). I a not convinced you can totally abandon something  that was part of the cultural fabric and especially when it comes to bright, motivated creative people. I think that the feedback discovered that people, for the most part, were doing “120%” by tacking on these items to their work without any reduction in capacity. I actually cannot say for certain but can understand how this could happen. But during its usage, products like gmail, ad-sense and others came out of this allowance to focus energy to individual endeavors.

Viget, labeled as a group of designers, engineers and strategists, has taken another interesting spin on this idea and formed a shadow faux company called “The Pointless Corporation” in which they house ideas for an innovation lab within Viget itself. Check out their Pointless Corporation Website for an idea of how they approach this.

I truly think it’s pure genius! 😀

So this is how we use what we call “Lab Day” in my organization. It has been woven into the fabric of our process and in support of cultural values we hold for ourselves.

It may not be the thing that you can start in your own company but get creative, talk with others and see what you can do to promote a continuous investment into people to grow, innovate and invest in themselves. Maybe it starts with a hackathon (which is awesome as well, see my post entitled hackIT Code Week. But the main thing above all else is find a way to invest.The investment will come back to you and the investment shows your culture that you respect their growth.

 

 

Leading from where you stand

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn, more, do more and become more, then you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

One thing that I have never been accused of is not leading from where I stand in an organization. I have been one that is constantly thinking “fringe” ideas that may not have dropped into mainstream just quite yet. I often describe it as a lone person shouting into the wind waiting for the others to show up, which on occasion, they do.

I think this is something that many of us are aware of in our own personal makeup. I truly believe that a great deal of people often out of sheer curiosity investigate something, see a need, a possibility of change and work to make a difference. I also feel that in the face of poor or no leadership that there are others who will rise to the call. These are often the leaders from within the organization that through sheer desire to do something amazing inspire people to join them.

I am known to say frequently “if you drop 5 people on a desert island, someone will rise to lead the others. And it is not necessarily the one with the title to do so”. So I wanted to discuss this idea in this post. How, no matter where you are, you have the opportunity to lead. It’s usually a matter of inspiration and context that define how that unfolds.

I just don’t have enough power.

I have spoken with a lot of people over the  years who try and convince me that they are unable to affect change in the organization as they do not hold a position of power or influence within an organization. While I believe fully that there are organizations that are so entrenched in hierarchy that impact on a broad level can be very difficult, what about affecting change at a local level, a micro-level, a personal level?

I guess what I am getting at here is that nobody is completely powerless to the random acts of circumstance. There has to be a realm for each of us in which we have the potential to influence. If not, you are most likely a lemming; watch out for that cliff coming up, that first step is going to be a doozy.

What I am really asserting is that sometimes there is absolutely no one who is going to sanction what you know needs to be done or can impact a positive change. In most cases, if you are waiting for that to happen, it may be a very long wait. I am not advocating that you proceed in an anarchistic manner to “do whatever you want to do”. But as Ghandi said, “be part of the solution”.

It’s really easy to identify problems. If I put my mind to it right now, I could create a list of 20 problems in no time flat. But here’s the harder part … is solving the problem.

Or even better, just come up with a potential solution, any possible solution, that can be immediately actionable. Not something that depends on a funding stream, 14 departments to change their process or the CEO to be fired in scandal. What is the simplest possible solution that you could try today? Have one in mind? Willing to try and implement it?

Are you a little worried? Good. You probably should be.

Most of the time fear of failure or putting ourselves out there with an idea that is different to make something better is deeply nested in a heavy dose of fear. It’s what inspires some and crushes others from even getting started. That fear usually reminds us that there are consequences to our actions, which is a good thing. Leaders often take risk. It’s what they do.

Please do not feel alone in this idea of fear. I have it. Each and every time I take a small risk and try something new, I have that fear inside me. It’s just part of who I am. It has stopped me as much as it has inspired me. It’s not unnatural.

However, true leaders may often be so consumed and impassioned by an idea or the potential of change that they feel compelled to champion thi cause in the face of potential failure. This is what often inspires other in these leaders to listen and follow them. They are on a mission and we just want to be part of it because we want to be part of something great.

Their unwavering belief in what they are seeking to change can be truly inspirational! So fear is not necessarily a bad thing, it just reminds us to consider how impassioned we may be to solve a particular problem or champion a cause as balanced to the risk we are willing to take for our vision.

Where you stand today.

So back to our original idea, can you lead where you are now? Are there immediate problems or opportunities that you can tackle and make things better? Are you willing to take these on with passion no matter in anyone joins you in your quest?  Then you may actually be ready to start leading from where you stand right now.

It’s not a difficult thing to do but we often get overwhelmed by the idea of change on a grand scale. We perhaps see the larger issue and often stand the risk of getting bogged down  with those items that far beyond our scope of influence and can take the wind out of our sails. I have done it times myself.

Seeing the sheer amount of effort that lies ahead of us to run a marathon can often keep us on the couch. Don’t fall into this trap. One of the supporting agile values is the “value in the work not done”. You have to be willing to make changes where you can. This often takes a prioritization approach, which is hard. Most people agree that having 3-5 priorities is manageable. Even Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great” indicates that “if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority”.

But what if we could step back from the grand “save the world” solution and perhaps take a moment to reflect on those tiny pain points that might make things a little bit easier, more productive, more visible or solve some small problem; wouldn’t that be a good thing? I think it might.

But shouldn’t we set really big goals for ourselves? Sure, why not. Let’s not forget they exist but let’s put them into perspective They are often called BHAGs.

BHAGS

BHAG stands for “big hairy audacious goals” and are those things that may drive the small actions we take to get there. This term comes from the book “Built to Last”, authors Jim Collins, and Jerry Porras (Jim Collins being known for his follow-up book “Good to Great”) when they examine successful visionary companies. A BHAG, as described in the book, encourages companies to define visionary goals that are emotionally compelling. Whereas a lot of companies set goals in months, quarters or years, the target of a BHAG is a 10-30 year goal to progress to an envisioned future.

The  book defines a true BHAG as:

A BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines.

Here are a few examples of BHAGs:

Google:  Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Microsoft: Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

Amazon: To be Earth’s most customer-centric company.

Facebook: To make the world more open and connected.

JFK’s Moon Challenge: This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.

So having a “big hairy audacious goal” is, in itself, a  good thing. An envisionment of the future that inspires on an emotional level. But we must ensure that we do not become overwhelmed by trying to continually compare our short term achievements to that BHAG directly as a measurement of progress as not to underwhelm us to our achievements and impact we are making today. Look at it as a roadmap, not a measuring stick.

So let’s get our leadership on!

So we talked about several things that help point us in the direction of leading from where we stand. Let’s recap.

Questions we might ask ourselves:

  1. Do I have or need a BHAG for what we want to do? Is it something that emotionally connects for me and potentially for others? Am I seeking a broader future goal or simply a local immediate change?
  2. Where is my level of influence? What things can I impact today to make a difference to help me get move towards my perceived future? Is the change I want to make within that level of influence?
  3. One thing we did not really discuss, Am I being responsible to (myself, my co-workers, my organization) and reasonable (again to the same parties) in what I am trying to do? Am I being self-servant or “serving” in my actions?
  4. Does the thought of failure concern me more than the positive impact of change itself? Am I willing to accept the consequences of the actions I take, good or bad?
  5. Am I waiting for the authority to enact change or am I using this as a mechanism to not instigate the change myself?
  6. Whom does this change impact? What are their motivations?
  7. Am I willing to accept failure and learn from it?

So we have examine the items surrounding the change, now is  the time to put things into action. If we have indicators that we are willing to champion this change, accept the consequences and seek to rally additional champions of impact, we should get things into motion.

The CEO of PureWow, Ryan Harwood states that “the worst decision is indecision”. This is a modern restatement of a battle strategy that indicates “when confronted with an enemy on two possible hills, the worst decision is to not charge either hill”.

So if you make the decision to affect change from where you stand today, make it happen!