Wednesday, December 23, 2015

How Managers Impact The Holiday Service Their Employees Deliver

While customer service is an area we need to be on top of year round, there is no denying that the holiday season adds an extra dose of urgency to provide a stellar customer experience.

As a manager, customer service operations should be on your brain all the time. But as people are gearing up for the holidays, you REALLY need to shine. The holidays are chock full of stress when it comes to shopping. And customers have even higher expectations for the service they receive. They want easy. They want seamless. They want helpful.

And as a manager, you can certainly deliver. Do a search online and you will receive a bevy of tips and tricks on how to deliver top-notch customer service during the holidays. Salesforce wrote a great article discussing it, as did Consumer Affairs. There is some overlap in these arsenals of advice and some varying opinions as well.

But one thing rings true amidst all of the best practices. Everyone is looking to their manager for cues. Everything trickles down. They’re watching you and depending on you to lead them through customer calls and inquiries galore. (You’re kind of Santa-ish, driving that sleigh around making sure the reindeer are all in sync from house to house as you spread holiday cheer!)

So what are some of the tactical things you can do as a manager to deliver stellar holiday service? Here are 5 surefire ways to help your teams win during the holiday rush.

1)   Devise a plan. There are times to “wing it”, but this isn’t it! If you have a strategy in place, everyone will start on the same page and have a guide to follow throughout their interactions.
2)   Empower your employees. You know when a football coach gets a team all fired up during half-time and they bust out of that locker room with a renewed spirit and purpose? You can totally do that too! Give your people the support they need to succeed. Good energy is contagious.
3)   Arm them with resources. Think about what you can provide your employees that will help them accomplish their jobs better during the holidays. Are there tools that will help them execute on holiday-specific interactions? Training exercises that will put an extra pep in their step? Whatever it is, give them what you can to make their jobs easier.
4)   Speed it up. Resolution times are always top of mind for customers. They want to be in and out with an answer in hand. And their expectations are even higher during the holidays. Work with your employees to help them decrease resolution times as much as possible and keep everything moving like a well-oiled machine.
5)   Mind Your Manners. It is ALWAYS important to put your best foot forward in all customer interactions. Make sure your employees feel that holiday spirit and that it’s emanating through their calls. Nobody wants to deal with a Grinch!

With the holiday season already underway, never stop reflecting on what you can do as a manager to help your teams nail it this season. The customers will appreciate, as will your team for helping them get through the holidays with poise and confidence. It’s a win win for all parties.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Don’t Just Engage Employees, Strategically Engage Them!

Employee engagement is often a term thrown around organizations (sometimes much too loosely) with very little behind it. True engagement isn’t just a box you check on some random human resources form. It’s something that has to become part of your corporate culture and MUST be based on strategy.

You can’t just pull an I Dream of Genie, blink your eyes, and have all of your employees magically engaged. It doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen. And that hinges on a sound strategy.

Because your employees are all individuals with different personalities and styles, there’s not a silver bullet, generic strategy to engage them. And as a great manager, it is crucial to connect the strategy to your team and each person on it. Your people need to understand how they each play a part in the big picture and why their roles are important. Why? Because how can someone be engaged if they don’t understand their specific role in achieving the collective success?

I did a little digging to see what industry folks were saying about strategic employee engagement. What I love most about this small sampling is that you get a different perspective depending on the person discussing it. While that can be frustrating in some experiences, I think it speaks to the magnitude of possibilities that exist when considering strategic engagement.

Check out these 5 tips and think about what you can pull into your own strategy for engagement!

Company leaders should never assume they have all the answers. The best employee engagement strategy is one where the organization surveys the employees at least annually, the results are shared with every manager, and in turn, each manager creates an action plan with her team members.  Kevin Kruse in Forbes

The telltale sign of low engagement at work is when most people are watching the clock, counting down the minutes until they can go home. In order to curb clock-watching and increase engagement, it is imperative to connect what you do with a higher purpose. This is important for any organization, regardless of your business's industry or service. You must know your core values, talk about them and hire by them. – Sean Kelly in Inc.

Leaders and managers should collaborate with employees to identify engagement barriers, rather than leave it solely to the top executives to figure out. After all, it is the employees who are the real experts on the company's processes and their team’s dynamic. They will have the best ideas to maximize performance, innovation and better workplace experiences.Kristin Kelley in Biz Journals

An organization’s culture plays a pivotal role in driving motivation and the relationships between employees, managers and their colleagues therefore need to be founded on trust, support and collaboration. A multi channel, planned and opportunistic, communication strategy that promotes openness and transparency will help make this possible.Fiona Reed in HCareers

In the end, employee engagement is dependent upon the company providing each employee with what they need to do their job and fulfill their true potential, while creating an environment that they want to return to each and every day.  Deb Broderson in Loyalty360

If you take away anything from this post, it should be that regardless of the components, the most important aspect to successful employee engagement is to have a strategy in place to drive it. Good luck and happy engaging!

PS – add your tip to this list on Facebook @GaryMagenta use #howiengage.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Want Your Employees On Board? You Better Onboard!

Every company has its own procedures and processes for new hires. From compensation and benefits forms, to training, to shadowing others – there are a lots of ways to bring new hires under the tent and make sure they become part of your organization and most importantly a contributor to the corporate strategy and culture.

While we agree there’s not necessarily one silver bullet that accomplishes all of this, at Root, we feel very strongly about one thing – onboarding, believe it or not, is an essential key to the success of your strategy.

It can be just plain scary be the newbie at any company. You’re not only walking into an established working environments and tightly knit social circles, but you literally have no idea what the corporate culture is really like and to make matters worse it can take a while to find the closest bathroom! Sure you can piece some of the puzzle together  from your interviews and other touch points in the hiring process, but until you are there, in person, it’s all pretty murky and even then...

There are two big components to the new hire dynamic. 1) The new employee is expected to come ready to bring the best of themselves to the job.  And must have willingness to absorb the strategic direction and the culture like a thirsty sponge, all while looking like they fit in.. 2) The company has a responsibility to provide the newbie with the information that helps them understand the company culture, the company strategy and how their job contributes to both.

Given all of that, you can imagine how fired up I was to read this recent article in Yahoo’s Finance Section, about a Microsoft Employee who quit after only four months of employment. The employee started his job, assuming he would be given information and materials to get him situated in his new role. Not a far-fetched assumption, right?

What he received, however, was "Some Microsoft SWAG, a few cheesy ice-breakers, a lengthy presentation about health insurance, a prerecorded message from Satya Nadella, some completely useless information about transportation, and then that was it.” Swag is nice, but a prepared employee it does not make. That’s not good for the employee or quite frankly for the company.

The lackluster orientation to Microsoft, coupled with a difficult boss, led the employee to jump ship before he even got a chance to become a fixture. Even more surprisingly, when he did quit, “it took two days for anybody to notice and the paperwork to get filed.”

This scenario isn’t just happening at the Microsoft’s of the world, this is a chronic issue across all size businesses, countries and industries. This case made headlines because the Microsoft name is a pretty big deal, but make no mistake about it, they are just one of a sea of companies out there with no official onboarding program or one that is ineffective.

Part of the problem may lie in the confusion between orientation and onboarding. In one of our recent white papers, Onboarding is Not Orientation, we highlighted this important distinction “While orientation encompasses signing up for benefits, understanding payroll, and getting a corporate identification badge, onboarding has a business impact and a results-oriented perspective. It includes everything a new hire needs to reach the minimum expected productivity level and become a valued contributor to the business.”

Employees are savvier than ever and don’t want those logoed koozies when they show up on their first day. They want and need to understand their role, how they fit into the big picture and most importantly, have a chance to give and receive feedback from day one. Communication is an essential part of the onboarding process. We need to use more common sense, any strong strategically sound onboarding process is built on communication. You are adopting a new family member and he or she needs communication to get settled, feel comfortable and truly become a part of the family. Great leaders know the strategic impact of onboarding vs. orientation and invest in it.
Onboarding isn’t just the topic de jour, it’s something we are personally vigilant about at Root, because we see the benefits of it regularly in our own company and with our clients (and the pitfalls from not doing it correctly).

Employee engagement scores, overall, have not risen in decades. Retention and the ability to harness discretionary effort is an ongoing challenge.  We believe you can stop investing in the All Company donut party to boost engagement and retention if you start investing in people and their contribution to the strategy and culture on day one.

Are you truly onboarding newbies or merely providing them with an orientation? Well? If you would like to talk more about onboarding, contact Root…we live for this stuff!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Customer Service Connoisseur Goes Shopping

Just the title alone makes you cringe, doesn't it? Are you already scared for the poor associates that have to endure a customer who refers to himself as a customer experience connoisseur? I, too, feel for some of the customer experience associates that have to deal with me but I promise that my intentions are good and that I am single handedly trying to raise the level of customer experience for everyone, everywhere! In this blog I left out the names of people and places to protect the brands and individuals I encountered in some recent and ill-fated retail encounters. There are some big opportunities to deliver a better customer experience by organizations that want your loyalty. My loyalty needs to be earned and yours should, too!

A few weeks back I was aimlessly wandering through an outdoor mall with my wife on a beautiful day in Southwest Florida when I remembered I needed a new navy blue sport coat and some dress shirts. I have grown too big for my current blazer and not yet big enough for the old one hanging in my closet.  I needed a new “between sizes” sport coat for work.  Anyway, my wife decided to go shoe shopping so I figured I had 15 to 20 minutes, tops, to get a new jacket.  I quickly went into a mid-level men’s clothing store that operates as part of a national chain.  I was immediately greeted by an associate asking how she could help.  She mentioned she was new and might need to ask her manager a few questions along the way.  I let her know that I had about 15 minutes to shop and together, the manager and new associate made the experience personal, simple and truly pleasurable.  They made recommendations on designers that would fit me well and offered to have the necessary alterations done quickly. While I did not have time to pick out shirts during that visit, when I went back to pick-up the jacket, the manager remembered me by name, remembered that I still needed shirts and offered his help. Again, I did not have time to shirt shop so he quickly had me on my way with my new merchandise. Within a week of the transaction, I received a phone call from the same manager making sure I was happy with my purchase and he invited me to come back any time to pick out the much-needed shirts.  The friendly service and knowledgeable staff gained them a new, happy, would-be loyal customer.

Prompted by the manager’s follow-up phone call, I stopped into a different location of the same store to pick up some shirts as I had some spare time but was not anywhere near the location where I purchased my new sport coat. A young woman quickly offered help, but no sooner had turned her back and left to chitchat with a coworker in another part of the store.  While I browsed on my own, another sales associate came by and offered help, as I explained to her what I was looking for she excused herself and said she would be right back. Have you seen her? Because I never did again. Sales associate #3 made an appearance to ask what I was looking for, I think he was the manager.  “A white French cuff 15 ½/32,” I said.  He lazily pointed in the direction of where I might find my size amongst a pile of 100 shirts as he said “if we have any they’d be over there.” I did spend a minute of two rifling through the pile but left without buying anything. The aloof service and unhelpful staff was dramatically different from the other store location and completely eroded the loyalty that the first store had started to build with me just a week before. The inconsistency of the store experience had changed my perception of the entire company. I am still debating if I will go back or not, but it is possible that one bad apple can indeed spoil the whole bunch.

I was a little more optimistic when a catalogue from a high-end clothing store that my wife loves came in the mail. I have fallen into a pattern of buying their dresses for my wife for special occasions and I wanted to get her one for her upcoming birthday. I grabbed the catalog out of the mail and put sticky notes on the dresses I was interested in. On that Saturday morning I made my way to the store near me in Naples, Florida.  I showed the store manager the four items that had caught my eye in the catalogue. They had none of the items in stock and she explained to me that “Naples is not a flagship store so we don’t get the good stuff here.” Of course, she offered to order the items into the store so my wife could come in to try them on. While I thought her explanation for the lack of inventory was poorly stated, I appreciated the offer to bring in the merchandise, right?  Wrong. She went on to explain that I would have to pay in advance for the four dresses they were ordering to the store! “Wait a minute”, I said, “Let me get this right, you sent me, a loyal customer, a catalog advertising your new spring line. I liked what I saw and I came in to purchase a piece for my wife. You have none of the inventory that you are advertising and now you want me to pay for you to have four pieces of your merchandise shipped to your store?” Her reply was a quick and frankly curt “that’s our policy.” “Really?” I asked, I had purchased from their store in Michigan when we lived there and that was not their policy at that store, the store manager ordered whatever they didn’t have and my wife selected what she wanted, if anything. It wasn’t like the merchandise was coming to my home, like I might hide it or steal it! It was going to their store.  Again she stated that was their policy and I left empty handed as there was no way that I was paying this company to have their own inventory in stock.  I located and called the regional manager. She said that, indeed, it was their policy but for loyal customers or when none of a customer’s selections were in stock, that the manager has the flexibility to bend the rules and that she would talk to the manager in Naples. It appears the Naples, Florida managers either didn’t know that or didn’t choose to be flexible. In any event, that was the end of that. My wife had a wonderful time opening my gift, which was purchased from one of that brand’s competitors.

A few months later while traveling with my wife, we came across another location of this (now infamous in my mind) dress store while spending the weekend in Charleston, SC and decided to give them one more chance.  This time, at this location, the sales associate made us feel at home right away. I’m talking champagne and chocolate style. She asked my wife all the right questions, “what is the occasion you want the dress for? What other dresses from the brand do you own? What do you like about the fit? What are your preferences in color and length?” She returned with a few pieces that were perfect in style, but they did not have the right size. My wife selected one of the dresses and the sales associate had the correct size shipped to our house a few days later. This associate provided a customer experience that reflected the brand and made us feel like we were valued customers. She was fantastic in every way, my loyalty meter was once again running high for this classic brand. 

The problem arose back at the original location in Naples on a visit to have alterations made to the zipper, which was not lying flat on the dress. Well, it took three separate visits to get the alterations right. I was with my wife on her second visit. When she tried on the dress after the second round of alterations the zipper once again stuck out dramatically. At this point the associate explained to my wife that all the zippers on their dresses poke out of the bottom, “look, my dress does it too.”  Seriously? Did she really just try and tell us that the zippers in all of their dresses were that way? I did not remain quiet as I know a thing or two about the construction of garments. I actually grew up in the garment business, my father and mother were clothing designers and manufacturers so you can’t tell me that a designer dress by an iconic brand that I have shopped for years is supposed to have a zipper that pokes out from the bottom like a monkey tail. I let the associate know that the zipper is not meant to stick out and that the dress was not acceptable in this condition.  The associate would not even respond to me. I explained to her that while I would not be wearing the dress I am actually her customer, I buy their dresses as gifts for my wife on special occasions. In fact, my wife has never bought anything from them.  She was rude and dismissive but know that dress was not leaving the store in that condition. On the 3rd attempt, the zipper lay flat and the dress looked great. However, the manager and team members in this location were so unfriendly and unaccommodating during our combined four visits to that location that they ruined the experience of that entire brand for me and my wife. That brand has not only lost our loyalty but our business, we’re done for real, this time!

The fact is, multi-unit stores carry the same products. The difference is in the service, the personnel, the experience they’re able to deliver. Managers are the key here.  They should embody the character the brand wants to exhibit and coach their employees to do the same.  They are the link between the vision of how the brand should be perceived and what actually happens at the front line (on the store floor). You can find nice dresses and dress shirts just about anywhere, the world has no shortage of retailers, it is the experience that keeps people coming back. 

There are opportunities every day, with every touch, to win and lose customers. Which one are you doing?  Have you had a really great or really awful experience lately?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Another Meeting?!?

I’ve just finished reading yet another article on how to hold good meetings. If you are anything like me you don’t find the topic all that exciting but are searching for that elusive holy grail of how to “give good meeting.” Are you spending most of your days in back-to-back meetings, leaving post-work after hours the only time you have to actually work? Are you spending your evenings responding to emails because you literally didn’t have a free minute during your 10-hour workday? I’ve spent way too much time on that hamster wheel and it’s exhausting! I hope that the following suggestions will eliminate the need for you to have to read another article on meetings.

There are proven ways to make the most out of your meetings. And it’s the best managers, the GREAT ones really, who are doing things right. It’s time to take a page from their playbook. And lucky for you, a team at Root Inc. has been studying high-performing managers for the past few years. And they’ve discovered that the best of the best all have something in common regardless of industry or geography. Proper meeting planning.

Yes, the managers who produce dramatically better results than their peers in general also know how to plan exceptionally great meetings. You know these meetings – the effective ones. The engaging ones. The meetings that accomplish more and take up less time. The impossible is indeed possible!

The Root team has boiled this ocean down to four key behaviors and actions that the best performing managers have perfected. If you want to learn how to hold a meeting like the cream de la crème, you can read all the details here. Here’s a cheat sheet to get you started before you have to rush off to your next meeting.

Step 1: Mix it up. It’s easy to invite the same people every time. You know them, you trust them. But, what about who you’re not including? The people who have different opinions and priorities? The people from other parts of the business? The best managers know it’s important to bridge gaps and create strong relationships with all business groups, so if there’s a team making your team’s job more difficult – invite them. It’s amazing what can happen when everyone is face-to-face.

Step 2: Know your s*&t. This one takes some up-front work. Before the meeting, research facts, data and recent successes and failures that will help everyone do what they do even better. For example, if the customer is the #1 priority for the quarter, explain what this means and show what this looks like with descriptive examples – actual things happening around the company. Give details! People want smart strategies and tactics so they can make an impact.

Step 3: Keep it tight. No one has time for an agenda-less meeting! So get yours ready ahead of time. That will help you 1) accomplish everything you need to accomplish, 2) cover the important stuff first and 3) save time for attendees to give their opinions and thoughts – everyone just wants to be heard, right? Don’t end up forgetting to share the great data you’ve spent time collecting or leave a critical discussion point to the end and have to rush through it. Just make an agenda.

Step 4: Build a roadmap. Great managers never leave work unassigned. As the Watercooler article says, “High-performing managers don’t ‘noodle’ and they don’t ‘place things on the back burner.’” So you shouldn’t either. The best meeting leaders work with their teams to decide who is doing what, when, and for how long. When everyone has a roadmap they will get where they need to go faster!

So, that’s the scoop. It’s not rocket science, but it does take time and commitment. Trust me, it’s worth it. What’s your meeting productivity trick?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The New Rules of Work

Not sure how many of you caught this recent Fast Company article on the new rules of work. It makes some really good points about how what we do every day is evolving. And that may be too light a word… less evolution, more revolution, it seems. “The old rules of work applied to an economy of factories and offices, a world of "standard," stable employment with large employers, over careers with more or less predictable trajectories. The new rules belong to another universe—flexible, precarious, and entrepreneurial, less and less tied to specific times, places, and employers.”

The piece essentially points out that work now happens anywhere and everywhere at all hours of the day and night, that work-life balance is becoming less of a “thing” as the line between the two increasingly blurs, and that today, doing what you love trumps the paycheck you earn.

Pretty spot on, I must say. I myself work from many places – airplanes, cars, events, my home, and only sometimes an actual office. Work to me is writing, speaking, consulting with clients, connecting with people – they’re things I’m passionate about and good at – and they don’t only happen between 9 and 5.

But there’s one key thought, one critical question the article raised for me, and I wonder if it entered your mind as well. In this new era where work and life are becoming progressively synonymous, where the people who work for us want to be part of something bigger than themselves, want to make an impact in a way that aligns with their personal purpose on this planet, I ask you:

How can we keep them engaged enough to not only stay, but to give us their all – not only their effort, but their discretionary effort – to work for us with their heads, their hands, and their hearts…?

The answer, my friends, lies in how we manage, how we mold, how we support them. Now, we leaders must change the way we think of ourselves and our role in the workplace. We can’t just tell people what to do and how to do it. We can’t just throw up the plan and expect people to march toward some seemingly arbitrary goal with no color commentary, no why, no tie to their personal goals. We must think of ourselves, instead, as coaches. We are there to paint the big picture, to share what we know, to listen, and to ask the right questions, to bring out the best our people have to give. We must show the way but not necessarily how to get there. Rather, we must provide the tools, the arsenal, the motivation, the reward by coaching our people to succeed in their way – to move toward achieving the big picture we provide with our guidance but not our directives.

As work changes, so must we. How are you embracing the new rules of work?