Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Magic Man

Like many people, I can appreciate a good magic trick. When I was growing up television specials featuring performers such as David Copperfield, Doug Henning, as well as Penn and Teller were regular events. And in New York City you can actually walk down the street and run across street performers doing some pretty cool things. 

Part of how a trick works is that its mechanics are hidden from the audience. Whether its card tricks or displays of disappearing damsels, part of the fun (and what makes the magic, magic) is attempting to answer the question, 

Most magicians, understandably, don't tell you how they performed their tricks. Part of it is personal--a unique trick helps to differentiate one performer from another. Part of that reasoning is financial. If you reveal too much the audience loses interest and they stop paying to see you perform. David Copperfield, aside from being a talented illusionist, was also a wealthy one. He had a vested interest in making sure no one could decipher his tricks, going so far as to sue author Herbert L. Becker to prevent him from publishing a book in which he reveals magicians' tricks, including his own. 

Aside from the above, huge part of why magician's don't reveal their tricks is that it ruins the trick. For all that the audience may want to know, there's a part of them that doesn't. Magic lies in the audience's willing suspension of disbelief. We know that people can't pull coins out of our ears, or that pretty ladies can't be sawed in half and still live, or that the Statue of Liberty really disappeared. But we're still delighted by the trick. Very few people (Penn and Teller and Ricky Jay are two that come to mind for me) can be transparent as well as entertaining. 

In the customer service world a lot has changed. Yet satisfying consumer demand hasn't, it's only increased. Consumers have a variety of different ways to gather information about a brand. And company's feel pressured to reveal as much about themselves as reasonable, lest others do it for them. "Engagement" is the mantra of today. Having a presence online (whether to provide information, interact with others, or to allow customers to shop) is an important and ever growing part of a company's strategy. Rating systems, customer review sites, blogs that are for or against a certain brand make it seem that, in essence, customers are less willing to suspend their disbelief. With the amount of information produced and disseminated online it's increasingly difficult for an organization to provide a magical experience. 

As a Consultant, I'm not providing customer service in the same fashion as a Barista at Starbucks. I do however attempt to utilize my knowledge, skills and abilities in a similar fashion for the clients I work with. They have demands of me that I attempt to meet, and I endeavor do so in a fashion that goes above and beyond simply performing a transaction. I also work with organizations whose focus is to provide services to a particular audience. So part of my mission is supporting the client's attempt at delivering a magical experience. 

What can organizations and consultants do to ensure great customer service experiences? Here are a few suggestions:
  • Understand and focus on your strengths. Some magicians can perform a variety of different tricks. Generally speaking, many tend to focus on a particular form of magic. Some are illusionists, others are great at slight-of-hand, and still others are excellent escape artists. Understanding what your organization's position of strength is with regards to your target market will allow you to focus resources on building it.
  • Get the mechanics right. Magicians practice their tricks repeatedly until they become second nature. And feedback regarding if it was successful is pretty clear--people either like it or they don't.
    There used to be a hangout spot, a deli, in New York. And in the back room, all of the top magicians would come and meet, and every young magician would go and try to learn something. I met a magician there... and he showed me an incredible card move, and as he was about to leave, I stopped him and said, "Please show me how to do this." He was like, "Kid, don't waste your time—you'll never get this." But before he left, he showed me how to do it, and for the next six months—every day—I practiced it.
    Kalush, who's one of my best friends now, taught me that even when it feels like you're not going to succeed and everything is crumbling apart: keep going. David Blaine, Magician
    Organizations and its members need to take this to heart. Get the mechanics (of resolving customer complaints, of managing orders, or whatever customer related process you're responsible for) right. Only then do you incorporate the magic.
  • Understand your audience and focus on their needs. Some people want to be treated special. They want you to know their name and how they like their coffee. Others just want fast, efficient service, particularly when returning or exchanging an item. This requires that an employee be able to quickly and successfully interpret and respond to a customer's needs. It's that understanding that makes or breaks the experience.
    That deficiency is part of the reason why many people hate dealing with call center representatives. Many reps are trained to work from a script and may have little flexibility in deviating from it. Lack of flexibility can make it difficult to satisfy the customer, especially if presented with an unusual situation. This is part of the reason that Zappos get high marks for their customer service. Their representatives don't use scripts. In addition, they're empowered to resolve most customer issues without management approval.
  • Give them something worthwhile. Magical customer service goes beyond the transaction. Delighting your customers isn't a simple equation (efficient service + being nice = magical customer service). If you are a hack no amount of effort can make the audience (or customer) love you. 'Nuff said.
Ignorance isn't just bliss, sometimes it's magical. However, in an increasingly transparent world, customers and clients are less ignorant. Be prepared to deliver on these changing expectations by understanding your organization's strengths, getting the basics right, understanding your customer's needs, and being able to give them something worthwhile. Then you should be able to consistently create memorable magic.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Nothing Compares to You

There is likely no more appropriate focus for business today than to deal with the idea of entitlement.  Our workforce is pushed to consider self.  And while it is necessary to consider self in the grand scheme of life, it does not equate to all policy and business direction being dictated as it relates to self.

In our schools, for example, we have acclimated to testing utilizing a variety of methodologies and techniques.  If someone is a poor traditional test-taker, then we have allowed them to verbally take the test with the teacher or demonstrate a mastery of the subject matter is other ways.  Now move that same student ahead 10 years into the workforce.  How many different ways are there for the worker to demonstrate his/her mastery of the subject (work)?  Most times, there’s just one.  We assess in specific, often singular, ways.  A product has to look and function in a certain way; even the service industry has parameters to stay within.

The point is not necessarily that we assess in various ways (though I would lean towards such a thought), but rather our workers are left outside of the process.  They then slip into a fight or flight mentality.  Turnover comes easier when I realize I can’t do the work the way you want.  I will leave, no problem.  If I am 24, I will find another entry level role.  I’m young.  No big deal.  If I am 44, I will find another role.  I’m still young enough (please don’t tell me that this is not still young…I might just breakdown).  No big deal.  Plus there is always unemployment insurance to assist me in the transition.

But, if I choose to fight, I will retreat to entitlement.  I will call upon the god of entitlement and its minions - accommodation, leave and disparate treatment.  How can I take care of me?  How has this work environment been unhealthy?  It cannot be that I am unable to do what’s required of me, but rather it must be how terrible it is here at work.

Sound familiar.  Let me hit that nerve even more.  How many businesses are living in fear of their employees?  What if they sue?  Complain?  Gulp…call the Department of Labor?  The organizations established to protect the American worker are viewed as the enemy of American business.  How did this happen?  Entitlement.  (There are real situations where a breaking of the law is happening in some companies; it has to be addressed.  Of course it does.  I am not swinging the pendulum too far the other way.)

So, what to do?
  • Address it – don’t be scared!  Call it out.  Say, “We all come from a position of entitlement.”  Work through simple examples.  Don’t accuse.  Share general observations.  Let people laugh at you.  Let them laugh at themselves.
  • Be transparent – as best as you can, share financials.  Let people know that the pot is only so big.  Yeah, I want to live at Google offices, too, but we can’t.  Who’s going to pay for it?  Once some more liquidity is in our hands, how should we spend it?  Which of these three options makes better sense in light of our financials and our mission?  Let employees engage!
  • Coach – devise a plan to battle “me first.”  How do we call it out in each other without irritating the stew out of each other?  There is nothing wrong with asking a question about self, but is that the default position?  Demonstrate business acumen and meet your employee where he/she is.  Guide them through components of business decisions.  Long term, this will pay off in huge dividends…and I don’t mean just money.
I believe we are better than entitlement.  We have to be.  Our business cultures, our family units, society as a whole needs us to move beyond this perspective.  When we see it, we have to take action.  Healthy, lasting business development comes out of a functional belief in the work to be done and the integrity it takes to do it.  Encourage pride, speak to the struggles and affirm correct competencies.  We are more than one.