What People Magazine Knows About Customer Experience Management

When Seal and Heidi Klum called it quits earlier this year, they reported having “grown apart’, a common theme among Hollywood power couples; they come together in a storm of romance, and beat a hasty retreat at the first sign of trouble. They gush about their new beau when things are new, but lose interest once their needs inevitably change.

So, what about your relationship with your customers? Sure, you probably don’t have paparazzi following you to every meeting, luncheon, or conference, but when things change, business relationships can fall prey to the same pitfalls as Hollywood romances do.

How do you know when your customer’s needs have changed? Do you know what’s important to them - now? And on the flip side, how do you let your customers know when your needs have changed?

For starters, not all customers leave suppliers because of price, products or options. Research tells us that most leave because they feel that their current supplier doesn't understand them or their needs. There’s that word again: needs.

So, how are you staying ahead of your customer’s changes? How are you letting them know that you care about them? Here are few tips for making sure that your company doesn’t end up on the cover of People magazine.

Super Nanny to the Rescue! Redux

ED: This is an update of an earlier post I wrote in 2007. You can read the old one here.

Have you seen the popular TV series Super Nanny, where a “real” English nanny comes to the rescue of distraught parents?

Week after week the nanny smiles as she steps into house after house of screaming children and clueless parents. The kids are a mess, the parents are frazzled, and everyone has reached their boiling point. You can just imagine why these families dial 911 out of sheer exhaustion.

But it’s Super Nanny to the rescue! She sweeps into the situation, disciplines the kids, organizes workable programs, encourages the parents to become "real parents," and—in her no-nonsense way—she puts the family right again.

How can you keep from letting your business turn into a screaming, dysfunctional mess during times of challenge? Here are three simple rules, complements of Super Nanny:

Don't Interrupt the Kaiser

The great industrialist Henry Kaiser once said, “If your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.” He would know. From building giant warships during World War II to helping found one of the largest, most efficient healthcare providers in the world, Kaiser spent his life letting his work speak for him, not the other way around. Although he died a half-century ago, his words still ring true today.

In a world jammed with about a billion ways to communicate, it can be hard to remember that actions speak much louder than words- and it’s our actions that we’ll be remembered by. So here’s 3 tips to help you cut the chatter and get to the things that matter.

Harry Potter, Frankenstein, and Andrew Carnegie Walk Into a Bar

New ideas, new ways of doing things, new products, every day brings with it the chance for dynamic change. Staying ahead of that change requires hard work, intuition, a bit of luck, and most of all creativity. But, how can you be creative? Is there a switch you can turn on? Or are some people just born creative?

The superstar author J.K. Rowling came up with the iconic Harry Potter when she was doing nothing more spectacular than riding a train, looking out the window, and daydreaming. Similarly, rumor has it that author Mary Shelley invented Frankenstein during a late night round of story-telling with friends in a Swiss retreat. Andrew Carnegie, the insanely successful steel magnate, worked most of his young life not in steel, but in the railroad industry, but he took the insights he learned from the railroads and applied them to steel, revolutionizing the industry.

These aren’t examples of naturally clever and creative people coming up with world-changing ideas; these are stories of people giving themselves the opportunity to be creative, by preparing, by sharing, and by ignoring. 

Changes Are Coming

With a view towards providing increasing value to my loyal readers, I’m excited to announce some changes that you’ll soon see happening with this blog space. 

Starting today, this blog will become a landing place for ideas, inspiration, and advice on transformational change. You’ll see brief, targeted blog posts that highlight some of my lessons learned working on the front lines of organizational and personal change. 

And the good news is that this change is going to be painless for you! No need to change the bookmark on your web browser. So, think of this space as your place to hang out, voice your own keen insights, gnarly challenges and the tips & tools that work for you. 

If you currently subscribe to my monthly ‘Change Bytes’ newsletter, you won’t see it here going forward, but don’t worry, it will continue to find it’s way into your Inbox. If you’ve not yet received the newsletter, just sign up and you’ll also receive my complementary e-book, 19 Hopeful Hints for Managing the Big Fat Changes at Work. Try it…you’ll like it!

And, follow me on Twitter under the new handle @Change Bytes. Join me there for a daily dose of inspiration and challenge to help you change what you thought you couldn’t. We’re all in this together, so I’ll do my part to keep you energized and moving forward.

Remember, you can change it…I can help!

Vive la Différence

Change initiatives bring out the best - and worst - in all of us. From senior leaders to front line staff. What others need from us to make their transition successful is often very different from what we would naturally do ourselves.
We see this disconnect played out in political tugs or war all the time. One party says the path to economic stability is to curb spending, while the opposition insists that ramping up government-funded programs is the way to stabilize the economy and raise the standard of living for the poor.

Dimensions of Diversity (those differentiators that separate individuals, groups and whole companies) are the Achilles heel of change initiatives, and need to be fully understood and respected for their ability to derail an otherwise workable transition. A few of the most common Dimensions of Diversity are:

Values: What do you believe? What are your non-negotiables, those parts of the plan that you just have to have in order to put your whole heart behind it? Do you know what they are...have you told anyone yet? If individual values are not shared by the entire group, or are not taken into account during change initiatives, the effects can be disastrous. 

Vision: There is always a "Big V" vision (those well-crafted statements of intention selected by a chosen few) and the hundreds of "little v" visions (how each and every person sees themselves fitting - or not - into the new plan) at work in every new initiative. These hundreds of individual visions need to be considered when crafting the "Big V" vision or the initiative could lose focus. 

Competencies: Risk tolerance disparities and other change skills can differ greatly among key stakeholders. Some people look for ways to step into change in every new situation...others scan their horizons for the next sure thing. There are those employees who have been thorough a significant change in the past and have the necessary skills.

Attitudes: Often in a transition you have Resisters working alongside Change Champions. These two types of approach can come into conflict when the do-ability of a change is being debated. A person's mindset is a powerful predictor of how they will deal with the tougher parts of the change and find solutions that allow them to move forward.

Personal Style: Thinking and responding times colliding. Vive ladifférence sounds great until you find yourself toe-to-toe with another person or group that is "ready" to make a move before you are, or when you're the one that has your finger on the trigger while your team runsfor cover. In my experience, personal style accounts for the greatest percentage of stalled and/or failed change efforts. When we get it right, it's a beautiful thing...when we fail to factor in this dimension of diversity...we're finished.

The first step in leveraging differences is to make the unknown known. Speak it, share it, and make it visible. Make room and opportunities for people, at all levels of the organization, to declare their perspectives and preferred approaches to the change - then make the plan fit the folks!

By making differences transparent, everyone has the opportunity to meet the needs and adjust to the styles of others. When push comes to shove, as it often does in the throes of intense change, understanding each other is Job #1. 

Remember, you can change it - we can help!

October 2012
Can we Talk?
What do smoking, and drinking and driving, have in common? They're examples of social behaviors that have been radically challenged and changed in the last couple of decades. There was a time when both were considered mostly acceptable; today - neither are crowd pleasers, and for good reasons.
Recently, I spent the better part of a day with a man who is the victim of a drunk driver. I say he is and not was a victim because, in a split second, that careless driver sentenced this young man to a wheelchair...for life. At 7:23pm, while driving on a near-empty stretch of highway, his routine drive home became the last time he would spend - even a few minutes - pain free. He sustained multiple injuries and now, through no fault of his own, spends most of his day struggling to recall, from hour to hour, what is happening around him. He's a well-educated engineer, husband and father of two great kids. For the past 8 years his life has been nothing like he had dreamed it would be.

Spending time with someone so impacted by someone else's choices has made me consider change in a different light. Sometimes we get caught in other people's decisions, and for better or worse, and we can find ourselves living out the consequences of someone else's actions.
This happens all the time at work, doesn't it? A leader, key customer, or board of directors chooses a course of action that triggers layoffs, project cancellations or cutbacks. A product line changes and a team, or a whole company, go in a different direction, and hundreds are left in the wake.

So, what can you do when the change you have to make is the result of someone else's choice? How can we get past the resentment and, in some cases bitterness, of being 'forced' into a job, situation or a life that we never thought would happen?

I asked my young friend that same question. He told me that he had wasted (his words) too many months being angry and feeling sorry for himself. He said that, if he'd have known how much energy his resistance to his new reality was stealing from him, he'd have chosen to accept his circumstances sooner than he did. He said that he would have put all his energy into creating a way to live with his limitations sooner, and look harder at what he still has control over.  

Chances are that most of us won't have to face a traumatic re-order of our lives, but all of us are handed changes that we don't like....that we didn't choose. Daily we're required by the government, our employers, friends and families to stop orstart doing something that we would not have chosen to change on our own.

If you have found yourself in this position, here are a few tips to get you moving out of resistance - into your life again:
  • Throw yourself a 'Whine & Gees' party. That's right, one hour to feel as sorry as you can for yourself and your circumstances. Invite your friends. Yell, cry, stomp and wallow...then take three deep breaths, clean yourself up and DO something you haven't done yet.
  • Make a list of the parts of your situation that you control and those you don't - then rip the list in half, and post up the list of what is within your control. This is your new list - you're only list now...study it for clues about your next steps forward
  • Spend time with someone who has been through what is in front of you. Ask them to share their ideas and keep you honest. Give them permission to call you out if they see you getting stuck in resistance.
  • Learn a new problem-solving technique. There are lots out there...find one and apply the principles to your circumstances. If it doesn't work...try another one.
Sometimes change is fun, easy...sometimes it's bone crushing hard. Either way, the sooner you get past the past, the quicker you will find a path to a better place.

If you're being handed changes you don't like, and you want a thinking partner to help you find a path forward...call me.

Remember, you can change it - we can help!
How Smart Are You?
Alfred Binet, theFrench psychologist who, in the early 1900's, invented the first usable cognitive intelligence test, initially characterized an intelligent person as having good sense, practical sense or initiative; resulting in the ability to adapt one's self to their circumstances.
In the early nineties, Daniel Goleman articulated concepts around Emotional Intelligence, challenging the widely held notion that IQ was the central human capacity contributing to success in life and at work. He proposed that our ability to know our emotional states, and read the emotional states of others and adjust appropriately, is the prime factor for success at work and in life.

Howard Gardner, an American developmental psychologist and professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard says, 'Human intellectual competence must entail a set of problem solving skills - enabling the individual to resolve genuine problems or difficulties that he or she encounters and, when appropriate, to create an effective product - and must also entail the potential for finding or creating problems - and thereby laying the groundwork for the acquisition of new knowledge".

And, now there is Innovation Intelligence: the ability to think in new and creative ways. Championed by Claude Legrand and David Weiss, in their book Innovative Intelligence, we are introduced to how dismal the innovative intelligence is in most organizations and how companies can get better at mining the creativity of teams and whole organizations.

I'm intrigued by the forces that Le Grand and Weiss report block Innovation Intelligence at work, because they appear to be the same set of barriers that prevent teams and organizations from being able to embrace meaningful change. Here are a few barriers that I see plaguing the need for innovation and the drive to implement change initiatives.
  • The love/hate relationship people have with new ideas. People say they want something new, but when push comes to shove, they love, and fiercely protect, the status quo. Often there is an almost, 'not on my watch' mentality when it comes to actually stepping out of the box - the box is just too darn comfortable.
  • The confusion between doing things well - being effective and efficient - and doing new things. Humans gravitate towards what they know; they want to 'fix-up' what they already know how to do, rather than learn something new...especially if the new required thinking and/or behaviours scare them.
  • People don't really know how to innovate, to think differently, to get out of their old patterns and perspectives and approach a problem or challenge with 'new eyes'. We can learn to innovate and change...really we can. What is required to change and innovate can be taught, replicated and can become a company's best practices.
  • 'Different' is messy. Often the leadership of the organization just doesn't want the mess that new ideas and their potential failures might bring. Many leaders hold themselves and their teams to short term goals, not long term efforts - the kind of pursuits that real innovation and change require.
  • To innovate or change is WORK.... hard work. It takes time and requires accountability; the kind of accountability that most leaders don't know how (or are unwilling) to exercise.

So, how intelligent are you? Or better put, in what way are you intelligent? And, what kind of intelligence does your career or life need right now? If you need to further develop your IQ skills, educate yourself - as most IQ tests are more a test of memory than anything. If you want to investigate your Innovative Intelligence, take a look at Legrand and Weiss's new book.

And remember, if you want to work on your change intelligence ...you can change it, we can help!

June 2012

Good to Great
Jim Collins (Good to Great, Great by Choice) was a keynote presenter at the Women President's Organization annual conference in Atlanta this past month. Mr. Collin's books are always a good read, and he was in rare form presenting in front of this 800 strong crowd of exceptional female entrepreneurs.
As you would expect, he had several salient ideas to share, and his parting 'To Do' list; a must-do catalog of great ideas for extra ordinary leaders, has stuck with me. There were three actions he suggested that caught my eye as having the power to profoundly impact a successful change effort.

1.  Hold a 'Brutal Facts' meeting each quarter, in which the realities, a company's profit and loss figures, percent margins and customer retention numbers, etc. are shared with everyone. Yep, everyone. Those who change best are those who must, and knowing the truth about how the company is doing and how the change effort will (or won't, if it fails) impact the financial health of all concerned is important information that can act as an enduring motivator.
 Values sign
2.  Develop ROL (Return on Luck) strategies. Of all the influences that contribute to success, old - fashioned luck can often be the X factor that puts your plans over the top. Collins explained that, 'who luck' is the best kind of luck there is and that he's observed that who luck is often squandered and, in many cases, the person that could have tipped the scales in a company's favour is simply allowed to walk out the door. He challenged the audience to strategize ways to capitalize on lady luck when she comes knocking; deciding ahead of time how to maximize the right connections at the right time.

3.  Commit to a set of values that will still be relevant 100 years from now. Most companies begin the strategic planning process by crafting a set of organizational values... and then shove them in a drawer somewhere. Maybe that happens because the values are too situational, contrived or so milk toast that they fail to grab people's hearts. Values that endure are ones that evoke truth, transparency and trust. Do you have a personal set of values that will stand the test of time? Does your company?

Oh, and he also suggested that, when you're finished with your To Do List, that you craft a Stop Doing List as well. It's every bit as important, and often more powerful, to stop doing those things that get in your way, than to take on new activities.

See Collin's whole To Do List below.

And if you want to get started on those that resonate with you as being the most important steps towards moving your company, department, team - or yourself forward...call me!

Remember, you can change it - we can help!

May 2012

Jim Collins' To Do List for 2012

-Go to the Good to Great website and take the Good to Great Diagnostic for your business
-Make sure you have the 'right people in the right seats' on your company's bus
-Hold a 'Brutal Facts' meeting each quarter, in which the numbers for the company are shared with everyone
-Have a 15-25 Big Harry Audacious Goal for yourself
-Commit to consistency
-Calculate, then take a risk this year
-Make a plan that would allow you to go one year without revenue in your company – because some day you may need to
-Look for ROL (Return on Luck) strategies – what will you do with a stroke of luck
-Commit to values – ones that will still be relevant 100 years from now
-Make a Stop Doing List – then STOP doing unnecessary things

Click here for more information on Jim Collins 

What Do You Expect?

I boarded Direct Air flight #5915 on March 5th for a flight to the sunny south, fully expecting that the airline would fly me safely home again 10 days later. Ah - no! Six days after my departure, the airline went bankrupt and I was left to fend for myself. Feeling angry, disappointed and ripped off, I spent hours searching the Internet for a flight that wouldn't break the bank. It was the height of Spring Break in Florida and flights were hard to come by.
After a few frustrating hours, trying to get a coherent answer from the airlines, and an assurance from VISA that they would refund my loss, I took a walk and found myself wondering...what exactly had I expected when I booked this flight? I fly a fair bit and haven't given much thought lately to my expectations for travel. Air travel certainly isn't what it used to be and, over time, we - the flying public - have been forced to lower our expectations incrementally.

Slowly, we've traded our hopes for a hot, healthy in-flight meal, for a cold, starch-heavy 'snack'. At the last minute, we're now asked to hand over our credit cards to pay for that suitcase that used to fly free. And the free movie, that provided distraction on those long trips ...four dollars please! Truth be told, most of us have swapped the probability of a great flying experience, for a 'just get me there in one piece' prayer.April 2012 newsletter

Expectations are powerful. What we believe about what we 'should' be given, or how relationships and situations are 'supposed' to unfold, form the foundation of our emotional experience as consumers, parents and employees. The power of expectations is clearly evident when there is a change in our lives. Leaders often 'expect' employees to be excited about organizational changes, willing and able to grasp the vision. Employees expect that their leaders will keep them informed about every step of the transition, and understand their pain. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? So, why is everyone angry, frustrated and looking for someone to blame during the hard parts of a change? Simply put, the real expectations we hold are seldom explored, clearly defined or shared.

How can a leader, parent or team member 'manage' their expectations? Here are a few ideas:
  • Explore your own expectations before stepping into change; ask yourself:
    • What do I think will happen, how quickly and to what degree?
    • What do I hope or anticipate others will do in response to the changes I'm initiating?
    • What have others encountered when attempting a change of this size and importance that can inform my goals and plans?
    • What will I do if my expectations are not met, or even understood?
And now for the really important piece...share your expectations. Talk openly with those people who are involved in your change, or from whom you will need some sort of help or response in order to be successful. You just may find out that, the very person, team or company that you are depending on to cooperate with you has a different view of their participation. Preparation will keep you from experiencing a whole range of unpleasant emotions. And, it just might help you prepare a Plan B that, when push comes to shove- and it always does in a change - could save your bacon!

Planning a change? Want to clarify your expectations first? Call me...

Remember, you can change it - we can help!

 For a good read on expectations, pick up Brian Reynold's book, What Do You Expect

March 2012

What are you Learning this year?

 The trouble with making change is that it's hard. Sometimes it's really hard. One of the things that makes change so stressful is that it almost always requires people to learn something new. Even when the goal is of the, 'stop doing that' variety, people still have to learn how to stop! Let's face it - if you wanted to do something, and you knew how to do it - you would have done it already.
Learning Spanish has been on my bucket list for years. I took Spanish in High School and it's held a fascination for me ever since. I marvel at colleagues who can flip between languages with ease. I confess that I've always attributed superior intellect to those with the ability to shift gears in their head, speak in another tongue and never miss a beat. So, this is my year to learn!

But, as I sit in front of my newly acquired Rosetta Stoneä Language Learning System, I face the same concerns that all changers do. I chose this, and I still have angst. Being in the change biz is helping me recognize the territory I'm in right now - I've made a good first step, had some initial fun and now begins the
Head with earphonesreal work, and the second - guessing.
  • Is this really going to be worth all the hours?
  • Will I be able to master this?   
  • What happens if I can't do it?

I know there will be other stages along the way too - when I get about halfway through, I may want to quit altogether. It's the mile in the middle that's the hardest for would-be changers.  

Forewarned is forearmed - right?

You bet, and my Rosetta Stoneä System has anticipated my reaction to the murky halfway mark by hooking me up with learning buddies, on-line games and little rewards. Good for them. After walking thousands of learners down this same path, the Stoners have learned that, like my fellow changers, I'll need a leg up, some hope and a bit of fun to get me to my end goal.

Where are you and your team in the change process? Just starting? Dangerously close to the middle-mile? What are you doing to shore up the resolve and decrease the stress that your team will demonstrate - through missed deadlines, absenteeism, dips in moral and a general sense of dread - when it comes to pushing hard enough to cross the finish line with this change? And, what do you know that, if they understood, would help them come to the same conclusion you have and stay on the bus?  So, let's take a page from their book, shall we?  If change were easy, everyone would do it.

Remember, you can change it.... we can help!

February 2012