Archive: January 2011


Turn inside-out customer service Outside-in® to promote growth.

January 26th, 2011

I’d like you to take a minute to think about your experiences as a consumer.

    CBI-QuestionHow many of you have had a surly server in a restaurant whose first smile came when she was handing over the check and angling for a tip?
    CBI-QuestionDo you have enough fingers to count the number of times a retail clerk has continued to chat on a personal call while you stood and waited at the counter?
    CBI-QuestionConsider the last medical office you entered. As the doctor made you sit for 25 minutes past your appointment time without so much as a hello, did you notice the little sign informing you that you will be charged if you ever arrive late?
    CBI-QuestionHave you called your local utility lately and battled through six prompts on an automated phone system only to hear: “Your call is important to us. All of our operators are currently busy. Someone will assist you in” — ominous pause — “18 minutes.”

As leaders and employees we can relate to lousy service because we have all experienced it. These outrages are everyday occurrences in an inside-out world that focuses on cost-containment and internal “efficiency” instead of serving customers. You may be tempted to simply give up on the idea of getting — and maybe even providing — great service, but there is an antidote. It is the customer-focused approach of Outside-In®.
 
At CBI Group, we are customer service oriented and have three bedrock Outside-In® practices that any company could adopt tomorrow. Perhaps every company should. They’re easy to implement and have a profound effect on customers’ perceptions of our business:

    CBI-InterruptThe Interrupt Policy: We’re in the age of e-mail. That means if a client is resorting to the phone, you know there’s a pressing need that (s)he believes only you can help with. We give callers the option to interrupt our staff members no matter what meeting, discussion, or project they’re engaged in. And if someone is out of the office, we offer to put customers right through to their cell phones.
    CBI-SunsetThe “Sunset Policy”: Of course, once they’re actually given a choice, most clients really don’t mind leaving a message or taking their concern to e-mail. But some do and despite our best attempts, there are still times when someone really is unreachable temporarily. In those situations, we honor our customers’ and other team members’ needs by returning all calls, notes, and e-mails by the end of the business day, with no excuses.
    CBI-ICanHelpYou“I Can Help You”: Many front-line employees are led to think they have one function: pass customers off to someone else as quickly as possible. At CBI Group, we listen not for the hand-off moment, but for the customer’s need. Then we do everything we can to satisfy that need without transferring the call. But if the person who answered can’t help, we will personally find you the right person, with no further delay.

These practices are basic in nature and simple to adopt. I hope this is reassuring because when we think about our job and our company, the task of good customer service seems so daunting, especially when the day-to-day things seem to get in the way. It’s also important to recognize the strong impact that great customer service drives beyond customer satisfaction. It can help drive growth! Imagine that, a simple phrase like “I can help you” could help your business grow… Outside-In® customer service is just one of the ingredients that will help get your recipe for growth just right. More to come on smart growth next week!
 

Sales Leadership for Dummies

January 19th, 2011

In this case, I am the dummy. Sales Leadership is one of those nebulous, hard to define parts of your job. Leaders hire a sales manager as fast as we can so we don’t have to do the selling. While entrepreneurs are passionate about what they have built and love to talk about their ideas and beliefs, we really are not classic sales people, let alone sales managers.
 
I have taken on the challenge of sales leadership within the last couple years because I view my leadership job as teaching first, leading second and doing it myself third. My goal is to differentiate myself and my team by increasing their knowledge and aiding their production and success along the way. The trouble is, I tend to focus on teaching and leading people and battle to manage everyday activities.
 
Recently, CBI Group had the opportunity to discuss a major staffing challenge with a large, global organization. The company was contemplating the best way to create a flexible solution for their recruitment department. Should they use contract staffing or outsource (RPO)? We do both and they know it. This was a Fortune 25 and there was a lot of them sitting across from just a few of us in the meeting (or is that just how it felt?). I certainly felt the hot lamp and the full impact of their interrogation (not really, just good engaging questions that I was excited and proud to answer). This back-and-forth inner monologue played out throughout meeting. And than it hit me hard. Would my staff answer these questions the way I would? What could I learn from this process? Wait, this is not my responsibility, it’s my sales manager’s! Oh yeah, that is me. Hmm, guess I better dig in.
 
I set out to find out how my team would answer the questions. We referred to our meeting notes and divided the “interrogation questions” equally across my business development and marketing team. I asked that everyone collaborate on the answers to share what they know and how they talk about CBI Group. As you might imagine, the learning began when my staff worked together and shared ideas – we even learned extraneous things along the way (we learned how to use Google Docs for collaboration.) You might be wondering how did we did? OK at best. This knowledge-building session will be ongoing. The sales manager in me gets it now. Many leaders would hire a trainer or sales coach to address the knowledge gap. Don’t get me wrong, I know many good ones that I would trust to do a great job, but I am proposing an alternative way to lead. Get in there and do it yourself. Roll up your sleeves and demonstrate.
 
Sales managers track activities and update forecasts. We go out on sales calls to provide feedback and recognition; we reward and take away. Sales leadership is also showing the way. Actual demonstration of specific skills or techniques will help the sales team when it’s their turn. As Leaders we must work on and in our business to grow. We are programmed to focus on running the big picture and planning for tomorrow and we let our staff focus on the day-to-day. I understand the theory, but there is a benefit to consciously knowing when you are stepping in and out of that theory. To address some problems entrepreneurs must step jump in. Sometimes, we must be the “dummy” to identify the problem(s) worth fixing.
 
Think this only relates to sales? I don’t. Pick any area of your business. Go sit and watch for a half hour. Did it perform the way you thought it would?
 
Not sure what to do next? I can help you. Just email me your question.
 

The Outside-In® Interview

January 12th, 2011

Employers invest heavily in the costs and resources that are necessary to have the right people in the right role at the right time. Lately, friends and clients have begun to re-examine their hiring processes. It makes sense to me – there are more openings, more phone screens and more interviews taking place. This is a great time to look at your process.
 
Most of us interview as a part of the hiring process. It does not guarantee a good hire; nothing does. But it is considered a standard part of how we evaluate talent. Many organizations make the mistake of interviewing for a match of skills and experiences alone. That is critically important, but frankly, a computer or clerk can make this kind of match. Most ask questions that are technical in nature hoping to determine whether a candidate meets a minimum standard for the role. But where is the opportunity for improvement in our hiring success? Try interviewing for culture fit. Your staff and your candidates will love it. And it works.
 
CBI Group Core Values At CBI Group we consider ourselves a culturally led business. We have firmly established core values. In addition to the technical questions, we ask situational questions relating to our culture. To find the right people, we must determine if candidates are a good culture fit by asking the right questions.
 
For example, we know working in a fast-growing, small business is unique. To recognize whether a contender can handle the pace, we ask questions like, “talk about the differences you have in working with small and large business?” As we listen to the answers, we look for people who understand that small business gives you a voice and an opportunity to develop different skills and experiences than big business offers. We want a staff that appreciates the breadth and depth that small business jobs tend to offer.
 
Culture-based interviewing does not guarantee a successful hire and our example may not necessarily align to your values. So take a look at your values and examine your process. Develop situational questions and add them to your evaluation of talent. If you don’t know where to start, take a look at our Cultural Questions by downloading this PDF. Adding a cultural approach to hiring will be a terrific team building exercise and as a leader, you will experience true alignment. By making your culture part of your hiring process, 2011 will not only be the year you begin to hire again – but you will hire a little better than you did last time!

Dream, Plans and the Future!

January 3rd, 2011

For most of us, it is that time of year when review and planning tend to dominate the planner. The start of a new year stirs up thoughts of change and improvement. Having managed employees for over 20 years, I have learned one thing about planning for a new year. It is necessary to develop the skill to plan our lives not only by days and weeks, but also in broader chunks of time, like quarters and years. I spend every day repeating simple planning themes in business and have had great success with this process. Planning is something most people can improve upon.

 

My favorite New Years tradition is to sneak quietly down the stairs, hours before the household begins to stir, to think about the past year. I have a dream book that I borrowed from exercises in The Dream Manager, which breaks down your personal plan into categories. Some include physical, travel, spiritual, hobbies, relationships, etc. Each year I achieve some dreams and fail to tackle others. It seems like patience and understanding are perennially on the list. The point is to to think about tomorrow, contemplate the future and DREAM!

 

With the Holidays in full swing, I can’t help but to reflect on Jimmy Stewart in Its A Wonderful Life. As a young man in the movie, George Bailey dreams big – he plans to see the world and wants to build bridges and sky scrapers. His enthusiasm for his future is contagious and leads every viewer to believe in him. However, he takes a different path in the end. While he does become the “richest man in the world”, his path is one of family, friends and community. As an entrepreneur, his personal and professional life become one. This is the reality for most small business owners; your dream must take both into account.

 

How does one plan their day, their week, their year, their life? As a manager of people, one must think through the aspects of individual roles and responsibilities: staff, clients, new business, finance, technology and so on. Most of us have these or similar parts to consider. Now who needs what? If you do not have enough information, getting answers might be your first step. How does one prioritize? Well, where are you now and what are you trying to get done?

 

For now:

 

1. Pick a future path.
2. Pick your categories: personal or business?
3. Plan time to think it through. And hold yourself accountable. This is a skill that will take time to master!

 

As you think about your plan on the first Monday of the new year, know I am hours in to my wonderful life and the dreams I have for myself and CBI Group!

 

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