Category: Customer Service

Outside-In® Value Spotlight: Customer Centric

February 21st, 2013

We Are Customer Centric

Being Customer Centric is an attitude, a way of life, and our business philosophy. We are guided by our customers – thinking through the eyes of the customers at all times. For us, customers are at the center of it all, deciding what priorities we focus on and driving the change as we adapt and evolve.  -Outside-In® Pocket Guide


The original Placers did anything and everything it could to make service the #1 priority for customers. That has carried over to CBI Group today. The root of being Customer Centric is really about putting the customer at the forefront of your daily thoughts. We all have so much to do each day, but is it with intention towards the one who pays the bills – the customer?

I like the idea of being competitive around service. Imagine if we all try to “one up” each other in our efforts to blow a customers mind. That kind of service is contagious. When you see others smile and practice it, Customer Centric thinking just becomes second nature. Service becomes easier, not harder. Imagine a world where every day you can make your company better. Imagine right now that you are 100% empowered to fix things around you. And that we want to really hone in on the fixes and hassles that can make us more and more Customer Centric.

I am always asked about the big stories of Customer Centric thinking, and I have one in mind to share. Many years ago, I was attending a sporting event that ended very late into the evening. In fact, as I was making the ride home some time after midnight my phone rang. This was a new customer who admitted to me that they had chosen to go with a competitor of ours. That competitor had promised them a recruiter to start that day (since it was after midnight) and they had just received an email that the company was unable to fulfill their initial promise. (You might think that I was being Customer Centric to even pick up, but all I did was answer the phone. The Customer Centric stuff comes next.) I started calling all of my leaders to ask if they might be able to help me help our prospect. Then it happened, Jamie O’Neill offered to go in that day.  Now this was no small feat! She had a team, a business plan, a full day, week, month of stuff to do. But we knew this really mattered, and we did it.

My memories around being Customer Centric involve the really big things in CBI Group’s history. But the best examples are the day-to-day ones. Seeing staff pick up a piece of paper off the floor. Watching a team member grab a phone call when someone is not available.  Customer Centric is really about executing the little things well. Customer Centric is our recruiters driving candidates around the weekends to show them schools, and nice neighborhoods and where the shopping mall is located. Customer Centric is when folks step forward to do volunteer work (recruitment or not) on their own time because they know it is the right thing to do and full of good karma!

I sure would love to gather more and different Customer Centric stories all of the time.  Get some new ones, and commit to getting this sort of thing in orientation and training for others.  We all want to know how to fit in.

Imagine a world where all of us wakes up and plans to be Customer Centric? That is how we will get better all of the time!

An Unwavering Team-Based Culture

October 31st, 2012

As Hurricane Sandy roars up through the Northeast and further away from our town, it’s hard not to sit back and feel proud of my company for their hard work over the past two days. Good bye, Sandy, we won’t miss you! (My basement can’t take another drop!) They say it takes some strong adversity to bring people together. For most cultures and organizations, I imagine it was easy to band together during a storm described as “apocalyptic”, “devastating”, and even, a “Frankenstorm”.  I know my company certainly did.

While Sandy’s cold rains and howling winds overwhelmed the area, the CBI Group team really banded together. Team mates helped out with contacting customers and employees regardless of their personal roles, titles, and responsibilities.  Leaders went into the office in the predawn hours so that others did not have to venture out into the dangerous weather conditions. Everyone fulfilled their role and whatever else was asked of them to get us through the time of need. Team members worked virtually as long as they had power and Internet. Customers meetings and team huddles occurred through Skype and teleconference as if the walls around them weren’t shaking under Sandy’s ominous presence.

None of this really is all that unique and fancy.  Rather pedestrian I think. And frankly, expected by the customers we serve.  At the same time, I am  also aware of how unique our team-based culture can be sometimes. I have always said that if you stopped and asked for help in my company that anyone would immediately drop what they are doing and help you. Even if it meant they might miss their own deadline on a project.  This is a fine line of course.  Too much helpfulness implies a lack of focus and deadline right? However, I bet a sense of too much isolation is even worse.

CBI Group is far from perfect.  We have our own brand of cultural politics.  After all, we are human beings that make mistakes every day.  There is a process and breaking-in period where every one must get used to being in an environment where people are extra helpful.  So many people doubt it is real – at first.  Then they feel and experience its power.  Our Team-based advantage?  We don’t need a massive hurricane to snap us into alignment on what is most important. We know that at CBI Group, team-based means that someone always has your back.

Look out for the Recruitment Bulldozer!

August 3rd, 2011

Over the years, I have coached many talent acquisition professionals. One of the soundbites that I’m typically heard saying is, “don’t bulldoze!” What do I mean? Recruiters are tasked with presenting our company, knowing what our hiring manager is looking for and understanding technical terms to have knowledgeable discussions with prospects. Once we are prepped for an interview, we get so excited to share what we know that we tend to pitch the job. This usually sounds something like, “Hi John, I am Chris Burkhard from CBI Group and I am recruiting today for underwater basket weavers.”
The challenge with the job pitch approach is that it doesn’t leave a good next step. If the person does not have the right skills or is not interested, we need to quickly transition to asking for referrals or help with networking. The problem is that with this approach, the majority never talks to that person again. We keep plowing ahead for the talent we need for the requisition in front of us. We just keep running callers over to find what we want.
After I say, “Don’t bulldoze” and I have the recruiter’s attention, I suggest a more Outside-In® way to recruit. I certainly did not invent this approach but I have refined it over the years to be more customer centered.
Flip the conversation around and focus your conversation on the caller; find out what matters to the job seeker. What are they trying to accomplish in their career? Focusing on them typically sounds a little different. “John, I help talented underwater basket weavers achieve their next career objective. Could we spend a little time finding out about you and what you might be interested in?” This approach requires a lot of time, energy and curiosity. But isn’t finding out what the person wants helpful to determine if your current opening is a fit right? If not this req, then perhaps you can be honest and talk in bigger terms — about where your company is going and how the future might involve them.
The focus shifts to building a relationship with the talent. To building potential pipeline. This makes tomorrows’ recruitment easier and this is where good recruiting takes shape. It means you truly know your talent in the marketplace and particular people come to mind when open reqs fit their career goals and objectives.
It may seem so much easier to take the Bulldozer path. I hear it over and over again, “I do not have the time and I have jobs to fill.” But I think the typical recruiter has it all wrong. None of us should have the time to do it wrong the first time. Recruiting talent and getting to know prospective candidates is what recruiters should and must do to differentiate. No more bulldozing please!

What’s Wrong with Titles?

July 27th, 2011

Let’s start with the value that titles have.

    A title can create clarity for your customer by simplifying your business and declaring what you do and how you can help. “Customer Service Representative” says it all. Others help people categorize you and what you might want from them. “Oh you’re in sales.”
    Titles are also important to employees. They imply that there are levels to achieve and give a tangible thing for people to strive for — titles can reflect a person’s success. Some roles, ones with VP or Manager in the title, give the impression of authority and respect. These earned titles, when earned through results, effort and hard work are no problem.

But some times titles create more confusion then they do clarification. And often times, titles do not guarantee respect. Employees that get things done, are good teammates, or peers that solve problems do. Let me share an example.

    Years ago I worked in a regional leadership role for an international staffing firm. During a leadership retreat a core team member pressed the President of the business for a VP title. The argument was a traditional one. During a real time of change, he needed that VP title to “demonstrate” that he had the authority to sell and negotiate in our home markets. The funny thing is that that’s all the title really meant — it helped people take him seriously. He had not earned nor received the authority he craved. So he got a title, all pomp and circumstance with no new authority!

So I’d like to challenge you to think about what a title really means to you. Certain titles are sought after and people shoot to progress “up the ladder” but do we ever think about WHY we have them or WHY we shouldn’t? The world understands linear promotions. Just because people get it, doesn’t mean titles are always right for your business. Are titles good for your company’s growth?
I don’t think so. My premise is simple. Titles limit a business. They make you inflexible. They can and do create unintended circumstances like hierarchy. They isolate and create silos between people and departments. Titles can hurt your company culture.
I’d like to challenge the norm and what people understand or stereotype. Imagine a business where business cards do not include titles. Contemplate a world where job descriptions take on less importance. I come from an HR world and understand the inherent value in listing tasks, skills, experiences and duties. But these lists can create boundaries that limit staff. Putting people in a box can stifle creativity and often discourage risk taking for fear of overstepping boundaries.
I encourage you to think about the titles you’ve had. That the people in your company have. What do they really mean? Please post your thoughts — do you think there is anything wrong with titles?

Outside-In® Up In the Air

June 29th, 2011

Everywhere I go I see examples of companies that believe and say they are customer-focused. Unfortunately most are not and they don’t recognize it. But I also find companies that are — they do Outside-In® things and truly do think of their customers. It shows up on their employees’ faces and in their actions. These companies are Outside-In® because they do the little things that make a difference.

Recently, I flew to Florida with Southwest Airlines. On my way down, I had nicely settled in on my very full flight when we found out that there were some minor issues with the plane. We needed to de-board, wait for a new plane to be retrieved and then re-board. Frankly, it was quite unpleasant, but what made it better was the way the flight attendants handled the situation. The attendants made jokes and explained what was going on. They showed their human side. They were themselves and it was so refreshing.

I found that everyone wanted to be upset and angry but it was really hard to do so. Any uproar or frustration was simply diffused. It is amazing how by simply laughing at yourself you can make such a difference. How does Southwest do this? Irreverence, humor, not taking themselves too seriously. Somehow they have fit these cultural traits into their organizational plan with ease.

Have you seen the television ads where the baggage guys police the airports for baggage charge violations? Most ads are simply ways to sell a product. But Southwest ads are an explanation of who they are — their culture and personality. Rather than a list of upsold features: baggage check, carry-on baggage, seat selection, printed boarding pass, snack, pillow, extra foot room, priority boarding, headphones, internet, entertainment, they are selling an experience. Their ads are proof that they are listening.

Outside-In®: The Eternal Focus Group

March 16th, 2011

Although Outside-In is a regular topic in my blog, the definition tends to elude some readers. By definition, Outside-In is when a business is customer-centered. It is a philosophy, a culture, a way of thinking that impacts the way a business and its employees operate. When you’re Outside-In, you are always listening to your customers’ needs and wants for opportunities to improve, drive change, or try something new for your customers.
I know many leaders that pride themselves on focusing on the customer exclusively — kudos to them. But how many leaders truly turn outward first, then build a company that does the same? A leader’s focus on the customer does not necessarily translate into every employee. Outside-In suggests that leaders don’t have to hold the customer’s wants and needs on their shoulders alone. In a world that is moving faster every day, isn’t it better to have everyone in the organization listening and reacting to customers, instead of just one or a few?
Outside-In companies should and can run like one, big, constant focus group. Imagine a focus group that never ends, where employees get to ask the questions and observe the customers’ behavior. What if these observations were collected and cherished every day and that company decisions and plans were driven based on all the customer insights collected? In an eternal focus group, every employee sees the impact the company has on the customer and when that impact is negative or unproductive, each employee has the opportunity to recognize how the issue could be addressed.
What if I told you that that the eternal focus group mindset can even work for the Federal Government! The second annual SAVE Award is accepting submissions starting tomorrow, March 17 through July 22. Federal employees will be able to rank the submissions entered by colleagues, and the general public will be able to vote on the top submissions later in the year. The contest winner earns a meeting with President Obama, who will include the winning idea in his fiscal 2012 budget proposal.
In 2010, the contest generated more than 38,000 submissions from government employees and more than 84,000 votes, according to the Office of Management and Budget. “The basic premise here is that many of the best ideas exist on the front line”, said Jeffrey Zients, OMB deputy director. “Those doing the work on the front lines have the best ideas on how to make changes. We want to reach out [to get those ideas.]”
Last year’s winning idea came from Nancy Fichtner, a Department of Veterans Affairs employee from Colorado, who suggested that VA medical centers should permit patients to take home extra bandages and medication when they are discharged. The OMB expects this change in policy to save the Department of Veterans Affairs at least $14.5 million by 2014.
The Federal Government is certainly not an example of an Outside-In company every minute, every day, every week of the year. But for a few weeks a year they are practicing Outside-In behavior. Imagine your company living with a customer-centric mindset 24/7! Wow, think of the money you could save. Or how much your company could make with new ideas?

Do you have cover sheets on your TPS reports?

February 23rd, 2011

Recently a company invited me to give a talk on growth at their annual meeting. This is a request I took quite seriously. My quest to grow and learn to manage growth and grow again, is well, a continuous, circuitous pursuit. I live it, read about it and of course, write about it. The preparation for my talk forced me to think through my thoughts on the key drivers of growth for any business.
One funny thing about the answer to business growth? There isn’t one answer. The answer is dependent on who you ask and their “come from.” What part of the business do they “come from?” What experiences and skills do the “come from.” Sales is critical to any business success. Any business must also market its product or service. R&D will insist that new products are the life blood of a company. Or is strong customer service the answer to growth? They know everything that goes on in a company. But what if billing and accounting aren’t at the top of their game? What this all boils down to is that it takes all parts of the business working together to grow. Business growth takes the right people in the right system taking advantage of the right market opportunity.
I would like to address the “right people” notion. The right people is about culture. Culture is the personality of a company. It takes the right culture to drive growth. It is easy to have a culture that hurts growth. Remember the cult classic movie Office Space? The movie gently pokes fun at corporate stereotypes. In one favorite scene the main character is in cubicle land and his boss pays a visit to his cube to remind him that he should put a cover sheet on his TPS reports. “Did you get the memo?” He has the memo! And he shows it to his boss, who still insists on getting him another copy. A few minutes later, middle management shows up to repeat the same, worthless request. I hope you’ll watch the clip – a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

What is my point in all this? Do you work in an environment where TPS reports rule your life? Are there worthless, wasteful moments in your job that if someone would just listen to you – you could improve the company? Or better yet, would your boss just let you change it? What does the coversheet have to do with customer satisfaction anyway? The customer seems to lack a voice in all of this.
Imagine a company culture that takes into account customer point of view in every part of the business. I call that an Outside-In culture. Stakeholders can speak for themselves and do. Employees are there to represent themselves. It is the customer that often lacks an advocate. How absurd right? The very reason the business exists, customers, often gets lost in translation. Every company has a stated mission statement around the customer. It is the goal on the brochure. The customer is simply treated indirectly in an inside-out way. And in most cases it happens by accident or worse yet is a by-product of unfortunate circumstances. Good intentions gone wrong.
Growth comes when culture is right. Put the customer in the board room and ask the question, “Is this good for the customer?”
Outside-In culture is part of how I help my company and clients grow. It is our Outside-in perspective that prompts us to apply our recruitment expertise in a tailored way to our customers. I am sure we have TPS reports that need to be changed. But I am confident that my staff can change them without me. How about your company? Do you have TPS reports in the way of growth?

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!

My good friend Bill has a point…

July 8th, 2010

If you read my blog through one of the many ways we distribute, you probably read my good friend Bill Tietjen’s comments about remote control leadership. Bill and I get together several times a year to “wax philosophical” on career systems and business models and what works in today’s fast paced, unique business climate.

To quote Bill, “Remote control leadership can (and should) be complemented by a “remote control followership” in which all parties demonstrate and refine the same set of principles that have been outlined.”

My challenge to all of us who engage in organizational/entrepreneurial endeavors – How do we make such a tidal wave shift to a culture where “leadership is EVERYONE’s responsibilty”?

Our first common belief is that traditional career systems are dead. We are all not going to work for one company and have one job. We will all have many, as many as seven or more different jobs over our work life times.

Secondly, that the old military style of organized business where information flows from the top through the chain of command out to the troops and from the troops back to the top is less appealing today. Frankly not productive at the employee level. This model is inflexible, slow, and not likely to generate innovation and or create an environment of extreme customer service. To many this is still a common notion today because many leaders and most employees don’t know how to change. For the employee, they probably need to find a culturally based company. There are a few and they are worth finding. For leaders?

Leaders have a real challenge. Leaders who are worth their salt got to where they are by working hard and leveraging their natural strengths and learned leadership behaviors. Chances are most leaders did not learn to start or run their company utilizing the skills and or techniques that create an Outside-In culture or customer centered environment. This is the organization that is relatively flat, all are empowered, and information is shared across the business.

Innovation and speed come from empowerment. It also comes from earned trust that leaders gain through daily investments in the natural reinforcement of organizational priorities and by leading through the cultural values established for the business. But how do you make leadership everyone’s job? Seems like a daunting task, but it has been done. Have you ever been to a Ritz Carlton? Ever bought a Gore-Tex jacket? These are two organizations that are beacons of hope for making leadership everyone’s job.

The most important thing to do first? Leaders embed culture! Without your commitment as a leader to give leadership out to all, it will always fall short. And this must be in your words and actions!

Remote control followership. How do you do it? Where have you seen it?


Do you have Outside-In “viewing glasses”?

May 3rd, 2010

The movie world is heading towards changing and altering our movie experience; it seems like every movie is now in 3-D! I went to see Avatar, paid my $15 bucks like everyone else in line expecting to be let down. Not about the movie, word of mouth had already told me it was a fun, entertaining movie. I mean the 3D or the added value and added cost for my movie going experience. Fifteen dollars is a lot of money and its hard to impress a customer that feels taken. Well, I take it all back. 3-D technology has advanced well beyond my last one — which I believe was Jaws 6. It all got me thinking; without the glasses it is a good movie. With them I see spaceships and flying reptile birds fly right up to me. I see seed pods land in front of me. It is all just down right cool. Back to thinking part…

Outside-In GlassesWhat if you had 3-D glasses for your business? And what would they look like? What purpose would they serve? I am known for running and coaching leaders to run their business in an Outside-In way, meaning from the customer point of view. Now what do you see when you look at your business?

For fun, lets go back to that movie theater… It is the best one in my town, but fairly nondescript in every way. Probably just like your theater in your town. Give that General Manager my Outside-In magic 3-D glasses and what do they see? Lets start at the front door? I walked in and with glasses I saw that the trash cans were overflowing and that the place was pretty dirty. And why do I see this as GM? It is those glasses! I can now see things from the customer point of view! Not from my budget or from how the corporate office wants me to do things.

As GM, I get to the ticket line. And what do I see? People jumping in line. Cashiers going on break at what appears like a really busy business moment on a weekend night time rush. With my new glasses, I also see that my theaters have sticky floors. That I am understaffed in concessions. That maybe there are one too many commercials mixed in with the previews.

I will back off on my GM and their Outside-In glasses. Every business has its flaws. Call me and I will send you your Outside-In 3-D glasses for your business. Now stand at the door and what do your customers see?


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