Category: Customer Service

Try this Inexpensive Way to Improve Service

October 21st, 2015

In every office and warehouse in all corners of the globe, there are responders (responsive employees) and late responders (unresponsive employees). As you read this you probably patted yourself on the back or nodded your head, “yeah I one of the responsive ones.” Next, you thought of that person on your team or in another department that never seems to, well, respond to anything or anyone. How do they keep their job anyway, you wonder.

We all know late responders, we all have stories about them. YouTube “bad service” and watch customers answer the phones in retails stores because no employees would do it. Try calling the government on a service hot line. I don’t mean to pick on the obvious, however, I just called my state government and was told “your call is very important to us, there are currently 97 callers in front of you and we will answer your call in 1 hour and 24 minutes, please go to the website…” I had to wait. I eventually talked to a responder, but wow, their overall service is much more about being a late responder! So what are the responsive and non-responsive behaviors?

Non-responsive Behavior

  • Ignoring emails and any repeated attempts to engage — (After many attempts to combat this behavior, others may even make excuses for late responders [they are busy, they have a hard job], but these are excuses for non-responsive behavior.)
  • Letting calls go to voicemail because you can — I am not talking about general opinions about phones and texts here. I am talking about flat out avoidance of work.
  • Cancelling meetings
  • Not listening — (Late responders do all of the talking.)
  • “Quitting and staying” — I don’t have enough help or I have issues at home, they say. Whatever it is, late responders can’t help you, no matter what kind of customer you are. Have you been to an overwhelmed, fast food restaurant lately?
  • Complacency — Late responders have no reason to try too hard. Perhaps they are comfortable, or hiding from you. Regardless there is no internal reason to respond any faster than they feel like.

Responsive Behavior

  • Take action and engage
  • Showing respect for and appreciating others
  • Know, build and maintain important relationships in and out of the company
  • Balancing the need to get to the to do list with the needs of others
  • Caring — Sure it helps when you like your company and believe in its cause.
  • Liking what you do — It also helps to have a boss that cares about your aspirations and looks out for you.

If you’re smart, you’re realizing that these responsive behaviors are a personal choice that your employees have to make. A great company focused on service realizes that this is a wonderful way to add value to customers’ and employees’ worlds. And it’s free. So try this inexpensive way to improve customer service and adopt or promote responsive behaviors in your workplace.

  • Being a non-responder or owner of a company full of them is not free. It’s bad for business, and in fact, hurts your paycheck or your income statement.
  • Being a responder is free, a competitive advantage and good for stakeholders.

p.s. If you really are a responder, you can work for me anytime. Send your resume to icanhelpyou [at]

The Practical Guide to Implementing the Value of Defined by Three Customers

May 27th, 2015

First things first, we all know there is only one paying customer. For the purposes of our value, specifically the way we think, we define our three customers as employees, paying customers, and vendors.

3Customers-01-150x150Defined by Three Customers is about balanced thinking and decision making for all three customer subsets. This is a compass designed to help guide us—it’s not foolproof nor perfect. However, it’s much more balanced than an equation where no thought or care for one “customer” comes into play.

Are you wondering if/how this is relevant to you? I can prove it to you! Did you ever work for the manager that never let his or her people leave the department or post for other positions? The manager’s needs in their job tend to get in the way of the needs of employees or the employer.

How about the salesperson who seems to never hit their plan because they are telling the marketplace and their prospects that they have a monthly quota to hit? They don’t do it intentionally, mind you. They show it in their actions—they are not balancing prospect needs and wants with their own needs.

How can you live the value Defined by Three Customers?

  1. As an employee taking care of your customer who will eventually take care of you, do things for your customers to add value and they will come back!
  2. Challenge (in a good way) and get to your vendors. You would be surprised what they can do to help if you share where you’re taking your business and what value they can bring to you get there!
  3. Sometimes one “customer” wins and another loses in the short term. We must have a long-term view. We can’t always get the employee the raise nor the feedback they crave. A vendor can’t always give favorable terms on their business. A leader can’t always make a balanced decision—their short budget depends on the quick hit. The key is to stay focused on the doing right things right everyday and we will balance the scales in the long run!
  4. Defined by Three Customers is an equal number of debits and credits in the relationship bank account. Make sure you’re taking care of your stakeholders all of the time!
  5. Think longer term. Think about taking care of all groups. Imagine you will break bread with your three customers on a regular basis. When we think about long-term relationships, we moderate our short-term needs and wants!

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!

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