Friday, April 30, 2010

Somewhere Between Theory and Reality

“Drill, baby, drill.”
Don M., Englewood, Florida
Letter to the Editor, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

In October 2008, I happened to drive past a crowd gathered on a downtown street in Sarasota, Florida. The held a variety of signs calling for the opening of Florida’s coasts, to within 3 miles of the beaches. Drill Baby, Drill went their chant.

We all know about the collapse of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the resulting damage as hundreds of millions of gallons of oil and methane have gushed into the Gulf.

A theoretical belief in safe oil drilling (It must be clean technology, I can’t see it harming me…) is very different than the reality that began washing ashore in 2010.

Some leaders seem increasingly isolated from long-term accountability, and more focused on short-term profiteering. The dichotomy between an advocated position (Drill!) in theory and the resulting outcome (Damage!) can create unintended consequences. Let’s see how this plays out in other aspects of American society:

  • Major corporations outsource work to foreign workers yet expect a local economic recovery as millions remain unemployed.

  • Banks advertise the success of their products, while simultaneously and secretly betting their own finances on an opposite outcome.

  • The Federal government borrows billions from China to offset excessive spending while declining to improve the current tax structure or enforce collection.

  • Politicians proclaim war, without proclaiming any way to pay for it, worsening government deficits.

  • Recipients of Medicare (a government healthcare program) oppose government healthcare programs.

  • I want my cake for free, and I want to eat it too.

We all know life doesn’t work that way. There is a spiritual, emotional and financial price to pay for our collective misbehavior. The truth ultimately wins out. We, or our communities, ultimately pay the tab.

An experience generation values the experience that “connected” leadership can deliver. This type of leader has first-hand knowledge of the situation, is committed to any actions he/she takes, and does so while demonstrating compassion for her team, her followers and her environment (community).

Friday, April 23, 2010

Some Ongoing Research

A variety of companies from four major industries (healthcare, retail, insurance and automotive) told us that leading organizations (those that create great experiences for their clients or end-users) clearly define the customer experience and seek to fulfill it creatively, hold their leaders and employees accountable for that experience, and then maintain open (transparent) sales and service processes.

By contrast, they also indicated that individuals (their own, or others) who do not support exceptional experiences (learner, leader or customer) do so due when there is a misalignment of organizational support or team development.

Some examples they provided helped us identify warning signs that are indicators for underlying issues, that in turn lead to unsatisfactory customer experiences:

· executives that cannot align or trace their work activity to the customer experience

· training that does not support the customer experience (either directly or indirectly)

· sales or service policies, incentives or guidelines that are in conflict with the stated customer experience

· observable employee actions that do not enhance or support a quality customer experience.

This feedback also included examples of how employees who do not have customer contact, but whose work ultimately impacts the experience, still have a positive or negative impact on the end-user experience.

One health care insurance executive, when describing a previous downturn in customer satisfaction and an increase in customer complaints, identified the source of the trouble as a "new leader in the sales department who had begun focusing more on quotas, and less on the feedback his team was providing him…not acknowledging their experience and ideas on how care could be delivered.”

By shifting focus to the user experience–how the customer feels about their brand and their organization–this insuror has begun to realize significant gains in user-based referrals and fewer requests requiring more costly service-recovery efforts.

As a result, changes have also been implemented within the organization’s training and development program. In a follow-up discussion, the Director for Customer Service Training indicated that in addition to core competency and technical training, she partnered with the sales department to cross-train sales and customer service agents so each can understand how the actions (and promises) of one team impacts the other.

Our experience shows that this is not only anecdotally expeditious, but that the return on steps like these can be measured in terms of cost savings and additional revenue, a step the organization is now undertaking.

Regardless of economic climate, experience shows that organizations, like this one, can achieve meaningful results given a total commitment to a unified vision of the customer experience, when coupled with an environment of transparency and accountability.