“Do you ever worry about all the suffering in the world?” the kind looking gentleman asked me after introducing his besuited grandson. These strangers stood at my door, the older man holding leaflets in his hand. “No” I replied with a smile.
“No? It doesn’t worry you?” he looked at me as if quite stunned. “No” I reaffirm, “If I worry about all the suffering, I just add more energy to it; I can’t help those suffering if I join that club of worriers.”
The man looked at me, “yes I suppose that is true” he said, thrusting the leaflet in my hand. “Take this anyway” he smiled and quickly ushered away his grandson who stood a few steps behind him.
“Really?” I thought “is that their angle to start a discussion about finding God?”
I’ve always been one to call a spade a spade, call out the elephant in the room, but let’s not wallow in it. Call it out to dispel the fear.
This week I was offered the chance to pick up the Cloud Cuckoo Palace Lego set. While the Lego Movie isn’t one my young kids are even aware of, I indulged anyway.
A few years back, one of the more significant (and fun) pieces of work I ever spent time on in the corporate arena leveraged that very movie. I could call it ‘the transformation that almost was’ as it didn’t get it’s time in the sun due to – ironically – micromanagement, ego and fear.
We were working on an inward culture change in order to significantly lift the morale and the customer experience, with the added benefit of efficiency. I was working with the guy who looked after about a third of all the company’s staff, mainly call centre based, he was a visionary and he too was happy to call out the elephant in the room.
Emmet’s journey in the Lego Movie was such a parody of life in that part of the company, I was inspired to use clips from it edited into a video interview I did with the leader. Given the demographic of the staff and the company’s brand culture, I knew it would have great cut through. Using humour to say “we know this is what it’s like and we recognise there’s more in you and we want to make things better” was the right thing to do.
While there were significant parts of the programme of transformation that did happen, like leadership assessment and development, momentum popped like a balloon as large amounts of the follow up work never got off the ground and others were swept under the carpet, the leader ‘left’ and much of the work now sits in the Philippines.
So I chose Cloud Cuckoo Land, it’s much nicer. Though there is one difference, there is no “stuffing down of negative feelings” in my world, that leads to some nasty side effects.
Earlier this week I was listening to some authors talking about a programme they’ve developed called “Shadow Work”. While I don’t think their video was a great introduction, a bit too much wallowing in the suffering seemed to be going on, I like the expression.
Shadows are only cast in light, yet many live among them constantly. They accept the shadows as their truth, fearing that if they walk out into the sun they will be burnt. Fear is created in the minds of people and, just like in the Lego Movie, perpetuated in society, systems and government. It is perhaps a mix of well and ill intention but, regardless, fear is not welcome in Cloud Cuckoo Land.
We should never be scared of the shadows, without fear they serve more to sharpen our focus on the type of person we wish to be and the type of world we want to live in.
This year I have watched as someone close to me has been faced with their own shadow. A shadow common in our society, cancer. It is interesting that our bodies produce cancer cells all the time, yet in some people they can lead to such suffering at specific points in life.
Years of stuffing down emotions, perhaps putting the needs of others before their own, living in fear rather than in love for ourselves, manifests as these devastating diseases. The body’s last attempt to wake us up, to relieve itself of the burdens it unnecessarily carries.
For me, this translates to a different kind of shadow. In the last few years I’ve become better and more attuned to reading the energy that surrounds us. When people are looking for answers, they evoke their own solutions but often they hold themselves from those answers as they sit in fear in the shadows.
When someone asks “Why me? I didn’t ask for this” I hear an answer. Often it’s not a question they have asked outright, more of an anguished cry within. So being in possession of an answer that someone hasn’t directly asked me can be weird, and I will usually share what I hear but tell them just to take what resonates.
I want to help, to sooth, but when someone you love doesn’t want to hear, well, that is a shadow right there. Accepting another’s right to choose is fundamental in my book, yet the desire for me to help, to sooth, remains.
I do not feel good in that shadow, but I see that it is there and it teaches me about my own choices. I do not stay in that shadow for long, I thrive in Cloud Cuckoo land and I know it’s from there the right inspiration will come to me to help ease suffering where I can.
Yes there are some stinking situations in this world, yet you can still choose to live in one that focuses on magnifying the many wonderful aspects within and around us and focusing on creating more of that and wondering what can be.
That world, the one that some call Cloud Cuckoo Land, is where many of our most inspired contributors have come from, from inventors to composers, artists to the various spiritual teachers upon whom world religions have become founded, and even business people and doctors and scientists.
Given the choice is mostly in our own hearts and head, Cloud Cuckoo Land is the one I choose to live in anytime.
Knowing I’ve helped in some way through my writing means a lot - I’d love for you to like, comment on, or share these thoughts with others, or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’m always happy to help if I can. To be the first to receive these posts, you can also subscribe to my newsletter and, as a special thank you, you will receive the link to my video 3 Steps to Becoming You.
While we want our people to take a holistic view, most people in organisations are not treated as ‘whole’. The very construct of the organisation is designed to strip them down to a narrow view, then we want them to be holistic in their day to day interactions. It’s not unique to our adult experience, it starts when we are young. We teach our kids to fit in, follow the rules, yet want them to think for themselves.
What utopia looks like is an organisation where those interacting with customers, or designing interactions, feel that they own a win-win outcome in that interaction and that they have enough skill and acumen to achieve it. That means that they understand the big picture, are privy to the information they need and empowered to achieve the outcome. Sure, there are skills involved in that, but it all hinges on trust.
Talking to a tenured executive this week about the problems his organisation faces in delivering a great customer experience, he cites the common scenario of major stakeholders getting complaints from customers about the lack of help they’ve had from the organisation.
He finds himself bringing together different people, who have looked at things from their constricted viewpoint, their limited span of control, and having to mediate a solution from a more holistic perspective. One that serves the customer and the organisation. Sound familiar?
While ‘the customer experience’ has become a rather trite phrase, it is the thing that makes or breaks perceptions of an organisation when people have to interact with it. It’s the proof point of any brand you want to create and a vital barometer of your leadership. Whether an organisation exists primarily to make money, or is not-for-profit, whether it lives and dies by serving the needs and desires of individuals or is custodian or gatekeeper of a greater good, is irrelevant. All organisations benefit from a good reputation.
Standing in the way will be the basic construct of your organisation, even ‘flat’ structures tend to have hierarchies with the power at the top. The power isn’t just about the level of financial authority and decision making, it’s about the level of input and access to information – important context that can make all the difference for the person dealing with a change that is intended to directly or indirectly help the customer, or simply in the day to day conversing with the customer and ‘doing their job’.
The discussion in my recent article on how Profit, Purpose and Personal Fulfillment Can Thrive Together, focused on a new approach to organizational constructs. While this can only be driven by CEO’s and those they answer to, there is room in any construct for leaders to take an approach that allows their people to operate in a more holistic way, one that better serves them and the organisation.
The issue of trust is a starting point. To trust your people to deliver win-win outcomes, aside of the skills they will need to be equipped with, you have to trust them with information, you have to listen to their input, and they have to trust you.
When people trust you, they are willing to ask for help, willing to own mistakes. To gain that trust you have to firstly be willing to be vulnerable yourself, not infallible. Sure, you want to work with people who know what they’re doing, but to never make mistakes or to know everything?
For most of us showing any sign of weakness is out of our comfort zone. Our survival instinct, the part of our brain that switches to flight or fight when we are in mortal danger, has become the modus operandi for the way we live. Although most of us tend not to live in mortal danger for most of our lives, we are constantly using our minds in a way that mimics that instinct.
Notice as you talk to people that you are generally not listening to what they are saying. Yes you may be hearing the words that come out of their mouth, but you’re usually leveraging that to think about what to say next, rather than really understanding what is being said.
Here’s the reason, while you came into the world with an innate sense of what is right and wrong for you, from the minute you are born on this earth others think they know better. Slowly but surely you start to become less of who you were born to be and more of who others think you should be. This thing called ‘ego’ forms, your mind’s perception of you are. Almost immediately we start to fight or defend in some way, outwardly or silently.
Being vulnerable with the people you want to have trust in you is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. Leadership teams that can be vulnerable with each other can start to truly operate as a team and will be a lot more focused and successful as a result. But it is like wearing a very uncomfortable pair of shoes at first. As you get to know and accept your own fallibilities, so you will be able to listen to others and help them with theirs, freeing them to achieve the very things you want them to.
Trusting your people to do their job in a holistic way means treating them as whole people. Any step towards trust in your organisation, even one small step, will be one giant leap towards a better customer experience and better business outcomes.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn.
photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/122099374@N07/16969244789">Dave Lewis</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">(license)</a>
Get your developers and marketers taking customer calls; you’ll soon stop developing anything that requires your customers to endure to pain of calling you. Seriously.
Come on, hands up, how many of us live in fear and dread of having to call any company for help? Generally speaking, it’s a fairly hideous experience. You want someone to answer, quickly, who can actually help. You would think this is simple, but generally it’s not.
I came into the customer service industry through the back door, so to speak. Starting at the complaints end, I saw the rich, fertile ground for improvements. Simple improvements that often get overlooked.
One radical improvement in customer service though, in my opinion, is to get rid of your call centre. Call centres are an amazing hive of industry all of their own, likely devastating to your brand and bottom line (despite the often heroic efforts of those working in them).
We’ve made a science out of something that simply shouldn’t be.
Let’s step back. You are the provider of a product or service. You want your customers to buy what you offer, remain loyal and recommend you to others. So brand is important, feedback is important and continual improvement is important.
Here’s the thing. Call centres as a rule tend to remove the customer from your business and cost you a phenomenal amount of unnecessary money. In larger companies we’re often talking tens of millions of dollars each year in staffing alone. Then there’s the technology, any other capital investment and – most devastatingly – the damage to your brand.
Think about how they came to exist. Back office staff were getting too many calls distracting them from their ‘day job’. So call centers were born; a false economy.
My interest in customer experience transformation has often meant I’ve found myself in roles managing call centre contracts, or having one in my portfolio. In my last role, one of the most visionary people I’d worked with went for the big ‘call centre’ job, I was horrified. Worse, he wanted me to come and help him create a transformation.
Now don’t mistake my statements here for any derision towards customer service professionals, quite the opposite. The people who work and rise in the industry are extremely dedicated, insightful, resourceful and knowledgeable. But, frankly, they are often set up to fail.
For a call centre to give great service, it requires a number of things. Here’s what typically happens in organizations with a call centre ‘machine’:
A call comes in from a customer – why? Because the company has failed to provide something the customer needs. So the first thing is, how do we recognize this customer? Where we all fall down in our thinking is to assume companies are like Big Brother, they know everything about you when you call.
There are various forms of CRM (customer relationship management) systems that can – in theory – help companies to not only identify the customer but give a good indication as to why they are calling (begging the question, why not fix it before they call). I say, in theory, because most technology would work amazingly well if it was all the company had ever owned and all its basic operating systems were the most compatible and up to date. In reality, most companies now have so many legacy systems it takes an army of specialists to even map it all out.
So, if you happen to be a customer of a company and use several of its products or services, to think the company would know our whole profile is a given, but it’s often not the case.
Once you’ve got past they ‘who am I’ part, then there’s the ‘what am I calling about’ part. This is often sent with yet another silent prayer, or, depending on your experience of queuing and being identified, many expletives and a desperate hope that this actual person you are now talking to will be able to help you.
To do that requires a huge amount of training in the company's products and services. Now, what do you think is often the first thing to get canned when call volumes and/ or company expenditure is too high? Good learning and development specialists, most managers, staff and customers all want employees to be excited about the brand that they work for, to be advocates outside of the workplace. In reality, very little investment gets made in this and any training becomes about how to press which buttons, with very little context about the bigger picture.
Then there’s the knowledge about the detailed inner workings of the product or services themselves. “Isn’t that what training is for?” people ask. Mm, training is useful but not to learn the contents of an encyclopedia, which is what it can be like trying to understand the in’s and out’s of some products or services.
This is where Knowledge Management Systems come in. A bit like CRM systems in term of their issues, with the added complexity of requiring constant upkeep and input. I’ve yet to see a fully ‘locked and loaded’ system, hence the array of post it notes and signs adoring many call centre desks.
So once the inadequately trained person on the end of the phone manages to somehow find an answer to your plight, the next task is to track customer issues and make improvements to your product or service. Well, that’s what you’d think.
Even companies with fabulous tracking systems (again, the same system issues arise as for CRM systems and Knowledge Management systems), generally fail to take adequate action. The reporting system, if there is one, produces statistics.
Decision makers might look at the reports and say, oh, it’s only x% of revenue or our customer base, accepting certain degrees of failure in their product or service; though it can be a leap to say these things get connected to even this degree.
At best there will likely be a handful of improvement specialists that tend to then fail to have a real impact in terms of systematically reducing the call/failure demand based on a lack of overall understanding and commitment of the wider leadership.
It would make good sense to have a customer service representative involved all the way upstream, when you have a new concept and then start the design, or particularly when you are redesigning an existing product. This is a rarity, even if they are involved, it’s seldom with any kind of sign off - even when there’s a direct impact on call centre resources.
Then of course there’s the internal politics of call centers. The typical dynamic is a mutual loathing between customer service and the developers and marketers.
Imagine instead a customer service department that was looked upon as the ‘looking glass’ of success or failure of the company. Where those developing the upstream products and services regularly visited to hear first hand what customers had to say. Likewise, imagine customer service departments that live and breathe the brand and are active users and advocates of your products or services.
There are companies that have programmes to encourage or enforce this, but these are often short lived due to costs. When it does happen though, it opens up a whole new perspective and, for a short time, dialogue begins. A new found respect can be seen and the customer gets considered right upstream where they should always have been anyway.
So here is the point, why do you have a call centre? Take a long look at the costs here, direct and indirect. If you can look through all the points above and say, “we are doing those well”, then great, you are in the minority. If not, seriously, take a close look at this self destructive machine you’ve created and either set it up for success, or get rid of it and send those calls upstream. Dare you.
This article was originally published in LinkedIn.
photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/10295270@N05/4500117446">R.I.P Dare</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">(license)</a>
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