With more than 30 years experience earning serious results for some of America’s best known corporations, including Ameritech, Convergys, AT&T, IBM, Pitney Bowes and SuperValu, Keith Wyche has risen to become a successful CEO and one of the highest-ranking African-American executives in the U.S. Keith understands the rules for success, rules he now shares as an author, speaker, and thought leader.
If you’ve ever purchased a product or service in your life, you undoubtedly have experienced bad customer service. From rude workers, annoying wait times on hold, and everything in between, nothing is more frustrating than a horrible customer service encounter. While I could name names (but I won’t), certain companies and even industries are “notorious” for how badly they treat their customers. And it seems no matter how many times they appear on the list of “Companies With the Worst Customer Service,” very little seems to change.
Recently, I had the opportunity to consult with several such companies in an effort to help them get at the root cause for their poor service. They had a sincere desire to improve their customer’s experience, but wanted more intelligence around “what makes our customer service get rated so poorly?” By conducting store visits, ordering online, and calling their Customer Support Hotlines, I immediately honed in on some common themes.
1. UNFRIENDLY Associates: In several interactions it was clear to me that the person I was engaging with (in person, on-line or over the phone) did NOT want to be bothered. It wasn’t that they were overtly obnoxious, just that they seemed annoyed that I was making them…well, work!
2. UNKNOWLEDGEABLE Associates: There were other times when I came upon a vey friendly associate, but one who was ill equipped to answer my question or resolve my concern. As such, a great deal of time was wasted, and although they were as pleasant as Forest Gump, they added no value, just frustration.
3. UNAVAILABLE Associates: In one major retail chain, I visited three different stores in one day. And in each case I needed to hire the FBI to find a worker who could help me. No one was available to answer a question, checkout my order, or offer assistance. These stores took self-service and self-checkout to a whole new level! Unfortunately, their same-store sales have been declining to a whole new level as well.
4. UNCONCERNED Associates: For me personally, there’s only one thing worse than not being able to find an associate…..finding one that is unconcerned! Visiting a fast-food client’s airport store, I found myself standing in line with several angry customers. Angry because while we only counted one worker working, we counted four others just standing around (one talking on a smart-phone)! There was no sense of urgency or recognition that the line of customers was ten deep. Soon, we asked for the Manager, only to learn that she was the one who was working!
5. UNTIMELY Resolution: In the Call-Center world of Tech Support and Customer Service, timely “First Call Resolution” is the goal. Ideally, you want to be able to solve the caller’s issue on the first call, in the least amount of time. Many wireless companies, cable companies and IT organizations struggle mightily in this area. Keeping customers on hold for long periods of time, passing the caller to another department or group, or not being able to communicate effectively can turn a customer to a “former” customer in no time. It’s not enough to resolve the issue, but it needs to be done in a timely fashion with as few handoffs as possible.
In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, the organizations who win are those who take time to not only understand WHAT their customers want, but HOW best to deliver those products and services in a timely, pleasant, helpful manner. Some organizations have made providing excellent customer service, part of their value-add. Others have made the lack of customer service part of their epitaph.
How well does your organization service its’ customers?
As a corner office executive, one of the best things you can do is get out of your big, fancy office and spend time with the people who actually “do the work!” Quite often as a leader, your calendar is filled with internal meetings and conference calls. Much of the information you receive is filtered, so rarely are you hearing the full truth. And, quite possibly your organization is not benefitting from innovative ideas because some companies operate under the mantra, “if it wasn’t created by headquarters, its no good.”
In order to get the most out of spending time with frontline associates I fid that great leaders and CEOS ask three important questions:
1. What are we making you do that adds little to no value to the business?
Most leaders would be amazed at the number of requests, reports and activities associates are asked to do, that provide little to no value to the organization, and in fact, wastes the associates time. One day as President of a large grocery chain, I spent the day with a Store Director. I was bewildered at the amount of reports that she was being asked to complete. After some quick research I learned that the information collected from her and others was not even being used. It was an example of headquarters collecting data, for sake of collecting it and adding no real value. Needless to say, these useless reports were no longer required, freeing up precious time for the Store Director to run the business.
2. What Tools, Products or Information would allow you to “DO MORE”, “SELL MORE” or provide “BETTER SERVICE?”
Another misnomer is the belief that headquarters always knows what’s best for the field. While this may be partially true, I have found that some of the best value creation ideas come from those associates closest to the customer, the production line, and the community. Maybe it’s the realization that customers are requesting more Gluten-free products that we don’t offer? Perhaps it’s hearing from our customers that our website is too difficult to navigate, thus making online ordering a burden. Whatever the case, great leaders drive innovation and value by listening to the voices of those who have to implement and execute the strategy. Not just listening to those who create the strategy.
3. What’s happening in the business that you think I need to be aware of?
In many companies market intelligence is gathered primarily, by the headquarters Marketing team. They run analytics, do test marketing, check consumer insights and review Neilson data. While are of these are necessary and vital, nothing takes the place of employee engagement. By listening to the concerns, insights and suggestions from field associates, the CEO gets first hand, unfiltered information. This information, when integrated with market analytics, can provide the “intelligence” required to not only make good decisions, but help to create a more complete picture of reality.
CEOs and leaders who aspire to be great, need to take regularly scheduled visits to spend time with those who associates who really are “the company”, those men and women who actually make things happen, and do the work!
In my mind, the most important asset in any organization is its Human Capital. It’s people! And no other Function/Dept. within an organization touches people more than the Human Resource function. I like to think of HR as the “Champions of Human Capital!” In working with dozens of CEOs, they believe that within their organization, HR professionals are to be the champions of four key areas:
Historically, the Human Resource function has been pigeonholed and limited in focus. Former titles included “Personnel Dept.”, “Benefits Office” and “Payroll.” It’s only in the past decade or so that CEOs and organizations have really come to appreciate the significant role human resource professionals play in the success of the organization. Going forward HR professionals MUST have a total grasp on the overall “business” of the company!
Market Position: Where does our organization fit within the Industry? What is our unique value proposition? How do we create customer and shareholder value?
Environmental Scanning: What are the external influences impacting the company’s success? Economic Factors, Competitive Trends, Technological Changes, Political Issues, Social Issues, Demographic Trends?
Financials: Do you know how your organization makes its MONEY? Can you dissect and understand the “high-level” Balance Sheet and Income Statement? Are you aware of the financial health of the organization?
HR Analytics: Can you measure the impact of Human Resources leadership, management, actions, policies, and assistance in your organization? Your selection of measurements should be driven by two factors:
To be successful business partners, HR professionals MUST think like business leaders!
Secondly, HR Professionals must be Champions of Change! In the new world economy, an organizations ability to anticipate, acknowledge and adapt to change will separate those companies who survive and thrive, and those who will become extinct, the dinosaurs’ of the 21st Century! Since, the HR department is all about recruiting, training and monitoring employee performance; it has a key role to play in any change management program.
For this to happen, they need to recruit the right people who can think out of the box and can bring a fresh perspective to the table. This is the key element of any successful change management strategy and this is where HR has a stellar role to play. The point here is that HR must be encouraged to look for people who can act as catalysts for change and who can motivate other employees to participate in the change initiative.
A great strategy is no guarantee of long-term business success. Many other factors impact organizational performance. One such factor is corporate culture. In fact, it’s been said, “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast”. Yes strategy is important, but it is the implementation and execution of that strategy that determines success, and without the right culture, strategy is doomed to fail! For it is “Culture” that helps an organization create a high performance environment that supports business strategy implementation. Because culture is so important to the success of a firm, human resource professionals need to increase their proficiency at impacting culture. Monitoring it, understanding it, and influencing it!
Of the four areas I’ve suggested HR professionals champion, this one requires the most courage! This is the one that is the least comfortable, the one that requires competency, credibility and compassion! This is the one that demands you have the influence and persuasiveness to have “uneasy” but necessary conversations with those who may outrank you!
To be Champions of Conscience for your organization will test your moral compass, your willingness to speak truth to power, and your commitment to be the voice for those who may not be getting heard! It’s making sure that an organization’s management and workforce looks as diverse as the communities they operate in, the customer/clients they sell to, the vendors/contractors they utilize and the consumers they target with their services and products!
It asks questions when candidate slates look unbalanced.
It demands answers when salaries look out of line.
It requires fairness when Performance Reviews look skewed.
It forces creativity when it hears….”we’ve looked, but couldn’t find any” diverse candidates.
It challenges the status quo, when others accept, “we’ve always done it this way”
More than ever before, successful CEOs organizations realize that in order to sustain profitable growth, drive innovation, and create value, they must have “the right people, in the right roles, doing the right things, at the right time!" Human Resource professionals are the catalyst to make sure the organization is poised from a Human Capital perspective to deliver the desired results!
Quite often when organizations are undergoing change, there is a tendency to solicit the ideas and opinions of those with the most experience. There is a confidence and a comfort we feel in gaining insight and direction from those who have spent years or even decades in a given industry, company or organization. On the surface this makes a great deal of sense. However, is it possible that relying too heavily on those with "experience" can actually hinder or derail your transformation efforts?
The truth about experience is, it is most effective if the environment in which you operate hasn't substantially changed! However, if new technologies are introduced, new distribution channels developed, or non-traditional competitors enter the marketplace, the value of previous experience is diminished. In fact, in the book, "Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions" (Harvard Business Press) the authors argue that one of the leading factors as to why smart leaders make bad decisions is relying on "Misleading Experiences." Misleading experiences are those memories of past actions that seem to be comparable and/or relevant to the current situation, but which can subconsciously cause us to overlook and/or undervalue differentiating factors.
When leading change and transformation it is essential to have those with "relevant" experience at the table. However, it is equally necessary to have others with diverse ideas and insights involved. Histories is littered with companies that in the face of changing trends and challenging headwinds relied too heavily on those with experience, and are no longer in business. Did Blockbuster benefit from its video distribution experience? Did Border's Books benefit from it experience in selling books? How did Circuit City's experience in selling electronics help it from avoiding bankruptcy? Arguably, it was important that each organization have individuals with industry expertise involved in leading change. However, they could have benefited more by understanding:
1. What are the "differentiating factors" that we need to better understand?
2. How has, or can technological innovation help us to create sustainable value?
3. How has customer behavior and buying habits changed?
4. Who are the successful new entrants, and what can we learn from them?
Today, there are several industries and organizations that are faced with major decisions regarding their future:
- Will our customers continue to purchase our products and services in the same manner, or will they want new, customer-friendly delivery models?
- Will changes in technology make our platform and go-to-market strategy non-competitive or obsolete?
- Are there two kids in a garage somewhere building a new software application with features and functions that we've not even imagined?
While none of these industries or organizations have a crystal ball to help create and implement an effective transformation plan, if they are smart, in the addition of asking the four questions listed above, they will:
- Conduct an analytical review of the facts from multiple data points.
- Encourage healthy debate of the facts and the implications.
- Identify how past experiences can both help and hinder success.
- Don't be afraid to engage others who may lack "industry" knowledge, but who can provide unique insights and perspectives, based on their diverse background.
Yes, experience matters in leading change and transformation, but it’s wise not to rely on past experience alone. It needs to be viewed through the lenses of both the reality of the present, and the promise and opportunity of the future.
Previously I shared that for any transformation effort to be effective, you must first have an appreciation that all changed efforts start with understanding human nature (see “Managing Change Starts with Understanding Human Nature”); and, prior to undertaking any strategic change or transformation effort, organizations should undertake a Readiness Assessment to gauge if they are really ready for change (see “Is Your Organization Really Ready to Change?”).
As part of this assessment, four key questions must be asked, answered and addressed:
1. Do Leaders at every level have a common vision of the change to come?
For any change initiative to have even the slightest chance to succeed, leaders at every level of the organization need to be 100% clear and aligned on two critical factors:
- Is there a common understanding of the change to come from an organizational perspective?
- Is everyone clear on their role in leading the change, AND, the interdependencies’ and impact their individual role has to the overall success of the organization?
During any change or transformation effort there can only be ONE vision of what the future state will be! There is only room for one version of the truth, one message that gets communicated, and most importantly, one understanding of what success looks like. Too often in many organizations, senior leaders communicate one vision of the future, however, those beneath them take liberties to editorialize that vision with their own biases and the end message is confusing and convoluted to the rank and file.
Additionally, every leader at every level must be clear of the impact and interdependency their ability to execute has on the whole organization and the success of the change effort. When leaders lose sight of, or don’t understand these impacts, they can unwittingly contribute to what appears to be the success of their function or department, but at the expense of the success of the overall organization.
2. Will the organization’s culture support or resist the change?
Just as every country, social, and ethnic group has unique cultures, likewise, every industry, organization, and even departments within an organization can have its’ own unique culture. The key is determining in advance how “change adverse” or resistant is the culture? Is the culture one that suffers from W.A.D.I.T.W. (We’ve Always Done It This Way)? Or worse yet, suffer from a bad case of B.W.A.D. (this change may be good for other departments “But We Are Different”)?
To effectively drive change, before the first step is implemented, leaders must engage and understand the culture and how the change will be received.
3. What (and Who) do we anticipate will be the main resistors to change?
Knowing that by nature humans are change adverse, it should be assumed going in that there will be some resistance. The key is in anticipating “what” aspects of the transformation initiative will receive the most resistance, and, “who” are the key influencers within the organizations who might be the most focal resistors?
Every organization has certain “sacred cows,” those written or unwritten rules, processes, or expectations that people have come to enjoy. For decades IBM had a policy (unwritten if I recall) of “full employment.” The promise was, as long as you were a productive worker who added value, there would always be a role for you within the organization. You wouldn’t be downsized or laid off, as long as you performed.
However, in the early to mid 90’s under former CEO Lou Gerstner, IBM was forced to abandon this policy as market conditions and the competitive landscape changed. While ultimately successful in transforming IBM from a hardware/software manufacturer to a service provider, it was a shock to the culture when full employment came to an end.
4. How can we mitigate resistance to change?
In my experience, resistance to change can be mitigated by:
- Having a concise, compelling argument as to “Why” the organization must change to maintain it’s competitive edge, to drive growth or whatever the motivation is. Everyone must be crystal clear as to why, what will happen if we don’t, and the possible impact on the workforce if the status quo remains.
- Engaging workers from ALL levels of the organization in the planning process (this can include those key influencers who might not be supportive) to ensure input is received from top to bottom.
- Consider a phased or piloted implementation plan, allowing for mid-course corrections as new information is gained and unforeseen challenges are better understood.
- Communicate consistently and periodically on the status of the change initiative. In the absence of information, people will often make up their own reality of how things are going, which is almost always worse than reality.
After careful analysis and consideration, your organization has determined that in order to “take it to the next level”, there needs to be a change in strategy. The leadership team has done their SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). They’ve uncovered a “Blue Ocean” that will deliver exponential growth, and have used Six Sigma methodology to optimize operational processes. Lastly, the Board of Directors has endorsed the new strategy and the organization is poised to implement the new Transformation (more sophisticated sounding than “Change”) initiative! Or is the organization really ready for change?
In full transparency, I’ve been there. I’ve led change and transformation initiatives for over thirty years in industries as diverse as Grocery Retail, Business Process Outsourcing and Wireless Technology. With the best of intentions and the security blanket of outside consultants, Gant charts and market intelligence, I’ve witnessed how even the best laid plans can still end up with less than optimal results! And in every case, one critical question was never fully explored: “Is the organization Ready for change”?
By “Ready” I am not referring to being properly staffed, fully funded or properly organized for the change. Rather, prior to embarking on the change or transformation initiative is there alignment on the vision, support from the culture, an understanding of the “resistors” and are plans in place to mitigate resistance?
I would suggest that prior to undertaking any strategic change or transformation effort, that organizations undertake a Readiness Assessment. As part of this assessment, four key questions must be asked, answered and addressed:
Readiness for change depends more on assessing and addressing these issues, than the crafting the best transformation plan. In future discussions we will look at each of these questions individually.
A common approach in change management speeches and presentations is to present the theory of change management, the steps to successful change transitions, and to assume that two people can receive the same information about a transition, and can be equally prepared to adopt/embrace that transition. And that the two people can equally prepared to employ best practices for leading or implementing transition. That’s simply not the case.
And, when I say this, I’m not speaking of being prepared with the information or talking points about the change, or the best practices/processes for leading change. These are certainly important. But, I’m talking about the head acknowledgment versus heart acknowledgment of change. You see, on some level, we all get that change is inevitable and we have to deal with it. In our heads, we get that. But, the emotions that well up inside most of us before a major change or transition, reinforce that, at the heart of it, none of us is every really “prepared” for change.
While we all approach change with varying degrees of anxiety, mandated change in particular, elicits resistance. And, I’m not here to demonize the resistance, to trivialize the barriers. No matter how positive a change, the barriers to that change are to be viewed as legitimate because those barriers are the stakeholders’ reality. As leaders, we can bring personal biases to the table—again, which can be legitimate—that inform our ability to lead through transition.
But, anyone CAN BE prepared to respond to change and to effectively navigate through change. In order to do so, it’s very important to not only understand the barriers to change, but the personal insecurities that change brings, and have a process to address them.
Only then can we lead effective transition, in which people who view and approach change from various perspectives can still participate in a productive transition and growth process, whatever their role in that process.
Humility is a virtue admired and respected by all,but often times is neglected in areas where leadership is present. Many confuse humbleness to being docile, weak, and even indecisive. However, it is quite the opposite. When a leader practices humility it validates their humanity. Cultivating humility in the leadership ranks is crucial to the overall success of the organization. An executive who believes that he or she is God’s greatest gift to an organization is detrimental to not only the company, but to the people they lead as well. It is your duty to carry out the mission and vision of your company through great humility. Your staff can sense if you are a leader who is dedicated to helping them succeed, or if you’re just in it for your own personal success. Here are a few simple ways to demonstrate humility in leadership:
* Realizing that you cannot do it all.
The minute you think you know it all, marks the beginning of your end. Asking for help does not make you a weak leader. Utilize your team wisely, and allow them to grow from it. Knowing when to concede and when to delegate is important. You’d be surprised at the number of leaders who seek out coaches for help. In fact, Fast Company reports that 43% of CEOs and 71% of Senior Executives say they’ve worked with a coach. While 92% of leaders being coached say they plan to use a coach again. Remember, no matter where you are in your journey, there’s always someone you can help show the way.
* Recognizing the fact that no one is perfect.
As a leader, acknowledging the fact that you make mistakes too and sharing those flaws with your employees, not only develops a deeper trust between you and your staff, but they will respect and appreciate your vulnerability as well. Addressing your failures and connecting them to your success demonstrates confidence and true authenticity in your leadership.
* Welcoming feedback.
Create an environment where employees are able to honestly express their concerns, even if it pertains to your leadership. Feedback from those you work with can give great insight into how your self-perception digresses from the perception of others, because we all know that in leadership, perception is reality.
It’s important that you humble yourself now instead of being forced to later. Never forget where you came from…….just in case life sends you back there.
Keith Wyche’s first book, Good Is Not Enough, helps aspiring executives achieve C-Suite status. His follow-up, Corner Office Rules, provides them with the ten key guiding principles necessary to sustain that level. This book reveals many of the critical unspoken truths of corporate life. Its contents are the closest that I’ve seen to a corporate GPS.
Curtiss Jacobs, global strategy and operations executive, American International Group, Inc.
“Keith was dynamic, compelling, and on point with his presentation, causing several moments where the audiences clapping required him to pause, before jumping back into the message. At the end he brought the audience to its’ feet. Keith was clearly the right choice to close out our conference, and to re-energize the leaders.”