Posts Tagged ‘insight’

Tally the votes, but if you want insight, read the comments

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

I was reading the new Harvard Business Review today at lunch, specifically the piece by Guido Jouret of Cisco on the company’s recent external innovation tournament (interestingly, that’s the name of a new book I’m reading right now). There’s lots of good stuff in the HBR article about sourcing innovations externally, but one sentence in particular stopped me in my tracks–in a good way. Jouret wrote:

On balance, voting was less useful than comments in helping us choose the 40 semifinalists…. Some commenters showed deep subject-matter expertise and insight.

This throwaway line reminded me of a prior post, where I recounted a story a friend had told me about an HR VP making a decision based on survey comments. Here’s the story:

Last year we had a pilot of a new performance management system for our employees. The trial group was 4000 people. We had spent a lot of time on the pilot and gathered a lot of data. At the end of the trial, the VP of Human Resources printed out all the comments that had been received on the survey forms. He took them home one night and read every single one. Then he came in the next day and said, “We can’t roll this system out.” And that was it. The trial was very expensive. We’d gathered lots of data, lots of numbers, but the final determinant was what he read in those comments.

Freeform data such as comments, anecdotes, rants, etc., aren’t easy to manage. But they contain tons of insight. Sometimes all you need to do is read them.

Customer service is such an important job, perhaps we should spread it around

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Let me point out two problems:

1) Customer service is quite a difficult job and even the best reps are prone to burn out in time–it has turned into a low-pay, high-turnover McJob instead of the vital, even exalted position it should be.

2) Most managers & leaders are disconnected from their customers, with the result that their decisions often ignore or even defy customers’ wishes.

So, I worked my brain overtime during the recent holiday weekend and came up with a solution: EVERYBODY works in customer service.

Think of it. Rather than a group of ground-down reps fielding all the complaints and questions, everybody takes a turn. It could be perhaps 10-15% of everyone’s job–4-6 hours a week. Computer-aided telephony systems & CRM systems easily support flexible staffs of work-from-home agents and could manage the shift of calls from agent to agent.

Burnout would cease, because everyone would spend 85-90% of their time doing other things. Service would improve, because reps would, essentially, be paid more and be of more varied experience than the reps of today. Customer service management would become really important, since creating processes and training to allow many people to share the job would pose a true management challenge.

Also, everyone throughout the company would gain direct experience with customers’ problems and questions, and therefore be much better able to suggest solutions to product, packaging, distribution, etc., to improve the customer experience.

Meaning the product and the customer service job would, over time, improve. Those speaking to customers would add more value–such as consultation. Deeper insights would find their way into the product. Kind of a virtuous circle.

What do you think?

The value of immersion in the details

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

Caution: sports-related material ahead.

Managers prize the ability to “look at the big picture” and there’s value in that. But there’s value in looking at the little picture as well.

What I mean is illustrated by a quote from a New York Times article today (”Ravens form NFL Draft Team That Has Game Plan“) on the drafting prowess of the Baltimore Ravens football team. The Ravens are perennial contenders, which the Times story attributes to their ability to find strong players in the later rounds of the draft. Here’s the part that I found most compelling:

They are one of the few teams in the league that do not subscribe to scouting services that provide a packet of information on players before the February scouting combine. The Ravens’ scouts do the legwork in gathering the background and the measurable statistics that would be in those reports. It takes eight grinding weeks after the draft, when the scouting department devotes itself to looking at tapes of juniors and calling their universities. But it also produces deep insight into future prospects.

In other words, the Ravens’ scouts immerse themselves in the details of their drafting prospects. They don’t rely on written summaries, charts or secondhand assessments.

In many ways senior leaders are like the teams that rely on scouting summaries. The reports, dashboards and presentations they receive cause them to feel as if they have an understanding of issues, but they lack “deep insight” that immersion in the details can provide. Of course, senior leaders can’t deal with the broad scope of their responsibilities by homing in on every detail of the business. They can, however, set processes in place to harvest and sensemake large collections of information about their business, such as customer stories, complaints, surprises, even some everyday banalities. With this information collected, they need to spend some time every month immersing themselves in those stories, participating at a detailed level in the lives of their customers and their front-line staff.

And stop relying on the “big picture” to tell them everything they need to know.

Like my friend, now a senior executive at a large insurer, once said to me, “Whenever we listen to the customer service calls, it’s always shocking.”

Related posts:
Dealing with what customers tell you online
Are 200 customer stories more useful than 2,000,000 data points?
Opening your company up for customer dialogue
A method for using customer intelligence from your front-line staff
Reading between the lines

[Photo: Adalius Thomas (now with the Patriots), a sixth-round pick of the Ravens in 2000 who has been to two Pro Bowls]

The salesperson’s point of leverage

Monday, March 9th, 2009

It seems like the deck is stacked against salespeople these days. With budgets as tight as they can get, the few clients who need to make purchases have a number of suppliers to choose from. All the power rests with them, right?

Not exactly.

The same budget-tightening that has cancelled/deferred valuable projects has also limited companies’ peripheral vision. They send many fewer people to industry conferences. Managers and executives turn their focus inward, to manage the fallout of job cuts, pay cuts and benefits cuts.

Executives, as a result, are losing visibility into customer needs, market trends, and competitive strategies. At a recent client meeting, after their team had done a great job diagnosing the impediments to purchasing from patterns in their sales calls, the VP of Marketing asked me what I thought. I demurred: “You guys are the experts in your business. You’ve done a great job figuring it out.”

He said, “No. You are the expert. You are the proxy for the customer. We have the inside-out perspective, and that’s important. But you have a sense of the outside-in perspective–what the customer is feeling–without being burdened by our processes and culture. So, what do you think?”

And in here is the great opportunity for salespeople. They can provide executives the outside-in view of their companies. Salespeople can immerse themselves in the industry, focusing on what the end-customers (their prospects’ customers) need and expect. They can provide that insight to the prospect and also ensure that proposed solutions address those needs and expectations.

Challenging, yes. But doable. And perhaps even the realization that there are valuable, proactive things you can do right now can help you get to work and make that next phone call. Which just might lead to the next deal.

(Photo from jjorgen2 via stock.xchng)

Related post:
Why Are Companies So Inwardly Focused?

Customers are talking: the empathetic company

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

The New York Times today features an interview with Dev Patnaik, a consultant specializing in helping companies to develop growth strategies and the author of a new book, “Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy,” which claims that a missing ingredient in recipes for corporate success is the human train of empathy:

[Patnaik] argues in the book that it is not the lack of innovation that hampers companies, but the “empathy gap” — the chasm between employees in organizations and the people that they serve. Companies, he said, “do a good job of stamping empathy out of employees, then are surprised when employees make poor decisions or try to sell things that people don’t need.”

In a way this reflects the “bringing the outside in” concept from Kotter’s “A Sense of Urgency.” Patnaik gives the example of the auto managers who never experienced the car business from a customer’s point of view–buying a car, financing it, servicing it, etc.–and thereby lost touch with the consumer and the marketplace.

Part of this “empathy gap” is the distancing of management from the customer and the customer experience–where dashboards and status reports have crowded out anecdotal information and real human experience. This is what the “customers are talking” initiative is attempting to do–to connect managers and leaders with the ground-level experience of their customers and by so doing to equip them to make better decisions about their products and services.

Here’s an interesting observation from Patnaik about one of the big problems with marketing:

The companies are trying to get the customers to identify with their product rather than getting their own employees to identify with their customers.

In other words, companies are trying to make up for their lack of customer insight with messaging. These marketers believe that if they create a powerful, resonant message, it will draw people to their products. But if the product is not created with a deep sense of the customer in mind, the message won’t work.

I’ll have to pick up a copy of “Wired to Care” and see what else the book has to say about this important subject.

Related posts:
A Competitive Advantage: Employees who spend most of their time talking to customers
Time to start listening to front-line employees