Client Experience

Start Here. Now.

Start Here. Now.

It’s the end of 2018.  Did you achieve all of your objectives this year professionally and personally? Did you even have objectives for 2018? If you are honest with yourself, the likely answer is no.

The good news is, you get another chance in 2019.

The bad news is, your unproductive habits are ready to sabotage 2019.

Blind Commitment

Good intentions do not always make good law, policy, or even words or actions. Sometimes good intentions can lead to bad decisions, like going down a roller coaster without being fully secured in your seat.

Example: Airbnb is demanding their hosts and renters give up their First Amendment rights, or be dropped from membership.

On Saturday, October 29, 2016 at 8:37 a.m. PST, I received the following email from Airbnb.

The Airbnb Community Commitment

Earlier this year, we launched a comprehensive effort to fight bias and discrimination in the Airbnb community. As a result of this effort, we’re asking everyone to agree to a Community Commitment beginning November 1, 2016. Agreeing to this commitment will affect your use of Airbnb, so we wanted to give you a heads up about it.

What is the Community Commitment?

You commit to treat everyone—regardless of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age—with respect, and without judgment or bias.

How do I accept the commitment?

On or after November 1, we’ll show you the commitment when you log in to or open the Airbnb website, mobile or tablet app and we’ll automatically ask you to accept.

What if I decline the commitment?

If you decline the commitment, you won’t be able to host or book using Airbnb, and you have the option to cancel your account. Once your account is canceled, future booked trips will be canceled. You will still be able to browse Airbnb but you won’t be able to book any reservations or host any guests.

What if I have feedback about the commitment?

We welcome your feedback about the Community Commitment and all of our nondiscrimination efforts. Feel free to read more about the commitment. You can also reach out to us at allbelong@airbnb.com.

The Airbnb Team

Sent with ♥ from Airbnb

WHAT DID I DO?

Here was my reply via email to Airbnb on Sunday, October 30 at 12:15 pm:

Dear Airbnb,

I fully support your desire for people to “respect” one another.  However, your demand that all hosts and renters “…treat everyone… without judgment or bias” is illogical, unreasonable, and unrealistic.  It also violates America’s First Amendment free speech rights.

  1. Your Commitment requires your hosts and renters to lie, or lose their right to participate in your network.  Everyone who signs your commitment is lying.  It is so sad to see you strong-arming your community. The fact is hosts and people booking rooms ALWAYS are judging the hosts or environment they are renting.  No one accepts a person into their home, or purposefully rents a room/home from someone who makes them uncomfortable.Our heritage and beliefs spill over into our lifestyles, and we ALL make choices – including EVERYONE AT AIRBNB.(“Choices” are a form of “judgment” with “bias” to what we like. Choices are not necessarily prejudice.)
  2. I did not join Airbnb to be part of a political movement.  I find it offensive that you want to force your beliefs on me, and especially in a way that is false.  Your broad statements are impossible for anyone to truly live out. I will drop from your network if this Commitment program is enacted as it is today.Unlike many of your members, I will not sacrifice my integrity to bow down to your demands.  There are plenty of other businesses and networks where I can reserve a room without having to submit to your prejudices.
  3. Please note:  I work and have friendships with people that meet all of your criteria.  We have people of other races in our family.  I am loving and respectful with all of them.
  4. Your Commitment requirement reminds me of Nazi Germany, not the idealistic standard you purport it to be.  I hope it is well-intentioned, but the way it is currently written is arrogant, shocking, and disappointing. Part of the closing comments of your email states: “We welcome your feedback about the Community Commitment and all of our nondiscrimination efforts.”  I don’t expect you to agree with me.  Your Commitment verbiage indicates you will not be respectful of my thoughts.  Either I kowtow to your demands, or I’m out. Can’t you see the judgment and bias in your own Commitment requirement?  I hope you choose to edit your Commitment standard to only have the word “respect” in it.  Please do not require people to lie.  Drop the words “judgment” and “bias.”

FOOTNOTE: Please be leaders who bring people together in work that is both collectively and individually meaningful. Be careful to avoid Airbnb’s mistake. Never divide people based on a lie, even if your intentions are good. Only demand a standard when it is necessary, and your standards are based on truth.

In reality, Airbnb could have achieved its sincere objective with the word “respect.”

THURSDAY'S THRILL:  Hold this trout...

Have you seen the old Saturday Night Live gag, Nick Burns, the company computer guy?

Rex Frank of Sea-Level Ops sent it to me before our discussion of soft skill training this past Tuesday.  Compare Nick’s approach to the Charm School behaviors you teach your people…  and the way they behave on the job.

Click here to learn more about how easy (and cheap) it is to use Dave’s Charm School in your organization.

What’s the “trout” I am talking about?  Read on…

Why do we have relationships with our Clients?

I suggest the key reason is CONNECTION.  Whether we are meeting with a prospective client for the first time, or at any time during our business relationship, one of the major reasons they work with us is connection.

What do I mean by "connection?"

#1 - Our services connect to solve business problems for them.

#2 - We connect new profits to their organization through innovative, reliable technology they did not realize existed, and/or knew how to fully use.  (And we prove it.)

#3 - We set expectations realistically, and connect with their trust by consistently meeting or exceeding those expectations.

#4 - When things go wrong for them, we connect their desire for a solution to rapid resolution.

#5 - They like us.  Yes, as silly as that sounds, it is true.  Clients who connect with us personally stay with us longer.

We can give Clients a wise the IT strategy, deliver flawless project implementation, and/or provide competent technical support.  Yet they can still have technology challenges due to competition, market changes, new government regulations, flawed manufacturer hardware or software, hackers, or another problem.

IT happens.

However, when it does, retaining Client relationships is relatively simple when we do the five things above consistently, correctly, and communicate well with our Clients.

But…  When we fail in any of these areas, retaining our Client relationships is like trying to hold on to a newly caught trout in your bare hands.

What is my point?

Keep It Simple, Superstar.  Get a better plan, and focus better on your implementation of it.

It actually is relatively simple.

A key leadership activity to improve your business is to define the key metrics of CONNECTION with your Clients as I have above.  Then implement a new habit or discipline:  Each week in your Sanctuary time, consider where your organization stands with each of your major Clients in these five areas, or a separate list of metrics you define.

Typically 3-7 metrics is plenty.  Get those right, and the others take care of themselves.

The discipline of weekly self-accountability will save you millions in the long run and maximize Client retention / profitability / WIN-WIN’s.

Thrill rides are for amusement parks, not Client relationships.  (Or employee relationships, but that’s a different conversation.)

Dave's Dirty Dozen Email Rules

We launched Dave's Charm School, 14 soft skills training courses, on a monthly subscription this week.  Check it out…

Jeff suggested I give you a taste of the Communications 101 course by sharing (my) Dave's Dirty Doesn't Email Rules.  Even if not every one of these rules work for you, it is a lot easier to edit my list than to start with a blank piece of paper to define some email standards or best practices in your organization.

1.  Communicate based on their preferred style.

Adjust your writing style to the way the recipient of your email prefers to receive information.  If you don't know what that is, figure it out in advance.  (Our Clients confirm preferred communication styles using our MANAGEtoWIN Talent Assessments.)

2.  No hiding – speak, do not write negatives.

If you have an issue with someone then talk with them in-person or by phone.  No flaming emails.  When we are experiencing difficulty with others there is a high sensitivity to written words.  Therefore verbal conversations are best.  If necessary, follow-up after the verbal conversation with a brief, respectful email to confirm key points.

3.  Subject line – clear;  update it;  does it need to be a “hook?”

Be brief.  Be clear.  Motivate.  The subject line of your email can determine whether or not your communication is read at all.  Do you need it to be a hook to motivate someone to open your email?  As you go back and forth with someone and the length of the email gets longer and longer… update the subject line as the focus of your comments change.

4.  Copies, blind copies, delegation, and sharing.

Only copy people on emails who absolutely need to be informed.  Blind copies can come back to bite you, so use the BCC option discriminately.  Forward emails to others only when appropriate and you would be comfortable if they were doing the same thing with your communications.  Consider the cost of a BCC becoming public.

5.  Be brief.

Be brief.  Be bright.  Be gone.  Use attachments and links to limit the length of email body copy.  Have verbal discussion when interaction is needed.  Use email for notes, and or confirmation of details, action items, and agreement.

6.  Format information for scanning, not reading.

There is too much to do and not enough time.  Design your communication to be scanned rather than read.  This will take you longer to compose your email, but demonstrate respect to the recipient, increase response, and improve productivity.

7.  Taking action should be easy – links…

If you want someone to do something online or download data, it is your responsibility to take the time to provide accurate links for them to consider the information.  Check your links before sending.

NOTE:  If you are slightly OCD… after you check the link the color of the text for the link may change the purple.  Does this bug you?  You can select the words again, click to enter a hyperlink, and simply click Save / OK to refresh the links in your email in blue-colored type.

8.  Never say anything you do not want in the newspaper & “complete delete.”

Email never dies, unless managed by an unethical politician.  Choose your words cautiously.  As my eighth grade English teacher used to say, "Peruse your verbatim carefully” before clicking the Send button.  A wise person chooses to avoid risk and save some comments for a verbal conversation at another time, if at all.

9.  Use drafts, proofread, and auto spell/grammar check.

Draft important emails and then set them aside for at least 30 minutes, if not overnight.  Proofread several times.  Do a spelling and grammar check.  If you sense that someone else should proofread the email for you, but you do not want to take the time or have another excuse...  If there is not a risk for that person to advise you, take the time to get their opinion.  Usually that voice encouraging you to get their opinion is trying to save you from unnecessary drama.

10.  Professional signature.

Have a consistent professional signature for everyone in your organization.  There are many ways to do this.  We recently started testing Calendly to help automate the process of setting appointments.  (I often have to edit that line of my signature.)  We used to have a legal disclaimer at the bottom, but dropped it.  Here is an example of my signature (not formatted well due to this app):

11.  Schedule time to do email.

I turned-off notifications of every email coming into my Inbox years ago.  I now limit my time each day to consider email, although at times I will pop-in in for brief bursts of Inbox review in-between meetings.

How do I have time in-between meetings to do this?

In our Charm School course on Time Management, I teach you to schedule your meetings to end 10-15 minutes before the hour.  Finish your meetings on time.  Then you have space to check email, grab something to eat, visit the restroom, or do something else before starting your next activity.

12.  Respond quickly – clear Inbox daily.

The goal each day is to clear your Inbox.  I use folders to save emails for future reference.  Quick, brief responses are fine.  Sometimes your quick reply may be only to commit to get something done in a later time.

No response is UNACCEPTABLE if the email is from someone you know.

END THOUGHTS

Of course, I could go on.  However, this should give you plenty to consider.  I hope you found these tips helpful and can apply them to save time, avoid drama, and improve relationships moving forward.

After 3 years, he's back...

Consider these three things today:

#1

Are you debating whether to promote an existing employee or hire someone from the outside (a new employee)?  Consider my column released today at Continuum's site:

3 Major Pitfalls & Profits When Promoting from Within 

#2

In 2013, Rex Frank of Sea Level Ops gave one of the most insightful talks in the managed services industry during a MANAGEtoWIN webinar - The Top 5 MSP Operational Mistakes.  Last week I invited him to share his wisdom again.  So, after 3 years, Rex is back with information you need to know...

REGISTER NOW for Rex's new webinar at 1:00 PM PST on Wednesday, Sept 7, 2016:  

Sea-Level's 4 Levers of Service Margin

This is a MUST-ATTEND webinar from Sea Level Ops and MANAGEtoWIN.  I invited Rex Frank to share these insights because they are critical to the success of any MSP.

Service Delivery is all about Service Gross Margin.  There are 4 factors that you manage that dictate the margin your company produces.  Each of these levers relate to each other, if you move one lever without moving the others, your margin will be affected (good or bad, usually bad).

  1. Billing Rate
  2. Salary
  3. Billing Utilization
  4. Agreement Efficiency

This webinar shares specifically the relationship of each lever and their ultimate effect on Service Gross Margin.  Don't miss it.

#3

Rex and I were talking about his webinar.  We agreed that you can have the greatest plan in place to improve margins and it can fail.

Why?

Because your employees do not know how to behave like professionals.  This makes Clients upset, less loyal, and a flight risk.

Therefore, Rex and I are returning two weeks later to explain how to develop your people into a magnet for Client retention and profitability. 

REGISTER NOW for our second webinar at 11:00 AM PST on Tuesday, September 20, 2016:  

Your People's Soft Skills Are WEAK - and what you can do about it.

The primary cause of customer complaints and employee issues is not technical skills.  When your people perform poorly, it is because they lack soft skills.  And it is killing your company's profitability.

According to Salesforce.com, 77% of employers say soft skills are just as important as hard (technical) skills.  

Soft skills training is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.  It involves knowledge transfer, habit development, and accountability.  It is not only crucial to attain high profitability, but important for new employee recruitment, sales prospecting, and client retention.

In this webinar you will learn the 14 key soft skills that should be trained, the process of employee development of these crucial skills, and what you have to do as a leader to make certain your people's soft skills are competitive, effective, and sincere.  Avoid creating unhappy clients.

Don't miss this webinar to learn how better soft skills can help your organization grow more rapidly... and profitably!

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During this Summer of Discontent, why not start working on your company culture and/or develop your leadership skills? If you have some gaps with your people, leadership systems, and/or culture, then reach out to us!

We can have a conversation about what's going on in your life.  No cost.  No meter will be ticking.  We just have a conversation focused on your hurdles, and how to get over them.

Good or bad, you decide. A customer service story.

I am on two weeks of back-to-back business travel.  I fly Southwest Airlines, and in general, love their people and service.

However, even the best-of-the-best can have weak spots in their training and/or policies that cause a bad client experience.

Has that ever happened in your company?

Here is a snapshot of my experience flying Southwest over the past two weeks.  I'm still flying them this week.  Keep score of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Tuesday, March 8:  I arrive at the airport after facilitating a full-day workshop with an EO group.  I am scheduled to fly from Charlotte, North Carolina to Los Angeles, California through Houston Hobby International Airport.  I am notified via email that my flight from Houston to Los Angeles has been canceled due to weather.

I get in line at the gate to discuss options to get to Los Angeles because I am scheduled to lead three workshops at the XChange Solution Provider event the next day.  The line is moving slow so I call Southwest on my phone while remaining in line. 

After about 10-15 minutes, I reach someone by phone at Southwest Customer Service.  He explains my only option is to fly to Houston that day, spend the night, and then Houston to Los Angeles the following day, arriving just before noon.  My first session is at 1:30 PM so that cuts it kind of tight, but he says it is my only option.  The Southwest guy confirms me on that flight.  There is no added expense.

VOTE on my first Southwest Customer Service Experience: Was the Southwest Customer Service Phone Rep experience Good, Bad, or Ugly?

I still have to fly from Charlotte to Houston.  After I get something to eat there is no longer a line at the customer service desk for my gate.  I go talk with the guy.  He says something like, "Oh, I was looking for you.  You were one of only two people I was not able to confirm an alternative flight for."

This guy is positive, proactive, and respectful even though he has dealt with a lot of complaining people due to flight cancellations because of the weather.

I explained the flight I was given and asked if there were any alternatives.  I was concerned I might not make it to the XChange event on time.  He booked me on a nonstop flight out of Houston at 6 AM to Los Angeles.  He also bumped me up to Business Class boarding at no cost because he saw that I had an Early Bird registration that would no longer be valid.

NOTE:  It turned out the other Southwest Customer Service Rep, the one on the phone, had booked me on a flight that went through another city, but did not tell me.

VOTE on my second Southwest Customer Service Experience:  Did the Southwest Customer Service Rep at my gate in Charlotte provide a Good, Bad, or Ugly experience? 

Do you want to change your vote on the first guy?

The Charlotte experiences are now over.  We don't have to talk about the cheap hotel I stayed at overnight on my own dime because the issue was weather-related.  I do not blame Southwest Airlines for that cost.  Weather problems are not their fault. 

However the way an airline responds to travelers stranded by the weather is their responsibility.   Any airline can look great when there are no problems.  It is how an airline supports its customers when there are problems that define whether or not it is truly a great organization.

The same is true with your company and mine.

Let's move on...

Sunday, March 13:  I am scheduled to fly to Providence, Rhode Island at 11:55 a.m.  My flights leave from Oakland, go to Seattle, then Chicago Midway, and then land in Providence.  Certainly not the best itinerary, but I try to keep airfare costs down for the sake of our clients.

I received an email before 8 AM saying my flights from Seattle to Chicago and Chicago to Providence are canceled due to weather.  Online there are no other flights available that day.  If I cannot fly out, then I miss a day of consulting with one of my favorite clients.

I call Southwest Airlines by phone.  Their system gives me the option to have them call back.  The estimated wait time is 35 minutes.  I decide to stay on the line to make certain I do not miss their call and they do not call while my family is still sleeping.

Two hours and 58 minutes later a Southwest Customer Service Rep answers my phone call. That is not a typo.  I have never waited that long on the phone for anyone.  Nothing close.  It was 2 HOURS and 58 MINUTES!

The woman who answered my call had a British accent and was very nice.  I explained the situation.  She empathized with my situation, but confirmed there were no other flights that day.  I informed her because I could not go to Providence I now needed to go directly from Oakland to New York LaGuardia on Monday, March 14.

She explained their policy was that I could have a free ticket to go Oakland to Providence, but not to New York LaGuardia.  I would now have to spend $200 more for that ticket although the distance is basically the same.

I asked her to appeal to her supervisor.  She did, and was successful.

VOTE on my third Southwest Customer Service Experience:  Did the Southwest Customer Service Rep (phone) provide a Good, Bad, or Ugly experience? 

I did ask her if she could bump me to Business Class because I was B51 and B59 for boarding rather than my "A" status, but she said there was nothing she could do.  Although I do not like this policy and think Southwest should change it, vote on how well she took care of me separate of this issue.

Monday, March 14:  I arrive at the gate for my flight from Oakland to New York LaGuardia at 4:57 AM.  Boarding begins at 5:30 AM.  I get on the flight.  I carry the second-to-last carry-on bag that gets to stay on the plane.  After that all bags are checked.

In Denver I approach a woman at my gate to request that she upgrade me to Business Class because I'm worried I will have to check my bag.  I briefly explained the situation.  She could not care less.  "$40..." was her response without any empathy.  She even grimaced at my request.

Maybe she needs Dave's Charm School...?

VOTE on my fourth Southwest Customer Service Experience:  Did the Southwest Customer Service Rep at my gate in Denver provide a Good, Bad, or Ugly experience? 

And last but not least, to their credit Southwest did reply to an email I sent on Sunday, March 13 complaining about my 2 hour 58 minute wait on hold to speak with one of their customer service people.  They replied promptly on Monday, March 14.

But do not be too quick to judge their response.  Read their response below before you vote:

Dear David,

Thank you for contacting us.  We apologize for this recent, less than ideal travel experience with Southwest Airlines on March 13, and we welcome the opportunity to respond.

I apologize that Flight #4552 was one of many flights that were cancelled due to the inclement weather in Chicago. Clear conditions would always be our choice for the sake of Customer goodwill and the cost to our operation when irregular operations ensue. When there is widespread, severe weather, the positioning of our aircraft and Crews across the country are affected, which causes additional challenges.

When a Customer wants to talk to us, we want to listen.  We sincerely apologize that our hold times were long or if you received a busy signal when attempting to speak with an Agent by phone.  We do everything possible to staff accordingly, and it seems that you attempted to contact us by phone when our call queue reached the limit.  I am very sorry for your frustration, which is the last thing we want for one of our Customers to experience. Please know I have documented your feedback for our Senior Leaders via our monthly summary.

I am glad to see our Customer Service Representative made a one-time exception and reaccommodated you to New York today, March 14, at no additional cost. That said, we understand that irregular operations can be a frustrating experience, and we regret that you were unable to take advantage of the original boarding position associated with your EarlyBird Check-In purchase. I have requested a refund of $12.50 for the EarlyBird Check-In fee, which will be processed to the original form of payment within ten business days.

Clearly, you were disappointed with our service.  We want to assure you that the overwhelming majority of our Customers depart our aircraft looking forward to their next Southwest flight.  We hope that this experience has not permanently changed your feelings about Southwest Airlines.  Please come fly with us again soon.  We are confident that more favorable circumstances will prevail.

Sincerely,

...

VOTE on my fifth Southwest Customer Service Experience:  Did the Southwest Customer Service Rep who emailed me provide a Good, Bad, or Ugly experience? 

My perception is this response is a series of copy-and-paste paragraphs of sample text to respond to customer complaints.  It is too long.  It lacks sincerity and honest empathy.  It could be grammatically better.  It basically tells me to "go pound rocks" and they do not care that I waited 2 HOURS and 58 MINUTES to speak with one of their customer service reps.

You can probably tell I am disappointed.  I expect more from Southwest.

Please understand, I do not expect Southwest Airlines or any other organization including my own to be perfect (flawless).  We are not.  They are not.  I could complain about other things at Southwest, but I appreciate the experience they try to deliver.

However all of us must be aware that as our companies grow, maintaining a positive, effective, and efficient company culture is ongoing work.  I hope that Southwest Airlines catches these errors and works with these employees to better represent the spirit their airline stands for.

As leaders, we must do the same daily in our organizations.

By the way, just in case it is not clear, I still believe in Southwest Airlines and continue to fly them whenever possible.

P.S.  Another thing to keep in mind is that even a great company like Southwest Airlines makes mistakes.  Do not get too bent out of shape when you and/or your people have an "oops" moment.  It happens.  Keep practicing.  Stay in the game.  Keep building on your strengths.  There are more points to score and competitions to win.

We have to change to stay ahead of the game and grow.  I help leaders become better.  We work on leadership skills and systems to hire, manage, develop, and retain top performers, plus company culture, sales management, and strategic marketing.  Contact us if you, other leaders you know, and/or your company wants to improve.

How to close a sale by demonstrating positive company culture

Sales is not an easy process, and it's definitely not an exact science.  How do you demonstrate value to someone you may have never met before and then convince them to pay you at your stated price for that value?  Or, perhaps you're selling to an existing Client who believes they know everything about you.  That's a tough one.

Usually the sales process follows a pattern:  (1) Find potential clients and introduce yourself; (2) Discuss their needs and demonstrate the value of your product or service; (3) Earn the relationship by submitting a proposal, making a demonstration, and negotiating terms; (4) Maintain the relationship through exceptional customer service and support.

Now, this is a vital process for every company in every industry.  It is so important to your business that there are THOUSANDS of sales consultants waiting to help you close 100% of every deal you come across (hyperbole added).  Will they be effective?  Maybe.  But sales isn't self-sustaining.  Businesses don't just "sell".  They create, install, maintain, support, fulfill, build, plan, advise, and a hundred other tasks that together provide a benefit to their customers.  Want to know what a sales consultant will (probably) not help you focus on?  ALL of those other things.

Remember the sales process above?  #4 includes all of these other things you do to support your customers, and it might just be the most important piece of the process.  Just about everything you do in your business can be used to demonstrate value in the sales process, and often demonstrates the most value.  This is where company culture comes into play in a big way.

Let me give you an example.  Think what would happen to your organization if you responded to a customer's pain by applying your knowledge from previous experience, or sharing the insights you gained from our Talent Assessments.

Brad Wilson of IRIS Solutions is one of my favorite Clients.  Why?  He works hard to apply what he learns.  He emailed me yesterday to share a story.  Here it is (my notes added):

Yesterday we are in this meeting with a prospect.

I am telling them about backup.  All of a sudden they ask, "How long will we be down?"  I told them what I thought, and they said "Well to our current vendor, they think 5 minutes = 1 hour. They tell me 15 minutes and we are down for 1.5 hours.  They really fail to understand what the downtime means to us.  They don't communicate well and we are always trying to drag something out of them to get the real expectation."

I let her finish and then said, "Techs are horrible communicators.  We know this about our guys and do all we can to overcome this.  We have a school that each tech has to attend once a year called Charm School for I.T. Geeks and it talks about expectations."

All of a sudden the conversation changed.

Brad was no longer just selling, he was sharing something about his company, specifically about the people this client would be working with.  He continued:

A few minutes later she said, "I just can't get them to answer my questions." (referring to her current IT services tech)

I asked her if she did personality tests on her employees.  She replied, "I would like to, but no."

I explained that we do and what we learn from this is that techs are poor communicators by nature of their personality. She might want to test the ones she is talking to.  We tend to put these people in an environment where they don't have to talk much to clients, but still have impact.

Again a change in conversation.

Brad demonstrated a deeper knowledge of their people, which is impressive to any client.  It shows he cares not only about his employees but also about the client experience.

The last thing I said was this: "We use the test to help educate the tech on their tendencies when communicating and serving our clients. This way they at least know they have a weakness and what to do about it.  This helps us drive improvement."

Brad's very kind, closing words in his email were this: "David - YOU are the difference here.  See the pattern.  Thanks so much for your help."  I greatly appreciate all of my Clients, and I am honored by Brad's praise. However, the fact is, our work with IRIS Solutions is not rocket science.  They have simply embraced tools like Charm School and Talent Assessments to improve their company culture and achieve their goals.

I hope this story encourages you to look at your company and work on your culture.  You, your employees, and your Clients will all benefit.

Client Experience Exercise

Be more competitive by improving the experience Clients AND prospects have interacting with your people.  How?

"Live It" yourself.  In other words, experience how the BEST companies serve others to be inspired how to improve your own team's Client interactions.  ("Live It" is part of L.O.I.: Live It - Observe It - Improve It, one of the desired results of my original Success With People system.)

Steve Meek of The Fulcrum Group reminded me last week of my favorite exercise to improve the experience people have interacting with your company. Here it is:

Team Building Exercise

Have your people name businesses they feel provide an awesome customer experience. Identify twice as many companies as you have people participating in this exercise.

Although Zappos, Nordstrom, and other large companies may come to mind and are valuable to have on your list, we recommend your people include local firms known for providing great service.  For instance, I have an auto mechanic who has serviced my cars to for over 20 years because I totally trust them.  (They replaced a broken water pump just last week.)  Maybe there are things to learn from great local companies too.

Agree on the two companies for which each person is responsible.  The data on each company might include:

  • Name of the person or people on your team who is responsible for gathering data from the company
  • Date the report on this company is due
  • Company name
  • Website address
  • Physical address
  • Phone
  • Contact, if you know one, who has provided great service previously (you may or may not want to involve them in this Activity)
  • Expectation: What do they do differently with employees to build a strong company culture?
  • Expectation: What do they do differently with clients to demonstrate their strong company culture?

Prepare to buy something from them

Each person's job is to creatively explore and fully comprehend why their "best" companies provide such a better customer experience.  Give your people $50-$100 per company to purchase something and report back to the group on their experience.  Allow your people to keep what they buy.

Discuss how you will test them

Do not assume you or your people understand how to do this market research competently.  Have an open discussion to share ideas on how to shop so your people experience "the best" company responses in a variety of situations, such as asking for advice, purchasing, returning goods and support.  Here are some interactions you might consider:

  • Ask "stupid" questions before the purchase.
  • Ask foolish questions after the purchase.
  • Complain (but not too much).
  • Return your purchase and buy something else.
  • Consider behaving in an easy-going manner with some companies and a "difficult" customer with others, however we do not recommend anyone behaves like a jerk.

Each person can take a different approach, but sharing these ideas helps people consider different ways to engage their "best" companies.

Use all five senses

Share ideas within the group on how they can use all five senses to better understand their feelings throughout the experience with each of their "best" companies.  Multiple senses are involved even when interacting with people online.  Here are some thoughts to get your discussion going:

  • Sight:  How is the building designed inside and out?  What do you see in the signage, product placement, colors and anything else that increases your trust in each "best" company?  What is most effective and why?
  • Smell:  What do you smell?  Is it natural from the products or environment, or a scent they have intentionally added?
  • Hear:  What music or sounds are in the background?  How does it affect your experience?
  • Taste:  What tastes are involved in your experience (coffee, tea, water fountain, candy)?  How does it improve or detract from your purchasing experience?
  • Feel:  What does your experience with the company feel like physically and emotionally as you interact with their people, products, website, offices and other aspects of their business?

Use Experience Analysis Worksheets

You can use Experience Analysis Worksheets (a tool I developed based on something from John DiJulius) for these Activities to record key data your people bring back from their purchasing expeditions.

Although I came up with this activity on my own, other companies striving to become GREAT are following a similar process.  Years ago I read about Ed Zimmer, former CEO of Ecco, a maker of backup alarms and lights for trucks in Inc Magazine.  He explained one of the ways he contributed to the company's $200 million in sales was helping his customer service people better understand the experience of their clients.  He said:

"...we even bought gift certificates to L.L. Bean and gave them two or three customer service folks at the time, so they could order something for themselves and see what the process was like. We want our customers to have that kind of experience [as L.L. Bean]."

Here is how we suggest you complete this activity before moving on... (there are 5 potential steps in all we can encourage Clients to do):

  1. Have a meeting to share the results of the purchasing expeditions.
  2. Discuss how your initial Expectations compared to the ways "the best" companies actually engage their employees and clients.
  3. Consolidate what you learned from "the best" companies that you want to apply today and in the future.  Possibly organize the actions you want to take in phases with due dates consistent with your other company culture efforts.

You will have fun, AND identify ways to be a better organization. Happy hunting!

Policies Kill

The Client called with a problem.  Your employee responded that your company policy does not allow him to give her what she wanted without paying for it.  Six months later the Client informs you they are not renewing their services agreement with you.  They chose another company.  You are shocked.  You did not realize there was a significant problem with the account.

Your employee did what they were taught to do, but not what we teach in Dave's Charm School.  He followed your company policies, which gave him responsibility for the client experience but not the authority to do what it takes to meet or exceed their expectations.  The result was a seed of discontent planted in the mind of your former Client.

John DiJulius wrote recently in his blog about the importance of having guidelines instead of policies.  I agree.  Policies can be very restrictive, while guidelines allow your employees to go the extra mile during Client interactions.

Learn from the pros:  How much money can a Ritz Carlton or Nordstrom employee decide to refund, spend, or write-off to keep a customer happy? I mean any employee.  It could be a sales person on the floor of Nordstrom's women's shoe department, or a guest associate working the registration desk of a Ritz Carlton.  It's $2,000.  Without asking anyone.

What is the average cost to the Ritz Carlton of this policy, or guideline, per refund, expense spent, or write-off? $25 on average.  Twenty-five dollars!  That's a bargain!

Too often we try to save $100 here and there, instead of focusing on doing whatever it takes to retain a profitable Client.  There are some Clients we need to let go.  I am not talking about those.  We NEVER want to lose a good Client.  But we are lying to ourselves when we try to penny-pinch our way through customer service.

The alternative is for leaders to develop a self-motivating work environment where employee responsibilities match their authority.  You have to learn how to put aside the tyranny of urgency each week to focus on becoming a better leader and building your company.

LEARNING POINTS

  1. Have guidelines for serving Clients, not iron-clad policies.  Those rigid policies kill Client and employee relationships, which is extremely costly.
  2. Even with guidelines, your leaders still need training.  This Thursday we kick-off our third round of Certified LEADER training sessions.  It lasts six months so new habits can be developed.  Learn more and sign-up here.

A great business should have a great website

Think about it:  What do you do when a job candidate looks interesting?  You search for them online to see if their online data matches or exceeds your expectations.

The same applies in reverse:  Job candidates and prospective Clients are checking you out.  You need to have a well-designed company website and an up-to-date LinkedIn profile.  This is critically important to communicate the value of your leadership and company culture.

If you are using a template, then it should be customizable.  We like Wordpress sites because we can customize them (after doing major edits on my copy) and I can add content (it is so easy).  But there are tons of options out there, including building your own site from scratch.

If you are fresh out of ideas, consider 99Designs for a cool design (not for something BORING) or a design shop.  Even if you don't find a design you love, just having a few extra ideas will pay off.

No, we are not selling design services.  We have our hands full developing and designing our own software, services, and website.  But as part of our leadership consulting and company culture makeovers we often provide advice and critique of our Clients' digital "face".

Here are some sites that we consider when updating our site:

Apple

Basecamp

Grove Made

Highrise

The Hobbit - The Battle of the Five Armies

Lunar Gravity

Microsoft - watch out Apple!

Salesforce

Stripe

Supercell


Tao Studio Design - lots of ideas on one site, and maybe you want to hire one of these designers!

Wall Mob

Zendesk

There are others, but this is a good part of our list.  In contrast, I cannot think of a single managed / I.T. services provider website that inspires me.  Why not?  Maybe the cobbler's children don't have the best shoes... Have you seen one?  Please tell us about it!

3strands LEADERS focus on the details that lead to significant growth.  Our company websites are more important than most of us make them.  They are our digital ID cards, our online billboards, our virtual storefronts.  Cost effectively update your website, engage a competent SEO firm to help drive traffic, and you will see a solid ROI on the investment.

2 Questions that can change your life

Would you like to sell more? Would you like to work more effectively with Clients, coworkers, vendors, your spouse, children, those relatives of yours/hers/his? Would you like to be a better leader?

Greg Koukl in his book, Tactics, asks two questions to help you think better, increase your knowledge, make wiser decisions, and improve how you relate to others:

  1. We (you and me) rarely use these questions verbatim / exactly as written them below.  You adapt them based on the situation.
  2. We ALWAYS ask these questions sincerely, respectfully, in a tone of voice, and with body language that communicates we care.
  3. There are other aspects to our conversations with others beyond these two questions, but these questions are a wonderful way to better understand someone and encourage them to explain what they mean.
  4. Greg's focus is helping Christians discuss their faith in a more loving and respectful way, but we can apply his questioning technique to improve our relationships with anyone!  His book is fabulous, but it does have a lot of the "J-word" (Jesus) and Christian perspective to it.

I believe Tactics is one of the best leadership, company culture, and sales training books ever written. No matter what your spiritual beliefs are, you should consider reading it. Here are Greg's two Columbo-like questions:

  1. What does that mean?
  2. Why do you believe that? 

Three quick examples of how you can put this into practice at work:

EXAMPLE #1

A Client says you did not fix their tech problem. You might respond "I'm sorry.  What is happening now?" and discuss the problem.

Then you might say, "Well it sounds like we need to re-open this ticket.  Let me confirm what I'm hearing you say.  My understanding is we were asked to do X.  The notes on the ticket indicate the work was done, and the problem was not recurring in testing.  Is there anything else happening now that makes you think the work was not completed?"

EXAMPLE #2

A sales prospect says your price is too high. You might respond "Oh, it shouldn't be.  Let's walk through my quote so I can understand specifically where our pricing appears to be uncompetitive."

Then you might say to a specific complaint: "That's interesting.  Why do you believe that price is high?"  Your response to their answer varies based on what they say, but it might be a series of value explanations with questions to confirm they agree.

EXAMPLE #3

An employee says they think one of your company policies are wrong / should be changed. You might respond "Great.  What do you think it should be instead?" and discuss the policy.

Then you might say:  "I think I see where you're coming from.  Help me understand specifically how your approach is better than what we are doing today."

-

Inspirational 3strands LEADERS ask great questions.  I love Greg's approach because it sincerely seeks better understanding and truth.  Every leader can benefit from developing these questions as a habit.

I also love helping companies implement these approaches to improve their productivity and client experience.  Do you need help? I work with entrepreneurial leaders to develop NEW habits to overpower their less productive ones.  Our work often extends into company culture and employee training to "make price irrelevant."  Contact us if you'd like to talk.

Ultimate Competitive Edge

First, consider these conclusions from Gallup...

64% of managers and executives are NOT engaged

(consider the cash drain from the employees that report to them)

and

When you develop the leadership skills of your managers then you DOUBLE the # of engaged employees on their team.

 

Run the numbers and consider (1) the % of productivity per manager in your company, (2) the % of productivity per employee (how well they perform vs. how well they could perform if they worked smarter and/or harder), and (3) multiply that times the additional profit, revenue, cost savings, opportunities gained, etc. that will occur when they become their best. 

The amount you calculate is the potential upside you can monthly as your MANAGERS hire, manage, develop, and retain top performing employees better.

Your estimates are probably low. The upside is much higher. We have only 3 spots left in our Certified LEADER program.  Let me improve your managers.  Sign-up on our website or download the brochure. 

What about the Ultimate Competitive Edge?  Here it is: 

1.  A strong company culture, reinforced weekly, if not daily.  Most of you know this already, but only a few of you do this weekly or daily.

2.  3strands Leadership - every owner, executive, manager, and team leader is operating a peak capacity AND LOVING IT!  Is this true at your company?

3.  Build Relationships - the person must be more important than the transaction.  Starting at the first contact with a sales prospect and following through to every interaction with people in your company.  EVERY time an employee, client, vendor, person in your community, spouse or family member of an employee... ANYONE interacts with your company, it is relational first, not transactional.  Some of you do this instinctively, others have no idea what this looks like.  That's why we created our Charm School training :).  There is ALWAYS room for improvement!

No managed services / I.T. solution provider consistently does all three well.  Some are pretty good, and others are terrible - yet the odd thing about human behavior is many of us are more comfortable losing money because of our bad habits than improving them.

I have been there, done that.  I fight every day to not go back.  I am committed to developing leaders and applying leadership systems - first myself, and then others.  I build relationships naturally.  It is what I love best about my career. 

This is the ultimate competitive edge.  You can embrace it and invest in it, or lose to it.

Why?  Because the ultimate competitive edge forces existing clients and sales prospects to BELIEVE they must seek your advice before making a significant technology investment.  If they believe this about your competitors but not you, then you start the sales race "in a bad lane" and the odds of you winning the race are less favorable. 

Why not improve now?

Produce Killer Lunch-n-Learns Webinar

Many MSPs would like to hold more events to attract the right prospects and keep existing clients happy; however, they're not sure how to get people to attend their events. Does this sound like you? If so...

Watch the webinar below in which Stuart Crawford, Founder of Ulistic, will explain how he produces events that consistently grow the business of his clients.

A well-produced event motivates existing clients to buy more, and convinces prospects that they need to do business with you! As we've said, this is a webinar that can't be missed, especially if you want to learn how to:

  • Produce more quality events
  • Motivate large numbers of decision-makers to attend
  • Secure all of the vendor dollars available to you

During the 30-45 minutes, learn how Stuart Crawford and his innovative marketing team at Ulistic produces events that drive new business for companies like yours! More specifically, we'll discuss how to produce a lunch-n-learn event, wherein you're able to provide true business value to clients and prospects while keeping technology as the secondary focus.

Giveaways

Some people believe giveaways create new business.  Others do not.  What do you think?

First, consider giveaways for employees... things like healthcare benefits, time off, investments in their education, cell phones, mileage reimbursement or company cars, and other things that add up to thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars annually.

See the Meeting Notes for some suggested discussion questions.

Second, consider giveaways for Clients...  things like service hours that are not billed, extras that are done without charge, free educational activities, social events, and other things that add up to thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars annually.

See the Meeting Notes for some suggested discussion questions.

Lastly, consider giveaways for prospects...  Things like small gifts, free technology assessments, free advice, educational activities, social events, and other things that add up to thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars annually. 

See the Meeting Notes for some suggested discussion questions.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  

  1. Most giveaways are taken for granted and forgotten by all three audiences.
  2. Client and sales prospect giveaways only work when your team is fully committed to delivering great service to people who receive the giveaway.  The Client experience must meet or exceed a typical experience of working with your firm.
  3. Employee giveaways only increase employee engagement when the gifts are personalized per employee, they are reminded in positive ways of how fortunate they are to receive them, and leaders sincerely believe in and respect their employees.

#3 is often part of the work we do in our consulting engagements.  That is one reason why there is a very quick ROI to our work.

You may enjoy the Meeting Notes to inspire discussion about how to increase the return on your investment in giveaways.

Meeting Ideas

Giveaways of any kind cost money so taking time to evaluate the ROI on your giveaways has value.  Here are some suggested questions that you may want to consider as part of your evaluation:

Giveaways For Employees 

  1. List all employee benefits and perks, their cost, and how/when you communicate each giveaway plus their cost to employees.  (They tend to take giveaways for granted.  Sometimes a quarterly report can be helpful when presented for their benefit not as a negative "look at that we do for you scum...".
  2. Organize the list by most expensive to least expensive.
  3. Estimate the ROI of each giveaway.
  4. Are there any giveaways that should be cut back or eliminated?
  5. Are there any giveaways that you should be giving that you are not?
  6. Define how to pilot changes.
  7. Implement and review.

You can follow a similar process for Clients and sales prospects, just without tracking how you communicate the giveaway costs to them.

Let me know if you need help.

Don't Miss This Perspective

Last Thursday night I was at the gym working out and a thought struck me:

"When someone shares their perspective, always keep in mind the wounds of their life upon which that perspective is based.  No one has perfect perspective."

The older I get, and our young adopted kids have joked that my age is actually over 100 years, I become more convinced that everyone is wounded.  Those wounds, which start in our childhood and expand into the present, affect our perspective and how we interact with others.

Later that night I decided to open an email that my son, Jeff, had forwarded me with a customer service story.  It is a great reminder that people are often angry about something other than what it seems.  Don't miss this story!  You may want to use it as a discussion topic during a future team meeting.

I believe in you.

It is Monday.  ACCOUNTABILITY TIME!  

  1. Did you take Sanctuary time over the weekend to improve your focus?
  2. How did you do on your 3Strands last week?
  3. Have you defined your 3Strands for this week?
  4. By 9:00 a.m. this morning you should have 3Strands emails from each of your direct reports.

Stay on track.

The Disney Experience

There was litter on the floor.  The motor car was broken down.  A life-size elephant  statue  had a cobweb with a leaf caught in it near its right eye.  There was sooty exhaust or smog scum on more than one pillar...

These were all part of my Disney experience a few years ago.  It was not perfect in other ways too.  

Last week I encouraged you to consider the consistent experience of some great companies.  THIS WEEK I want to remind you that even great companies fail daily.

"Perfect" means complete, as in thorough, rather than flawless when describing our "perfect client experience."  Mistakes happen, but our processes should respond to them in such a way that clients (and employees) remember our recovery more than our failure.

So if your June is not getting off to a great start, do not give up or blow up at employees or clients.  These problems are temporary and will pass.

Disney employees make mistakes and so will yours.  Consider the process in Meeting Notes to prioritize the way you respond to problems and improve your processes.

Meeting Ideas

Whether you are the CEO, running sales, managing the service group, or leading in some other way, at times the amount of work we have to do or problems we want to solve can seem overwhelming.

Here is a simple method to getting work done:

  1. On your own or with your team make a list of the work that needs to be done.  You can call this your parking lot, dump, priority list, or whatever you want.
  2. Prioritize the list based on importance.
  3. Take the first 1-3 items on the list and focus on them.  These can be your 3strands for one week.  Only take on what you can complete in one week.
    • Assign them to yourself and/or others on your calendar.
    • Your work time on these issues should be uninterruptible time.  Let your people know you are not to be bothered unless the building is burning down.
    • Look at these 3strands daily to hold yourself accountable.
    • If you are missing your self-made deadlines, then immediately engage someone else in your process for accountability.
    • Complete the first item.  Then complete the second item...  Do you understand the pattern?
  4. Do not look at your parking lot items except momentarily when you need to add more things to the parking lot.
  5. After you solve the 1-3 most urgent problems then celebrate.  Get a power size Jamba Juice or a nice cup of coffee.  Take a 15-20 minute break to read something or think about your favorite project.  If this is a team effort, then buy non-alcoholic drinks or lunch for the team.
  6. Return to your parking lot list.  Confirm it is prioritized correctly.
  7. Choose the next 1-3 items from the top of your list and repeat this process.
Have fun!