Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Systems Coach: Bill Belichick

Quick article on New England Patriot's coach, Bill Belichick from the latest issue of the Wharton Leadership Digest. I call him a next-generation or new-model type of professional coach. He is not a "master motivator" like his mentor, Bill Parcells. He is a quiet professional. In this article he gives his five features of his coaching style. See the article for a more in-depth look:

  • Develop a system
  • Teach and adjust the system
  • Instill discipline
  • Recruit the best within the budget
  • Support the team

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Verizon Wireless Customer Service Nightmare

Someone got paid a lot of money to design the customer experience nightmare that is the Verizon Wireless store near the Eastview Mall in Victor, NY. Holy COW! I dont know if I can fully capture the exercise in inefficiency and ineffectiveness, not to mention almost sales prevention that we experienced last night.

For pure economics, we need to go down to one phone. Right now we have two physical phones with two separate phone numbers. The plan: Get rid of my phone number and give Karen my phone which is the newer phone. (Or replace it since it wasnt holding a charge). Change the plan into Karen's name only because she gets a corporate discount.

You walk in the door and are immediately STOPPED by a little podium asking you to please sign in! Skippy the Wonder Chimp is there to greet us. He is, in fact, a GREETER, as his name tag states. It really should have said INCOHERENT MUMBLER but I realize I am getting older and maybe my ears dont work as well anymore. It takes 3 or 4 tries but we finally get him to grasp the CONCEPT of what we want to do. He WRITES OUR NAME DOWN ON A PIECE OF PAPER and then tells us we need to see customer service and its a ten minute wait. A quick glance reveals approximate 7-8 Verizon people seemingly milling about. There are several "stations" now. What used to be the main desk where you simply queued up to get service, is now divided into 2 techincal support stations and 3 customer service stations. There is another desk for "sales" and then there is an electronic bill pay station.

Thankfully, it wasnt a ten minute wait. Evan calls us over pretty promptly. I think they even sent Skippy to escort us implying a huddle conversation between whether or not they actually wanted to help us. But I didnt SEE this with my own eyes, so I cant say it happened. Im comfortable that it did though. Evan, looks like a fatter version of Beaker from the Muppet Show. Maybe not, but he did look like a human version of a muppet. I still dont understand why everyone had their coats on in this place, it was hot as only a retail store can be (that's a rant for another day) but they all seemed to be freezing. We lay our needs out to Evan. From the jump his brow is furrowed and he cannot seem to separate the tasks out in order to complete all of our requests. We start by looking at the account. A good plan. Evan either cant read or cant do the math that says our two year contract expired two months ago and ergo, we would not be charged any cancellation fees. I undertand him starting there. I am sure this guy gets ripped all day long by people trying to cancel before learning it will cost them $500. He calls over the manager. (And, yes, I am using that term very loosely). Manager-boy tells him the dope. Evan asks, "But how would I know that from looking at this screen?" And I give Beaker his props because he is right. The manager needs to teach here. Take the 10 seconds to explain it and then you wont have to explain many more times.

More brow furrowing. Finally, in exasperation, Beaker decides this would be a SALES function because we would really be changing our calling plan. Meanwhile, he tells me that I should talk to technical support about my battery not keeping a charge. I ask this because as I mentioned, Karen wants my "newer" phone. But, if a new battery is going to cost more than a new phone, we'd want the new phone. Techincal Support is literally 18" away but act like there is an impregnable invisible shield. She does not look up when we are talking about needing their help. She does not stop whatever it is she is doing (which I suspect was just typing random characters on a keyboard) when I take the side-step over to her, smiling my this-is-a-customer-service-goat-rope-smile to Karen. I stand there, in front of her, still talking to Beaker and Karen for a good five minutes before she acknowledges me. She confirms my thinking that a new phone would be in order and, hey!, we are eligible for $100 off a new phone since our plan expired. So Karen is stoked. But we still have to talk to SALES.

And there is a queue for them. Never mind that Sales is two people sitting at the Sales Desk staring off into space. Just put that out of your mind. We mill about for a good 20 minutes before it is our turn. Rather than hand us off "warmly" as we say in the biz, we are forced to do the equivalent of hang up and call back later. We look at phones.

Rosie Greer's twin brother finally thanks us for our patience. We're in the store for close to an HOUR at this point. What I didnt process until just now is that as soon as he started talking to us, he dialed a phone number on his speaker phone. This is where it gets hairy. We can take one of the phones off the plan but only the OLD phone number. Yes, the one we have had since cell techology was invented. Because....the newer phone number shows as the primary phone. Never mind that we bought that phone two years ago. No, there is no switching them and then cancelling. I asked.Well...we could but then we wouldnt be eligible for the $100 credit. No, there is no name change and then do everything else. We must do the plan change and THEN mail in a form to change the name which takes about two weeks. Meanwhile, Rosie is still on hold. So, we are going to lose our original phone number but get a new phone. Rosie had to fill out a form AND talk to the Verizon person at the other end of the phone who finally picked up to DO ALL OF THE TRANSACTIONS! Why we needed to actually BE IN THE STORE remains a mystery for the ages. And, of course!, I had to go through the same thing with the woman on the phone.

90 minutes. At the end...Rosie says that the old number will cycle through the system for 48 hours. On Friday, he will look for us to see if it shows up. He will then change the number for us! We thanked him. I was on the verge of weeping. I am leaving a lot out. There was second greeter. Heard him tell a customer that they should drop their phone in water to get a new one. Skippy gave us his thoughts on which phones were subjectively better than others. Rosie did the same thing and I pretty sure he told us the opposite of Skippy. Regardless, the one Skippy liked was sold out. Come saw that coming!

I just can't believe how totally BROKEN this whole experience was from start to finish. This should have taken us ten minutes. It took 90. We should have had one person help us, not the 6 that actually talked to us. The people in the store need to be tied into the same system that they have to call to get the changes/activations made! And that system needs to be flexible enough to do a simple name change. We weren't asking for anything crazy. Its a database. Change the data in the fields! Take down the check in desk. If it is easier to do it online...TELL ME! I will go home and do it and feel better about you. Dont let me jerk around in your store for 90 minutes while you dont make any money off of us! What is the point?!?

Anyway...because our night was ruined I decided to call the cable company and tell them I was switching to satellite. I can get a better deal (more channels and two TiVo's) for $35 LESS than what I am paying now. Uh....why wouldnt I do that? Anyway...cable wouldnt match. They gave me more channels but no extra TiVo for the same price I am paying now. I explained to the nice lady that I was LEAVING as a customer. Didn't phase her.

Monday, September 27, 2004

When The Boss Is A Bully

Having just left a company that was run by a bully, this article really struck home with me. This article gives excellent advice on how to deal with a middle manager who is a bully. Sadly, there is not a thing one can do if the owner is a bully and you report directly to her. If you find yourself in this situation, run. Run fast. Run far. You will NOT win. I repeat. You will NOT win.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

"Battle Ready" by General Tony Zinni and Tom Clancy

It started with The Guru Red Manifesto. The guys at Guru Red say you only need to read three business books: The Art of War, The Book of Five Rings, and Warfighting. The Marine Corps Way is the only thing you need to know to be competitive in modern business. Then there were the two women on CNBC, ex-Marines, starting their own leadership training program in the corporate world (sorry, can't find the link). I'm following this trend of all you ever needed to know the Marine Corps teach us.

"Battle Ready" is not the most compelling read. From Amazon:
Battle Ready follows the evolution of both General Zinni and the Marine Corps, from the cauldron of Vietnam through the operational revolution of the seventies and eighties, to the new realities of the post-Cold War, post-9/11 military-a military with a radically different job and radically different tools for accomplishing it. It is an eye-opening book-a front-row seat to a man, an institution, and a way of both war and peace that together make this an instant classic of military history.
I agree with all of it. Partway through the book, Zinni discusses the Marine Corps Qualities and Values. Here they are:

One: Our first identity as Marines is to be a Marine. The proper designation for each Marine from privates to generals is “Marine”.

Two: Every Marine has to be qualified as a rifleman. Every marine is a fighter. We have no rear area types. All of us are warriors.

Three: We feel strong about our traditions that anyone else. We salute the past. This is not merely ritual or pageantry. It is part of the essence of the Marine Corps. One of the essential subjects every Marine has to know is his Corps’ history; he has to take it in and make it an essential part of himself.

Four: We carry a sense of responsibility for those who went before us, which ends up meaning a lot to Marines who are in combat. We don’t want to let our predecessors down or taint our magnificent heritage.

Five: We make the most detailed and specifically significant demands on our people in terms of iron discipline and precise standards. Yet, we have the greatest tolerance for mavericks and outside-the-box thinkers. This also means we are an institution where people are judged on their performance and not their opinions.

Six: We have a reputation for innovation. We adapt and overcome.

Seven: We aren’t tied down to fixed techniques and doctrines. We have never been hidebound doctrinaires. We are more flexible and adaptable; concepts based rather than doctrine based. That is, we really believe in the individual. We don’t like big proscriptive structures. We really believe that if we educate and train our leaders and our officers to take charge, and give them broad conceptual guidelines, but don’t bind them to these as strict “doctrinal” necessity, they’ll do a better job.

Eight: We are by our nature “expeditionary”. This means several things. It means a high state of readiness; we can go at a moment’s notice. It means our organization, our equipment, our structure are designed to allow us to deploy very efficiently. We don’t take anything we don’t need. We’re lean, we’re slim, we’re streamlined. We don’t need a lot of “stuff” – whether it is equipment or comforts. We can make do with what we have.

It’s a mindset, too, about being ready to go, about being ready to deployed, and about flexibility. Finally, it is how we organize, prepare, and train.

I am really exploring this Marine concept. Its about branding and knowing who you are and what you are capable of doing. It is about a commitment to your people and your "customers". It is about being flexible and adaptable without diluting your brand or your service offerings. It is about learning and growing and improving. It is about NOT losing sight of who you are and what you are about.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

71% of Nonprofits Do Not Use A Single, Online Database to Manage Donor and Supporter Relationships

Nonprofits must track a variety of contact information to effectively manage online activity with regard to donors and volunteers. Yet a recent survey of the nonprofit sector finds that a majority of organizations continue to store this information in several places instead of unifying contacts into a single, online database. Of those surveyed, 46% of the respondents reported that their organizations are using two or more databases to store donor and supporter information for online use, while 25% said they are not currently using a database for this information at all. However, 29% of those surveyed noted that they rely on one online database for this purpose. The informal survey was conducted by Kintera.
I spent two years working in a FOR-profit outsource provider (call center and fulfillment). We worked with higher education, hospital and cultural arts institutions to help them raise funds. This article hits home. I cannot go so far as to say that this market is ripe for the pickings however, with the right contacts and a very SIMPLE customer relationship management tool/application, it could work.

The problem is that the non-profits have trouble with a couple of things. First, they have trouble seeing strategic value of anything. Everything is tactically focused. The need to raise $X THIS year. Next year, five years and 20 years from now do not matter. And why should they, the development officer will most likely be long gone onto her next development position at a slightly larger institution. Second, they seem to refuse to be looking at the changing demographics. There are companies out there providing the data to them. They just keep hammering at the same old methods. Stopping the constantly leaking bucket that is their donor pool.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Improving Retention Between Offer Acceptance and The First Day

This article offers a great approach to what I would call "finishing" the recruitment process. Attracting and recruiting new talent is often thought of as the whole ball game. Recruitment and the "woo-ing" process should not stop the second the potential hire signs an offer letter. Aramark has put a very compelling process in place which improves overall ROI on recruitment costs.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

"Companies Not Well-Positioned to Compete as War for Talent Intensifies, Accenture Research Finds"

As the economic climate continues to improve, the talent war will flare-up but companies will not be prepared. The Accenture survey report details that companies SAY they want leaders and they want organizations that can adapt to change quickly. Only 8% of those companies say they are meeting those goals. The problem is that companies have been focused on controlling bottom-line costs. The first thing to be cut is training and development. Usually. Lip service is paid to training as a means to improve employees skill-sets and productivity, but few companies follow through. The companies that succeed will and indeed, are shifting their strategy towards growth and they understand that to grow, they need talented leaders at all levels.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

New Links

I added a few new links to the pool. Leader to Leader is a quarterly journal from the Drucker Foundation. Some of the biggest guns of the thought leadership world are referenced. There is a very comprehensive achive as well.  War, Chaos and Business talks about the ideas of John Boyd, a strategist that developed "OODA loops" (observe, orient, decide, act). Some of you may know this from Xerox decision making processes as "PDCA" (plan, do, check, act). Site also discusses how Sun Tzu's philosophies can be used in the business world. Keeping with the Sun Tzu theme, to which I am partial, Sonshi is all Sun Tzu, all of the time. There is also a great resource here of other strategy works from: Clausewitz to Machiavelli to Caesar to Vegetius. Check it out.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Michael Hyatt's Power Point Resources

Power Point is a necessary evil in the business world. The on-going discussion with a project team I am working with is how many do we need as an introductory presentation for our service. I will ALWAYS vote on the l-o-w end. I believe any presentation should be three slides long. Slide 1: who we are. Slide 2: what we do. Slide 3: here is how we will make you PILES of money. If you have to use PowerPoint, learn some graphic design. Some. Not become an expert. Hyatt's list of resources will help any presentation.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

On Customer Support

I will warn everyone now that there will be a tendency to talk about customer service and support, multi-channel management and CRM related topics in this blog. On Customer Support was written by David Kay back in May of this year and published at I just pulled this document out for another project I am working on. The article details four shifts in customer support.
  1. From Product Support to Solution Support - no longer can the support group afford to be isolated from the rest of the product "team" or company. Support, in many cases is the only time you get to talk to your customers. Product development, marketing, sales etc all need to listen. There is also a shift taking place from measuring customer satisfaction ("c-sat") with LOYALTY.
  2. From Reactive Support to Proactive Support - in the past, customers would call for support, give their pedigree information (name, id, etc), open a ticket and then disappear once the problem was solved. The shift is happening where customer information is being gathered and analyzed to identify common threads. The idea is to NOT have a support organization. In this shift, if customer A contacts you with a problem, you can then look at your entire customer base and identify other customers that will or may have the same problem and then proactively contact them to fix it!
  3. From Solving Problems to Improving Products and Knowledge - This means taking the best support agents OFF the phone (solving customer problems) and assigning them to the task of increasing the ORGANIZATION's ability to solve problems.  Use these team members to build the knowledge bases. Use them to perform root cause analysis on problems and feed back solutions to all members of the product team, not just support.
  4. From Just-in-Case Training to Just-in-Time Knowledge Transfter - The speed at which new problems develop is making it next to impossible to pull entire teams together for "training"...especially in a 24/7 world. The idea is to relentlessly build the knowledge base to allow front line agents to adapt on the fly.

Kay states:

Rather than making existing processes more efficient, they redefine the value delivered by the support organization away from the negative (fixing broken products) and towards the positive (increasing the value of the customer relationship). This allows the support organization to drive customer loyalty and profitability, taking a leadership role that rightly belongs to the most customer-facing organization in the company.

Huzzah to that! Those of us who have been and still are on the front lines have been saying this for YEARS.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Will RFID Spark the Next Revolution in Retailing?

The Wharton site requires registration but does not cost anything. RFID is a technology I have been watching. Remember the Tom Peters' rule from below: the technology is useless for the first 5 years. RFID - radio frequency identification tags are starting to generate a buzz. Wal-Mart is laying on a big push. The dream scenario that we have been hearing about for years is that every item in the supermarket will be tagged. We won't have to wait in a checkout line anymore. Nor will we have to use the self-service lines which I can never seem to navigate through and I consider myself a reasonably tech-saavy guy. Scanners will "read" everything in your cart, you will be direct billed to your debit account, and away you go to soccer practice.

The market seems to be letting Wal-Mart and Target work the kinks out of the system. Costs for tags are still too high. Scanning technology isn't where it needs to be yet. But it will be. Forrester analyst Christine Spivey Overby says:

One of the biggest barriers to making RFID work is figuring out how to manage the data.

The amount of data that can be generated from these tags from ALL stops in the supply chain is staggering. The economic impact will be interesting to watch. If I am a large retail store my inventory costs just got cut. I can get very close to just-in-time delivery. As a consumer, my refrigerator will be able to link to the grocery store and have my basic, week to week items ready for me to pick up. I won't have to get out of my car.
I saw a link the other day and didn't save it where there is talk of putting RFID tags into children. Lojack for your kid. Not sure how I feel about that but this isn't the forum for my Big-Brother-Let's-Suspend-The-November-Elections rants.

The Brand You Survival Kit

I thought it fitting to start this blog out with a link to a Tom Peters' article from the June issue of Fast Company. The article is classic modern-day Peters. Adapt or die. Everybody is a mercenary ("contractor" as the Bush administration calls them) or should at least be thinking and acting like one. He's been on this rampage since 1997. Like CRM and VoIP, it is finally starting to click. I am a disciple. I love his simple six word mission statement: Service Clients, Develop Talent, WOW! Projects. This article is the executive summary of The Brand You 50 and its similar chapters in the recently published Re-Imagine!. In short:
  • Turn every project into something the recruiter or person doing the hiring is going to get excited about.
  • You must market yourself. Accomplishments on a resume are NOT ENOUGH.
  • Don't settle for being a jack of all trades. Master something. But be able to adapt at a breakneck pace.
  • Loyalty to the "company" is dead. Loyalty to your peers is crucial. Build your Rolodex or your Outlook contacts ported over to your palm pilot.
  • New technology is useless for the first five years. But you need to know its out there and be ready to use it when it becomes useful.
  • Constantly re-invent yourself.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

First Post

This is the first post for this blog. Awhile back it hit me that there is a LOT of "management" information out there that would be of use to some people. Unfortunately, the people that need this information the most usually do not have the time to sort through the hundreds of newspapers, journals, magazines, newsletters, and let's not forget websites. We here at hope to bring you the best management theories, tips and practices to help you with your careers, your projects, your teams, your bosses and your companies. Bookmark us and come back often.