Real Leaders Ask These Questions

Why

Real leaders are empathetic, curious, confident and skilled listeners.  They are constantly trying to learn and gain new insights and perspectives to improve both themselves and those they lead.  Real leaders ask thought-provoking questions that necessitate real responses.  They’re not interested in lip service from yes-men or yes-women.  What questions do real leaders ask?

  1. What could you use to help you do a better job?  This is a much better question than the typical “do you need anything?”  Asking the latter is really like saying “What more could you possibly want?”  Focusing the question on the result – a better job – produces a more valuable response.
  2. Talk with me about how we can improve our product/service.  If you simply ask, “What can we do to improve?” you leave yourself open to those who don’t want to risk speaking up.  You’re giving them the option of responding with a closed-ended reply – nothing.  By beginning with the words “talk with me” you’re letting that person know you’re interested and you’re expecting a conversation rather than a one word response.
  3. What am I missing?  The more common question asked is “Is there anything else?”  Again, this is a closed-ended question that risks getting a “no” response.  Asking “what am I missing” opens the door to various responses in addition to communicating that you’re not a know-it-all.
  4. Is it probable?  What are the chances?  These two questions can be interchanged.  Imagine you’re making a decision that will alter your product or service in a way that you believe will yield positive results.  Don’t ask your team what they think of the change.  Instead ask them what the probability is that customer service improves if that change is made and why?
  5. What got you jazzed today?  This should replace “how’s it going?”, or “how are you doing?”.  Most employees wouldn’t dream of telling their boss how it’s going, nor would they be comfortable enough to open up about how they’re really doing.  Asking for a specific event, gesture, or experience will provide insight into the work environment.  If there is nothing jazz-worthy a real leader takes note and digs deeper to understand the difference between an uneventful day and a disengaged culture.

Try these out and see what you learn.

A Social Media Experience Gone Bad

disappointment

My job requires a great deal of domestic travel.  I’m typically on the road 75% of the time covering the entire country.  Living in Philadelphia there’s one airline that dominates this market.  I’ve traveled this airline since 1995 and have flown their top-tier status for years.  With more than a million miles under my belt I’d consider myself a pretty savvy traveler.  I’d also consider myself to be a loyal customer to any company that provides me with the right value equation – what I get for what I spend.  So what does all this have to do with social media?  Here’s the story.

Recently I was scheduled to fly out of Philly to Denver.  Shortly after midnight, the day of travel, I received an email alerting me that my flight had been canceled.  I called the airline and after I got the customer service agent out of bed he proceeded to tell me that the flight had been indeed been canceled but that he would help me out by getting me on the next available flight to Denver.  Imagine my surprise when he informed me that the next available flight was scheduled for the exact same time as the original departure.  Hmm.  In his ever groggy voice the representative informed me that he could not assign me a seat as this flight was “under airport control”.  Sounds reassuring.

Got to the airport only to be told that the only seat available on this new flight…which remember was scheduled for the exact same time as my original flight…was a center seat.  Needing to get to Denver I had no choice.  So, last row, center seat, sold out flight.  I proceeded to tweet this airways regarding my situation.  Moments later I received a response to my tweet that said “We’re sorry for the cancellation. Check in with a gate agent for a seat assignment.”  Wow, now that was helpful.  So I proceed to reply suggesting they offer me something as a consolation…a free drink, WiFi, something.  Response? “We’re unable to offer free WiFi or drinks we’re sorry for your disappointment.”

Needless to say this airways attempt at using social media to delight and wow a customer fell WAY short.  Their responses were cold, impersonal, and above all else…useless.

Fast forward a week later.  Same exact situation happens only this time in route to Dallas.  So I tweet again.  This time the response I receive is “We’re sorry we aren’t able to help you here however our agents are happy to assist.”  This airways just doesn’t get it.  What they’ve done is made a bad situation even worse.  No one has owned the problem, no one owned fixing it.  It’s an incredible game of shift the blame and move the shells around.  Simply awful.

So what could this airways have done differently to make this a better experience for the traveler using social media:

  1. Have a policy already in place that provides guidance to whoever is monitoring social channels as to what goodwill offers can be made to satisfy the customer
  2. Make the reply personal.  “I’m so sorry Mr. DeRosa.  That’s terrible.  Here’s what we can do to help…”
  3. Follow up.  Two weeks have now passed and I’ve heard nothing from anyone at airways.  They have my contact number, my frequent flier number, my home and cell phones, and nothing.  Clearly they believe they don’t need to be the Nordstrom’s of the skies.  In fact I’ve gotten better service at a Dollar Store than at airways.

So keep in mind that if your company is using social media to engage its customers it requires a true commitment.  It’s not something to dabble in.  Canned replies, form letters, and traditional customer communication does not work with social media.  Spend the time to understand this before getting involved.  If your company doesn’t have the time, resources, or patience to learn and understand social media then do all you can to ensure they never launch it lest it will lead to an airways like experience.

Critical Insight When Making Tough Decisions

decision

If you need to make a difficult decision make sure you understand your surroundings as much as you understand the facts and details of what it is you’re trying to decide upon.

I recently had lunch with a colleague to discuss some key decisions that I need to make in our business surrounding strategy.  I presented my facts, beliefs, and experience with great passion.  My plan was both logical and well thought through.  I knew however that some of my decisions, while believed by the team the correct ones to make, would create some discomfort.  Why?  Because while we can all understand logic, and positive correlations, we are after all human beings, and human beings dislike change no matter how sound, logical, positive, or necessary that change is.

My colleague, who has years of experience and incredible wisdom said to me, “be aware of the issues that are not part of the issues.”  This statement perplexed me.  I didn’t understand.  When I asked her to explain she provided this wonderful story that provided the clarity to what she was saying.

For years she had her hair cut by the same stylist.  Through life’s many trials and tribulations, ups and downs, good times and bad, this stylist cut her hair and listened to her stories.  As times changed she wanted a new hair style but the stylist was unable to provide the cut she wanted.  She knew she had to make a change but her feelings and emotions of abandoning this stylist were strong.  She is an intensely loyal person and the thought of ending this long-standing relationship was quite troubling.  Her head told her it was the right thing to do but her heart was most certainly conflicted.  So while the issue at hand was achieving a new hair style, the emotional issue tied to her sense of loyalty came to the forefront of her making the decision to go elsewhere…hence the issue (emotional), not part of the issue (new hair style).

Bottom line:  It’s critical to understand emotions when making a decision. Your emotions as well as those of the key stakeholders involved in that decision are paramount to effective decision-making.  Emotional history, sometimes referred to as baggage, can play a major role in decision-making.  Being aware of these issues, that are not part of the actual issue being decided upon, can help you frame your approach.  Your decision is your decision.  It’s the “how” (the approach) you present your decision that can often times become the difference between effective decision-making and holding the status-quo.

 

Where To Look When Customer Attrition Ticks Up

UnhappyFace

You’re approaching another quarter-end and your customer retention numbers seem to be headed in the wrong direction. You look around and come up with some quick explanations as to why you’re losing customers. The economy, your competitor that’s selling on price, Obamacare, and lack of sophisticated systems round out the top of your list of excuses. Hey, I get it. Those are the easy ones to point to. The excuses that you can’t control and those that make the blame game so much more tolerable. But if you really want to know why you’re losing your customers start by doing the following:

1. Ask a few that have already left. It always strikes me how apprehensive business people are to follow up with a former customer to inquire as to why they left. Doing this provides an opportunity to reopen the door and establish some goodwill in the form of listening to what’s important to them.
2. Walk the floors. Many executives still hide behind their glass or wood doors. They isolate themselves from reality claiming to work on the “important stuff” as they develop strategies to grow the business. The problem is that many executives don’t know what the issues are and therefore will never be able to develop an effective business strategy. The challenges and opportunities of your business are well known to the “rank and file” employees – the ones interacting directly with your customers. Talk to them and ask them what’s going on.
3. Get in the field. Another tactical initiative that is required to build effective strategies. Meet your customers, your suppliers, referral sources, and partners. Get involved, ask lots of questions. Focus on THEM. Listen. Forget show and tell. It’s not about you.
4. Establish a customer advisory council. Put together a council consisting of existing customers of different industries and sizes. Create a charter that tasks the council with identifying problem areas and possible opportunities. Bring the council together twice a year if possible and two other times during the year by phone. Listen.

The fact is that it’s probably an obvious reason why you’re losing customers. For most businesses and their leaders they just don’t want to listen. It’s easier to blame characteristics that are uncontrollable. But those leaders that roll up their sleeves, get in the trenches, and ask the tough questions are those leaders that have the best chance of reversing poor customer retention numbers.

5 Ways To Make Your Meetings More Effective

Improve

Another meeting?  Most days start with meetings and end with meetings.  We spend our days running from one to another, whether in person or via the infamous conference call.  Some companies can’t operate without having a meeting to discuss even the smallest of decisions or topics, while others work hard to minimize the number of meetings they schedule. It’s not that meetings are bad, it’s just that most of them are an ineffective use of time. Little is accomplished during these meetings other than wasting the time spent being in the meeting itself, as well as the time spent preparing for that meeting.

So how can you increase your level of meeting effectiveness?

Here are 5 things you should do before scheduling a meeting:

1. Create and include a clear meeting objective. Provide a brief summary of the purpose of the meeting. Be sure to state whether this meeting is meant to inform, solicit feedback, or make a decision.
2. Invite the right people. The key word here is “right”. Don’t get caught up inviting the entire company to make sure you’ve CYA’d yourself. Have the right people there. The type of meeting you have set will determine who you should invite.
3. Be clear on your time. If you need an hour then schedule an hour. If you believe that your topic may go over an hour then plan accordingly. People hate to attend meetings that consistently run over. You don’t want to create the perception that you’re a poor planner.
4. Provide materials in advance. Many people feel that meetings should be somewhat of a surprise. I can’t stand that approach. Time is valuable for everyone. Why wait until the meeting to drop a 20 page deck on people. Give them time to read through it and absorb it. Having the ability to formulate questions, thoughts, and opinions prior to the meeting is key to running an effective meeting.
5. Schedule critical meetings during the day before 4 pm. The fact is that human nature is such that most people find getting invited to a meeting that starts at 4 pm to be annoying. Hey I know you have to be in the office until 6 pm anyway but still in all, people look to the end of their day to wrap up items that were opened during the day. Many 4 pm meetings become nothing more than place holders to reschedule another meeting when people are prepared, ready, and engaged.

Try taking these 5 actions before scheduling your next meeting and see how much smoother your meeting runs.

To Social Media or Not to Social Media

idea

I’m often asked “should I be doing social media?”  Teachers, athletes, corporate executives, doctors, and lawyers all struggle with answering this question. And even if they’ve answered “yes”, they still need to decide just how active they want to be. Jumping into the realm of social media requires time, knowledge, and consistency.

Here are some reasons why you should participate in social media regardless of your occupation:
1. More than 1 billion people on Facebook
2. Nearly 300 million LinkedIn users
3. More than a billion people watch more than 6 billion hours of YouTube every month
4. A quarter of a billion people on Twitter

Need more reasons why you should get involved with social media? Here goes:
1. News and world events are unfolding on social media often times faster than they hit traditional media. Accidents, disasters, and gossip, all originate via social media channels first before the Main Street media picks it up.
2. Sales, offers, deals, etc are all launched on social media. See ads for Nordstrom, Jos. A. Bank, Macy’s, and even your local bakery via Twitter, Facebook, or a daily blog.
3. Embrace technology and the new communication of the world. You can fight it all you want but social media is not just here to stay but is growing. New social media platforms are being born all the time. Think Instagram and selfies.
4. Social media is where your friends, family, customers and prospects are hanging out. It’s where conversations begin, problems are voiced and solutions are provided. Many companies are employing a social media staff to build a community they can engage and learn from. It provides these companies with real-time insight into the customers wants, needs, problems, etc.

How should you get started? Here are a couple of ideas:
1. If you’re a business person you MUST have a LinkedIn profile. This profile must be complete with a photo and contain sufficient background information. Less formal than a resume, yet powerful enough to provide the reader with a clear view of who you are and your capabilities, interests, and accomplishments. Join some groups. There is a group for just about any of your interests. Join and participate in their discussion boards, or better yet start a discussion of your own.
2. Tweet. Set up a Twitter account and Tweet. HubSpot, a major Inbound Marketing firm, suggests tweeting 5 – 7 times each day throughout the day. Anything less than that is insufficient. Once you set up your Twitter handle look for people to “follow”. You’ll find that those you follow will open your door to followers of you. Tweet relevant content. Stay away from personal, emotional tweets. Don’t drink and tweet as your comments once posted live forever and can be found by any one.
3. Set up a Facebook page. Yes Facebook is a bit more personal than LinkedIn or Twitter but you must have one. Prospects you’re targeting, if you’re a business, or customers you’re trying to learn from are all on Facebook. If you’re not there, rest assured one of your competitors is.

Jump in. Get involved. You’ll be amazed at how much you learn and how many doors begin to open.

Mixing Personal with Professional – Can it be done?

cross the line

Recently I was asked this question:  I’ve always tried to keep Facebook private and personal and not let it cross over into LinkedIn or Twitter…you know, keep my personal stuff separate from my professional side.  What do you think?”.

Well for many of you you’re not going to like my answer.  You can’t keep them separate.  Technology and social media have evolved such that your life – personal and professional – is open for review by any one at any time.  It’s as simple as that.  If you party hard and post pictures on Facebook, accompanied by drunken tweets, you’re putting yourself in harm’s way professionally…even if you think your profiles are personal.  So what should you do?

  1. Accept the fact that if it’s online anywhere, it’s everywhere.
  2. Show and post only what you’re comfortable seeing on the front page of the newspaper the next morning…or having to explain to your parents, friends, spouse, etc.  If you’re not comfortable seeing what you’ve done on the front page of the morning news, don’t post it.  Better yet, don’t do it.
  3. Definitely bring your personal side into your professional.  People like to do business with people.  What’s more, people like to do business with people they trust and find interesting.  Don’t be afraid to tweet or blog about a tough workout if you love fitness, or the 200 game you bowled Saturday night.  Those are the details that make you approachable and help build your overall street cred.
  4. Focus on the facts when you’re tweeting, Facebooking, or placing something on LinkedIn.  If you oppose Healthcare Reform, site facts and statistics that make your case.  Don’t take to name calling as it discredits you as a person.  As they say, it’s hard to argue with facts.  Keep the emotion out of it.  If you believe we should have a flat tax in the U.S., do some digging and find some good articles that support your view and share them.  The more thoughtful and educated of a comment you share, the more likely people will entrust you with their thoughts, comments, feelings, or business.

Be who you are.  Just be conscious that not everything is noteworthy, news worthy, or worth sharing with the world.  There are many things in life that should remain private to you, your friends, and your families.  It’s up to you to ensure that privacy level remains intact.

Supercharge Your Results With 3 Easy Steps

supercharge

A new year is around the corner and there’s no better time than now to start thinking about how to juice your performance in 2014. Whether this past year has been an incredible success, terrible failure, or plain old mediocre, in a matter of days you’ll receive a wonderful gift…the chance to do it all over again! And herein lies a choice you must make. Do things the same and most likely get the same results or mix things up and push for a different outcome. Hey, even if this past year was outstanding, and what you accomplished impressed even you, why let up? You can do more, accomplish greater results, and push yourself to new limits. Here’s how you can supercharge your results in 2014:

1. Pick 1 area or topic and go deep. If you’re in the B2B space brush up on healthcare reform, the unemployment numbers, or interest rates. If you’re in B2C think about what trends the Consumer Confidence Index suggests. The skies the limit.  Your competition is fierce and getting tougher by the day. They’re looking for ways to differentiate themselves from you, and your company, by adding value. If you simply focus on being the best salesperson, marketer, service manager, etc for your company, and not open your eyes to the world around you, soon you will be chasing the pack. Those that excel and reach the top will look different by acting differently.
2. Make 1 more call a day. Tap into your network and use it. Call one person from your network everyday. It doesn’t need to be an hour phone call. A short 15 minute check-in can provide insights, perspectives, and ideas. You should build your network to include a wide range of people within your industry, outside of your industry, blue-collar, white-collar, etc.  Just like your investment portfolio requires diversity, so does your network.  Make it one of your top priorities to meet people and develop relationships.
3. Spend 15 minutes of alone time each day. We all need time to think. Time to recharge, time to reflect, time to create. Taking a few minutes every day is critical to your success. The human brain is the fastest processor of information on the planet, however, unlike a computer that can run for an unlimited amount of time, human beings need to shut down to rest their brain. Just like an athlete requires “recovery” time for their muscles, we all need recovery time for our brains. Take the time, block it out, put it on your calendar and think…just think. Think about your goals, where you are relative to each of them, and the actions you’ve taken to get you this far. Think about where you want to go to next and some of the steps you may need to take to get there.

Try doing each of these activities and see how quickly your results improve. And when they do let me know!

Know When to Hold ’em and Know When to Fold ’em

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Work not going well? You’ve been there a while but lately you seem to be spinning your wheels. You have several important projects or initiatives you’re responsible for but you still feel a bit…unfulfilled…numb. Is it time to look for a new job? Would a change in your environment really make a difference? What if you make a change and things don’t get better? Or the all-time favorite justification for staying put – “there’s no perfect job”.

While I don’t suggest job-hopping, I do believe that life’s simply too short to be unhappy, unchallenged, unfulfilled…or numb. Taking charge and owning your happiness and completeness is up to you and you alone. No one is going to do it for you. No boss will ever come to you offering to do all they can to make you happy. Remember you’re employed by them for a reason – to accomplish their goals as they are disseminated from on high.

So how do you know if the sand in the hourglass is gone and it’s time to move on? Answer the following questions to give you an indication if it’s time.

1. How excited are you to get up and go into work each day? No excitement? Boring? Drab? Dreadful? Or are you emotionally charged, eager, and ready to tear it up each day?
2. Where is your energy level at 10 am each day? Does your energy drain early in the day? Do you feel ready go get out of there before the lunch bell rings?
3. How friendly is your relationship with your boss? Do you interact on an as-needed basis or do you spend time informally simply chatting about stuff in general?
4. What words do you use to describe your co-workers? Do you consider them friends, partners, confidants? Or do you view them as snipers hiding in bushes, adversaries with sinister intentions?
5. Is the quality of your work outstanding? Do you feel like you’re delivering a masterpiece everyday or are you going through the motions? Are you still growing and learning new things that help improve your craft or are you stale, stalled, or going backward?
6. How much time do you spend thinking about or admiring other companies? Do you look at other companies with a wanting eye? Do you rush to the news stand to purchase Fortune’s, 100 Best Places to Work, issue  when it comes out?
7. Do your dinner conversations every night turn to work? Are you constantly talking about how bad things are at the office? How under-appreciated you are? How much your boss takes you for granted?

Life isn’t perfect and neither is work. For me it simply boils down to 3 things: Am I being challenged every day? I am learning? Do I like and trust the people I work with? Am I connected to my boss on a personal level? These may not be your 4 metrics and if they’re not I strongly suggest you identify what yours are. Without knowing what will make you happy, you will never find happiness. It all starts with you!

The Ivory Tower Vs. The Customer

ivory tower

Throughout my career I have observed a significant disconnect between C-Suite executives and the customer. I have often wondered why the people with the most power to influence change seem to go to extremes to avoid direct contact with their customers. Meetings are held, strategies are developed, and plans are made all in the name of doing the right thing for the customer – responding to their needs. But how do these executives know what their customers want? They haven’t talked to their customers, met with them, or corresponded with them. They gather input from their key lieutenants, assuming they know. But have they met directly with their customers? No. I have found this phenomenon quite intriguing and have developed some insights as to why this happens.

Television shows like Undercover Boss highlight the disconnect between the Ivory Tower and the customer. The CEOs, COOs, or Presidents go “undercover” to see how things are really working in the field…which is a technical term for real life. My only hope is that most of what is seen on television programs like this one are fiction, to at least some extent. If not, we’re all in big trouble if our executives are that disconnected from the real world.

I believe there are 3 reasons many executives avoid meeting or interacting directly with their customers preferring to take refuge in their Ivory Tower. These reasons tend to be driven more by the executives emotions that tangible difficulties of scheduling time to be in the field. My observations of why these senior executives avoid direct customer interaction include:

1. Already paid dues
2. Fear of not being able to solve the customer’s problem
3. Fear of embarrassment in front of sales or service representatives

Some executives feel they’ve paid their dues and spent enough time in the field as they built their careers creating an imbalance between these aspirations and being truly customer-centric. I’m not saying that focusing on building a career is wrong. What I am saying is that as long as you maintain a genuine focus on the customer career progression usually follows. Once the focus on the customer is lost, in favor of  bigger and better executive perks, an attitude of entitlement develops.

Another reason executives keep out of the field is their fear of not being able to solve the customers problems. Your product isn’t working as advertised, it costs too much, your service is terrible. These are all real life comments I have heard when in the field. They are not easy to deal with especially if the complaint is focused on an area of the business outside of your control. If the Sales executive receives a complaint about service they may feel helpless in providing a satisfactory resolution. But why? One way to eliminate this fear is to build strong relationships with your peers across the business. A simple call to the head of Operations – providing there is a strong and trusting relationship – can quickly provide the resolution necessary to save a client. Many times however these relationships are overlooked or get sidelined in favor of other activities. Life and business are all about relationships. No matter what your level, take the time to foster good relationships at work. You never know when you’ll need them.

Finally I’ve seen first hand how many executives seem to “freeze” when they are in the field with a sales or service representative. Because of the disconnect that exists between the executive and real life, they lose touch with the customer and their ability to empathize is impaired. This impairment becomes visible to the customer and the sales or service representative creating an awkwardness during these encounters. The key to a successful executive field visit lies with the executive’s ability to blend humility with a genuine focus on learning about the customers wants and needs. Showing the sales or service person respect in their arena creates an environment that fosters trust and allows for learning to take place.

How often are your executives in the field? When was the last time your CEO, President, or head of Sales went on a customer visit with you? What do you think the right frequency is for executive field visits? Let me know.