A good offense is the best defense

I had a great session with a wonderful executive coach the other day.  He asked some thought-provoking questions that helped us put things in perspective.  One of the interesting exercises was to think about how we spend our time.

Are you setting goals and working to fulfill them, or are you too busy reacting to the challenges you face?

If you fall into the trap of being reactive, you spend all of your energy avoiding unpleasantness.  Over time you will notice that you are always busy, but rarely happy.

When you have a strong grasp of your life’s purpose you can set clear goals for yourself.  Once those goals are set, most of your energy can be focused on moving forward.  Ultimately, people are the most fulfilled when they are in pursuit of their personal passions.

The rub is that it can be hard to define your true calling.  Until you do, however, no matter how hard you swim you’re still just treading water.

How about you?  Do you know what you really want to achieve in life?

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Smarting off

Another day of “smart” announcements.  Major industry players announce smart grid technology to manage energy more effectively.  Other IT companies boast of work they are doing on smart cars to ease transportation worries.  Still others are focused on smart manufacturing systems.

Did none of these marketing geniuses see The Terminator?  Hello, McFly?  Skynet?

I like the idea of smarter people being provided with more flexible solutions, but I’m a bit leery of devices determining what I need.   How can a machine or a network decide what I want?

I don’t want a smarter car.  I have enough problems with backseat drivers.

Now we have smart green technology.  How long before the smart green network figures out that humans are the problem and flips the off switch on us?

What do you think?  Good marketing or scary technology?

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Please hold for the next available friend

Last week my wife called for customer support on one of our gadgets.  After a brief wait she was connected to an agent and started the ritual.  Somehow during the rote recitation of name, rank and serial number the topic of location came up, and it was determined that the agent lived and worked in a tiny town right down the road from our ranch.  Neighbors!  Serendipity changed the whole tenor of the call from bored desperation to an entertaining bit of human interaction, and cemented our relationship with the vendor.

Working as a support agent can be a trial.  First, every person that calls has a  problem or they wouldn’t be on the phone; let’s face it, nobody ever calls a support agent just to say hi, have a great day.  And although each customer that calls has a problem that is important to her, she just one of dozens of depressed or upset customers the agent has to talk with during his shift.  Take that toxic environment and stir in a myriad of inflexible rules, regulations and metrics that overlay the exchange, and you have a recipe for disaster.

It’s tempting to want to use technology to measure every aspect of employee performance down to the micron, but don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.  As my wife’s experience shows, it’s sometimes the things that are impossible to measure that provide the greatest value.  Every interaction with a customer, no matter how trivial, is an opportunity to increase customer loyalty and, as we all know, it’s much less expensive to keep a customer than to find one.

Make your agents feel like the important part of the team that they are.  Work hard to give them not only responsibility but accountability for increasing the value of their interactions.  Set out to raise the collaborative quotient of the contact functions and create measurements that reflect the flexibility necessary to make that leap.

When was the last time you had a good experience with a contact center and what made it special?

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Another crappy day in paradise

Another massive round of TGIF messages hit the ‘Net today on Facebook and Twitter and, once again, they raised the hair on the back of my neck.  I know it’s natural to celebrate the end of the traditional work week and that we’ve been singing the same hymn for generations, but if the new transparency of social media magnifies the impact of the simplest offhand remarks, think about what it does to the more complex ones.

Here are a couple of example status updates and tweets from the past several days:

Ugh. Have to head back to the office. When will I ever get a vacation?”

In conference calls since 6am with no end in sight.  Argh!  How much more of this torture can I take?”

Look familiar?  I’m sure they do.  People are quick to share their current frustrations, and the accessibility of social media is apparently too great a temptation for some cube farmers.  But can you imagine the same basic updates with a slight change of context?

Ugh. Woke up next to my wife again. Will this torture never end?”

Kids’ soccer tournament started at 6am.  Argh!  How much of these brats am I supposed to endure?”

You’d likely never spout this type of family frustration in public even if you had a written guarantee that your wife and kids aren’t on line.  At least one hopes not.

It’s human nature to get frustrated; it happens to all of us.  But when a situation gets the best of you, instead of jumping online to vent take a break and get a soft drink, count to ten or, better yet,  spend a few minutes counting your blessings of which I’m sure there are many.

As we saw from the recent Cisco Fatty argy bargy, companies — at least the clueful ones — are listening to the social media chatter.  So, even if you don’t have the most idyllic of jobs, it might pay to exercise a bit of discretion when hitting the old keyboard.  Just food for thought.

In this vein, what was the most clueless status update you remember seeing?

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Choose your words carefully

Everything you say or write sends more than one message.  It’s important to choose your words carefully, especially when using a communications medium that allows for perceptual ambiguity such as email or instant messaging.  We’ve already talked about the possible pitfalls of that here.

It’s also important to do your best to communicate clearly and professionally if you are looking to be taken seriously by others.  I’m not talking of the occasional misspelling, misplaced comma or dangling participle.  Those mistakes are eminently forgivable, especially if the content is valuable and they occur in an otherwise lucid stream of consciousness; however, the millions of lines of garbled text, sometimes appearing to be written in pidgin l33t, that clutter up blogs and web pages are atrocious.  No matter how insightful the content, its impact is generally proportionate to the clarity of the delivery.

Choosing your words carefully is also critical in face to face encounters.  For example, I cringe every time I hear a waiter or sales clerk use the expression, “Not a problem!”  Of course it’s not a problem; I’m the customer.  And even if it is a problem, it’s your job to solve it.

What do you think?  Am I being to critical?

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I could have sworn

I had a call scheduled for this afternoon at 1:30.  I’m in Texas, and the person who scheduled the call isn’t.  I’m certain she knows where I am, because the sole purpose of the call is to discuss my current location.

99 times out of 100 I verify time zone when scheduling meetings and calls.  In the world of global business it’s a necessity.  This time I didn’t because I assumed the issue was understood.  1:30 came and went and the phone didn’t ring. Our collaborative quotient plunged dangerously close to zero.

George Bernard Shaw once said that “The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” Isn’t that the truth?

It’s been noted repeatedly that collaborative success is greatly enhanced when all of the underlying assumptions are addressed early on in the engagement. Let this serve as a lesson to us. If an assumption is important to the outcome, address it – even if the data in question seems obvious.

Has something like this ever happened to you?

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Put me in, coach

We spoke about the ways that technology can streamline business in an earlier post, Picking up the slack.  In that article, I talked about the periods of free time that technology process optimisation creates.  It might not seem like you have a lot of extra time at work during these days of economic turmoil, but a careful analysis of your schedule might reveal otherwise.  If, upon reflection, you find that you have a few extra minutes here and there, you may have uncovered an opportunity for a win-win situation with your employer.

If there is a project or solution at work about which you are passionate, consider volunteering for additional responsibility.  I know is sounds crazy, but the great thing about challenges that interest us is that there always seems to be enough time in the day to work on them.  Align your passion with the opportunity for increased personal growth, and the appreciation that your employer will have, and you’ve created a great way to be more productive while feeling better about work.

There are just a few important things to keep in mind.  First, don’t let your current responsibilities suffer; your employer expects a certain level of performance, and it’s important to meet these expectations above all.  Second, be specific about what you are volunteering for; set proper, realistic goals and do your best to achieve them.  And finally, be prepared for the possibility that others in the office might not appreciate your extra effort; don’t get caught up in negative workplace energy or react to jealousy.

Staying positive, creating opportunity and increasing your collaborative quotient by finding places to harness your professional capabilities while expressing your personal passion is a great way to stay ahead of the game.

Have you tried this?  What was your experience?

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What in the world are you talking about?

We’ve been given an incredible gift.  Possibly the greatest gift any group of people have ever been given.  Millions have died and millions more have suffered to preserve and defend this gift.  And the struggle continues.

It’s the ability to speak out and be heard.  Not just in your home, or your town, but around the world.

Your message, your thoughts, are important.  Someone, somewhere is waiting to hear them.  Someone, somewhere yearns to hear your words.

But they won’t until you speak out.

Start now and take one small step.  Make a simple comment in the box below.  Someone, somewhere will hear you and draw strength in the knowledge that she is not alone.

Please tell us, what makes you smile?

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Old brands in tight pants

Watching some of the older, established brands throwing themselves at such social networking tools as Twitter and Facebook is kind of embarrassing.  It’s like seeing your middle-aged neighbor, who tries to be cool by wearing his son’s clothes, at the mall.  It’s hard not to snicker because it not only looks ridiculous, but you know the tight pants are making him as uncomfortable as hell.  Still, it’s impolite to laugh, so instead we nod and walk on by.

Let’s assume that, other than shopping at Hollister, your neighbor’s a decent guy.  If you were to drop in on him later and chat over a few brewskis, you might offer some constructive advice.  Well, thanks for the cold one, Mr. Establishment; can I give you three things to think about?

Every social group, technology, and user is different.  Social groups tend to quickly form their own culture.  Take the time to listen and learn the written and unwritten rules of a community before you dive in.  A bit of preparation and understanding goes a long way.

It’s called social media for a reason; the population relies on interaction and relationships to thrive.  While there are appropriate channels for broadcast messaging, the more you actually participate the better.  Using a profile or presence to just repackage the same old PR isn’t enough.  Encourage response and, more importantly, occasionally engage with other members of the community on their terms.

People, as a general rule, resent being manipulated.  Your story and your delivery have got to be genuine.  What might seem cute and edgy to you could be trite and offensive to the community.  The transparency of the social web makes it just as easy for your efforts to backfire as to succeed.

Oh, heck, one last thing as long as the beer is free.  It’s very important to be objective and creative in your measurements in the world of social media.  Traditional metrics rarely tell the whole story.  Find a trustworthy partner with experience in the space to help you get not only the raw data, but a contextual interpretation of the results.

What’s the silliest or most out of place social media faux pas you’ve seen from an established player?

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Are you over-stimulated?

I just heard another ad from a car dealership offering a “stimulus package” for their 09 model cars and all the hair on the back of my neck went up.  Am I the only one that thinks this term is being over used?

Tossing a saddle on the current economic crisis as a way to increase your sagging sales seems a just a bit ghoulish and predatory to me.  How about you come up with a creative campaign that takes the high road?

While we’re on the subject of a stimulus program, here are a few suggestions for a personal stimulus program.

  • Turn off the television, put down the remote, and get out there in the real world for an evening or two.  There are a lot of people that could use your help right now, even if it’s just a few minutes of your time spent listening.
  • Start every conversation with a positive story or suggestion for improvement.  Almost everyone I run into or overhear is too quick to complain about the state of the economy or the cutbacks at work.  It’s very easy to forget just how blessed most of us really are.
  • Start thinking about what you can do to help the people who are important to you succeed, and stop looking at the list of public entitlements like it’s the menu at an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant.

Somehow we’ve been duped into thinking that the way to solve our cultural and economic issues is to spend money and look to others for help.  A real stimulus program starts with an individual effort to make the world a better place.  Like it says up at the top right of this blog: share, collaborate, benefit!

Each time I hear another huckster offering up price reductions to clear their bloated inventory, or touting tired, already questionable productivity promises as a return on investment for the purchase of their hugely profitable products, and then draping all of this in the trappings of a stimulus package, I fear that our economic crisis is largely based not on financial difficulties but the possibility that a large segment of society has become morally bankrupt.

What is your personal stimulus program?

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