The Turnaround Factor: Digging Deeper

One of the most important leadership lessons of my life happened five minutes after I stepped off that stage. I’d been giving out recognition awards on my massive “road trip,” a 27 states in 45 days kind of tour of motivational kick off meetings in Verizon Wireless’ outsourced call centers.

I was the “client”–read that “scary exec”–who was doing everything in my capacity to have my team viewed as developers, not auditors.

As I made my way to the back of the room from the makeshift stage, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned around to find a small, gray-haired women with eyes gleeming with pride. It was Lisa, the service rep who had swept the recognition awards. Lisa was one of the heroines in this call center’s turnaround story, I was delighted to talk to her to understand the secret to her success.

“Lisa, congratulations! You’ve got to tell me, what’s the secret?”

What she said next was so utterly simple and yet totally profound.

“Last year I was almost fired.  My metrics were a disaster.

Everyone kept telling me that I needed to be more confident, to be the expert for our customers. But the problem was I just wasn’t FEELING confident. And I didn’t THINK of myself as an expert.

And then one day, my team leader gave me an opportunity to re-record my opening greeting. I decided this was my big chance to sound absolutely energetic, confident, and convey my expertise. I recorded it again and again until it sounded just right.

And then a miraculous thing happened. The customers heard that greeting. They began to greet me with comments like, “Wow, you sure sound cheerful for so early in the morning.” Or, “I am glad that I got the expert, I should be in good hands.” Well, after that I just had to stay cheerful, and began feeling more confident. And you know what, I had to be an expert. Turns out, I am one.

After thousands of calls, only once have I had a customer respond to this in a negative way. My customers are getting a great experience because I know I can deliver it.

And now, here I am.”

That’s what we SHOULD have been celebrating… her story… that’s what the others needed to hear. Why hadn’t I heard the back story BEFORE I’d taken the stage? Why had I wasted that recognition moment?

I vowed to no longer be the executive hand-shaker without getting the details. (See also:  why your recognition is backfiring).

Full of confident-humility, she was poised to teach me what mattered most.

You Can Too

Even if it seems impossible to go that deep, it’s worth it.

Take time to understand the turnarounds. Hear the whole story. Ensure others know it too. Know matter how many layers fall between, as a leader, it’s always your job to know the good stuff.

I promise. It’s worth it.

Small Gestures of Trust Build Great Results

I was attending a breakout session on social media strategy at the International Customer Service Association conference, when the presenter asked, “who allows their reps to have Facebook on their work computers?” This is not the norm in the call center space, but one guy raised his hand. I knew immediately whose table I wanted to sit at for lunch. Where there’s one gesture of trust, there’s generally others and I wanted to learn everything he had to share.

Lunch was great, the conversation even better and just as I suspected Klaus Buellesbach, Director of Ace Hardware Care Centers, has an amazing track record of results.

His quality results and other metrics are quite strong, and despite substantial organizational change, his center has had no turnover for two years (with the exception of one retirement). Trust leads to engagement which leads to low-turnover, which builds competence and confidence, which creates great customer experiences, which inspires customer loyalty. Amen.

Here’s his secret for building trust

Build from Within

“When I get into a new situation, I build a high-performance team with the people that are there. I never bring people from the last job along. I look for the gifts the current team has and build on it in a unique way. What this creates is big trust and some very different teams. You could never put all the teams I have led side by side and say, of course, ”this is the team that Klaus built.”

It’s not his fingerprints on the team or is it? It’s his unleashing of the talent he discovers to create a unique masterpiece. My guess, if you put these teams “side by side” they would really enjoy that conversation.

Get Everyone Involved in the Big Picture

He asks big questions to create larger context for the work. He has trust in the team to inspire the vision.

“Besides running a contact center, what is it that we really need to accomplish this year?

“What does a care center really stand for?”

When the employee surveys come back, he empowers a team to discuss them over a 7 week period, so there is time to go deep. ”We can’t implement all of their suggestions, but we usually can do most of them.” That matters.

Be Humble

Klaus is a great example of confident humility. It’s all about the people and how he can involve and support them.

“I want to know before I speak; and understand before I act. I ensure I understand the whole situation first.”

Know Your People

Start every day on the floor really talking to people about things that matter to them. People need to know you care about them and their interests. This is where the Facebook thing came in.

“We have a number of parents in our center. We found that the school systems are starting to communicate through websites as well as via phone. Parents want to be able to check in. Most phones have data plans so pulling up Facebook is part of the routine. We support corporate social media inquiries in our center. It is a small step from there to allowing our team to keep up with their personal lives. As long as their quality and productivity metrics are good, we treat them as adults and let them take care of their lives.”

Look Beyond the Numbers

To build a world-class customer service organization you have to focus on the intangibles. There are lots of ways to measure customer loyalty none of which are perfect. He focuses on ensuring every customer is completely satisfied every time, and doesn’t get overly excited about small changes to the numbers. In the long run great service wins and the numbers work out.

The Turnaround Factor: Digging Deeper

One of the most important leadership lessons of my life happened 5 minutes after I stepped off that stage. I’d been giving awards on my massive “road trip,” a 27 states in 45 day kind of tour of motivational kick off meetings in Verizon Wireless’ outsourced call centers.

I was the “client,” read that “scary” who was doing everything in my capacity to have my team viewed as helpers, not auditors.

But here I was on her home stage recognizing outcomes. Lisa, with beaming confident-humility, was ready to teach me about process.

 

The service rep that had swept the recognition awards at this particular center tapped me on the shoulder.

Last year I was almost fired.  My metrics were a disaster.

Everyone kept telling me that I needed to be more confident, to be the expert for our customers. But the problem was I just wasn’t FEELING confident. And I didn’t THINK of myself as an expert.

And then one day, my team leader gave me an opportunity to re-record my opening greeting. I decided this was my big chance to sound absolutely energetic, confident, and convey my expertise. I recorded it again and again until it sounded just right.

And then a miraculous thing happened. The customers heard that greeting. They began to greet me with comments like, “wow you sure sound cheerful for so early in the morning.” Or, “I am glad that I got the expert, I should be in good hands.” Well, after that I just had to stay cheerful, and began feeling more confident. And you know what, I had to be an expert. Turns out, I am one.

After thousands of calls, only once have I had a customer respond to this in a negative way. My customers are getting a great experience because I know I can deliver it. And now, here I am.

That’s what SHOULD have been celebrating… the story. I’m embarrassed to say. I didn’t know it. That was the last time I gave out an award without knowing the backstory (see also: why your recognition is backfiring).

Even if it seems impossible to go that deep, it’s worth it.

Know who the whole stories, not matter how many layers fall between.

I promise. It’s worth it.