Monday, October 28, 2013

Three Steps to Avoid a Tricky Tweet

Lessons learned from poor customer service

By Kirsten Snyder - Director, Integrated Insight

We all have stories about terrible customer service.  Some industries, such as the airline industry, have a notoriously bad customer service reputation.  My experience was with a company in another dreaded industry...home warranties.  Generally, when something goes wrong with either my flight or my refrigerator, I have the same feeling of dread, expecting a terribly painful ordeal.  I recently had an awful experience with our home warranty company, but it didn’t have to be that way.  If the company had focused on only three things, it could have made the experience better.

Treat me like a valued customer.  Our home warranty company simply passed me off to a contractor who was supposed to solve my problem.  This is the typical process but unfortunately, they don’t follow up to make sure everything is going smoothly.  I am the home warranty company’s customer, but they don’t treat me that way.  They act like a broker rather than an advocate, which doesn’t make me feel like they value my business, and leads to my next point.

Proactively communicate with me.  After the initial meeting with the contractor, I went to the home warranty company to help expedite the process.  However, their solution was to continue to deal directly with the contractor, who kept telling me the part would be arriving in the “next shipment.”  After four weeks of no results from the contractor, my husband sent out a frustrated tweet.  The negative press caught the attention of the home warranty company, who promptly called.  This was the first communication I received from the home warranty company since my initial claim.  Had the home warranty company actually been involved in my claim, communicating with me and the contractor, we wouldn’t have resorted to taking our frustrations to Twitter.  The communication doesn’t have to immediately solve the problem, but even an email or phone call that says they are monitoring the claim, would have been a huge improvement, making me feel like a valued customer.

Give employees the tools to solve problems and encourage them to do so.  When the tweet prompted a phone call from the home warranty company after a month of radio silence, I was optimistic that they were finally going to advocate for my situation.  Unfortunately, the phone call began with, “Hi.  You recently posted something very negative on Twitter and I am calling to explain the situation.”  The representative proceeded to tell me what I already knew – the contractor had still not received the part.   She offered no solution to my problem, wasn’t prepared to offer a solution, and did it seem like she had any authority to do so.  Her job was to call and defend the home warranty company and prevent another “negative” tweet to my husband’s 130,000 followers.

If you have the staff to monitor and engage in social media, then use the opportunity to make the situation better.  Yes, people want to understand what’s happening, but most of the time what they really want is a solution.  In my case, I was well aware of the situation.  We took our problem to Twitter because neither the contractor nor our home warranty company was solving our problem.  We figured my husband’s large Twitter following would encourage the home warranty company to do something.   I wanted to hear, “We understand you have had a difficult and frustrating experience.  We have found a new contractor who has the part in stock and will be out tomorrow to install it.  I am so sorry for any inconvenience.” 

Communicating can go a long way in making customers feel valued in addition to turning a bad situation into a positive experience.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Multitasking in the Workplace

Small steps to stronger productivity

By Laura Iles - Sr. Consultant, Integrated Insight

Study upon study has proven that multitasking is a myth.  According to the 2007 New York Times article “Slow Down, Brave Multitasker, and Don’t Read This in Traffic” we can’t really multitask, it makes us less efficient, and it’s costing businesses money every day.  MRI scans from the University of Michigan established that “even simple tasks can overwhelm the brain when we try to do several at once.”  Yet, the ‘culture of busy’ persists. It’s a rapid-fire switching between disparate tasks, scanning emails while hearing every 3rd word from the phone call we’re taking or browsing a document on your computer in a meeting, pausing long enough to glance at the presentation slides every so often.  Multitasking stops our brain from saving new information into short-term memory. If we can’t save the new information, we forget the take-aways and end up spending more time reviewing later to catch up on what we missed. In today’s business environment it’s a challenge to break free from this cycle with smart phones, laptops or tablets following us on lunch breaks and into meetings  with the expectation that we are always available.

Yet even small changes can still make a difference in concentration, stress levels and productivity. Be willing to start small, and gradually build on your success:

Try scheduling blocks of uninterrupted time for project work. This is by no means a new idea, but often hard to implement in a meaningful way given it is rare there is ever just one project needing your immediate attention.  As challenging as it may be, even 30 minutes a day of dedicated focus on a priority task will help significantly. Gloria Mark, a professor at the University of California, Irvine who studies multitasking in the workplace, states that after an interruption of a phone call or an email, “it can take some 23 minutes for a worker to return to the original task.”  Repeat throughout the day, for each employee, and that’s a staggering amount of lost productivity.  Blocking time on your calendar for project work, similar to blocking time for meetings, can help. The key is to remember that although you can’t single-task all the time, even 30 minutes of deep focus can be more productive than 2 hours filled with interruptions.

Take a true lunch break. Allowing yourself time to relax and recharge your brain can mean the difference between a focused, productive afternoon and one where you perform at a subpar level.   Choosing quality over quantity attempting to leave your desk and smart phone to enjoy the company of your lunch-mates or read a good book - whatever energizes you – can help.

Take the lead on device-free meetings. You won’t be able to take away everyone’s smart phone but it’s likely you can champion the cause in one meeting. As a presenter, it is disheartening when more than a few in the audience are looking down in their laps, paying more attention to the email conversation than your presentation.  Not to mention lost time when topics have to be re-visited to keep everyone up to speed. Established culture is powerful but over the long run, change is possible. Leading by example is a good start. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Millennials

Thinking differently about the workplace

By Sue O'Shea - Director, Integrated Insight

I am a Baby Boomer – albeit just barely – but still a boomer as I possess many of the traditional boomer traits.  As a former manager of a large staff I always worked hard to understand Generation X, their work style and what keeps them motivated and productive.  Now that the Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000, approximately) are coming into the workplace, it’s time to understand who they are and what they want from work and from life.

According to a Pew Research Center study Millennials are generally confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.  They are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults. They’re less religious, less likely to have served in the military, and are on track to become the most educated generation in American history.  I have also heard them described as entitled, adverse to hard work and over-confident. TIME suggests in their May, 2013 article “rather than being inherently self-centered or overconfident, Millennials are just adapting quickly to a world undergoing rapid technological change. They’re optimistic, they’re confident and they’re pragmatic at a time when it can be difficult just to get by.”

The Millennials were children and young adults when they witnessed the horror of 9/11.  They were also hit hard by the recent Great Recession.  Just like our parents or grandparents who survived the Great Depression, the Millennials have been affected by these and other recent events.  One result is their attitude regarding money.  It’s a widely-held belief that Millennials are obsessed with money, but don’t mistake it for an obsession with getting rich.  PwC recently conducted one of the largest global generational studies  and found that Millennials want flexible hours and job development over salary in their ideal workplace.

The PwC survey also found:
  •  Many Millennial employees are largely unconvinced that excessive work demands are worth the sacrifices to their personal life, even with the promise of substantial compensation later on.
  • A significant number of Millennial employees want greater flexibility at work, and would be willing to give up pay and delay promotions in order to get it.
  • Millennials do not believe that productivity should be measured by the number of hours worked at the office, but by the output of the work performed.  They view work as a “thing” and not a “place.”
  • They value transparency especially as it relates to decisions about their careers, compensation and rewards.
  • They want to provide input on their work assignments and want and need the support of their supervisors.
  • They have grown up not expecting their organizations to meet all of their needs, including job security, and don’t see themselves working for one organization for their entire career.
  • Although Millennials have a natural aptitude for electronic forms of communication, email and social media platforms are not always their communication vehicles of choice, especially when it comes to discussions with their managers about their careers.  In these instances, they prefer face-to-face.
  • While the same basic drivers of retention exist for both Millennials and non-Millennials, their relative importance varies, with Millennials placing a greater emphasis on being supported and appreciated. 
Great food for thought on how the workplace should evolve, but remember that one size does not fit all.  Meeting all generational needs with personalized engagement will be critical for years to come. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Effective Messaging

Are you providing relevant information, or just making noise?

By Laura Iles - Sr. Consultant, Integrated Insight

Lately I’ve been on a mission to reduce the influx of marketing in my inbox. Every company I interact with asks for my email and social media connections and phone number for texting and calling. I’m deluged with marketing campaigns and at this point, it’s just so much static to me.  Now I’m working to separate the wheat from the chaff, and not many firms make the cut.

So how do you make your message stand out against the background noise of your competitors?

Stay on topic.

There are other critical factors of course, but you’ll lose the game before you begin if your messaging is unfocused. I’m continually astonished at the number of campaigns that do not follow this rudimentary principle.

Your firm is in the business of providing a particular set of goods or services, and your communications should focus on providing information relevant to those goods or services. Your messages do not need to be all things to all people. The fastest way to lose the interest of your customers is to dilute your message with irrelevant information.

Case in point:
After a recent car service, I was signed up for the monthly email newsletter from the dealership. Thinking there might be a useful maintenance tip or a coupon inside, I opened the email – only to find the following headlines:
  •  Health Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet
  • Investing 101: Where to Begin
  • Great Accessories for Your Touch Screen

 A quick online search of previous newsletters revealed the following gems:
  • Why Your Body Needs Iron
  • Movies about Parenthood
  • 5 Great Superhero Video Games
  • Fresh Ideas for Organizing Your Closet

 Confused, I clicked through to the closet organization article.

“Pick a Saturday and devote it to your clothes closet... Gather what you don't wear and donate it to a charity.”
“Organize by type.”

This newsletter comes from a company that I pay to maintain my vehicle. It is unclear to me why I’m receiving articles on investing and healthy dieting and organizing my home.

Needless to say, I’ve since unsubscribed.

There were other articles of more relevance mixed in of course: New Vehicle Previews and Environmentally Friendly Maintenance Tips. But by then I’d lost interest. The newsletter was too cluttered with topics that were irrelevant and obvious space-fillers.

This firm would have done better to cut the extraneous and send a shorter newsletter, with a focused message. As consumers, we are all overwhelmed with emails, social media campaigns and advertising messages. To cut through the noise, your marketing offerings need to be concise and relevant.

Consumers agree to be on mailing lists because they want to hear what your businesses has to say about the product or services. Customer communications are not intended to be a newspaper, nor a magazine, nor an advice column. Diluting your message reduces your credibility.

Shorter is often better.  Provide information  of value, ideas that are relevant to your customers, and eliminate the superfluous – your target market is far more likely to listen.