Archive for category KPI
Inspiring Action- An Art or a Science?
I’ll jump right on that!! Five simple words that can either convey the attitude of a person eager and motivated to get something done, or a sarcastic way of declining a request based on it being either an uninspiring or unrewarding experience (or perhaps both).
Much of what we know about performance management comes from the behavioral sciences and the work of legendary psychologist B. F. Skinner. In case you missed that day in your Psych 101 class, basic behaviorism is built on the simple concept of providing a tangible reward–a piece of food in the case of experimental animals–in response to the correct achievement of some basic task (or, conversely, the withholding of a reward–or administration of a penalty of some sort–for failure to complete the task).
Pigeons, Teenagers, and Everything In Between
When we talk about the field of performance management–be it measurement, goals and targets, tracking and reporting, performance communications, back-end rewards, or the myriad of other “moving parts” within the performance management process–we are really talking about elements that are at the core of managing human behavior.
While most of us regard performance management techniques as a way to motivate our organizations and employees to achieve “peak performance” levels, the same techniques can be used in an infinite number of other areas, across both the work and personal spectrum. Remember, while Skinner’s subjects were originally pigeons, his techniques have been applied effectively in everything from corporate performance to the most basic of personal transactions with our children… and everything in-between.
…and Yes, Customers Too!
Recently, I’ve been giving a good deal of thought to how we can use these same principles in our relationships with customers. There are many things we do to encourage customers to behave in certain ways. Whether it’s buying more of a product, maintaining allegiance to our brand, or other more subtle changes we seek in customer behavior (shifting to less costly billing and payment channels, moving consumption to more optimal places in our delivery system, increasing utilization of our automated inquiry channels (website, IVR, etc.), participating in recycling campaigns, etc.), the age old “behavior modification” techniques used by the early behaviorists, still present in most of our performance management organizations, are just as, if not more, important to our relationships and interactions with customers. It’s all about creating a line of sight between a desired outcome and the behaviors required to drive it, keeping that line of sight visible, and ensuring that all requisite parts of the process are in place to motivate and reinforce staying on that path and consistently hitting the desired target.
A few days ago, a close friend of mine who enjoys spending an occasional weekend in Las Vegas (something I know very little about, or at least wouldn’t admit to if I did!), received, during one of these periodic jaunts, a loyalty card from a casino offering him certain amenities whenever he visited their property–usually free (or at least that’s the spin they put on it) dinners, valet parking, etc. Personally, I find it hard to see these loyalty programs as being of any great value, since I’m sure the rewards pale in comparison to how much casinos “fleece” their patrons. But regardless of how I view that industry and their programs, my friend seems to enjoy them. And, well, who am I to judge?
After visiting the casino a few times in 2011, he received a letter letting him know that he had reached a new loyalty level (again, one has to wonder about achieving a new loyalty level at a casino whose primary mission it is to take your money. But let’s not digress again). After quickly congratulating him on achieving this “new loyalty tier”, the program manager went on to describe how close my friend was to reaching the next level beyond his newly attained one.
I may not have all of my numbers exactly right, but it went something like this: “Congratulations on achieving our Silver level by earning 15,000 points! You’re now only a few steps away from hitting the Gold level. By earning an additional 900,000 points, you’ll enjoy all the benefits of Silver PLUS all the many new benefits reserved exclusively for our Gold members!” etc, etc, etc…
Sometimes there is not enough oxygen on the planet to describe how many things are wrong with a particular business practice. This was one of those times. But the letter alone did most of the damage. Whatever the expenditures required to get to the “silver level” (and I really didn’t want to know the details), simple math told him that he’d need to spend many, many, many multiples of that to even approximate the next level. After a good laugh, his response was: “Sure, I’ll get right on that!”
The good, the bad and the ugly…
Loyalty programs all include features of this sort: tiers of benefits that reward buying behavior, incentives for climbing to the next tier, quantifiable measures and tracking schemes that let you know how you are doing on your progress, and all the communication required to motivate you up and over the “next hurdle.” It doesn’t matter whether the program is for frequent fliers, hotel visitors, or even banking savers (an alternative I would encourage my friend to consider). There is no doubt that such programs work.
What differentiates the good ones is not simply the presence of elements like measures, goals, and rewards but, rather, the range of “moving parts” within the PM process I alluded to earlier. For example, let’s look inside my friend’s experience. It wasn’t the lack of a measurable outcome or awareness of what he had to do to get to the next tier that created the breakdown, but rather the enormous gap between the tiers (where the target was set), its level of achievability, and the manner in which progress was communicated.
Sometimes the issue is as simple as managing distinctions between tiers and levels. For a person like me who travels extensively, upgrades, for example, are certainly important. But as airlines continue to consolidate, customers who might have grown used to being consistently upgraded now find that while they were once big fish in a small pond, they have now become average-sized fish in a much larger lake. Anyone caught in the consolidation of the United and Continental loyalty programs knows this first-hand. In fact, there are now more “elite” than “non-elite” fliers (usually by a factor of two) competing for that “special boarding” privilege (essential for getting dibs on very scarce and valuable carry-on luggage space). So for me, the boarding privileges have become more valuable than the upgrade itself. Simply differentiating between platinum, gold, and silver elite fliers in the boarding process would improve the experience of those with the highest travel frequency. Further distinctions (within the higher tier) would also help to create more perceived equity within the ever growing mass of frequent travelers when it comes to upgrades.
More often than not, the differences lie in more subtle application of the “moving parts” within the process. There is a principle most of us may remember from that Psych 101 course that deals with the specifics of reinforcement “schedules” (variable/fixed intervals, for example). While it’s nice to get “upgraded” every single time we exhibit the expected behavior, true behaviorists would tell you that is a clear path to complacency (besides which, the experimenter–or in our case, the program manager–ends up spending a great deal more than necessary in rewards in order to achieve a desired result). Whether they are right or wrong in this assertion is not the issue; market research can answer that. The real issue is that nuances such as this remain very much in play and should not be simply ignored or overlooked in a program’s design. Most of us can recall a time as a customer when receiving an unexpected extra (what we in the south call lagniappe ) did, in fact, generate good will and motivate improved buy behavior. Stan Phelps, a fellow blogger and someone I view as a “kindred spirit” in the space of marketing and CEM, talks about this quite extensively on his blog “Marketing Lagniappe”. And while he does not purport to be a true (native) Southerner like myself, he certainly gets the concept as well as those who hail from south of the Mason Dixon line.
Incorporating Performance Management into your CEM strategies…
Like any good chef, there are many ingredients that need to be mixed in the correct sequence, at the right temperature, and presented in the right way to create that high-quality, positive experience. Same goes for designing our customer experiences:
- Are the incentives you’re offering ones customers even care about? How much time and energy are you wasting on deploying innovative tools that have more impact for you that they do for customers?
- Are your incentives easy for customers to redeem? .Small “point of sale” rebates are often have far more “relevant impact” than larger ones that require more customer effort to redeem (after adjusting for lower redemption levels)
- Do you rely on hidden tricks to manage program costs (e.g., points that expire, rewards that require supplemental cash payments, etc.) that can actually produce more negative that positive impact on customer experience?
- Are the measures you’re using easy and simple for customers to understand and use in tracking their progress to that next reward or level?
- Have you considered the effect of different reinforcement schedules? (Fixed versus variable intervals? Different types and quantity of rewards?
- Have you given enough thought to where program “targets” (rewards and tiers) are set?
- Are the targets achievable in reasonable amounts of time?
- Is your messaging and communication sufficiently compelling?
Clearly these techniques apply any time we are trying to convince someone to “jump right on it.” But in the world of customer experience, where competitive forces are always at play and differentiation is becoming more and more critical, it may just be the most important consideration in your product and program design.
Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience with primary emphasis on Customer Operations in the global energy and utilities sector. Bob has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at email@example.com
A few months back, I remember having a good chuckle while watching a Jon Stewart parody on the Republican candidate field. The monologue poked fun at the media’s tendency, during its seemingly relentless coverage of the leading candidate on that day, to completely shift direction the moment a new contender entered the picture.In this case, Bachman was the leader du jour, the media was the dog in the Pixar movie “Up”, and the part of the squirrel was played by none other than Rick Perry, who these days appears to be succeeding only at distracting himself.
“Squirrel moments” happen all around us, and with greater frequency than we’d care to admit. As flawed human beings, it’s easy for us to get sidetracked from what we should be doing, by some urgent new distraction that seems terribly critical in the moment. Yet most of us eventually manage to refocus, once we become aware (through our own cognitive skills or because a friend or colleague points it out to us) of how badly the squirrel moment has driven us off-course. Typically it is the speed with which we are able to re-calibrate ourselves that ultimately determines the degree of damage, if any, that is caused by the distraction.
Some “squirrel moments” have far reaching impacts…
But for organizations, the challenge of refocusing after a significant distraction is far greater. Unlike individual distractions, those in organizations often require refocusing entire workgroups, business units, and processes that may have strayed far from the core focus and strategies of the business. It’s a bit like comparing a fighter jet to a large commercial airliner. While both are capable of course correction, larger aircraft don’t react “on a dime” and require a lot more time and space to maneuver. The magnitude of the corporate distraction, the breadth of areas it touches, and the duration of the distraction, are just a few of the variables that determine the organization’s ability to react and readjust quickly.
- The enormous value that Netflix had created, based on a simple and straightforward product offer embraced by scores of customers, was severely jeopardized by the company’s ill-advised decision to migrate to a more complex, two-tiered pricing model driven largely by a short-term desire to justify an overinflated stock price. The outcome was both predictable and horrific, as customers departed in droves, destroying an enormous amount of company value in very short order.
- Bank of America, arguably one of the better banks in terms of customer satisfaction and experience, watched much of that brand value evaporate following announcement of a pricing move (its now infamous $5 charge for debit card use) that evoked a similar customer outrage. While perhaps necessitated by financial realities (debatable), its positioning, execution, and ultimate response were painful to watch play out.
- Research in Motion, maker of the Blackberry, whose loyal business following was predicated on its operational and reliability advantages, suffered a huge blow to its value on the heels of a long and poorly managed network outage—a network on which it had based much of its service differentiation.
- Berkshire Hathaway, a company whose entire business is based on the prudent, sober, and wise investing of its founder, ended up the subject of one of 2011’s stories of financial impropriety–an insider trading scandal the likes of which we’ve come to expect from the industry, just not from these guys.
- HP announced another redirection of its product portfolio, and yet another shift in its leadership team–a true “squirrel moment” with a healthy dose of “been there, done that.”
S*** Happens! You just have to manage it…
Sure, one might argue, “bad things happen to good companies”, and in these and a myriad of other examples from 2011 there is certainly some truth to that. Sometimes, these blunders cannot always be attributed to bad strategies or failure to stick with a good one. Sometimes, it’s the tactical decisions that are “far removed” from the C-suite and its strategic decision making. Sometimes these decisions, as we saw above, are undertaken because of a financial necessity that in the short term might trump a marketing strategy.
But, by the same token, those seemingly small disconnects may, in fact, be symptomatic of the problem itself. While management may not be able to control ALL of the drivers that lead to negative consequences, effective development and MANAGEMENT of strategy can not only limit the damage caused by veering off course, but can play a very important role in course correction after the fact. For many companies the words “MANAGEMENT” and “STRATEGY” connote different, and often conflicting, disciplines. But for those successful at avoiding and responding to distractions, these are highly related and often inseparable competencies.
Great strategy management is about the WHAT and the HOW…
So, how can you ensure that corporate distractions are kept to a minimum, and effectively refocus and re-center the business when they invariably do occur?
- Define and clarify your business strategy — This sounds like motherhood and apple pie. It always does. But it remains the preeminent cause of breakdowns during times of distraction, because the strategy is either too complex to begin with, or it lacks sufficient clarity to engender the necessary alignment and commitment to continue keeping the firm focused in times of distraction. Your strategy is more than simply a restatement of a vision or broad ambition. It is a specific answer to a specific question: What do we need to do to ensure success within your existing business environment? One of Apple’s most effective demonstrations of strategic clarity was Steve Jobs’ insistence on collapsing their previously expansive product portfolio into four clear product families that would redefine its future. Clear, compelling, with an easily-understood line of sight to renewing the value of the business.
- Do more than just communicate it — Management 101 preaches “communicate your strategy.” But communication alone is insufficient to create the alignment necessary to avoid distractions. One of the most rewarding aspects of this job is watching clients challenge ideas and recommendations (even from yours truly) based on an automatic and often deeply-felt narrative of how the suggested change(s) might conflict with their core strategy. For them, it’s more than just “talking points.” It’s a compelling narrative they have embodied through words and examples. Sure, these too can be misinterpreted occasionally, but just like a pilot who is expected to react with some degree of muscle memory, we must develop and nurture that level of alignment as a first line of defense against corporate distraction. Vision, values, and strategies. They all need to be seamlessly integrated within a crisp, clear, and compelling narrative.
- Build and use the right navigation systems — When NASA launches a probe to Mars, it must travel undistracted for about nine months in order to hit a fast-moving and very small target (the red planet). Even the slightest and briefest of external forces can cause the probe to miss the planet by millions of miles. Having the right navigation systems and a network of alerts and course-correction mechanisms is crucial to a mission like this, and it is just as critical to a business like yours. In business, such technologies and processes comprise your integrated performance management system, and they should include the KPI’s of the business, the network of leading and lagging business metrics we must monitor, and a clear understanding of the relationships between them.
- Scenario and contingency planning — Made popular by companies like Shell years ago, the discipline to do this, and do it well, has fallen out of vogue. Not sure why, other than what I heard from a client a few years back…that it “forced us to admit that we might have the wrong strategy”, or that it “would distract us from adhering to that strategy”. That’s as much hogwash today as it was when I first heard it, and failure to implement a rigorous scenario planning process is, as ever, tantamount to sticking your head in the sand. If subjecting your strategic plans to that level of scrutiny adversely affects your ability to execute the strategy as designed, while being agile enough to react and learn from mistakes, then you either have the wrong strategy, the wrong leadership, or both.
- The ability and agility to recover from distractions — Unlike the dogs in “UP”, we don’t have masters to yank our collars or order us back into focus. (unless we work in a purely autocratic environment). What we do have is the ability to learn and react. It helps if we have a contingency plan with automatic responses. But we must also have the ability to recognize when something is not working, and the agility to put that learning in motion quickly and effectively.
2011 wasn’t the first time we’ve seen these types of blunders. And it most certainly won’t be the last.
We all remember the Tylenol scare of many years ago. Drug companies like J&J, who exist largely at the mercy of safety protocols and regulations, can easily be crushed by such events. But J&J’s ability to identify and react to the crisis with agility prevented what could have been an historic business failure. Their “distraction,” which arguably could have been anticipated, was kept fairly well contained.
Others weren’t so fortunate. The Exxon-Valdez and BP-Macondo debacles are two great examples of this. Safety, which should be a core strategic underpinning for any company, but particularly those in this industry, in large measure fell victim to distraction. But, in both cases, it was the lack of a coherent, actionable response strategy that kept business value flowing out of the pipeline/tanker as fast as the oil.
If we have the right blueprint for managing strategy, we can limit the number of distractions, identify and react appropriately when they do occur, and respond with agility and effectiveness to keep adverse consequences to a minimum.
Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience with primary emphasis on Customer Operations in the global energy and utilities sector. Bob has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian Kenneth Swain is a Principal with onVector Consulting Group. Brian has over 25 years of experience in Marketing, Product Management, and Customer Operations. He has managed organizations in highly competitive product environments, and has consulted for numerous companies across the globe. Brian is an alumnus of McKinsey & Company, Bell Laboratories, and Reliant Energy, and is a graduate of Columbia University and the Wharton Business School. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
We’ve all been there. The cancelled flight. The lengthy power outage. The inconvenient disruption in internet communications. Higher than normal dropped cell calls. You’d think that whoever is calling the shots on the weather patterns lately would know the magnitude of chaos they are creating in our lives. It’s enough to drive you nuts!
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…
Hurricane Irene, though relatively tame to a gulf coast native like myself, once again forced me to reflect on how storms like this can disrupt life’s little conveniences. On the one hand, it’s quite amazing how stressed and freaked out we (including yours truly) get with what are, in the end, minor inconveniences–many of which would be regarded as luxuries elsewhere on the planet.
Let’s face it, we’re all human, and while we get as frustrated as the next person when inconvenienced, we all are capable of realizing and accepting that certain events simply fall into the category of “S**T HAPPENS”. While nobody likes to wait on hold for two hours to talk to an airline, most of us “bite our tongue” when talking to the agent because we know they are probably as stressed, if not more so, than we are because of what they’ve had to endure during the time we were on hold.
…and the wisdom to identify idiocy!
On the other hand, it is equally amazing, given the advances in service capabilities and technology, that we are unable to avoid, or at least help customers to tolerate, the downstream impact of these events. Consider the following examples from last weekend’s flight mess caused by multiple airport closures in the Northeast.
- Text message informing a passenger of a canceled flight fifteen minutes after the last alternate departure
- Text message instructing the passenger to CALL the airline for additional information, exponentially amplifying an already uncontrollable workload/call volume
- Call-in number with an automatic message that says essentially, “we have too many incoming calls, call back later.” Really? A six-billion-dollar Fortune 100 company in 2011 with a message like THIS?
- Call queues (for airlines who, under normal circumstances, pride themselves on differentiating between “tiers” of frequent fliers”) that suddenly lose all such distinctions in the midst of a crisis–with hold times from two to three hours throughout the weekend
- A website containing little if any useful information on the situation at hand, self-help suggestions for what I could do in the meantime, or anything else that might have alleviated the stress
- Complete absence of any visible “behind the scenes” or back office process to re-book flights automatically (my reservation was essentially cancelled leaving me to re-book myself with no apparent prioritization for my loyalty status
- A workforce that, despite all their effort and hard work, (and I do mean hard work because they had 200 reps working what I estimate to be at least 300,000-500,000 displaced passengers), did what???
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about “Moments of Truth” (“MOTs”) when it comes to service interactions. We often think about MOTs from a transaction standpoint, e.g.,when a customer calls to connect service, ask a billing question, get updated about a service interruption, or simply to complain about an inconvenience. For me, though, the real MOT is what happens in a true moment of chaos or crisis–when the customer’s daily life is truly interrupted, i.e., when they actually expect things to suck. It’s at that moment, when natural optimists become pessimists, that one of three things happens:
- Customers’ bad expectations are realized, either creating or reinforcing a perception that when unforeseen events occur, things will inevitably become hopeless, i.e., a feeling of general resignation.
- Lowered expectations become their worst fears…and you become recognized as the company that falls apart rather than shining in the face of adversity.
- They are completely “WOWED” by the significant, yet counter-intuitive, responses they see from you at a moment when they have every expectation in the book for not doing so.
For most of us, it’s typically the first experience, and we move on with our lives, disappointed but not surprised. We remain only marginally engaged, and perhaps, when the next opportunity presents itself to switch to another supplier, that new supplier may have the proverbial “edge”. But for companies who really understand these dynamics and strive for true loyalty, they know the power of the third outcome above, and the value that small, but memorable, responses can have in these real MOTs.
…I had received a text message telling me that an adverse weather situation was unfolding and that by responding “helpme” to their text, they would search for available options and contact me to see if I wanted to initiate any of these two or three alternative plans? What if the message I heard when I called (instead of “We’re busy. Call back later.”) had directed me to a website that contained actual useful information (even if nothing more than “We’re at the mercy of the weather and the airport, and we won’t know anything until tomorrow at 2 p.m.”)? What if instead of my reservation being cancelled, they had proactively re-booked me on another flight? And what if (perhaps for only their million-mile customers) they had actually offered me some REAL solutions, like, for example, flying on a different airline or going through an unconventional (perhaps even inconvenient and uneconomic) routing.
Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result…
We all understand crises and uncontrollable events. We all know that we cannot blame an airline or a power company for things like earthquakes, weather, some mechanical failures, and the like. And we know, as well, how inappropriate it is to blame the people who are doing their best in a bad situation. But I would argue that in a time and era where margins are thin and everyone is looking for new ways to differentiate themselves…and particularly in a time when customers have been conditioned to expect the WORST from us…that is the perfect time to step up and offer creative and inspiring solutions.
Some of these may be BIG things–the kind of heroics you hear about in commercials, performances that border on the uneconomic and, perhaps, unrealistic–solutions that would drive a company to the poorhouse if they were truly institutionalized (Can anyone forget the FEDEX driver who couldn’t get the drop box open, so he lifted the entire multi-hundred-pound box into the back of his truck?). But I would contend that it’s the little things that mean the most–the things that show you’ve had the FORESIGHT to understand how a customer is truly affected in a crisis. ANTICIPATE your customers’ most likely state of mind in these situations, and develop small solutions that can, in fact, be INSTITUTIONALIZED.
We celebrate independence from many things: from the oppressive control of people and governments, to simply becoming independent from our once protective or “controlling” environments. Every 4th of July, we in the United States celebrate our national independence from prior years of British control, and its declaration of that freedom in a charter that would define the very freedoms and liberties we in the US enjoy today. Most often, when we celebrate “independence,” whether it is as a nation or as individuals, we are celebrating a moment in time, or a phase when that independence is either declared, demonstrated or both.
But there is another type of independence we should also celebrate, i.e., the act of distancing oneself from the (isolated, blind, and often inappropriate) influence of another person or organization’s actions. It is more of a “state” that an organization exists within, and one that defines the boundaries of its existence, than it is a single event or moment in time. Such is the case with most corporate oversight and regulatory functions that have emerged in recent years.
As an aspiring young auditor over 20 years ago, I remember this type of independence being drilled into my head more than any other directive in my early career. It’s a principle that has shaped both external auditing as a discipline since its inception over a century ago, and one that has defined internal auditing now for decades. It is also a principle that today defines most common forms of regulatory and oversight functions, particularly when issues like safety and security are involved. But these functions, while sometimes viewed as oppressive in their own right, were initially set up to prevent inherent conflicts of interest that arise in the absence of “common sense” checks and balances.
While many would call these functions a “necessary evil,” their independence and objectivity gives us comfort that someone else is watching–someone who does not necessarily have an “axe to grind” or a “dog in the race.” And if positioned correctly, this independence can also be a powerful enabler for the business by providing outside and unfiltered information and perspectives that are not easily observed by day-to-day operating management. Learning how to create that balance is critical to any function performing in that type of advisory or oversight capacity.
Today, the role of the Corporate Performance Manager, or Chief Performance Officer (CPO) as some companies have positioned it, is one in which the concept of independence and objectivity is becoming increasingly critical. Just as auditors have had to weather the perception of being the “bad guy,” so it is as well for the CPO. In fact, many companies that have deferred making the decision to have a Corporate PM function, have done so to avoid creating another oppressive layer of control, and avoid the animosity that might get created between operating and corporate management. But it is these organizations who sacrifice a very significant benefit that a Corporate PM function can deliver. I would submit that it is not the presence of independent advisory or oversight functions that create these problems, but rather the way they are set up, chartered and managed that does so.
So how does this sense of “balance” get created?
Here are some common traits of successful Corporate Performance Management functions that have been able to use the principles of independence and objectivity in a way that enables more collaborative success, while providing the healthy oversight and control that is desired by the firm’s Board, Officers and Shareholders:
- Organizational Independence and Visibility- Just as most Audit functions have a corporate responsibility to the CEO and Board of Directors, so it is the case with most successful corporate PM organizations. By the very nature of their reporting relationship to the CEO (or equivalent), they eliminate the very conflict of interest with specific business functions that can compromise more integrated and synergistic solutions from occurring.
- Strategically Balanced– Their charter is driven by the Firm’s Balanced Scorecard, rather than limited subsets of operating metrics that may yield more limited operational successes at the expense of the more balanced set of business outcomes desired by shareholders
- Non-Threatening- While their ultimate customer is the CEO, they view operating executives as a key enabler of, and partners in, their collective success. They do this by addressing issues and performance gaps in a way that makes the operating unit become successful in the eyes of the Firm’s C-Suite and Board, rather than their own visible value add.
- Removing Barriers- One way they become viewed as genuine partners with operating management is that they use their corporate visibility and influence to break down barriers (like corporate politics, access to information, and cultural roadblocks) and unlock value that has often eluded operating management.
- Inclusive and collaborative– Good PM functions are inclusive, not only with respect to their approach, but also in their delivery tactics. They often staff their departments with people from the operating units themselves (using short term and rotational assignments), increasing their operating credibility and ultimately developing real PM champions across the business.
- Facilitative– These functions are far more facilitative in their approach, rarely performing direct roles in developing conclusions and implementation. While results are often the same as those they might have developed themselves, playing a background role and “leading” the operating staff to the right answers ultimately strengthens operating ownership for the conclusions and changes that ultimately emerge.
- Share the Joy– Good PM organizations are often generous in giving credit for operating changes directly to operating executives. While they are successful at tracking corporate value delivered by the PM process, the credit for the implemented changes is often given directly to those who implement it.
The "bad cop" perception that is often ascribed to corporate oversight functions will never get eliminated completely, and will continue to be a factor as Corporate PM groups proliferate across the industry. By its very nature, there will always be times where their responsibility to the CEO and Board will result in the development of recommendations or the presentation of information that benefits the collective whole, rather than the specific interests of a particular business unit. But more often than not, the type of synergistic value we are looking for can make heroes out of operating executives while still benefiting the collective Enterprise.
So on this Independence Day, let’s remember that we can still preserve the independence and objectivity our profession requires, while being a strong force that liberates and frees our operating executives to reach their goals and ultimate potential.
Nearly three decades after benchmarking came on the scene, companies still claim it to be an integral part of their internal performance improvement processes. But few would argue that its value to the business is now well below where it once was. And sometimes, it actually gets in the way of identifying improvements and driving change.
There is not a client I work with who doesn’t have their shelves lined with volumes of benchmarking studies and reports. Nearly every industry group produces some kind of comparative metrics report for its members. And every industry has those companies that we might consider to be “benchmarking addicts” — those who participate in nearly every study they can in the spirit of demonstrating their performance improvement “commitment” and “prowess” around driving change. Ironically though, it is rarely these companies that define the top tier of their respective industries in terms of real performance.
Here are some inherent flaws with benchmarking today:
- Benchmarking is largely “point-in-time” driven and retrospective in nature. While this can be useful in “stress testing” targets and defining high-level gaps (“low-hanging fruit” or “quick wins”), it largely ignores the trends or shifts in metrics that are far more critical to identifying and driving course corrections.
- Comparative studies almost always focus on lagging versus leading indicators. This often leads to a culture of “managing through the rear-view mirror”. It also fixates the organization on measuring things for the sake of comparisons, when some of those metrics may have have become irrelevant or even obsolete.
- Benchmarking focuses on “common metrics” versus those that may be critical to you, but perhaps not everyone. It’s okay to have a few metrics you routinely measure for the sake of comparison, but when these metrics begin to define your scorecard, it’s time to recognize when the “tail is actually wagging the dog”.
- Comparisons are done for many reasons, not all of which are performance driven. More often than not, benchmarks are used to identify strengths for the sake of communicating to shareholders, regulators, or sometimes even internal Executives. They’re sometimes even a vehicle for rationalizing and justifying poor performance, often confusing the organization and sending all the wrong messages.
- Benchmarking often leads to “group think”. We look for commonalities and like to follow the “herd”. Let’s face it — It lowers our risk to say, “if company x is doing such and such, then we should be doing it too.” But it’s sometimes the anomalies in the data that can show us where real innovation is happening. And in the benchmarking world, anomalies are often dismissed as outliers and suggestive of data problems rather than solutions.
- Realize that benchmarking is about you, and not about others. It’s fine to use comparisons to help you better understand yourself and your performance weaknesses and perhaps “stress test” your targets, but when you start using benchmarks to rationalize and justify existing performance and actions, it’s time to refocus your thinking on you and your company’s improvement goals and the learning benchmarking can provide.
- Determine where benchmarking fits into your overall performance management process, and use it that way. In cases where benchmarking is done for some other reason, like communicating to stakeholders or regulators, call it what it is and keep it at arms length from the game of real performance improvement.
- Focus your benchmarking on the measures that matter to YOU rather than a consultant’s peer group or client base. More often than not, it may be better to do a small internal project to gather that competitive intelligence, than it would to consume resources to force-fit yourself into a large peer group.
- Orient your benchmarking around learning and innovation, rather than simply “following the herd.” This will sometimes cause you to look at different metrics, and look at them differently. Anomalies will become a source of new innovation rather than simply a data problem to discount.
Using the “nightmare scenario” to catalyze change…
Since I started my career 22 years ago, I’ve always been intrigued by the use of the proverbial “burning platform” as a motivational tactic for catalyzing and effecting change within organizations. Originally, the “burning platform” was simply a metaphor used for a looming crisis that required a change in organizational thinking and behavior. More and more, however, these “burning platforms” are becoming more literal, making the consequence of “status quo” even more real and threatening to those who are on it.
There is no shortage of cases in which the threat of REALLY BIG negative consequences turned out to be an effective means of initiating major change within organizations, cultures, and individuals who were otherwise operating myopically, blind to many of the realities around them. We saw it in the 1960’s as MLK used present inequities among races, and what the future would look like if left unattended, to inspire what would become a successful civil rights movement that would change US and global principles, policies, legislation, and ultimately cultural behaviors themselves. Auto companies used the threat of overseas domination as a way to improve productivity and quality, and continue to use it as a way to sustain performance.
“Burning Platform” examples: Past and present…
We are also seeing it quite literally now, as nuclear companies have used past examples of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and now the as-yet-unresolved crisis at Fukushima, as a way to renew the industry’s focus on safety. And of course, all major oil companies are using the consequences of the BP spill of 2010 as a catalyst for driving major improvements in operational safety. The latter is a particularly good example, as on the day of the explosion itself, the company was celebrating a long string of days without a recordable safety event!
Late last year, Nokia’s new CEO Stephan Elop used the same tactic to catalyze the need for some dramatic new thinking within his organization. To amplify the importance of responding quickly to what appears to be a competitive nightmare scenario, he sent a memo to the organization comparing its circumstances to that of a “burning platform” surrounded by the “icy waters” of the North Sea. In this case, survival meant risking both a fall and survival of icy waters in order to avoid the certain death of being consumed by fire. Talk about a wake up call!!!
Even humanity in general uses the “burning platform” as a way to inspire vigilance and action around things like spirituality and lifestyle. Most are aware of Harold Camping’s prophesies around the projected May 21st “Rapture” of Christians worldwide and the October 21st end of the world as we know it (Sorry if that puts a damper on anyone’s springtime plans :), but hey, I’m just the messenger!). Regardless of your religious background, or whether you “buy into” this or the myriad of other “end of days” proclamations, prophesies like this one certainly get our attention, and remind us of the importance of staying in close touch with our maker–lest we risk the ultimate in “burning platforms.”
Nevertheless, most of the successful uses of the “burning platform” tactic of motivation, particularly those in business, are based in fear–fear of losing customers, fear of losing market share, fear of financial collapse, and the myriad of other risks associated with not responding fast enough, or with enough magnitude to avert otherwise disastrous consequences. And while most leaders, like myself, would prefer to use more positive oriented motivation and reinforcement to accomplish our vision, the “burning platform” (threat of crisis) often has a more pronounced catalyzing effect, and as a leader, it is highly likely that you will be forced into using it at some point in your career, assuming you haven’t already.
Guidelines for developing your “burning platform”…
If you are going to use the “burning platform” tactic effectively, I believe there are a number of factors that should influence and guide your approach:
- Make sure the platform you choose is real, credible, and significant. — Focus on specific threats or risks to your business that cannot be dealt with or averted using existing processes, practices, or people (e.g., a specific safety risk that if unmanaged would sink the company, or a productivity gap that is 40% worse than your top competitor, is better than a repeated message that sales are down, costs are up, and profits are hurting).
- Make sure you offer a “roadmap” or “pathway” for success that is achievable (assuming one exists)— Everyone has heard the adage “accept the things you cannot change…change the things you can …and have the wisdom to know the difference.” There are two implications of this in creating your burning platform. First, there is nothing worse than a dismal scenario that has no way of being averted, as that is a sure path to apathy and hopelessness. Assuming there is one (if there is not, you may want to think about jumping ship), make sure that you help your staff see it. None of us are capable of changing the “end of days” scenario described above (should it prove out), but we can change our behaviors, approach to relationships, and other facets of our life.
- The “burning platform” doesn’t always have to be apocalyptic in nature. — You can be just as successful defining a future scenario that might open possibilities for you or your organization to “break out” or leapfrog competitors. Our visit to the moon was a good example of where we used external forces and opportunities to inspire a very positive outcome.
- A “compelling narrative” is essential. Almost every good example of a “burning platform” tactic being successful begins with the ability of a leader to clearly and compellingly state the case for change. At its basic level, this is the ability to be a good storyteller, in a way that vividly paints the picture of the crisis at hand, shows the vision for success, and clearly identifies what must change, all while respecting the history and past successes of the organization.
- Track and report progress/establish consequences — If you do a good job of identifying a real and credible threat to the business, and articulating a pathway to averting or navigating the risk, then you should be able to establish some good metrics for reporting success. Think of these as milestones or way-points on your journey. Report these frequently so that they enable critical course corrections. You’ll want to make sure you hold yourself and those on your team accountable. Again, if you’ve done a good job of defining the threats, risks, and path for success, then improvement in the business should allow for ample rewarding of those who contributed the most.
- Don’t overuse the tactic. — There is nothing worse than a leader who constantly “cries wolf”. All of us have had bosses who live in a constant narrative of “the sky is falling.” They repeatedly send the same message over and over again, and when subordinates stop listening, they ascribe it to their staff “simply “not getting it”, when in fact what has happened is that they have become so “numb” to the message that it has the reverse effect, i.e., of creating complacency.
A “burning platform” can be a very effective strategy for managing change within an organization, regardless of the business type. But doing it incorrectly can create hopelessness and a feeling of apathy across the team and put the organization in worse shape than when it started.
A few weeks back, I was talking to a client about their latest strategies to enhance what is now known commonly as “the customer experience.” And like most companies that are working tirelessly on driving their customers toward higher levels of satisfaction, delight, and our latest aspiration, “engagement,” this company was going through all the common challenges of funding their new Customer Experience Management (CEM) strategy.
But also, like many others, funding their CEM strategy is meeting some pretty big resistance from their CFO and others who are trying to make corporate “ends meet,” especially in this economic climate. More and more, these two perspectives are clashing, not because the organization fails to value investment in Customer Service (CS), but more so because the impacts associated with that those investments are often less direct and less tangible, at least compared with the realm of immediate cost and productivity savings that produce faster (albeit not always sustainable) payback to the bottom line.
The Cost/ Service Trade-off: Myth or Reality?
For over two decades of working in the Customer Operations arena, I’ve heard clients invariably revert to the “perceived” trade-off between customer service levels and cost savings or efficiency efforts. That is, the notion that there is an inverse relationship between our ability to improve service levels and our ability to capture CS related productivity and cost savings. And for a long time, the data supported this notion. But as technologies improved, and companies began to increase investments in CS-related technology, tools and process changes, select companies started to prove that notion false by demonstrating the existence of both high service levels and low cost at the same time–companies clearly worthy of the term “myth busters”.
Yet despite all those great examples from the 90’s, we are now seeing many return to the proverbial “trade-off” as a reason for deferring further investments in their CS infrastructure. Make no mistake, there are clearly companies that are pushing the envelope of customer delight, and perhaps even engagement, but more often than not, investments in CEM, and even critical investments in basic infrastructure, are once again hitting the funding wall.
Some of this is clearly driven by the current economic climate. As a CEO from one of my energy clients said recently, “We haven’t given up on CS. But these investments are discretionary, and right now we are struggling to ‘keep the lights on'”. And, while on the surface, this may provoke emotions of heresy from those in highly competitive markets, it’s hard to argue with financial realities. At one time or another, most CS executives, regardless of industry, have encountered this same argument from their C-Suite executives.
Unfortunately, for some, the lack of investment in that infrastructure has created a bit of a back-slide in performance, creating the question of whether we are back to the days of the proverbial trade-off.
Reversing The Course…
As with most things in life, the cup can be either half empty or half full based simply on the lens through which we are looking.
Sure, we all want to delight our customers and make them happy. But from a financial perspective, there is always an ROI at play, and it’s not always easy to establish a causal linkage between that “added delight factor” and the bottom line. Hence the conflict.
But this assumes we are trying to impress, delight, or otherwise “engage” the customer for the sole purpose of selling more of our product or service. And that is clearly part of it. But again, at the risk of offending our hardcore sales and product advocates (of which I am one), I would assert that there are many other reasons for having an engaged customer that go far beyond the next product sale or any direct influence on buying behavior at all.
Beyond the Obvious…
From my perspective, “Engagement” is about changing the overall predisposition of a customer from one of negative predisposition or neutrality, to one of positive engagement that is leveragable in some context. That context could be higher sales, repeat business, or Word of Mouth (WOM) referrals, but it could also serve a variety of other purposes.
One of those purposes is cost savings. What?
That’s right, cost savings.
Over the past several years, we’ve completed a variety of assignments that were geared to identifying efficiencies where the mandate was “zero degradation to Customer Satisfaction”. Not an insignificant challenge. Especially when you consider that most companies have explored every way under the sun to drive more productivity out of their workforce, and have automated just about everything they can automate. And in some cases, these efforts have in fact degraded service level.
But many of those changes were inflicted on customers in a “push fashion”. Sure we’ve made tons of good changes in everything from local office closures, to call center automation improvements, to web interaction, but many of those changes were “pushed on the market” regardless of the level of satisfaction or disposition it happened to be in at the time. Yet we still wonder why the acceptance rates on what may appear to be wonderful customer options are at levels well below their potential. Experts claim that something as basic as “paperless billing” should be hitting 50-70% saturation in the next 3 years, but most of us are only at a fraction of those levels. But to me that is not surprising, given that we have not yet engaged the customer who we are asking to accept these changes. At least not in the spirit of how it is defined above.
Engagement for the Sake of Cost Reduction ?
Just for a second, put on your CFO hat and consider the following argument.
Cost is a product of both efficiency and transaction volume. We can decrease cost per transaction by 5,10, or even 20% in the form of cost-per-call, cost-per-bill, cost-per-payment, and the litany of other transaction types we offer. But the large majority of cost still remains.
Now think about the other side of the equation. Transaction volume. Different story entirely. When we eliminate a transaction, be it a printed bill, a mailed payment, or a call to the call center, we eliminate 100% of the cost. Looking at it this way, there is no question where our focus should be. And looking at the potential that our recent advances in technology could have on enabling these reductions in transaction volume, it’s rather amazing that such a large part of our focus is still on operating and productivity gains.
On this basis, and given the potential that exists in the workload dimension alone, it is conceivable that savings of 30, 50%, or more are possible, and go well beyond what we would ever consider from mere productivity gains.
It all starts with Impacting Predisposition and Behavior…
Given the impact of workload on bottom line, why wouldn’t that become our primary focus?
Perhaps it should be. Or at least one of our primary goals. But haphazardly looking for where we can drive customers to self-service channels without a clear strategy will get us right back to square one. The “win win win” (CCO, CFO, and Customer) if you will, is only achievable if the levels of potential I describe above are fully realized, and accomplished in a manner that leaves the customer satisfied and engaged.
Engagement is about changing customers’ predisposition from negative or neutral to positive and engaged. Once that is accomplished, there exist numerous ways to leverage that engagement, including getting the customer to willingly shift the nature and frequency of their interactions with us, thus decreasing transaction volume. But that is only the tip of the iceberg, as the companies mastering this dynamic are finding out.
But it all starts with the lens we look through.
So next time you are faced with hitting that infamous “funding wall”, or get challenged on the basis of your new CEM strategy, think beyond the obvious.
For more on driving Customer Excellence through combined efficiency and service level focus, see the folloowing posts on EPMEdge.com . Related articles include:
- Lagniappe, Purple Gold Fish, King Cakes and Customer Delight!
- The Mythology of (the customer) Apology
- When Did “Common Sense” Go Extinct from the workplace?
- To “Meet or Exceed” Customer Expectations? The answer may surprise you…
- A Recent Rant – Rare but necessary
- Putting the Customer back into Customer Service
- The Primary Fuel of Customer DISSATISFACTION
- CSAT-The Bigger Picture
- First Things First- Process BEFORE Technology