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What Kind of Customer Experience Are You Creating?

A couple weeks ago my wife, my oldest daughter and I stopped at Chipotle for lunch. We were in no particular hurry.     When we got to the front of the line my wife ordered a chicken burrito bowl. The young lady behind the counter informed us that they were currently out of chicken and that it would be about five minutes before they had any more. We all wanted chicken so we quietly stepped aside to let others behind us order.   It couldn’t have even been five minutes later when the young lady motioned to us that the chicken had been replenished and they were ready for us. We proceeded through the line as usual and came to the register to pay. It was at that point that the manager said, “It’s on me. I’m paying for your lunch since you had to wait.”   I think we may have slightly protested, but he insisted and apologized for the wait. My wife’s response had to be music to his ears. “I already loved Chipotle, now I love it even more,” she said with a big smile.   As I walked away from the counter to find a table I couldn’t help but think about what that young manager had just done. I even talked about it briefly with my wife and daughter as we ate our lunch.   I thought, “That’s a smart business person.” Yeah he just gave away $20, but I assure you that based on our experience, we’ll be back again and again.   My question for you today is, “What kind of customer experience are you creating?” Are you creating ho-hum experiences, or even worse, or are you creating “I love this place” type of experiences. The interesting thing is that it doesn’t have to be expensive to create the latter.   I’d like to share with you two more of the best ways I’ve seen to create positive customer experiences without giving away the farm.

Coming Back for More

1. Consistently deliver on your brand promise. This is pretty basic, but so many don’t do it. Consistency is the key to developing and maintaining a strong brand. When people know what to expect, and it meets a felt need, they’re more likely to come back for more.   Your brand doesn’t even have to be high-end to be effective. Take McDonalds for instance. When I was growing up (it seems so long ago) you always knew you could get a clean bathroom at McDonalds. It’s one of the reasons so many families who were traveling stopped at McDonalds for a meal. It certainly wasn’t for the dining experience. Or was it?   Actually, I’ve come to believe it was not only for the bathrooms but also for the dining experience itself. But not because it was so great. Rather, because it met a basic need, and we knew exactly what kind of experience we were going to get. The burgers and fries tasted the same whether we were in Arizona or Minnesota or Pennsylvania. We were rarely, if ever, disappointed.  
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  2. Be honest with them. I know that can be scary at times, but honesty really is the best policy. I had a customer many years ago, when I was the COO of another company, who told us that one of the main reasons they continued to do business with us was not that we were perfect or flawless, but that we were honest about our mistakes and addressed them swiftly.   This was a very large and profitable customer for us and it would have been very costly to lose them. One production cycle we made a huge error in scheduling. Rather than fabricating something to keep us from looking bad, I was blatantly honest with the V.P. of Operations.   She was one of the toughest customers I’ve ever had. She never minced words. She was very blunt and very demanding. But I always knew where I stood with her and she trusted me implicitly because I’d been honest and quick to act on numerous occasions.   In this instance she drilled me with questions, pressing me for information and firm commitments for where we were headed. Again, I was straightforward, and continued to keep her in the loop as the process unfolded. She remained a faithful customer for many years, even beyond when I left the company.   In Patrick Lencioni’s book, “Getting Naked” he says that the main reason we stray from honesty is fear of losing the business. But, he posits, that naked honesty is actually refreshing to customers and usually builds the relationship rather than hurting it.  
Consistency is the key to developing and maintaining a strong brand.

Joe Denner


Back to Learning for a Moment

A couple weeks ago I told you that I’d be sharing some of my favorite ways to learn. I started with my list of top recommended books to read. Today I’d like to pass on my recommendation for a few podcasts that I listen to on a regular basis that have been especially instructive, challenging and encouraging.   Andy Stanley’s Leadership Podcast is probably my favorite. Andy and his co-host only publish one podcast per month, and it is usually only about 20-25 minutes long, but it is top notch stuff each and every month. He shares from his own experience in building one of the premiere organizations in his industry over the last twenty years. I deeply appreciate his humility and his wisdom as he shares.   This is Your Life with Michael Hyatt is my second favorite. Michael publishes every week and the podcast is usually about 30-40 minutes. He has a delightful co-host, Michele Cushatt, who makes a strong contribution as well. They cover a variety of topics from leadership to productivity to personal development to how to grow your influence. It is always packed with very clear, practical steps to growing in these areas.   Getting Things Done is another of my top recommendations. It publishes every about every two weeks and varies widely in length. This podcast is all about productivity and focuses conversations around the GTD methodology. The thing I really like about it is that they interview a very broad audience of people from very diverse industries so you get a number of angles on how GTD can work for you.   Don’t forget to check out our podcast, “Stronger Leaders…Shaping Tomorrow” which is published the first week of each month.   Question: How have you created great customer experiences? [question]great-customer-experience[/question]  
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One Way to Know When Technology is NOT the Solution

I was recently in a meeting with one of my clients where their team was discussing the possibility of implementing a robust software package to improve their operations.  
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  As I listened to the conversation my discomfort grew. I asked some pointed questions and the answers I received confirmed my suspicions.   I knew that not only were none of the packages they were considering the right one, there wasn’t a package on the market that would solve their problem. So, how was I so sure?   It’s not because I’m a techno-wizard. It’s not because I have a sixth sense. It’s not even because I think I’m a genius when it comes to business.   It’s because there is one way to know for sure that technology is not the solution.

An Important Lesson

I’ve been around a lot of software implementations in my day. It’s really exciting and rewarding when things turn out the way you want them to. Even with all of the hard work and the inevitable hiccups, the payoff can be fantastic. I’ve had that experience.   However, they can be excruciatingly painful, especially when they don’t work. I’ve seen that happen also, way too many times.   Years ago I learned a critically important lesson from my boss who had just completed the Executive MBA program at Kellogg University. He passed on this bit of wisdom to me. Here it is: Technology is an accelerator.   Did you catch that? Technology is an accelerator. In other words, it makes things go faster. So, if you stink at something and decide to throw some technology at it, you’re just going to end up stinking faster. And you’re going to spend a lot of time and money to achieve that negative result.   Here’s a very simple test you can apply to decide whether or not technology is the answer to your problem. If you can’t figure out how to do something the old fashioned way, e.g. manually, don’t implement technology to try to make it work better.  
Photo Courtesy of Adobe Stock

Best Examples

Two of the areas where I have seen this most often is with CRM and Inventory packages. In the case of CRM systems, companies sometimes have a hard time accurately tracking the leads and opportunities that come their way. They think implementing a CRM system is the answer.   They dream about how it’s going to give them quick access to great info and pretty reports that will help them drive more sales. So, they go out and spend thousands of dollars and dozens and dozens of hours to get it in place only to find out that they’re still having many of the same problems.   The reason for this is really very simple. GIGO – Garbage in, garbage out. The processes and systems they had in place were insufficient or defective. Putting in a CRM package is not going to fix that. Why not?   A computer can only do what it’s programmed to do. First, if you haven’t figured out how to do it, you can’t tell the computer how to either. And it can’t figure it out on its own, at least not at the time of this writing. Second, if people won’t make the appropriate inputs into the current system, they’re not likely to do it in the new system either.  

The Rest of the Story

So, back to the story with my client. From the answers they gave to my questions it was clear that the problem was due to a lack of discipline. People weren’t doing what they had been instructed to do. That’s one of the most prevalent problems that I find in companies that are struggling with a process.   Giving people software or technological tools isn’t going to change that. Depending on the skill level of your employees, you may even be introducing new levels of complexity that will make things worse.   We give technology too much credit. We think it will solve all our problems for us. But that often isn’t the case. It’s only a tool, an accelerator.  
Technology is not a problem solver. It is an accelerator.

 Joe Denner


Quick Recap

If you are considering implementing technology, ask yourself the following questions:   1. “Are we currently able to accurately execute the process manually (or mechanically)?” 2. “If the process is working well, do we have a thorough understanding of why it works and how it works?”   Unless the answer to both of these questions is “yes,” you need to correct that situation before giving any consideration to technology.   I just saved you a lot of wasted time and money. You’re welcome.   Question: What’s been your biggest technology disappointment? [question]technology-not-solution[/question]  
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How to Show Appreciation In A Way That Makes A Lasting Impact

We had a great time last Saturday as three of my sons graduated from Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. It was a fun trip, though it included a two hour visit to a local urgent care facility for a couple of stitches. I won’t bore you with the details, but if you know my son Jon, “enough said.”  
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  As you can imagine there was a lot of congratulating and applauding that took place throughout the trip, but especially at the commencement. All of the celebratory shouting, hugging, and hand shaking got me thinking about a topic. It’s probably one of the most important topics we can consider if we want to be leaders who have significant influence with those we lead.   Significant influence is a powerful lever for creating high levels of engagement with our team members (or family members) and that is what leads to outstanding performance and results.   I remember early on in my leadership journey hearing repeatedly about what truly motivates people. What surprised me was that money was usually not in the top 5 (of research studies). Another thing that surprised me was when one of my mentors told me that appreciation and recognition were almost always #1 and #2. I found that hard to believe as a young leader. But the last 15 years have confirmed the validity of that again and again.   You may have noticed that I listed appreciation and recognition separately. They are distinct. The basic difference is that appreciation is typically given privately or one-on-one. Recognition is public.   I learned many years ago how important it is to know which one people prefer. I actually had a team member who really disliked being publicly recognized. I might even go so far as to say that he hated it. He disliked it so much that if I were to have recognized him publicly I’m confident it would’ve had a negative impact on our relationship.   The other pitfall I have fallen prey to, and have witnessed countless other times, is appreciation expressed poorly. Because of how the feedback was delivered, in some cases, it even wound up having a negative impact.   Give me 30 more seconds and I’ll give you two quick ways you can give appreciation or recognition that will create maximum impact.

Hitting the Target

Most of the time when we think about showing a person appreciation we think of saying things like, “Thank you” or “Great job!” The problem is that while the sentiment is nice, this is one of those times that “it’s the thought that counts” might actually not apply.   1. Be specific about what they did that you appreciated. Hearing “Great job!” feels nice for a few seconds. But often people are left wondering what you meant. Let’s face it. The people you want to appreciate do a lot of things. Which one did they do a great job with? What was it about what they did that you really liked?   The more specific you are with your appreciation the more likely you are to get the behavior repeated. If you aren’t specific you might actually end up leaving the person frustrated because they don’t know what you appreciated. And they aren’t likely to ask.   Saying, “Thank you” is nice, but doesn’t take much effort. Taking the time to clearly think through and then articulate what you appreciated adds tremendously to the weight of your gratitude. It’s a simple, but powerful difference.   Here are two examples:
  • “Bob, I really want to thank you for the amazing detail you provided in that report for me on the fabrication department’s productivity.”
  • “Susan, I really appreciated how you handled that frustrated customer this morning. You were patient and walked them through the situation with great care.”
  2. Clearly identify the positive impact or value of what they did and for whom. It is just as important to tell them how their action or behavior had a positive impact or added value. Don’t assume they are aware of all the benefits that were derived from what they did. In many cases they won’t be. Take the time to be thorough.   Additionally, be clear about who benefited from their actions. There will be many cases where they lack full visibility to the depth or breadth of the impact.   Even if they are aware of all these things, hearing about them from another person is meaningful and rewarding. Just as with the previous point, the fact that you took the time to think this through and share it with them speaks volumes about your true level of appreciation.   Here are two examples connected to the previous point:
  • “The details were extremely helpful because they uncovered some important flaws in our process that could easily have been hidden by numbers reported in summary. If it wasn’t for that report I would have made an incorrect decision on how to proceed. I thank you. Our stockholders thank you. Well done!”
  • “Your ability to handle that customer was witnessed by a number of your co-workers. You perfectly modeled our values and that really helps to reinforce the kind of culture we want here. And, it also allowed me to stay focused on a task that really needed my attention. Thank you!”
Showing appreciation is one of the most effective ways to boost your leadership impact.

Joe Denner


Maximum Impact

This is decidedly one of the best ways to increase the effectiveness of your leadership. American poet Maya Angelou is famously quoted as saying, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”   Authentic, timely and specific appreciation is a great way to make people feel valued and important. That creates long-term value for you, your team, and all other stakeholders.   Question: What do you need to say to someone on your team or in your family to show appreciation? [question]how-to-show-appreciation[/question]  
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This ONE Thing is Holding You Back

It’s hard to believe that it’s May already. You and I are already one-third through the 2nd quarter. I hope your year is off to as good a start as mine is. Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of unpleasant and painful bumps in the road, some of which you may have read about, but all-in-all I’m pleased with the direction things are heading.  
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  There is one thing that has been on my mind quite a bit over the last six months and I’ve been waiting for the right time to engage with you on it. It’s a subject that weighs heavily on me, and I’m pretty sure weighs even more heavily on you.   Do you remember watching Sesame Street when we were growing up? They had this segment with a little ditty that started like this, ”One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn’t belong.”   Unless you’re a solopreneur, or a very rare exception, there’s a good chance that there is someone on your team that doesn’t belong.

One Of These Things

You know exactly who I’m talking about. The bigger problem is that everyone else on your team knows exactly who I’m talking about and they’re waiting for you to do something about it. Every month that passes by without you doing something to remedy the situation serves to erode your team’s trust in your leadership.   You know they need to go. Yet you hesitate.   There are a lot of reasons. Some of them are financial. Some of them are mental or emotional. Maybe you can’t imagine how you’re going to get along without them. Maybe you’re just not sure how you’re going to replace them. Maybe they’re related to you and you’re wondering how Thanksgiving is going to look after that.   Many of the reasons you delay have a measure of validity. On the other hand, I’d like you to consider what it’s costing you to hold back.  

What’s It Really Costing?

Here’s a quick exercise. Add up:
  • the time you spend trying to figure out what to do
  • the time other people are spending talking about the problem or wondering when you’re going to do something about it
  • the time you spend listening to other people complain about the problem
  • the time others spend working around or compensating for the problems with this person
  • the lost hours (productivity) that’s arising from the erosion of your team’s trust in you
  Now take your salary, or an average salary for all involved, add on the all the fringe benefits costs, including payroll taxes, and calculate the hourly rate. Then multiply that hourly rate times the total number of hours that you came up with above.   Next, add the cost of replacing other good employees who have left or will leave because of this person.   What’s the total? The number is astronomical and will only get much larger. And that’s only the financial cost.   In addition to all that, I want you to consider the mental and emotional energy you are expending on this problem. Is it really worth it? Is it really a smart business decision to hold on to this person?  
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Close To Home

I know that family businesses are especially hard hit by this dilemma. In those cases it’s not just the factors I mentioned above, it’s the real damage that can be caused to family relationships. One thing I would ask you to consider is whether the relationship you have with this family member is authentic or is it fabricated because you’re not being honest about your feelings toward them.   Some of my clients have had to deal with these very issues. There’s no sugar coating it. It is unpleasant at the very least and indescribably painful at it’s worst. But leaning into and dealing with it is the best thing for everyone involved. Everyone.   Let me encourage you not to delay any longer. Make the decision, create your plan, and take the first step. It won’t be fun, but you’ll back on this years from now and be glad you did it.   Question: What is the very next action you need to take to get things rolling? Don’t share you answer. Just think about it and then move forward.  
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How to Prevent “Death By Meeting”

Have you ever read “Death By Meeting?” You may not have read it, but you probably feel like you’ve lived it.  
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  I met with a client yesterday who had attended a particular meeting for the first time at his company. I asked him how it went. His response was less than positive and included a distinct eye-roll.   I asked him what the purpose of the meeting was. He couldn’t answer that question. I inquired about what he felt was accomplished during the meeting. Again, no substantive answer.   I’m sure you’re familiar with the sickening feeling that was welling up in my gut as I continued my line of questioning. You’ve been in those meetings, probably more times than you care to remember and certainly more times than you wish to admit. You’ve probably led some of them.   Meetings are certainly not at the top of most people’s wish lists.   However the answer isn’t to eliminate meetings altogether, or even, necessarily, to have less meetings. The important thing is to only have meetings that matter and make a real difference in the life of your organization and in the experience of your customers.   As a leader, the ability to lead productive, effective meetings is an incredibly important skill that you need to learn, and can master.   Here are three quick keys to leading great meetings that people will actually look forward to.

How To Lead Effectively

1. Start and end on time. Do this one thing and you will raise the level of your meetings immediately. Why? Starting late or ending late is simply disrespectful and leads to an enormous waste of time.  
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  While the money wasted is probably astronomical over time, the larger damage to your leadership brand is caused by the disrespect people feel when their time is disregarded. Most people today are extremely busy, overloaded with tremendous demands on their time and talents. Many of those people have carefully planned out their day and have planned around the meeting time you set.   When you fail to start and end on time, you are telling them that their time is not important to you, or that you think your time is more important. Neither message is the message you want to send, if you’re interested in being a person of significant influence.   At your next meeting give your team fair warning that, going forward, your meetings will begin and end on time. I encourage you to apologize for your past missteps and for being disrespectful of their time. Tell them it’s time that you start a new chapter. End the meeting on time and remind them of the new practice.   When you send out the next meeting invite, tell them one more time and follow through on your commitment. Start on time and end on time. Make it a sacred habit in your organization. People will respect you for it, and likely will begin to follow your example.   2. Be clear on the purpose and desired outcome(s) for your meeting. It’s important that we all know why we’re here, where we’re headed, and what success looks like. This eliminates confusion and enables everyone to bring their most valuable contribution.   Too often we get sucked into the minutia and can easily lose our way. By clearly establishing the target, you and others are able to keep the meeting on track, or make necessary course corrections along the way, so you reach the intended destination by the end of the meeting.   This step is especially important for keeping your intuitive, big picture thinkers fully engaged. If the purpose isn’t clear, you’re going to lose them and their energy quickly. It’s also important for recurring meetings. When you meet week after week or month after month, it’s easy for things to become mundane unless you keep a meaningful target clearly in view.   One useful tool to minimize distractions and “rabbit trails” is the Parking Lot. Whenever someone brings up something that is off-topic, put it onto a list called the Parking Lot. This allows you to come back to it in a later meeting without derailing the current one or devaluing the person’s contribution.   3. End the meeting with clarity of action. Start the meeting with clarity of purpose. End the meeting with clarity around clearly defined next actions. I talk about “next actions” more in my e-book, “10 Ways to Live on Purpose.”   Because of a variety of deficiencies, some which I’ve already mentioned, people often lose interest or steam by the end of the meeting. Everyone heads for the exits and very few, if any, have a clear idea about what’s been accomplished or agreed upon.   This will literally kill the productivity of your meetings.   Regardless of how well you’ve led the meeting up to this point, it’s essential to the bottom-line effectiveness of your meeting that you end by clearly identifying Who will do What by When.   Execution of the plans made or solutions identified rarely happens during the meeting. That’s not what meetings are for. So, it’s critical that people leave knowing exactly what each person is responsible for and when it must be completed. Ensure there is full agreement on this.  
Leading productive meetings will strengthen your leadership brand.

Joe Denner


Take Steps Forward

Meetings are an essential part of the life of any successful organization. Implementing these simple steps will transform your results and how people in your organization think and feel about the meetings you schedule.   Question: Which aspect do you think would have the most immediate, positive impact on your meetings? [question]prevent-death-by-meeting[/question]  
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