Archives for December 2010

From Fee To Shining Fee

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I used to really like the image my bank used in their corporate branding. It is a stagecoach which conjures up a romantic image of a high speed and dangerous journey with large sums of money to the safety of the big city. I also saw outlaws on fast horses trying to steal money but being repelled by the committed and fearless drivers and watchmen of the stagecoach.

Little did I know that the outlaws I’d need to protect myself against would be my current banks executives.

I’m not a financial luddite, nor am I overly romantic and longing for the good old days. I do understand that the financial markets have played havoc with banks business models and that change is certain. What I don’t understand though is how a customer with three checking accounts (not with minimum balances mind you), four savings accounts (also not with minimum balances), two credit cards, two mortgages, and merchant credit card services can not be viewed as a valuable customer. I can be incredibly loyal – however, my banks executives are making it hard to be loyal when they find it palatable to charge me the following two fees:

1. A $10.00 fee to send me a paper statement for my merchant services account
$10.00? Really? You’re kidding me? Okay, I think I understand this. One way of having people gravitate to paperless statements is to make receiving paper statements so prohibitive that switching to electronic statements makes sense. That’s not the case with my bank. They told me that their cost structure was such that it cost them $10.00 to send a paper statement. I pushed back in disbelief and said “wait a minute -you’re telling me that it costs you $10.00 to send me a statement? Yes sir, that’s correct”.

In the deep south where I lived for seventeen years we used to say “bless your heart” before telling someone what we really thought. For example, we might say “bless your heart, but that is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Mr. Banker, bless your heart, but that is the dumbest thing your customer service people could have ever said. Tell me you want me to go paperless and in turn are giving me an incentive to receive an electronic statement; tell me that you are committed to reducing your paper footprint, tell me you recognize the need some customers have to reduce their banking expenses. But never, and I mean never, allow customer service personnel to tell me that you are bloated, inefficient, greedy and bureaucratic. You never said these words but your actions clearly communicated it.

2. A $500.00 early cancellation fee for terminating a merchant credit card services agreement
I understand early termination fees for cellular phones, especially the Iphone. The acquisition costs for the hardware is such that cancellation fees are common. We all know about them, we recognize them, we shop for lower ones, and if we don’t like the cost we choose not to buy the product that has them.

What I don’t understand is how my bank finds it acceptable to bury an important provision of their service in the smallest of print in their legal document. When I asked my representative about the fee her response was the death knell for customer loyalty. “Did you read your agreement? It’s on page 5 in subsection 3 paragraph 2. Did you read that?”

I’m not going to slam my bank because I feel victimized – I’m not a victim and I recognize that I have a role in helping to create this situation. I am slamming my bank for the absolute ineptitude of their management to anticipate and train their customer service staff to meaningfully manage this conversation.

After reviewing all of our accounts the termination fee is being waived. But after all that has been said and done my bank blew an opportunity to meaningfully communicate how much they valued and appreciated my business. The choice was to leave me feeling positive about them and their service, instead they converted their biggest advocate into their biggest critic.

Every bank has to find a way to grow, innovate and jump to new levels of performance – they just can’t do that while sacrificing customer loyalty. If you want to starting jumping to new levels of performance with your customers, here are four questions I have based on my experience with my bank:

1. Are you seen as a valued provider of services to your customer or a vendor? How does their perception affect their loyalty to you?

2. Are there any areas in your organization that while well intentioned and justifiable are frustrating/alienating your customers?

3. Are there any areas in your business model that if you were the customer you would find it objectionable?

4. How confident are you that you’re accurately measuring customer engagement and loyalty?

7 Steps To Exceptional Coaching

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I was on a coaching call recently with my mentor and coach, Alan Weiss, and we discussed success criteria for exceptional coaching. Seven of the twelve discussed I believe can be instrumental in helping managers and leaders improve performance with an employee they’re coaching. I’m sharing them with you in the hopes that one or two may grab your attention.

The seven steps to exceptional coaching are:

1. Always focus exclusively on observable behavior – in every interaction avoid jumping to conclusions as to the motivation as to why someone behaved the way they did.

2. Communicate what you saw the person do not on what you think they did – without any judgement communicate what you saw. For example, “when your boss questioned you as to your support of the project you raised your voice, hit the table with a fist and said “of course you do – why do you ask?”

3. Remove emotionally laden language – whenever you use emotional language the likelihood is high that you are emotionally charged. Use the Joe Friday, just the facts approach.

4. Build on the persons strengths – avoid trying to improve someone’s weaknesses. It very rarely is successful long term and only serves to frustrate you and the person being coached.

5. Walk the talk – to gain commitment to your recommendations rather than compliance look for recommendations that others have seen you do so as to be seen as credible and authentic.

6. Provide specific recommendations or techniques to address the behavior you’re addressing – “next time before you respond take one deep breath fully inhaling and exhaling. Then respond.”

7. Confront and Comfort – don’t pull punches, address whatever issue you see directly and respectfully and always follow up with a supportive “you’re doing well and I’m convinced you’ll accomplish this.”

8 Questions That Lead To Transformed Performance

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Over the course of 2010 I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing companies and really smart people. In all of my conversations and at all levels of an organization there has been one series of questions that fostered the most robust of conversations. I’m sharing the questions in the hopes that they prompt you to look at your current success as a catalyst for even greater success in 2011.

READER BEWARE: Answering these questions will create one of two reactions. One reaction is that you will have a deep appreciation for the current level of performance you and your organization have achieved. If that’s the case you should view this post. Or, you’ll have a deep restlessness that while uncomfortable can be the jumping off point for a significant increase in performance. Either way it’s worth the 30 seconds it takes to answer eight questions.

On a one through ten scale, (one is low and ten is high), please rate your team/organization on the following questions:

1. We have a clearly defined future state that has secured commitment rather than compliance?

2. We have the right people and processes in place to secure a period of exponential growth?

3. We have the talent and skill in place to operate our business?

4. We actively, intentionally, and strategically squeeze inefficiencies out of existing systems and procedures?

5. We regularly and creatively deconstruct our old systems?

6. We have the people and processes in place to aggressively transform ourselves to the next phase of exponential growth?

7. We have the people and processes in place that regularly anticipate and plan for our next exponential growth opportunity?

8. We have the people and processes in place to save and nurture our core values?

What do you believe are the implications for your responses?

What question did you give the highest and lowest score to? What are the implications for these questions being rated highest and lowest?

10 Must Do’s To Thrive In 2011

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Subaru has produced a fabulous commercial that pokes fun at what it sees as its competitors “sameness”. When I watched it, it spoke of the professional growth and innovation each of us will be required to engage in for 2011. You’ll think you’re watching a car commercial – but, in reality you’re being primed as to what our new economy will require of you to jettison surviving and to embrace thriving.

If you’re reading this blog I’ll presume you dislike mediocrity – but the proof will be whether if after watching the video you scroll down and answer the ten questions that follow.

1. What about my work in 2010 was distinctive? What will my customers find remarkable enough to tell others about in 2011?

2. What specifically did I do in 2010 that gave me a competitive advantage over my competitors? How will I build upon that in 2011?

3. What new ideas did I bring to my work/career/organization/marketplace in 2010? What process can I put in place to vet new ideas for 2011?

4. What did I become “predictable” for in 2010? Is that predictability contributing value to my customers? If not, what do I want to become predictable for in 2011 that provides a distinctive value to my customers?

5. What am I the antidote for? What pain do I remove from my customers’ lives? What pain will I remove in 2011?

6. What process frustrated me in 2010 and left me thinking “I/we need to stop doing that?” What part of how I did my work in 2011 will I redesign and make remarkable?

7. What distinctive bells and whistles did I offer my customers in 2010? How will I heighten my customer offerings / customer experience in 2011?

8. Did I break any outdated molds or ways of doing things in 2010? If not, how can I change my vantage point to learn what parts of my work will not serve me well in 2011?

9. Is there any part of my work that is an “exact replica” of what my competitors offer? If so, what plans do I have for 2011 that will create a clear and compelling distinction between me and my competitors?

10. What areas of my work have I become complacent about? What areas of my work have I become so familiar with that I’ve lost sight or perspective as to whether or not I should fix it? What are my plans to jettison all aspects of complacency from my work in 2011?

Can You Handle The Truth?

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Can You Handle The Truth? from Hugh Blane on Vimeo.