Monday, October 17, 2011

Tough Questions (Part One)

Reggie McNeal admits he didn't want to write his book The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church. But I'm glad he did. It was thought-provoking in terms of describing how to create a movement that fits with the organization's purpose. In the book, he describes the "New Reality" and then posits a wrong question in reaction to the reality. He describes a better, tough question to ask in relation to the environment in which we are.

Let's look at his tough questions from a business perspective. Suppose your business is stagnant, dying or wounded, or you're not sure how much longer "this good run" might have. The wrong question would be "how do we improve our product or service?" It's not about better marketing or technology.
           The tough question: How do we recapture what we're really trying to do for our customers?
Perhaps our products and services aren't meeting their needs any more. Why did we get into this business? What is the purpose for our existence? Mary Kay set out to provide careers for women, not just sell make-up and have top reps drive around in pink cars.

Are we focused on our own growth or on our customers' success? We know that we can't succeed unless we've helped them succeed...finding that book, enjoying the movie, buying inexpensive tires, etc. Wrong question is related to how we get them to find us.
             The tough question: How do we change our customers' experience?
In a way, isn't this what Steve Jobs's Apple did by creating simple-to-operate products which had interfaces with other simple-to-access things that we wanted to use (music, conversations, information, etc.). A well-known speaker, Roy Barnes exhorts us to define what our customer experience should be as if we're telling a story with attention on every detail that helps move the story along.

For decades, people have complained about customer service representatives who can't deviate from a policy even though it's seems logical to do so in a particular instance. Customers who have bad experiences that aren't fixed will go to your competitor. It's wrong to ask how we might improve compliance with our company's expectations.
                The tough question: How do we develop our employees to discover ways to exceed customer expectations?
Customers are more loyal when they have a problem that you fixed. Strange but true. However, if you exceed their expectations, they will be your advocate with others. Others will find you because of your customers becoming your marketing department. What does it look like to develop employees to exceed the expectations? First understand that this applies to all employees, not just ones that interface with the customers.

Show them how to improve and simplify their processes. Show them how to measure a performance that aspect that's important to the customer. Help them understand the reasons behind the policy so they might discover how to deviate it from the "letter of the law" but still comply with the "spirit of the law". Coach them to understand their skills, abilities, strengths. Coach them to apply new knowledge of the limitations: theirs and the company's. Encourage them to learn what unmet expectations are there and which new ones are emerging.

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