CORPORATE SERIES|Demystifying Organizational Success – (Part 3)

Customer Experience Management and Training are probably the organizational success streams that are closest to my heart. Partly because they are usually relegated to the realms of “ticking off the Regulatory checkboxes“ and the “good to have but not the most critical corporate exertions”; but also because i have spent the bulk of my corporate life across 3 separate organisations, methodically trying to disprove the above mindsets. I have met with mostly success as my team and i have doggedly gone after service, process and knowledge breakdowns and shown time and again how, when left unaddressed, they unequivocally cause the enterprise to copiously bleed out customers and revenue.

The service industry is a unique ecosystem mainly because it is the sum total of the experiences and perceptions that its customers take away from it. The fact that it does not deal with delivering any tangible goods or products like a washing machine or an Xbox, means that there is no immediate gratification following a sale, regardless of the intangible/ impalpable awareness of that sale. In the service industry, it is all about the experience as the customer walks away solely with an impression of her hotel reservation or the perception of how easily (or otherwise) her term deposit was fixed. The service industry then, is the merchant of a cumulative array of commerce-driven emotions if you will.

It is no surprise then, that I have always found Customer Experience Management, especially of the financial services variety, a constantly intriguing thing. The service and process culture of any organisation represents its great underbelly; and if there are discontented rumblings therein, the whole corporate beast is innately compromised.

How does Management care for this emotionally and experientially complex creature – the Organization – that is both, its ward and its sponsor?

Via a robust Customer Experience Management and Training manifesto that is tailored to address the unique challenges of that particular organization.

Customer Experience Management: Right from the start, have a robust customer experience measurement and service recovery capability in place. In my experience, some variant of the below four-fold approach, depending on Organizational culture, size and life cycle, has proven to be the most comprehensive, simple and effective:

1- A Service health barometer: This translates to an all-encompassing and continuous gauge on the pulse of your customers. Emotions and therefore experience satisfaction are as fickle as the best laid plans. What is good for today may not be optimal in 3 months time. VoC* adroitness enables the organization to stay on top of what is relevant to our customers both in terms of current pain points, USPs* and future product and process goals. This VoC is mostly externally driven via customer-initiated feedback and complaints and (for bigger organisations) also internally driven, via company-solicited product and service feedback channels.

2- A Service measurement index: Once the feedback is received from across the external and internal channels, highlight the top 5 – 10 areas of customer concern, delight and aspirations to be managed as below:

    • Build service measurement metrics for the areas requiring improvement to identify process, people and knowledge bottlenecks. Institute a regimen to gauge the ongoing health of these areas post a remedying intervention.
    • Actively share the USPs with the product and service teams. Build metrics around the unique selling propositions and measure performance albeit on a less frequent basis to ensure they remain healthy and delivering.
    • Ensure that the customer-identified product and service objectives/ aspirations are made a part of product steering committee meetings to discuss their viability and efficacy vis a vis overall satisfaction and returns.

This measurement and action cycle is not a one-time exercise but a continuous loop to ensure the organization always stays abreast of its issues while proactively safeguarding and growing its customer and revenue base.

3- Process and product Optimization: This is a critical next step to the bottlenecks emanating from the VoC and the Service measurement metrics. Without it, the CE cycle is like a toothless tiger – all roar and no bite. This is by its singularly curative nature, the most laboriously and strategically challenging function. The battles on the improvement landscape can appear many and daunting. Let the VoC be your primary guide assisted by overarching management insight into identifying the improvements which would elicit the maximum bang for the buck in terms of impact on the bottom line.

The last point deserves a special mention all its own because of its substantial effect on the overall wellbeing of the organization. And that is Training or Learning.

4- Training: The issues emanating from the VoC and the service indicator assessments are of 2 main varieties: process/ pricing related (the hard bats) and knowledge/ behaviour related (the soft bats). Usually, the hard bats are the first to be addressed because they bring to the table, the necessary professional complexity if you will, to seem like the exclusive conduits to creating satisfied customers. A lot of times the real low hanging fruits are left to the more astute competition to harvest and feast on. Those fruits are the basic knowledge and behaviour gaps that end up not only creating customer dissatisfaction, but also circuitously lead to an increase in complaint volumes and service delivery re-work, as easily avoided misdemeanours pile up for remediation at best, or walk out the door with, often times, our silently detracting customers.

Some Shrewd Wisdom: if organisations spent half as many resources on addressing the knowledge gaps that are identified via their VoC streams as they do on full blown, overarching learning initiatives, they can cut their complaints by a third and increase satisfaction by over 30%.

These knowledge and behaviour gaps can be bifurcated into 2 main types:

  • The training needs that are more extensive and require a classroom setting to be delivered and learned.
  • The training needs that are quick and easy to fulfil and basically comprise of minor tweaks in the way the frontline staff interacts with the customer at the first point of contact of the service delivery. These are the FPOC* Quick Kills that make up about half of the training needs identified via the VoC. These are veritable process refinement gems and are all too often ignored or just genuinely never perceived, ironically, because they are so obvious. We in the corporate world do suffer from what I call the Penchant for the Highbrow, thus missing the Simplicity of the Sublime!

In conclusion, a strategically relevant Customer Experience and Learning program is a 360 degree protocol, starting and ending with the VoC. The fleshing out of the structure in between is what gives the enterprise its fangs and its claws to cut through corporate gristle and get to the heart of things that are central to the well being of the organization. It is no secret then, that a successful CE enterprise requires knowledge, passion, empathy and grit. The professional that i am today has a lot to do with my embodiment of these values as I, without omission, undertook the role of the resident “fixer upper”. It was also a dogged perseverance in finding solutions even in the midst of the most turbulent corporate maelstroms, that led to success.

*VoC: Voice of Customer feedback streams allowing for customer complaints and suggestions to be formally recorded and actioned.

*USP: A Unique Selling Proposition refers to the unique benefit exhibited by a company, service, product or brand that enables it to stand out from competitors.

*FPOC: First Point of Contact or the point when a particular service stream commences.

THE CORPORATE SERIES|Demystifying Organizational Success – (Part 2)

Too often, in the everyday throng of the corporate world, Management tends to lose sight of many of their star players. The race to better the bottom-line translates into a disproportionate recognition of the sales staff, who are bringing in the business. This imbalance is further exacerbated by the notorious bell curve that shapes most corporate performance appraisals: there are a limited number of distinctions that can be allotted and these are summarily assigned to the usual suspects.

While this system is great in the short term, it is unsustainable and damaging in the longer term. In the relentless competition for limited business, where the pie doesn’t grow as proportionately as the hands digging into it, it becomes a self-defeating endevour. That is because the robustness of the new business is not supported by a congruously adequate operational and service structure/ platform. This disparity translates into dissatisfaction, both internal and external, culminating finally into good staff and customers abandoning their loyalty to the organisation and the brand.

What, then, is a workable panacea to this conundrum?

Where the company is in an early growth phase, skewing your rewards structure towards the left to make it more sales driven, is in fact, a good approach. Based on the presumption that the basic operational and service infrastructure is already in place and functionaing, the objective then can predominantly be to mobilize new business.

Up to what point, then, can this skewed rewards structure be gainfully applied?

That strategic pivot needs to be meticulously defined as the acceptable number of complaints per 1000 customers or the Complaints Ratio. This will also define how the company aims to position itself in terms of a niche or mass market service provider or both. If you’re the former, then a complaints ratio between 5% and 7% will work; if you are catering to a more specific, smaller/ discerning subset of customers, then a complaints ratio of less than or equal to 1% should be the standard.

Right from the start, have a robust feedback system in place to not only capture customer driven complaints but also bank initiated VoC* streams. (I will go into more detail on Customer Experience systems in another blog post). To ensure that the business that your sales teams have so laboriously extracted from the market, remains within the realms of your brand, it is essential to define and keep in perspective the goalpost at which to recentre the rewards program of the company towards a more balanced sharing out of bonuses and compensations. This then, will be defined as the Tipping Point at which the company should regroup and review their performance enhancement techniques and payouts.

Talent Management: While the compensation and rewards system may be frontline-skewed depending on which part of its life cycle the organisation is at, there are other steps that can be taken to ensure internal organisational robustness. A key element here is talent management. This is a hybrid financial and non-financial/ psychological reward system that ensures the company retains its best and brightest even while it is predominantly focusing on business acquisition and growth. Enter the HR department and the Management Committee. These 2 entities will need to work in focused tandem to ensure the success of any talent management initiative. The modus operandi is simple:

The top performers in every unit across the organisation need to be identified. This is your talent pool.

An HRRM* needs to be designated to each of these individuals. These RMs will regularly (every quarter at least) engage with their professional wards to find out how they’re doing/ discuss skill set development opportunities/ identify possible new positions/ optimally manage expectations – basically a VoE* and staff development session.

Each one from the talent pool is also assigned a Mentor who is a member of the Management Committee. They also meet regularly where the conversation is about aspirations/ life goals/ sharing of experiences – basically a Character and Ethics building session.

It is incredible how effective and motivating non-financial reward and recognition programs are. Human beings at their core, are an amalgamation of emotion and feeling. These psychological gestures of appreciation are sometimes more effective than even financial rewards and result in a thriving, loyal, market leading work force. Having said that, both financial and non-financial acknowledgment structures that are highly skewed towards just a few functions/ units, lose their temerity and effectiveness with time. ManCom* wisdom plays a big role in finding that right balance, at a given inflection/ change point in the life of the organization of keeping all their people feeling appreciated and happy to be a part of the brand.

Succession Planning: This element of the corporate rule book is not given half as much importance as it should be. I have seen a number of fabulously managed units/ companies fall to the wayside when the manager leaves. The culprit: poor to non existent succession planning and training. There are a couple of reasons for this inadvertent oversight: the first, mostly because it just is not on the company radar, which means there is no trickle down incumbency of this factor into performance appraisals. This also means that it usually doesn’t tend to happen and even if it does happen, it is haphazard and personality driven rather than systematic, continuous and goal oriented. The other reason has to do with our human emotions again – an insecurity about being challenged or even being outshone by the Second-in-command. This i have also witnessed and have seen the natural/ most probable successors to a job role, leave the organisation as they are sidelined and trivialised.

Again, a robust succession planning system needs to be in place to ensure the organisation does not fall into the rut of outsourcing most key positions or losing its essential human capital of promising/ talented one-downs.

(Read Part 1 here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2020/10/29/corporate-seriesthe-de-mystification-of-organizational-success-part-1/ )

(Read Part 3 here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2020/12/01/corporate-seriesdemystifying-organizational-success-part-3/ )

  • *VoC: The Voice of Customer feedback platform consists of a number of feedback streams to allow customer concerns and suggestions to be effectively channeled.
  • *HRRM: Human Resources Relationship Manager
  • *VoE: The Voice of Employee feedback platforms are formal avenues to facilitate constructive staff critique and suggestions.
  • *ManCom: corporate-speak for the Management Committee.

THE CORPORATE SERIES|Demystifying Organizational Success – (Part 1)

It has now been over 6 years since i decided to take a sabbatical if you will, from my corporate career. I embarked on it more in the spirit of a healing process (life had thrown a few curveballs at me in 2012/13), rather than a wild abandonment of the work rigour, resulting precariously also, in the sudden and definitive staunching of a hitherto steady income!

Even so here i am, half a decade on, happier and probably somewhat healthier and wiser too! However, you can take a person out of the corporate halls of slog, but you can’t take the corporate exactitude out of the person. And so, i have over the last 5 years, approached all my experiences across the service industry spectrum, from the hospitality to the airline to the internet service providers with my customer experience hat adroitly perched upon my head. I have, quite a while ago, given up even the pretence of being a congenial, everyday customer with a heart full of forgiveness and a kind blurriness of mind reserved especially for appalling episodes of experiential breakdown. I notice everything and while i have made earnest efforts to not treat every service gaffe/ misdemeanour like it was committed by a flawlessly trained prodigy, i do pick my “service battles” from the point of view of identifying those likely eliciting the maximum bang for the buck. So while i won’t voice the mental angst of grossly delayed service followed by fumbling/ bumbling remedial efforts, I will respectfully opine on the myriad different withdrawal regulations that are applied to my NRFC* account – each disparate rule a tribute to its creative forger and executor of the day. The subsequent explanations to central bank auditors could make for a whole new banking science fiction genre; not to mention the plethora of post facto documentary and explanatory toil that I, the customer, would likely have to undertake to help the institution to regularise its stream of inadvertent but almost lovingly repeated foibles.

And so, to cut to the chase, i’ll go right to the helm of affairs – to the leadership of the organisation. That seat of power that can make or break the best and the worst of enterprises.

So what does a good Management Team do to create organisational success?

There are a few simple but utterly alchemical factors here that can convert even a seemingly jinxed piece of corporate enterprise into a decent success. I will explain each in successive blog posts.

Creating and Nurturing a Distinct Organisational Culture: There have been a couple of times, (twice for those inclined to use “couple” to mean a scattering!) where i have become part of a company culture where i felt like i was working for a home enterprise. The work environment being so disparate across the board that it ranged from an all out gestapo reenactment in one unit, to a space bubble with barely a shared ethos among its occupants, in another. And although the 2 units were highly dependent on each other in a particular product value chain, the twain barely ever met in purpose, harmony or delivery. Left unchecked, this work culture dissonance had added over a month to the end to end delivery turnaround time of the particular service. Complaints were rife; staff had been changed multiple times; bonuses were withheld. But despite the best of intentions, the issue stuck like the karmic backlash of a past life. Simply because there was no defined work culture, ethos or a shared Big Picture.

This work culture incongruity is a death knell for companies, especially in the service industry where, unlike in consumer goods producing FMCGs*, the end-user gratification is a sum total of their experience at that point in time with the organisation. Think of opening an account at a bank; your entire takeaway is nothing more than the knowledge that you have a new account in a particular bank underscored by the experience that accompanied that fact. Therefore, leaving the objectives of a mid-sized to large corporation undefined to its daily drivers and facilitators translates into the inevitable gross dilution of end-user experience that in time leaves nothing of the original/ intended USPs* of the company

Enter the dual magic of the Vision and Mission Statements*. These vessels allow management to clearly, concisely and effectively embody not only the existential purpose of the company; but also right to the T, what it means to be a part of the company as staff, customer, supplier and advertiser. (I’m personally not a big fan of shareholder stakes being vocalised in these statements). Building focused understanding, enthusiasm and energy behind these formal statements help to create and perpetuate a distinct company culture. People respond because by nature we are social creatures, and these statements of purpose then become the catalyst for nurturing a community of professionals with a clear unified end goal. A robust company culture though, is not a static thing. While the primary values remain unchanged (e.g. an FI’s* focus on technology, accessibility and financial security), the culture around those values is ever evolving to successfully accommodate the continuous diversity of its people, systems, customers and the external environment. The openness to change needs to be learnt/ imbibed at the get-go; imparted with veracity, in the very earliest of company orientation training programs.

Company management, the ManCom*, is the rightful custodian of the Vision and Mission statements; while every staff is the practical incumbent. In the best organisations, Management role models these values in visible ways to give them meaning, relevance, and to embed them into the DNA of the organisation at large. A game-changing organzational culture is one where its staff members are recognizable almost anywhere in the positivity of their bearing, attitude and pride of affiliation. For me, one such organisation was ABN AMRO bank in the late 90s into the mid 2000s in Pakistan. It was a poster child for hitherto unknown brands taking the market by storm; and continues to be a professional alma mater for so many even after it has ceased to exist in that particular market.

And so, a cohesive organisational culture which brings people together into a work community of purpose, is the first cornerstone of an organisation that successfully leads the charge and is able to cement its position as a leader in the industry.

(Read Part 2 here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2020/11/12/the-corporate-seriesdemystifying-organizational-success-part-2/ )

(Read Part 3 here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2020/12/01/corporate-seriesdemystifying-organizational-success-part-3/ )

*NRFC account: Non Resident Foreign Currency account

*FMCG: Fast Moving Consumer Goods

*USP: Unique Selling Proposition

*Vision and Mission statements: A Mission Statement defines the company’s business, its objectives and its approach to reach those objectives. A Vision Statement describes the desired future position of the company. Elements of Mission and Vision Statements are often combined to provide a statement of the company’s purposes, goals and values.

*FI: Financial Institution

*ManCom: corporate parlance for the Management Committee

A WordPress.com Website.

Up ↑