Roy's Blog: Leadership

January 21, 2019

How to make your retail business successful

It’s shocking to see the number of retailers that have not survived over the past year. These were established businesses with a history of loyal customers and decent profitability.

But they simply ran out of steam and couldn’t keep pace with the changes taking place in the industry. Buyer demographics and buying behaviours quickly change and retailers incapable of keeping pace die a slow and agonizing death — store by store by store…

Death of retail

There is no silver bullet — a single strategy — that will save a retailer in the current chaotic and unpredictable business environment, but there are some actions retailers can take to at least increase their chances of survival.

Renew your business strategy

It’s very tempting to take action and employ tactics that you think will help, but you need to start with redefining a strategy that you think will successfully meet the new dynamic.
The critical piece of thinking here is that you cannot assume what worked for you in the past will work in the future. I believe the main reason so many retailers fail is they almost religiously hold on to their past business model, expecting it to work in an environment where literally every customer — competitor — technology variable has changed.

In addition don’t get sucked into believing that cost cutting will save you. The retail death spiral is not a cost issue, it’s a demand issue. Cutting costs with the hope of salvaging the company has a perilous and inescapable outcome.
Did you really think that by closing over 1,400 stores Radio Shack would survive? Not unless they change their business strategy and figure out how to do a better job at serving customers and providing unmatched value in the marketplace.

Deliver value; don’t sell products

Look at your business as an instrument to deliver unique value, not as an agent to sell products and services. Think about being in the “benefit creation” business where what people want and desire drives the innovation process. The model of stacking the shelves — be it in a bricks and mortar environments or online — and having customers excitedly buy is wishful thinking.

Provide value

And your retail value must be different that your competition because if you’re not different, you will fall victim to the commodity space where the value proposition for any retailer is reduced to price.
Commodity market players “race to the bottom” with their prices much to the delight of the customers but to the detriment of the business as margins are squeezed and profits plummet.

As the telecommunications space was heating up with competition, we morphed our phone stores from outlets that offered telephones and accessories to residential customers to a solutions selling vehicle for both residential and small business customers. Product sales took care of themselves with this new focus.

Redefine who you want to serve

Change your target market. Demographics and psychographics are changing. Millennials are growing in number and will soon be the largest segment of the population. Continuing to target the older population, for example, because it has worked up to now is a choice with no long term future.
The question to ask is “Which customer group represents the greatest growth potential for our business?” Focus your energy on that group. Build capacity and competencies in your retail organization to satisfy the wants and desires of that group.

And say goodbye to customers who are no longer relevant to your renewed strategy. You can’t afford to hold on to your old base while pursuing a new one.
Deselecting customers is a difficult issue for most organizations as it means carefully shifting focus and investment away from customers who have traditionally been in the center of attention to a new breed who are unproven in terms of revenue generation.

Look for order of magnitude not incremental change

Minor changes to what you do and the way you do them won’t work; explore new completely different ways to completely morph your business. And consider outrageous ideas like the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas as well because the “traditional tried and true” approaches simply will not work anymore.
If your new retail idea doesn’t scare the hell out of you, chances are it’s too modest. 

Heart attack grill

We completely reengineered our phone store network by closing almost half of them and reconfiguring the survivors geographically through our operating territory. This was anything but a modest change for which we took considerable criticism. But it was necessary in order to place our new “customer serving centers” closer to the customers we decided to target.

Recruit a new team

if your current retail strategy won’t get you where you need to go, probably your existing team won’t as well. Be prepared to change the composition of your teams and recruit new blood with the skills and competencies necessary to deliver your new direction. Look for disrupters who hate the status quo; people who will push for change.

HR must constantly be on the lookout for the new breed; they should constantly be in the recruitment mode regardless of whether you have immediate opportunities available or not.
Sooner or later positions will open up, and you need a stream of people immediately at hand to draw on.

As the telecom business was changing from a monopoly to a highly competitive model, we had to purge much of the organization in terms of the skill sets and competencies in our people. We had to import a cadre of folks who had proven experience in the retail world and let go many who were effective order takers but not able to sell competitively.

Provide personalized service

As a critical element of your renewed strategy set your sights on providing more personalized service rather than the traditional one-size-fits-all doctrine. Retail success comes from engaging with and serving customers on THEIR terms, not on what the business deems appropriate given their internal constraints. If retail isn’t prepared to meet their customers on their turf, the game will be swiftly over.

We moved from a subscriber model in our phone stores to the strategy of creating more personal customer experiences for every person who came to our stores. One tactic we chose was to “make the inside mirror the outside”; in other words recruit employees that were integral to the mosaic of ethnic populations we served.

So in an area where we had a significant Asian community, we hired frontline people and leaders who were also Asian and who could relate better to this customer group and serve them better than people with other ethnic backgrounds.
Service levels increased with productivity and we quickly outpaced our competition.

Build a leadership team of servers

Hand in hand with establishing a service culture is the need to move leaders from a traditional command and control bias to a serve and coach paradigm where “How can I help?” supplants “Do this!”.

Servant leaders

Critical to providing a personal experience for customers, retail operations must do the same for employees. An employee who experiences a servant leader who is there to help solve problems and eliminate job barriers will naturally apply the same behaviour to a customer. They learn to be helpful to customers because they receive the same treatment from their colleagues and bosses.

In the same way we had to move away from customers we had traditionally targeted, we had as well to exit traditional command and control style managers to make way for people who were natural servant leaders.

Eliminate commission salespeople

Having commission salespeople is the anathema of the concept of serving customers and providing personalized solutions to their problems.
Employees who are paid to push retail product will flog their wares to, not serve, customers. They will push for the sale as opposed to taking whatever time it takes to problem solve with the customer.

They will have zero motivation to create memorable experiences for their customer because it takes too much time, requires too much energy, and because they’re not getting paid to do it. Be prepared for an exodus of salespeople when you do this; they will look for opportunities to continue their flogging ways with other retailers. So let them.

Retail businesses can survive; all is not lost. But it will require retailers to put the past to rest and take action to break away from “the way they have always done things”.

Those that have the guts to do it have a chance of surviving; those that don’t will die.

Cheers,
Roy

Check out my BE DiFFERENT or be dead Book Series

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  • Posted 1.21.19 at 04:05 am by Roy Osing
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January 7, 2019

7 reasons most call centers are absolutely shameful


Call center

Every organization that is big enough has a call center to handle primarily incoming calls from their customers.

There must be some redeeming value in having one if everyone has one, right? There is: it’s generally viewed as the most efficient operating solution for processing volumes of calls coming into an organization.

The dark side to call centers

But having led large customer service teams in a variety of business environments I have experienced a dark side to call centers.

In many cases I find that call centers represent the antithesis of miraculous service.

When an organization declares they intend to provide amazing service to their customers and then chooses an operating model with a call centre — particularly in a foreign country — as its nucleus, they are not only being disingenuous, they are fooling themselves (and probably driving their customers crazy) and assuming substantial competitive risk.

These are the aspects of call centers, particularly those that are outsourced, I find quite revolting.

They exist to manage cost

They choose to implement a call centre environment not to serve customers better, but to process volumes of calls at the lowest cost possible.

The question is rarely asked “Is this the best way to both serve our customers in an exemplary way while at the same time optimizing our cost position?”

It’s all about cost. That’s why most organizations outsource them around the world where labour costs are low. Current outsourcing destinations include India, Philippines, Thailand, China and Indonesia with many more planning to enter the fray.

Reduce cost

This outsourcing trend has attracted a plethora of experts who define what it takes to have a successful call centre.

They are managed to improve productivity

Effectiveness of a call center is generally based on micro productivity measures such as:

1. average holding time — the elapsed time it takes a call center rep to handle a customer query. Management tries to drive this number down in order to process as many calls as they can with the resources available.

The outcome of each call is rarely measured. Was the customer satisfied with the service they received? Did they enjoy the experience with the rep?

2. average speed of answer — the average length of time it takes to answer an incoming call. When I ran call center operations in the telecom world, my target was to answer 80% of all calls within 6 seconds and our resource levels were set to achieve this result.

This was probably the best internal target we had that represented an attempt to deliver good customer service.
Can you imagine in today’s world reaching a call center rep of any organization within 2 or 3 rings of your phone? Rarely ever happens, with common wait times in the minutes rather than seconds.

Productivity and service miracles don’t easily coexist in most organizations; this measure needs attention if any organization wants to get out of the revolting category.

They don’t drive customer loyalty

Whether a call center serves incoming calls or is used to originate sales-type calls, the heavy traffic volumes involved generally work against the relationship building activity that leads to a loyal customer.

A call comes in > the rep answers (eventually) > the rep deals with the customer’s request > the rep terminates the call > the next call is fed to the rep.
And the cycle is repeated over and over again with a supervisor scrutinizing how long the rep is on each call.

The call center is essentially a production shop with no overt objective of creating an experience for the customer that could lead to brand loyalty.

Customer satisfaction may be measured along with productivity objectives, but a satisfied customer does not make a loyal one.
Satisfaction means that expectations were met; loyalty demands more — minds must be blown, expectations exceeded and marvelous experiences created if the loyalty dial is to be moved.

Wham bam

And this takes time. A WHAM! BAM! THANK YOU MA’M! process does nothing to encourage warm feelings and a desire to do more business with the brand involved.

They take control of your brand

The moment power is given to an outsourced call centre to engage with your customers, control is relinquished and your organization’s brand is put at risk.

Many organizations don’t even put in place a performance management contract with the 3rd party outsourcer to measure how customers perceive the service they receive from call center reps, so changes to brand position are unknown and can’t be responded to.

And with high turnover of employees, consistency in whatever customer treatment is given is almost impossible — at least I don’t experience it.

When your customer connects with the call center you have chosen to empower with your most valued asset, and the experience they have does not go well, it’s on YOU.
The call center rep is YOUR employee. The service outcome is YOUR responsibility.

YOU pay the price in the market.

Their words create the precious moment

Whether a customer has a miraculous service moment or not depends on communications with the call center rep. Miracles happen when the engagement is spirited, entertaining and responsive. When there is an easiness to the conversation that leaves the caller happy and fulfilled.

And for me, very often it is extremely difficult to fight through the accent of a foreign call center rep to have a meaningful and enjoyable conversation.
I simply can’t understand many (not all) of them, and that’s a BIG problem for the outsourcer.
If even the basic communications expectations of the call can be met, there is little chance that a service miracle will ever occur and in fact the opposite is the result with the caller being annoyed or angry with the encounter.

It’s not that the foreign reps are uneducated or don’t have some skills in the English language.
But it’s one thing to pass English 101 and have an understanding of sentence structure and grammar, and quite another to engage with someone else in a way that flows and is productive to the other party.
Are these reps tested by role playing to evaluate their conversational proficiency? Not from where I’m sitting.

Long

Wait times are shameful

Outsources really don’t care about how long we wait on the phone to reach a rep; if they did, they wouldn’t tolerate wait times that often reach ridiculous levels — for me personally, I am blown away if I actually get a rep in 5 minutes and am not surprised to wait 45 minutes or longer. Business mediocrity in action.

It’s ironic that wait times take no priority at all; organizations are content to provide messages they feel assuage their shameful service: “Your call is important to us”; “We are experiencing unusual traffic volumes at the moment” unfortunately greet us more often than not when we call for help.

But wait! There is a silver lining to long wait times. Put your iPhone on speaker, slip it in your back pocket and get on with the job jar your wife has skillfully filled for you.

The reps have an impossible task

I totally get that even a highly competent and caring call center rep has a tough time being on 100% up time.
By the time a customer gets to them, they are often met with frustration, anger and sometimes abuse, with literally zero chance of turning a bad encounter into a pleasant experience.
The reps simply wants to get away from the pain they are engulfed in.

And the rep of course doesn’t own the problem — leadership does.

It’s a pipe dream and shameful leadership behaviour to create an impossible working environment and expect employees to perform impeccably. What planet are they on?

It’s quite simple, really.
If you want low costs, technology can do only so much and you will be saddled with the result. Under-resourcing is typically the result of cost cutting in the face of relentless demand and who pays the price? CUSTOMERS DO!

Call centers generally don’t focus on building intimate customer relationships and outsourcing them makes matters worse.

There are exceptions, however, but these rare organizations make the decision to establish their call center as an integral loyalty building instrument not as an efficient call processing center.

So if you decide to use call center technology to engage with your customers, please don’t preach your intent to deliver amazing service.

It’s intellectually dishonest and it fools no one.

Cheers,
Roy

Check out my BE DiFFERENT or be dead book series

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  • Posted 1.7.19 at 04:10 am by Roy Osing
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December 31, 2018

The one deadly mistake leaders make

One of the benefits of leading many different types of organizations over my 30+ year career was having a window to observe and study other leaders.

Let’s face it, honing your leadership skills is not a one-of event; it’s a process of learning new skills that are required in the role and practising them day in and day out.

Deadly mistake

I found that looking across at how other leaders practised their craft was an excellent source of learning material; I saw what worked and didn’t work and was able to pick and choose to enhance my own repertoire of skills accordingly.

Most of what I saw in others was quite pedantic. They typically followed the “leader book” prescribed by the experts in the field and by academics who wrote papers on the subject.
It was a rare occurrence to witness a truly different approach to what the crowd of other leaders was following.

But every once in a while I would see a leader who turned their back on traditional practices; someone who was non-compliant with what everyone believed to be a requisite for effective leadership.

They “loved” the frontline

And they were amazing.

What I saw was a leader who was always with their frontline employees — service reps, salespeople, receptionists and call center reps; the people who were on the organization’s line of execution dealing with customers.

A leader who valued the frontline more than any other group.

They stood out because very few leaders see people down deep in the organization as a priority demanding of their time.

Honouring the frontline provides these 5 benefits that enable leaders to perform head and shoulders above their peers.

Dumb rules and stupid stuff

They learn what is preventing flawless execution of the organization’s strategy; systems and process issues and other barriers that get in the way of achieving expected results.

Being face-to-face with those who have to work in the internal “laws” governing the customer transaction gives them the ability to identify the grunge and dumb rules that must be eliminated to make jobs easier and performance better.

In addition, this insight generally doesn’t readily come from direct reports who either don’t know what’s going on or who want to protect their turf.
Knowledge gained from skip level leader — frontline actions is invaluable and should be expected of any leader. But only the special ones get it.

Strategy flaws

Competitive secrets

They discover the flaws in the strategy; those elements of the strategic intent of the organization that aren’t working because there are barriers and practicalities that prevent it from being implemented in the precise way it was designed.
On paper the strategy may have looked perfect but in the naked light of day where people are involved and competitors prey, it is not possible to stay then course.

The frontline are often brutally honest about your strategy; they don’t hesitate to tell you what won’t work and the challenge for leaders is to listen to their feedback.
Listen to them and tweak the strategy to reflect the realities of execution in the field.

Old school leaders have difficulty moving off the tabled strategy and they often live to regret it.

Competitive activity and secrets

They learn what the competition is doing in real time fashion, creating the ability to take whatever evasive action might be required and to spot and attack their weakness.

Most leaders rely on traditional methods to obtain competitive intelligence. Periodic studies are conducted, findings are analyzed and action taken as appropriate.
But the process takes time; there is a lag between when the intelligence is gained and when action is taken, often nullifying its effectiveness.

Being with the frontline gives the leader a continuous stream of information on what is going on in the moment. This ability yields faster action and better results; lag time is replaced with real time response.

Movers and shakers

Leaders who are with the frontline constantly are able to identify people with high potential for future opportunities in the organization.

They get to see with their own eyes — as opposed to receiving reports from their direct managers or human resource folks — how certain individuals perform, their attitudes and their capabilities to offer further value.
They get to develop relationships with these people in the workplace and provide the mentoring so many need but don’t receive from leaders.

And the leader increases their personal currency and strengthens their brand as someone who is competent at spotting and developing high achievers for the benefit of the entire organization.

Mover and shaker

Employee engagement

By being “in the face” of the frontline, this leader is able to get a front row seat on what is necessary to enhance employee commitment and engagement on the goals of the organization.

They don’t rely on, as their peers are forced to do, reports by specialists and other third parties in the field to advise them on what is needed to reach a higher level in employee buy-in. They learn first hand what is needed to capture the hearts and minds of those charged with delivering results; they see what is needed; they feel what works and what doesn’t.

And they learn what works to engage one employee doesn’t necessarily work to engage another. Every person is different; everyone respond differently to motivational methods.

This leader knows that personalized methods of engagement are required for each employee, not a shrink wrapped corporate program applied to all.

The biggest mistake a leader can make is not commit themselves to the frontline where successful organizational performance is either created or destroyed.

To serve the frontline is to step out of the textbook leader herd and make an amazing contribution to their organization while those who choose to follow common leader doctrine are lost in the crowd.

Cheers,
Roy

Check out my BE DiFFERENT or be dead book series

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  • Posted 12.31.18 at 05:16 am by Roy Osing
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December 21, 2018

How to use power words to stand out from the crowd — guest post

Power words
Image Credit

Word are persuasive. They can cajole, convince, and compel people to act.

They are the backbone of successful marketing. Selecting the right words that resonate with your audience can be an arcane art — but it doesn’t have to be.

By choosing power words that impact your customers’ emotions, you can lift your copy to dizzy new heights. Here’s how.

Recommended reading: If you can’t reason with people attack their heart

The psychology behind words

As humans, we are unconsciously predisposed to act on words that convey emotions: fear, uncertainty, pleasure, desire, and so on. The words you use tap into unconscious emotions (https://moosend.com/blog/powerful-words/), which in turn compel your audience to act.

For instance, if you ask your friend to call you, you could expect a call tomorrow, the day after, or in a week’s time. But ask your friend to call you now, and you can expect a call instantly.

These words are known as power words, words that elicit a strong emotional response. This could be a positive one, such as happiness or excitement. But it could equally be a negative response, such as fear or anger.

Emotional states can be leveraged to compel people to act, with each emotion driving your own desired outcome.

Take your blog, for example. Your headline is the most crucial element in urging readers to click through and read.

And when readers see dozens of headlines everyday as they trawl the web, power words make yours stand out. “7 Tips For Writing Better Blog Posts” is fine. But “7 Secret Tips For Writing Inspiring Blog Posts” has that little extra pizzazz that makes it shine.

Different power words will evoke different emotional states that will compel the audience not just to click on your blog post, but to dig deeper into what the blog says.

But it’s not just clicks and views that you can get with power words. Ecommerce stores too can benefit from power word-laden product description that drive sales and boost profits.

Consider chocolate stores for example. Confectionery especially lends itself to sensual, powerful words such as “gooey” or “gourmet”, which evokes the senses and makes the customer’s mouth water.

So using power words in your product descriptions don’t just help you sell products — they even help you sell your business itself, giving it deeper intrinsic value.

Exclusivity is everything

I don’t need to tell you that temptation is a powerful thing. Power words that tease with the promise of value or reward are irresistible to your audience.

Some examples include:

Banned
Secret
Elite
What They Don’t Want You to Know
Controversial
Behind the Scenes
Insider
Forbidden
Confidential

Each of the above evokes feelings of intrigue and desire in the reader.

“Controversial”in particular is used regularly by gossip magazines to compel the reader to read on. It promises scandal and shock, urging people to buy their publications for more of the same.

Look at the example from Vogue below:

Vogue
Image Vogue

The use of “controversy” and “reveal” tantalize the reader, offering a glimpse into something no-one else has seen. Of course, this isn’t the case, but by using these power words, Vogue urges the reader to click through and read each piece.

Takeaway tip: your makeup tutorial isn’t just a makeup tutorial. It’s an “elite makeup tutorial from industry insiders”. Add value to your content by giving it exclusivity and tempting your audience into reading on.

The art of anticipation

Inspiring words can be that one thing that drives someone to do something to better themselves or lend a helping hand.

There will always be difficulties in life, but those problems are not what controls us as individuals or the world. These words can make your readers feel the same way.

Some examples of words that inspire and encourage include:

Hope
Passionate
Sensational
Courage
Bravery
Caring
Sacrifice (in the proper context)
Triumph

These words speak to our desire to better ourselves, to lift ourselves out of our current situation and into something better. By articulating these words, you stir these same emotions in your reader.

Takeaway tip: rather than selecting “useful writing quotes”, provide “inspiring writing quotes that will galvanize your writing today”.

The power of “free”

Nothing compels action more than the offer of something for nothing. Whether it’s a free product or a discount code, we can’t get enough of freebies.

Everyone could use a little more money, and even those rare few who don’t feel that way still take their finances seriously.

Giving people easy ways to earn or save money is a great way to build a readership. And it’s perfect for sales too. Adding a freebie or discount to a purchase will drive sales and engagement with ease.

Add these words to your website, online store, or blog:

Free
Savings
Jackpot
Rewards
Dollars
Sell
Sale
Discount
Fortune
Double
Triple
Gift
Increase
Gains
More

Takeaway tip: the words above are perfect for building email lists or boosting clicks. Offer a free downloadable ebook (in return for signing up) or the promise of increasing their sales (when they read your guide) to enhance your blog.

Fear is a powerful thing

Making people afraid will get their attention. We see this in the news all the time, as stories get conflated to apocalyptic proportions on a daily basis.

Sometimes, like with severe weather, this sort of fear-mongering is necessary to get people to listen and possibly save their own lives. Other times, it’s used to trick us into buying unnecessary amounts antibacterial soap.

Still, if you’re going to do it, here are some scary words.

Abuse
Prison
Debt
Terrorist
Risky
Assault
Crime
Victim
Toxic
Infectious
Nightmare
Lawsuit

Takeaway tip: while fear power words have their place, use them sparingly. Excessive usage will ultimately repel your readers rather than compel.

Your blog’s audience are people, and while people in any given demographic can have similarities, they are individuals. Words used in one way will have a different effect on different audiences.

Pay attention to which words and phrases get the most engagement and reaction from your readers, and use them accordingly.

Victoria Greene is a freelance writer and brand consultant. She writes over at VictoriaEcommerce. Here, she likes to share tips for wannabe thought leaders looking to make an impact online.

Victoria Greene

  • Posted 12.21.18 at 03:14 am by Roy Osing
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