Monday, March 28, 2011

Around the World in 80 Days!

Honest, it really is 80 days - we counted! It all began in Costa Rica, and now we're off to Cape Town, Johannesburg, Mumbai and Phnom Penh. Then home for a month or so (to rest up), and off to Munich, Frankfurt, Belgrade, Budapest, London, Paris, Oslo and Copenhagen. Actually, if we include the North American "road trip" to follow this summer, it's more than 80 days, but who's counting?

Before we begin reporting from Cape Town, we really need to thank so many people whose advice we have sought in setting up Dave's sabbatical interviews. A HUGE thank you to Mark Nepo, Prasad Kaipa, Angeles Arrien, Louise van Rhyn, Deborah Frieze, Bob Stilger, Meg Wheatley, Susan Dupre, Robert Deahl, Mary Kohler, Judith Mayotte, Peter Norlin, Graeme Storer, John Kesler and more that we'll mention as we go along.

The result is interviews with the Executive Director of the Desmond Tutu Peace Center, the Vice Chairman of Tata Motors in Mumbai, and so many others that we'll be writing about here and elsewhere over the coming months.

Then there is the thank you to Laura Espinoza at AirTrek for setting up a complicated, but exciting, itinerary, and to Lucy Camacho for making sure we got our visas on time!

Then, of course, the biggest thank you of all goes to our most beloved family and friends that put up with our nonsense and never ever tell us that we're completely nuts!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

UnderPromise OverDeliver

Who would have thought that one of my early learnings would come not from traditional research or the interviews, but from the sabbatical process, itself. and that the learning would take me back nearly 30 years.

“UnderPromise OverDeliver”  is a phrase taught to me many years ago by my friend and colleague, PQ System’s own Dr. Michael Cleary as we were beginning to teach the manufacturing folks in Jackson, Michigan about Dr. W. Edwards Deming. "UnderPromise OverDeliver" may have always been true. It may always be true. It is certainly true today.

I am in the middle of this sabbatical that requires me to buy and learn to use new high definition video and arrange interviews, transportation, and lodging all over the world. Although the sabbatical is a lot of fun, it is really intense as I have a limited amount of time to get the interviews done, reviewed, and documented into products that make some sense.

Once I decided to videotape the interviews, Terry Terry, a friend whose media savvy I deeply respect convinced me to record the interviews in high definition instead of on my little Handycam. Because I was entering into unknown territory and had a relatively short time to get and learn to use the equipment, I looked for the most reliable (by word of mouth) supplier I could find. I was careful to check, document, and double check all our agreements. Timing was tight, but everything was coming along until, less than two weeks before I was to leave, the supplier contacted me and said he could not get me all the equipment I needed. I have not taken the time to figure out what happened, but this company had given me a promise that they failed to meet. I scrambled around and got what I needed…barely in time for the trip.

At the same time, I started to work with a travel agency that is used by several colleges and universities in the area to plan our relatively complex, around the world trip. Because I was aware of the complexity of the trip, I asked what experience they had with this type of trip. They’d done it before…no problem. As we spent time trying to work out the details of the trip, I noticed that the agency seemed to be getting less and less responsive. The day that the tickets needed to be booked, I called to find out the agent I was working with was gone and no one else had any way to help. Again, we scrambled to find another way which meant starting our trip two weeks late and cutting it short. This is another example of a company not meeting its promise or, at least, its customer’s expectations.

I hope I will attempt to figure out what happened with both these situations, but for now I’m still scrambling to make my sabbatical a reality. I’m also remembering Dr. Deming frequently saying that managers are trying to put themselves out of business. That sure is true in the case of these two companies.  My Customer Service textbook (Paul R. Tim, Customer Service, Prentice Hall, Saddle River, NJ: 2011) recently reminded of the statistics we all know:
·       It costs 5-6 times as much to get a new customer as it does to keep one
·       Word of mouth has the predominant role in the spread of products and services
·       Studies have shown that, on average 50-100 people will be told about bad service

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure that a firm is better off meeting or, better yet, exceeding its customers’ expectations than falling short of them. And it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that the firm usually sets the customers’ expectations. Underpromising and overdelivering makes sense. How do we accomplish it?

The first thing that comes to mind is training. So often, our front line folks are not given adequate training. We have all had the benefit of on the job training. The boss or peer says this is what you should do. You then start and learn how to do the job by asking questions when you do it wrong…to the chagrin of the customer. Good on the job training is possible. Some organizations even do it. As part of my recent personal journey, however, I was reminded that you can do more. With my new travel agency, AirTreks, the agent who worked with me frequently provided special assistance and advice, because she had already made the trips I was asking about. Start with good training and then go beyond.

Most front line folks want to help the customer. Make it easy. I am reminded of a trip we made to a Ritz-Carlton Hotel years ago. Everyone on staff was allowed to spend $50 to make a customer happy. That was when $50 was a lot of money. Also, don’t make it difficult.

Avoid the use of conditions, goals, and objectives that that cause front line employees to short change customer service. We have heard of or been part of service systems that encourage front line folks to maximize the number of customer served without regard to the quality of the service provided. I remember that when I was at Ford before Quality is Job One, our field service reps were encouraged to spend as little money as possible to satisfy a customer complaint. That, of course, resulted in long negotiations that did nothing to enhance the customers’ view of Ford Motor Company.

UnderPromising and OverDelivering, of course, takes more effort than that, but just good training and encouragement in all our customer-supplier relations can go a long way toward high quality and keeping our companies in business. It seems to me that UnderPromising and OverDelivering are essential qualities of good management.