The Brass Ring

Life is a series of opportunities to grab the brass ring (does anybody still know what that means??) and as I grew up hearing, when opportunity knocks, you answer. Another of those moments has presented itself to me.

At the beginning of the year the company I was with made some structural adjustments that resulted in my being on the job market for the first time in almost 20 years. That is an awakening moment and one that will test your core. You wonder about the job market and your viability. You wonder about your solvency and whether you can last to the next job. Whether you are to be one of those poor souls who are out of their home. And absolutely everyone has the choice to dive into despair and dread or accept the challenge as an opportunity – or to waver between the two.

First and foremost, I have no ill will toward the company or the leaders that made the business decision to eliminate my position. In fact, I have spent the past two years creating a structure that begged for my position to be eliminated. I worked to place de facto leaders in titled leadership roles and to foster the existing customer focus that runs so deeply within that team. I modified the skill set of the team through a change in the interviewing and hiring processes. I installed a support operations manager and spent time with him painting the picture of success and the importance of recording and reporting to that success. I implemented a performance management system very specific to our true KPI, and identified the coaches to assist the rest of the team get on board. Both within the business and with our customers I altered expectations of what ‘Support’ does to align better with business and market realities. In short, I shaped a culture of 21st century support and nudged a support team toward a path to being world-class and being able to show it. I take no small amount of pride in the long way we came in a short time. I am confident that this team is in good hands to continue that journey and that feels good.

Another opportunity to feel good came when I started looking for other employment opportunities in my Nashville home town. We are really in a boom! There are several very large organizations setting up shop or growing in Middle Tennessee, in many different disciplines. From banking to healthcare to automotive, Tennessee is attractive to businesses. And speaking as someone who has been a hiring manager in Middle Tennessee for many years I can attest to the fact that there are more jobs than qualified candidates in this area. However, with the influx of people that may be about to tip the other way so look now!

All those positives combined, the high point of this whole experience has been the response of my network. Within minutes of the news hitting the wire I heard from people in several states, with several organizations, wishing me the best and asking how they could help. I have had friends point me to jobs I did not know existed, reinforce my application with their HR, even escalate me to hiring managers before going to HR. Never underestimate the power of the network, and always act like people matter – because they do and I would be remiss if I did not use some of this space to thank them all!

This story has not yet ended. I am still on the hunt, still positive and actually grateful for this opportunity. I have been given the chance to really look at where I am and how I got here – in excruciating detail – as well as truly consider what I want my next step to be.

Whatever that step is, I intend to make ‘journaling’ a part of the rest of the journey. It is cathartic, expressive, an artistic outlet (?), and just plain good for the soul. You should try it!

The Cost of Free Software

I saw a post in an online game last week that made me pause and think about our industry. Unless you have been living under a rock you have seen a Game of War commercial with Kate Upton or Mariah Carey. They are on TV, in online games, in web banners, and magazines, both electronic and in print. We all know that free-to-play games are not “free”. I was not expecting this announcement on theGame of War blog early on September 24th:

70 Customer Service representatives? For a free game? And that is not enough? So I did a little research and found these tidbits:

Now, they’ve taken mobile games advertising to an entirely new level, allocating a massive $40M budget for not only the ads you’ve already seen, but toward making supermodel Kate Upton the face (and body) of the game.(Forbes Magazine– Nov 2014)

…the coveted DAU estimate (for daily active users who log in and actually put some time into the game) hovers around 2.4 million... (Cinema Blend – Mar 2015)

It is still estimated that over 2 million people actively play Game of War every day with almost 40,000 new installs a day! I can see where 70 people would stay busy supporting that audience. When I went back to the GoW blog I found this update, later the same day.

The lesson is that Customer Service is king. Decreasing response time from 92 hours to 22 hours is quite an accomplishment, made possible because there was a business reason to change CRM tool. On top of that, to plan quadrupling the workforce over the next year represents a significant investment in the customer experience. The multi-million dollar, high profile talent bombarding the public is bringing people into this “free” game and it bears remembering that this “free” game (according to ThinkGaming.com) is currently the #1 top grossing game with a daily revenue estimate of about $1.4M per day!

Customer Experience is a business differentiator every time. What is customer experience worth to your business?

Where does Customer Service live? Vegas, Baby!

Know this – I am a pretty demanding customer. I live and work in the customer service industry, I know what an excellent customer experience looks like and I recognize a poor customer experience pretty well, too. My tolerance for the latter is quite limited but my recognition of the former knows no bounds. My wife and I celebrated our recent anniversary with a long weekend in Las Vegas, a town so well known for customer service that a prominent seller of shoes and customer service legend relocated there in 2004. We spent our days aimlessly wandering up and down South Las Vegas Boulevard with the throngs of others and then an amazing thing happened.

We woke up late on Saturday, July 4th 2015 and emerged to find breakfast. Not too surprisingly the cost of those multi-acre buffets was higher on the holiday weekend so we kept meandering until we spotted an unlikely breakfast venue; The Public House between The Venetian and Palazzo casinos. Being the first patrons when the doors opened at 11:00 am, we made our way to the the most knowledgeable, customer-focused place in any establishment – the bar. Travelers know that a bartender always has a finger on the pulse of the community, knows where the special events and attractions are, and cares about taking advantage of the proximity to his or her customer. A quick glance at the menu and we ordered an amazing poutine appetizer (with an egg on top – breakfast!) and started planning the evening’s festivities.

Poutine

Our bartender (Bozo – I swear he said, “Like the clown.”) became an active participant in the planning. He asked about our interests and if there was a special occasion (our anniversary actually is on the 4th) and gave some recommendations. In the style of true customer service he pointed us to some places and things not in the hotel he was working in and confirmed some of what others had told us about some amazing foodie destinations (Travel tips  – The Public House is a foodie destination (yelp voted best gastropub in Las Vegas) and several people told us that the best steak in Las Vegas is at Circus Circus!). Then he introduced us to the bar manager, Freddy. Freddy came over and spent quite some time talking about the bar and some of the unique things they do like barrel aging their cocktails, all very interesting (and tasty) stuff, and that is when the magic happened. Yes, to that point it was a great experience, one that I would have gladly shared as excellent. And it got better.

Freddy told us his story. He shared that he was on the crew that opened The Mirage Hotel and Casino in November of 1989.  I won’t get into too much gory detail but will say that The Mirage was the first of what is now the iconic Vegas hotel/casino. The vision of Steve Wynn to take such a bold leap truly changed the future of Las Vegas. And Freddy told us all that, too. He virtually gushed with pride about his role as a valet, in the launch, about the investment in the staff that included almost complete uniforms, full medical benefits, a very competitive salary, and even hotel quality dining facilities for the staff instead of leftover buffet food. He was beaming when he described Mr. Wynn’s pre-launch speech to the 10,00 or so customer service professionals who staffed the facility and instilled in them that pride of ownership of the customer experience and the momentous impact they were going to have on the entertainment industry and Las Vegas itself. And he described that staff meeting in 1989 like it had happened that morning. Freddy even told us that his mother is still a chef at The Mirage and that he himself has opened every new hotel that Steve Wynn has since.

I have had the honor of leading people in a few different industries and I continue to do so today. If even one person holds me in the regard that Freddy holds Steve Wynn, I am truly humbled. The real lesson here for all of us, leaders or not, in whatever industry, is that the experience your customer has depends on your ability to create and maintain a culture where those who interact directly with that customer feel the ownership that translates into taking care of the customer. That is creating a customer experience through passion and connection, through leadership and empowerment.

We sat at that bar for over 2 hours, talking like old friends with people we had just met and may never see again and then we went back later that night for our anniversary dinner. I will never return to Las Vegas without visiting The Public House, I will ask about Bozo when I am there, and I will keep an eye on Steve Wynn’s plans to see where Freddy may be.

Vegas, baby!

Independence Day 2015

I wax patriotic for this is an important holiday to me.

Please take time this weekend to remember that we are here because of the actions of a handful of brave men – actions which at the time made these men traitors. They banded together with common purpose – a new way of life, free from tyranny, free from the oppression of monarchy, and free to be the seeds of the nation we have grown into. Then they told the world about it eloquently!

  • When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
  • But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Why does this apply to us? Because the future will not be what today is. We have seen a shift in the demand by channel, the ability to train consumers of software and hardware products while at the same time the dependence on those systems has become all the more ubiquitous! Doctors depend on technology to record your medical record, to recall previous tests, illnesses, and injuries yet are some of the busiest people in our country. When the hospital decides to change their electronic health record (EHR), who feels that change most acutely? Those healthcare providers who are treating patients, not sitting in 24 hours of software training to improve long term trending, reporting, and consistency of billing for the hospital network. And those are the people who will tell EVERYONE that this software sucks because it takes me longer than recording and sending to a transcriptionist. According to a study published in the JAMIA, “The use of bedside terminals and central station desktops saved nurses, respectively, 24.5% and 23.5% of their overall time spent documenting during a shift. Using bedside or point-of-care systems increased documentation time of physicians by 17.5%.” When a doctor can see 18% fewer patients in the course of a day, the EHR will be a hard sell.

That is where we come in. A well trained staff, familiar not only with the software but with the processes and workflows can help that physician through a multitude of challenges. With a competent team of support professionals at the ready we have direct impact on that 17.5%. We can educate the doctor, empower the nurse to be a first line ally in support, and through that improve the patient care experience. With the shift in markets many more of us will be able to add the bullet “No loss of life was attributed to a software failure on my watch.” to our resumes, doctors will see more patients, and the booming US healthcare market will continue to grow.

All because we believe in the cause of helping our customers, our users, one transaction at a time. Watch the fireworks from a safe distance. Grill some burgers or dogs. Enjoy this long weekend with your family. Do remember to spare a thought for those who accepted the ultimate challenge, risked life, liberty, and family in pursuit of a better tomorrow for all citizens. Then ask yourself what you believe in.

I believe in America.

 

Liberty means responsibility.  That is why most men dread it.  ~George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, “Maxims: Liberty and Equality,” 1905

 

When you are passionate about getting good customer service you are over the top about delivering it!