One of America's most renowned companies for reinventing the customer service model is doing away with all of its Managers. This is a daring move and one which has garnered lots of attention. Is Zappos simply being bold and furthering its own game changing approach to customer service or have they gone too far and will they end up in analysis paralysis when it comes to making decisions and getting things done? Let's explore.
The notion of corporate hierarchy is complex. The tendency of almost all mid to large size corporations is to define specific jobs and hire personnel to fill them. In turn, every employee knows who he/she reports into and more importantly who will be overseeing their work i.e. their BOSS. Accountability is clearly defined and that employee knows who go to for help and who will evaluate his/her performance.
Of course, even when things are clearly defined, employees can get stuck trying to make decisions and will look to their boss for help. And in turn the boss may consult his/her own boss and so on (peers get involved too). This is pretty common practice and often a healthy exercise. The key is striking a balance between diligent decision making and over-analysis that delays decisions. Good companies provide their employees with the right level of empowerment so decisions are arrived at smartly and decisively. Companies like Zappos!
Having spent twenty years working in corporate hierarchies, I liked knowing that I had one identified person to go to for help. While we all want our corporate independence at work, I can appreciate the value of having someone charged with overseeing my performance (something even CEO's have through their board of directors). It enables a culture of empowerment and accountability and sets the tone for getting things done.
For companies such as Zappos, admired and envied for their culture and level of employee engagement, a balance is clearly being struck so why mess with such a great thing? Zappos seems to be afraid that as they grow, their current infrastructure will no longer work and they could lose the remarkable culture they've created.
Zappos is attempting to get rid of bureaucracy and the rigidness that often accompanies growth. By implementing this new, manager-less culture, Zappos is attempting to focus its employees on the work that needs to be done, versus who actually performs the work. Job titles are being eliminated and employees are assigned to several roles with explicit responsibilities. They are assigned work by designated leads and participate in what are called work circles. Leads only assign work and do not tell people how to do it.
Will this help or hinder? Will there be a clear understanding of who has decision making authority? I'd suggest that while tweaking may be necessary, it isn't necessary to perform a complete overhaul. Of course with their track record of success, I applaud their courage for trying - They've certainly earned it!
Read more here: (link to article) and tell us what you think.
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On the heels of this week's news that Sears Canada will be sending 1300+ Call Centre jobs to the Philippines, I got to thinking about a question many of us have entertained: should we outsource our Call Centre operations? There is no easy answer to that question and several factors will influence your decision including:
Of all the factors, most organizations decide primarily on the cost/savings vs the customer experience equation. There is no doubt that a business will likely save money by outsourcing its call centre operations, especially if the business is moved off shore (e.g. Philippines or India). It is more a matter of how much will be saved and at what cost to the customer experience. Dell is another organization to have outsourced its operations off shore.
In North America, consumers don't often look favourably on being supported outside North America, especially in a slumping economy. Concerns are around the quality of English spoken and the notion that jobs are being taken away. These biases often lead to a decline in the perceived customer experience, when in actuality the experience may be just as good. Be sure to thoroughly research organizations who have outsourced and see whether or not they have done so successfully, keeping in mind cost and the customer experience.
As a former employee and partner of some of the most recognized outsourcing organizations, I do believe they provide value and are deserving of consideration. It will come down to what will or won't work for you and your business. I find outsourced call centres are especially effective as an extension of your business for mostly transactional activities. I emphasize transactional activities because they are easier to teach and retain.
This is a really good strategy for large organizations, who need increased support for peak call volume periods and for redundancy when there are local issues such as severe weather and power outages (a little too familiar this winter in Toronto!). A couple of large companies in the Canadian telecommunications sector have used this approach successfully.
Outsourcing is one of several factors to consider in building and/or evolving the customer experience. They can be especially effective if leveraged correctly and treated as partners. Again, keep in mind the factors I talked about above and try not let cost be the only consideration in making such an important decision.
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Coaching: "to give instruction or advice to in the capacity of a coach." How often has the word coaching been talked about in your professional career? I bet often. And why not. The intent of any kind of sincere coaching is a positive one - help someone learn in order to improve. A simple concept but it's often poorly executed.
When done right, coaching plays a substantial role in helping employees feel engaged and engaged employees are far more likely to deliver on their company objectives. In the customer service industry that means consumers are more likely to receive a rewarding and satisfying experience.
The key than becomes how to do coach the right way. While not a science, there are a few strategies, that if deployed the right way will ensure that coaching is received openly and with an intent to change for the better. And that is the intent, an exchange of ideas and feedback that helps someone learn in order to improve.
How to coach effectively?
Tip: Participation is Key. Employees need to feel a part of the coaching process. It is essential that leaders ask employees they are coaching questions to encourage their participation. This will increase engagement and the likelihood that the employee is committed to improving. Moreover, they will enjoy the experience more!
Coaching is one of the most important elements in creating world class customer experiences. No matter what an employee is accountable for, if he or she is made aware of what they are doing well and how they can improve it is a certainty that they will be more successful. And with the success of your employees comes the happiness of your customers. Happy customers spend more money with you!
The challenge is that often when things get hectic, and in most customer service and sales operations this happens frequently, coaching is the first thing that stops. The adage is "I don't have the time." When that happens, please keep this in mind: the time you invest in coaching, even when in a crisis, will repay itself tenfold in the long run. Effective coaching has a direct link to employee engagement and cannot stop. Better you be creative and coach less often and for shorter periods of time vs. not at all. It simply too important.
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Have a terrific 2014 and we will talk to you soon!