Communications Reminders

Before I start with my normal spiel, I’d like to tell you about this 90-second video snippet I watched of an interview with the esteemed Warren Buffet. (Thanks to my good buddy, Mike Huether, for posting this on LinkedIn!)

The wise words from Mr. Buffett centered around the greatest ROI/Return On Investment of your life & what advice he would give to people looking to succeed in business…

…invest in YOURSELF, above all.

One point he made was the need to take care of your body & mind, hopefully as early in life as possible.

And you can’t go get replacement parts.

Waiting until you’re 50 to realize this is usually futile as the foundation has already been laid & it’s often much too late then to make significant changes.

He admitted that this was one area where he himself had failed.

The other major point he drove home had to do with “COMMUNICATION”.

“Communication skills.

“I tell students that come that they’re going to graduate schools & business. And they’re learning all these complicated formulas and all that.

“If they just learn to communicate better, in writing & in person, they INCREASE THEIR VALUE AT LEAST 50%.

“I mean, if you can’t communicate, someone says you know, it’s like winking at a girl in the dark.

“Nothing happens. And you have to be able to get forth your ideas.

“And it’s relatively easy. I did it myself with the Dale Carnegie course.

“It’s just hugely important. And if you invest in yourself, nobody can take that away from you.”

THOSE ARE POWERFUL WORDS.

I’ve often said that HOW you do something is often just as, or more, important than WHAT you do.

That’s exactly what communication is…the HOW you do stuff!

You can have great ideas, know what to do to be valuable & be a good leader…but you must have the necessary communication skills to get those points across to others, especially the movers & shakers.

Those in charge that can help shape your future & forge an advancement path for you must know about your contributions, your potential & your worth!

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A few things I’ve learned over the years with regard to communication…

– It is simply impossible to over-communicate, especially when it comes to a sizable group of people.

The larger the group, the more difficult it is to ensure that your message has 1) already been heard/read; 2) already been understood (correctly & accurately); 3) already been agreed to by your recipients (physically & psychologically); 4) already helped surface any potential issues regarding acceptance, agreement, comprehension, implementation, etc. BEFORE you could ever hope that 5) it’s been incorporated into people’s normal routines, specific processes & various procedures.

Things you assume that “everyone knows” really need to be reinforced.

Yes, again.

There will always be some who “simply don’t get it”.

“But it was already covered in new hire training!”

“I sent out a memo to everyone last week!”

“Didn’t everyone already read it in…?”

You will be absolutely amazed (horrified?) if you actually PROACTIVELY tried to find that out from your newer employees or transfers to your area.

If you’re waiting to be asked questions (in order to determine what “someone doesn’t know”), you’re probably doing 1/10 of what you should be doing!

Most people will NOT admit that they’re having problems or what those problems are for fear of “looking stupid” or “appearing not fully capable of doing their job”.

For every person who raises their hand & says “I don’t get it!”, I guarantee there are 5-10 others who are thinking the same exact thing!

When I was @ Citi, we (Bobby Hogan & I) were putting together business requirements for a new front-end for the CWS/CitiPhone WorkStation platform.

We decided to pass a bunch of our ideas & screen mock-ups by a bunch of CitiPhone representatives.

So we solicited volunteers from 3 distinct groups: those who’ve been on the phones <9 months…those with 9 months to 2 years of experience…those with >2 yrs on the phones.

The Team Leaders would help select those that fit the bill & were willing to help.

When we showed the first group (up to 9 months experience) a bunch of our stuff for their reaction, I was completely blown away…

…with some reps’ lack of working knowledge regarding the CWS application they’ve been using dozens & dozens & dozens of times EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!

So much stuff that I would’ve taken for granted (that they would not only have known, but easily should have mastered by then), they were semi-clueless! Yet, several of their Team Leaders touted them as “one of my best reps”!

I was shocked. Dismayed. Furious. Embarrassed.

Not at the reps themselves (although they do bear some responsibility), but at their managers.

And SiteWide Monitoring.

And New Hire Training.

And SFA/Success For All.

Reps who graduated from new hire training would go into these SFA groups where they (supposedly) received a greater degree of hands-on support & remedial training. Only until they demonstrated “full competence” would they be assigned to actual teams where, basically, they were on their own.

Oh, the entire concept was great, but as with most things (not just at Citi), the execution was absolutely terrible.

Many of the people who were promoted into SME/Subject Matter Expert roles (to help teach, coach & guide the newbies) were the furthest things from experts themselves.

Instead of answering the questions, then showing the rep where the answer was or how they could access that info, many of the recent trainees got the stock answer…”Look in SOK!”

SOK/System of Knowledge was our on-line knowledgeware application. Simply & routinely pointing someone here meant that you yourself didn’t know the answer!

Subject Matter EXPERT?!?

Combine that with some trainers who were somewhat out-of-touch with how the real world operated & a lot of first-line supervisors (Team Leaders) who were not technically proficient at their job, and you have a disaster waiting to happen. (Pls note: If you’re at, say, the VP level, perhaps you wouldn’t know the ins & outs of what every employee under you does. You probably wouldn’t be the most technically-proficient individual in your own organization. But when you’re a Team Leader, a first-line supervisor, a SME, well you damned well better be!)

As I would so often say, it was…at times…”the blind leading the blind”!

One would figure that the business (USCC) would realize that something was amiss…”high client satisfaction” hovered in the low 60s for years & years. The feedback we received from the branches across the country, solicited or otherwise, was pretty negative, almost all the time!

But the adage of “You don’t know what you don’t know until you know it!” was alive & well at the USCC for many years.

Most new hires had -0- retail banking experience & very little customer service expertise.

I fully understood the “learning curve”, how long it usually takes to be OK…good…comfortable…and then all buttoned up.

But after 6 months, you simply gotta be OK!

If you’re not, then it would be easily & quickly identified by the people monitoring calls, no?

By the SMEs/Subject Matter Experts, no?

By the managers, no?

Yet, Bobby & I are speaking with “highly-regarded reps” (with <9 months experience) who do not have a good working knowledge of the customer’s basic Checking transactions!!!

They never even HEARD OF a new function we had personally designed – – Same Day Transactions – – that would provide detailed information on anything & everything that “hit the account”…ATM cash withdrawals, debit card purchases, on-line transactions, back-office holds/debits, etc…since the last time items were “posted” to (appeared on) the account.

I could understand, to some degree, not yet mastering Same Day Transactions, although it was written in plain English & would greatly help a rep with dozens of calls EVERY DAY…but how could you possibly admit to NEVER HEARING OR KNOWING ANYTHING ABOUT IT???

We designed & distributed training guides. Strongly encouraged managers to hold team training sessions. Over-over-over communicated it to everyone. Publicized it as the greatest enhancement ever!

*sobs*

Annual turnover grew steadily into the new century as it surpassed 20%, 25%, then 30% by 2006.

USAA was eating our lunch as they would hire away many of our best employees (all of whom had at least a year’s experience)…by offering salaries that were 10%-15% higher!

Oh, I was talking about communication, right?

One of the best things we started to embrace was CBT/Computer-Based Training.

While it’s certainly not the be-all, end-all for improving employee performance, it is a great tool to utilize in a dynamic work environment.

The workday, especially in a call center, is filled with peaks & valleys.

There are so many moving parts in this type of environment…where you have 20 seconds to pick up the next call, and the next, and the next, until you’ve done that over 50,000 times or more a day.

You can’t just say “OK, let’s put our work aside for a few minutes & have a quick meeting now!” as your timeliness performance is measured in seconds, not days!

The pressure is incredible in a call center!!!

You’re often a “prisoner” to the whims of the customer base, when they decide to call & how well you’re staffed (based on what you’ve forecasted)…in 15-minute increments! And God forbid if there’s a large queue as that’ll wreak havoc on your forecasts for hours at a time.

You may have forecasted that we would receive, say, 2500 calls from 10:15-10:30 AM and had the place appropriately staffed to handle that volume.

That’s wonderful.

But what about the 200 calls already “sitting in queue”, waiting to be answered that arrived during the previous 15 minutes (10-10:15)?

Oy vey!

O Madonna Mia!

¡Que lastima!

What’s needed just to get through the day would absolutely blow your mind. The reps are amongst the very lowest paid  of all employees, yet the knowledge required to do their job job is probably greater than almost any other position.

Would you believe that a VP’s secretary had a higher grade level (pay band)bthan the Customer Service representatives? (Not dissing the lovely ladies, but c’mon now!)

I would often say that “…if we had 1,500 secretaries & only a dozen phone representatives, you could be damned sure that secretaries wouldn’t be paid more, nor have a higher grade level, than the phone representatives!”

Yeah, yet another case of “Here’s the answer. Now what was your question again?”

Oh, yes, CBT…

We rolled out a few modules, but then…

*crickets*

In a work environment where volume/capacity peaks & valleys are the norm…calls NEVER arrive smoothly throughout the day @ available staffing is constantly a moving target…computer-based training would be quite the useful tool for any call center organization.

Not perfect, but perfectly suited to the dynamic, ever-changing environment in which we lived.

The other point that I’d like to stress is that your communications need to embrace the LCD/Least Common Denominator philosophy.

When you’re communicating with your people, you can’t communicate to the “average employee” in that group…it must be directed at the least knowledgeable, least experienced employee.

You must ensure that every single employee of your team fully understands the message you’re communicating.

If it’s a very simple, fact-based piece, then your best people will have no issue understanding what’s going on…and neither should your newbies & less-than-stellar performers.

But if you address the “middle of the road” people (in terms of expertise & knowledge) with your communication, then you’re gonna lose the whole bottom 15-20% of your group.

Communicate simply. Don’t assume too much with regard to what everyone (supposedly) knows.

You don’t wanna leave anyone out.

Now, of course, you can & should be more specific when your communicating with individuals or targeted groups. Then, you MUST tailor your style & your message to fit that narrow(er) audience.

Did I mention that’s it’s impossible to over-communicate?

And don’t forget to utilize each medium (speaking, the written word, electronic communications, subliminal messages, etc.) as different age groups…Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, millennials…will gravitate to different methodologies.

(Just joking about the subliminal stuff, but I often wondered if…

No, subliminal messages are not protected by the First Amendment…are actually banned in most countries…and while not illegal in the U.S., do fall under Federal law jurisdiction.

I knew a department store in NY that used subliminal messaging, hidden in the music played throughout their stores, that would discourage theft.

“Don’t shoplift. Don’t shoplift.”

And, yes, it worked pretty well!

Do some Googling on “subliminal” & “supraliminal” messaging & you’ll be absolutely fascinated!)

Anyway…

What you discussed at your staff meeting should then be summarized in a handout as well as distributed in an e-mail.

More than any other thing, communication (not just what you communicate, but how & how often) is the most important factor in determining both employee & customer satisfaction.

And if you’re not a good communicator, not as effective as you’d like to be, or not comfortable doing it, go get some help!

Practice.

Take some training courses (Effective Writing, Public Speaking, Business Communication Skills, etc.).

Get assistance from a mentor or someone who does have demonstrated expertise in this area.

If you want to maximize your potential & become (more) successful, you must excel at communicating. There’s no getting around it.

And, yeah, you can still maintain your individuality & style while effectively getting your message across…

Duh.

 

As always, thank you so much for listening!

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