By Harrell Kerkhoff,
Maintenance Sales News Magazine Editor
How does a company get the most out of its employees in today’s changing work, sales and customer environments? How can coaching employees help? What exactly is and is not coaching? What about skills development?
These were just some of the questions addressed by Stephen Riddell, head of customer experience at Casper Sleep, Inc., who spoke at a recent ISSA event with the message, “Average Is Over: Leading For Superior Performance And Profits.”
Riddell has spent a large part of his career helping company leaders succeed in such areas as: employee management, coaching, call center and sales improvement, and customer service. He has found success in these fields of study while working at Blinds.com, Sprint Corporation, and now Casper Sleep.
Riddell’s presentation focused on his belief that the world’s top-performing business leaders succeed, in part, due to their ongoing commitment to properly coach and develop the skills of their employees.
This commitment can help companies differentiate from other businesses within the same marketplace, and thus become disruptive in a good way. Companies that become disruptive often exceed, especially in an industry where most competitors are doing the same things.
Of course, employees must be properly trained and coached to help a company become a true market disrupter. Skill development is essential.
“If skills go up, what happens to performance? It goes up. What happens to problems? They go down,” Riddell said. “The question that must be asked is, ‘How many managers and other business leaders truly focus on developing and improving people’s skill levels?’”
Riddell said he has visited and studied many organizations and has noted one common theme — the lack of employee skill development.
“I have seen companies hire people and figuratively throw them up against a wall to see if they stick. They don’t even give them a little velcro. If an employee starts to slide down the wall and hits the bottom, the company may get rid of him/her and hire another person to throw up against the wall. History repeats itself,” he said. “At what point do leaders have a greater responsibility to help improve the skill level of employees, especially if you believe, as I do, that as skills go up, so does performance?”
Riddell added that good employee skill development centers around good coaching.
“If you are building skills, you are coaching. Everything else is management,” he said.
Good coaching, according to Riddell, involves “asking” rather than “telling.” Good coaching is also considered “situational” by nature, it “provides a process for self-evaluation,” and it “focuses on getting a specific commitment” from a person.
“Coaching is not telling a person what to do. If you are in the business of just telling people what to do, they will always have to rely on you for their next moves,” he said. “Good coaching is the best way to develop skills, increase employee satisfaction and build both ‘like’ and ‘trust’ among employees and customers.
“This is important because we buy from people we like, and we buy from people we trust.”
WHAT IS YOUR COMPANY’S
What is it like to be a customer of your company? Is it a good or bad experience? These are key questions Riddell said every company owner must ask, no matter the industry.
“Let’s say I am a person you just hired. You tell me, ‘I want you to deliver a great customer experience.’ The problem is, define ‘a great customer experience,’” Riddell said. “Most people will know it when they see it, but it’s very hard to define.”
Riddell was once employed by a large insurance corporation to help that company define its “customer experience.”
“I spent a year of my life tracking down one or two key components of ‘an experience’ that easily talked to other people about that particular organization,” he said. “What I found was, this can be done with any company. If you, as a business owner, can understand and build your company’s ‘experience’ for the better, this can have a profound influence on your organization.
“In my opinion, every company must adopt and deliver what I call ‘the experience.’”
Riddell outlined three keys for providing a great customer experience. They are:
• Customer solutions — No matter what role a person has with a company, it’s imperative to provide customers with some level of solution to their problems.
“People will call a company because they have a specific need or problem. Nobody wakes up in the morning and decides to call a particular company because he/she has nothing else better to do,” Riddell said.
Along with problem solving skills, company representatives must be trained to properly take advantage of sales opportunities that are suddenly presented by current and potential customers, according to Riddell.
“How many people call your company with the intent of purchasing something, and end up not buying? Why don’t they always buy if they had that intent when they called?” he asked. “I believe often it’s due to something a company representative did or didn’t do or say. I also believe that if the skill levels of employees are improved, companies can greatly improve their sales conversion rates.”
• Ease of doing business — Riddell said he is often shocked at how hard it is for customers to do business with some companies.
“Have you ever gone to a company and found it difficult for that business to take your money?” he said. “There should always be an ease of doing business exhibited by a company. Even if something is actually very difficult, the company should provide the appearance that the task at hand is easy.”
• Offering extraordinary “WOW” service — “When you (as a company representative) finish an interaction with a customer, or employee, the goal is for that person’s first reaction to be, ‘WOW, that was great!’” Riddell said.
He reiterated that when it comes to coaching employees, skill development should be the key objective.
“Most employees understand what they don’t do well,” Riddell said. “If they do not receive any type of skill development to help them improve, and are only left with the fear of losing their jobs if they don’t do better, that really is a poor way of managing people.”
TAKING EMPLOYEE & CUSTOMER
SUCCESS TO THE NEXT LEVEL
Success in business often depends on the success of both employees and customers. Riddell provided important takeaways on how companies can better meet both objectives. They include:
■ Understand business performance alignment — Every business owner strives to have a thriving, successful organization for the benefit of employees, customers and the company itself. The main question is, what steps need to be taken to make this goal a reality?
Riddell outlined five objectives every company should focus on for the future success of both employees and customers. They are:
• A Pleasant Buying Experience;
• Effectiveness: High Conversion Ratio;
• Efficiency: Good Leads;
• Process Knowledge; and,
• Product Knowledge.
Many companies, Riddell added, want their employees to focus most on “process knowledge” and “product knowledge,” but he has found that all five objectives are equally as important.
“Think of these objectives as being five spokes in a wheel. If one spoke is larger than the others, the wheel will not properly operate,” he said. “The same is true in business.”
Riddell also addressed the importance of providing what he referred to as “lifetime value.”
“As a company and employee, everything you do, and every decision that needs to be made, should focus on providing ‘lifetime value,’” he said. “How many times will a person buy from one specific company, and recommend others to do the same? This is often the result of that company’s successful efforts in providing ‘lifetime value.’
“How do other people see your company? Do they find value and want to continue to do business with you?”
■ Acknowledge the value of self-discovery — It’s generally agreed that most people don’t like to be told what to do on a continuous basis. They would rather experience their own “self-discovery,” Riddell said.
“The things that we have discovered for ourselves are often the things that have greater implication for our own actions and activities,” Riddell said. “Unsolicited advice rarely goes over well, whether you are working with employees or customers.”
He added, however, if an employee or customer asks for advice, it’s OK to be brutally honest.
“What is the difference? They (employees or customers) solicited that advice,” Riddell said. “Asking people ‘to do it my way’ through unsolicited advice may not feel right to them. You may be asking people to change without using a proper catalyst that shows why that change is important.”
■ Quality assurance exposed — Many companies use some type of quality assurance to make sure products and/or employees are performing to desired standards. According to Riddell, quality assurance can have a downside.
“In the call center world, quality assurance involves people listening to, and often grading, the interaction between employee and caller,” he said. “What I have found is that when you grade employees in this situation, it becomes more about the ‘score’ and less about the ‘skill’ to them.”
He added that it’s natural for employees to do whatever they can to improve their scores, without little impact or actual value to callers.
As a company owner, Riddell said, it’s important to ask, “Is it possible to get a good score while the call itself is bad?” On the flip side, “Is it possible to get a bad score while the call is still good?”
Scoring a call can actually inhibit an employee from delivering great service by the very nature of how a company monitors him/her, according to Riddell.
“Employees will do things that they know don’t work, don’t fit or don’t have any positive impact on the customer, but because the business requires it, they will comply,” he said. “This is why how we measure people may have little value in many cases, as people will often choose ‘score’ over ‘skill.’
“If you truly want your company’s scores to improve, improve the skills of your employees. In fact, if you improve their skills, you won’t have to worry about their scores.”
■ Compliance vs. Competence — Many companies must meet matters of “compliance” in order to remain in business. This often involves meeting government laws, rules, guidelines and regulations. However, being “compliant” is not the same as being “competent.”
“If I spent the day at your organization, would I walk away saying it was heavily focused on ‘compliance’ or ‘competence?’” Riddell asked. “Most companies aspire to ‘competency,’ but the way they conduct business is all centered on ‘compliance.’
“Companies must be compliant in many ways, but they can also focus on competency. Competency will improve compliance. Compliance will rarely improve competency. While properly developing a person’s skills, you are also focusing on competency. This is opposite of ‘processes,’ which focus on compliance. ‘Skill’ is part of an asking culture, while ‘process’ is part of a telling culture.”
■ The competency model — Riddell detailed four basic stages to building employee competency. They are:
• First stage / Unconscious Incompetency: This stage involves employees who start out “don’t know / can’t do.” The response should be to teach or weed out.
• Second stage / Conscious Incompetency: This is when employees know what they are expected to do, but still can’t adequately perform the task.
“This is where you, as a company, go from teaching to training. It’s like training for a marathon,” Riddell said. “The employee has to be properly trained to run the race.”
• Third stage / Conscious Competency: Employees at this stage know how to do something, but must think about it in order to properly complete the task. This is where coaching overcomes training in importance.
• Fourth stage / Unconscious Competency: Employees in this final stage know what to do, and don’t have to constantly think about the task at hand. Employess may still need fine-tuning.
“Unfortunately, there are company leaders who spend all of their time at one stage. They never get around the circle to help employees who have advanced and need further skill development,” Riddell said.
He noted that new employees and under-performers usually take up a lot more of a manager’s time than high-performers, when the opposite should be true.
■ The value of being a disrupter — The problem with not properly training and coaching sales people, is often they will develop what Riddell refers to as the “sleazy, slick and aggressive” method to selling.
“The stereotype for many people in sales is that they are ‘pushy,’ and that is what they will become if not properly trained and coached. If they know no other way to sell, they will become pushy,” Riddell said.
“Selling” may not even be a true sales person’s primary function.
“When I worked at Blinds.com, I asked the question, ‘Are we a blinds company that happens to market our products, or are we a marketing company that happens to sell blinds?’ By looking at sales from a different perspective, it can change the way sales people view themselves,” Riddell said. “Regarding the cleaning industry, I have to ask, ‘Are you part of a marketing company that happens to be in the cleaning business?’ If you are, it could change the way your company operates, helping it become a disrupter in an industry that few people have figured out how to disrupt.” ■