Category Archives: stakeholders

Don’t surprise your customers. Delight them!

According to Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell, authors of Woo, Wow, and Win: Service Design, Strategy, and the Art of Customer Delight, “Customers don’t want to be surprised, they want to be delighted!”

While I work in higher education, I am also a customer of higher education. My youngest daughter Sophie is entering college in the fall, and I can tell you that we have both been delighted by her new school.

Every communication with students and parents has been designed to welcome her and help her navigate the transition from high school to college. Her initial visit to the college wowed her with a tour of the program and demonstrations from current students in the architecture program. Upon acceptance, Sophie received a welcome package, complete with a swag bag of college-branded goodies to get her excited.

The school connects students with potential roommates and helps students register for dorm rooms online. With the help of social media, Sophie has been communicating with all the girls on her dorm floor and feels that she already knows them pretty well. Amazing, huh? I can tell you that she feels far more comfortable entering her freshman year than I did at her age when I knew no one.

As a parent, I’ve been completely informed about the admissions and orientation processes all along the way and I’ve recently been invited to join a Facebook group of parents for the class of 2022, where the current conversation among parents is “what type of computer is required for my son/daughter’s course of study?”

Just before Sophie graduated from high school, the college even sent her a branded top for her mortar board. What fun! And how delightful!

In their book, Stewart and O’Connell outline five principles of excellent service design, one of which is “Customers Want to Be Delighted.” To do that they recommend that you:

  • Meet their expectations with no guesses or surprises by providing an overall satisfying experience.
  • Define the delight you deliver to customers. Delight represents your customers’ experiences (how good were they?) multiplied by your “technical excellence” (how well did you deliver them?)
  • Ensure that customers know what to expect as they move from one touchpoint to another.

The authors say, that “such delight will “woo, wow, and win” customers.” I can certainly say that Sophie’s new college has wooed, wowed, and won me over completely through absolute delight!

What can you do to delight your customers?

Anita Rios

 

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Dance with your customers

A critical step in customer service is to actually invite the customer to the table and include them in your problem-solving work. While this makes theoretical sense it can be challenging to do and takes leadership to ensure its success. Seth Godin, one of my favorite authors and bloggers, describes it as “dancing with customers in the act of co-creation” in a blog on customer service. It involves:

  • clearly inviting customers to work with you
  • focusing on engagement – not perfection
  • over communicating
  • speaking and listening to customers with respect
  • not making assumptions

Most leaders and employees are not used to working together with their customers. When I was working in the health care industry we decided to include patients in our work meetings as we designed the electronic visit follow-up document and communication process. At first that was very threatening to the doctors, physician assistants, nurses and intake staff. They were worried about “unreasonable” demands that patients would make. Surprisingly, everyone discovered that they enjoyed working together, both sides learned more about each other and the ideas shared ended up being practical and doable.

If you choose to include customers it is important to make the invitation clear and describe the work you will be doing together. Customers are also not used to being asked to work with you! The project team for the design of our new Enterprise Resource Planning data system at Minnesota State has done that well (NextGen). They have invited all students, faculty and staff have to participate in envisioning the future NextGen experience. Through emails, in-person presentations and an intranet site they have clearly described the work to date and what opportunities we have, as customers, to work with the vendor to help design and build the system. In addition, given the geographic spread of our system and the variation in availability, they provided three different options to work together; an online review process, virtual Q & A sessions or onsite regional review sessions.

What opportunities can you find for you and your team to dance with your customers?

Todd Thorsgaard

Who are you?

The stressed-out demanding coworker, the skeptical regulatory agent, the overwhelmed student, the sick and crabby patient, the distracted team member, or the busy boss – what do these people all have in common? They are someone’s customer!

When I worked in health care we always had to stop and remind ourselves that the reason our customers (patients and their families) were acting stressed, confused, and unhappy was because they were sick or their family members were sick! Customer service can be easy when everyone is on their best behavior and interacting in a highly professional manner, but that isn’t reality. Leaders need to be able to listen and respond with respect even when people are being “difficult.”

Author Paul Meshanko in his book, The Respect Effect, highlights 12 Rules of Respect that can help you establish respect with your customers even in difficult situations. These rules are based on behaviors that have been shown to neurologically enhance human interactions even in stressful situations.

  1. Be aware of your nonverbal cues – are your behaviors supporting your desired message?
  2. Develop a curiosity about the perspective of others – actively demonstrate that you are interested in what or why or how others are feeling or thinking.
  3. Assume that everyone is smart about something – give people the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Become a better listener by shaking your “but” – using the word but dismisses anything said previously even if that isn’t what you mean.
  5. Look for opportunities to connect and support others – identify areas of agreement while acknowledging areas of difference.
  6. When you disagree, explain why – provide information that clarifies how you made a decision.
  7. Look for opportunities to grow, stretch and change – remind yourself that nothing is static and each of us has something new to learn.
  8. Learn to be wrong on occasion – consider other points of view, even when your idea will work, and demonstrate to others that it is ok to make a mistake at times.
  9. Never hesitate to say you are sorry – acknowledge when you have not been respectful. It happens!
  10. Intentionally engage others in ways that build their self-esteem – intentionally interact in ways that recognize the value others have.
  11. Be respectful of time – remember that other people have time commitments that you are not aware of, and they are important to them.
  12. Smile! – last but definitely not least. Even in difficult situations look for opportunities to recognize connection or forward movement with a genuine smile.

Customer interactions can be messy. Demonstrating respect gives you the foundation to move forward.

Todd Thorsgaard

Are you building or losing trust?

“There are no trust neutral interactions… you either build trust or lose trust.” I can’t remember the name of the person who said this at a conference I attended almost 20 years ago, but I can tell you the saying has stuck with me.

I’ve found that I can walk away from each meeting or conversation I have with others and use the simple measuring stick: Did I build trust? Or did I lose trust?

Still, building trust is not always simple. For example, it can be challenging to focus on building trust when confronting an individual or group about a difficult issue. Add to that an emotionally charged discussion and your amygdala can be hijacked, sending out warning signals to protect yourself and shutting down the ability of your pre-frontal cortex to think constructively.

In those situations, it begs the questions: how do you have healthy conversations when you feel pushed to the edge? And more importantly, how do we deal with others to build relationships rather than erode them?

In her book, Conversational Intelligence, Judith Glaser shares how she has coached leaders to build trust by moving from an I-centric to WE-centric focus in her TRUST model below. Her approach integrates how each step impacts our brains in creating safety and allowing the pre-frontal cortex to engage in greater candor, cooperation, and collaboration.

T – Transparency – create transparency which signals “safety” to the amygdala

  • I-centric: secrecy, threats, lack of clarity, lack of alignment
  • WE-centric: openness, sharing of threats, intentions, aspirations, and objectives; movement toward establishing common, aligned objectives

R- Relationships – focus on connecting with others first, which signals “friend” not “foe”

  • I-centric: rejection, resistance, retribution, adversarial relationships, suspicion
  • WE-centric: respect, rapport, caring, candor, nonjudgmental listening to deeply connect and build partnership

U – Understanding – see the world from another’s eyes, enhancing bonding and a feeling that “we’re all in this together”

  • I-centric: uncertainty, focus on tasks, unrealistic expectations, disappointment, judgment
  • WE-centric: understanding, ability to stand in each other’s shoes, empathy for others’ context, seeing another perspective of reality, partnership; support

S – Shared Success – create a shared view of mutual success. Put words and pictures to what success looks like and signaling to the pre-frontal cortex that it’s safe to open up

  • I-centric: promotion of self-interest; focus on “I” and “me”; seeking of personal recognition and reward
  • WE-centric: bonding with others to create a vision of shared success; building a shared vision that holds space for mutual success; pursuit of shared interests and celebration of shared successes

T- Truth telling and testing assumptions – use candor and caring to build and expand trust

  • I-centric: reactions of anger, anxiety, withdrawal, resignation
  • WE-centric: regular, open, and nonjudgmental discussion of assumptions and disappointments as part of collaborative problem solving; identification of “reality gaps” and effort to close the gaps for mutual success; willingness to start over again if distrust emerges

Here’s my leadership challenge to you for today: Think about an upcoming difficult meeting or conversation that you are anticipating. How can you apply some of the WE-centric ideas above to your approach?

Anita Rios

 

 

 

 

 

Conversation-powered leadership

I thought it would be apropos to wrap up our month of exploring the fundamental leadership competence of effective communication by recommending the book Talk, Inc.  In it, authors Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind draw on the experience of leaders in organizations around the world, who are using the power of conversation to increase employee engagement and strategic alignment.

While top-down, one-way communication has been typically used in hierarchical organizations as a way to distribute news to internal and external audiences, it is a relic of a command-and-control model which no longer works.  Groysberg and Slind assert that  “…. people–and the energies and capabilities that lie inside them–are the ultimate source of optimal performance and sustainable competitive advantage.”  Given that, they have found thriving organizations that are using organizational conversation to engage the best in their people to drive performance.

Organizational conversation, in their words,  replicates the elements of good person-to-person conversation where the scale of the conversation is small and intimate; the structure of the conversation is dynamic and interactive; participation is equal and inclusive and the approach is focused and intentional.

Where they have seen organizational conversation flourishing, it has the following four elements:

Intimacy – leaders reduce the distance, institutional as well as spatial–that separate them from their employees. They do this by cultivating the art of listening to people at all levels of the organization and by learning to talk with those people in ways that are personal, honest, and authentic.

Interactivity – leaders talk with employees not just to them. Cultural norms are now favoring dialogue over monologue and changes in the technology of communication especially with social media, support this shift.

Inclusion – leaders invite all employees to add their ideas into the conversational mix. And they call upon employees to participate in the work of representing their organization as unofficial bloggers or trained brand ambassadors.

Intentionality – leaders promote conversation that develops and follows an agenda that aligns with the strategic objectives of their organization.

I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of the book in your local library or bookstore to learn more. Their insights about how to make organizational cultures more intimate, interactive, inclusive, and intentional through purposeful organizational conversation make it a good read.

Anita Rios

 

Transforming what we do

How do we transform what we do in light of both how today’s students learn, but also WHO they are?”  That was the provocative question asked by Interim  Chancellor Devinder Malhotra last month when he spoke at a Luoma Leadership event.  As we know, our classrooms are becoming more diverse, with new learners accessing higher education from communities that have traditionally had low participation rates in higher education.

To ensure student success, Chancellor Malhotra said we must align ourselves to new student demographics and the new workforce needed for our knowledge-based economy. He challenged all leaders to engage with underrepresented groups and embed themselves in their communities in order to accomplish our mission of serving all Minnesotans.

To do that, he advised that leaders not only learn about these communities, but that we learn with them and from them.  Doing so will ensure that Minnesota’s businesses and industries will have the talented workforce they need so communities across the state can thrive.

During the month of March, we will explore the leadership competency: valuing diversity. As you can see from Chancellor Malhotra’s remarks, valuing diversity is not just a good thing to do, but it is a strategic imperative. We must transform what we do in light how students learn and WHO students they are. In Minnesota State, here are the key behaviors that leaders are expected to demonstrate in valuing diversity:

  • Demonstrates inclusivity in work processes and work teams.
  • Encourages and promote the diversification of our faculty, staff and student body.
  • Actively seeks out and invites alternative viewpoints in planning, discussions, and decision making.

I invite you to join us in the conversation about our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion this month.

Anita Rios

 

Reading your environment

How confident are you in reading your environment? Most days I feel pretty confident in my abilities to read the environment….that is until something happens to tell me otherwise.

Just last week I was surprised by a very negative response to an email  I had sent out. My email was meant to address some problem issues that were raised by a group of leaders in our colleges. My boss and I had agreed that I should respond directly to the leaders who had expressed the concern and copy key stakeholders who were impacted most by the issues. The leaders seemed fine with the response, but the stakeholders felt disrespected because they were not consulted first. We misread the environment.

According to The EQ Edge authors Steven Stein and Howard Book,  an “unblinkered reading” of your environment leads to success because it helps you accurately identify and address problems and recognize opportunities. A key emotional intelligence competency, reading your environment, is also called reality testing.

Stein and Book say that “finely honed reality testing allows you to read a group’s emotional climate and the power relationships at work.” It is an important complement to self awareness. While self awareness allows you to, in a sense, take your “internal temperature,” reality testing allows you to measure the “external temperature.”

How is your reality testing ability?  To help you reflect, here are some self-assessment questions that are included in The EQ Edge:

  1. Does feedback from others consistently tell you that your reading of various situations is:
    1. Objective?
    2. Realistic?
    3. Sound?
    4. Seasonable?
    5. In perspective?
    6. On target?
  2. Do others indicate that you tend to:
    1. Overlook difficulties?
    2. Minimize problems?
    3. Make mountains out of molehills?
    4. Sweat the small stuff?
    5. Catastrophize?
  3. Are you often told that you are:
    1. Whistling in the dark?
    2. Dreaming in technicolor?

For question 1) give yourself a score of -2 for rarely, -1 for sometimes, +1 for usually, and +2 for frequently

For questions 2 and 3, give yourself a score of +2 for rarely, +1 for sometimes, -1 for usually, and -2 for frequently.

Total your score. A positive score indicates that your reality testing is headed in the right direction, while a negative score suggests that your judgment may be clouded by fears or wishful thinking.

Reality testing is an important emotional intelligence skill for leaders. Stein and Book say it can help you accurately size up a situation, rather than turn a blind eye or rationalize real problems. It also curtails a tendency to catastrophize problems.

Thinking back to my email, my boss and I were attempting to respond in a timely way and not magnify the issues. Unfortunately, we created a bigger problem by not considering the emotional climate of the stakeholders affected. As we move forward to re-establish trust with those stakeholders, reality testing will be even more critical in our conversations and consultations.

What recent situations have challenged your reality testing abilities?

Anita Rios