Jim Clemmer's Leader Letter

November 2003, Issue 8 ~ Printer-Friendly Version ~ View PDF Version ~ Past Issues


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How Customer-Centered is Your Organization?

Is your organization's customer service lower than you'd like it to be? Does your customer service training create some short-term change, but then after the training, behaviors revert back to the way things were before? Do members of your team agree conceptually that you exist to serve your customer, but then make decisions that are not customer oriented and make it harder for frontline servers to serve customers?

For all the talk about customer service it has improved very little! My second book, Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance has sold over 100,000 copies since its publication in 1990. If I might say so myself, it's helped many organizations dramatically increase their customer service. My two-day workshop, Leading a Customer-Centered Organization has also helped many management teams move their service levels to the next level.

But as a customer experiencing all too often indifferent, and downright awful service, I often feel like I've made only a small dint in the overall problem. Of course, if millions more managers purchased my books and attended my workshops, the world would be a much better place!

Here are a few of my favorite and most popular articles on leadership and customer service, freely available on our web site:

Blame Management for Poor Service
Several issues facing declining service levels and finding 'what' rather than 'who' went wrong.

More is Said Than Done About Improving Customer Service
Most management teams are interested in becoming more "customer-driven." Many aspire, some understand, but only a few truly do. And those who do provide the highest levels of service/quality enjoy the richest rewards.

A Customer Culture is Built on a Service Ethic
Technomanagers are leaders who focus first on technology and management systems, before focusing on their customers and internal/external partners. They must discover the key "servant leadership" principle — success comes through serving others.

Tips, Tools, and Techniques for...
Leading a Customer-Centered Organization

Here are a few of the hundreds of "leadership action menu ideas" from my Leading a Customer-Centered Organization workshop resource workbook:

  • Train frontline service staff in how to systematically identify root causes of service/quality problems and involve them in a continuous improvement process.

  • Provide a process for frontline service staff to track and systematically analyze all complaints, service breakdowns, and quality problems.

  • Post service/quality trend charts and customer experience/process maps for all frontline service staff to keep score and stay engaged in the improvement process.

  • Systematically ask frontline service staff to identify (and rank order) what's getting in the way of higher service/quality levels and involve them in addressing the issues.

  • Regularly ask internal staff who deal directly with customers, why your organization gains/loses or pleases/displeases customers. Analyze the answers for trends.

  • Be a model of responsiveness and serve the servers. Promptly return internal messages or e-mails.

  • Make it easy and painless for frontline staff to raise issues/concerns. Respond promptly and systematically analyze the trends for improvements.
My Only Public Workshops on Customer Service Leadership in 2004

If your organization has been striving to improve customer service levels but not quite pulling it together, you may want to attend my two-day Leading a Customer-Centered Organization workshop in Calgary or Vancouver. I have distilled 20 years of research, experiences, best practices, and leadership/personal development into this intensive session.

If you don't live in Alberta or BC, here's your chance to visit these great Canadian cities and boost your leadership performance at the same time! I do very few public workshops. I have never offered this one publicly before. We have no plans to reschedule it in 2004. Check it out at www.clemmer.net/events/dcco/dcco.shtml.

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Have You Had a Career Check-up Lately?

Many of us invest time once a year for an annual check-up of our physical health. But what about a regular career check-up?

If you missed my most recent column in The Globe & Mail newspaper or did not get the Improvement Points linking to this new column, you can read it at www.clemmer.net/excerpts/test_career.shtml.

Reprint this e-newsletter!

Permission to Reprint: You may reprint any items from the Leader Letter in your own printed publication or e-newsletter as long as you include this paragraph:

"Reprinted with permission from the Leader Letter, Jim Clemmer's free e-newsletter. Jim Clemmer is a bestselling author and internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, workshop/retreat leader, and management team developer on leadership, change, customer focus, culture, and personal growth. His web site is www.clemmer.net."

Giving a Team Member an Attitude Adjustment

Do you have members on your team who have good skills and work well but their attitude poisons the whole workplace? It's an all too common problem that needs to be addressed and not allowed to become accepted or 'normal.'

Recently a Leader Letter subscriber asked for my input on handling an admin person who often brought down the mood of the whole office.

I responded with a series of suggestions drawing material on taking "Responsibility for Choices" from the chapter by that title in Growing the Distance and the free articles section of our web site (www.clemmer.net/excerpts/responsibility.shtml). I also selected about half a dozen how-to points from the Ideas Menu of the same section of our new workshop based upon my latest book, The Leader's Digest.

"Linda" sent me back the following report on how she handled the situation. It's an excellent example of practical leadership in action. With her permission, here's the gist of her approach:

I did not use the typical performance review process. We started the meeting out with lunch first. Then I went into the 3 questions from Chapter Six of Pathways to Performance:

  • Where are you going (your vision or picture)?
  • What do you believe in (your principles or values)?
  • Why do you exist (your purpose or niche)?

I then added this question: "Is your future with (their organization)? If so, then we need to know where you are now, where you want to be, and the steps to get to where you want to be."

At first I got a lot of 'whining' - everyone else gets everything; they come and go as they please; they come in late, or can leave early; they ask for overtime and get it, I ask for overtime and I don't get it, etc., etc.

I listened for a while, then I simply said, "But that is nothing you have any control over. However, you do have choices." Again I asked, "What do you want?" She said she wanted to be here. She liked what she did. I asked what happened to that enthusiasm or fun spirit she used to have, like when she used to decorate the office which would help get everyone in the seasonal mood (i.e. decorating for October, St. Patrick's Day or Christmas). She responded with "it was always just me decorating and no one else ever wanted to help. But they would sure say something if it wasn't done, so now I don't do it." So, I said, "So it's that 'why should I care' attitude?". She said, "Yes."

I continued with, "Do you not think staff/people pick up on when you're happy or not happy?" I said, "It is extremely obvious and if you think it is not showing, you are mistaken." I went on to give a few more examples of the 'why should I care' attitude. She finally got the picture.

I summarized by stating the three things that I need from her. I also said that it did not matter that I wanted these things, but that she too wanted these things. Otherwise, things will not change. I told her I could not choose these things for her; it has to be her choice. She appeared to understand and agree.

1. To provide an ambience in the office that would motivate and energize staff as a whole, so that they could enjoy their work environment.

2. To get out of Pity City, the Pity parties, and being a whiny Pity Puppy, scampering about, barking blame in all directions. She appeared to like this story, and it fit so well with our situation. Thanks. And it is something we can have fun with, because from time to time, we all fall into to this city. What is important are the gentle reminders to move along.

I often catch the 'secretary hub' in conference or in a huddle, so I told her every time I see this huddle I am going to continue to ask, "Is there anything I should know?" It stops the chatter every time and seems to get them back on focus.

3. To support all staff to the fullest. To make all staff look good in the eyes of our customers, regardless of what they are doing or not doing, even if she would prefer to tell on staff, e.g. "I don't know when they will be back, they didn't tell me."

I tried very hard not to place blame or focus on the past; only where to go from here. She appeared to be on board.

That is all for now. It was quite an afternoon. And I did it all without any tears. Thanks again.

Thoughts that Make You Go Hmmm...
on Leading a Customer-Centered Organization

"Customer service attitudes are contagious -- is yours worth catching?"

"An essential factor in leadership is the ability to influence and organize meaning for the members of the organization."
- Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith

"Organizations should be built and managers should be functioning so people can be naturally empowered. If someone's doing their job, if someone's working in one of your warehouses, say, they should know their job better than anybody. They don't need to be 'empowered,' but encouraged and left alone to be able to do what they know best."
- Henry Mintzberg

"Servant leadership is part of our ethic, and it means that the leaders of our firm should never ask anyone to do anything they are unwilling to do themselves. The leader exists for the benefit of the firm, not the firm for the benefit of the leader. When we lead by serving, we are committed to being an example for others to follow, an initiator for change and growth, and an activist for the future."
- C. William Pollard, chairman of ServiceMaster, from his book, The Soul of the Firm

"Employees who use their natural talents in their jobs produce significantly more than average workers. Emotionally committed employees form teams that deliver exceptional outcomes. Customers recognize the passion and commitment employees feel toward them and cannot help but respond in emotional ways. This emotionally driven reaction builds a bridge between employees and customers that creates engagement. This engagement becomes the key factor that drives sustainable growth."
- Follow This Path: How the World's Greatest Organizations Drive Growth by Unleashing Human Potential, Curt Coffman and Gabriel Gonzalez-Molina

Send me your favorite quotes (or great sources for them) at [email protected].

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Top Improvement Points in October

October's most popular Improvements Points (quotes plus articles) were:

"Despite all their talk about communications, many managers don't appreciate the highly strategic role communication plays in their improvement efforts. Consequently, they don't spend enough time thinking through what they want to say and the best ways to say it."
- from "Communication Strategies, Systems, and Skills"

"It's much easier to be a victim — to blame all their behavior on them and refuse to accept any responsibility at all. But how honest and true is that — really? I may need more feedback from them to clearly see my role in their behavior."
- from "Changing Me to Change Them"

"A constantly improving and highly effective team or organization is transparent. The why, who, what, and how of decisions made and actions taken are obvious to everyone. The culture is marked by openness and informality. Information is widely shared."
- from "Education and Communication Build Commitment"

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I would appreciate your feedback on this newsletter, and any issues or topics you'd like me to address in future issues.

I also welcome conversations exploring how I might help you or your team/organization with a keynote presentation, management team retreat, or workshop.

Send me an e-mail at [email protected] or call me directly at (519) 748-5968.

I hope to connect with you again next month!

Visit www.clemmer.netAll the best,



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Phone: (519) 748-1044 ~ Fax: (519) 748-5813 ~ E-mail: [email protected]


Copyright 2003, Jim Clemmer, The CLEMMER Group