Great Expectations: The 4 Foundational C’s of the Customer Experience

By Tra Williams 

Tra Williams

Remember the old saying that if you never expect anything then you’ll never be disappointed? Well, that might work on blind dates and birthday presents, but in business, expectations are impossible to avoid. For every action that a customer takes, there was an expectation that preceded it. Obviously, customers take action because they believe that action will yield a specific result. Over time, that belief—that something will or won’t happen—is solidified. It discourages or encourages future action. The resulting momentum, for good or bad, reaffirms their belief. The cycle is then perpetuated and a customer’s loyalty is either lost or gained.

This simple psychological loop is perpetuated by whether your business failed to meet, met or exceeded a customer’s preconceived notions. In short, customer expectations define the customer experience.

Fortunately, if you properly position your business in the minds of your customers, you can mold their expectations in ways that are consistent with the service and value that you provide.  There are four foundational elements that define your customers’ expectations. Mastering all four is the key to exceeding your customers’ expectations every time and keeping that customer for life.

If you properly position your business in the minds of your customers, you can mold their expectations in ways that are consistent with the service and value that you provide. Click To Tweet

1. Culture—Who you are is the key to what you should do and how you should do it.  

Every potential customer begins to build a mental profile of your business the moment he becomes aware that it exists. Millions of years of evolution have hardwired us to save mental energy by recognizing patterns that predict the world around us. As a result, your potential customer immediately and unconsciously makes assumptions about what to expect from the culture she observes. Subtle and not so subtle clues convey information and frame the expected tone of your interaction even before your initial contact. The cleanliness of your parking lot, the options on your automated answering service, and the wrinkles and stains on your employees’ uniforms all add to the story that you are already telling.

The story begins with your logo and your branding; they tell their own story. But your messaging and the medium through which it travels also reveal hidden truths about the culture of your business. More often than not, your culture defines your service level but not your messaging. And if the reality of your service falls short of the expectations defined by your messaging, the customer feels duped and is less likely to return.

The key to mastering this element is to maintain consistency between your branding and messaging and the reality of the service that you provide.

2. Credibility—An impressive depth of knowledge is nothing without parallel performance and vice versa.

Imagine you are interviewing a potential financial advisor who is vying for your business. He has degrees on his wall behind his mahogany desk along with various certificates showing him to be well-educated. He answers your questions clearly and succinctly without too much industry jargon, and by all accounts, conveys confidence in his abilities and authority over his domain. However, the prospectus for his recommended investments shows below-market performance every year for the past ten years. Would you allow him to invest your precious earnings? Probably not.

Now reverse the scenario. Imagine he has consistently outperformed the market for ten years, but during the interview, he sounds uneducated and is unable to answer questions about why or how that performance was achieved.  Would you allow him to invest your precious earnings? Again, probably not.

The point is that your customer makes assumptions about your credibility because of and sometimes in spite of your performance. Knowledge of your industry isn’t enough. Comparably, past performance isn’t enough.

The key to mastering this element is to know why and how not just one or the other. 

3. Capacity—Revenues will not materialize without the infrastructure they require.

Entrepreneurs and business owners are by definition resourceful. Not only have they recognized and seized the opportunity, but they have also navigated a complex process. However, once the business is operational, their minds often transition from a focus on opportunity and innovation to a focus on reduction and optimization.  Corners are often cut and resources are limited in the name of costs.

Imagine you are looking for a restaurant to host your engagement party. Which restaurant would you choose—A) an understaffed restaurant where the food is always amazing or B) a restaurant with amazing service where the food is always good?  Most would choose restaurant B because the quality of your product has nothing to do with your scalability.

How you execute at a smaller level creates the expectations in the minds of customers for your ability to execute at a larger level. Would you actually prefer to earn a few extra dollars if doing so limited the growth of your business? Doubtful. In the end, nothing is more costly than playing it safe.

The key to mastering this element is to realize that preparation actually creates opportunity.

5. Command—Your command over the process should eliminate customer effort.

Customers expect results without effort on their part. After all, why would they pay you if they have to work? But work in this instance isn’t just the service you provide, it is also the effort a customer must exert to yield results. Obviously, if a customer has to call multiple times and talk to multiple people to yield results, your process has failed and you have likely lost that customer’s business.  On the contrary, effortless results yields repeat business.

If you haven’t mapped your customer flow, you should do so immediately. If you have, take a look at it and note each time the customer is required to act in any way or left wondering what to do next. Paperwork, phone calls, appointments, hold times and commutes are all work for the customer. You must take command of the process and limit the effort your customer exerts…especially during your very first interaction. Doing so will create the expectation that calling you yields effortless results. 

The key to mastering this element is clear communication of a well-defined and effortless process.

The point is, customers, choose to frequent businesses that consistently meet or exceed their expectations and they form their expectations before they ever walk in the door or pick up the phone. Your culture, credibility, capacity, and command define whether you exceed their expectations and gain a customer for life or fall short and send them to a competitor. 

Tra Williams is a celebrated speaker, business consultant and author of the forthcoming book Feed Your Unicorn. He is a nationally recognized thought leader in small business, franchising, leadership, and entrepreneurship. Tra works tirelessly with people, professionals, and organizations to help them define success on their own terms and build the framework required to sustain it. For more information, please visit www.TraWilliams.com.

Engaging the Power of Your Informal Networks

By Michele Wierzgac, MSEd

Michele Wierzgac-informal network

Networking is recognized as a major influence on one’s ability to achieve great success. The most successful people in the world possess the capability to influence and shape the opinions of others. However, there is a greater emphasis on the type of network one participates in.

Much has been written about successful executives and leaders and how they participate in formal networks, but very little is known about the substantial amount of time they spend within their informal networks.

What is known is that the impact is vast. It is imprudent for you to underestimate the power of informal networks by saying they are merely “nice-to-have.” These types of networks are increasingly having a major impact on organizational effectiveness.

More importantly, these types of networks provide major business advantages for the participants and thus are known to advance many careers.

Defining the Networks

The main difference between informal and formal networks is the effort of the individuals to create and maintain them. The formal network often has an organizational culture attached to it, such as a formal philosophy, mission, structure, leadership, membership, eligibility, and funding. 

These networks are easily identifiable—board of directors, economic clubs, affinity groups set up by corporations, executive talent pools, online discussion groups, management groups, professional conferences, and associations.

Informal networks are based on the objective of achieving a reciprocal exchange of information and favors—no rules—share advice freely, expand the network at will, inspire each other, achieve personal goals, and help each other obtain business and career advantages.  The “old boys network” is based on the informal network system, hence the phrase, “it’s a man’s world.”  Again, the emphasis is on a one-to-one networking effort, as opposed to an organizational system that characterizes the formal network.

People have always had the need to build and maintain a network that involves trust and respect for others. Click To Tweet

Informal Networks Are Hidden

The informal network may be a group of industry colleagues with a common interest or a shared philosophy getting together for a casual gathering away from the office.  Other networks may be created through people you meet while traveling, attending church functions, or simply completing errands.

The most effective informal network contains high-functioning people who are extremely skilled, knowledgeable, powerful, and who have strong personal networks. Research indicates that extroverts are the element that drives a successful network. People who are friendly, courteous, tolerant of differences, and respectful of cultures and different perspectives achieve the most success. The informal network without the hierarchy and bureaucracy encourages the most interaction and achieves the most positive results.

On the other hand, there are many skills one must possess before being invited to an informal network. The most important skill to acquire is not to treat everyone like a mass market, a machine, or a cold call. The success of this most prized network depends on respecting the commonality among one another and to help each other achieve their goals.

Reflecting On Your Informal Networks

Here are strategies for polishing your informal networking skills. What do you need to work on?

  • Do not treat your informal network like a mass market, machine, or cold call.  Be a genuine networker.
  • Do you have a great attitude? Are you positive?  Do you see the big picture?  The successful networker has a strong belief in themselves and in what they are pursuing.
  • Who makes up the network? What are their needs, company, and interests? Leaders listen to the needs of the network.
  • Who makes up your network? How can you connect your network with this network? Triumphant leaders are strategic—always thinking ahead.
  • Do not be a name-dropper unless you have permission. Be an honest networker.
  • How much have you given to your network?  Successful people have the ability to give back. Share information and opportunities with one another.
  • Does your informal network share the same philosophy about career, business, friendship, or family? Identify key people you can relate to otherwise move to another network.
  • Do you know your goals, strengths, and career direction backward and forwards? Educate the network on exactly what you do and what you are looking for—people cannot read your mind.
  • What is your personal brand? Are you unique? How will people remember you? Remember that generic brands encourage generic attention.  Write a 30-word brand statement of how you want to be described. A personal brand statement is a method of controlling what others are saying about you.
  • Are you believable and credible? Leaders are passionate about who they are and what they do.
  • What are your gifts? Leaders share their talents within the network without reciprocity.
  • Write and call on a regular basis each person within the network and exchange information. Successful leaders are organized.
  • Are you brave enough to ask questions? Leaders do not have all the answers—ask for directions, opinions, and ways to get around obstacles.
  • Develop the ability to ask the right questions—do not ask a lot of questions.
  • Do you have the ability to self-correct? Leaders ask for honest feedback and take criticism from those they respect as an opportunity to improve.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate; be proactive in initiating conversation—do not give the perception of being in a clique or an exclusive group; be sure to mix and mingle.
  • Training in and respect for etiquette, protocol, and cultural awareness is mandatory—poor manners and ignorance immediately damage your personal brand and reputation.
  • Do you write handwritten notes? Thank you notes remain a critical ingredient for maintaining a genuine reputation.

Networking has always been an essential social skill founded on the interdependence of people. We all rely on the support and cooperation of others to achieve our goals. Informal networking involves bonding, sharing expertise, and investing time and effort into others.

People have always had the need to build and maintain a network that involves trust and respect for others; the informal network connects people who perhaps otherwise would not have met.

Informal networks are hidden and filled with rich resources to drive you to your next destination.

Michele Wierzgac is a leadership expert, keynote speaker, and author of the forthcoming book, Ass-Kicking Women: How They Leverage Their Informal Networks For Success. With her high energy presentations, Michele conveys sound leadership solutions and promotes audience engagement and on-your-feet participation. Michele is also a certified Business Enterprise through the LGBT Chamber of Commerce. She promises her audience that they will leave her solution-driven keynotes and workshops with at least one passionate, life-transforming leadership tool. For more information on bringing in Michele Wierzgac for your next event, please visit https://micheleandco.com .

The Perfect Answer: The Ideal Way to Answer Your Phone and Make a Great Impression

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-answer your phone

How often have you called a company and wondered if you reached the right number? All too often, busy people answer calls hurriedly, haphazardly, or incompletely. Or perhaps the receptionist seems out of breath after spitting out a lengthy, tongue-twisting greeting. Also, it’s vital that an organization answers every call the same way.

There are three parts to the ideal phrase to answer the phone:

It’s vital that an organization answers every call the same way. Click To Tweet

1) Greeting

The greeting is simply “Good morning,” Good afternoon,” or “Good evening.” During the holiday season, “Happy holidays,” or “Season’s greetings” may be used. The greeting lets the caller know someone has answered and that it’s time to listen. If the caller lacks focus or needs to adjust his or her ears to catch your phrasing, pace, or accent, the greeting gives time for this to happen, but the phrase is also not critical if it’s missed. Lastly, the greeting serves to set a positive tone for the call.

2) Company Identity

The company identity is simply the name of your organization, such as, “Acme Industries.” It lets callers know who they have reached, thereby confirming they dialed correctly. In general, state the company name as people outside your organization typically say it. Therefore, you should generally drop legal suffixes, such as Inc, LLC, and Ltd, or other formal elements that would confuse the caller rather than clarify. For the same reason, don’t shorten or abbreviate the company name, either. Saying “AI” when everyone knows you as “Acme Industries” serves no useful purpose.

3) Your Name

The final element is your first name. This adds a valuable personal touch. It’s much easier for a caller to get mad at an anonymous voice, than a real person with a name. Using your name also allows you to build a rapport and establish a personal connection with the caller. As the last word of the perfect answer phrase, it is also the one most easily remembered by the caller. Omitting your name implies a lack of personal interest. Ending with your name signals confidence and competence, which are critical in problem-solving and customer service situations.

Avoid Unnecessary Addendums

It’s all too common for people to tack on the ridiculous phrase, “How may I direct your call?” A direct response to this senseless question is “quickly and accurately.” This is not effective communication; drop pointless embellishments.

Putting these elements together results in the perfect answer:

“Good morning, Acme Industries, this is Fred.”

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

What if Your Office HVAC System was SMART?

By Mike Bivins

Mike Heat-smart system

“Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology,” better known as SMART Technology, monitors and analyzes computerized equipment and lets you know when a problem arises. SMART Technology now exists in Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems and it’s emerging as an extremely efficient way of saving energy (and money) for business owners.

Consider the case of a 2,500-square-foot commercial business in rural Florida built in the 1980s. The owners don’t like their AC bill, but they don’t believe the HVAC system needs an upgrade, despite spending a bundle last month when the AC cut out unexpectedly and the HVAC professional has to be called to repair the system. In the meantime, employees sweltered in Florida heat and humidity for two days until the HVAC was fixed. What could convince the owners that investing in a new system—even if a little at a time—is smart?

Self-Diagnostics

As the acronym suggests, one of the key features of SMART Technology lies in the ability to quickly self-diagnose a problem and then assist you to address it. A SMART system either would have taken care of the above issue or, at the very least, would have notified the owner earlier that service was needed—possibly even placing a call to the HVAC professional for you!

SMART systems are revolutionizing the HVAC industry, controlling and monitoringequipment for maximum efficiency, as well as increased IAQ. Click To Tweet

Change the Filter

Many business owners replace their AC filter annually and then forget about it for another year. But just because a filter isn’t clogged, doesn’t mean it’s efficient. A SMART system, on the other hand, informs you that your AC system is not running optimally.  The SMART system can identify problems as complex as compressor malfunction but also alert you to simpler problems, like a dirty air filter.

In fact, air conditioning filters should be changed every month no matter how often (or how little) you run the AC. The fan causes air to move throughout your business, regardless of whether the air is on or not.  Moving air eventually becomes dirty air, so replacing it each month is always a good idea.

Does the AC Need to Turn On?

Programmable thermostats save energy and money by allowing the temperature to rise in your office while you are away and then lower the temperature to maximize comfort during the peak hours when everyone is at work.

SMART HVAC systems, though, take this concept even further. A SMART system can circulate less air to an unoccupied room than would a traditional HVAC system. This conserves energy, which saves you and your business money.

Are you at work? Are you coming in early or staying late? A SMART system can be programmed to adjust HVAC usage in conjunction with your alarm system.  For example, if your HVAC system was a SMART system, it could be set up to know when you are on your way to the office. Then, say 20 minutes before arrival, it could adjust the temperature (up or down) in the office to just the way you and your employees like it.  

SMART systems have added functionality, allowing for special programming and/or linking to occupancy sensors.  Your HVAC system can be programmed to detect your presence and keep wherever you roam in your preferred comfort zone. This type of SMART functionality also can adjust the thermostat schedule to accommodate a change in business hours, such as holidays or extended/shortened hours.  The ever-growing number and type of new sensors can adjust airflow and temperature as you and your staff work rush around the office late at night, trying to meet a deadline.

Find Better Air

The newest SMART ventilation controllers address perhaps the most overlooked aspect of HVAC—Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). Let’s say an employee is microwaving some popcorn for a late-afternoon snack but accidentally leaves it in too long and it burns. Your SMART system would draw in air from outside, and only in the amount needed, to remove the odor for you—better than opening a window!

Outdoor air quality (OAQ), though, may not be the ideal solution every day. That is why the SMART system filters the air. Balance between IAQ and OAQ is key.  Without proper ventilation—defined as the exchange of outdoor air and indoor air—contaminants such as radon, formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other pollutants can build up, leading to potentially serious health problems.

Business owners should be aware of this cause and effect between ventilation and IAQ. And with an HVAC that is SMART, you are protecting your staff and your bottom line at the same time.

In Closing

SMART systems are revolutionizing the HVAC industry, controlling and monitoring equipment for maximum efficiency, as well as increased IAQ.  And the more efficient your HVAC system is, the more energy—and money—your business will save.

Mike Bivins is an engineer with the Lake Wales, FL-based Natural Air E-Controls, LLC.  Natural Air E-Controls, LLC designs and builds HVAC control systems that enable the building’s HVAC equipment to provide fresh air and remove pollutants by taking in outdoor air in amounts needed to improve indoor air quality while saving on heating and cooling bills. For more information on Mike Bivins, please visit: www.NaturalAir.com.

Asking Questions to Enhance Your Strategic Thinking

By Jill J. Johnson

Jill Johnson-question

The foundation of effective strategic thinking and strategy development is knowing how to ask the right questions. Learning to ask the right questions can be difficult because most people only know how to ask superficial questions that have easy answers. Asking challenging questions allows you to be more impactful in critical situations, have a greater influence on outcomes and help your organization achieve greater results.

Ask Questions That Matter

The level of uncertainty in today’s business climate is driving major challenges for most leaders.

To be an effective leader, you have to fully understand the overall strategic goals of your enterprise and key leadership. Use these goals as the framework to align your thinking.

Understand the critical market forces impacting your business strategies so you can determine the questions to be answered. What critical market forces are at play in your industry? Are there forces evolving around you which have the potential to impact your survival or growth opportunities? Consider what it will take to grow revenue, expand profitability, improve job satisfaction, enhance productivity, or increase customer retention. How does each of these areas impact the questions you should consider? Structure your questions to challenge the critical issues impacting your ability to achieve these goals.

The foundation of effective strategic thinking and strategy development is knowing how to ask the right questions. Click To Tweet

Three Critical Categories of Questions

There are three primary categories of questions to evaluate when you are focusing on your strategic thinking. These questions allow you to scan the various elements impacting your enterprise. These include reviewing what is going on internally in your organization, exploring external market forces creating new challenges or opportunities, and a review of your organizational relationships. Here are some examples of the types of questions you can consider for each level of your scan.

Internal Scan: Ask detailed questions about your customers and their evolving needs. What is the impact of your ownership, culture, stage of your business life cycle? Where are the sources of your profitability and capital resources? What are your leadership capabilities? How deep is the expertise of your team? Make sure you fully understand the key strategies of your organization and the opportunities you have to implement them.

External Scan: Consider the impact of various market forces on your target market and opportunities. What is happening demographically? How is your competition influencing your target market’s expectations on services, costs, and quality? What generational influences impact your ability to compete for your customers? What are the risks of remaining status quo?

Relationship Scan: Consider the status of the strategic relationships and partnerships you and your enterprise have developed. How do they impact your opportunities and create new challenges? Can you tap into other resources they offer or leverage them to achieve your goals? What are your internal relationships and how can you use them to impact success?

Constructing Your Strategic Questions

Focus your consideration of the questions on the key components impacting your enterprise growth or survival. Your questions should follow the format of who, what, where, when, why and how. They should be action-oriented. As you answer them, they should provide clarity to your strategic direction and focus. This will provide guidance on areas needing more research.

Align your questions to answer critical business questions. Your questions should help you clarify the most critical priorities for your organization. These should be broken into levels of importance: top, short-term, and on-going. Also consider the time-horizon for the impact: short-term, mid-term or long-term. By understanding the time priorities, you can categorize your strategic questions to align them with the key external market forces impacting your ability to achieve your goals. Aligning your questions with the external market forces provides you with a deeper level of critical thinking. As you elevate your critical thinking, you can begin linking your questions to impact your overall enterprise strategies.

Make sure your questions are challenging enough so they cannot be answered without some research or reflection. Questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” are not strategic questions. Ask provocative questions to encourage deeper thinking. This will bring a higher level of critical thinking to your planning effort. If your team cannot ask tough enough questions, find an outside advisor or consultant who can provide insight.

Getting Answers to Improve Your Strategic Insight

Often you will have to do some research before you can develop your questions. Think of this as your “homework”—doing the right preparation before you begin ensures you will ask better questions. Look to your major industry associations as a good starting source for insight about emerging issues and challenges. Study how your competitors are tackling challenging market forces.

Consider your options for obtaining the information which will allow you to confidently address your questions. Outside resources can be an objective source of obtaining information. If you keep this research role internal, work carefully to minimize any bias you might inject into the research.

Identify the key metrics you should be monitoring by carefully analyzing industry data. Tie your questions to what improves or impacts each of these metrics. Your questions should consider what impacts your profit margin, return on capital employed, return on investment, and return on assets. If you don’t understand these terms, learn more about them.

You will never have all of the available data to answer all of your questions. The goal is to obtain enough data to make reasonable judgments or to clarify for you the next layer of questions to ask.

Final Thoughts

Asking the questions that matter will build your confidence and others will be more confident in working with you. Learning to ask challenging questions allows you to be more impactful in critical situations, have an influence on outcomes, and help achieve greater results. Thinking strategically is a skill set you must actively work at trying to improve. Find resources to help you learn and practice your critical thinking skills. Building your strategic mindset takes time, discipline and focus.

What critical questions do you need to ask to improve your business?

Jill J. Johnson is the President and Founder of Johnson Consulting Services, a highly accomplished speaker, an award-winning management consultant, and author of the bestselling book Compounding Your Confidence. Jill helps her clients make critical business decisions and develop market-based strategic plans for turnarounds or growth. Her consulting work has impacted more than 4 billion dollars worth of decisions. She has a proven track record of dealing with complex business issues and getting results. For more information on Jill J. Johnson, please visit www.jcs-usa.com.