What do your clients really want from you? Sometimes a client will instruct you to do something, such as editing a document. When you fail to follow their instructions (because it violates a rule, such as English grammar) you can be called to task. Similarly, you may follow their instruction exactly, you can still be called to task (because you violated a rule, such as English grammar). With seemingly random exceptions of what is right and wrong, how can run a metrically driven group? I mean, really! What are you supposed to be, some sort of telepath that automatically knows what every client wants, even when they don’t tell you? Hmmm…. Telepathy. Unspoken communication. Directly reading the intentions of another through mind to mind contact! Well, I suppose it could be done… you know with enough wiring and some Really big catheters, but… wait… there may be another way! I see an image! It’s somewhere back in time… we need to go BACK, Back, back…
One day, when I was a young IT manager, I needed to talk to an investment banker who was tied up with a client call. While I waited outside of his office, I started to talk to his secretary about another project. The banker then nodded in his secretary’s direction and said, “Coffee!” I followed her to the pantry. She poured out some coffee, found a container of cream (not milk, not half and half), carefully measured out a tablespoon of cream and added half a teaspoon of sugar and wentback to her banker. She gave him his coffee and he drank it while continuing his call. I thought to myself, “He didn’t tell her how he wanted his coffee, yet she prepared it in a very specific way and it was exactly what he wanted. How could she know?” I came to the only possible conclusion… she sold her soul to Satan for coffee clairvoyance. I asked her for details and she said, “How do I know what he wants? How do I know? Because he’s been ordering his coffee that way every day for the last 17 years. That’s how I know!”
Hmmm… let’s call her version theory “B”. Either way I sense a pattern, possibly a best practice, in this story. We all have habits, patterns, that predict preferences and future actions. Before corporations produced services through centers, the secretary was the universal widget: message taker, memo writer, dictation machine, CRM interface, answering machine, form filler, and much more. Some secretaries supported one executive and some supported a few. But it was a relatively intimate relationship. When a new secretary joined a group, there was no formal knowledge transfer process; instead, secretaries would arrive with a standard set of skills (typing, answering phones, shorthand, etc.) and learn by doing. Then it all changed. In the 80’s corporations began deploying computers to the desktop. For secretaries it began with Word Processing, but was quickly followed by many other applications. Few secretaries had the training or experience to handle all of these tools, and products (such as voice mail) began to automate secretarial functions. Applications such as Power Point required more training than most secretaries possessed, and quickly grew in scope (color, layout, graphics, automation, sound, storyboarding, etc.) positioning these tools well outside the scope of secretarial services. Corporations responded with a wave of “centerization”, creating specialized groups that were capable of creating reliable, high volume, technically sophisticated products. As is usually the case, this transition came at a cost… the personal connection, the telepathy. You may now provide a great service, but you’re not part of the “real” team. How do we keep the efficiency and bring back the telepathy?
I think the answer can be found in documented cases of “telepathy”. In the earlier part of the last century, much was written about telepathic animals: horses, dogs and other domestic animals that could count or read your mind. Conveniently, this is a well-researched subject. It turns out that most of the telepathy is really an example of unusually focused animals that closely observe their masters. They are so attentive, that they follow subtle non-verbal cues that their masters (and other humans) didn’t notice… a slight nod, the movement of the eyes, a twitch in the hands. If animals can pick up on these cues, why can’t we? Well, we do pick up this information. When we’re exposed to it. Have you ever heard that most communication is non-verbal? Just like these animals, when we are face-to-face with other people we hear the tone of their voice, see their body language, maybe even see clues in their office (a memo on someone’s desk, an award on the shelf, a picture of a child’s graduation) that explain a change in mood or behavior. Our psychic animals lost their special abilities when their master was removed from the room or a screen was put up to block physical cues. In a way, that’s what happened when services moved into centers. The literature says that email misses 70-90% of potential communication, talking on the phone adds back 10-15% of the information (tone of the voice, little pauses), but if you want the remaining 50% or more of the information (body language, facial expressions, new elements in the environment) you need face-to-face interaction. What are your options?
- Artificial telepathy: Many Point Of Sales (POS) applications try to duplicate telepathy by providing information on client preferences. For example, in a beauty parlor the system might keep data on the times and days you like to have your hair cut, who you prefer to work with, other services you typically want during a visit, etc. By having your history available when you call. For the services that you provide, would it help to know individual preferences (always proof-read my work, I prefer the following research sources, never send a tech to my desk between noon and 3pm on Tuesday’s). If you use service tracking or appointment scheduling software you may already have (or could add) preference tracking. What are the critical preferences that are relevant to your service?
- Walking the floor: All managers can get stuck in their office. You get so focused on tasks, so heavily scheduled, that you never leave your office. When you become a prisoner in your own office, you lose an important connection to everyone out on the floor. You slowly lose your telepathy and sometimes your empathy. Get on the floor where your clients work. I don’t mean that you need to make more appointments with specific people… just get up from your desk and spend up to an hour every other day walking around the floor(s) your clients work on. Wave to people that regularly use your service. Say, “Hi… haven’t seen you for a while. Anything my group can help you with?.” Or, “You had a lot of work last week… how did it turn out”. You will be surprised to see how quickly your telepathy improves. Which of your direct reports walk the floor? What have they learned?
- Liaisons: Telepathy works best in person. If you put some of your staff where your clients physicaly reside… telepathy naturally follows. The downside is that this is expensive, both in terms of staff cost and real estate, and needs to be very targeted. Perhaps your services are mostly consumed by just a few users or groups, and that’s where you can focus. Surprisingly, Liaisons can work very well with outsourcing. If you’re reducing your overall cost through outsourcing, you may be able to redirect a portion of savings to increase telepathy. By addressing client satisfaction, you can increase the likelihood of successful.
Telepathy doesn’t just happen on it’s own, you need to make it happen. When you do, I predict: fewer complaints, better client satisfaction, and more management time to focus on your services. And it certainly doesn’t take a psychic to know… that’s my Niccolls worth for today!