Quick—What doesn’t belong in this trio: people, process or technology? It’s possible that you picked people because we so often think of process and technology as natural allies that it’s hard to separate them. What’s more natural than using automation to improve processes? We do it all the time.
But assuming people are somehow less important that process and technology starts us on a slippery slope that can have nasty consequences. Often in the past, the way we justified acquiring new technology was through headcount savings because automation was so much more efficient than people. That’s true too, but it neglects the important contribution that people make to business processes. Without people mediating many processes we lose a dimension and we are often left with acceleration instead of solution.
There’s nothing better than a human brain for puzzling through complex customer issues because people literally read people. People hear changes in voice inflection and tone, word choices, facial expressions, and people have a better grasp on down stream effects. Some of it can be chalked up to empathy and altruism, two things I discuss in #SftC. They’re also two things that automated systems don’t have a clue about.
An ideal customer-facing business process should combine people and technology in processes to leverage the strengths of each. But before you get there, how to do prepare your people for all of the possible situations they might face in sales, marketing, or service? It’s easier than you think and it can be reduced to a few words — Use Good Judgment. That’s it.
The greatest example of using good judgment that I have found is Boston based HubSpot and their primary directive to all employees to use good judgment. Rather than having a thick personnel manual full of do this and don’t do that or departmental rules for how to approach customer situations, HubSpot empowers its people to run the show, take responsibility, and get results for customers—and then some.
Of course, the company is very selective in hiring to ensure they get people who are good cultural fits for the business and that’s an important point. But HubSpot also took the time to document their culture and to identify what worked and equally important, what needed work. Many businesses might pay lip service to the idea of documenting their cultures. They might opt for a few bland statements about goals and objectives and add in a few words about customers but HubSpot did more. Led by co-founders Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan, HubSpot wrote up its cultural attributes, put them in a slide deck, and made it available on Slideshare for anyone to review and learn from or just plain copy.
One example of HubSpot’s unique cultural approach can be seen in this three-part directive:
- Favor your team over yourself.
- Favor the company over the team.
- Favor the customer over the company.
Why favor the customer over the company? Because acting in the customer’s interest is acting in the long-term self-interest of the company. The long-term interest of the company is to delight customers, which includes a raft of corollary ideas that keep everyone focused.
Encouraging employees to use good judgment, rather than surrendering control to automated systems, is a concept that any company can adopt. It might require a more rigorous hiring process and everyone has to be onboard with the program but it also pays significant benefits. One big benefit—it enables you to position resources where they will do the most good thereby saving costs over more blanketed approaches, especially when you account for the rage factor from automation that goes wrong.
In the book I provide the anecdote from Consumerist.com, a sentiment site about a customer experience at a Target store. It was submitted by a customer and it should be self explanatory.
“We are sold out of: 32 ct. Tums Ultra chewy, cherry antacids (245-05-0141). Please substitute: 10-ct. Trojan bare skin condoms (245-03-0387).”
If you assume that most of your automated customer-facing business processes work most of the time, then what’s really important is being able to quickly and easily identify those times when things move a bit sideways as in the example. Those are the moments (I call them moments of truth, see The Anna Karenina Principle) when a company needs to deploy resources effectively and people are one of those resources.
In the modern business world, people are expensive and, of course, we do not want to waste any resources. That’s why having analytics that can spot customer problems is so important. Analytics tell us where to apply our most precious resources, our people and their brains, to achieve the best results.
So using good judgment in a customer-facing situation is really about optimizing the way employees and customers interact. It means putting appropriate resources into moments of truth. Most importantly it is about closing a loop by empowering people to leverage processes and technologies to our greatest advantage.