Wednesday, 7 December 2016

A Life in Balance?

Three years ago on the 27th December Lynn’s car veered off the highway, took flight, crashed through a signboard and landed in a crumpled heap on the grass bank. Lynn* sustained some physical injuries as well as a severe head injury. She has just received her final medico-legal report stating that she will never be able to work again, whether full or part time.

Lynn is one of the people I work with through Headway. Over the years she has spoken about returning to her previous employment. When she told me about the report I thought she was unhappy. But the report wasn’t the cause of her mood. She was feeling down because she can’t afford to host a Xmas dinner for her family. Lynn then went on to say, “I am happy not working. I am enjoying my life. Before the accident I put work before everything else in my life. Even if a friend from out of town came to stay with me I would first take time to finish off work on my laptop. Now I belong to a bible study group, I read and I talk to my neighbours. I thank God that he stopped me, took me back to being like a 7 year old and gave me the chance to rebuild myself differently.”

Perhaps Lynn is right. Her life was way out of balance and it needed the accident to bring about change. If so it was a drastic way of doing it.

Is your balance between ‘me’ time, ‘us’ time and ‘work’ time appropriate for this stage of your life?

Do you have opportunities for creative activities – tinkering with a motor bike, making a funny face out of twigs and leaves, laying the table with a special touch?

Do you make time for physical exertion – a walk, stretches, a horse ride or squash game?

Is there soul food in your life – things that makes you feel uplifted, energized, full and happy inside?

Are there little times in the day when you empty your mind of “doing stuff” and get in touch with the real you?

Do you laugh often – with friends, reading or watching a movie?

When you include these things in your life you reenergise yourself.

Have you wondered how some people have much more energy than others? The energetic ones have found the way to harness their physical, mental, spiritual and emotional energies. They ensure that each one gets enough exercise plus a little extra, a short break and then more exercise - interval training to generate more energy.

A year end is a great time to reflect on our lives.

A great opportunity to make choices, to make changes.

Build into your day little 5, 10, 15 minute pockets of time for the things you need to do to give all four ‘muscles’ their exercise. Maybe 5 minutes sitting on the stoep watching the sky lighten and listening to the birds before work, 10 minutes walking up and down a few flights of stairs with a colleague at mid morning, 20 minutes reading a book whilst eating a salad at lunchtime, 5 minutes of desk stretches in the afternoon, a quick call to a friend on your way home (use a hands free) and then invite your teenager to walk the dog with you.

Take control of your life. Plan it and live it the way you wish to.

(*Name changed to protect privacy)

Originally written as a BBI in Dec 2007

Friday, 30 September 2016

What about the unexpected

This morning our electricity went off unexpectedly. Whilst it was off I was quite enjoying finding things that I was keen to do, that didn’t require power. After a couple of hours my “little voice” started interrupting me with thoughts like “How long will it be off?”, “Your cell phone battery is going to go flat.”, “I hope this isn’t one of those big problems that takes days to fix.”
Each time such a thought interrupted I reminded myself there was no point in worrying as it could come back on at anytime. 

And then it did. No warning, just the sounds of printers coming to life again.

Power interruptions are much like our lives. We don’t know when something big and disruptive is going to happen to rock our lives (personal or business). However when it does, as tough as it may be, we do cope: we rearrange our plans; we take on whatever has happened and we work with it. So what’s the point in worrying that something may happen?

And just as we don’t know when “not great” things may come out of the blue we also don’t know when wonderful, exciting, “great” things will appear without warning :-)
Let it be easy!

Friday, 24 June 2016

The story of the missing TV

A friend came for supper after we’d moved house. Whilst showing her around I mentioned that I wanted to sell my old TV and get a new small, flat screen one to fit into the bedroom. Shortly afterwards she received an e-flyer advertising a limited special on TVs from a well known store. She forwarded it to me pointing out the one that looked perfect for my needs. The price was excellent, less than half the normal price.

I noted that it was a limited offer and that one could go in store or order online. There are no stores close to me so I went online to see if I could still place an order.  I was thrilled when the order was accepted and I received confirmation of my payment. There had been an option for free delivery if you were prepared to wait a bit, I think it said 5 to 10 days. I opted for that.

Eight days later I emailed asking when delivery could be expected. No reply. The next day I called the online orders help desk but couldn’t get through. In trying to find help I landed up at the Customer Resolution Desk and was assured I’d be hearing from someone by the following morning. 

The following day, a Friday, there was a call around midday from the manager of the closest branch explaining that “the system had been down for two days” but he now had my query and a lady would be calling me to arrange delivery. That evening I received an automated response to my original query giving me a reference number and stating that they are "passionate about customer service". Then nothing.

Late on the Monday I landed up at the Customer Resolution Desk again. After many attempts from them to connect me with someone who would attend to my query I received a call the following evening from the admin lady at the branch who said “We can’t fulfill the order because the stock was finished the day the “clearance” started. We have checked with all the other branches and no one has stock left. We can’t give you a different TV because they cost more than you have paid.”
I explained, “That’s not acceptable. You took the order and my money and I now want a tv set. Please relay this to the branch manager and ask him to call me to tell me what he has sorted out.”

Two days later I was again talking to the Cust Res Dept. but this time I was asking for the name and number or email address of the MD/CEO. The information was given quite willingly all be it that it was for the wrong CEO. What a disconnect when staff don’t know who the “big boss” is.

After going round in circles with the switchboard I eventually emailed my issue to the CEO. I received a very prompt reply from him politely explaining that he was the wrong individual and redirecting my email to the correct CEO. Within one hour of that I had, had a call from the Regional Manager to say that a different TV would be supplied and checking I was okay with that and the admin lady had confirmed the delivery for the next day!

I was very happy with the outcome. The TV is working great. And I received calls from both the admin lady and the Regional Manager to check that it was received in good order.

I am not surprised that the problem got resolved once I escalated it to the top. I am sorry that I had to waste the time of two CEOs to achieve it. 
At the same time the second one is ultimately responsible for that being necessary. My experience exposed some serious flaws in the business, some in the IT systems and some in the people. One sees combinations of these same problems in many companies. 

  • Why does the online ordering system allow the processing of orders it can’t fulfill?
  • How can a paid up order lie in the system unfulfilled and unnoticed?
  • Why does the help desk line not get answered?
  • Is the Customer Resolution Desk able to achieve its purpose, add value?  
  • Why is the branch manager handing off tricky cases to an admin person?
  • Why does the branch manager not appreciate the value of customer service versus the cost price of one item?
  • How empowered are the branches?
  • Why do the staff not know who the CEO is? Would it make a difference if they did?
  • How many other customers are having bad experiences which aren’t reaching the desk of the CEO but are reaching the ear of their friends or the pages of social media?

I don’t expect junior staff to have the authority to resolve all problems. What all staff do need is training to recognise legitimate issues and for them to be able to access appropriate support quickly. Middle managers need to be able to see big picture as well as deal with detail. They need to balance cost and risk, and be able to deal with potential conflict appropriately.

I spoke to many different staff members during the whole episode. Many were average, some had poor interpersonal skills and others stood out. When I wrote to the CEO I had included a compliment for one of the staff in the Cust Res Dept. It was clear that he had the intent to help, he communicated clearly and the first time I called he paid enough attention to hear my surname and find my order himself before I could give him the order number. There is potential which if given the right environment can flourish and make a difference. I hope he will go far in his work life.

Wherever you sit in your organisation are you able to deliver the very best service to your customers? Are your people able to deliver the very best? Are the systems and processes really working? Do they produce value? Is what has been designed on paper actually happening, or working, on the ground?

Where is the missing TV in your department?

Thursday, 23 April 2015

No power, yay!

When our lives are upset by big changes we need time to vent, to rail against the unfairness of it. And then we need to move forward.
Loadshedding is one of those big changes that have turned our lives a bit upside down.
We’ve done plenty of moaning about Eskom and the Government that got us into this situation. Yes they stuffed up big time. And yes they haven’t really owned up to that. Things will eventually change because new power stations are coming on line as well as alternate contributors to the grid. All the complaining has possibly contributed to getting Eskom and the Government to take the situation seriously and make some changes. Now it is time to move forward.

Continuing to complain isn’t going to change the situation. Unless you are taking yourself off the grid completely you will be living with load shedding for another couple of years. So let’s stop wasting our energy on the venting phase and get onto moving forward.

There are three main steps for moving forward from any big change:
·         See the humour in it
·         Find the benefits
·         Make adjustments to align to the new reality

With respect to load shedding we have been seeing the humour for awhile. South Africans are generally very quick with that. I’m sure you’ve seen the one, "What did South Africa use before candles? Electricity."

And some companies are finding a way to make it work for them. "Blackouts? We'll introduce you to switched on candidates," apparently appears on a billboard for a recruitment agency.

Last weekend we had two nights in a row with no power from 6pm to 10.30pm. A friend messaged me on Whats App saying she quite enjoyed it as it “forced” her to relax. I asked on my personal FB page what advantages others perceive in being load shed, and someone commented on how beautiful the silence is without electrical background hum.

So with a view to moving ourselves forward what benefits can you find in being load shed? Get imaginative! Who can come up with the longest list?

Friday, 25 October 2013

Focusing where it matters

During our May packing up exercise I made a trip to Westpack to buy extra boxes. These are stored up on a mezzanine level so I had to look for a shop assistant to get them down. The first lady I asked smiled and said “not a problem I will be with you in a moment”. Whilst I waited she spotted another assistant and called to her, she then turned to me to explain that this person would now be helping me. The new lady walked energetically towards me with a smile on her face as she greeted me and asked what I needed. She found everything, arranged a trolley and steered it over to a till for me. It was such a pleasure to deal with both these people and has ensured that Westpack becomes a store of choice for me. I doubt it was accidental that they were both friendly and willing to help. I expect that the store manager is working towards a culture of customer service with a smile. Probably not everyone will have got it as well as these two ladies have, but they alone are making a difference.

One evening we tried out a new Japanese restaurant in Rosebank. My friend had been there during the week and enjoyed the “two for one” sushi special. It turned out that this wasn’t available on a Saturday evening so we were teasing the waitress that this was no good. Whilst we were still deciding on our orders she reappeared with a plate of croquettes, compliments of the manager, to make up for missing the special!

At a GIBS forum on customer centricity the presenter made the point that it is almost the only way left for businesses to differentiate themselves. I agree that it makes an enormous difference and in this age of ‘high tech’, ‘high touch’ becomes even more important. As humans we are craving more connection, to be recognised as an individual, not just a number, and to be shown some caring. But there is an even more important step for companies before focusing on customer centricity, and that is employee centricity.

The differentiator of excellent service is delivered by people, by employees. Whether they interact face to face with the customer or whether they perform background functions, they all contribute to the customer enjoying a good experience. If the employee doesn’t feel appreciated, doesn’t identify with a purpose and doesn’t have a sense of control, they will struggle to deliver that special customer experience. has a culture of happiness and a tagline of “powered by service”. Founder Tony Hsieh says “In nine-years we have gone from zero to $1 billion in gross merchandise sales. And the No. 1 driver of that growth has been repeat customers and word-of-mouth ... I think that happier employees lead to happier customers, and happier customers lead to better business overall.”

Which South African companies do you think are getting this? What can you do to help yours to get it?