Friday, September 13, 2013

Pragmatic Leadership

by: Chris Truitt

It is safe to say that there is a good chance you’ll find unanimous agreement in the business community that leadership is a key component of a thriving organization. Peter Northouse defines leadership as ‘a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal’ (2007 p3). Such an essential business component as leadership requires cooperation from subordinates. It is vital to an organization’s success that subordinate teams understand the company’s vision and objectives. Good managers understand and respect the co-depended relationship between management and subordinates. A staff that buys into the corporate vision, works diligently and is committed to the team is a prerequisite of achieving organizational objectives.

Never Underestimate Your Staff

The knowledge and skill set of employees may vary, but the information that employees have regarding the day to day functions of an organization should not be underestimated. Employee responsibilities can be abundant in number, but generally they are called to follow through on the mandate set by leadership. Your staff knows what ideas work and which are ineffective, and they probably have very strong opinions about the things that don’t work. They usually know how your customers feel about various processes and changes. A staff can be the best source of information that a leader has. This is the reason that bottom up change is so practical and effective. A wise leader accepts that their knowledge is limited and can humble themselves to truly accept and consider feedback from subordinates.

Know your Team. Reward Good Performance

While we all can hope and wish that everyone will find it in them to show initiative, in reality, some people are more inclined to skate by and will only do enough work to stay on your payroll.  It’s easy to weed these people out. You must first identify your all-stars, the employees that gladly take on more responsibilities and tasks without question and truly care about the quality of their work. Once you’ve identified the crème de la crème of your group, reward them. We all have budget limitations, but a $25 dollar gift card to your local steakhouse shouldn’t be a great financial burden. This is also a core group from which you can promote.
Lastly, raise the bar. You can weed out under-performers by raising the support line of productivity above the performance parameters of your statistically (consistently) lowest performer. In other words, increase the lowest threshold for acceptable performance to make your weak links work harder. This may seem harsh, but it will motivate the staff one way or the other. This action will motivate them to improve or motivate them to find new job. Before you shake things up, remember that a good leader must first coach their staff and make a few attempts to help them improve. If this doesn’t work, alter trajectory. If properly implemented, a slight bump in statistical requirements should not affect the rest of your team (your all-stars). They never even think about the bottom because they are usually leading the pack.

Chris Truitt is a seasoned Email Deliverability Manager. He has spent the last six and one half years honing his craft with iContact and stepped into a leadership role shortly after iContact’s acquisition by Vocus. As Manager of Deliverability, Chris has tripled the size of his team, written policies and processes to improve inbox delivery to enhance the customer experience.

As a pragmatist, Chris has a result oriented approach to business. If a process does not render desired results, he will not hesitate to alter course or tweak his procedure. He is a proponent of interdepartmental cooperation and sharing resources. His community philosophy is appreciated by his colleagues, as he looks to assess how the change he implements affects others. In cooperation with several department leaders, Chris helped increase inbox delivery for iContact and Vocus senders. Chris knows that strong decisive leadership is the cornerstone of a thriving organization.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Making social service work: 5 tips even small companies can use

Editor's note: This article was originally written by Michelle McGovern and published by Sales, Marketing & Service News.

Let’s get this straight right now: Social media won’t replace traditional customer service channels. But it will enhance what you have to offer – and this company got it right.

Customers want help on Facebook and Twitter just like they wanted the fax after the 800-number, email after the fax, and chat after that. Not one touch point replaced the other, but they all added to the customer service experience – either making it better, more convenient or faster.

The iContact customer service team did it all as customers demanded over time, including when the call for a response on social media arose. Like most companies, the first venture into social media was with a corporate Facebook page, LinkedIn page and Twitter account, which customers followed and interacted with.

Service followed Marketing’s lead
“But customer support couldn’t function very well on the company’s corporate sites,” says Sean Hawkins, iContact’s Manager of Technical Support. “It was mostly handled by Marketing, and they’d have to reach out to us in Technical for the answers.”

When iContact was faced with this all-too-familiar situation, the departments worked together to build a strong, independent support social media presence. Here’s how it successfully panned out.

Set the team, the sites
In iContact’s case, a strong team of technical and service professionals already existed to help with internal issues – the “Support Engineering Team” – that could likely respond to many of the support questions that came in through social media. To avoid overwhelming the team, Hawkins added a few more reps and gave charge of them to Team Lead, Support Engineering, Jeremiah Methven.

They were assigned to take on the social media requests that came in via the new strictly support urls for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, which trickled in slowly at first. In fact, “we still got a lot of requests on the marketing page, so we started to monitor both sites regularly,” says Hawkins. “Eventually, we ended up being on top of it so well, we’d send marketing issues to Marketing.”

Refined the response
As in many cases with a new medium and a quick-to-please-customers approach, there wasn’t much time to train the team in the finer art of handling social media – if there is such a thing.

So no organized training. “But at first, if one guy wrote up a response, he’d have others look at it to be sure it was OK,” says Methven. “If it was really good, they’d use it as a best practice for the same issue in the future.”

Eventually, they created some best practices for social media customer responses any company would want to follow: 
•    Keep it professional
•    Keep it simple
•    Stay focused on the issue
•    Take it off-line after an apology or if it’s an emotional issue, and
•    Send a private message, email or call customers for complex or anger-ridden issues.

Engage with customers
“But we didn’t want our social media sites to just be a place to dump questions or complain,” says Hawkins. “It was meant to be a community, too, where people can share ideas and engage with each other.”

Reps are asked to re-tweet or post tips and articles that can help customers use their products better at least once a week. Agents write the tip, a supervisor checks it, and it’s posted. “It can prevent calls on issues and we often give (customers) information that gets them involved with us, with other customers,” says Hawkins.

“But Friday is Fun Day,” explains Methven. “Customers might see pictures of us doing something fun – if time allows, of course.”

Results are in
Going social was initially a response to a current customer request. “But it’s made a substantial impact,” says Methven.

While phone, chat and email requests are still the more popular communication channels – phone being the most used – social media reduced the use of them by as much as 3% each month.

Sean Hawkins will speak at the International Customer Management Institute’s Call Center Demo and Conference in Atlanta on Oct. 21-23 

Sean is a Customer Experience, Contact Center and Help desk manager with over 12 years of experience. He has a terrific pulse on incorporating innovation into the contact center. He's implemented social, outsourcing partners, new technology, and new products, while maintaining an award-winning contact center.

In 2011, his team was awarded the ICMI "Global Call Center of the Year" for Small to Medium-Sized Centers. Follow on Twitter @SeanBHawkins

Jeremiah Methven is the Team Lead for iContact's Support Engineering team, who handles support for the iContact API, the iContact for Salesforce integration and social media channels, all while documenting product bugs and issues and assisting internal agents. Follow on Twitter @MethvenJ