Friday, April 08, 2005

Its People, Just People

As discussed in earlier posts, we have folded, bent or mutilated much of our people skills in business over the years beginning with the memo, then voicemail, the fax, overnight mail, email, text messaging, instant messaging and other digital forms of communications.

Slowly but surely we have withdrawn ourselves into our cubes and offices away from others and now spend our days responding to the bits and bites that come to us through fiber optic glass. Yes, there are still a few phone calls, but some can go a whole day without a call!

There are those who spend the day on the telephone in call centers, collection centers, service centers and whatever else kind of center. Those telephones are answered in scripts, queries are received and analyzed based on key words and solutions are structured in layers based on the complexity of the problem and may have to be escalated should the customer stick to their specific issue and want a specific solution.

Only two companies that I speak to still speak to me as if I am a person. Now I will admit that even those companies require that I put in my account number or some other form of entry into my telephone, and then go through one or more series of choices of what I think I want from them before a person answers the phone on their end.

These two companies then DO NOT do as most others and AGAIN ask me for my account numbers. Apparently their call center software is pretty good. Who are these two, American Express and AT&T for my home telephone. AT&T wireless, now Cingular is worthless at customer service. I wont go into the several debacles I have experienced with them.

Management consultants and business gurus tell us regularly that we need to abandon the ‘industrial age’ thinking we were all raised and trained with and get with the information age, the knowledge age that is now upon us. Actually, they are half right.

The control from the top and the philosophy of ‘thing management’ of the industrial age where people were to be treated just like machines should go away. But the face to face and voice communications of the industrial age needs a revival in this information age.

In the 80’s everyone complained about wasting their time in meetings and they could not get their work done. In the 90’s there were not any people left to have meetings as they all were leaned, gleaned and laid off.

Now, in the 21st century we need to get back to the real value of people. The knowledge of the business and the best way to use that knowledge and share that knowledge and make effective that knowledge for the customer is to talk to each other.

Ah, but once we all talk, and make a plan on how to do things best, those same people need to be held accountable for delivering what they spoke about. Management needs to give people room to use their knowledge, but measure, measure, measure the outcomes and reward those who deliver, train those who work hard and make mistakes and locate those who are just along for the ride and ride them to the door.

No amount of equipment, software of any ilk (ERP, CRM, SCM, TMS, WMS, VIOP, or any other acronym) or other wonderful ‘thing’ can ever replace the mind of an engaged, loyal, hard working, empowered person. NEVER. That person is the source of productivity, effectiveness, customer satisfaction, profits and returns to shareholders. That person, the persons like them and only them.

Now, to those of you that go to work and ride along, I give you the words I gave a customer service team of nearly ninety people I was with several years ago. If you are riding, I will find you and will kindly but firmly ask you to get off the train. No one rides for free.