Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Throughout my career I’ve leveraged personality profiling tools to help my teams be as successful as possible working together. These tools have included the Myers Briggs Type Profiler, the Golden Personality Type Profiler, and PI Worldwide’s Predictive Index. Recently, I had the opportunity to see how effective the Gallup StrengthsFinder works.

All of these tools are extremely useful to help make decisions, understand the people around you, and apply techniques to better manage relationships. Many businesses have adopted a tool of some type to help improve performance, build understanding between team members, and assess where individuals will perform their best within the organization.

From the tools I’ve listed above, I do have a first choice and second choice. The first choice is PI Worldwide’s Predictive Index, in part because of the training I’ve gone through to deeply understand the tool, make interpretations, and apply the managerial suggestions supplied into my leadership techniques. I loved it’s ability to “hit the nail on the head” when summing up someone’s personality as it relates to tested personality types, as well as how one makes decisions (objectively or subjectively). My second choice, even though I’ve had limited exposure to it, is the StrengthsFinder tool. The Gallup StrengthsFinder website made it easy to take the survey, and the three-page report was easy to read, straight to the point, and easily understandable.

If you’d like more information on my experiences with these tools, feel free to contact me at robert@robertesmith.com.



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If you are in the process of building a company culture that employees will want to be a part of every day, here are some ideas that I’ve used over my career as a member of management. While it may not retain everyone, it will at least provide a foundation from which growth can occur.

  • Establish leadership development programs.
  • Coach team members to develop their skills through roleplay.
  • Provide training so people can learn and grow.
  • Inspire team members by helping them achieve their career goals.
  • Provide productivity and support tools needed for them to succeed.
  • Create individual and team incentive programs.
  • Reward hard work and encourage the delivery of memorable customer experiences.
  • Foster an open communication environment.
  • Allow employees to creatively personalize their work environments.

There is a cost to do this of course, but the cost of a revolving door needs to be considered as well. One can easily offset the other!

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How many times in your life have you left a customer service agent feeling so good about how they handled your needs, you were ready to tell all your friends about the company and how good they treated you? These moments happen all the time in organizations that have established a culture of customer-centric celebration, and they reap the rewards that come with it every day.

In my experience, too many companies are leaving a tremendous amount of money on the table by not leveraging a business model that focuses on the customer. The cold, hard truth of the matter is that many businesses will never reach their growth potential if investments aren’t made in fostering relationships with the customer.

Being in the business of delighting customers for many years, I get a true sense of pride and satisfaction when customers speak highly of my organization’s service delivery teams, because this is the beginning of what can become legendary customer service. Developing a service organization that automatically responds to customers in a helpful manner is really the key to progress, so I thought I would share some of my favorite ways of accomplishing this.

  • Be proactive in your communications, regardless of the communication medium being used by the customer or your business.
  • If there are obvious issues contributing to a negative customer experience that can be corrected, triage them immediately to stop the bleeding.
  • Assess how easy it is for a customer to do business with your organization. If it’s harder than it needs to be, assess your alternatives and change it. Don’t forget to communicate the change to your customers.
  • Establish a baseline of customer satisfaction that comparisons can be made against in the future. Without a baseline, you have nothing to measure against.
  • Jump in with the service teams and understand how they work, what makes each person tick, where efficiencies are, and areas needing improvement.
  • Leverage competitive intelligence to learn what customers like and dislike about competitors. Buy competitor products and call or go online with their service team for help to see how effective they are. Analyze the results.
  • Partner with all areas of the business to establish relationships that will endure the test of time. Be helpful to them, and seek help from them when needed.
  • Set goals with your service delivery teams that are understood, realistic and measurable, and then establish KPI’s that people can support.
  • Determine customer loyalty in order to build action plans that will contribute to team success. One service I’ve used before was NetPromoter, due to how elegant and simple the solution was.
  • Adopt a customer-focused talent development program that incorporates role-play, such as Ron Zemke’s “Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service”. I’ve used it several times throughout my career, and it works.
  • Incorporate a personality assessment tool into your talent acquisition and management processes to help make informed decisions. I’ve used the Golden Personality Type Profiler and Predictive Index to accomplish this, and both work well.
  • Make use of data from every possible source, and analyze it, to look for valuable insights to improve and evolve your business and products. Common sources for this data include web forums, social networks, call center logs, diagnostic data, financial reports, Google alerts, customer email, and product databases.
  • Build a variety of team and individual incentive programs that reward hard work and encourage the delivery of memorable customer experiences. Think out of the box, and tie incentives back to what makes your team members tick.

When coupled with high achieving leadership and vision, customer service groups can generate incredible amounts of good will with customers, which in turn can result in top-line revenue growth from repeat business and simple word-of-mouth promotion.  When service teams are proactive at delivering game-changing contact center information about customer-requested features or product issues to internal business groups empowered to act on it, the organization as a whole can become a runaway locomotive no competitor can catch. If this level of customer focus is ingrained into the culture of the organization and sustained over years, customer loyalty will rise and your company will become known to deliver legendary customer service.

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Apple has really come out with an amazing foundation upon which outstanding productivity enhancing products can launch. Being an MS Windows guy for the past 24 years, I’m starting to wean myself away from carrying a laptop with me all the time, in favor of carrying the much lighter weight iPad. The bottom line is I simply love the device, and when I combine it with cloud services, I can really get mobile. Now that I have a significant portion of what I love to do in the “cloud”, I have a lot more freedom to do the things I love without being attached to a heavy laptop.

Aside from the standard email, web browsing, book reading and movie watching that everyone uses the iPad for, I’m focused on making sure I can use it as a first rate productivity tool. In addition, I’m finding that there is a cost benefit as well as a health benefit to the device. Businesses, if they are not already doing so, should experiment with this technology to learn how they can standardize, save time and money, and provide health benefits to staff who are highly mobile.

If there is one element of business that I’ve learned can be impacted positively by cloud services, its collaboration technology, and it only continues to improve with endless options. Google and Zoho have cloud-based apps that work well on the Safari browser that comes with the iPad, covering disciplines such as project management, accounting, document management, etc. While I’ve experienced glitches, they are easy enough to work through as long as I keep things simple. Just understand that there are limitations, and follow the 80/20 rule (meaning, you can probably get at least 80% of your work done in such a utility, and then pull it into a more advanced tool to polish it up if needed).

Another collaboration tool that is working well for me is Tungle, a cloud-based service to create a unified view of all personal and business calendars, including the calendars of family members (now I can keep up with them!). It took a little time to set everything up, but now that I have all of my calendars, and those of my wife and kids in one universal calendar view, it has become a huge time saver for me. At the time of this writing, I have calendars syncing into a single view from Google, Yahoo and Outlook, and it’s amazing how effective it is. As another calendar enhancement, I’ve added Apple’s US Holidays list so the holidays automatically show up on my calendar now. If you didn’t know about this little gem, just add “ical.mac.com/ical/US32Holidays.ics” as a subscribed calendar in your settings on the iPad.

If you travel extensively, I find the “WorldMate Gold” app is a must have since I can book hotels, get local information, weather updates, and more all within the app. The tool itself keeps your travel itineraries in chronological order, with all flight, hotel, and car rental info. You just have to forward all of your booking information to the service so the itineraries can be loaded into your account. Another thing I like about WorldMate was how it alerted me to recent flight delays and cancellations I had leaving Austin so I didn’t have to travel all the way into the airport from San Antonio. That alone was worth the cost of the app ($14.99). If you have an iPod or iPhone, the same app also works on these devices as well.

For time management, which many of us need, I’ve tried a variety of apps, and I’ve finally settled on OmniFocus for its simplistic approach to time management. So far, I’ve been using the app for a month and have enjoyed applying David Allen‘s “Getting Things Done” principles that come embedded within the application. If you want to get on top of all the activities and demands on your life, this is the app to have if you are going to put it to use every day. While it comes with one of the larger price tags in the app store ($39.99), it’s worth it to help control stress and keep things organized.

If you purchased an Amazon Kindle, like I did, you may find the device is becoming obsolete if you have an iPad. I’ve been using the free Kindle app on my iPad since the first day I bought it, and haven’t even looked at the Kindle device itself for a couple of months now. Why? Because all the books I purchased are right there on my iPad, and I have a better screen to read the books on. For me, it’s easier on the eyes, and there’s one less device I need to worry about charging.

There are many other apps that I’ve loaded to help me optimize productivity, such as Photoshop Express, WordPress, iThoughtsHD, and Fluent News. But, as useful as these products are, I still see incredible potential for the iPad because it’s still a young product.

If you step back for a moment and think about the greater potential of cloud services and optimizing them for use with the iPad, your mindset has to change from storing stuff locally to storing it in the cloud, or perhaps a hybrid model where local and cloud storage are used together for code, docs, data, etc.. Some things are better suited for this than others, and of course the sensitivity of the data will have to be considered, but in the end, stuff just exists somewhere in a data center, and applications on a server or an end-user on some type of device just interacts with it.

As someone who’s been innovating, delivering and providing customer service for cloud-based applications for years, I looking forward to the next generation of innovative cloud applications, and making contributions where I can to help mature the technology. Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions or comments.

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There is a wealth of information about supplier relationship management on the Internet, but I can offer up some KPI’s I’ve used in the past to help evaluate IT provider ongoing performance:

(1) Projects delivered on time – does the vendor commit to delivery dates during project road map negotiation, and adhere to the dates? If there is a regular progression of slipped deadlines or missed deliverables, then the vendor likely won’t get the best score in this area.

(2) Staff training was effective – this is something commonly overlooked in negotiations, but critically important for knowledge transfer to staff if the supplier is expected to transition ownership to the company at some point in time. Did they prepare effectively? Were communications for signing up for the training laid out clearly? Was instruction provided clearly and competently? Did the vendor provide surveys for the trainees to fill out, and if so were the survey results shared and acted on to improve? Was the staff effective and competent on the products once they took ownership of them? All good questions, and it all plays into the overall score.

(3) Products met usability standards – another common mistake in the overall contract negotiations is leaving out the company definition of usability standards. Many times the standards will be something open to wild interpretation, like “make it easier to do business with us”. Keep in mind that one person’s “easier” can be another person’s “more difficult”. It’s really important to get out on the street and get to know your customers to determine what their expectations are relating to usability improvement. Is the vendor doing this? If they don’t know your target audience, then it could be that the vendor is trying to grand-stand and create something that they want to go down in the history books for. It may not make a difference at all to the bottom line of your company. Become a member of the Usability Professional’s Association to get a wealth of information related to this discipline.

(4) Application, database and/or infrastructure architecture delivered is scalable, maintainable, and extensible – The question to ask here is whether or not the supplier delivered a scalable, maintainable and extensible system to the contract’s specifications. If the contract, or subsequent artifact to which the contract refers, did not include specifications or standards to which the system would be built, then the entire topic is open to interpretation, and the waters are muddied forever. If the supplier didn’t include a section in the contract that talks to these topics, then I would simply put them down at the worst score. Suppliers should know enough about what you are trying to accomplish by at least asking the right questions when the project is being defined, particularly if they want to keep doing business with you.

(5) Inter-application integration met or exceeded required standards – Here is an aspect that can’t be overlooked in most IT shops of any size and age. If you have dozens, hundreds or even thousands of applications operating your business, then you must select suppliers that know how to operate in complex computing environments. I’ve never seen inter-application requirements in a contract, but I have seen them (and developed them myself) in specification documents which are referenced in the contract. Without this documentation, and a deep partnership between the supplier and your IT staff, it will be difficult for either party to be successful. So, in my experience the themost important things to measure here are supplier competency in complex computing environments, a well-written specification with expectations, and how well the supplier partners with IT.

(6) Provider staff competence – don’t underestimate the power of competent specialists. I’ve not met anyone in the field of IT yet that can do it all. Specialists are the people that always tend to get to the root of all problems, patch them, and follow up by putting long-term solutions in place.If your supplier is a small firm with a big contract, make sure they know how to obtain specialists should the need arise to leverage one. You don’t want them to run into a brick wall for several weeks while they are running up your bill. I’ve experienced this before, and it’s not a pretty site. Also, make sure your staff is competent at identifying and alerting you to gaps in the supplier’s knowledge. If your team can help identify the gaps early, then you can make sure your project managers are adequately mitigating the risk this brings to the project.

(7) Provider understanding of our product roadmap (vision capability) – Trusted suppliers who have been deemed business partners will need visibility into your product or platform road map in order to operate at their peak efficiency. Once they gain visibility into the road map, its up to you to listen to their comments about it. If they just go with the flow, then they are not being strategic. My expectation is that a supplier will want to understand your road map, and provide you with a variety of options, thoughts, and competitor/industry comparisons to show how they can add value by helping to formulate the vision. When I’ve engaged suppliers that have a deep understanding of how to do this, they really shine and add real value to help the organization grow.

(8) Industry reputation on social networks – what better way to determine how a vendor will interact with your company than to hear it from their other customers? Not just their hand-picked reference accounts, but the general public. If the supplier constantly gets good commentary on social networks about the quality of their work, then its likely going to be a safe bet to at least try them on for size. And, ask questions on the social networks that are pertinent to the type of engagement you would have them do, particularly when initiating a new engagement with an unknown supplier.

(9) Overall capability – This can encompass a number of subject areas, but in general I want to hire a supplier that can meet all of the immediate needs of the project equitably and under the deadlines set by the company. If the company can meet all of the project needs, I would typically give it a score of 5 (out of 10) and if they can go way beyond all expectations of what we may have a need for in the future, the score would slide up to 10. It’s important to note that overall capability can include things like strategic planning, writing specifications, application development, QA, database modeling, infrastructure design, hosting, and a whole lot more.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it can help you create a group of solid starting-point metrics that can be measured on a vendor scorecard if you need to create one. You can apply weighting to them if you want to add multipliers, but I seldom have needed to do this. It’s a good idea to collect both qualitative and quantitative data about your projects, so that in the end, a decision of whether to keep the supplier for future projects is supported by data. Just make sure the data you collect can result in an actionable outcome, such as vendor negotiations, consideration for further work, or release from duty.

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