The Anatomy of Collaboration

Right people, right culture, right customer experience

Right people, right culture, right customer experience

My entire career has been leading and participating in teams. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that most of our lives are teams.

  • Families
  • Friends
  • Sports/Activities
  • Work
  • Religious/volunteer endeavors
. . . we live (and die) by teams.
So why do so many organizations/departments collaborate so poorly? If so much of life is team oriented why do we let politics, personal achievement, insecurities take priority over team?
Our world continues to change and evolve. Since the 1800s we’ve moved from fields to factories and from those factories to corporate towers. A study of each of those evolutions reveals that while team was important, it wasn’t incubated.
  • “Do your work, do it well and go home.”
  • “Do your work well and you get a prize, do it poorly and you get fired.”
  • “Keep your head down. We’ll do the thinking for you.”
Each of the above come from management playbooks from the past. Trust for the individual was sapped from the workforce and collaboration was abhorred. And, even though ignored, collaboration bled through every process within every organization. (Think Model T assembly line, think the invention of the silicon chip and computers, think about the internet). Teams will find a way, even amidst leadership against their creation.
So if management of years gone by was command and control, carrot and stick, success despite fear, what is the new model? What is working today? Jeff Jarvis discusses what’s working today in his book “What Would Google Do”. Today’s companies treat employees and customers much in the same way: as contributors to their vision. A 3 legged stool (business, customer, employee) that is constantly changing and growing based on mutual feedback and a passion for the vision. No where in there did I mention respect (I abhor that word only slightly less than “empowerment”). I did mention vision, contributors, equality between company, customer and employee. These are the keys to building platforms (another Jarvis obvervation about the new economy companies).
Maybe the most telling quote from the book is what Jarvis referrs to as “Jarvis’ First Law“. It goes:
“Give the people control and we will use it; don’t and you will lose us.”
I think this applies as much to the employee/employer relationship as it does to customer/company. Trust us and give us a vision and get the hell out of our way. Give us access to the customer. Give the customer access to us. TOGETHER we’ll do amazing things.
One plus one has never equaled more.

Collaborative CRM – We ALL Owe it to the Customer

“It’s MY customer. It’s MY call.”

That was uttered recently in a meeting. The meeting was to discuss business process (a subject near and dear to my heart) and more specifically to view our sales business process through the eyes of the customer. I’ve led many such meetings in my career and was pleased that my current employer was ready to embark on this cause. Little did I know how deeply engrained our silos…our fiefdoms were.
The issue arose from a seemingly insignificant exercise. Each team (representatives from each division) was to answer the following questions:
  • What are the critical things you need to know about your customer to make decisions on next steps?
  • Why are these pieces of information critical?
  • How do these critial items enable you to best care for the customer
The idea was to then list these critical components to show how similar our needs were across all divisions. Like any sales organization, this one things that it (each division) is completely different than the others. And, after performing this exercise they found that, like any sales organization, they’re more alike than they are different. That realization created tension. For years (75+) this company treated it’s division as businesses built on the idea of how different, how unique they were. Now they were realizing how intertwined their services were.
We left that meeting with quality work completed (my vantage point) and a lot of uneasy feelings among team leaders. I felt like there’d been chinks strategically placed in the armour of space and time…that we were evolving. Time would be the next ingredient needed to continue this process.
The next thing that occurred was a customer meeting. One of our division sales people met with a customer and discovered in that meeting that another division had been talking to the customer. How dare they! It’s MY customer. I was in the meeting with the customer and a couple of things happened that disturbed me:
  • The salesperson immediately stopped listening
  • The customer found himself apologizing for contacting the other division

This customer needed the services provided by our other division. It was an upsell that the first division would get credit for yet all this guy could think about was how his colleague dare talk to HIS customer. In the car after the meeting we debriefed. When my sales colleage mentioned how angry he was about his cross division colleague talking to his customer I reminded him “it’s not YOUR customer. It’s OUR customer.”

I wonder what kind of service this customer would have received had we all put him at the center of our world. How much money was left on the table because we couldn’t get our collective act together. Does the customer feel like he’s working with a team focused on providing him an experience? (I asked and the answer is no…no doubt he’s now shopping us).

Are we focused on what belongs to us or on stewardship of our customer’s success.

Here’s to the latter. We aren’t given customer relationships for life. They are earned daily and we must be good stewards of that relationship with each interaction.

Here’s to becoming what our customer values.

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CRM Rethought (Art 2.0)

The other day I experienced what CRM is all about. An extrodinary exchange with someone who gets what customer relationship management is all about. It was the kind of exchange that changed my afternoon. The experience was “Art 2.0”.

I had overshot the lunch hour and needed to get something quick before an afternoon meeting. I wandered down the street to a local burger joint (we’ll call it Whataburger). My expectations were low.
  • I  need food
  • I need food quickly
  • I need food that resembles a burger

The last part about needing a burger is debatable but it was a part of my expectation so go with it.

After walking in the door I was greeting by an older gentlemen behind the counter. It wasn’t a grumble but an emphatic “Good afternoon sir! Welcome to Whataburger.” After nearly snapping to attention (this is not the norm at a Whataburger for those of you outside the south/southwest) I stumbled to get out, “good afternoon”.

Art continued, “Tell me about the best burger you’ve ever had.” I must say I was a bit puzzled. Remember I’m looking for a burger…quick. That’s all I need. Yet I found myself answering Art’s question and together we concocked what I consider to be the best burger ever. As I spoke he did a few things. He listened, he wrote and he contributed. I knew he was listening because he responded. He asked questions and offered his own suggestions. He scribbled intently on his notepad and asked my name. By this point I’d lost all track of time (my meeting was starting in mere minutes) but Art and I were engaged in a collaborative moment. How can you leave your partner when you’re dreaming up THE BEST BURGER EVER!

After completing this exercise I remember saying to Art, “OK now I’m going to have to go home and make this burger Art.” (I failed to mention that early on in the conversation Art introduced himself and we shook hands). Art responded, “well I can’t promise the best burger ever but I can promise a fresh one. Now, the next time you come in, I’ll have everything on your list too.” I smiled. How could I not believe him?

My order was cooked and delivered to my table (by Art). He sat down briefly and explained that he’d taken the liberty of changing out the standard Whataburger bun with a better bun. As Art said, “our buns aren’t any good and a bad bun ruins a good burger.” Wow. I happen to agree with Art. My friends and I have often commented that in the world of fast food burgers Whataburger’s tagline should be, “best burgers, crappy buns.” Now Art had taken that off the table.

I was so taken back by this I asked Art if I could ask him a few questions. Of course he offered the time. Seems as if Art spent a career in sales. When he retired he wanted to stay busy in the community so he came to work at the Whataburger where he stopped every morning for coffee. He said he couldn’t bring customers like me back to the days of the Texaco station where car hops came running when the airhose dinged but he could bring that level of service to us as an example. When I asked about the notepad he showed me. Pages of customers names and descriptions, notes on ANYTHING they’d said. And, their description of a perfect hamburger.

“What do you do with the notes Art?” (I had to know). “I head to the local market and pick up the ingredients. Next time you’re here we’ll make it for you.” I shook Art’s hand and headed to my car with countless questions in my head. Walking out I heard Art say, “Hey there Brad? Are we gonna do another blue cheese special?”

All of this at a burger chain? Talk about breaking the rules. No doubt Art’s odd approach cuts into bottom line sales per customer. But, I’d be willing to bet that it’s brining more customers back more often. Why?

Simple. Art 2.0

Thanks for reinventing yourself Art and for showing us what building customer relationships is about.

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