Bad Customers Are Bad for Your Business

Herb Kelleher: “Dear Mrs. Crabapple, We will miss you.”

Herb Kelleher of Southwest AirlinesSouthwest Airlines is a paragon of superlative customer service. Southwest’s happy and engaged employees routinely go out of their way to delight their customers. In spite of such remarkable devotion to customer satisfaction, there have been times when Southwest had to decide that some customers were just wrong for their business.

In the very entertaining and enlightening Nuts!: Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success, authors Kevin and Jackie Freiberg narrate how Southwest had to let go of a customer who couldn’t be less satisfied with her travel experience. This customer relations-story is best appreciated in light of the fun-loving and gregarious nature of Southwest’s legendary founder and ex-Chairman/CEO Herb Kelleher.

'Nuts- Southwest Airlines' by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg (ISBN 0767901843) A woman who frequently flew on Southwest, was constantly disappointed with every aspect of the company’s operation. In fact, she became known as the “Pen Pal” because after every flight she wrote in with a complaint.

She didn’t like the fact that the company didn’t assign seats; she didn’t like the absence of a first-class section; she didn’t like not having a meal in flight; she didn’t like Southwest’s boarding procedure; she didn’t like the flight attendants’ sporty uniforms and the casual atmosphere.

Her last letter, reciting a litany of complaints, momentarily stumped Southwest’s customer relations people. They bumped it up to Herb’s desk, with a note: ‘This one’s yours.’

In sixty seconds, Kelleher wrote back and said, ‘Dear Mrs. Crabapple, We will miss you. Love, Herb.’

Bad Customers: Wrong for Your Business, Wrong for Your Employees

Bad Customers: Wrong for Your Business, Wrong for Your Employees

Customers are the lifeblood of any business. Customer satisfaction begets loyalty, and loyalty begets revenues and profits. Businesses can therefore never place too much emphasis on their customers.

However, with slogans like “the customer is always right,” many businesses fall into the trap—and the slippery slope—of trying to satisfy every customer’s every wish.

Although your business may need all its customers—even the irksome ones—the reality is that some customers can actually be bad for your business. You can’t sustainably run a business without trying to satisfy every customer—particularly those cranky, annoying, or unreasonable ones.

Be wary of customers that fall into these categories:

  • Customers who require high maintenance but cannot be charged more
  • Customers whose demand for price destroys your profitability
  • Customers who want a lot more (better product, better service, better schedule) but are tightfisted
  • Customers who require supplementary services or products (especially those that are not part of your business’s core competencies) and tailored solutions that you don’t provide and can’t profitably offer to the rest of your customer base
  • Customers who don’t subscribe into the future vision of your business or your industry, which they’ll need to strategically commit to as some point in the future
  • Customers who tend to be aggressive and hostile, and disrespectful to your employees, regardless of how well they serve the customers

Strategic Customer Management Involves Being Tough Minded with Some Customers

Strategic Customer ManagementConsidering your long-term business goals, sifting through who should and who shouldn’t be your customers is an important element of strategic leadership.

With every product or service you offer, focus on who you want your customer to be, what expectations they have of you, and what you can profitably provide to them. Once you have figured that out, customers who don’t fit well need to be managed judiciously and decisively.

Without strategic customer management, you run a risk of disrupting your ability to converge around the needs of your principal customer base.

Remember the notion of opportunity costevery ‘no’ is a ‘yes’ to something important.

Idea for Impact: Let Go of Some of Your Troublesome Customers

Sometimes, it may be better to lose certain customers by turning them down than to dilute your ability to serve other valuable customers profitably. Stop trying to delight every customer. Take a hard look at the past, current, and future of every customer and prioritize whom you can going to serve better and more successfully.

Seven Real Reasons Employees Disengage and Leave

Root Causes for Employee Disengagement

Engaged employees not only contribute more and enhance bottom-line results but also are more loyal and therefore less likely to leave their organizations voluntarily.

Here are seven widespread root causes for employees’ lack of enthusiasm and commitment to a workplace.

  1. Employees find the job or workplace to be different from what they had expected when hired.
  2. Employees are not well matched or challenged in the jobs to which they have been assigned or promoted.
  3. Employees receive insufficient coaching and feedback from their boss.
  4. Employees recognize few prospects for professional growth and advancement. Alternatively, employees are obliged to log two or three years of unexciting assignments to “pay their dues” before being considered for promotion.
  5. Employee feel undervalued, underpaid, or under-recognized. They don’t get enough informal acknowledgement for their contributions or feel constantly “out of loop.” Their managers don’t seek opinions or supply the right tools to excel at work.
  6. Employees feel stressed or burned-out due to overwork or work-life imbalance.
  7. Employees have lost trust and confidence in their management and leadership.

Idea for Impact: Disengaged employees are more likely to leave their organizations.

David Ogilvy on Russian Nesting Dolls and Building a Company of Giants

In the Company of Giants

Ogilvy & Mather founder and creative genius David Ogilvy (1911–1999) designed some of the world’s most successful and iconic marketing campaigns, including the legendary Man in the Hathaway Shirt advertisement.

Ogilvy left a rich legacy of ideas in his books. Confessions of an Advertising Man and Ogilvy on Advertising describe how he approached his creative life and aimed for greatness rather than settling for second best.

David Ogilvy on Hiring Smart

'Ogilvy on Advertising' by David Ogilvy (ISBN 039472903X) In the preface of an Ogilvy & Mather recruiting brochure, Ogilvy explained the high creative standards and attitudes he expected of his employees:

We are looking for gentlemen with ideas in their heads and fire in their bellies. If you join Ogilvy & Mather, we shall teach you everything we know about advertising. We shall pay you well, and do our damnedest to make you succeed. If you show promise, we shall load responsibility on you—fast. Life in our agency can be very exciting. You will never be bored. It’s tough, but it’s fun.

Ogilvy directed his recruiters to seek out highflyers, “Hot creative people don’t come around looking for jobs; they have to be rooted out like truffles by trained pigs. Do our trained pigs do any rooting? I don’t think so.”

Recruiting brilliant people is a kind of brilliance in itself

David Ogilvy on Russian Nesting Dolls and Building a Company of Giants In his bestselling Ogilvy on Advertising, Ogilvy described how recruiting smart people was the key to transforming his advertising agency into a global advertising, marketing and public relations giant. He wrote,

When someone is made the head of an office in the Ogilvy & Mather chain, I send him a Matrioshka doll from Gorky. If he has the curiosity to open it, and keep opening it until he comes to the inside of the smallest doll, he finds this message:

“If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”

Entrepreneurship guru Guy Kawasaki echoed the importance of hiring smarter people and recalled in Reality Check that, when he worked at Apple in 1984, “In the Macintosh Division, we had a saying, ‘A players hire A players; B players hire C players’—meaning that great people hire great people. On the other hand, mediocre people hire candidates who are not as good as they are, so they can feel superior to them. If you start down this slippery slope, you’ll soon end up with Z players; this is called the Bozo Explosion.”

The best managers hire employees with superior intellect—and revel in it

Managers are typically judged not on their personal output but on how well they’ve hired, coached, and motivated their people—individually and collectively.

A wise manager hires employees who are smarter, more creative, and more talented than the manager is. The new employees’ talents will improve the entire team’s performance and reputation—even the manager’s.

In contrast, a mediocre manager feels threatened by underlings who seem more intelligent than the manager is. Mediocre managers tend to hire down—they fear that a superior employee could make the manager look inferior and perhaps hold back their career progress.

Idea for Impact: People make or break businesses; so hire people who are smarter than you are.

How to Promote Employees

How to Promote Employees

Job Promotions Can Be Stressful

A job promotion is generally cause for celebration and gratification. However, it can be a source of deep anxiety for many employees: they tend to suffer additional mental strain and are less likely to find time to go to the doctor. Research at the University of Warwick found that “the mental health of managers typically deteriorates after a job promotion, and in a way that goes beyond merely a short-term change.”

Promote Employees Who’ve Shown Some Evidence of Success

Before you decide to promote an employee, ask yourself the following six questions about the candidate. The more affirmative answers to these questions, the better the chances for the promotion to succeed. Examine and resolve any “no” answers before considering the employee for other job transitions.

  • Is the candidate performing her current duties well enough to justify a promotion?
  • Can she hand over her current responsibilities to a new person?
  • Does she possess a sound understanding of the fundamentals of a business and have the requisite operating experience?
  • Is she keen to take on a new job? Is she familiar with the responsibilities and priorities of the new job? Is she willing to make decisions and be accountable for results?
  • Is she qualified and experienced enough to do at least part of the new job? Is she adequately trained or ready to be trained in the new job’s requirements?
  • Are her interpersonal skills adequate to work with employees, customers, suppliers, peers, and bosses in the new job?

Idea for Impact: If employees are not entirely prepared for new assignments, you are unintentionally setting them up for stressful transitions, bitterness, or eventual failure. Beware of the perils of promoting people too quickly.

Ten Rules of Management Success from Sam Walton

Sam Walton (1918–1992,) the iconic founder of Walmart and Sam’s Club, was arguably the most successful entrepreneur of his generation. He was passionate about retailing, loved his work, and built and ran Walmart with boundless energy.

'Sam Walton: Made In America' by Sam Walton (ISBN 0553562835) “Made in America” is Walton’s very educational, insightful, and stimulating autobiography. It’s teeming with Walton’s relentless search for better ideas, learning from competitors, managing costs and prices to gain competitive advantage, asking incessant questions of day-to-day operations, listening to employees at all levels of Walmart, and inventing creative ways to foster an idea-driven culture. “Made in America” is also filled with anecdotes from Walton’s associates and family members—in fact, some of their opinions are less than flattering.

Former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch once said, “Walton understood people the way Thomas Edison understood innovation and Henry Ford, production. He brought out the very best in his employees, gave his very best to his customers, and taught something of value to everyone he touched.”

Here are ten insightful management ideas from “Made in America” with the relevant anecdotes from Walton or his associates.

  1. When hiring employees, look for passion and desire to grow. Having the right skills and qualifications is no doubt essential in a potential employee, but a better predictor of long-term success and career advancement is his/her passion for learning new things, commitment to a task, and a drive to get things done. A former Walmart executive recalls, “Sam would take people with hardly any retail experience, give them six months with us, and if he thought they showed any real potential to merchandise a store and manage people, he’d give them a chance. He’d make them an assistant manager. They were the ones who would go around and open all the new stores and they would be next in line to manage their own store. In my opinion, most of them weren’t anywhere near ready to run stores, but Sam proved me wrong there. He finally convinced me. If you take someone who lacks the experience and the know-how but has the real desire and the willingness to work his tail off to get the job done, he’ll make up for what he lacks.”
  2. Delegate and follow up. Delegation is indispensable; yet it remains one of the most underutilized and underdeveloped managerial skills. One element of effective delegation is consistent follow-up. Far too often, managers will delegate a task and then fail to follow up to see how things are going. Such failure to follow-up is tantamount to abdication of accountability for results, which still lies with the manager. Former Walmart CEO David Glass recalls, “As famous as Sam is for being a great motivator … he is equally good at checking on the people he has motivated. You might call his style: management by looking over your shoulder.”

Management Ideas from Sam Walton

  1. Persist and rally people to the cause. Passionate managers demonstrate the energy and drive needed to rally their teams around a shared vision. They engage their employees with the same messages over and over, escalate their sense of urgency, and get their vision implemented quickly. Former Walmart CEO David Glass recalls, “When Sam feels a certain way, he is relentless. He will just wear you out. He will bring up an idea, we’ll all discuss it and then decide maybe that it’s not something we should be doing right now—or ever. Fine. Case closed. But as long as he is convinced that it is the right thing, it just keeps coming up—week after week after week—until finally everybody capitulates and says, well, it’s easier to do it than to keep fighting this fight. I guess it could be called management by wearing you down.”
  2. Mentor, critique, and inspire employees. Mentoring employees is an effective way to improve employee performance and build trust and loyalty. Effective mentoring is not merely telling employees what to do. It is helping them broaden and deepen their thinking by clarifying their goals and asking the right questions. Effective mentoring is also about supporting employees as they learn and practice new skills and habits. Walton writes, “I’ve been asked if I was a hands-on manager or an arm’s-length type. I think really I’m more of a manager by walking and flying around, and in the process I stick my fingers into everything I can to see how it’s coming along. I’ve let our executives make their decisions—and their mistakes—but I’ve critiqued and advised them.”
  3. Invest in frontline employees for better customer relationships. Much of customers’ opinions about a business come from the myriad interactions they have with customer-interfacing frontline employees, who are the face of any business. If a business doesn’t get these customer experiences right, nothing else matters. Walton writes, “The way management treats the associates is exactly how the associates will then treat the customers. And if the associates treat the customers well, the customers will return again and again, and that is where the real profit in this business lies, not in trying to drag strangers into your stores for one-time purchases based on splashy sales or expensive advertising. Satisfied, loyal, repeat customers … are loyal to us because our associates treat them better than salespeople in other stores do. So, in the whole Wal-Mart scheme of things, the most important contact ever made is between the associate in the store and the customer.”
  4. Treat employees like business partners and empower them by sharing information. Effective managers foster open communication by treating employees as co-owners of the business and sharing operational data regularly. Managers empower employees by helping them understand how their contribution makes a difference, discussing opportunities and challenges, and encouraging them to contribute to solutions. Walton writes, “Our very unusual willingness to share most of the numbers of our business with all the associates … It’s the only way they can possibly do their jobs to the best of their abilities—to know what’s going on in their business. … Sharing information and responsibility is a key to any partnership. It makes people feel responsible and involved …. In our individual stores, we show them their store’s profits, their store’s purchases, their store’s sales, and their store’s markdowns.
  5. Never be satisfied. There’s always room for improvement. Effective managers never rest on their laurels and are persistently dissatisfied with the status quo. They possess a pervasive obsession for discovering problems and improving products, services, and people. Home Depot founder Bernard Marcus recalls, “If you ask Sam how’s business, he’s never satisfied. He says, ‘Bernie, things are really lousy. Our lines are too long at the cash registers. Our people aren’t being helpful enough. I don’t know what we’re gonna do to get them motivated.’ Then you ask some of these CEOs from other retail organizations who you know are on the verge of going out of business, and they brag and tell you how great everything is. Really putting on airs. Not Sam. He is down to earth and knows who he is.”

Insightful Management Ideas from Sam Walton

  1. Appreciate employees and give honest feedback. A key determinant of employee engagement is whether employees feel their managers genuinely care. Do the managers provide regular, direct feedback, both appreciative and corrective? Do they coach employees in their learning and career growth? Walton writes, “Keeping so many people motivated to do the best job possible involves … appreciation. All of us like praise. So what we try to practice in our company is to look for things to praise. … We want to let our folks know when they are doing something outstanding, and let them know they are important to us. You can’t praise something that’s not done well. You can’t be insincere. You have to follow up on things that aren’t done well. There is no substitute for being honest with someone and letting them know they didn’t do a good job. All of us profit from being corrected—if we’re corrected in a positive way.”
  2. Listening to employee’s complaints and concerns could be a positive force for change. Effective managers provide their employees the opportunity to not only contribute their ideas, but also air concerns and complaints. By fostering an environment of open communication, managers who handle employee opinions effectively not only boost employee motivation, performance, and morale, but also benefit from learning directly about problems with teams, organizations, and businesses. Walton writes, “Executives who hold themselves aloof from their associates, who won’t listen to their associates when they have a problem, can never be true partners with them. … Folks who stand on their feet all day stocking shelves or pushing carts of merchandise out of the back room get exhausted and frustrated too, and occasionally they dwell on problems that they just can’t let go of until they’ve shared it with somebody who they feel is in a position to find a solution. … We have really tried to maintain an open-door policy at Wal-Mart. … If the associate happens to be right, it’s important to overrule their manager, or whoever they’re having the problem … . The associates would know pretty soon that it was just something we paid lip service to, but didn’t really believe.”
  3. Learn from the competition. Effective managers understand that keeping tabs on competitors, copying their innovations as much as possible, and reaching out to customers the way competitors do is a great strategy for growing business. Sam Walton’s brother Bud recalls, “There may not be anything (Walton) enjoys more than going into a competitor’s store trying to learn something from it.” A former K-Mart board member recalls, “(Walton) had adopted almost all of the original Kmart ideas. I always had great admiration for the way he implemented—and later enlarged those ideas. Much later on, when I was retired still a K-Mart board member, I tried to advise (K-Mart) management of just what a serious threat I thought he was. But it wasn’t until recently that they took him seriously.”

How to Make Wise People Decisions

How to Make Wise People Decisions

Here are eight basic management principles for making wise people decisions:

  1. Pay attention to your people decisions. These are the decisions that determine your team/organization’s performance. Hiring and coaching employees is a manager’s most important task.
  2. For any assignment, pick people who’ve shown at least some evidence of the ability to do it well. Don’t expect them to be productive in their new role within days or weeks.
  3. Do not give new people major assignments. First, put them into positions where expectations are known and help is available. Help them make the transition.
  4. Set the right expectations. A manager can forestall a great deal of employee problems by proactively setting expectations.
  5. Don’t ignore concerns until they morph into problems. Conflict can be emotionally distressing, but being decisive and doing what’s best eventually works out well for everyone.
  6. If an employee is doing poorly, first attempt remediation and coaching. If those don’t solve his/her underperformance, it’s usually prudent to cut your losses. Giving the employee more time to improve not only wastes time and energy, but increases the mutual hostility and chances of a claim of wrongful termination.
  7. Take responsibility for mistakes. Don’t blame the person you hire or promote for not performing. Your decision put them there.
  8. Take your managerial duties seriously. It’s your obligation to make sure that responsible people in your organization perform. In turn, they have a right to expect you to be a competent manager.

When an Employee Threatens to Quit

When an Employee Threatens to Quit

When an employee gets confrontational and threatens to quit in order to get a salary hike, promotion, or organizational change he demands, let him quit.

First, listen him out and consider his demands seriously. Beyond that, be resolute and ask the employee to stop threatening or feel free to leave should he disagree with your decision and insist on his demands. Communicate with the employee in writing and document the disagreements to protect yourself and your organization against a claim for wrongful termination.

Let the employee quit even if he is a valuable performer. Nobody in an organization—not even the leader—should be indispensable. The long-lasting success of an organization should never be contingent on the performance of one individual. (I cannot stress more how important employee succession plans are to an organization.)

Look, the first time you yield to the demands of an employee who threatens to quit to get what he demands, you set a dangerous precedent. Others in your organization will assume that they too could threaten to quit to get what they want. You could lose control over your organization if you concede to employee demands thoughtlessly.

Hiring: If You Pay Peanuts, You Get Monkeys

If You Pay Peanuts, You Get Monkeys During the economic slowdown last year, a manager had a choice between two consultants for a critical project to turnaround the prospects of his division. The first candidate was five years out of business school; his billing rate was $370 an hour. The second, more experienced candidate’s was $510 an hour. Without much deliberation, the manager hired the first candidate because he would fit in the manager’s budget. Things did not work out as well as the manager had expected. Three months later, after considerable delays and missed opportunities, the manager fired his consultant and recruited the second candidate anyway. This consultant had an earlier experience similar to the situation at hand and succeeded in his mission in due course.

The best don’t come cheap

Recruiting is the toughest responsibility of a manager. Prudent hiring processes start with a realization that talented professionals are the heart of successful organizational endeavors. Many managers simply do not take in this fact and signup those who cost the least instead.

Economic downturn or lower project budgets are no reasons for careless hiring decisions. It is exactly during though times that managers should recruit the best people. And, the best don’t come cheap.

Now, I am not saying that high-priced consultants and employees are necessarily good. The converse is not automatically true either. Market demand for talent often dictates billing rates and compensation of skilled professionals. There is often a strong reason for them being in demand and commanding premium fees. No manager dare overlook such considerations.

General Electric’s Jack Welch Identifies Four Types of Managers

Jack Welch's Four Types of Managers

Four Types of Managers

Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric Jack Welch, Chairman and CEO of General Electric from 1981 to 2001, described four categories of managers in General Electric’s year 2000 annual report.

Type 1: shares our values; makes the numbers—sky’s the limit!

Type 2: shares the values; misses the numbers—typically, another chance, or two.

Type 3: doesn’t share the values; doesn’t make the numbers—gone.

Type 4 is the toughest call of all: the manager who doesn’t share the values, but delivers the numbers. This type is the toughest to part with because organizations always want to deliver and to let someone go who gets the job done is yet another unnatural act. But we have to remove these Type 4s because they have the power, by themselves, to destroy the open, informal, trust-based culture we need to win today and tomorrow.

We made our leap forward when we began removing our Type 4 managers and making it clear to the entire company why they were asked to leave—not for the usual “personal reasons” or “to pursue other opportunities,” but for not sharing our values. Until an organization develops the courage to do this, people will never have full confidence that these soft values are truly real.

Live by Corporate Values

Keep the company values front and center in people's mind Organizations face the challenge of developing and sustaining a culture that is both values-centered and performance-driven. They begin by developing mission and value statements that, in due course, become little more than wall decorations because the organization’s leaders and managers fail to uphold these values.

Nothing hurts morale more than when leaders tolerate employees who deliver results, but exhibit behaviors that are incongruent to values of the company. For instance, an organization that thrives on teamwork will suffer, over the long term, if a manager habitually claims all credit for his team’s accomplishments.

Idea for Impact: Core Values Matter!

As a manager, drive accountability. Hold employees responsible for their behaviors. Reward employees for proper behaviors and publicly discourage behaviors that do not uphold values. Do not make exceptions—exceptions signify your own indifference to the upholding of values.

As an employee, understand that an essential requirement for your success in your organization is your fit. Your behaviors must be congruent with the character and needs of your organization. Even if you are talented, you will not fare well if your behaviors are inconsistent with the values of your organization. Reflect on your behavior. On a regular basis, collect feedback from your managers, peers and employees. Seek change.

Keep the company values front and center in people’s mind.

The Skills-Attitudes Competence Model

While poking around the internet, I recently bumped into a few articles that refer to a study by either Harvard or Stanford or both that concluded that 85% of one’s success at work is due to his/her attitudes and just 15% is due to technical skills [1, 2]. While most of us agree with this statement in principle, we could question how a survey could quantify attitudes and technical skills and the contributions of these traits to professional success.

The simple skills-attitudes competence model shown below will help quantify one’s talents and understand the relative contributions of skills and attitudes to professional success. This model is a graphical indication of one’s positioning with respect to technical skills (x-axis) and attitudes and behaviors (y-axis). Every job carries a certain level of expectation for both of these disciplines. A threshold line divides this landscape into the proficient and vulnerable zones. The position of the threshold line vis-à-vis the lines of expectation signifies a lower tolerance for poor attitudes in comparison to insufficient technical skills.

The skills-attitudes competence model

Consider six people, A to F, in the landscape. ‘A’ possesses lower than expected skills, but possesses the right attitudes to learn, grow and get things done. ‘B’ and ‘C’ possess the same level of skills as ‘A’, but possess worse attitudes and risk being labeled incompetent. ‘B’ could move into the secure zone by developing skills (transitioning along the x-axis) or by developing positive attitudes (transitioning along the y-axis) or by developing on both (transitioning along an inclined line). ‘D’ and ‘E’ may be extremely skilled; their skills may be critical to the success of the organization. However, if ‘D’ fails to fails to conform to the core values of the company or exhibits behavior that is difficult to tolerate, the organization may eliminate him from his position. ‘F’ possesses the best attitudes and skills and thrives in the organization. The farther away ‘F’ is from the threshold line, the more secure he or she is.

Use this skills-attitudes competence model to define tangible attributes of skills and attitudes expected of you in the context of your current position or your desired future position. Identify your position on this chart. Under the guidance of your supervisor and mentors, identify what skills and/or attitudes you can develop towards a successful and satisfying career.