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Growth Leadership Personal Development

Want To Be A More Effective Leader? Listen

By John T. Hewitt, CEO and Founder of Liberty Tax Service

When it comes to communication, no one gets it right. It’s an essential part of every relationship, whether it’s a marriage, a partnership, a business, or an employer and employee. I don’t care if you have a Ph.D. in communications; I’ve never met a person who consistently listens or gets their message across. Even if you’re close and you try, things are taken out of context or misheard or misstated. Communication is something that no company and probably no couple have ever mastered.

Here’s the problem: human beings are communication stoppers. Every person I know wants to receive communication – they want to know everything – but they don’t give communication back. Information is power and people will hoard it. Whether or not it’s going to the trouble to say something or simply remembering to communicate at all, our desire to get information is greater than our desire to give it. There is no solution to our constant communication dilemma, but we can work at improving every day.

As an entrepreneur, you can never make assumptions. If you are not in direct contact with your customers on a daily basis, you have to communicate with the person who is. Successful business owners must listen to their employees. Those in authority need to pay attention to the troops on the ground.

Our Chief Marketing Officer, Martha O’Gorman, and I once flew to Kansas City to interview a person for the CFO position. Martha asked, “What is your management philosophy?” He replied, “Ours is not to reason why, but to do or die.” In his world, all orders come from above and you are not supposed to question them. Just do it, like a good soldier. That is how many companies run. Many CEOs issue edicts and say, “this is what we’re going to do,” instead of listening to the people who deal with the customer because they think they know best. It’s partly because they feel if they admit that they don’t know best, then they look inferior or won’t be perceived as a good CEO, so they just don’t listen.

I’m secure enough in my leadership to listen to employees. They are the boots on the ground and they know what the customer really wants. Whether it’s a higher level of service, kid-friendly offices, or refreshments, I listen. For example, we print out a letter that we give to every customer with their tax return. Why would I think I could do that better than the person who gives it out thousands of times? They give out two million letters with tax returns. Why would a CEO think he could create a better letter than the people who are closest to the customer? They should design the letter; we should just implement it. There are hundreds of issues like this.

In my company, I know the big picture better than anyone, but my franchisees and employees know the tools they need to exceed customer expectations. A good CEO will trust employees to make the right decisions – empowering them instead of just issuing automatic edits that they must follow. To succeed, employees must feel free to make suggestions and give advice to their managers without concern for retribution. Remember, humans are communication stoppers. The managers who listen the most – and listen well – to their employees will win.

While I still believe that no one really masters communication, we work to improve every day and set the standard. I regularly teach the importance of improving every day in the way we communicate to our customers, to our employees, and to our owners. Customers come first – always. Words aren’t the only communication that a client notices. An employee’s attitude, tone of voice, facial expressions and gestures are all part of the message, leading to either positive or negative results. At Liberty, an important part of our system is to call each client within 24-48 hours of completing a return. We ask for feedback on our service and they can offer any suggestions to help us improve. Most importantly, we listen.

Excerpted from:

iCompete: How My Extraordinary Strategy for Winning Can Be Yours, by John T. Hewitt, CEO and founder of Liberty Tax Service, available on Amazon March 29, 2016

Categories
Growth Leadership Personal Development

Want To Be A More Effective Leader? Listen

By John T. Hewitt, CEO and Founder of Liberty Tax Service

When it comes to communication, no one gets it right. It’s an essential part of every relationship, whether it’s a marriage, a partnership, a business, or an employer and employee. I don’t care if you have a Ph.D. in communications; I’ve never met a person who consistently listens or gets their message across. Even if you’re close and you try, things are taken out of context or misheard or misstated. Communication is something that no company and probably no couple have ever mastered.

Here’s the problem: human beings are communication stoppers. Every person I know wants to receive communication – they want to know everything – but they don’t give communication back. Information is power and people will hoard it. Whether or not it’s going to the trouble to say something or simply remembering to communicate at all, our desire to get information is greater than our desire to give it. There is no solution to our constant communication dilemma, but we can work at improving every day.

As an entrepreneur, you can never make assumptions. If you are not in direct contact with your customers on a daily basis, you have to communicate with the person who is. Successful business owners must listen to their employees. Those in authority need to pay attention to the troops on the ground.

Our Chief Marketing Officer, Martha O’Gorman, and I once flew to Kansas City to interview a person for the CFO position. Martha asked, “What is your management philosophy?” He replied, “Ours is not to reason why, but to do or die.” In his world, all orders come from above and you are not supposed to question them. Just do it, like a good soldier. That is how many companies run. Many CEOs issue edicts and say, “this is what we’re going to do,” instead of listening to the people who deal with the customer because they think they know best. It’s partly because they feel if they admit that they don’t know best, then they look inferior or won’t be perceived as a good CEO, so they just don’t listen.

I’m secure enough in my leadership to listen to employees. They are the boots on the ground and they know what the customer really wants. Whether it’s a higher level of service, kid-friendly offices, or refreshments, I listen. For example, we print out a letter that we give to every customer with their tax return. Why would I think I could do that better than the person who gives it out thousands of times? They give out two million letters with tax returns. Why would a CEO think he could create a better letter than the people who are closest to the customer? They should design the letter; we should just implement it. There are hundreds of issues like this.

In my company, I know the big picture better than anyone, but my franchisees and employees know the tools they need to exceed customer expectations. A good CEO will trust employees to make the right decisions – empowering them instead of just issuing automatic edits that they must follow. To succeed, employees must feel free to make suggestions and give advice to their managers without concern for retribution. Remember, humans are communication stoppers. The managers who listen the most – and listen well – to their employees will win.

While I still believe that no one really masters communication, we work to improve every day and set the standard. I regularly teach the importance of improving every day in the way we communicate to our customers, to our employees, and to our owners. Customers come first – always. Words aren’t the only communication that a client notices. An employee’s attitude, tone of voice, facial expressions and gestures are all part of the message, leading to either positive or negative results. At Liberty, an important part of our system is to call each client within 24-48 hours of completing a return. We ask for feedback on our service and they can offer any suggestions to help us improve. Most importantly, we listen.

Excerpted from:

iCompete: How My Extraordinary Strategy for Winning Can Be Yours, by John T. Hewitt, CEO and founder of Liberty Tax Service, available on Amazon March 29, 2016

Categories
Best Practices Growth Management Personal Development

Create Exceptional Experiences for Customers

With Exceptional Attention to Detail

Do your customers know how important they are to you? And when I use the word customer I’m talking about your clients, your patients, your members, your students, your team members, whatever you call them, let’s use the word customers today. How are you paying professional attention to your customers, whoever they might be?

I want to share with you what I call BDA, which is just a fancy name, or process, for before, during, and after. When it comes to truly paying professional attention, and committing to our customers, I want to share with you an experience I had, and a great example of an organization, or really a hotel, that demonstrates what I call intentional attention through their BDA process.

I wanted to surprise a dear friend and she lives in North Carolina, and so I had booked a weekend in New York as a surprise. Now, what happened was before I even got to New York I had the opportunity to go to their website, register all my details, but it was quite a fun check-in process. And one thing they asked about was there any special occasion? So of course, I mentioned my friend Leslie’s birthday. Then, I was thinking about what made it a really great attentive experience before I even got to the hotel. Well, their website’s well designed, there are so many great pictures. All my questions were answered, their registration process was simple. And I had done quite a bit of research on them through social media.

The Exceptional Customer Experience

I had heard about this unique property called the Library Hotel, and I had personal endorsements from others who’d stayed there. So, I want you to have a think about what are your customers telling others? What are people looking at when they view your social media accounts? Are they sharing and seeing what you stand for? And do you make it easy for your customers to do business with you?

There are some ideas before you even get that customer interaction. But let’s talk about what happened during my stay at the Library Hotel. It was a very hot summer day, we had both got into the city in very different ways, and we jumped in a cab to get to the hotel. It was a hot, sticky day. Imagine our delight when we were offered water by the attentive, kind staff who offered us water upon entering. We were early, so our room wasn’t ready for us at that time.

But, what was amazing was that they wished my friend a happy birthday as soon as she walked up to the counter, which is incredible, and they offered us a hospitality suite to be able to change so we could then go and enjoy a luncheon. Not only that, the hospitality suite was equipped with lovely complimentary drinks and snacks, and it was a gorgeous beautiful facility.

We told them a little bit about our day’s plans, a little bit of shopping in Soho, and then lunch at Balthazar. Now, Balthazar is one of my favorite French bistros in New York, and it is just a hustling and bustling very New York type place. I go there whenever I have a chance.

We had mentioned this as we jumped in our Uber to go out after leaving our luggage at the Library hotel. We had a lovely lunch and after returning from lots and lots of shopping, they told us our room as ready and they had sent our bags up to our room.

Now, here’s what’s interesting. When we got into our room there was a birthday card for Leslie, some little chocolates. There were two mugs with the Library Hotel so that we can enjoy them after we left. And I looked across the room and I saw a bundle of my most favorite champagne. How did they know? What was even more remarkable was when I found this. This is the cookbook for, you guessed it, Balthazar.

They had organized for a copy of this book, including a lovely handwritten note from the manager about our experience. Now, this is attention to detail! They gave us a beautiful room overlooking the New York Library – the hotel’s namesake.

Every room is on the Dewey Decimal System. Isn’t that interesting!? You might remember, if you’re as old as me, going to a library and pulling out the draws. And they had those little-indexed cards with the number and then you had to go find the book. I know, before the internet, I’m that old.

But the Library Hotel was a fantastic case study in how, from the moment we set foot on their property, they paid attention, the staff was trained, everyone was attentive. They listened to our conversation and added little tiny moments that would make us remember it for a lifetime. We had an amazing time at the Library Hotel.

Interesting. After we left, so remember BDA, before, during, and after, they also reached out to see how was our stay. They asked for feedback. We got lovely responses, and obviously, we shared our experience on social media. What are you doing for your customers to make them feel seen and heard, before they interact with you, during their interaction with you, and then after they leave you?

Create Your Exceptional Experience

We work hard to get customers to support our business. There are so many tools available for you to you to pay attention and commit to your customers. Your website, your marketing collaterals, your advertising, your social media, your staff training, your policies, your procedures. And the experience of your physical environment if you have one.

What are all the things you could be paying attention to? All those touch points that leave an impact on your customers? I want to challenge you today to have a look at one of these areas, before, during, or after. Think about what could you do differently and commit to your customers in an even deeper way.

Categories
Growth Leadership Operations Personal Development

You No Longer Have to Keep Up with Your Competition

I’ve got good news and bad news for you. The good news is that you no longer have to keep up with your competition; the bad news is that now you have to keep up with your customer – meaning your customer’s expectation of the service that makes you competitive.

Perhaps you just heard that your competitor is working hard to take away business from you – maybe they’re announcing a new product; maybe they’re advertising a major sale; maybe they’re opening a new location. Will any of these decisions cause your customers to leave you to do business with them?

Perhaps. After all, that is their goal. But what if you heard that your competition wasn’t competing with you on product, price, or location? What if you hear that they’re implementing a new customer service initiative? Their goal, you heard, is to have the best customer service in the industry.

Here’s my take: good for them. Let them go head-to-head with customer service and experience expectations based on the existing industry standards. I have a better idea: don’t let them set your bar. Let the best of the best, regardless of industry standards, set your bar.

What company do you think has the very best customer service? Is it Nordstrom, Apple, or Zappos? Is it the restaurant down the street that knows you by name and makes you feel like a guest in their home? Is it the inside sales rep from one of your suppliers who somehow always accommodates your deadlines and special requests, and always does so with an amazing attitude?

None of these companies or people may be in your industry, but they can be your benchmark for amazing customer service – service that is not based on customer expectations for your industry, but expectations from the best people and companies they’ve ever encountered.

Let me give you this message in a short, 11-word sentence:

The best customer service sets the bar for all customer service.

Customers know what good service is and their expectations today are formed by whoever gives them their best service experience, whether in or out of your industry.

So, back to the questions … What company do you think delivers the best service? Is it one of the iconic brands previously mentioned, or that local company? What is it that this business or person does to make you think they are the best? And, here is the more important question:

What do they do that you don’t do that you can do?

That’s where you start. Maybe it’s something you can copy although my suggestion is not to copy but to adopt and adapt. Adopt the strategy, but change or tweak it to make it uniquely yours. If you’re open to the best customer service practices from every industry, then you will spot trends and strategies before your competition. At that point, keeping up with your customers will be nothing but good news for your bottom line.

Shep Hyken is a customer service and experience expert, award-winning keynote speaker, and New York Times bestselling business author. For information, contact 314-692-2200 or www.hyken.com. For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs, go twww.thecustomerfocus.com. Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

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