Friday, December 9, 2011

Engagement brings service brings profit

Some years ago I was staying at the Sheraton Towers in Singapore. One morning I was meandering through the hotel lobby and obviously appeared a little lost. A person cleaning the floor greeted me warmly, asked if there was anything I needed and, on being told I was simply going out for a walk, offered guidance as to the nearest train station and the shortest route to Orchard Road. Having been to Singapore many times and being very familiar with the city, I didn't really need his help but, without disclosing this to him, I thanked him for his interest and went on my way. That one experience did more to make me a "Sheraton fan" than did anything else in the hotel.

Back in 1990 I was in England when I got a phone call saying my father was in hospital and I should return to NZ as quickly as possible in order to see him before he died. My flight itinerary was with Finnair and I immediately contacted them to see if, under the circumstances, I could change my flights to another airline as Finnair had no appropriate scheduled flights to Bangkok - the transfer point. I was told "no". I phoned Qantas, explained the situation, and was told to get myself to Heathrow Airport, identify myself to the staff there, and that they would guarantee to get me on the first flight home. They did. I have never since flown Finnair (and have no intention to do so) and I became a Qantas fan.

Now I do not know what training they give cleaners at the Sheraton or to call centre staff at Qantas, but I do know that these two people gave me service that was exemplary and which put their organisations in a very positive light. I have used these experiences to recommend the Sheraton Towers ever since and, until the tragic demise of their service over recent years, I was a fervent advocate of Qantas

My point is simple. Two small actions by people very low in their organisation's hierarchies meant I changed brand allegiance as well as recommending to others that they change their brand allegiance too. This isn't unusual. Market research has for years made it clear that both good and bad service get talked about and shared. Good service can bring about increased market share while bad service can bring about decreased market share. Increased market share can bring about increased revenues and profits.

We all know we are living in a tough economic environment. We all hear organisations bemoaning the fact that business success is getting harder. But instead of increasing service to customers and clients we find reductions in front line service people and an increasing (and to many of us) infuriating reliance on automated responses and machines that are totally unable to provide the flexibility and commonsense that is usually needed. Machines and automation are great for totally standard issues but abysmal at anything requiring thought.

If organisations today seriously want to improve their revenues and their profits they need to improve their service. This is especially the case with retail and "service" organisations. Provide the leadership that creates an environment where you can be successful.

What do you think?

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Leadership: what a pity there's so little of it!

The other day I was asked for my views about political, business, and religious leadership both worldwide and in Australia. I replied that it was hard to find any - there is plenty of power and authority; there is plenty of command and control; there is plenty of talk - but precious little leadership.

Back in the mid 1990's I conducted a number of surveys in Australia, New Zealand, and South East Asia to ascertain who and why people considered to be leaders. I then interviewed 15 of these and the result was my book Leaders, Diamond or Cubic Zirconia? (1998). In the introduction to that book I make the comment "I am not making any judgement as to whether or not any or all [of those listed] are "diamonds or cubic zirconia". That is a conclusion that must be drawn by the reader."

Today I am far less circumspect. As said at the start - I see precious little leadership today no matter what is the arena in which I look for it.

Over the past 20 or so years we have seen flashes of political leadership - then Australian Prime Minister John Howard's response to the Port Arthur Massacre and his driving through of gun control and current Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's recent driving through of the pollution levy are good examples. But these flashes are few and far between. In the main we have the unedifying sight of political point scoring and power plays masquerading as "leadership". The party in power (whether in Australia or anywhere else) wants to remain in power and the opposition parties want to take over so anything goes no matter what is really best in the long term for the world, the country, or the populace.

Business, religious, social etc "leadership" is little different. Leadership in these areas seems to be primarily about numbers - market share, revenues, "value" etc (although these may actually be expressed through using one or another synonym) and in enhancing the personal and positional power and influence of those in charge. CEO's and executives seem to act as though they have forgotten that, in reality, they are every bit as much "employees" as are those in entry level positions. This is often seen by the seeking and accepting huge remuneration packages for themselves while fighting against remuneration increases for lower levels and/or otherwise taking action that adversely impacts the well-being and life quality of "employees". Most religious leaders, despite their words, seem to be far too often primarily concerned about narrow sectarian issues and show little or no real concern for refugees, the disadvantaged, and those outside of their immediate area of pastoral responsibility. And so I could continue.

Cubic zirconia abounds!

When I was researching for my latest book my surveys asked a wide range of people for their understanding of leadership. The messages I got back can be summarised as : "a leader is someone who I can trust and respect and who enables me to get things done and who, in the process, inspires me to do my best and to achieve results."

As I replied to my questioner, there is plenty of power and authority; there is plenty of command and control; there is plenty of talk - but precious little leadership. And that's a tragedy.

What do you think?

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