Archive for November, 2008

Identity Contribution vs. Identity Theft

November 16, 2008

Would you give your name, address, and credit card number to a total stranger? Of course you wouldn’t! That would be taking a real chance with your financial well being. It would be foolish
I’m sure, however, that some readers have done exactly that. They have provided this personal information to total strangers. Maybe you have, too. Notice I’ve used the plural, strangers, here.

It happens every day, but many people think nothing of it because using credit cards is a regular part of doing business today. “Doing business”, however, is one thing, but giving away your credit card number is quite another.

How does it happen? Have you ever heard this message when you place a phone call to order an item or to make a hotel reservation?
“For training purposes your call is being monitored and recorded.”

Think about that for a moment. Your call is being recorded! Everything you say – including your name, address, credit card number, and expiration date – is now available to anyone and everyone who has access to that recording. And, you have no idea for how long it will be available or for precisely what purposes it will be used.

You might just as well put all that information on a supermarket bulletin board, nail it to a telephone pole at a busy intersection, or post it on the internet. You certainly wouldn’t do any of those things because it would be foolish. Well, what’s the difference between those actions and letting a total stranger record it?
Now, the companies that ask for such information when you call are requesting it for noble purposes. They want to teach their call takers to do their jobs well and to provide high quality customer service. Listening to actual conversations can be a valuable tool for them.

Their motivation, therefore, is pure, but their method is flawed.
It’s intrusive, and it puts the caller in an awkward and compromising position. Service representatives, of course, need your credit card number when you make purchases and reservations. That’s how business in this country has evolved.
What they don’t need, however, is the right to record, reuse, and distribute that information without your permission. That’s your right to privacy and security. If you elect to give your permission to record and use that information, so be it. That’s your choice, but most of us would never do that willingly.
Most companies which employ such recording practices for training purposes don’t even extend the courtesy of asking the caller’s permission to make the recording. They simply say it will be done. If callers indicate they don’t want the recording made, the company representatives will not continue the conversation. They will not take your order if you don’t allow then to record the call.
This seems to be a strange way for anyone to do business because there is more emphasis on adhering to internal corporate practices than to developing positive relationships with customers. In many instances they drive away customers.
If you are a caller, and you hear the call is being recorded it’s in your own best interest to make a conscious decision about giving away that personal information. The company might be reliable at the moment, but perhaps some of the people who will have access to the information in the future won’t be.
If you represent a company which does this recording, at least ask permission from the callers, and accept their decisions. Give callers the option of sharing or protecting their personal financial data. That demonstrates respect for your customer. You can develop other means of teaching your employees what they need to know and do when talking to your customers.
Don’t allow corporate policy to supersede personal privacy and security concerns.

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Is It Corporate Savings or Just Cost Shifting?

November 11, 2008

There is no question – and no argument – with the fact that businesses need to produce profit in order to continue operating.
One way to increase profit is to reduce the cost of operating – to wring out as much expense as possible.
But, all too often corporate decisions on how to “save money” result in front-line workers being used to subsidize the company by using their own money. When workers are expected to underwrite the operations of a company, something is very wrong with company priorities and with the leadership.
Here are some examples. First. A well-known and highly respected U.S. corporation cut its costs to maximize profits, but one of the methods for this cost cutting is just blatant cost shifting.

For instance, at a recent meeting, senior management announced, “Corporate can’t afford to purchase new laptop computers for its instructional staff to use in delivering company programs any longer.”
That was a pretty clear position, but here’s the problem. Laptop computers had to be used for the delivery. Instructors were required to provide their own computers!
The company mandated the methodology, but the instructors had to provide the equipment. The company shifted the cost of doing business to their employees.
The cost is still there , but now others are responsible for it. How’s that for good management?
That’s not saving; that’s strong arm.
Further, that same senior management then said to the instructors, “If you choose not to use your own personal computers, you won’t be working for us any more.”
Again, strong armed, and intimidation at its worst.
A second example. With increasing frequency, classroom teachers are spending their own money in order to provide necessary supplies and materials for the students in their classes. The school system “can’t afford” what the students need. Teachers are expected – required – to buy the necessities or the students don’t have what they need. The school boards and the administrators are at fault. They’re not doing their jobs!
One more example. And this one is showing up in companies everywhere under the guise of efficiency. E-mail is being used to send all sorts of material that once was delivered in hard copy. Manuals, documentation, and even fully visualized presentations are now sent via e-mail.
The justification is, “Its fast, and its cost effective because we don’t have to print and mail material. It saves our staff a lot of time, and it saves a lot on paper cost.”
That’s just not entirely true. The material must still be printed, but the multiple receivers now do the printing with their own equipment and paper. Those same people must also use their time to complete the task. All the same work is still done, but because of corporate directions, someone else does it. All the costs are still present, but now someone else bears the burden.
Finally, many retail stores are now offering “self-service” check out as a “convenience” for their customers. This isn’t a convenience for the customer; this is simply a way for the company to save money.
By having the customer do the checkout, the company saves a significant transaction fee on every sale.
Since there’s a savings, the customer should get an employee discount because the customer is now working for the company. But the customer still pays full price.
Nice trick on the part of the company! Get someone else to do your work for you and then pay full price for that privilege.
When you are on either side of this issue – as a customer or as a corporate representative – look carefully at what is happening. It’s a basic truism that “someone has to do the work. Just be sure the right “someone” is doing it.
Be honest about what you expect and what you contribute. Costs are always present; but it’s always a choice as to who is paying.

Show Respect – Don’t Just Talk About It

November 4, 2008

It’s one thing to talk about how well we treat our customers and colleagues, but it’s another thing to demonstrate it. As the old saying goes, “Talk is cheap!” Action is what really counts. And it’s action that customers remember.

In the musical, “My Fair Lady”, Eliza Doolittle summed up what is necessary to convince others of our commitment and dedication. She sang, “Show me.” Part of the lyric said, “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words!” If we think about it, it’s quite possible many of customers and colleagues might also be sick of words.
Certainly words are the great communication tools we all use every day in our respective businesses, but if they aren’t supported by actions, they become hollow. People judge us as individuals and as businesses by what we do, not by what we say.
We learned that lesson years ago when our parents and teachers told us that “Actions speak louder than words.” Yes, we may have learned it, but many of us seem to have forgotten that lesson. Many people use the “right” words, but they fall short demonstrating the appropriate action.
Here’s a suggestion that might help remind all of us of the importance of that lesson and provide a compass to guide our behavior. Start by demonstrating genuine respect for the people we deal with. Respect dictates that we treat others in a way that shows we care about them and about what happens to them.
If some of the people in business truly cared about their colleagues and their customers, many of the terrible recent business issues would never have happened. In the recent past we have seen this lack of respect demonstrated in a variety of ways. The people responsible for the disasters focused only on themselves and showed absolutely no respect for anyone else. Those executives are criminals, and they hurt many who trusted them.
Respect drives positive behavior, and lack of respect, likewise, delivers very different behaviors.
And it’s the behavior that people remember. In many business situations, customers have commented that in customer service situations, for example, they don’t remember what the representatives said, but they remember how those representatives made them feel. That’s true on both the positive and the negative side of the ledger.
Obviously, without customers, we go out of business. When we respect and take care of our customers they stay with us. If we don’t demonstrate that respect, our customers go to our competitors.
It’s all a matter of having choices and options. We choose how we behave, and the resulting message lasts a long time.

Try this little “behavior inventory” and see what you discover about yourself and about your business. It’s private, so no one else will see the results. Take a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. Label the column on the left, “How I feel about …”, and then list the following: …my family, … my co-workers, …my supervisors, …my customers, …my job. Add your own items.
Label the column on the right this way. “I show them how I feel by…” And then list what you do to convey your feelings. If it’s at all difficult to fill out that right hand column, maybe there is some serious work to do. If there is, this list will help identify the specific areas that deserve attention and action.
Effective communication is a lot more complicated than mere words, and this exercise might help avoid sending messages you don’t intend to send. We all want to be sure we don’t hear Eliza’s words coming from our customers and co-workers. Her words were fun and funny on stage, but they won’t be funny in our business dealings.
Here’s a parting example of words that don’t support behavior. How many times have you made a phone call which was answered by a recorded voice that said, “Your call is important to us.”? Then you’re told to wait for the next available representative! Other than hanging up, you have no other choice but to wait.
Most of us are sick of those words. If your call was truly important, a person – not a machine – would have answered the phone!
Eliza Doolittle had it right when she sang, “Show me.” Let’s all follow her advice.