A sense of urgency

I don’t know how this phrase first originated nor where it was invented, but I do know how quickly it loses it’s meaning when the good old boys club takes control of an organization. It’s a shame that even today there are corporations with 40 year tenured employees in senior management positions that

insist on doing things the same way they used to 40 years ago because it worked back then. ‘Hello? Wake up and smell the coffee’.

In what isolated desert are their heads stuck in the sand like ostriches? Get with it, change with the times or slowly disappear into oblivion in a well-deserved self-imposed downward business spiral. Don’t get me wrong, because tenure is not the issue here, but rather the fact that some people have not made the successful transition to today’s business environment, or don’t have the capabilities or are simply resistant to the change because it threatens their position of authority. Let’s not confuse monarchy with hierarchy. Usually tenure and experience are excellent irreplaceable qualities to have when accompanied by the skills and capabilities to apply them.

What’s going on with these companies? And why are burned out incompetent senior management personnel just being recycled in different lateral senior positions instead of being replaced? Why is the Peter Principle (doing a job above one’s capabilities) alive and well in many organizations today? Don’t let me hear comments like ‘ I forgot’, ‘ I have no time now’, I’m too busy’, ‘when I get a chance’. I don’t see customers lined up on anyone’s door, do you? So what happened to that ‘get up and go’ and‘ Sense of Urgency?’

There are many different factors that define having a sense of urgency. No one is really born with it, but it is developed through awareness, understanding of requirements, training, practice, reinforcement and showing examples at all levels of the organization. My father used to say that a fish starts to stink at the head, and he didn’t even know anything about business. Obviously it can apply generically. A sense of urgency may imply that you don’t take things lightly and impose your standards, but rather that you listen, understand, and be flexible to meet customer expectations. The answer is never ‘no’, but rather yes with conditions attached and negotiated to the satisfaction of all parties. And this is true and applies to interactions with both internal and external customers.

Lets talk about the office environment for a moment and more specifically emails. Why are emails not answered same or next day? When I asked this question once, of a middle manager, the reply I got on Friday morning was that on Fridays he only reads up to Tuesday’s emails. I was not impressed. But that’s not the worst case. On other occasions, I’ve had to send emails three times before it got actioned and responded to. Some emails literally took weeks for replies and only following verbal reminders. Internal customer or not, it is totally inexcusable. On the other hand, I’ve seen cases where I missed conference calls because the email and invite was sent only 30 minutes before the call was scheduled. Surely you don’t think every one sits in front of their PC just waiting for the next email to ring the chime? If urgent and needs quick attention, just call the individual and answer or acknowledge emails same or next day.

How about phone calls?

Don’t you hate unreasonably late returned and/or totally ignored phone calls? I just don’t know how some people can still do that in today’s business environment and feel good about themselves or more importantly get away with it. Think of the image of oneself that is being created in the other person’s mind. And now with call display, the problem is even worse because we become victims of selective answering. If you don’t have the answer, just acknowledge the call and say so. Leave a message. It is important that the buck stops with you when you get a call, and don’t just delegate. When you delegate, how do you know it will get addressed unless you close the loop? Your name, reputation and image are at stake, so grab the bull by the horns and take ownership of responsibility and accountability.

What about escalations?

When I first started working for a Service Company that shall remain nameless, I had a customer emergency on my hands and so I escalated to a senior manager to call me and also left a phone message which pages out. I received no reply. When on the next morning I asked as to what happened and why I received no reply, the answer was that it was after hours and that someone else would surely be taking care of it, so it was ignored intentionally. The behavior or lack of, was a toss up between outright stupidity and total incompetence, but in any case he no longer works there. If someone is trying to reach you, there must be a reason and you should reply as quickly as possible.

What about delegation?

How can you be sure that just because you ask someone to carry out a task, that it will get done properly and timely? Yes you must trust people, but they are human beings, and when things are critical you must take other precautions. In quality circles you will learn that specifics about expectations and timelines must be made clear and understood, but experience also plays an important role in this scenario and putting in place a fail safe closed loop process speaks for itself in terms of achievements and end results. Don’t just pass on emails to delegate tasks without keeping yourself in the loop when you copy the recipient, and don’t forget to follow up to ensure it happens if unreasonable delays occur. Don’t assume. Just make sure. It’s your name and reputation at stake. If the customer had the need of coming to you with the problem, then you owe the courtesy of replying directly or ensuring that it happens to their expectations. No excuses are acceptable.

What about the behavior of Service Technicians when doing service calls?

Xerox invented the concept of ‘Total Call’ in the 1980’s to be implemented during customer visits or service calls by technicians. The original intend was to ensure calls are diagnosed and repaired the first time through questioning techniques etcetera, thereby eliminating the need of costly callbacks. Great idea and it worked really well, but it needs to be taken to the next level. Today we no longer just fix equipment and solution problems, we must fix the customer and that should be practiced in all areas of the company that interfaces with the customer.

Anyone who interfaces with customers frequently must be well trained on customer management and relationship skills. No loose ends should ever be left and no assumptions of what the needs are should be made. If the customer needs something of a specific nature, at a specific time that is perfectly within the acceptable deliverables, then it should be accommodated without interpretation or short cuts without prior approval. This is where having that sense of urgency creates a positive perception and lasting impression that is of utmost importance for long healthy customer relationships. A positive attitude with complimentary mannerism is also a very big factor.

In the Customer Service Business it is imperative to practice a sense of urgency at all times. In Canada, sense of urgency can vary from coast to coast. At least that has been my experience. For example, in Western Canada, things can take a little longer because the people are more relaxed and customers are more understanding and accepting of delays. In Quebec, the culture is totally different and more intimate, with hugging and kissing between service provider and customers, and even though tend to be more protective and forgiving of each other, the expectations need to be there. In Ontario, where most head offices are located and things are moving very fast, the customers make demands with extreme expediency and with absolutely no acceptable excuses. As one customer once stated, ‘ I’m in business to do business, not make friends.’

When practicing sense of urgency the customer must see and feel the results. The customer must experience the difference it makes and must be impressed beyond a shadow of a doubt to the point where he will comment and communicate the experience up the food chain. Sense of urgency properly applied and managed can be that icing on the cake. It can be that simple to develop and important piece of the puzzle in the search for the ultimate differentiator that can give your customer service organization that leading edge. Its meaning must have purpose.

Dom Constantini is a world class customer service consulted. He has more than 25 years of experience in the customer service industry with many accomplishments in various capacities from sales, marketing and service operations. Constantini started his career as a technician for Xerox and progressed as the co-founder and national operations manager of the Xerox Service Centres. He worked for Honeywell Information Systems/Bull Information Systems as national marketing manager and Express Catalogue sales director and then worked for NCR as director customer service, central region operations, most recently as senior vice president sales, marketing and operations for RBA Computer Experts Inc. You can email him at Domcostantini@eyesurf.net.

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