Commitment To The Long-Term

27 Mar
2011

In my highly-connected digital world, it’s really nice to take the time to talk to my friends in person and discuss life, work, love, and the meaning of it all. I’m particularly fond of my conversations with Danielle Morrill, and every time we talk, we have this ability to tease really cool big ideas out of each other. That’s exactly what happened yesterday, and this is one of the many things we talked about.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and throughout my experiences I’ve come to the realization that Corporate America is driven by the short term thinking. This is not exactly an astounding revelation, but I think it’s worth exploring vis-a-vis its impact on how businesses are run and the impact of that thinking on companies’ social media health. Here’s how I see it… Due to the influence of Wall Street and quarterly earnings, the Western economy seems to live and die by what happens in the next 3 months. Of course, having measurable short-term goals is very important — how else would you reach your big goals if you don’t break them up into chunks? However, you can’t focus on the short-term without a very disciplined commitment to the long-term. And this is where things fall apart.

I believe that over the past decades, companies have tried to squeeze out every dollar for the sake of being more profitable in the short term, and where they squeezed from was often critical areas of customer support, investing in customer experience. Customer service is a short-term expense that won’t always materialize until the longer term horizon, because time passes, as repurchases and peer recommendations happen. However, in the long term bad customer experience erodes revenues. Why does this matter now more than ever before? Well, I think it should’ve always mattered, but I also think that social media exposes these bad practices. Customers are now free to talk about you, and inadequate service experience is no longer between just the company and the customer.

Case in point: I just went through a horrible experience with TD Bank, who failed to close my account when I asked them to (last August). Since I was under the impression it was closed, I never thought to follow-up, especially since I work and travel all the time, just got married, was gone for a long time, and never even use this account anymore. Since the account was kept open, each month I got pinged with a service charge until most of the money was gone. I discovered this and called them up, had to talk to several different departments, each of which refused to give me the $ back, neither of which could close the account for me on the phone (I was informed I had to call a branch during office hours), and neither of which had any record of me ever calling! After months of this, I took to Twitter (I only take to Twitter angrily when I’ve exhausted all other options). Within a number of hours, I got a call from the Office of The President, where one (!!!) person was able to close my account, refund me the money, and FedEx me the check. He also had access to my entire history somehow. It was like magic.¬†Was it magic? No, not really. I was finally talking to someone who was empowered to take action in the interests of the customer and provide a customized solution. He also had the systems necessary in place to look up customer history and take the necessary action. Unfortunately this empowerment, training and resourcing don’t happen in other parts of the organization, and support in channels other than Twitter tends to be very different than in social media.

Wall Street isn’t going to change its modus operandi anytime soon, but there’s nothing that’s stopping us as companies and representatives of those companies from investing in the long term.

  • It all starts with culture: Having the right culture can make or break any of the recommendations that follow below. It’s also the toughest one. It’s something that takes senior management commitment, as well as commitment of all levels of organization. It’s also something that takes the longest time to implement, because culture isn’t something you do; rather, it’s something you are. To really invest in the long-term, you have to commit to doing the right thing for your customers and know that it will pay off revenue-wise, and reward investors and other stakeholders.
  • Invest resources: You have to put your money where your mouth is. You will need to invest some money in hiring employees who are the right fit with the culture of focus on service and customer experience. You will also need to invest money in training employees, and not only in the hard skills that they need to have, but also in adhering to the company values. Empower your employees to act in the interests of the customer.
  • Invest in the ¬†process: No training or empowerment is going to work if you don’t have the right business processes supporting employees. For example, when a customer calls with a non-standard problem, does your employee know where to go to solve this problem and whom to talk to.
  • Internal collaboration: Collaboration and knowledge management tools can help a great deal in keeping all the necessary information within reach. Personally, I’ve seen this come to life in the past couple of weeks, as I’m getting up to speed at Yammer. I’m talking to customers and prospects all the time, but I don’t always have the answer. Because we are such die-hard users of Yammer at Yammer (also known as drinking our own champagne), I’ve been more effective at getting what I need faster so I can serve our community better.
  • Fix your systems: One of the worst experiences is data fragmentation. How often do you call somewhere only to find that the person you talked to last time is in a different department, and the person you are talking to now doesn’t have access to it? It makes me want to tear my hair out: as a customer and as a business practitioner, obsessed with process and systems. You need to make sure your systems are talking to each other.
  • Measure the right things: Yes, you need to hold your departments for quarterly earnings goals, but you also need to measure the investment in the long-term. Make sure that all the right people are responsible for customer-centric metrics. Remember: what gets measured, gets done.
  • Provide a consistent experience: The above recommendations, as long as you invest in all customer touchpoints, should give you the tools you need to provide a consistent experience, regardless of channel.

All of the above takes time and money. There’s not going to be an overnight fix, but if you commit to the long-term as a business, you should see the results you want in the future. Although the above recommendations are mostly for businesses and business leaders, any person can take some ownership of his / her area of influence and enact change. You never know, it could inspire the rest of the organization.

Photo credit: WanderingtheWorld

  • http://www.daniellemorrill.com Danielle Morrill

    Really enjoyed our talk, your perspective and ability to draw on your own life stories and examples when we think about how to help build our respective companies is one of the things I love most about you. Onward!

    • http://themaria.me/ themaria

      Thanks, Danielle! The pleasure is all mine! I’m looking forward to our next talk!

  • http://twitter.com/Wizard_Writer Carlos A R de Souza

    What can I say? This post is simply *brilliant*. It confronts the “short-term goals” vs “long-term goals” sharply. However, I’d like to add that there’s no easy solution to this dilemma: focusing on long-term goals will detract you from the short ones, and focusing on short-term goals can earn you a living, but as you said, will compromise you on the long term. It’s as if you had to have two glasses to see better near and far, and changing them all the time while you’re still trying to *visualize* the whole picture is really, really, difficult.

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