Listening is overrated when it comes to creating an exceptional customer experience. Your customers will only tell you what they think they need, but how you meet their unexpressed needs makes all the difference. As a communication expert, I focus on what leaders have to say and how they say it. While studying brands that are considered the gold standard in customer service, however, I’ve found that what customers don’t say is just as important—perhaps more important—than what they do say. Brands and individuals who offer radically superior customer service stand out because they anticipate unexpressed needs or wishes.
I recently brought my family to a 5-Star San Diego resort, The Grand Del Mar, named the #1 hotel in the United States by Trip Advisor. It sits on a beautiful property in the hills, but there are plenty of gorgeous locations in San Diego. It’s the “attentive” service that Trip Advisor featured in its review and has earned my loyalty. But exactly what does the staff do that sets them apart and, more important, what can all businesses learn from their customer service techniques? The Grand Del Mar’s customer service ‘secret’ became very clear to me on this recent visit—the staff finds small ways to unexpectedly delight their customers and they do so by anticipating unexpressed wishes. Here are just a few of many examples I noted:
-My daughters discovered a small sand area near the pool. Within seconds—not minutes—a staff member casually walked by and, without saying a word, dropped off sand toys for the kids. The kids looked up and there they were, seemingly out of nowhere.
-The valet brought up our car and asked where we were heading. “Legoland,” the kids shouted! By the time I had finished loading the trunk, the valet had placed four water bottles in the car. “It’s hot today. You’ll need these,” he said.
-Vanessa and I decided to treat ourselves to a special occasion dinner in the hotel’s premium restaurant. The hotel offered an inviting play area for children, called The Explorers Club. The dinner was running a bit longer than the kids club would remain open and the restaurant’s location was a 5-minute walk back to the main hotel. “I noticed that you had courtesy cars at the lobby. Can we request one to pick us up as soon as we’re finished?” I asked the waiter. “It’s already been done. The car is waiting,” he responded. “And we informed the club that you’re on your way.”
At the end of our stay, the hotel desk employee asked if we had our boarding passes and if we needed directions. I asked the person why everyone seems to anticipate the needs of a guest. “It makes us stand out,” he said. The employee was exactly right. The reason why this level of service leaves a positive impression—and why you, as a leader, must coach to it—is because it happens so infrequently that customers will pay a premium for it. I’ve studied the best brands in the area of customer service and all of them train employees to anticipate unexpressed wishes. It’s a key component to an exceptional customer experience.
The Ritz-Carlton is probably the most famous brand that follows this technique. All employees are trained to “anticipate each guest’s needs.” Anticipation is the second of three steps that employees follow to earn a guest’s loyalty (Step one is “A warm and sincere greeting and step three is providing a “fond farewell”).
One of the consistent steps of the Apple Store customer service model is to “Listen for and resolve expressed and unexpressed needs.” For example, many first-time Mac customers are anxious about the changing over from the PC-based environment they’ve grown accustomed to using. A salesperson (specialist) trained in active listening would pick up on this hesitation and proactively recommend Apple Store services such as free data migration and free classes.
I recently wrote about a new hospital in Dallas that is completely reimaging the patient experience. In The Hospital Steve Jobs Would Have Built, I revealed the steps of service at the new Walnut Hill Medical Center. One of the key steps is to “Address the patient’s concerns, questions and needs, both expressed and unexpressed.” A diagnosis or hospital visit is a confusing time for most people who think about questions long after they’ve returned home. Anticipating questions provides a better experience, makes the patient feel better, and results in fewer follow-up calls, allowing the staff more time to care for their current patients.
I recently spoke to a group of hundreds of in-home designers who work for a well-known brand. Prior to my keynote I interviewed some of the brands’ top “producers,” or salespeople. The number one saleswoman in the company told me the secret to her success was “listening for unexpressed needs.” For example, a customer requested a consultation. Due to scheduling conflicts, the saleswoman would not be able to meet with the customer for five days. The customer verbally said he was fine with it, but it was clear by the tone of his voice that he wanted it done sooner. The saleswoman moved things around in her calendar, called the customer back and met with him that day. That consult resulted in the biggest commission of her 13-year career with the company.
Listening to your customer is great and will guarantee average or even above-average service. But 5-star brands know something most others do not—what customers don’t say is often more important than what they do say. Delight your customers in surprising ways and you’ll earn their loyalty.
Carmine Gallo is the communication coach for the world’s most admired brands, a popular keynote speaker, and author of Talk Like TED and The Apple Experience; Secrets To Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty.
What do you think is the main reason why customers stay loyal to a brand? Price? Customer service? Or maybe regular discounts?
While these reasons also have an insignificant impact, the correct answer is as follows: customers don’t want to part ways with brands that are able to meet their every need.
In fact, according to recent surveys, more than 50 percent of consumers out there say they expect businesses to anticipate their needs and provide meaningful suggestions before contact.
So, that’s it? Meeting customers’ needs is the most influential factor that allows making them happy?
Yes, it is. But unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than that.
Customer loyalty, therefore profits, come from anticipating customer needs and responding to them in a quick and appropriate way. But achieving this requires you to get in their head and gain their unique perspective.
For example, knowing your customers well doesn’t include knowing their favorite color or a sports team. Instead, you need to know where they work, what their short- and long-term professional and personal goals are, business challenges they’re struggling with, and so on.
On the one hand, this is a lot to learn. On the other hand, the more information you have, the better you can get at anticipating and meeting their needs. At some point, you will teach your customers how to deal with a problem before it even becomes a problem.
This will also mean that your product lines will be lined up with customers’ expectations before they have to turn to you for a new update, solution, feature, product, or service. Isn’t that amazing?
Now, let’s finally talk about how to anticipate the needs of customers. For that, we will use an infographic created by researchers from Proessaywriting. It has eight excellent strategies for you to steal, backed up with research data and statistics.
So be a real 21st century leader and learn what it takes to predict and meet new customer demands and advance your business. Every strategy in the infographic is added by a succinct explanation of why it works why you should use it.
Taking this comprehensive, data-led approach to studying and anticipating the behavior of your customers will enable you to realize why they select your business over others, how they interact with your business, and how they perceive your promotion.
The way to maximize the present is to anticipate the future.
Anticipation enhances influence and expands leadership:
Don’t simply meet today’s challenges. Anticipate tomorrow’s opportunity. This is especially true when developing and challenging team members. It’s also true when serving customers. But how?
Listen to the aspirations and plans of internal team members and external customers. Your hopes for others aren’t as important as their hopes for themselves.
Opportunities for leadership emerge when you understand another’s aspirations and anticipate their opportunities.
Your leadership has greater value when you’re helping someone get where they want to go. It’s surprisingly easy to learn another’s aspirations.
People enjoy talking about their dreams if they trust you.
You can’t anticipate in a vacuum. Get to know people. Spend time listening. We must know people in order to understand aspirations and anticipate opportunities.
Listening increases efficiency and multiplies influence.
Leaders of value help others fulfill their aspirations. How might you help your boss fulfill his or her aspirations, for example? (You might insert customer, colleague, spouse, or child in the previous sentence.)
Anticipate the future by observing patterns from the past.
- Recurring topics of conversation?
- Repeated frustrations?
- Consistent language?
- Nagging fears? Fear invites foresight.
- Points of satisfaction and fulfillment?
Point out patterns you notice. We tend to get lost in the weeds. People may not realize their patterns. When you say, “I notice that you frequently talk about relationships,” you tell people they matter.
Others value you, when you anticipate their challenges and opportunities.
You’ve probably heard a story or two of exceptional customer experiences where consumers are completely caught off guard by attentive and proactive service. The observant hotel employee that rescues a beloved stuff animal or the considerate customer service agent who sends a gift card along with an exchanged item to make up for a shipping error.
Some companies seem to have an uncanny ability to get ahead of their customer’s issues. Ask any of them and they probably won’t say “it just happens”. This type of dedication to creating exceptional customer service is created by design and is usually built into the culture of the company.
Anticipating customer needs can seem daunting, after all, you can’t read minds. The good news is that your customers don’t expect you to read their minds, but they do want you to anticipate the problem they are trying to solve and help them reach a resolution as quickly as possible.
For all of the work it requires to make anticipating customer needs happen, the payoff is well worth it. Let’s take a look at how to anticipate customer needs and what it means to your customer service.
Disrupt expectations and increase accessibility
When we walk into a store, we expect clean, organized displays and friendly staff. When we research a company online, we expect to find some digital presence – a website or social media profile, perhaps some reviews. As consumers, we are trained to expect certain experiences during our entire relationship with a company.
Regardless of whether we’re shopping for a vacation getaway, office supplies, or a new car loan from your credit union, there is a certain level of convenience and responsiveness that consumers expect. The absence of these things can degrade the customer experience.
The converse is also true when it comes to interrupting the day to call customer service, waiting on hold to speak to a representative, or having to wait days for an email response. There are certain things within your customer’s journey that they’ve come to expect and dread. If these dreaded experiences were removed it would greatly improve their experience.
You don’t need a crystal ball to see that consumers are using mobile devices to communicate and prefer the ease and convenience of engaging in messaging channels such as SMS, web chat, and social media. Implementing messaging to reduce wait times, deflect calls, and provide faster assistance disrupts and resets the consumer expectation that contacting a company for help is slow and inconvenient.
At Quiq, we help our clients provide convenient ways for customers to engage with a brand and allow consumers to reach out to companies on their terms. Communicating with companies via messaging is still pretty new and we’ve seen so many consumers respond with surprise and delight at the ability to text a company for help.
Make customer engagement easy & effective.
Set a precedent
The biggest problem across the customer experience lifecycle are communication inefficiencies. As consumers, we’ve all experienced the inconvenience and dismay of having to navigate an IVR system, wait on hold, or wait for an email response from brands when we need help.
During these moments of need, we want the ability to reach out to a company without having to interrupt our day to receive fast, convenient help. Customer loyalty is won (or lost) at these moments of need.
Aligning your people, processes, and technology to reduce effort, increase personalization. and maximize value will allow you to set a precedent for the kind of service your customers can expect in the future. Imagine how your customers would perceive your brand if they were able to text a question to your contact center and get immediate help and resolution. No interruptions to their day, no inconvenience or waiting involved.
When your customer expects to be taken care of, they can engage with your company without feeling that they have to play offense, which leads to more pleasant interactions for both sides. Customers will expect every interaction to be positive and anticipate you will do whatever it takes to resolve their issue.
Influence and win customer loyalty
We’ve touched on customer loyalty in earlier posts, but we can’t stress the importance of winning your customer’s loyalty enough. In a digital-first age, where customers have so many choices, winning customer’s loyalty is more important than ever before and customer service has become a major competitive advantage.
When it comes to customer loyalty, good customer service matters. CCW’s research on customers engagement preference shares some very compelling statistics
- 70% of customers demand resolutions on the first contact,
- 69% view speed as a top priority,
- 66% value friendly, personable agents, while
- 65% utterly oppose waiting on hold!
Significant numbers of customers also prioritize agent knowledge (65%), effort level (64%) and 24/7/365 access (55%) when interacting with businesses. There’s no question that we are in the age of customer-centricity, so these consumer demands should come as no surprise.
Forbes recently reported that 67 percent of customers have become “serial switchers” and are willing to switch brands because companies fail to create positive, emotional experiences that drive loyalty. The path to struggling businesses are paved with bad experiences such as customers on lengthy holds and brands not being available at the customers moment of need.
Predict future needs
Unless you really do have a crystal ball or have suddenly honed your ability to read tarot cards, you can’t anticipate every unique situation that may come your way. Sure, there are some customer issues that may be frequent and obvious enough that you can anticipate their exact need, like needing to change a delivery or service date or receiving the wrong color and want help with an exchange. Regardless of the issue, the one thing you can anticipate is that your customer wants resolution in the fastest, most pain-free way possible.
Quiq is helping companies across multiple industries do just that through messaging. We enable customers to engage with their favorite brands with the same ease and convenience they talk to family and friends. Whether a customer needs to text you to ask about an exchange or new car loan, needs assistance via chat in finding and buying the perfect gift, or wants to schedule a service and pay for it through Apple Business Chat, Quiq Messaging is the solution that powers those seamless connections.
Quiq makes it easy for customers to contact a business via Messaging, the preferred channel already in use with friends and family. With Quiq, customers can engage with companies via SMS/text messaging, Facebook Messenger, Web Chat, In-App, and Kik for help with their pre-sales and post-sales questions. In return, companies get a digital engagement platform to communicate with customers. Try it out yourself today with a free demo!
You’ve given your customer a reason to come to your company in the first place and succeeded in solving one of your customer’s needs. Congratulations on a job well done. What’s next? Delivering another winner that will alleviate the next customer problem is key to the future of the company. But how do you best uncover the most important needs they have?
Here are four suggestions to help you gain success in this important endeavor:
1. Look for the next problem to solve, not which product to sell.
Remember that the problem you solve is always the most important thing. It’s more important than the product or service that you sell. It doesn’t matter if you are business to consumer or business to business – making decisions based on solving needs will lead to a better customer experience, which will lead to increased financial performance for your company.
A great example where this philosophy has begun (early stage) to take root is within healthcare. Many hospitals and health systems are increasingly focused on the patient experience and are beginning to see that solving the critical moments within a patient’s journey is intrinsically tied to their performance.
2. Pay attention and mine the future demand from the next needs of current customers.
If you’re happy with the success you are having with your current customer base, it is easy to look to expand your product or service to new customers. It’s vital to pause at this point. Stop. Consider your current customers as part of your future initiatives. Don’t overhaul your client base. They’ve been your bread and butter to date. Deny the urge to leave them behind for the shiny new customers preparing to knock down your door.
Alienating current customers could have a negative, if not devastating, effect on new business. Find a way to include them in the new equation. The technology industry does this well. The sheer number of mobile applications that have been developed using customer input to solve everyday needs is evidence. You may find your current customers provide even more positive impetus to that new product than those new customers waiting at your door. Your customers may not be able to tell you exactly what they need, but they can show you with their behavior if you are paying attention.
3. Let customers try before they buy.
Sometimes it’s necessary for your customers to try before they buy something new. This is why most technology applications and programs today have a free option with just enough features to make you want the paid version with all of the bells and whistles. Focus on allowing your customer’s point of view to trump your desire to dazzle them with new products immediately. Helping customers leverage the investment they’ve already made is a way to build trust and deepen a relationship. Make sure the customer recognizes you’re building on mutual, shared interests before trying to sell them the next thing. This gives you stronger relationships and additional revenue.
4. Give customers an easy way to share their ideas.
Hold a two-way conversation in multiple places and engage the customer in ways you can further alleviate their pain points or solve problems.
You must create open, inviting channels for them to use and effective ways to capture what they say and do. This can take the form of direct customer feedback via online forums, customer advisory boards, or phone conversations. Think about how often you are asked for your feedback by hotels, airlines, and other businesses in the travel and hospitality industries. These companies are capturing the voice of their customers to better their products and services.
Identifying additional potential problems or areas where customers are not fully satisfied can drive innovation. Testing those innovative ideas precisely and quickly will allow you to sink your teeth into the bigger, more time-consuming projects with more clarity.
In the end, you’re only as good as your customers say you are. Successful organizations devote the necessary time and resources to locate and alleviate their major pain points. They strive to deliver consistent wins for their customer’s needs, and their customers keep coming back for more.
As an executive assistant, you need to have a sharp skill set and work well under pressure. Your proverbial bag of tricks needs to include soft skills like strong communication, discretion, prioritization, and problem-solving strategies as well as hard skills like meticulous calendar management and a strong computer application know-how.
While a long-standing business relationship with your executive helps you to anticipate his or her needs more quickly and intuitively, there is always a learning curve when working in a high-functioning and often fast-paced supportive role of an executive administrator.
Below we will outline some helpful strategies and practices you can employ to help you establish a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with the executive you support.
One of the most important things you can do to start this relationship off on the right foot is to have a conversation about what each of your expectations are. Even if you’ve been working with your executive for a while, it’s also a good idea to have a refresher check-in to see if any adjustments need to be made.
As an executive assistant, you can only excel at your job if you are clear on what that job is, especially since that role and scope of work can vary greatly from one position to the next. Some executives might use their assistant for heavy administrative work while others might need them to handle personal matters, too. Clear guidelines need to be drawn. Many times, relationships break down because a lot of things are assumed or implied. Ask your executive to sit down with you and outline what their expectations are so you can establish some parameters. It’s also important that you share any expectations you have with your executive as well, keeping the lines of communication open.
The Devil Is In the Details
Often, execs are big-picture people. They are intelligent and driven but can be hyper-focused on the end game. This is where an executive assistant can be a huge asset. While your executive is making big picture moves, it’s up to you to fill in the gaps. They rely on your skills to keep them organized, on schedule, and relieved of the nitty-gritty, the red tape, or the tedious leg work so they can focus on larger-scale operations. Familiarize yourself with his or her way of thinking and go over their planning with a fine-tooth comb. An effective assistant knows the devil is in the details and preparation is key to helping your executive bring his or her vision to fruition.
Make Their Goals Your Goals
Adopting a goal-oriented mindset will serve you well in an executive administrator role. Think of yourself as a liaison between your executive and his or her goal. Clearly define those goals in measurable ways and put those meticulous planning and problem solving skills to work. Whatever they are set out to accomplish, consider yourself a team. Make it your priority to ensure their success.
Remember that a hallmark of a good executive is emphasizing your professional development. You want to support someone who supports you. If he or she takes an interest in your goals and has a desire to help you realize your professional potential, you’re poised and primed for success. And in turn, you want to strengthen your executive assistant skills so you can become more effective and qualified to better serve them.
Being able to anticipate the needs of your executive quickly and efficiently separates the average from the exceptional. When your expectations are managed properly, you focus on the details, and adopt your executives goals as your own, you will establish a long-standing mutually beneficial relationship.
Every customer you have will require some help. Your existing processes and systems may help many customers but there will always be exceptions.
How you handle these exceptions will determine how great a company you are.
On a recent Southwest Airlines flight, my family and I were traveling with our four kids. The flight attendant noticed this and gave us our very own trash bag to help us out. Since I, as a parent, know we can produce a mess, this was a great help.
Because the flight attendant anticipated our needs, my flight was a little less stressful and Southwest had a cleaner plane. Everybody won.
When you anticipate your customers’ needs, you:
- prevent problems before they start
- reduce customer service demand later
- show customers that you are actually thinking about them
How do you anticipate customer needs?
The first step of anticipating customer needs is to watch what is happening. What are your customers doing? What are they saying? What is happening around them? If you keep your eyes and ears open, you will be ready to see what a customer needs.
Look for Patterns
The more you observe customers, the more patterns you will see emerge. Take note of what happens when customers are in a particular situation. You’ll see similar results. Identify the patterns. Look for the cause and effect of results.
As you observe and identify that this particular situation matches a pattern you’ve seen before, take action. Help the customer leap frog ahead to the desired result. Help them avoid potential pitfalls. Inject yourself between the customer and the problem before it happens.
Over time, you’ll see common patterns. It then becomes essential to correct the root cause of these issues. When you fix the root problem, the customer won’t have the need to begin with. Problem solved.
Other times problems and needs will always arise because they are out of your control. In these cases, make sure you have a process or system in place to identify and address customer needs before they arise.
Your experience will allow you to see a few steps ahead of a customer. Pave the way for a smooth experience and the customers will be happy to walk with you (and do business with you) again.
How often does this happen to you in your Sales Operations role?
“Hey Sales Ops Sarah, I need you to crunch the data and give me a report about [fill in the blank], and I need it on my desk first thing in the morning.”
Welp! Guess it’s time to drop the project you’ve been knee-deep in for weeks, scramble to find this new data, chug an urn of coffee to make sure you don’t pass out from exhaustion, stay up all night arduously building out this sales report, and (hopefully) deliver the right report with the right information to your Sales VP on time.
Of course, this isn’t a very reasonable ask from your Sales VP – one day is pretty short notice for a new project. But in the fast-paced, pedal-to-the-metal world of sales management, this scenario is very real, one that Sales Ops teams face all the time.
In 2015, the year of the Sales Ops, it’s time to stop getting blindsided by requests from on high. It’s time to start taking charge, and being able to better anticipate the Sales Ops needs from your VP or CEO.
What does my Sales VP want?
That’s the crux of the question that you have to answer to truly get ahead: what exactly does your Sales VP want you to analyze, figure out and report on?
In the past, we’ve described the Sales Operations team as being the offensive line of the overall sales team, providing valuable behind-the-scenes and unheralded support that allows that sales team to close deals. There’s a certain amount of adaptability, flexibility and anticipation in real-time required to succeed in both positions. When viewed through this support lens, it becomes a little easier to anticipate the needs of your Sales VP. Here are 5 tips:
Familiarize yourself with the latest sales management concepts and concerns – This means going beyond the technical, detail-laden and operational aspect of your job function to think more creatively and strategically. All members of your Sales Operations team should be intimately familiar with the latest and great sales management concepts, not just within your organization but more broadly across various industries.
- Network with other Sales VPs and leaders – Getting the perspectives of your sales managers and VPs is great – after all, they’re the ones who dictate the strategy of the sales organization you’re a part of. However, to truly deliver proactively in Sales Operations, it is important for you to broaden your perspective, and that means networking with other Sales VPs and leaders to figure out what they’re primary concerns are, and what makes them tick.
- Stop spending so much time building out sales reports – Finally, the best way to anticipate the needs of your Sales VP is to stop wasting so much time tediously pulling together data, building out reports and performing the type of time-consuming analysis that your VP demands. Either by turning yourself into an Excel whiz or buying third-party software that makes generating sales reports and analysis much easier, working more efficiently will greatly improve your working relationship with your VP.
It’s not always easy to anticipate the Sales Operations needs of your VP and to head those needs off, but it is possible. Follow these 5 steps to become more proactive and ensure smoother sales operations – see what we did there? – across your organization.
What does it mean to anticipate customers’ needs? It isn’t as easy as offering a product they might want. You have to really delve into who your target audience is and what pain points they have. Once you understand these things, it is much easier to offer solutions in a way that makes sense to them.
How do you ensure your customers are satisfied? A whopping 91% of consumers don’t complain about a bad experience. They simply leave your site, never to return. They’ll even stop buying a brand they love after one unsatisfactory interaction. Your job is figuring out how to remain relevant to your clients, even without their negative feedback.
Fortunately, many things result in excellent user experience (UX). Here are six ways to anticipate your site visitors’ needs and deliver exceptional results.
1. Solve a Problem
Don’t jump into a sales pitch without fully understanding the issue your buyer faces. There is a pain point that drove them to look for your type of business in the first place. How are you going to fix the problem for them?
Outline why your business has the exact answer they need. Don’t be afraid to dig into the emotional appeal behind the situation.
College Money Matters dips into the pain point many parents and students face of how to pay for higher education. It clearly understands the fear and uncertainty surrounding this time in a person’s life. The rotating headlines in the hero header include topics such as minimizing the amount you’ll owe, how to get the cheapest interest rates on loans and why you should go after as many scholarships as you can.
2. Survey Your Customers
The best way of figuring out the future needs of your current customers is simply asking them. Think about the ways you might serve them as their family or careers grow. What might they need tomorrow they don’t need today? Then, throw out some questions in a survey and ask them for feedback.
There may be services your competitors offer that you don’t. Your customers might even consider leaving you and moving to another company to gain access to those perks. Look for input that helps you grow your business and better meet your site visitors’ needs.
3. Offer Tools to Help Them Navigate
When people come to your website, they’ve already searched for a business such as yours. They may even have visited a few of your competitors’ sites before landing on your page. You want to help them navigate through their options. Have a clear buyer’s journey that takes them from information to lead in mere seconds.
What this looks like depends on the type of company you run. Service businesses may need to include a list of offerings, locations and a free quote, for example. An operation selling a specific product may move the buyer toward the shopping cart or a video showing the item in use.
NMC CAT offers a map showing the locations closest to the customer. Whether a construction company wishes to buy a new machine or a startup wants to rent equipment, they’ll be able to find what they want with the searchable location finder.
4. Add Live Chat
According to a survey by Zendesk, live chat comes with an 85% customer satisfaction rating and is preferred to almost every other type of support. If you want to meet your site visitors’ needs in real time, adding a live chat feature is extremely helpful.
You can use a chatbot for gathering basic information and answering questions that come up repeatedly. However, have a few trained live agents on hand who can close the sale or move an interested user into a lead with little effort.
5. Engage Users
Looks for ways to engage users from the moment they land on your page. There are several methods for achieving engagement. You could add an explainer video that showcases what your product or service does and why it’s superior.
Another option is creating animations as the person scrolls. Their movement on the page is something engaging rather than just another static page with a bunch of information.
Add details your users are most likely to be interested in and make them appealing so they remain on your page.
Boost does a good job of rotating the vitamin bottle in a 360-degree circle as you scroll down the page. Some elements stay static while others move at different speeds. This gives a parallax cinematic effect similar to what you’d see in movie credits. The user keeps scrolling to see what’s revealed next, and while doing so, they learn about the product.
6. Know Your UVP
Your unique value proposition (UVP) is what makes your brand stand out. What is the one thing you offer or do better than any of your competitors? Once you figure out what your UVP is and how it helps solve your customers’ problems, you’ll be a step ahead of others in the industry.
Start by looking at competitors. What are their UVPs? Does your company match what they do, and then perhaps take it a step further? Next, look at what they don’t offer that they should. It will quickly become clear what your UVP is and how to promote it to your site visitors to show them you’re the answer to their problems.
Automate Minor Tasks
When you automate elements of your site, you free up your time for more personalized service. For example, you might collect information for the mailing list via a form, but you could then personalize the emails you send with offers relevant to the recipient.
Chatbots, pop-ups and automated SMS messages are all ways of making your work easier and giving you more opportunities to reach out to individual leads. With a little automation, your site goes to the next level and meets customer needs.
Requests gladly taken. If you tell me what you liked and what you didn't, you will make me happy.
In my post complaining about the way people talk about Guess, Ask, and Tell Cultures, I summarized them this way:
The gist of the difference is that in “ask culture” it’s normal to ask for things you want even if you don’t expect to get them, it’s normal to refuse requests, and it’s not expected to anticipate others’ needs if they don’t ask for things, whereas in guess culture, you’re expected to offer things without being asked, you don’t ask for things unless you really need them or strongly expect the other person will want to give them, and it’s rude to refuse requests. (Tell culture is a variant on ask culture where instead of just making a request, you express the strength and exact nature of your preference, so other people can respond to your needs cooperatively, balancing your interest against theirs, and suggesting better alternatives for you to get what you want.)
But the more I think about it, the more I’m sure that the problem isn’t that one or all of these is bad – it’s that these distinctions are insufficiently dimensional. Here are a few more precise axes along which communication differs:
What’s the difference between reactive service and proactive service? In this piece, we’re going to cover:
Ultimately, when you know everything about your customer, it’s that much easier to anticipate their needs and truly delight them with memorable, meaningful service. The key differentiator between proactive and reactive service boils down to your customers’ wants and needs. Reactive service solves for a want—a customer wants a refund, for example—and your team delivers a solution. On the other hand, proactive service solves for a need. That means it may be something they haven’t even asked for, like a faster delivery to avoid an incoming storm that might cause delays. The question is: how can you know what your customers need before they do to deliver high-quality, proactive service?
The answer is a combination of predictive analytics and human insights. You need to be able to identify issues or opportunities by drawing conclusions from data, and by having an engaged team of agents that know everything about your customers and are always looking out for new ways to delight them. But no matter how good your agents are, if you don’t have the data and single customer view that will enable them to understand everything about your customers, it’s very difficult to be proactive. When you have all of your customer information in one system, across all of your platforms, you can create the kind of granular searches for customers that account for specific behaviors or qualities. You can identify customers by when they made their last order, their location, their sentiment, and more—making it far easier to surprise and delight them.
Delivering personal, intuitive service is also crucial to a proactive approach. That doesn’t mean simply responding to a customer’s query on their channel of choice. It means knowing them better than they know themselves. To be smart, personal, proactive, and timely requires a lot of moving parts to come together.
You need the foundational data that gives you a complete understanding of your customer in one place, for a start. This data has to be stored in a secure, central location that is still accessible. This can be a system you’ve created in-house or a third-party CRM—the important thing is security and usability.
Once you’re gathering and storing all of this information, you can begin to act on it. That requires the right mechanism—a combination of trained employees and features within your software platform—to connect with customers over their preferred channel with the right personalized message. Being able to do that is the Holy Grail of customer experience, but of course getting there is not as simple as following a few steps. It’s an involved process that is deeply connected to the details of your business and customers, getting there can take years of work and considerable investment.
What Proactive Service Isn’t
Proactive service isn’t just about predicting what your customers want. Anticipating customer needs is stronger than a prediction. To anticipate means that you have the necessary data and understand exactly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Sometimes proactive service will nudge your customers towards the next part of your journey, but not necessarily. Sometimes it’s just about preventing an issue or simply making their day. To do that consistently, you’ll need the right data, combined with the right workflows in place, and the permissions from your customer to collect and use that data in the way you’ve stated.
How Proactive Service Can Help
Proactive service can provide a wealth of benefits to your customers and your business. But when does it make sense to take a proactive approach, instead of letting your customers come to you?
Let’s say your customer is trying to return one of your products. Since they’ve already filled out a form with all of their information, it’s easy to offer a higher-quality replacement instead. This way you can easily surprise and delight your customer with an unexpectedly generous offer instead of a rote return process. And this is relatively simple to do as well. You can easily alert your agents when customers submit a return for a specific item. You can even tier your response, only alerting agents about returns by customers who have been customers for a certain amount of time, have spent a certain amount of money, or have completed a certain number of transactions. The more relevant information you have at hand about your customers, the more specific and useful your outreach can be.
If your company deals in services instead of products, there are even more opportunities for proactive service. If a customer has to reschedule their flight or book another time for a cleaning, that’s a pretty classic example of a reactive experience. You probably don’t know if your customers’ schedules are going to change before they do. However, you do know whether a flight or an appointment has to change on your end. Instead of simply updating your customers and letting them deal with the change, you can reach out with new options and take a more consultative approach. For a more complex issue, you can even have an agent connect personally and help them find a solution.
Being proactive is about thinking from the customer’s perspective. All the data and analytics in the world won’t help you deliver a better quality experience if you aren’t able to do that. Only once you are intimately familiar with their needs and problems will you be able to give them what they need before they know they need it. If you want to deliver truly proactive service, that’s where you need to start.
Anticipating the needs of your employer may seem nearly impossible without having psychic powers. The ability to anticipate needs is a real asset for an administrative assistant and will keep your boss at the top of their game. Those of you who have watched the TV Series “MASH” may have noticed Radar’s eerie ability to predict what the colonel would ask for next. Radar also never wasted an opportunity to find out pertinent information to stay informed.
The following are ways to predict what your boss will need:
- Check the calendar. A great way to prepare the day for your boss is to check their calendar. This can allow for opportunities to make their day run smoothly.
- Meeting materials – Look for any information or paperwork that may be needed for a meeting. You can have all the paperwork organized and in a binder and all they need to do is take it with them.
- Lunch breaks – Some days meetings are scheduled back to back and a lunch break is not available. Make arrangements to deliver them a lunch to their next meeting.
- New guests – Check the calendar for new guests who may not know their way around your office building. You can take the initiative to greet them at the front of the building and escort them to the meeting place.
- Check appointments – Make sure each appointment has a set location and a reminder. Call the meeting organizer if you feel more information will be needed.
- Running a meeting – Check to see if your boss is the leader of any meetings that day (or check days in advance). You can help by setting up the meeting room, making sure AV equipment is running properly and you can offer to take meeting minutes.
Do you have special powers when anticipating your employer/clients’ needs? Share with us in the comment section.
If your company experiences a lot of turnover, it can be difficult to determine exactly why employees aren’t sticking around. Between the cost of recruiting, training, and productivity, you lose a lot more than just employees, so it’s essential to make improvements.
There are so many factors contributing to why a person might leave, but you need to figure out how to pinpoint them so you can retain your talent in the future. Here’s what you need to consider when anticipating future employee needs:
SURVEY ALL YOUR EMPLOYEES.
Conduct brief surveys of all your employees who quit. Conduct exit interviews that ask them to anonymously share why they are leaving and what would have convinced them to stay. These results can really help you narrow down specific flaws in the way your company relates to its employees. Find common problems and start fixing them.
Additionally, you can survey the rest of your employees about what they like about the company, how they are treated, and what changes they would like to see. This way, you can find out what you’re doing right and continue to make changes to keep your current employees happy.
According to Forbes, the top five reasons employees quit their jobs include stability, compensation, respect, health benefits, and work-life balance. Ask questions about these specific areas to ensure you cover all the most important areas.
PAY ATTENTION TO EMPLOYEES WITH STRONG WORK ETHIC.
Happy workers will have much stronger work ethics than their unhappy peers. This means you need to evaluate your employees’ integrity, responsibility, and teamwork. Be on the lookout for the differences among your employees to anticipate turnover. Take a closer look at the needs of your workers who do not have such strong work ethics. It could be something you can easily fix.
It’s also important to factor in different trends into the way you evaluate your employees. For example, the generational differences between Baby Boomers and Millennials do not mean one group has a stronger work ethic than the other group; they simply like to work differently. Figure out how your employees prefer to operate and implement changes to fit their needs.
LEARN WHY SOME POSITIONS ARE DIFFICULT TO FILL.
You should also realize that some jobs are just more difficult to fill than others. You’re not the only one struggling to hire and retain workers in these positions. Some jobs like software developers, truck drivers, IT engineers, and sales representatives are just hard to fill. Learn what your most difficult jobs are to fill and anticipate a struggle when it comes to the hiring process.
If you are hiring for one of these jobs, make an effort to learn the specific needs of these kinds of workers. When you align your needs with the needs of the talent, you can find someone who truly fits in at your company and will stick around for the long haul.
It’s truly important to anticipate the needs of your employees if you want to retain your best talent. Make the happiness of your employees a priority, and you’ll save money, time, and stress. Every hire will be a good one.
One of the most surefire ways to become a successful real estate investor is excelling in customer service. Investors are not only judged on their ability to help clients with their buying or selling needs, but the entire transactional experience from beginning to end. Like any service-oriented business, the customer experience is important for achieving and maintaining success, and it’s no different in real estate investing. That said, anticipating customer needs in real estate is the first step to providing a world class customer service experience.
Believe it or not, anticipating customer needs in real estate is much easier than you may think. The following provides investors with the blueprints to understanding their customers’ needs, as well as predicting potential issues, to ensure a smooth transaction:
Customer Needs In Real Estate: What To Expect
To truly understand what your customers want, real estate investors need to have an understanding of their customers’ circumstances, including a way to fulfill those needs. Generally speaking, this is accomplished through a combination of customer intelligence and service aptitude.
One of the more important skills an investor can possess is the ability to listen to customers. By simply taking the time to converse with customers and getting to know them on a personal level, investors will exhibit the one thing that separates the good from the great: customer relationships. As an investor, this will serve to assist in anticipating customer needs in real estate before potential risks arise.
One of the best examples of anticipating customer needs can be found at Disneyland, as the theme park has figured out a way to anticipate a major service defects it encounters on a daily basis: visitors forgetting where they parked. To do so, the company has Disney cast members drive around the parking lots in golf carts in search of families that look lost.
“This is a great example of what being zero risk is all about. Being zero risk applies regardless of whether your company is at fault,” says John DiJulius in his book, What’s The Secret?
Although this may seem more like a customer issue than a service defect, the amusement park has taken it upon itself to solve the issue, regardless of who is at fault. Why? Because Disney knows that a few patrons will lose their cars and end up stranded for hours. In return, this will undoubtedly ruin their overall experience of the theme park. However, in anticipating it will happen, Disney can mitigate risk altogether.
How To Anticipate Customer Needs In Real Estate
As part of the customer experience, real estate investors need to have full awareness of potential service defects that can arise at each stage of the customer experience cycle. In today’s market, many consumers struggle to find the product or services that best meet their needs as they’re bombarded with information and options. While more options are generally perceived as being a good thing, the majority of consumers simply want an effortless transaction that is both error-free and surprisingly smooth. Instead of identifying customer needs and potential problems, real estate investors need to anticipate them by seeking out what their customers desire, even when they can’t figure it out themselves.
Another aspect to consider that involves anticipating customer needs in real estate is service aptitude. In short, this entails a person’s ability to recognize opportunities to exceed customers’ expectations, regardless of the circumstance. Because a company doesn’t engage emotionally with their customers, it’s up to the employees to create a memorable experience for the customers, including recognizing potential opportunities to exceed customer expectations. That said, investors need to focus not only on hiring the right employees with the right service aptitude, but the training practices they implement afterwards.
“World-class service organizations teach their employees to view things from the Customer’s perspective. Remember, many employees have never been their own Customer, have never needed the services and products their company provides, cannot comprehend what the Customer’s mindset is. Therefore, they do not relate well and find it difficult to empathize, be compassionate, and anticipate Customer needs,” says DiJulius.
According to the Disney Institute, the key is to “hire individuals that take an interest in others and genuinely care about making a difference. If you hire for attitude and train for aptitude, you are on your way to creating something special for all your Guests.”
Successful companies have not only scouted and hired the right employees, but have ingrained them with the company’s customer experience vision, as well as the continuous training to be prepared for possible customer issues that could alter that experience.
One way to gain customer insight as a real estate investor is through feedback. Investors can seize the opportunity to anticipate customer needs in real estate through a combination of both internal and external feedback, with one of the newer ways being social media. That said, real estate investors should take advantage of online feedback forms and surveys, which can easily be posted through social media channels. Not all fans will be comfortable leaving company feedback on public sites, however, private surveys should assist as the perfect solution to gathering feedback. In addition, investors should continuously keep tabs on feedback and customer engagement. To ensure customer needs in real estate are met, investors should keep an eye on three factors:
- Customer sentiment
- Tone of voice
- Key issues
Investors should also consider using social media tools like Hootsuite, as well as social analytics. In an effort to better understand your customer needs, these tools can not only help you gain feedback from your customers, but key patterns of their behavior. In the end, this will only enhance your ability to anticipate customer needs in real estate.
The sooner investors comprehend that real estate investing is a customer service industry, the better. Understanding what your customer needs in real estate are, as well as integrating practices to anticipate potential problems, is the ideal method to succeeding in today’s market.
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By: Justin DeWind
Over the years, I have learned and observed others at Atomic Object anticipating the needs of a client to ensure that, if an issue does arise at a future date, we can react quickly and minimize any complications. Taking the time to anticipate future needs and putting yourself in a position act on them shows that you give a shit and have the client’s best interest in mind.
Here are a few needs I think are important to try and anticipate.
Anticipating Capacity Needs
Building software products is not an exact science, and every client has unique requirements and constraints. That means staffing Atoms is not an exact science, and it can be very fluid.
It is important to (and I’ve seen our upfront team do this regularly):
- Anticipate capacity needs for a client before they have officially asked for it.
- Building in scheduling buffers for existing projects based on A) their current progress or B) what history told us with regard to a certain client.
Anticipating Technical Design Needs
Since we are experts at creating software products and understand what good technical design is, we should take it upon ourselves to anticipate important longterm product goals that have a big impact on technical design.
I was apart of a collaborative kickoff with a client where one part of the product was a scheduling application that could “reserve” remote devices. During the kickoff, the client continually mentioned that “in the future” the application would need to expose an API that would allow their larger client with their own scheduling software to integrate with “the API .”
I made sure, from the very beginning of the project, that we created our entire product (including the reservation application) against an API instead of the traditional database backend.
- Their first interested client wanted to use the API instead of the reservation application we built.
- Multiple applications have since be written against the API .
- Certain manufacturing process requirements for the device would have been orders of magnitude more expensive if there wasn’t an API available.
Anticipating Problems in the Field
Creating custom software is difficult, and in spite of good technical design, automated tests, and exploratory testing software, will go into the field with undiscovered issues. It is important to anticipate this and equip yourself with tools so you can react to issues quickly and resolve them as soon as possible. This makes the difference between a happy and disappointed client.
Recently, a product we’ve been working on went into beta, where it was made available to a number of users. Despite the extensive amount of testing that we do, there’s always a chance that an issue may arise. Given that, we always build in mechanisms that will alert us if any problems arise when people use it.
Unfortunately, one of their first beta users had a unique account that caused our mobile application a lot of problems. We saw the issue via an e-mail and fixed it before the client contacted us. We had a new build going out just as their panicked e-mail arrived. Despite a mistake we made in our application, we built trust with our client because we reacted before they could even shoot off an e-mail.
In our era of positive thinking, trying to anticipate problems might seem like being a “Debbie Downer.” Or, for those who feel strongly that focusing on an outcome may bring about that reality, thinking about hurdles and roadblocks seems like visioning those problems into existence.
For the rest of us, we might call thinking about future problems being realistic. Focusing on problems and pitfalls can be debilitating when it stands in the way of action, but when anticipating challenges helps you plan for steering your project through normal and predictable hurdles, that’s just being proactive. This is the same reason that corporations beta test and theater companies run dress rehearsals—they want to know and adapt to likely difficulties so that they can tweak and shift.
In our day-to-day lives, it’s not always possible to do a “soft open” or a dress rehearsal, but we can use our knowledge about our various personal and professional contexts to do a bit of brainstorming and if-then planning. If-then planning is deceptively simple. Really the name says it all. To set yourself up, you simply list several realistic possibilities of obstacles you might encounter in the pursuit of your goal, and then you list the specific action you will take in response to each one of the obstacles.
When we don’t anticipate problems, we’re making a key strategic planning error. Whether preparing for a big meeting in which you’ll be pitching, or thinking about how you’ll approach a family gathering with a notoriously difficult relative, research suggests that using if-then planning for likely problems that will arise makes it more likely that you’ll achieve desired outcomes. As a study in the journal Motivation and Emotion suggests, this kind of planning helps people to “close the gap between wanting to attain a goal and actually attaining it.”
Rather than passively receiving negative experiences relative to your goal, if-then planning allows you to remain the active agent in your story, one capable of regrouping and moving your plan ahead.
The best if-then planning is strategic and forward thinking. And, as in the two strategies outlined below, involves both self-knowledge, which is a kind of clear-eyed realism, and the imaginative skill of brainstorming possibilities over which we have less control. A group of researchers on the subject put it this way: “Successful self-control is the motivation and ability to shield one’s goal-related behavior from distractions.” In other words, it’s very normal to be disrupted; people who have what looks like more willpower may actually just be savvier about anticipating and preventing threats to that willpower.
Knowing and acknowledging our own limitations, when done reasonably and objectively, can be an important tool to success, rather than an exercise in beating ourselves up. To take a simple and near-universal example, consider the middle-of-the-afternoon junk food break. Predictably, we sit at our desks, our minds wander, followed by our feet, and we find ourselves in front of the vending machine or the office candy bowl. Anticipating the afternoon sugar craving is not about yelling at yourself for being weak; instead, think about it as a common-sense reflection on past data. Given this past data, you might reasonably assume that the pull of the peanut M&Ms is a very likely “if” that will threaten to derail your healthy eating plan. And given the acknowledgement of this likelihood, you can make your “then” plan.
It might look like this: “If I find myself standing in front of the vending machine, then I will move the dollar bill into a ‘snack savings’ envelope in my purse instead and walk over to my friend’s desk to chat.” With such a plan, you use the “if” of one behavior as a cue to another. You might also list some other likely challenges your healthy eating plan could encounter, like this: “If Sarah brings in her latest baking creation, then I will say, that looks lovely, but I’m trying not to snack at work.” Having some stock “then” phrases that you can automatically use in various scenarios saves the mental energy of coming up with excuses and gives a better likelihood of success.
Sometimes, “if-then” planning needs to account for doing something challenging when you don’t want to, rather than managing external difficulties. For example, you might be trying to write your book on the side, which means writing either before or after work each day. One thing that distinguishes more productive writers is their ability to produce even when they aren’t in the mood. Given that most writers face mornings or evenings when they aren’t particularly inspired, you might reasonably expect that you won’t be an exception to the rule and come up with some “if-then” plans to write anyway.
It might look like this: “If I don’t feel like writing, then I will set a timer to write for just 15 minutes,” or, “If I find myself checking social media instead of writing, then I will brew a cup of tea and write in a paper journal.” The key, as above, is anticipating problems with realism and compassion and coming up with specific solutions that you can easily execute, almost without thinking.
Sometimes the thing derailing our best laid plans are not within our control. For example, maybe you have a plan to get your finances in better shape this year. One of your steps toward this admirable goal is to ask your supervisor for a raise. So far, so good. Now, what’s not in your control is the answer you receive.
In the scenario in which you’ll be dealing with someone else (oh, other people, those erratic inputs!), if-then planning can help you be fleeter and better prepared to negotiate your desired outcome. You could recruit a trusted friend or family member to role play in order to help you to anticipate someone else’s various possible reactions to you (the “ifs”) and try out a variety of “then” solutions for each scenario. Research has shown that this kind of planning is especially important when there is a power differential. People in lower power positions are often too quick to abandon a goal or to accept a less-than-optimal outcome. If-then planning can help an employee stick to her guns when negotiating with a supervisor.
Whether it’s approaching an issue at work or implementing a new personal project, if-then planning uses a clear, problem-spotting eye and generates solutions. And there’s nothing that’s a downer about that.
How to (Proactively) Anticipate Your Client’s Needs
One of the best things you can do upfront for your business is to anticipate your client’s needs. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. In my programs, and with my clients, I always tell small business owners to anticipate the type of questions your clients might have. This can be based either on your past experience, or info you’d want if you were in their shoes.
Before you launch a product, if you have enough runway time to test it, I highly suggest that you ask 3-5 people to review it. Tell them, “Ask me any questions you’d have around my plan to deliver this.”
It could be anything from, “I don’t understand how the product will get to me,” or, “I’m having technical difficulties.” For example, maybe you’re delivering things via video and the videos are either slow, or don’t open in certain browsers. While you should always test your product in every browser anyway, the more info you have before you launch, the better you can support your customer upfront. This helps you anticipate what your clients need, and once you launch, you can even say, “Oh that’s a common question. I’ve placed the answer in our FAQ section.”
As you build your offerings, ask, “How can I get people 99% of the content that they need? How can I get people 99% of the context that they need? How can I make sure that, as much as humanly possible, I can foresee questions that could come in and have the right people on the front line?”
So anticipate the questions. Make that a part of your process when you’re offering products and services to the market. Of course, it’s not going to be perfect (and I always say, aspiring for perfect is not the goal – aspiring for excellence as much as possible is the goal) but it’ll set you up for success. And if you’re not a part of the Paid To Be You Posse yet, our fly Facebook group is a perfect place to solicit help and feedback.
In fact, tomorrow we’re kicking off Crush Week, a 5 day event with keynote speakers such as myself, Kimra Luna, Jadah Sellner, Tara Zirker, and my all-star Jen Kem team. We’ll be helping you crush your goals and find ways to serve your ideal clients to get you seen, heard, and paid. (There are no replays for this event, so sign up to save your seat and get live access!) See you on the other side.
One of the hardest conversations a person can have is the end of life talk with their loved ones. After all, no one likes to think, let alone talk, about this difficult subject. And that is exactly why so many people avoid it. However, having this conversation can make a real tangible difference to those left behind. It can take away any doubt, any guesswork, any possible conflicts. It can lessen the burden of guilt or regret.
Knowing everything from the location of a loved one’s Will to the name of the assigned Executor, right down to what poem they would like read at their funeral, and who they’d like invited (does someone even know how to contact them?). Having this kind of personal information before it’s too late makes a stressful time just a little bit easier.
Anticipate Life’s web-based application provides strategies and techniques to help and encourage people to have that all-important end of life conversation. Their information and wishes can be securely encrypted and stored in the Cloud. Our simple, elegant application is easy to use and navigate when the information is required.
Anticipate Life was created as we recognised a need amongst our own family and friends. Our aim is to help reduce stress so that others don't have to experience what we did. The result is an application that we will continue to innovate and develop as we find new ways to assist.
At a time of rapid change, your CFO can help you see what may be around the corner and, as a result, improve agility and the company’s ability to manage risk.
Scientists believe humans are the most adaptable species on the planet. Our capacity to adjust to change is why we are still here and has a lot to do with why we have outlasted other life forms. The dinosaurs disappeared not because of bigger, faster, or meaner beasts coming after them. They disappeared because they failed to anticipate and adapt.
Humans have a good track record of reacting to what is within sight and what we can believe with sufficient certainty. We adapt when the upside or downside are great enough to overcome inertia. We seek to minimize uncertainty to survive. We don’t generally adapt to live larger.
Today’s challenge is that adapting to market conditions by making what appear to be predictable, controllable, incremental moves after the fact is no longer good enough. Among the many lessons of 2020, being able to anticipate — in a market where speed and unpredictability seem to be the constants — will be far more useful than the slow and measured responses that may have been adequate for the slow, measurable and controllable shifts of pre-digital and pre-pandemic times.
The new ground rule: Anticipate whenever you can and be prepared to adapt when the inevitable unanticipated happens.
Your CFO should be helping you to anticipate and adapt.
The CFO has a unique lens on the business, covering the entire scope of what all individual units and functions are producing and spending, their results, and the implications for how the totality of everyone’s efforts delivers against shareholder expectations.
In an environment of rapid and unforeseeable change, the CFO can help the CEO and their C-Suite colleagues get a head start on seeing what may be around the corner and as a result improve agility and their ability to manage risk. The CFO who accomplishes this will be stepping up their contribution as a strategic business partner.
Some teams will be better at anticipating and adapting than others.
Businesses that are able to reinvent have five traits in common. They:
1. Proactively and consistently pay attention to and act upon social and economic trends.
2. Know and are passionate about their purpose.
3. Routinely experiment and learn in the course of operating the business.
4. Seek and value diverse perspectives.
5. Have alignment with their investors on purpose, vision and strategy.
Why is it so hard to anticipate?
Absent a known future it’s hard for most people to anticipate. There’s no target timing, and there is no certainty of a positive outcome. If things are good, why bother even imagining having to change?
We all have biases, formed naturally by our accumulated knowledge and experience. Our biases can act like blinders, limiting our thinking, and actually blocking out our ability to see new possibilities which would lead us to reallocate resources, reprioritize, shut down favorite projects, restructure, or turn our attention to work that was not part of our plans.
Enabling the ability to anticipate and adapt
CEOs should be working with their CFOs to deploy these tactics:
1. Recognize and question biases, whether your own or those of colleagues and team members, vendors and partners. Being able to set biases aside will allow you to see your business’s situation differently.
2. Send the message to the organization that anticipating is a valid use of effort and resources. This means investing routinely in trend identification, assessment and analysis, engaging in customer listening, seeking different perspectives from external experts, advisors, or others who can look at your situation in ways completely differently than your own. It means synthesizing what you discover into “so what’s” – implications – that should be inputs to the planning process and affect decisions and actions.
3. Challenge how you execute, not just what is executed. Old methods generally don’t work to solve entirely new problems. As you anticipate alternative futures, do not underestimate that retooling will be required — people, process, infrastructure, how resources are allocated, how decisions are made. We have all seen during 2020 extreme changes not only in priorities, but also in how we executed to deliver.
4. Connect the organization’s vision and purpose to your CFO’s priorities. Now is the time to make sure your CFO is very clear on the business’s vision and purpose. Lack of purpose in these times will be the equivalent of sitting on a foundation made of sand.
5. Value people whose strength is imagining and shaping the future. Some people are simply better than others at seeing beyond what is happening right now. Their specialty is making non-linear moves. But especially in a mature business these people can be dismissed as dreamers because they may not affect short-term results. They may not be making the numbers for the quarter, but they could be the ones who rescue the year or next year. So be sure the anticipators have a home on the team and provide them with air cover.
6. Set appropriate expectations. Effort invested in anticipating and readying the organization to adapt with agility will not deliver linear results and will not deliver on a typical timeline. Assume setbacks. Be ready to accelerate. Expect to iterate, experiment, prototype and learn to build your anticipation muscle and mindset.
Anticipating, and then being ready to adapt effectively, are no longer optional. The CFO is well positioned, with the CEO’s help and support, to play a leadership role in building the organization’s capacity to anticipate and adapt. These competencies are built in to the CFO’s elevated role as a strategic business partner, and to their responsibility to manage business risk.
What separates the good, or the great, project managers (PM) from the just so-so? The answer: How they handle problems when they arise and they prevent them from derailing deadlines and the budget.
Her are seven of the biggest (or most common) problems that PMs face, and what good ones can do to anticipate, avoid or mitigate them.
Problem No. 1: Team members not knowing or understanding what their responsibilities are, not owning their part of the project.
How a good PM handles the accountability problem: Good project managers let team members know, up front, who is responsible for what – and clearly lay out expectations.
“Proactively setting up the decision-making structure, including where all the key stakeholders fit in, is critical,” says Tom Treanor, director of Content Marketing & Social Media at Wrike, a provider of project management software.
“One way IT PMs do this is by using a RACI chart where each stakeholder is clearly labeled as one of the following: R = responsible for performing the work of the project, A = accountable for the project results, C = consulted about aspects of the project, or I = informed about the project.”
Problem No. 2: Having key personnel pulled off the project, either temporarily or permanently.
How a good PM handles resource-related issues: “Exceptional IT managers are masters at balancing supply (resources) and demand (break/fix issues alongside the project),” says Liz Pearce, CEO, LiquidPlanner, a project management solution. One way they do this, she says, is by using a “project management system that provides resource visibility and forecasting tools, so PMs can [quickly make decisions, re-allocate resources and] ultimately reduce schedule thrash.”
Another way good project managers deal with team members being pulled in multiple directions? By convincing management that removing a vital team member could delay the project (or worse).
“I know I won’t win the fight to keep my best developer [or pick your key team member] without facts,” says Steve Caseley, a project manager and a trainer for CBT Nuggets, an IT certification training company. “So I rework my schedule accordingly and then present the boss with the impact assessment, [explaining] my project will now be two weeks late and over budget by $45,000 due to the loss of subject matter expertise and learning curve [of his replacement].” The result: “This fact-based impact assessment will often be enough to reverse the decision.”
Problem No. 3: Meeting deadlines.
How a good PM deals with (often shifting) deadlines: To avoid missing deadlines, “I assign my team members specific deadlines for their parts of the project – and the dates I give are always much earlier than I actually need [whatever],” says Ashley Schwartau, creative director, Production, The Security Awareness Company. “That way if something needs to be [fixed], there is plenty of time for changes and another review.”
In addition, it helps if you can break the project into manageable chunks, or milestones, with each chunk or milestone “spaced enough to give you time to make changes before final delivery.”
Problem No. 4: Scope creep.
How a good PM deals with scope creep: “Changes affecting requirements almost always stop projects in their tracks,” notes Jun Bucao, PMP, senior project/program manager, HP Technology Services Consulting. “A good PM will need to document the change, validate, assess its impacts, find a solution and have the change request approved before executing the solution,” he says.
“A great PM, however, will do proactive risk and quality management throughout; and not just react to changes,” Bucao argues. “During planning, the PM ensures that all critical stakeholders, e.g., sponsor, SMEs, end-users or other persons of influence, are identified and stayed engaged to minimize surprises and keep future variances at minimum to none.”
“It is important to sit down with both your management team and engineer team every time a new feature is added to scope,” adds Joe Rodichok, IT manager, eZanga, a meta-search engine and online advertising company. “In this discussion a verdict should be reached on if the new feature is vital to the release or if this is a wish list feature that can wait for the next update (chances are it can wait),” he says. “Another potential solution is … to simply come back and say the scope of this project is locked,” he says. “This will be undoubtedly harder to execute …. [But] you need to stand strong and have your points of emphasis and honestly explain why you cannot add to the scope of the project.”
Problem No. 5: Not being aware there is a problem or potential problem.
How a good PM stays on top of potential problems: “A successful PM should have standing weekly [or more frequent] status meetings with team members, to check if everything was achieved as per the timeline; what issues, if any, anybody is facing and remove them; and, if required, re-plan certain tasks,” says Divan Dave, CEO of OmniMD, a leading healthcare IT company.
Another way project managers can easily spot potential problems, and “avoid unnecessary status meetings, [is] by using collaborative task tracking software,” says Ray Grainger, CEO, Mavenlink, which provides online project management software. “Team members whose tasks are updated and on schedule get extra time to get work done, and you can focus your time talking to individuals who are behind schedule, or who aren’t reporting their progress.”
Problem No. 6: Managing and collaborating with team members in different locations and time zones.
How a good PM successfully manages a decentralized team: Having a mobile collaboration tool “is a game-changer for IT managers,” says Josh Bauer, assistant director, Network Operations, Acorda Therapeutics. “If someone is mobile, for example, they are limited to the technologies available on their mobile devices. For a long time that meant only basic email access and small file attachments could be shared; no real-time collaboration could occur,” he explains.
“In [our] case, we saw the problem [inability to efficiently collaborate online], identified the right tool (EMC Syncplicity) and now our employees are able to collaborate better on projects and work as they prefer to, rather than work within any restrictive technical limitations.”
Problem No. 7: Lack of communication, or hostility, among team members.
How a good PM heads off potential hostilities: A good project manager checks in regularly with team members, either by phone or in person, to see how things are going – and if there are any professional or personal issues that could affect the project, which need to be addressed.
“Project management is not just about task management and schedules,” says Jose Canelos, project manager, Program Management, at Centric Digital. “You need to be able to relate to each member of the team [and regularly check in with them]. By doing this, you will gain the team’s trust, and their effort in the project will increase.”
The business graveyard is full of companies and industries that didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t look at the future to anticipate what might happen and take appropriate action. Blockbuster Video and Kodak were one-time industry leaders who were guilty of this failure. And consider the hotel industry, the taxi industry, and the retail industry— all of which have been disrupted by nontraditional competitors and practices that existing firms didn’t anticipate.
Think your company is immune to disruption? Consider the results of a survey of the leaders of more than 600 companies that McKinsey conducted. Eighty percent of respondents said they thought their current business model was at risk in the future. And only 6 percent said they were satisfied with their efforts to innovate for the future.
To plan and run a business, your eye has got to be on the future.
Two of the most powerful words in any language that spark imagination and creativity, are “What if?” They allow you as a business leader to anticipate and address strategic changes that may threaten your business or offer incredible new opportunities. Try modeling different strategic scenarios, and then ask your team, “What if?”
It’s also a powerful technique to address issues and problems with your team and keep the conversation centered on new ideas. Whenever someone jumps in to play devil’s advocate on a new idea, simply intervene and ask, “What if it were possible? Suppose we could make it work? What would it look like, and what would be the outcome?”
A great tool to help anticipate changes that the future might bring is the What’s Next exercise. The What’s Next? exercise is a simple four-step process that can help you avoid being blindsided by competitors or surprised by changes involving your customers.
Step 1: What is? First, discuss the facts and the perceptions you have about the current conditions with your team in a dedicated meeting. What do you believe to be true about the marketplace, customers, competitors, your team, your company, and the economic conditions?
Step 2: What’s next? Taking into consideration all that’s known or believed about current conditions, what do you think will happen next? Discuss all possibilities without judging their probability. Is there a competitor, a technology, or a trend that — if ignored — could represent a disaster to your business? If anticipated, could it be a windfall for your company?
Step 3: What if? Now explore how to capitalize on the challenges and disruptions in your business, industry, or conditions. In this step, focus on an issue that surfaced in the What’s Next? conversation and say, “Yes, that might be true. If it is, what if we…”
Step 4: What now? The final step requires action. By asking “What now?” you ask what you need to do right now. These then become the next steps you take to ensure the company’s future success.
As a company leader, you must be constantly on the watch for disrupting technologies that can damage your business. Using What’s Next? to anticipate changes in your business or industry can allow you to capitalize when others falter.
The What’s Next? exercise requires your team to create strategic and tactical responses to a change in your competitive environment. The signs are probably already on the horizon — if you look and listen closely enough.
Learn more about how to be proactive at work in my book available on Amazon.
Let’s take a few minutes to look critically at your actions in the workplace.
- Do you react to the events happening around you or do you take initiative to prepare for, participate in and/or control the events?
- Do you take an active or passive role? Do you think in terms of the present or do you look to the future, anticipating outcomes and preparing for the consequences?
- Do you make a decision only when you have to, when you’re backed into a corner or when you’ve put it off for as long as you can? Or do you make conscious decisions as part of a larger, long-term plan?
In my experience, the most valuable employees are the ones who are proactive. By definition, this means they control situations by causing things to happen rather than waiting to respond after things happen. People who are proactive don’t sit around waiting for answers to appear; they stand up, put one foot in front of the other, and find the answers. They don’t wait for someone to hand them an instruction manual and a box of tools; they’re resourceful.
Proactive people are constantly moving forward, looking to the future, and making things happen. They’re actively engaged, not passively observing. Being proactive is a way of thinking and acting.
Now, this concept can be a little abstract for some. An article written by motivational speaker, Craig Harper in 2007 explains it like this:
Reactive is, ‘I’ve got massive chest pain and pins and needles down my arm. Maybe I’ll go to the doctor.’ Proactive is, ‘Even though I have no symptoms, I want to live a long, healthy life so I have embraced the life-long habits of healthy eating and regular exercise.’
So, are you being proactive or reactive in the workplace?
Certainly, there are times when it’s appropriate to be reactive. We have plenty of decisions to make in-the-moment. There are times when we need to be flexible and adapt to a rapidly changing environment. There are times when long-term plans must be abandoned in order to meet immediate needs. And there will always be those unavoidable roadblocks that even the most proactive person in the world would not have been able to foresee or avoid.
However, the ability to be proactive provides a clear advantage in the workplace and most managers expect staff members to demonstrate a proactive mentality.
I have identified five key behaviors (The 5 P’s) involved in being proactive. Below, I’ve outlined my system and exactly how you can develop your abilities in each area.
Note: I’ve recently expanded my work on this topic and published the book, “The Proactive Professional: How to Stop Playing Catch Up & Start Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life). It’s available on Amazon here.
In order to be proactive, you must first develop foresight.
Proactive people are rarely caught by surprise. Learn to anticipate problems and events. Understand how things work; look for patterns; recognize the regular routines, daily practices and natural cycles that exist in your business. At the same time, don’t allow yourself to become complacent. Use your imagination when anticipating future outcomes. Don’t simply expect the past to always be an accurate predictor for the future; use your creativity and logic. Come up with multiple scenarios for how events could unfold. Proactive people are always on their toes.
Proactive people foresee potential obstacles and exert their power to find ways to overcome them before those obstacles turn into concrete roadblocks.
They prevent problems that others would simply look back on in hindsight and claim unavoidable. Don’t allow yourself to get swept up in a feeling of powerlessness. When challenges approach, take control and confront them head on before they grow into overwhelming problems.
Proactive people plan for the future.
Avoid one-step, “here and now” thinking and instead, look ahead and anticipate long-term consequences. Bring the future into the present; what can you do today to ensure success tomorrow? Don’t make decisions in a vacuum; every decision is a link in a chain of events leading to one final conclusion. In order to make the best decision, you have to know where you came from, where you are, and where you want to end up.
Proactive people are not idle observers, they are active participants.
In order to be proactive, you must get involved. You have to take initiative and be a part of the solution. Recognize that you are only a piece of the whole and that you influence—and are influenced by—the actions of others. Don’t simply react to them. Engage with them. Exert your influence and make a contribution.
Being proactive means taking timely, effective action.
You must be decisive and willing to do the work NOW. Procrastination is not an option. Take ownership of your performance and hold yourself accountable. Stand behind your decisions. Being proactive means you have taken careful, thoughtful steps to choose the appropriate path; you’re not just reacting impulsively to your environment.
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it, but do we always take the time and make the effort when we should to express our gratitude? To show our appreciation to those around us for what they do for us or for others? In the daily rush of our busy lives, it can be hard sometimes to remember to say “thank you”.
All of us want, and need, to feel appreciated. We are all familiar with the maxim of ‘do to others as you would like them to do to you’. So maybe we should be asking ourselves, “Do I pay enough attention to letting people know how much they mean to me?”
From early childhood we are all taught the simple good manners of saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. But are we are as good at thanking as we are at asking?
Gratitude is the simplest and most effective way of recognising another person’s value. Practising being grateful and saying thank you regularly every day will have a positive effect on you and those around you.
With increasing demands and stress, the workplace is becoming a hard place to foster and cultivate wellbeing. Research has shown that many employees value kindness over money in the workplace and place great store in having a supportive workplace culture.
There can also be health benefits which can result from embracing gratitude. Some research suggests that people who are generally more grateful in life, by taking a moment to think about the things they are thankful for, have better health outcomes in some areas, have more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems.
Other good reasons why kindness and gratitude are important
Kindness encourages appreciation
Showing kindness and gratitude to someone promotes better interpersonal relationships and encourages loyalty and respect.
Gratitude enhances self-esteem
When gratitude is part of our daily outlook on life, we are likely to feel more optimistic and more welcoming to face and deal with new challenges.
Self-esteem improves personal confidence
Many of us may have excellent skills and competencies, but are lacking in confidence. And this can hold us back at work and in our social relationships. If you practise being more grateful and kinder you will probably gain in self-confidence.
Gratitude is often associated with optimism. Research has shown that grateful people tend to be happier, less stressed and depressed. And they also enjoy a more supportive social environment.
Other ways of showing your appreciation
What else can we do when someone has gone to special trouble for us or who has really helped us in some way? Dr David Hamilton believes we are genetically wired to be kind.
Sending a card with a note of thanks is a warm and personal way of showing your gratitude. A thoughtful gift, flowers or a cheerful house plant is always well received. And giving back to someone by doing a good deed or favour in return can show our gratitude more than any words can.
Show how much you appreciate your loved ones by asking about their end of life wishes. So you know what they want you to do when the time comes.
Let’s make some time to reflect on all the people who have helped and supported us over the past months or year. And make sure we let them know how much they are appreciated.
It’s been nearly two years since Nokia CEO Stephen Elop shot off his burning platform memo as a way of shaking up the phone company’s leadership. This fiery term refers to the story of a worker living on a North Sea oil rig who awoke one morning to a loud explosion and an all-consuming conflagration. The man stumbled to the platform’s edge, where he confronted a 30-meter drop to freezing waters. Not a good choice to face.
The man on the burning platform decided to jump. The situation “was unexpected,” Elop wrote. “In ordinary circumstances, the man would never consider plunging into icy waters. But these were not ordinary times — his platform was on fire. The man survived the fall and the waters. After he was rescued, he noted that a ‘burning platform’ caused a radical change in his behaviour.”
As we can see with an additional year of hindsight, the lesson of the burning platform is that it is far better to anticipate the crisis and change your behavior well before the explosion. Nokia is still struggling to find a future beyond going head to head with the Android and iPhone platforms in the fiercely competitive smart phone market. Its bet on location-based services is intriguing, but hasn’t born fruit yet.
Those kinds of payoffs require time. To see why, please check out “Two Routes to Resilience,” an article from Innosight-affiliated authors in the December issue of Harvard Business Review. The authors delve into case studies of three severely disrupted enterprises that were each able to rebuild their core while also branching into a new growth market — before an impending crisis consumed the company.
In 2007, for instance, when Amazon introduced the original Kindle, it was far from clear whether e-readers would ever catch on in a big way. The book retail platform was not yet burning. But the flames were about to rise.
Yet Barnes & Noble took the Kindle as a serious warning sign while rival Border’s didn’t appear to make any significant strategic changes. The HBR article describes how B&N moved on multiple fronts at once: It aggressively reduced costs in its core retail business while refocusing its stores around consumer needs. At the same time, the New York company launched a Silicon Valley start-up with a separate mission, management team, and business model while leveraging vital assets of the parent. The result: the Nook debuted in 2009 and leapfrogged the Kindle in key features, capturing nearly a third of the e-reader market and probably saving the company’s life.
Consider how narrow B&N’s window was. By 2010, it would have been too late to act, as we saw with the Border’s bankruptcy. Once a crisis becomes obvious, burning platforms are certainly motivating, but the challenge of achieving a transformation becomes that much steeper. There’s precious little time to explore alternatives. Investor scrutiny dramatically narrows. Missteps that could be tolerated in ordinary times can prove fatal.
Even if disrupted corporations do act in time, painful cuts are likely to leave painful scars. In another example Innosight has researched, Xerox was forced to lay off nearly 40,000 of its 91,000 workers from 2000 to 2005 to return to profitability and make way for its transformation from a technology company into a services company. It’s only this year, for the first time, that services revenue surpassed technology revenue.
Transforming too early carries its own risks, as Netflix experienced when it prematurely split the company in two and had customers nearly revolt. So, how can you identify the magical moment when there’s sufficient time and degrees of freedom to act? “Two Routes to Resilience” article co-author and Yale School of Management professor Richard Foster suggests four ways to determine whether you should embark on a corporate transformation effort:
Scan the periphery. Research that Innosight conducted with Foster earlier this year suggests that 75% of the companies on today’s S&P 500 index will not be on the list 15 years from now because they will stumble, be overtaken, or be acquired. Some of the companies that will be on that 2027 list do not yet exist, while others are already honing their disruptive models at the edges of today’s markets. Companies should have their fingers on the pulse of the start-up community to spot potentially transformational development early.
Look at profit margin trends. EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) is the equivalent of corporate blood pressure. When those profit margins start to trend down, it often signals an emerging weakness in the core business. For example, in the mobile phone industry, Motorola’s margins started to sag around 1994, Nokia’s in 2001, and Research in Motion’s in 2009. Yet none of these companies was in outward crisis when these declines first appeared. Barnes & Noble had weak blood pressure in 2009, but recently its EBITDA has shown signs of recovery, increasing more than 15% to $65 million in its most recent quarter.
Listen to passionate leaders. Two decades ago, a small group of executives within Johnson & Johnson realized that a small rise in minimally invasive surgical procedures could pose a risk to the company’s suture business, Ethicon. They didn’t have hard data to support their view, but the strength of this group’s conviction led management to back their investment in a disruptive business called Ethicon Endo-Surgery, which ended up powering substantial growth for years.
Carefully monitor customer satisfaction. While the old saying, “You never get fired for buying IBM” may still have been true in the early 1990s, clear signs of discontent with Big Blue suggested a need for a corporate overhaul. Customers weren’t just grumbling; they were switching to more nimble manufacturers, or shifting their IT investment dollars from hardware to supporting services. The depth of dissatisfaction became clear to CEO Lou Gerstner, who spent three weeks visiting key customers after taking IBM’s reins in 1993. Not only did the loss of customer trust and disturbing ratings on quality help to further Gerstner’s view that IBM needed a radical reinvention, what he heard from customers gave him increased confidence that IBM had the attractive opportunity to move aggressively into business services, the strategy that Xerox also pursued several years later.
Signs suggesting the looming need for transformation aren’t always obvious, and they are never unmistakable until it’s too late. But picking up on the weak signals and getting the timing right can be the difference between stepping boldly into the future or jumping, panic stricken, from your burning platform into an unforgiving sea.