Some say customer service has gone the way of the do-do bird. For many it’s a lost concept, something that’s been buried over time in favor of the bottom line. But it says it all right there in the title: customer service. It means serving the customer, but it should mean so much more than that. As the leader of your company, you may have your neck on the line when it comes to cold hard profits. After all, you have a boss to answer to and he has a boss to answer to, and so on. Healthy positive earnings are rewarded, not necessarily the customer experience.

While you may have a fancy website, chat features, or even a robust e-commerce store, there’s so much more sandwiched in between the lines when it comes to truly understanding what “customer service” means. No, it hasn’t gone extinct, but it may be on the endangered species list. Something’s missing, that extra service with a smile, offering convenience to clients, going the extra mile to ensure someone is happy with their experience…that’s where so many companies fall short these days. It’s time to bring back the art of customer service.

At the Heart of It…

You can have the most streamlined services in the world or the best product…you can have the best CEOs in charge of your company or top of the line leadership teams converging in the conference room once a day to come up with innovative ideas. But customer service doesn’t happen in the boardroom or on a memo. It happens out there, with the people who are buying into your products and services. Customer service is more than just a phone number, more than specials and coupons. At the heart of customer service? People who care about the end result. Period. Who’s there to pick up the phone? Who’s there to solve a problem? Are there live people your clients and customers can speak to about an issue or do they get bounced around a virtual black hole until they’re finally dumped off to someone who doesn’t necessarily know how to help?

Just think about the quality of customer service in your personal life. Feeling valued is what makes people connect with a company. If you can’t achieve that, you won’t see repeat customers. Before you go thinking that a healthy bottom line means you automatically have great customer service, think again. Some of the wealthiest companies in the world have sub-par customer service, but this doesn’t necessarily make them great from a customer perspective.


A Simple Principle

It’s a simple principle: happy people come back to you, while unhappy people go elsewhere. Worse than that, they tell anyone who will listen about their awful experience. In fact, the Houston Chronicle says those who have bad customer service experiences tell between nine and 20 people, while people who have a good experience only tell between two and three people. Can you afford those kinds of repercussions?

Do one thing and do it right: make the customer feel they matter and that’s half the battle. Following through on that is also important, but that’s a story for another day.

No one always likes change, but change is a necessary catalyst to improve the fundamentals of any organization. Transformation requires strong, authentic leadership in order to be successful; if not, failure is a very real possibility. CIO.com says that in many transformation programs, sufficient checks and balances exist so that failure does not readily occur; however, if not managed well, transformation programs can be delivered late, over-budget and far off the track of the original vision. Statistics show that less than 40 percent of transformation programs are successful, due to a disconnect that exists in the goals of such programs and the reality of resources that can be devoted to it (time, money, personnel, etc.).


Implementing a Transformation Office

That’s where the implementation of a Transformation Management Office (TMO) comes in. Someone has to be at the helm of the operation who not only recognizes the inherent challenges that come with implementing enterprise transformation and the work that must be done to achieve it, but who also can guarantee streamlined, spot-on execution at just the right pace with all eyes on the finish line. Combining strategy with clear-cut goals for implementation is critical for the TMO.


What Does a TMO Do?

This part of an organization is the crux of any successful transformation, with the central duty being to implement the complex task of adding value and accountability to the process. In general, the TMO will:

  • Lead the charge in coming up with creative, workable ideas designed to fuel the transformation effort and ensure it has the steam to move forward.
  • Offer a simple yet detailed approach to the process so executives and other key personnel can take those ideas and run with them.
  • Analyze how the transformation will take place and align with corporate vision.
  • Ensure the program has clear objectives.
  • Utilizes a streamlined operating model where efficiency and cost effectiveness take center stage.

The bottom line is, organizational transformation is disruptive. It’s uncomfortable for many, and it takes time. That’s why a TMO must be brought on board to concentrate on the specific tasks involved in orchestrating this endeavor, following it through to its completion despite such roadblocks. Putting this task on front-line staff and executives too entrenched in the organization already is a recipe for disaster. This is why a traditional project management office (PMO) is not a good choice to lead such an initiative. They deal with administration and compliance on a regular basis, and therefore would not be a good fit for the challenges that are part and parcel of a large transformation initiative.

The difference between success and failure of an organizational transformation often comes down to action. Your TMO needs to walk a fine line between strategy and clear objectives on one side but also implementation and action on the other. Anyone can sit in a boardroom and contemplate goals. It takes a strong leadership team to take those talking points and apply them in a value-driven way for success. Which side of the line will you be on?

We’ve all been there: showed up to a meeting at work at the suggested time, only to be met with the blank stares of a few other employees waiting around a table with some stale doughnuts in the center. The boss shows up five minutes late in a tizzy with his coffee and a bunch of loose papers. He talks at you, you listen and don’t ad anything because you just want to get out of there, the meeting convenes and everyone goes on his or her way. Sound productive? Nope.

Effective Meetings

Sadly, though, this is an all-too-real example of how meetings go in the workplace. Mandatory meetings that no one wants to attend or participate in can be very draining not only on the employees but on the boss as well. Such meetings take away from real productivity, interrupting thought processes and causing a gap in the day that could otherwise be spent better solo. However, when meetings have real purpose and are handle effectively, the results can be positive, engaging and worthwhile.


So, as the leader or meeting organizer, how can you run a more effective meeting that everyone will show up to, ready to listen and participate? In general, it’s a good idea to prepare a standard agenda template to help people come prepared, stay on task, and document action items.

Establish Clear Objectives

Send out an email to participants 24 hours in advance. Don’t just list the time and location of the meeting; give it a specific and defined purpose with clear objectives that spell out exactly what you hope to accomplish, says Forbes. Vague meetings are not a good use of time. Encourage your team members to come prepared to discuss the issue. This puts control in their hands so they feel part of the solution.

Invite the Core Group

No one likes to be invited to a meeting, disrupting their busy day, if they’re not integral to the matter at hand. Invite only the people who have to be there, who can offer insight into the problem and come up with a solution. Don’t invite those who are not qualified to addressed the issue or who lack the skills to be of any real assistance. Relevancy is key here, or else you’re wasting people’s time.

Come up with a Schedule and Stick to It

If time allows, email a brief outline of the meeting to participants beforehand. During the meeting, use visual aids, such as the whiteboard, to illustrate your outline to keep people’s attention. Creating such an agenda will help you stay focused yourself to stay on track and cover what you want to within a certain timeline dedicated to each line item.

Follow Up with Action Items

Perhaps the one thing that makes meetings so ineffective is that afterwards, everyone goes their separate ways and forgets what they’re supposed to do. That’s why you should email a memo outlining what was discussed at the meeting, what solutions were formed, and who is responsible for following through on what tasks. Do this right away, or at least within 24 hours of the meeting so everyone is on the same page. Being clear in these action items will ensure the tasks discussed actually get done, and that everyone is responsible for a small part of the solution. 


In summary, here’s a quick takeaway of tips for running an effective meeting:

  • Show up five minutes early
  • Begin the meeting on time
  • Stay on topic
  • Follow a clear agenda
  • No comments on the side that are irrelevant to the topic
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Impose time limits on how long each person has the floor
  • Tell participants to leave their phones and tablets behind
  • Challenge ideas; not people
  • Encourage people to participate
  • End on time
  • Email agenda 24 hours ahead of time
  • Email results of meeting within 24 hours with action items

CIOs have an inherent duty to demonstrate the value of their departments, and this is never more true than with IT. It’s the same across other platforms of a business, from sales to finance to operations. With technology becoming more and more commoditized, companies are measuring the value of their IT departments, and thus services, in regards to the preservation of business value, creating benchmarks as a result of those outcomes, points out CIO. NO matter what department you’re talking about, the same principles of revenue generation and top-notch operations are used to not only evaluate but also prioritize and measure various projects to boost shareholder value.


The IT department in any given company is an important cog in the output machine. Take a mobile sales platform for a healthcare EMR system, for example. If something fails at the IT level, the whole system gets hung up, resulting in the possibility of a patient not gaining access to the medication they need to be healthy. It’s too easy to imagine a bunch of IT pros sitting in a back room somewhere far removed from the daily operations of a business. Not so. They have just as much impact on the organization’s failure or success as anyone else.

Flexibility

Being flexible in an ever-demanding and complex environment is an important facet of an IT department, one that can make or break the operational capacity of an organization. As such, IT is required to provide more service and solutions above and beyond just “keeping the lights on.” In fact, IT and its partnership with business balance both past and present collaborations to determine future successes. Because IT is most useful when projects are delivered successfully to the end consumer, its value is dependent on persuading management to measure positive value-added contributions as well as maintain a steady presence — even despite such a complex environment.

Business Capability

Much more than a technological-minded organism, IT offers a great value to the business capabilities of a given company, not just in the area of technology capability and contributions. IT as a cohesive unit can provide valuable input on business decisions, leading to solutions that benefit the company as a whole. So what can the CIO and IT do together to demonstrate effectiveness to the rest of the organization?

Business operates on a principle of “what’s in it for me?” — after all, this is how competition thrives. Therefore, IT needs to:

  • Realize what their pain points are
  • Identify areas of improvement, specifically in relation to IT
  • Provide a strategic advantage from a productivity perspective
  • Work on developing a partnership mentality
  • Demonstrate value instance by instance, with clear objectives

As the business strategist, the CIO needs to ensure IT’s strategic value is visible to the rest of the organization. Their position of leadership enables them to execute IT strategy, goals and objectives, and ensure they are aligned with the culture of the company as a whole. Driving business process improvements, IT becomes just as important a link in the chain as every other department when it comes to solutions that align with the corporate vision.

A positive customer experience is the Holy Grail of all companies striving to connect with their intended audience and build loyalty. In fact, the 2016 Digital Marketing Trends Report polled companies on the single most exciting opportunity for their organization this year — “customer experience” emerged as the top answer for the third year in a row. This ranked higher than even content marketing, mobile, and social!

Positive Experiences Breed Loyalty

Known as CX for short, customer experience involves interactions between a customer and an organization throughout the life span of the business relationship, spanning from discovery and cultivation to purchases and service. Customer experience is a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to the broader segment called Customer Relationship Management, or CRM. Bottom line is, the more positive experiences a customer has with a particular business, the more likely they are to become a repeat and loyal customer. After all, it’s a no-brainer: treat your customer poorly and you won’t get them to come back. Treat them well, and not only will THEY come back, they’ll tell their FRIENDS about you as well. Double win. So how do you get there?

Know Your Customers

The first step is to understand who your customers are and develop customer support teams who can connect and empathize with what your customers are going through, what they want, and what their ultimate goals are. This involves developing personas that encompass each kind of customer your business likely comes into contact with. For example, if you own a technology company, you may find that one major type of customer is a Millennial, who by definition is tech savvy, can largely teach themselves processes and protocols, and doesn’t need much in the way of guidance. You may have another type of customer, perhaps an older adult, who isn’t as tech savvy and needs clear, concise directions to follow every step of the way. Knowing your customers’ needs is the first step to giving them what they want.

Connect With Your Customers

Fostering an emotional connection with your customers is key in finding common ground from which you can build a lifetime of loyalty. Research shows that more than 50 percent of a customer’s experience is based on emotion — and that emotion often drives their purchasing decisions. Loyalty develops when customers feel emotionally attached to the company they are doing business with. They like the feeling of being heard, being respected and being valued. In fact, studies show that companies that put that emotional connection first tend to outperform their competitors in sales by about 85 percent, with emotionally engaged customers more likely to recommend your product or service to a friend, more likely to re-purchase that same product or service themselves, and much less likely to shop around the next time they need that product or service.

Get Real-Time Customer Feedback

In order to know how your customers are feeling at any given moment, it’s necessary to get a snapshot of their satisfaction. Customer engagement in real time is crucial towards this end. You can do this in several ways, from post-interaction surveys and emails to phone calls and social media interaction. Garnering insightful feedback is a critical part of the customer engagement process.

Fostering a sense of loyalty with your customers doesn’t happen overnight, but with patience and dedication, your business can make strong headway in the area of customer experience strategies.

When you think of a team, you think of many different people working together to form a focused cohesive unit. Whether on the ball field on in the board room, teams are an integral component to success. And while individual performance does impact the outcome of the team’s efforts, no one person should be greater than the sum of all parts.

In a perfect world, this makes sense. In the real world, however, a lot of work has to go on behind the scenes to be the manager of such a well-oiled team. Personal agendas, misguided focus, and just plain laziness often get in the way that can derail the group and prevent it from reaching its goals.

That’s why a leader is needed to help hone and create an effective team through a variety of approaches, from clear communication to engagement. Let’s take a look at some of those in more detail.

Engage Your Team

As leader, your job is to guide your employees in their overall mission, then step back and let them mature as a solid entity as they take on new and expansive roles and responsibilities. Giving each person his own responsibility and vision empowers individuals, which benefits the team as a whole. Your employees crave the feeling of being valued and challenged, and they are eager to be trusted with the freedom to explore and learn while on the job. A few things you can do:

  • Detect and encourage the most positive capabilities in each person.
  • Stop micromanaging and start empowering teammates to discover their full potential. Micromanagement leads to disengagement.
  • Stage them in a position of influence.
  • Share your successes while making them feel an integral part of that accomplishment.
  • Ditch the mind games and be consistent with your approach and style. Have your employees’ backs.

Stay Connected

One big reason teams fall apart and lose focus is that they feel disconnected from each other. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to keep people connected, via internal social networks and video conferencing solutions, so team members can get a better sense of how their individual contributions impact their team and the organization as a whole, says Forbes. That’s why an investment by your company in these technologies is crucial in an effort to offer flexible work environments that further foster employee engagement.

Know Each Team Member’s Strengths

An added benefit of the above-mentioned technology is that managers and leaders can more readily keep their fingers on the pulse of the organization in an effort to stay on top of what motivates and inspires employees. However, all the technology in the world won’t help you really get to know what makes each person on the team tick. That comes from one-on-one observance, open collaboration, and a healthy rapport between yourself and each team member. 

Communicate and Set Goals

Frequent communication is key to keeping everyone on track and focused. Check in daily for an overview of progress, make it clear your door is always open, and encourage the free flow of ideas within meetings. Setting clear, focused and attainable goals is another piece of the puzzle. Without them, your team can easily get distracted from the mission, causing time delays and frustration.

Creating highly effective teams doesn’t happen overnight. Through collaboration, engagement, communication and goal setting, you can manage a team to success!

Integrity…credibility…respect…these are just a few qualities of a true leader. Anyone can be in a position of leadership, whether at work, school or peer group, but this isn’t just a title, lip service or a delegation. It has to come from within. True leaders know who they are and what they stand for; they know their values and the rules they will abide by; and they know and communicate their values openly with those they lead, creating an atmosphere of certainty and trust, says Forbes.

True Leader

A true leader also:

  • Lives the values they profess to believe
  • Leads by example
  • Works side by side those they lead in order to get to know and care about them
  • Inspires their team
  • Listens without being condescending
  • Is willing to hear what others have to say without judgment
  • Is patient and genuine in their thoughts
  • Communicates openly and often
  • Disciplines with a desire to help others improve rather than from a place of anger
  • Gives feedback in a respectful way
  • Doesn’t use sarcasm to communicate; this makes others feel uncertain or belittled

True leaders never back down from a challenge. Yes, everyone has to pick their battles, but when their instincts tell them something is or isn’t right, they’ll defend their position succinctly and thoroughly. True leaders also have empathy. That’s because they’re genuine and sincere, allowing them to understand innately what another is going through because they’ve been there themselves. This stems from being true to oneself. Not everyone has empathy just like not everyone has respect. It has to be earned.

Thought Leaders

People also ask me, “What is a thought leader?”  A thought leader is an informed opinion leader who is the top resource in their field of expertise. They are trusted leaders who inspire people with innovative and unique ideas; but they don’t just talk about it — they turn those ideas into reality. It’s actually a big part of content marketing where you can convey your talent, experience and passion about what you do. Answering questions your readers need to know doesn’t stem from a fancy degree. It relies on a differentiated point of view that rests with being an authority in your industry. 

Thought leaders don’t just talk the talk — they actually inspire change in meaningful ways and encourage others to join their efforts through evolutionary advancements in their fields. Yes, they encourage others to be open to new ways of thinking, but they also create the map by which people can achieve it. This set of best practices creates a foundation for others to build on.

True leaders show others what’s right through actions not just words. Just because it’s your title at work or you can wear it on a badge doesn’t mean you are automatically a leader. It’s something to be earned and can’t be achieved through lip service.

Fostering a culture of innovation begins and ends with an open mind about change. In order to promote an innovative workplace, no matter what the sector, there should be a continual exchange of ideas to result in the right balance for your company. Yes, you need creativity at the forefront of it all, but this isn’t something that can be forced. However, positioning your firm to achieve a successful approach to innovation takes a few key motivators, from flexibility in the work environment to hiring team members for a vision that aligns with yours. Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to foster an innovative workplace.

Building a Creative Mindset

This all starts from the ground up with the people you decide to bring on board to take this journey with you. The wrong employees can prove to be toxic to your overall vision of creativity, change and flexibility in the work environment. It doesn’t mean you have to only hire people who agree with you all the time; it’s more than that. You want to encourage different perspectives by hiring people who are passionate about what they do, with the flexibility to spur on productivity without being hampered by rigid thoughts, ideas or scheduling parameters, says Forbes.

Here are some tips to achieving that sought-after creativity:

  • Give employees incentives to care and thus share your company vision
  • Involve your employees in the process, listening to their ideas and getting them pumped about a new project, company direction, etc.
  • Brainstorm to help new ideas emerge
  • Broaden perspectives and encourage change through practices like short-term job swaps
  • Encourage trying new things, tweaking them to make them fit, discarding them or embracing them as a result
  • Avoid penalizing those whose ideas don’t end up working out
  • Reward and encourage the flow of ideas and new thoughts

Does Technology = Innovation?

There’s no denying technology is a big piece of the innovation puzzle. After all, how can you expect to compete in today’s global market if you’re not on board with the latest technology? Innovation often goes hand in hand with technology, but it doesn’t have to. In fact, you can be innovative at little or no cost. Innovation, at its very core, is something more than that. Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM, put it best in Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance: “

In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.” You can have all the strategy, marketing, technology and financial management skills in the world, and although all those things will help get you on the path to success, it may not necessarily keep you there. Bottom line is, you won’t get far if innovation, flexibility, and creativity aren’t ingrained in the company’s soul.

Maximizing time is a one of the keys to success for busy leaders. For those who are struggling with time-management, here are some tips for time-management effectiveness:

Utilize Transition Times

If you’re like most people, there’s a lot of down time in your life that you could be using, but aren’t. This time might refer to when you’re waiting at the doctor’s office, taking the subway into work, or even waiting for water for your tea to boil. Maximize this wasted time by using it to make lists, prioritize your daily activities, send emails, or make the call that you’ve been putting off.


Make a Priority List

Successful leaders not only know what they have to do in a day, but they also know how to prioritize those items. Make two lists: one of all the things you have to do in a day or week, and one of all of the to-do items that are most important to you. Then, set up a time-management plan that prioritizes the things that are most important to you. Once these are scheduled, fill in free time with the other things to be accomplished.

Delegate Tasks

Most leaders get to where they are by being Type-A personalities that want to do it all. And while being a go-getter certainly helps you get farther in life, learning when to delegate and disperse tasks out is also a key part of time-management. For more menial tasks that don’t require your expertise, allow someone else to get it done for you. Whether it’s answering emails or putting together the menu for your upcoming fundraiser, you don’t need to—nor should you—do it all.

Focus on the Short-term

Sure, long-term goals for yourself, your business, and your family are all important. But in order to reach those long-term goals, you’ll need to establish some short-term ones, too. Setting short-term goals allows you to focus your time specifically on these, maximizing every spare second. Achieving small goals on a daily basis will help you move you towards the direction of reaching your bigger goals.

Eliminate Time Wasters

We all have them – those things that we really don’t need to be doing, but do regardless sans any personal benefit. This might include using social media, playing a game on your smartphone or tablet, or doodling on a notepad out of boredom. To help you with your time-management skills, identify the things that you waste your time on. Then, either make the decision to eliminate these time wasters entirely, or schedule a part of your day that’s dedicated solely to them. If you choose the latter option, make sure the amount of time that you schedule is reasonable, and that you don’t participate in your time-wasting activity during another part of the day.

Time-management can be difficult, but is one of the many keys to optimizing success for busy people. To start maximizing your time today, utilize transition times, make a list of your priorities, delegate tasks, focus on short-term goals, and eliminate time wasters from your day.

All business and politics aside, I want to share why this day is special to me.  I don’t want to start writing and this be just another cliché.  I wholeheartedly mean it when I say, “Never forget; remember them this Memorial Day”.  Yes, you hear it all the time, “It’s not national BBQ day. Remember the fallen”. I’ve heard it all my life. You’ve heard it so much it seems something that you just say and then carry on with your business without a second thought.  I admit that’s how little I reflected upon this day in my younger years. Being untouched by war or the loss of a loved one can leave you unappreciative of the meaning of this day.

My basic principles

Being raised in a large family with patriotic values where both your grandfathers’ served in WWII and your father and uncles all served during Vietnam, instilled the meaning of this day in me. However, the true value of this day didn’t really hit me until years later. Like many of my relatives that served before me, I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps right out of high school. I set out to make my mark in this big world.  And that’s just what I did. Nearly a dozen countries later and many great life-changing experiences, I had the honor and pleasure to meet one of the greatest people that touched my life.  His name was Melvin Blazer.

I first met Blazer after our Far East tour in 1989. He was a Private First Class when he joined our unit, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines (1/5).  This was a time where a lot of the older “salty” Marines were transitioning out of the unit or out of the Marine Corps altogether.  What immediately attracted me to Blazer is his genuineness and his big grin. He was a couple years senior to most of us at his rank, but showed much maturity and certainty that I hadn’t seen in a non-NCO before. Moreover, his ability to bring people together in fun and amusing conversation.  There was never a time I can remember Blazer to be down, negative, or complain about anything.  That’s why I think everybody got along with him and always wanted him on their team.  This was especially true when we were deployed to the Gulf the first time during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He had a way to keep the morale up and lead even though he wasn’t an E-4 yet.

melvin blazer and the Bunker Rats

Several years passed, many of us left the Corps to move onto the next chapter in our lives.  Blazer decided he was going to make a career of the service, and stayed in the Corps. He moved from duty station to duty station, advancing in his career, including spending time as a recruiter in his home state of Oklahoma.  While few of us stayed in touch with each other, we only heard that Blazer was still making a life in the military.

Ton of bricks

It was Christmas 2004, I can vividly recall reminiscing about the “good ole days” in the Corps.  Listening to Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing”, I was scanning my service pictures for a website project I was working on. As I paused and thought about all the great guys I served with – where were they now? My mind started to think about those that may still be in the service. God, I hope they are not deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Then I thought about Blazer. Could he be deployed? Is he stateside? It had been a few years since I last heard he was on recruiting duty.

To this day, I don’t know what drew me to look up his name, but there was a site of fallen American servicemen that I frequented.  As I typed in Blazer’s name in the search box, I became hesitant and uneasy.  I briefly closed my eyes and hit enter on the keyboard. As I opened my eyes, there he was…Melvin Blazer, 38 of Moore, Oklahoma.  It felt like somebody punched me right in the gut.  I sank to the floor.  The hurt was strong, as strong as the bond was…even 12 years later.

I don’t write this to obtain pity, or make war glamorous, but rather to share Blazer’s story and what Memorial Day means to me. While most people understand what this day is about, a lot of people don’t. Some of them think it’s just another veteran’s day. Sure it is – for those veterans that died while serving. Yes, I am having a BBQ with my family, but it is our time to remember and reflect those that have shown selfless acts of courage and paid the ultimate price so we can enjoy a nice meal in peace.  Let’s remember Blazer’s and many others’ sacrifice today.  This day is special to me.

Melvin Blazer US Marine Corps

Blazer, you left entirely too early; your life, presence, and smiles that you shared was one of the amazing joys of life by all those who knew you. We’ll never forget. Rest in peace Marine.