Louis Ross

A collection of best practices and lessons learned – hope you find a pro tip or two you can use!

The Best Relationships Have Matched Expectations

Communicating expectations early and often in a relationship is critical.  This is one of the best leadership (and all around life) nuggets I’ve ever learned.  Clear, explicit communication (in writing when needed) between employer/employee, supervisor/agent, friends, siblings, business partners or life partners, is the lifeblood of a great relationship.  It’s when we make assumptions about the relationship that we get in trouble.  Instead of assuming and hoping, be sure to ask questions, and to clarify and document.

When leading people, a great method is to meet one on one (praise in public, give corrections in private) with your team member and verbally communicate what needs to be said.  Then ask the team member to send you an email with their understanding of the course of action.  This simple method will show you what they understand and will also help them put in writing the next steps (we all know that written goals have a much higher chance of being completed).

I’m grateful to the Founder/CEO of Tastefully Simple, Jill Blashack Strahan, for this one.  Her courage and perseverance has delivered this tool (and others) to thousands of people and helped make the world a better place.

Keep Seeking More

I love this advice.  It captures the hunger I have to want more out of a “job”.  I hope this advice resonates with you too.

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.  – Seve Jobs

SaaS = Solutions as a Service

It used to mean Software as a Service.  Nowadays, everything is software; it’s a given.  While some on prem structures may still be warranted in unique situations, the subscription model via the cloud is the present and the future.  Once we acknowledge this fact, we can look at what the business needs.

Businesses need solutions.  Every business has problems – issues that need to be fixed.  No one, no company is great at everything.  So smart companies seek help in the areas where they are not great.  But they maybe don’t articulate their needs perfectly.  And, of course regardless of what the company is doing, vendors are hammering away, relentless in trying to sell their products, their service, their software.

Smart vendors figure out the best way they can help their clients is to solve problems.  To provide solutions.  To not assume you know the clients’ problems.  To ask questions. And most importantly: to listen.  And here’s the amazing nugget in today’s world:  an incredible amount of listening can be done by just researching the client’s company.  Walking through their front door, using their service/product, etc.  Finding what their issues are.

It’s an amazing time to run a business.  You have an issue?  There’s an app for that.  I mean, a solution.

I’m curious… are you curious?

Two little words, yet so powerful: I’m curious.  I don’t remember when I learned this tool, but it has been so helpful.  We all hear that we should listen more than we speak, that we have two ears and one mouth and we should use them in that ratio.  That great conversations and relationship are built by listening.  To listen, we need to ask questions.  But if we ask questions straight away, we leave an unanswered question in the recipient’s mind.  They hear our question, but they might be thinking, “Why is this guy asking me this?”  “What does he want from me?”  “What is he trying to sell me?” For example, “How do you keep track of knowledge within your company?” vs simply adding “I’m curious…” to the front of that same question.    I’ve found this simple tool can quickly fill in the blanks, disarm doubt, and help someone move straight to providing information.  Which is what you want – what you’re curious about anyways!

We don’t know yet how this one will end

The sharing economy is exploding.  Excess capacity in your home, your car, your skill set – it’s worth money and you can sell it via technology, on your schedule.  It’s why companies like Lyft, AirBnB, and DogVacay are getting so much attention and press.  There are 50+ services that are now available to you via a mobile app, pulled from excess capacity, via the shared economy.  But not all are equal in this new marketplace, due to the actual service they provide.  There is actually a spectrum that runs from legal to illegal, from good for society to a pain the butt for society.  Starting on the legal/good for society is a company like Soothe.  They provide a massage by a licensed/vetted therapist, at your home/office, within an hour,  This service is legal, convenient, and violates no law or local ordinance.  Your neighbors/co-workers aren’t going to suffer anything but jealousy if you touch the app and get a massage.  Compare this to AirBnB where the service is renting one’s house/condo when you’re not using it, even if you never use it, essentially turning it into a non compliant hotel.  (Hotels must be built to meet fire code, accessibility, and other requirements we all want.  Houses/condos are not.)  Imagine yourself landing that great condo or moving your family into your starter home, only to have your next door neighbor turn their unit into an AirBnB rental unit.  One night renters don’t treat a property (or noise levels) the same as owners.  It seems like it should be illegal; actually it is.  Most cities/towns have local ordinances (a fancy way of saying laws) that prohibit this exact activity.  Yet AirBnB thrives.  A company like DogVacay is in the middle.  If your neighbor already has a dog, and decides to take care of 2-3 more on the weekends, but does a good job of controlling the noise, does it bother you?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  I’ve got some ideas on critical components for DogVacay’s success, which I’ll post in the future.

Some how does this one end?  Time will tell.  There are certainly some services that are beginning a metamorphosis in how they are delivered (think: almost any service delivered 1:1 can be done in a person’s living room… whoa, there was just a run on dot coms at godaddy)  But there are some services, renting your house is the big one, that have an equally good chance of being severely limited as home owners across the country rise up and say not in my backyard.

Get all in or get all out

Hopefully your organization invests in a great culture (there are lots and lots of ways to do this, just search a little…), but you, as a leader, have the ability to make or break that culture within your own team.  Make it a fun place to work.  Be the leader you would like to work for.  Smile.  Celebrate what’s working, start meetings with victories and focus on what you want to see more of.  Surprise your team with treats (listen, so you know what they like) and have informal subgroups that celebrate holidays and milestones.  Know your work volume so you can make things fun during the down times.  Work hard, play hard.  It’s up to you.  Get all in or get all out.

Are you a complainer or an improver?

We’ve all had poor user or customer service experiences.  When you provide feedback, via a survey, a post, a tweet, etc, do you just rip the company and the experience, or do you share why it was poor and your idea(s) on how to improve it?  Often times those who receive the feedback are aware of the issue and without ideas, your complaint makes you just another complainer.  But complain and throw in a few ideas, from the simple to the elaborate, and you’ve just become an improver.  You might be surprised at how many companies haven’t thought of a way to fix the issue that you’re complaining about and your idea is just what they need.  Finally, when you complain, be sure to include specific details such as an order number, or specific product that failed, or time/date of service failure.  “Your service sucks” is not actionable by the company.  “You sucked on order #123456 because it didn’t include everything I ordered” is not only actionable, it also has a high chance of being corrected quickly because the company knows clearly what to do to fix it.

Ask: “What’s working?”

A typical career path is to join a team that is already in place.  When we do, we have an opportunity to be an agent of change.  We have been hired because we bring skill and experience and the expectation is we will add value.  Rarely do the methods/processes of the new team match our experiences, the lessons we’ve learned, or the vision we have to make improvements.

Great leaders spend some time in the beginning of this chapter of their career asking questions.  They have an idea of what success looks like, but they are wise to not assume all solutions will fit every situation.  By asking questions, including the critical, “What’s working?”, a leader can determine priority and ultimately help the team the fastest.

For example, with the critical topic of knowledge, there is probably someone, somewhere in the org that has correct information.  By learning who are the subject matter experts, defining and documenting the roster of who knows what, and then finally empowering them to share their knowledge, a great leader just completed a critical early step: tapping into the fount of knowledge – at the source.

But if you, the new person to the group, assume you know the best way to accomplish a task, because it’s what worked well at my last job and it’s the reason they hired me here anyways, you’ll miss your opportunity to assess, prioritize, partner, and ultimately deliver.

Bonus: we’re all leaders, regardless of level.  Any person, at any level in an organization can lead and effect change.


Save money with a great knowledge strategy

Time is precious and expensive.  Don’t waste it training employees/agents on ever changing knowledge that they can quickly look up in a knowledge base (KB).  Invest your time training agents to quickly navigate systems, to recognize caller condition, to understand the ROI of concessions, and what it means to be a brand ambassador.  A highly skilled agent can make a call or interaction with a company very pleasant, all while skillfully looking up the latest knowledge.

Some companies have complicated “go to market” offerings.  For example, a company might need 3,000 or more knowledge base articles (each article can contain one or more questions and answers) to support its multiple product lines.  Some companies are rapidly changing and 20-40 of these articles might change every day.   It is responsibility of the organization’s subject matter experts (SMEs) to update these KB articles.  To make sure each bit of information is available; is switched from “wrong” to “right”.  Imagine how expensive it would be to train agents on this information every day.  Knowledge that often times will change before they use it.  Knowledge that can just be looked up when needed.

Some companies have simple market offerings and hardly change.  They might only have 100 bits of information that agents need to know to answer questions and provide great service.  These agents might be considered very skilled because they know all the information.  But do they have high skill?

Click here to learn the difference between knowledge and skill.

The bottom line: a knowledge base is a tremendous asset to a company. Leverage this asset by making the information available in your public facing website in a helpcenter. (Zendesk provides an excellent option in Guide.) Most customers want to self serve these days, so a searchable helpcenter allows them to get answers 24/7 without having to contact customer service. Customers are happy and the company saves money with fewer contacts. It’s a win-win.

It takes work to maintain the asset: here is the Knowledge Wheel of Life to show how every single question of Customer Service can build the asset.

The important difference between skill and knowledge

Skill and knowledge are two different and equally important aspects of building brand.

Your company probably has a customer service or distributor support team that interacts with your customers more than any other group or team in the company.  If you seek to build your brand – to extend the value proposition of your company to its customers, you need agents who have skill and who have access to knowledge.

Skill is the asset you profile and hire to, you tailor during training/onboarding, and you continue to build during the (hopefully) long tenure of the employee.  While skill can be hard to measure, picture it as an ever growing resume; a list of abilities that person has.  The situations, challenges, system functionality, etc, that the person can adeptly maneuver.

Knowledge is a commodity.  It is binary.  It either exists or it doesn’t.  It is either correct or incorrect.  Either the marketing teams, often called SMEs (subject matter experts), have documented the details of the product (its benefits, its current price, etc.) or they haven’t.  Either the shipping costs and return terms have been updated to reflect the current promotion, or they haven’t.

When skill and knowledge are confused, service and hence, your brand, suffers.  The price of the product changes for a promotion, but not all agents know this fact. Are the agents who “got the memo” more skilled than those who are incorrectly denying callers the deal?  Or are the agents in the know just using a scoop of knowledge that they read in the internal knowledge base (KB) (your company has one, right?)

Click here to read how a proper knowledge strategy saves you money.

Have you ever called a company and interacted with an agent that was an expert on the information but left you frustrated because they didn’t solve your problem?  You know your request was reasonable (you spent a lot, and this is your first request for a refund/reship, even though it is a few days past their return policy) and due to the agent’s low skill, your request was not honored.  You really wanted to like this company and support them, but the agent knew the information, in this case the return policy, and refused your request and refused to escalate.  If the agent would have had skill in recognizing caller condition and the ROI of a concession, you would have been a promoter of the company, not a detractor.  The result is a service failure.  Service failures lead to the destruction of brand.

Knowledge and skill are different and each is needed.  Your goal: information that is updated by SMEs and accessible to all, and employees who are continuously trained to recognize opportunity to extend the value of your product.