By Larry Sternberg, JD, Fellow, Talent Plus, Inc.
First, let me clarify how I am using the word “empowerment” in this context. Empowerment is giving employees the authority to make decisions and take action without seeking prior approval.
When employees are empowered in that way, continuous improvement is dramatically accelerated. Continuous improvement, by definition, requires change. When employees are given the authority to change their processes and procedures without having to seek approval (often several layers of approval) improvements are implemented much more rapidly and much more frequently.
Self-Directed Work Teams
When I was the general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Tyson’s Corner, I was asked by the COO, Horst Schulze, to implement a management model known as “self-directed work teams.” This model requires extreme empowerment. Hourly employees were authorized to make numerous decisions normally reserved for management. These decisions included work schedules, task assignment, hiring new employees, ordering supplies, redesigning work processes, peer performance evaluations and many others.
At that time Ritz-Carlton evaluated each hotel’s performance using 20 metrics – 10 financial and 10 nonfinancial. After 18 months of working in this model, the company determined that according to those 20 metrics, The Ritz-Carlton, Tyson’s Corner was improving at a rate that was 5 to 7 times the rate of improvement of the rest of the company.
To highlight just a few outcomes that those metrics were tracking, our hotel showed significant improvements in customer satisfaction, employee morale, productivity, expenses (they went down) and profit margins (they went up).
Here are a couple of specific examples. By training hourly employees to interview job candidates and make final hiring decisions (with zero input from management), and by empowering them to revamp the entire hiring process, we reduced the time from job application to job offer from 6 weeks to 24 hours. Productivity increased because managers were no longer spending time interviewing candidates. We beat our competitors to the best candidates because we made job offers before they could complete their selection processes. Furthermore, because Ritz-Carlton used a scientific assessment that returned a score for each candidate, we noticed hourly interviewers held out for better candidates than their managers did. In addition, the hourly employees’ commitment to help new people succeed increased because they had selected those people.
The next example involves salespeople. Many people outside the hotel industry might be unaware that a large, conference-oriented hotel has a team of salespeople. That team is responsible for generating the majority of the revenue and profits for the hotel. It is quite routine for a salesperson to send an amenity (such as a bottle of wine or a fruit and cheese plate) to a particular guest, or to several guests.
This example occurred when I was conducting a training program on empowerment and process improvement at The Ritz-Carlton, Boston. A salesperson suggested we modify the approval process for sending the types of amenities described above. We determined the average cost to the hotel for sending each amenity was about $25, including the costs associated with assembling and delivering it. We had confidence in our estimate because the controller, the purchasing director and the food and beverage director were right there in the room.
As I said, sending these types of amenities is quite routine. In a busy hotel, it happens numerous times a day. Each and every time a salesperson wanted to send an amenity, three signatures were required: the director of sales and marketing, the controller and food and beverage director. These things are almost never pre-planned, so the salesperson would almost always have to walk the approval document to each of those executives to get their signatures. Hotel executives are rarely in their offices, so tracking them down takes time.
We had the right people in the seminar (including the director of sales and marketing) to arrive at a credible estimate of how much time it normally took to walk around to get the required signatures, and how often this occurred. We then annualized the numbers. That approval process was costing the hotel more than 1,000 salesperson hours that could otherwise be spent selling! That’s about half a full-time employee.
All of this because salespeople who were entrusted to close five and six-figure contracts were not authorized to make a $25 decision. And by the way, none of the three authorizing executives ever refused to sign off on an amenity request. Not once.
What Happens When You Empower Your People?
By empowering salespeople to make a $25 decision, we increased selling time by more than 1,000 hours per year and improved the morale of every person in the sales department.
If you empower people to make decisions, including the redesign of their work processes, they don’t have to wait for a seminar to implement their ideas for improvements.
One common reason managers and executives do not want to empower their people is that they have to give up some of their power (and their perceived control). You see, the dilemma is that the manager cannot give up their accountability to deliver results. The traditional thinking is: If I am going to be held accountable for the results, then I get to call the shots. To successfully empower people, the manager must rise beyond that type of thinking. It requires great trust in your people. It’s a leap of faith. It takes most managers way out of their comfort zones.
If some readers do wish to get started on this journey, here’s one way to take that leap:
Step 1. Have everybody in your area of responsibility answer the following questions:
- What decisions are you fully competent to make right now that require approval from somebody else before you can take action?
- What actions require more than one approval? (Have a bias to eliminate multiple layers of approval.)
- What would you change to make to make things work better in your department?
Step 2. Have a bias – a strong bias – to implement the changes they want.
If some of these ideas don’t work, try something else. But don’t you decide what to try next, let the employees do it.
Enjoy the Outcome
Empowerment involves risk. It is not easy. It requires a lot of trust. It requires a lot of teaching and coaching. Not everybody is up for it. But if you are the kind of manager or executive who receives intrinsic satisfaction from developing people, the rewards (both intrinsic and extrinsic) are well worth the effort.
The pandemic has changed consumer behaviour and retailers need to adapt
By Mary Keane-Dawson, Group CEO of TAKUMI
It’s no secret that the retail industry has been badly hit by the pandemic, with the recent collapse of Arcadia and Debenhams providing a harsh reality check as to what the future could hold for brick-and-mortar stores. With all non-essential shops being ordered to close last month, with no re-opening date confirmed, it is inevitable that a natural shift to online platforms would occur.
Online giants, ASOS and Boohoo, have established themselves as the new industry leaders. Both e-commerce giants bought failing Arcadia brands and Debenhams and ruthlessly closed all the retailers’ physical premises. The shift to online in the retail sector has never been more apparent.
Retail brands need to establish their digital presence to serve their consumers’ changing behaviour and to remain competitive in the retail industry.
Capitalising on changing consumer behaviour
The pandemic has meant consumer needs have adapted, which in turn has led to a shift in consumer behaviour. Retailers need to capitalise on changing consumer behaviour to remain relevant, but more importantly profitable.
The ‘stay at home’ message from the government, which has been almost constant throughout the past 12 months, has meant many consumers have started to become more reliant on online channels and platforms.
Supermarkets, such as Aldi and Co-Op, responded to this change in consumer behaviour by deciding to serve their customers on delivery apps, such as Deliveroo. As fewer people were ‘popping to the shops’ due to lockdown restrictions, supermarkets reacted by offering an instant delivery service, essentially where the ‘shop pops to you’.
The shift to online platforms and influencer marketing
Retail brands need to follow suit and adapt their ways of working to reflect this shift to e-commerce. Ted Baker, the premium fashion retailer, has admitted its disappointing online sales figures last quarter could be due to its slow response to the shift to ecommerce. The retailer is aiming to “significantly improve” its online shopping platform because of this.
As the shift to online platforms accelerates, retailers need to start investing in digital marketing, for example influencer marketing, to ensure their brand stays at the forefront of their consumers’ minds. Evan Horowitz, CEO of Movers+Shakers, a creative agency, explained in our whitepaper in August how the pandemic has led his company to increase its influencer marketing as “influencers are more influential than ever”.
As such, many traditional retailers have started exploring the benefits of influencer marketing. Wickes, in partnership with TAKUMI, launched the UK’s first ever home improvement industry TikTok campaign to reach a new audience with authentic and creative content and to drive awareness of its range of products. Our whitepaper, Into the Mainstream: Influencer Marketing in Society, which surveyed over 3,500 consumers, marketers, and influencers across the US, UK, and Germany, found that almost three-quarters of marketers (73%) upped spend on influencer marketing in the past 12 months, with spending significantly increasing in the retail (79%) sector.
It seems inevitable that more brands will continue to invest in influencer marketing with social media’s popularity increasing as we start to enter a post-pandemic world.
Using social media as a tool to respond to changing consumer behaviour
With marketers upping their influencer marketing spend, many social media platforms have also responded to the growing popularity of ecommerce.
Instagram redesigned its layout to ensure its Shopping and Reels tabs were given more prominence. The Instagram shopping feature allows brands to attach a virtual shopping tag to their ads on the platform. People can click on a tagged item and then be re-directed to the brands’ product webpage.
Similarly, TikTok’s rising popularity has led it to launch its own ecommerce offering. Last October, TikTok announced a partnership with Shopify. This partnership will enable Shopify merchants to create, run and optimise TikTok marketing campaigns that will attract consumers from TikTok’s growing user base.
Instagram and TikTok are slowly evolving from content platforms to ecommerce hubs. This transformation coincides with the rise in consumers shopping online following the pandemic.
What’s to come for retailers, post-pandemic?
Consumer behaviour is changing and the pandemic has accelerated the shift towards social media and ecommerce. Retail brands need to recognise that the shift to online is here to stay.
To remain relevant, brands need to allocate appropriate budgets to digital marketing channels. Interestingly, our whitepaper found it was marketers from traditional media channels that were increasing their influencer marketing spend the most, demonstrating that the shift to digital marketing has already begun. Retail brands need to start to prepare themselves for the post-pandemic retail environment to avoid ending up like Arcadia and Debenhams.
5 Trends Driving the Future of Customer Service in 2021 and Beyond
By Matt McConnell, CEO of Intradiem
2020 ignited radical shifts for contact centre operations with the move to a remote work environment. Our customers say this trend is more of a permanent transformation – one that uncovers trends that include more flexible operations and greater efficiencies in leveraging contact centre data.
Trend 1: The Remote Agent Model is Here to Stay, Permanently
Historically, many IT teams discouraged remote working for customer service teams, but it was quickly proven virtual contact centres could work and offered a significant upside. The average annual cost to physically house a call centre agent is approximately $8,300 per agent in the United States. If a 200-person contact centre decided to move only half of its agents to home offices, that translates to $830,000 in annual real estate cost savings.
Working remotely also opened the doors to reach talent and hiring beyond a specific geography. For example, call centres based in rural locations who may have exhausted their local talent pool can bring in quality agents from anywhere in the world.
Trend 2: The Role of AI will be to Support Human Agents, Not Replace
Despite many years of buzz, it’s worth acknowledging that AI cannot entirely replace one-on-one human interaction in customer service (yet, or maybe ever). Many interactions with chatbots or other entirely automated CX tools only drive the escalation of customer issues rather than resolving them at the first touchpoint.
Instead, AI is best used to assist and manage agents to help them work more efficiently. For example, AI-powered technology can reduce handle time by auto-populating call notes or automatically log agents into or out of applications to further save time.
AI will provide an added layer of support as a management tool to keep agents on track in remote environments. AI also enables better connectivity for customer service teams and enables agents to receive consistent communications and Information they need to excel in their role in serving customers.
Trend 3: A Swift Migration to the Cloud
Call centres have been notoriously slow to move to the cloud. In the past, this has not been an issue when centres use on-premise technologies. With fully remote call centres, companies must reconsider their approach to the cloud.
Call centres can no longer rely on on-premise data with a decentralised workforce. Often their information is locked up in data centres, while operations remain outside of the office. Moving to the cloud offers more flexible operations, easier access to data and substantial cost saving, but only if call centres tap the right partners to make the most of the shift.
Trend 4: The Emergence of Predictive Analytics
Call centres generate an enormous amount of time-sensitive data that must be gathered and analysed in real-time to effectively manage their operations. Without real-time capabilities, Insights gathered on a Monday may only be contextualised later that day or week. This is not impactful as the time to act has passed and call centre conditions have already changed.
Looking beyond 2021, we will see call centres take their analytics a step further to go beyond real-time analytics, and into predictive analytics. This will leverage real-time data at scale to offer preventive support to both agents and customers, moving call centres from reactive to proactive. Instead of waiting for a customer to call with an issue, centres can leverage historical data to reach out pre-emptively.
The same approach can be used to identify agents who struggle or may be experiencing burnout earlier in order to reduce attrition rates. A smarter mindset on data will revolutionise how call centres operate and in turn, companies will see higher customer and agent retention.
Trend 5: Real-Time Technologies Will Be Applied to the Back-Office
We will also see companies increasingly apply call centre technologies to their back-office operations. They will start to leverage back-office data in real-time to cut down on wasted hours and better track employee activities.
This part of the business has not been managed with the same technology investment as the call centre, leading to inefficiencies where back-office employees may struggle with certain tasks or spend time in non-work applications. Now, companies will be able to use AI-powered technologies to drive productivity gains in the back-office — leading to significant savings to the bottom line.
2020 served as the inflection point for call centre transformation. The shift to remote work unlocked new uses of technology and opportunities thought impossible before. We are now at the tip of the iceberg, as successful call centres will continue to innovate and think differently on how they can improve their operations in the new year and beyond.
Creating a B2B lead generation strategy in the Covid economy
By Petra Smith, Founder and Managing Director of marketing agency Squirrels&Bears
The pandemic has transformed the relationship driven B2B environment in a significant way and what has started as an immediate response to a crisis, is now becoming the new norm in lead generation and sales. Compared to the more transactional interactions associated with B2C businesses, the traditional face to face nature of relationship building has now been fully replaced by digital conversations.
According to a recent McKinsey research B2B decision makers globally believe that digital prospecting is as effective as in-person meetings and that remote selling is as effective as in-person engagement. The new pandemic-induced digital patterns are likely to become permanent as nine in ten decision makers say that this new digital go-to-market strategy will be a fixture throughout 2021 and possibly beyond. With the long-term shift to digital business environment B2B businesses can drive their lead generation strategies by rethinking their approach and focusing on the following aspects:
- Define the changing priorities of your ideal customers
Buyer personas, representations of ideal customers, can be a useful way of helping to understand the specific profile of the customer segments and their key interests such as characteristics, behaviours, attitudes, needs, value drivers, concerns and motivations. Creating accurate buyer personas is key to planning how best to reach your target audience and deciding where resources should be focused to do so most effectively.
However, the pandemic has brought a new set of customer values and interests. For many, it’s a guarantee of safety and reassurance, as well as knowing that they can buy from and work with your business with limited close contact. Businesses can create value by effectively matching their offerings to specific customer needs, however this requires understanding what products and services they are looking for, what problems are they trying to solve and which offering works the best for them, in real time.
- Identify how they communicate
Forrester’s research suggests that over 80 percent of the sales cycle now takes place online. Customers make more decisions before contacting a business than ever before, and they expect your digital channels to educate them fully. If they can’t find the information they’re looking for on your digital channels, they might just head to your competitor’s website instead. Make it easy for your customers to buy from you by educating them about your offering, as well as implementing clear and simple calls to action that can guide them on their buying journey.
Lead generation is not about chasing a secret method that results in high volume of leads. It is about understanding and identifying the most effective combination of tactics that will help to achieve the unique lead generation goals. Any channel that generates interest in the business can be classed as lead generation, both online and offline. The channels that work most effectively include content marketing, email marketing, event marketing, social media, website and PR. A multi-pronged approach to communication that covers different avenues and tactics is required as no single method ticks all the boxes by itself.
Creating high-quality content tailored to your target audience and their needs can help to establish your company as a trustworthy thought leader, keeping the brand fresh in their mind when they are ready to make a purchase.
Building relationships over time through carefully planned emails sent at the right time. The emails should offer new service or product offering, advice, new content, or other helpful information and resources that add value to the recipient.
Whilst unable to host or attend in-person events, webinars can be an equally powerful tool. The key is that attendees feel they have spent their time well and accessed valuable information and resources.
Social media marketing
Social media lead generation is about being where the customer is and showing them the approachable, human side of the business. The goal is to build relationships over time, which will put your brand at the forefront of their mind when they are ready to buy.
Website and SEO
Drive website visitors to specific landing pages and capture their contact details through gated forms. Offer useful information in exchange for an email address and continuously nurture those leads by educating them throughout their buying journey.
Build a thought leadership profile through reputable publications recognised by your target audience. Leverage the subject matter expertise of your team and use it to sell through insights and business storytelling.
- Generate and nurture leads
Hope is not a strategy. The process of generating and nurturing leads involves purposefully engaging the target audience by offering relevant information, supporting them in any way they need, and maintaining a sense of interest throughout every stage of the buyer’s journey. Every buying journey is different, but establishing a strategic communication strategy that guides your customers as they progress through their journey, will lead to higher return on investment and more in-depth customer relationships.
96% of B2B customers want content from industry thought leaders to inform their buying decisions, so creating compelling content is key to establishing your brand as the go-to, educational leader in your industry. Nurturing these leads is critical as it directly impacts customers’ decisions about whether or not they want to convert into paying customers. Establish a regular lead generation and nurture campaign schedule and leverage targeted content to reach industry-specific audiences through multiple channels and touchpoints.
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