Thursday, 31 July 2014

Computer Says No

Robin and I were chatting at lunch about recent customer service experiences. Actually, neither of us had anything close to a customer service experience.

You could say just the opposite and both of our situations highlighted the fact that some organisations may talk a good talk, but the truth of it is, they don’t actually want to talk to you at all.  

They want you to do it (whatever ‘it’ may be) on-line.

I felt I was in a Kafka novel where nothing was as it appeared and the automated phone systems were designed to send me into despair (my husband was already in a frustrated rage so I decided to stay calm in the face of having to choose from the following 6 options, when all I wanted was a human voice to guide me). 

I figured if I pressed enough buttons and said gobbledygook when prompted to say what I wanted the computer at the other end might get fed up and put me through to a real human. Out of the 20 or so calls I made to sort out one small query, that strategy worked twice.

When I finally did speak to a person, my situation was sorted in two minutes. I could have saved all the hours of aggravation I spent if someone had been available to talk to me in the first place. My torturous experience was with a government agency that shall remain nameless, but I pity anyone who has to deal with them, especially anyone who isn’t computer literate or whose situation doesn’t fit in any of the tick boxes.

Robin’s call also directed him to do stuff on-line and as he carried on listening to his options in the hopes of speaking to someone, the automated voice piped up, “Thank you for your call; goodbye.” Click buzz. Brick wall, no options.

So now I’ve let off some steam – what’s the point? I could throw up my hands in surrender, but we at Impact Factory are fighters. We believe that people don’t deliberately want to give poor customer service (dare we say appalling customer service), it’s just that many companies are looking firstly at what’s best for themselves and secondly what’s best for the customer, no matter how much they say customers matter.

What I mean by this, is that it’s easier for organisations to convince themselves that having automated phone systems that direct people to websites is a good thing: everything you need to know is right there and accessible on-line. And on some levels that’s true; you can trawl around at your leisure, go to the FAQ (frequently asked questions) section and often what you need is relatively easily findable.

But what if your question isn’t included in FAQs? What if something out of the ordinary has happened? What if you just want to clarify something because you’re not really clear?

What if you aren’t normal?????

See, my theory is that these websites and automated phone systems are designed for the ‘norm’. The average. The general. The majority. And if you are any of those, you’ll probably get what you want.

But in my experience, most people who contact companies, agencies, government organisations, etc. aren’t normal. Something has happened that’s confused them, made them angry, made them bewildered. They are uncertain, unclear and need reassurance, a little hand-holding, calming down.

Human beings provide that; automated phone systems do not.

As I’m writing this, I have a perfect example of when it works happening right across the office.

Impact Factory’s automated booking system is supposed to send out joining instructions and directions when a delegate books a course. Someone just rang in to say he hadn’t received his joining instructions. Our lovely Natasha picked up the phone within one ring, heard the situation, reassured him and while he was on the phone, sent him what he needed and waited to make sure he received it.  

From someone who was anxious about what he was supposed to do, he now has an additional positive experience of Impact Factory based on our rectifying a mistake.

Here’s our plea: to all those companies out there that think they are being helpful, take a look at how easy it is for your customers to access a human being.  

And if it isn’t all that easy, what does that say about your brand?

By Jo Ellen Grzyb

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

On Craftsmanship and Mastery

Monty DonMost people who know our director Jo Ellen, will know she gardens, which also means she gets gardening magazines.

The latest issue of Gardeners’ World magazine has an article by television presenter, writer and speakerMonty Don, on craftsmanship. The last bit could have been written about Impact Factory!

Here's a passage from the article: 

In the making of (Channel 4's) Real Craft, all our trainees learned that, above all, application is the key. Stick at it and gradually the skills accumulate. Very slowly, real, lasting mastery is acquired. 
But to follow this path you must trust in the values of the end product. You must revere beautifully made objects and the skills that achieved them. In our gardens at least, we seem not to do that. Speed and ease is more precious, 'Low maintenance' is a term of approval, implying there are many other thing more worth doing with the time saved. 
But what if we applied ourselves to our gardens like a Japanese master? If the hours of patient work were valued as tiny steps to the goal of mastery? If our tools were treasured like rare jewels? Would our gardens be better for it? Not necessarily. But we might be. 
View an image of the article here 

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Unpaid Overtime: Anything you can do about it?

Do you find yourself working through your lunch break? Staying a couple of hours extra? Answering work emails in the middle of the night? 

In a recent BBC article Managers 'work extra day per week in unpaid overtime', the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) contend that most managers work up to as much as two extra days a week in unpaid work through skipped lunches and breaks, working at home in the evenings and pretty much being available ‘round the clock via smartphone technology.

I don’t know a single person who doesn't sneak a peek at their emails in the evening, even when they’re supposedly relaxing with friends and family. My husband and I went away for a couple of days over the weekend and I was very disciplined about not looking at my phone, or even taking it with me when we went for walks or antiquing.  

However, we both had a really good giggle when we went for dinner at a pub and an entire family was seated near us; no one was talking to each other and every single person was on his or her smartphone. Perhaps for the adults it was work-related – hard to tell.

The reason I mention this is that whether work-related or not, people now make themselves available 24/7 and can even become addicted to their phones, tablets, etc., looking at emails if they wake in the middle of the night and feeling compelled to answer them.

If you then couple this with an actual or perceived demand for managers to give more and be more available, then that formula creates unhealthy working practices.

There are loads of unhealthy working practices that have crept in over the years that now seem to be common practice rather than outside the norm. For instance, when I started my working-in-an-office career five decades ago breaks and lunch hours were scheduled and taken. That still applies for many jobs today, but back then managers also took scheduled breaks and lunches. And increasingly today, they don’t.

The occasional lunch at a desk is understandable, but when that happens there isn't an invisible force field that prevents others from interrupting; they treat you as though you weren't putting forkfuls of food in your mouth but fully available for questions or answering the phone.

And what about clocking off? The stampede to the lifts at five o’clock was common when I began office life and offices were ghost towns by 5.30pm.

So when did the ‘I can’t be seen to be the first one to leave’ culture begin and when did that become the norm? On many of our courses we hear about this attitude and belief that if you leave ‘on time’ you are seen to be shirking. Not only that, people often sneak work home so they can look super-efficient the next day, having magically juggled four or five projects with seeming ease, and never letting others know they simply couldn't finish things in the time allotted.

'In the time allotted'. Now that’s an interesting phrase. It seems these days that far more is expected of people with far fewer resources offered to them.

Would our economy fall apart and companies go bankrupt if they either insisted managers only work their contracted hours or that they paid for all the overtime? Perhaps.

But perhaps the whole issue needs to be looked at from a well-being point of view: in whose interest is it to have managers work to the point of burnout; in whose interest is it for managers to work without alerting their ‘powers that be’ that all is not well?

We often see on our Time Management courses people so stressed out because they have extended their working hours to the point where they have a minimal life – they are indeed living to work instead of working to live. And one of the phrases we hear a lot is, 'I have no choice.'  

Wrong! There is always a choice. In the case of those creeping work hours eating away at real life time, we know that setting clear boundaries is in everyone’s interest, manager and manager’s boss alike.  

In many workplaces people don’t have the skill to manage other people’s expectations (or even their own, in some cases), so expectations are way out of line with reality.

Rather than ‘coping’, taking work home, reading emails at midnight and cramming in a sandwich between calls, letting others know exactly what you can do, the realistic time it will take and the constraints of it all will help create a workplace where expectations are managed and managers have a better chance of leaving on time than burning the midnight oil (either at the office or at home).

If people began to set better boundaries then this whole problem of unpaid overtime by any other name would change and workplaces could become far healthier places to be.

Check out Impact Factory's Time Management open course and Stress Management Training

By Jo Ellen Grzyb

Monday, 7 July 2014

Using Improvisation as a Business Tool

Using improvisation as a tool for creativity and communication in the workplace

We all pretty much improvise quite a bit throughout the day – we think off the top of our heads, we chat on the phone, we joke with fellow-office workers and later with mates at the pub, we tell porkies or stretch the truth, we play with our children, we brainstorm with colleagues, we dream about our holidays and plot revenge against people we dislike.

Improvisation in the work place
There are countless activities that we all do that are not pre-planned:  we don’t even think that we’re improvising because we’re so used to doing things in the moment that it doesn’t occur to us just how creative we are being.
And that’s what improvisation is: being creative in the moment, using whatever tools we have at our disposal and ‘going with the flow’.

In a way you could call all of that unconscious improvisation, the stuff we do everyday without thinking about it.

What if we began using improv in a conscious way; where we used some of the ‘basics’ from the world of theatrical improvisation to improve communication and creativity? And how would we do that?

Recently we held an improv day at Impact Factory led by Maria Peters to explore this very issue – how to incorporate improvisation techniques into our training even more than we already do. No, we didn’t do an Impact Factory version of Who’s Line is it Anyway?, that very popular improv telly programme from a few years ago.

It was a rollicking, rather hysterical day and by the end of it we came up with a long list of how to bring training and improve closer together. For instance, we spent a goodly amount of time looking at brainstorming, a ubiquitous tool used from boardrooms to breakfast rooms to tease out people’s creativity and find solutions to problems or generate new ideas.

The game we played demonstrated how even with a roomful of incredibly creative, no holds barred people (us!!), there are usually unspoken restrictions put on brainstorming in the name of arriving at a usable solution or idea.

By using a ‘let’s-throw-out-the-rules’ improv approach the sky wasn’t the limit, the galaxy was and the excitement and noise we created, even working in small groups, not to mention the ideas we came up with, opened up loads of new possibilities of what we else we can do on our own courses.

That long list at the end of the day didn’t just include new exercises, games and processes but encompassed the greater impact of improvement:

  • working with your colleagues more effectively by making them look good;
  • building on someone else’s ideas rather than saying why they won’t work;
  • going ‘off piste’ and not sticking to your original plan if it isn’t working;
  • allowing yourself to fail magnificently rather than always trying to get it right;  
  • committing to some form of action rather than dithering or waiting to find the right thing to do;
  • listening more than talking!
What I personally took away was that we already do a lot of this in our work at Impact Factory which is why it’s such a creative place to work - we could do even more. We really like to play – we could do even more. We all have untapped depths of imagination and ingenuity – we need to plumb those depths even more.

And finally, Maria is bloody brilliant!!

Read more about how we incorporate improvisation into our training: 
Watch this video about how improv performances help entrepreneurs develop stage presence and much-needed authenticity. (Entrepreneur)

Copyright Impact Factory 2014