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Why you should love bad news

As a leader you should always demonstrate that you LOVE to hear customer stories whether they are good, bad or indifferent. If the stories are good you can use them in all sorts of ways to reinforce the right behaviours. Most interestingly, you can use those good stories with other customers to help generate sales. If the stories are bad you can fix the problem. (For this reason, leaders must become bad news junkies. Bad news is a way to fix problems. BUT. Be careful. As soon as you hear bad news and give someone the sharp end of your tongue, you’ll turn off the supply of bad news and you’ll rob yourself of the essential feedback you need to ensure success.)

How does all of this translate into your action plan? As follows:

· Do you know what stories your employees are telling? Are their stories about customers and service and ways to improve? Or are they about their frustrations, about poor management, about office politics or constraints on their ability to do good work? You really need to know.

· What stories would you rather they were telling? Imagine those stories and describe them. Tell them stories of what it could be like if only you could get it right.

· Are you able to bring customers in to talk to your staff on a regular basis? If you lead an internally focused team, can you bring end-users to your meetings to talk about their issues and perspectives? And are you bringing different kinds of customers to the table? What about bringing in lost customers? Why did they leave? Bring in current customers. What do they like or dislike and what would they prefer to see? What about potential customers? What holds them back from buying your service? These sessions would provide powerful stimulation and would be appropriate in board rooms, executive committee rooms and meeting rooms everywhere in your organization.

· If you are constrained from actually bringing customers into your meetings, can you go out and film them? It’s really simple – ask them what they do, how they do it and why they do it. Ask them how what they do benefits from what you do. Simply film them with the camera on a mobile phone if that’s all you have available. Many phones have high-definition video capabilities, and believe me that’s more than good enough. Simply hook those films up to a laptop or a projector and show them to your staff to stimulate a discussion on how to improve things around here.

· Are you doing regular customer research? Are you asking the simple questions that get to the most important truths on a regular basis – possibly even daily? And are you bringing that feedback back to your team to stimulate the discussions that lead to performance improvement? I am still amazed at how often I see wall charts up in offices measuring progress towards goals. There is a simple reason – they are a visible sign of performance and can be hugely motivational. When you link customer feedback to progress charts in the office you are sending powerful communication to your team that they will see every single day.

· Are you online regularly, checking out how your customers feel and what they’re saying about you? And if you’re not doing it yourself, do you have someone looking after that for you? Do they feed back to you what’s happening on a daily basis? Out there and online, millions of people are talking to each other in a brutally frank way and we have access to a huge and hugely honest focus group. Whether you like it or not, people are talking about you. If you tune in, you can use what they say to develop new services or products, improve the ones you already have or devise new ways to communicate with your customers.

· Never forget that the positive customer stories you dig up and use with your own team, can be hugely motivational when used with potential customers. Encourage your staff to tell those stories themselves, both inside and outside the organization. We all know that word of mouth is a powerful positive force for increasing sales. Why not start with your own team?

· Remember that end-users or customers can provide three kinds of stimulus. The first is empathy, where your team can better understand what customers are facing and therefore provide a more appropriate service or product. This is where inspiration comes from. The second is when customers talk about how they benefited and what a difference it has made in their lives – this provides motivation to work harder. The third is when they simply thank you for what you have done – this can provide the fuel simply to keep doing what you’re doing on a consistent basis.

Use the customer as the subject of all your conversations, and the way to engage all your staff in the business.

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