“Undercover Boss”, real-time communications and I sure hope Ray Ozzie builds something amazing

I like the show “Undercover Boss”. Mostly because I like seeing the CEO’s reactions when they find out what their employees really think about their jobs, the company, policies, etc.

Recently our CEO responded to some policy concerns by asking us to tell him what policies we thought were stupid, so they could be fixed, or discontinued completely. He called for a “policy purge” and that very day the first policy was killed. And our CEO is NOT out of touch with employees. He sits 40 feet from me in a cubicle just like I do. With the right arc I can nearly hit him with a Nerf dart. Any employee can stop by and chat with him anytime they see him.

One of the key things I have noticed by watching Undercover Boss (and being in business a long time) is just how much valuable information is being lost between the front line troops and middle and upper management. Often the middle managers get the blame for this, but at the end of the day, the CEO runs the company, and has to set the standard for the culture. Open, or closed? Inclusive, or exclusive? Executive restrooms, or does the CEO piss in the same pot I piss in?

Undercover Boss has covered some very arrogant and extravagant CEO’s – and some very down to earth ones. The down to earth ones almost always know their businesses better.  They may not understand every employee’s personal issues, but they get the business. The arrogant ones are out of touch – probably because they are out of reach.

Being disconnected from employees is just as dangerous as being disconnected from your customers. Listening and learning seem to be lost arts in many companies.

As companies become more global and the Internet makes the world more real-time it is more and more difficult for companies to communicate internally. And at the same time we are adding in the complexity of a nearly real-time external communication channel with customers.

This is a LOT for companies to digest and adjust to. Many won’t. But those that invest  in new communication channels will probably get to know their employees and customers much better than those who do not.

Finding the right tool to talk to a lot of customers and/or employees is hard. You may pick the wrong platform, expect people to show up where they do not show up – but you must not give up.

The new world is about rapid communication – and customers and employees both expect it. How they want it delivered is something we are all still figuring out.

Maybe Ray Ozzie knows? He has been as close to getting it right as anyone. And it appears he is still working on it.

 

 

Are you looking for me?

I shared this on Google+ earlier.  Decided to share it here as well.

I am always amazed by the people that tell me I am “stupid” for sharing my home phone number on Twitter, FaceBook, etc. My job is customer experience – I NEED customers to find me for me to win. What is crazy about making it easy for them? My home number is 210-370-3861. My cell is 210-845-4440. Anyone could find that by digging into a simple Google search.

I am not afraid of my customers – especially the unhappy ones – those are the ones I can learn the most from, and drive the best change based on their feedback. Of course, I also love talking to customers that think we are amazing. I don’t discriminate between the two though – I need to hear from both sides to see where we really are at – to understand where we need to apply resources.

I love customers – I love working for a company that appreciates how much I care for my relationships with customers. I love that I am allowed to work when my customers expect me to work, and not on a schedule mandated by 9-5ers.

I’ve been a customer of +Rackspace Hosting for more than ten years, in one form or another. And an employee for 3 1/2 years. I prefer being an employee that has been a customer, and can honestly understand things from a customer perspective.

And I trust us to do the right thing by customers. So why would I shy away from them?

I currently run the Social Media team at +Rackspace Hosting and my team is all engineers – people that can actually drive change within the company.

I need customers like Lindsey Lohan appears to need court dates. Like Tom Cruise needs a sofa to jump on.

If you are in customer support, or Social Media, and you are evading and avoiding your customers – I feel sorry for you. I WANT to know my customers. I want them to know how to reach me.

rob@rackspace.com
@kr8tr
rlagesse on Skype
rob@lagesse.org on GTALK

 

Random thoughts on things I have learned over time

I shared this with my Senior Leadership team tonight then thought, “Why not share it with everyone”?

When I managed Radio Shack stores I had this crazy-ass District Manager. His name was Charlie, and he was about 4’2″ tall in his lift shoes. But his personality was huge. So huge in fact that he was on 60 Minutes – for selling water filters that did not filter. He went to jail for several years. Mike Wallace buried him. That was several years after I worked for Charlie.

That made Charlie a bad guy, but not a completely stupid guy. He taught me a lot of really simple lessons, like, “Do you teach your employees how to dust?”. Man, I thought that was a retarded thing for him to ask me – we ALL know how to dust, right? Turns out, we do not. I was in Marin County – my employees were 17-22 year old kids of the rich and famous – the kids who had parents that thought they should “learn to work” – but they had never dusted a damned thing in their life. They would start dusting on the bottom shelf – they would not move merchandise to dust under it – they had no freaking clue how to dust. I had no clue they had no clue. Charlie was smart! And I learned to never make assumptions about what people can or cannot do.

Charlie is the guy that gave me the keys to a million dollar/month store after being an employee for just three months – and he told me, “Run it like you own it, but never forget you don’t”. I did just that. I have taken that advice through a dozen startups and two public companies, to include Rackspace. It works.

Once, while Charlie was in my store, I had a customer come in and ask me for a drill. “We don’t sell drills, sorry”, I said. Charlie followed the customer out the door and then led him back in, took him to a section of the store, then led him to my cash register. I rang up a $2.99 awl, which was probably a 90% profit item. The customer did not need a drill – he needed a hole. Charlie was smart that way.

Charlie is the guy that asked me what the difference (in 1980 dollars) was between making 700K a year in baseball and making 100K a year – 10% more effort – a ten percent better batting average. That has caused me to try harder for the last 30 years.

Charlie is the guy that chewed me out for 20 minutes about not having a “lighted and magnified” headset in stock – when I should have had 5 according to my inventory levels. My excuse was that I thought they were stupid, and “nobody ever buys them”. To wit, Charlie replied, “Then you should have five of them!”. Hard to argue with that kind of logic – that actually was my first lesson in supply-chain management. I was 23.

Charlie also had a fake front tooth that was prone to fly from his mouth as he gave his “Hitler-esque” ‘motivational’ talks to us. Once at DisneyLand, during our annual manager’s convention, I caught the tooth in my beer cup – from about 15 feet away! I waited several days to give it back – see – I was a PITA even then. :)

The most important thing Charlie taught me though was to live up to what you are asking others to deliver. He failed to. He chased money over all else, and it cost him everything.

Charlie was smart – but he had a bad moral character. Charlie wanted to win more than anything. Charlie wanted Charlie to win. Decades later I realize that Charlie was teaching me for one reason – so he could win bigger – NOT so I could win. Charlie was short-sighted. Charlie was greedy. I know I win by creating winners. Charlie never learned that.

Not sure what my point is here. It is part “doing what is right is better than winning at all costs” and part, “there is something good and bad to learn from everyone – learning to differentiate the two is what is important”.

Mostly, I think – he taught me how to take the best of Charlie – and mix it in with the best of intentions – and to use both to benefit as many people as I can – because over time, that is how I win. I win by teaching the right lessons and for the right reasons.

And no – nothing at Rack caused me to write this – Charlie just asked to link to me on LinkedIn, after almost 30 years. So these thoughts came to mind.

And it made me smile – because for all of Charlie’s faults – he taught me a lot of lessons that are still important to me today. To ask the right questions. To not assume. To know who I work for. To know how I win (by honestly helping others win instead of making me the focus). To listen to customers and understand that what they want and need does not always match what I think they should want or need.

I once rode a mile with a blindfold on

I do NOT recommend this. I was younger, and times were more simple – and I lived in a very small town.  And I was on a motorcycle.

I had two friends next to me. guiding me.  I was riding a Honda 440 Super Sport – a bike I loved.

So why was I riding with a blindfold on?

The easy answer is that I was young and stupid.  The more complex answer is that I did not know where I was going, so I did not care what direction I took. I just felt I needed to head somewhere – so I did.  With the added burden of a blindfold.

I made it the mile.

It made me smile.

In the 25 years since then I realize that was a very easy mile.  I had no fear then.  I had little responsibility then.  I had no voice or audience then. Nobody counted on me.  I was as free as a human could be.  I was free to risk it all – in any fashion I chose.

It was an easy mile back then because I had nothing to lose.  Nobody depended on me.  I did not have two kids in college.  The times, my friend, they have changed.

As I matured, people started to depend on me – so I grew up – a little. Now I have two kids in college, customers that I love, employees that depend on me.  Life is more complex.

I don’t walk 5 feet without having my eyes open the entire time now.  I have grown up. I owe people stuff (more valuable than money).  I need to live a while to pay it back.

I am not risk adverse now – I am just a lot smarter – I see more, listen to more – find ways to help more. Without risking everything. I am looking for ways to invest instead of ways to risk. And I don’t mean investing with money – I mean investing with, “Dude, I have been there an done that – don’t do that”.  Advice.  Mentoring.  Friendship.

Taking risks without risking everything is what people my age should be doing right now – investing where they can – in a business, in family – in crazy perhaps.

Dying with money in the bank seems like total fail to me.

My kids are in college – and will graduate without debt.  Why should I not gamble on other people’s kids at this point?

Why would I not gamble on people at this point?  I am where I am because of people.

So I will be investing in young people – a wide variety of young people. Any class, any space, any race, any IQ, any that even tell me “fuck you”.

Look out kids – I got an agenda.  And you are it.

 

Social Media as a Service

I get a lot of people telling me how I can make my employer more successful if we would just learn to market on Social Media – especially on Twitter.

They have stuff to sell, and they want me to buy.  We all need to make a living.

I’m not focused on making money from Social Media – I am focused on saving money WITH Social media.

Every customer we help in near real time is a customer that that is exposed to Fanatical Support® – often for the first time.

And that support is important.  It is timely.  It is genuine – it is driven by an engineer with a desire to help a customer win.

Near real time support adds a lot of value because it both maintains your brand reputation and reinforces your core commitment to customers – that you are a partner, not just a vendor.  That you win and lose together.  That they are not just a number.

So we focus a lot on how Social Media can help us help customers win. That is our strategy.  Please steal it – emulate it – make all my experiences with brands better by making them more engaged with me.

But put real people behind those accounts and hashtags – people that are empowered to make a difference, and people that really give a damn.

That isn’t Marketing.

That is Social Media as a Service.