The Most Powerful Differentiator a Tech Company Can Create

There are some big questions that technology companies in the channel are asking themselves today:

Who is the customer of the future? How can we cement our position in their minds and in the market — and continue to deliver to our shareholders?

While leaders are asking these questions, there are also dramatic disruptions happening in the channel. Tech companies know they can no longer rely on a competitive product and speed to market as a differentiator. It’s merely a ticket to play.

Companies must demonstrate their value and find their “in” with the end-customer to solidify their standing and win a seat at the table.

They can do this — if they solve for customer engagement, not just satisfaction.

Why? Because customer engagement is the key to a customer’s emotional or psychological attachment to a brand, product or company. And customer decisions are predominantly emotional.

When a customer is fully engaged with a company, the customer forms an attachment that influences their purchasing behaviors beyond rational factors.

This presents an opportunity for technology companies, as only 29% of business-to-business (B2B) customers are fully engaged.

Gallup finds that becoming a trusted adviser and delivering customer impact are the most powerful, emotionally-driven differentiators for unlocking the organic growth that’s in such short supply.

However, companies underestimate what it takes to capitalize on the emotional economy and engage customers — and it’s a complex initiative.

Tech companies need to move from being product providers to strategic partners overnight due to industry trends and disruptions, like new technologies being introduced into the marketplace driving digital transformation and the recent tariffs in China.

On top of that, companies and providers have become more matrixed — so new decision-makers and influencers have entered the discussion up- and downstream.

These new players are often overlooked, but it is critical to engage them, share your expertise with them and build trusted partnerships.

How to Ramp Up Customer Engagement During Disruptions

To build trust with every point of contact, you can start by revisiting your customer experience programs and reviewing how you sell to and service all-important relationships in the ecosystem. All of your contacts in the matrix must understand your value and how you can co-create business solutions for them as a trusted adviser.

Below is Gallup’s advice for engaging your customers and becoming a trusted adviser in your matrixed and ever-changing channel.

1. Find out what your customers want using advanced analytics from a third party.

Gallup analyzed nearly 18 million global B2B customers and found that 71% are considered either indifferent or actively disengaged. That means 71% of customers are willing to take their business elsewhere.

Companies often rely heavily on customer service and sales teams or on customer satisfaction surveys for the data they need to make decisions. But that intelligence can be biased or uninformed, depending on how it is collected.

To prevent customers from taking their business elsewhere, customer-facing teams should really know what their customers want and how to deliver value that can affect their bottom line.

But accessing and evaluating the right information — the information that leaders need for good decisions — is a science, not an art. Partner with an objective third party to investigate what customers value.

2. Empower your sales and service teams to deliver on your promise.

According to Gallup research, 46% of customers strongly agree that their vendor or partner always delivers on what they promise.

Unfortunately, most organizations solve for this by putting their sales teams through a training program as the only intervention, and even then, the program doesn’t incorporate specific customer or company data and analytics.

However, by providing your sales and service teams with the right data, insights and analytics about their customer, their customer’s customer, and the industry and market opportunity that exists today, this can immediately position them as a trusted adviser and dramatically impact results.

To position their teams for success, companies should leverage objective, third-party, top-of-the-line advanced analytics to properly evaluate the talent of their sales teams. With that intelligence, companies can then adjust their sales strategies and teams according to their customer-facing talent.

A good talent strategy assesses everyone who impacts the customer experience. Don’t overlook the sales support talent upstream — it can make a big difference to the salespeople’s customer relationships.

3. Revisit and rebuild your corporate narrative from the inside out.

A winning corporate narrative emphasizes why the company is valuable to the market. As technology companies continue to introduce innovative products, their employees must understand the value they bring to their customers and their customer’s customer.

Gallup research suggests that while executives may understand this reality, customer-facing teams often don’t. That can cause uncertainty and, potentially, a lack of communication that damages customer relationships.

This is problematic, as front-line employees have the most significant effect on the customer relationship. Gallup research shows that only 30% of B2B customers say their commercial partner understands their needs.

Leaders should educate and empower their teams with the knowledge of the value they bring to their customers.

Product needs are well-satisfied — but emotional needs are up for grabs.

None of this suggests that innovation and speed to market are less important than they used to be. They are critical, and as competitors enter your space, innovation and speed become more important all the time.

But those competitive advantages aren’t enough. Tech is mature enough that product needs are well-satisfied — but emotional needs are up for grabs.

The most powerful of those needs is trust. The most successful companies will be those who build customer relationships based on it.

By creating a cohesive experience for every partner, supplier, distributor and end-customer in the channel, trusted advisers are the ones who win customers — and a very secure seat at the table.

Need Help

jlmakela@gmail.com

443-364-8341

AI Is Threatening Customer Experiences. Are You Ready?

Slowly but surely, AI is creeping into the realm of customer service and B2B interactions.

Customers are interacting with brands via automated channels every day. Scheduling a doctor’s appointment digitally. Chatting with an interactive bot while browsing a retail website. Selecting features on a custom car.

Tech-driven customer service can benefit organizations and their customers. Businesses can provide more service for less money. And customers are happy when AI streamlines and expedites their experiences.

But when technology gets it wrong — say by misunderstanding the customer request — customer experiences go seriously awry.

This is all the truer when customers have fewer human-to-human interactions with a brand because of the rise of technology. In the absence of positive human connections, problems that would otherwise be molehills can become mountains for the customer.

Consider a customer who orders a pair of shoes online. If those sneakers aren’t 100% accurate, the customer has a disappointing, brand-damaging experience. Had that customer interacted with a friendly, helpful employee as part of the purchase process, any problems in product quality would be buffered by the customer’s positive human-to-human experience.

What does this mean for leaders? In the age of AI, it’s more critical than ever to safeguard the customer experience and foster organizational agility. Every and any human-to-human interaction with a customer is a chance to form a meaningful connection that drives loyalty and profitability.

Consider these three strategies for leaders:

1. Help employees excel by hiring exceptional managers.

It’s true that employees can make or break customers’ experiences. But it’s managers who wield enormous influence over employee performance – and, by extension, how employees serve customers.

Great managers fuel performance excellence by investing in their people. For instance, great managers communicate that they care, continually develop employees’ strengths and help employees see how their role connects to customer outcomes.

In fact, Gallup analytics show that managers account for 70% of the variance in team engagement. When employees have a manager who coaches and engages them, they have everything they need to excel on their teams and this enables the organization to deliver best-in-class customer experiences.

For this reason, hiring, training and developing exceptional managers should be at the core of any customer service strategy.

2. Use the right analytics to understand customers.

Meaningful connections with customers are the byproduct of proactive efforts, not wishful thinking. To create exceptional experiences, businesses need a nuanced understanding of what customers are looking for.

Customer analytics are instrumental in this endeavor. With the right data, leaders can define and deliver the ultimate customer experience. Just as important, analytics empower leaders to continually monitor customer perceptions and zero in on strategies for optimizing customer experiences.

Meaningful connections with customers are the byproduct of proactive efforts, not wishful thinking.

In fact, companies that use analytics to implement targeted interventions for emotionally engaging customers can realize 50% higher revenue, 34% higher profitability and 55% higher share of wallet.

3. Cultivate a customer-centric workplace culture.

Even the most advanced customer analytics are powerless if companies don’t respond with action. Successful leaders encourage desired actions – and, in turn, promote world-class customer experiences — by creating a workplace culture that revolves around customers.

A customer-oriented culture always puts customers first and equips employees to fulfill brand promises with every customer interaction. Creating such a culture requires implementing processes, systems and service values that support top-shelf customer experiences.

For instance, are employees incentivized to resolve customer complaints as rapidly as possible? Or are they encouraged to empathize with customers and go the extra mile to meet customers’ needs?

In the age of AI, customer service may never be the same. But one constant remains the profound importance of employee-customer interactions. As enterprises use AI to save money and streamline customer experiences, leaders must continually empower their employees to deliver unparalleled customer service.

If you want ideas and help in getting the right customer service manager just reach out to me

jlmakela@gmail.com

443-364-8341

Practicing Self-Care in the Workplace

According to the CDC’s Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, between 29-40% of Americans report being extremely stressed at work. With the busy holiday season approaching and year-end deadlines looming, it’s important to find healthy stress-management techniques that promote self-care in the workplace. The most common sources of stress include physical discomfort, interpersonal conflict, multitasking, and disorganization. Below are some strategies to reduce the negative impacts of these stressors and make the workday more pleasant.  

  1. Start the day off right  Mornings set the tone for the entire day. Be mindful of how you spend your time before you get to the office. Glance at your calendar, eat a nutritious breakfast, practice positive self-talk, and roll with the punches that your others might throw at you. Allowing each day to be a clean slate instead of carrying negativemotions into the day will go a long way in being proactive rather than reactive at work.  
  1. Organize your environment Can you see your desktop? Is your work truck full of trash? Are you noticing a strange, stale odor? If so, it’s time to spruce up. Taking a few minutes each morning to tidy your space reduces distractions and allows your work to flow more smoothly.  
  2. Be comfortable  Think about your working environment. Do you sit in the same chair all day every day? Would investing in a lumbar support pillow help you out? If you’re on your feet all day, do you make space to take breaks and sit down? What is the level of noise in your workspace? Can you play light music in the background or use a white noise machine to tune out a loud office? Consider your personal comfort and take small steps to honor what makes you feel good in your space.  
  3. Honor your lunch break – Too many of us bring our lunch to our desks or forget to eat entirely. It’s important to take the breaks that you have. For many, the lunch break is the only option that allows for some amount of movement. Make it a goal to take a walk each day and think about things that are not related to work. Alternatively, if your job requires you to be on your feet all day, turn lunch into a restful time by bringing a book, journaling your thoughts, or calling a friend or loved one.  
  4. Listen to music on your drive home – listening to music is a great way to let go of the day’s stressors. It’s important to leave work at work and give yourself time to be with your own thoughts. Listening to music can help jolt you into your ‘you space’ and prepare you to engage with the world outside of work.  

As the holiday season inches nearer and life becomes even busier, we hope you employ these strategies to practice self-care. To help you further, check out our other free resources designed with you in mind! 

Do Your Remote Workers Feel Seen?

A recent Fast Company article posits that remote workers’ “personality type” predicts how they’ll manage their daily workload. The author uses three examples of employees who work remotely: an introvert, an extrovert and an ambivert. All three say the same thing: They enjoy being around others, solitude makes them more productive, and schedules help.

These examples hint at the way our unique talents predispose us to like certain ways of doing things, and also the way those talents vary by context; everyone likes being alone sometimes and not others, and everyone needs some structure.

While it is useful to understand that we all approach work a little differently, the introvert/extrovert/ambivert framework simply isn’t robust enough to help remote workers perform measurably better. Managers need a certain lens to clearly see the nuances of these workers — to see their innate talents.

With a more complete picture of remote workers’ talents, we can learn so much more about supporting and engaging them and improving their performance.

Over 22 million people now have that complete picture because they’ve taken the CliftonStrengths assessment. Their results give their leaders insights into how they think, feel and behave — even if they never meet in person.

That’s vital information: Teams coached to use their strengths are up to 15% more engaged, have up to 72% less turnover and are up to 29% more profitable. Great managers understand how their remote workers do the following.

Think. Talents dictate how people approach a task — some are analytical puzzle-solvers, some need partners to ideate with, some are best motivated by tight deadlines. Whatever the person’s default setting, managers must know how workers think to create the conditions they’ll succeed in. Managers also need to set clear expectations, especially for remotes. Expectations are the most basic and fundamental employee needs, but almost half of the workers don’t know what’s expected of them at work. Managers who know how workers think and are explicit about expectations create conditions that enable top performance.

Feel. Scientists say that up to 70% of decision-making is emotional (and up to 95% of purchasing decisions). Managers who understand their workers’ emotional landscape can better coach workers’ decision-making process and adjust their work style. Consider, for instance, the employee who takes corrective feedback as personal criticism and gets mad at whoever gives it. A manager would need to guide that worker past his emotional response, helping him understand feedback as useful advice and not an insult. Such depth of understanding increases remote workers’ feelings of being seen and valued, which is especially important for workers who rarely are seen, and helps employees improve their performance.

Behave. Our behavior is shaped by our dominant talents, the mental wiring that filters the way we see and understand the world. Integrating CliftonStrengths into their culture can help managers understand their employees’ motivators and help them predict and direct their employees’ behavior. Consider the employee described above, who takes tough feedback the wrong way. He gets angry because the perceived insult challenges his need for Significance, for example, or maybe it dings his sense of Responsibility or shakes his Belief. Whatever the case, his manager will need a tailored approach to coach him effectively. Strengths-based coaching not only helps workers perform better, but also tells them their boss cares — and remotes who feel isolated, Gallup finds, can experience performance declines of up to 21%.

Those are big-ticket cultural issues, but day-to-day performance hinges on day-to-day management. So managers need to ask themselves a few questions about the conditions in which each remote worker thinks, feels and behaves:

  1. What circumstances or strengths have enabled this remote worker to have a peak in performance? When you can articulate the case, you can replicate it in future projects.
  2. Who was involved? Partnerships are critical for remote workers. When managers pair people who have complementary strengths, managers eliminate any chance of workplace isolation while increasing the proficiency of the remote team.
  3. How can I further develop this employee in the areas of their greatest strengths? Remote workers’ talents need to be developed over time with projects and partnerships that expand their abilities.

Four in 10 U.S. employees say they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day. Move that to eight in 10, and a company could realize an 8% increase in customer engagement scores, a 14% increase in profitability and a 46% reduction in safety incidents.

A genuine understanding of their talents helps remotes work with more success, greater enjoyment and the confidence that they contribute something that no one else can. Managers need to know their workers’ talents so they can coach them to perform better in their role, to build better relationships with their team members, and to feel like they’re learning and growing every day.

Do Your Managers Know How to Improve Work-Life Balance?

Work-life balance matters to your employees.

In the U.S., women and millennials in particular say that they seek companies with flexible policies when looking for a new job because work-life balance is so important to them. Many organizations have responded by offering flexible work arrangements, alternative work schedules and remote work options.

However, not every job can be flexible — you can’t tend to a hospital patient remotely or run a manufacturing line from a coffee shop — and maintaining a culture that supports flexible work arrangements isn’t always easy.

The good news: Gallup’s data show that having realistic performance goals is actually a better predictor of work-life balance than having flexible work arrangements. Further, among full-time U.S. employees, workers who strongly agree that they have realistic performance goals are 2.4 times more likely to also strongly agree that they have a healthy work-life balance.

Setting realistic performance goals is something that every manager can achieve. Regardless of the industry, all managers can create a better sense of work-life balance by establishing clear and realistic goals.

Two Things Every Manager Can Do to Set Clear Goals

1. Include employees in setting their performance goals. Gallup research shows that employees who say their manager includes them in goal setting are 2.3 times more likely to say their performance goals are realistic than employees whose manager does not.

Having a conversation with employees before goals are set also helps to clear up potential misunderstandings about role expectations. Gallup finds that nearly half of all U.S. employees don’t know what’s expected of them at work. This reduces engagement and hinders the organization’s ability to successfully cascade companywide initiatives to individuals and teams.

When employees are not included in setting their goals, less than half (47%) strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work. When they are included in establishing their goals, more than three-fourths (76%) strongly agree that they know what is expected of them.

Including individuals in their goal setting gives them a greater sense of ownership over their work and control over their performance metrics. That creates autonomy, which is related to improved engagement, performance — and even physical wellbeing.

Employees who say their manager includes them in goal setting are 2.3 times more likely to say their performance goals are realistic.

 

2. Explain the consequences of not meeting goals. Gallup workplace research finds that employees who know the consequences of not meeting performance goals are more than twice as likely to say their performance goals are realistic.

Consequences, of course, can be positive (rewards, bonuses, recognition, promotions) or negative (demotions, reprimands, termination). Employees should be aware of both the positive and negative outcomes of their actions at work. Managers should take the time to clearly explain the outcomes related to performance — for example, “X promotion or bonus will only result from Y goals being accomplished.”

Conversations like those give employees targets to hit. They also allow managers and workers to identify and address potential barriers to performance before they impact success. This process provides workers with greater ownership, gives managers more perspective, and results in more practical solutions and fewer surprises down the road.

The Benefits of Realistic Goals

Setting realistic goals with employees can also help prevent some negative behaviors that may affect the organization’s bottom line and brand reputation.

Too much pressure, unclear expectations and unfair consequences can incentivize unethical behavior — lying and cheating, for example. In fact, an Academy of Management Perspectives article, Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Overprescribing Goal Setting, states that “managers and scholars need to conceptualize goal setting as a prescription-strength medication that requires careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects and close supervision.”

Caution and supervision are natural byproducts of setting realistic goals together. In addition, Gallup finds that employees who strongly agree their performance goals are realistic are 1.6 times as likely to say they plan to stay at their organization for at least another year (compared with those who do not strongly agree their goals are realistic).

In addition, employees who strongly agree their performance goals are realistic are three times as likely to recommend their organization as a great place to work.

Setting realistic goals with employees can lead to a wealth of advantages for companies. But it can offer individuals some valuable rewards as well — in particular, feelings of autonomy and living a balanced life.

That’s hard to come by in industries that simply can’t allow flexible hours or remote work. Gallup’s findings show that work-life balance isn’t just about having permission to work from a coffee shop or to leave early on Fridays. It’s about feeling some control and ownership over the work you do. And those qualities come entirely from within the workplace.