In November, I traveled to Australia for a consulting project. As I boarded the flight back to the States, I sat next to someone I knew I recognized. As we waited for the plane to depart, he initiated a friendly conversation. I quickly learned why he was familiar.
This was Tom Stuker, and I’d seen his name and picture in countless stories. With more than 21 million miles, he’s the world’s most frequent flyer—a legend in travel circles. United named a 777 after him. Hollywood produced a movie loosely based on his life—Up in the Air, staring George Clooney. (It was a relief to learn that the real Tom has neither the brutal corporate “downsizer” responsibilities nor the reputation of Clooney’s character).
As I write, COVID-19 has stopped the world in its tracks. Tom, you, me—we’re all working in a very different world. It’s been awe-inspiring to see the quick pivot so many customer service teams made to working at home. No one knows how long this lockdown will last, and my encouragement is to get good at leading from a distance. And fast.
I hope you enjoy this issue.
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Information and communications technologies have created organizations that span geography and time. Multi-site environments, cross-functional teams, and extended-hour or 24/7 operations are common examples. If you are a manager or director, you may have the responsibility of getting results from those who work in different locations, who don’t report to you, or who don’t work the same hours.
Unfortunately, technology hasn’t eliminated the natural barriers that exist between people who work in distributed environments. Those who work in different places and/or at different times often have trouble seeing themselves as an integral part of a larger team.
Like leadership in general, there’s no specific recipe for building a cohesive virtual team. However, there are tried-and-true steps you can take that will significantly increase your chances for success:
- Create a clear vision for your organization or team.
- Create opportunities for the people in the distributed environment to get to know each other. (For example, I know of a manager who set up an internal webpage profiling the members of a multi-site team, occasionally giving everyone a short quiz on the interests and backgrounds of fellow members. Others are tapping into video-based social meetings, internal social communities, and other approaches to bring people together.)
- Look for ways to keep everyone involved. Time must be spent (even if it’s in short supply) to foster a collaborative environment.
- Take steps to ensure that everyone gets key information at the same time.
- Spend proportionately more time tending to the needs and relationships of the more “distant” members of the group. (Distant may mean the members who work the night shift, work at home, or are in a site thousands of miles away.)
- Look for ways to scrap (or at least minimize) the impact of unnecessary hierarchies and cumbersome bureaucracies, which tend to wreak havoc on distributed teams.
- Consistently communicate and celebrate progress. It’s important to keep the group updated and on the same track.
The challenges of leading a distributed team are real and ongoing, but being part of an environment in which people successfully work together across distance and time is one of the most rewarding professional experiences you can have. And in a blink, it has also become one of the most necessary.
Phone-based customer support remains the most popular and critical customer service channel for brands. In fact, consumer reliance on phone-based customer support has increased by 17% since 2018. (Source: CallMiner)
80% of respondents agree that AI-based automation and chatbots are critical to optimizing their contact center operations. (Source: Cisco)
Companies that leverage the most customer data—those in the top 25% of managing data relative to other similar companies—see 36% faster resolutions and a 79% reduction in wait times. (Source: Zendesk)
Brad in COVID-19 news stories:
- “Press 1 for frustration: Customers run into record phone waits as companies grapple with worker safety,” by Heather Kelly, The Washington Post, April 2020.
- “Avoid Long Customer Service Wait Times,” Scripps National News, interview featured on local TV newscasts throughout the U.S., April 2020.
- “Pivot to remote call centers difficult for some; others roll with it,” by Don Fluckinger, TechTarget, April 2020.
- “In Financial Trouble? Track Everything Companies Tell You,” by Ron Lieber, The New York Times, May 2020.
Recent articles by Brad:
- “Customer Experience Lives Or Dies In Everyday Decisions,” by Brad Cleveland, Forbes, March 2020.
- “Controlling Contact Center Costs the Right Way,” by Brad Cleveland, CMSWire, March 2020.
- “What to Say to Angry Customers,” by Brad Cleveland, ICMI.com, March 2020.
- “How Long are Customers Willing to Wait?” by Brad Cleveland, Smart Customer Service, April 2020.
- “Empower Your Workforce to Fix Things for Customers,” by Brad Cleveland, ICMI.com, April 2020.
- “How To Build A Cross-Functional Team And Improve Your ROI On Customer Service,” by Brad Cleveland, Forbes, April 2020.
- “The Seven Essential Metrics in Times of Crisis,” by Brad Cleveland, Smart Customer Service, May 2020.
See the frequently updated statistics page at www.bradcleveland.com, with sections on customer expectations, contact centers, and social/mobile/tech.
*Brad delivers private keynotes, workshops, and executive briefings to organizations and associations. For more information, contact [email protected].
Brad has devoted his career to maximizing the value of customer-facing services. As a speaker, consultant, entrepreneur, executive, and president/CEO, he has seen change from many perspectives and has a deep understanding of the critical importance of customer service delivery to an organization's success. He has worked across 45 states and in 60 countries, and has been privileged to assist in the evolution of service delivery for clients such as American Express, Apple, Coca-Cola, USAA, and others, as well as for governments across the globe. Brad serves as a senior advisor to the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), and is an in-demand speaker and consultant.
To inquire about consulting or speaking, connect through any of the channels below.
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