Last week we looked at obtaining information in your everyday dealings with colleagues, suppliers, competitors or other similar organisations, and of course with customers or clients.
The following example gives two frequently voiced objections to carrying out this sort of investigation. After reading it you should be convinced of the need for everyone to get involved, and also of how many opportunities there are to keep in touch with your customers.
Objections to keeping in touch with customers: “I work in the finance office of an airline - I can't keep in touch with our customers.”
Your customers are not really the paying passengers; they are the people affected by the payments you authorise and the information you provide. Your audit could feature periodic conversations with the people who receive your financial reports, about how well laid out and clear they are, and whether they tell them too much or too little.
You probably know people who work in or have contact with finance departments in other organisations. How and why do they do things differently from you? Could any complaints they have about the way their finance department works apply to your team or unit?
And whenever you fly, there is no harm in thinking about what it is like to be an end-user - Stelios Haji-Ioannou, owner of the Easyjet airline, wanders down the aisle talking to as many passengers as he can during his frequent flights on his growing airline.
“I manage a residential home for disturbed children. To get through a day in accordance with regulations and procedures, and without an incident or a problem with staff, is a major management achievement. Even if I had time to talk to customers, exactly who are they anyway?”
You can find out a huge amount in everyday conversations with the children and their parents/carers/social workers: what they like and dislike about your home compared with other homes, or with other forms of care the children have experienced.
Your main customers may be the sections of social services departments that decide to place children with you. Do they send children to you from necessity or choice? What do they think of the care you provide? Do they think it is good value compared with other options? Could you identify, together, ways of improving the process of placing children and their subsequent support?
We have identified this curiosity about customers as the first stage in obtaining information in customer-oriented organisations. The second (dissemination) and third (responding to it) stages are crucial to converting this information into action.
Stage 2: Disseminating information Dissemination works upwards, downwards and sideways
Being known as someone who reports useful information about customers and who suggests ways of satisfying them better may not only lead to some improvements - it will do your career prospects no harm either!
You probably appreciate those staff who bring you their ideas as well as their problems; similarly, managers who are always looking for and suggesting improvements tend, rightly, to be the most valued in organisations.
Sharing information downwards and sideways also fosters a mini-culture of openness and responsiveness to customers, even when that is counter to the wider culture in the organisation. This wider culture context is important.
Toyota, for example, claims that it adopts 98 per cent of the 700,000 or more suggestions made by its workforce every year for improvements in processes, whereas in some other organisations suggestion schemes have failed dismally. How you share information in your organisation needs to be appropriate to the context in which you work.
Next week we’ll look at Stage 3 - Responding to information...
The SMART acronym for setting objectives is useful here. All objectives you set should be:
An audit is the gathering and analysis of information about what is happening and changing in the environment. The next stage for the Slovakia jewellery business was to start finding out about and listening to customers and learning about their expectations.
This might have required specialist staff, research and forecasting techniques. You may not be in a position to get help from such specialists, but even if you receive regular and comprehensive information about the environment, the market and your customers from elsewhere in your organisation, this can still be usefully supplemented by your own input.
Any manager can make a big difference to an organisation’s customer orientation by being more inquisitive. The more you try to understand the needs and expectations of your customers, the more likely you are to satisfy them.
It is up to individual managers to take responsibility for seeking out information, and then to think about, share and learn from it as a core part of their management roles.
A telling feature of customer-oriented organisations, in the public or private sector, is how good they are at:
Stage 1 Obtaining information
The first requirement for this stage is curiosity in your everyday dealings with colleagues, suppliers, competitors or other similar organisations, and of course with customers or clients. Typical questions to ask are:
The simple and regular management activity of keeping in touch with the world and with customers happens far less than most managers believe it should.
Next week we’ll be looking at the example of two frequently voiced objections to carrying out this sort of investigation...
When trying to set objectives for your company it is important to know what your organisation's objectives are. To a manager of a small team, project, business or department, this may seem an abstract question far removed from the pressures of daily management life.
Yet it is a starting-point for the process of doing something to improve customer satisfaction. Corporate objectives need to be taken into account when setting your own.
One of the best ways of working out your objectives is to imagine what would happen if what you manage no longer existed. Who would suffer, and in what way? This is particularly illuminating for people managing small cogs within the wheels of a large organisation — what value do they add to the organisation's end-services or products? Do the people they provide a service to really need it or want it? Could these people obtain it more cheaply or easily elsewhere?
It is also illuminating if you are a manager in (part of) a public or not-for-profit service because it will make you think about the things people depend on you for or expect from you.
It helps you clarify the promises that you have to ensure are honoured, and which different sets of people are concerned. It is a good starting-point to the personal planning process in any organisation, as the small business in the following example illustrates.
Why are we doing this?
Two people in business in Slovakia designed, and then had manufactured, unusual jewellery made from titanium. They went into business because they liked designing jewellery and did not want to work in a large organisation, even if there were jobs available. So when they asked themselves what would happen if they no longer existed, the flippant answer was `nothing much'. Would anyone even notice?
But then they thought about how much they and their friends liked wearing the jewellery they designed, and how they felt comfortable with the image of themselves that the jewellery projected. They believed quite strongly that there must be others in the world — or at least in Bratislava! — who would share this feel-good factor when wearing jewellery such as theirs.
Belief was important — they were not the sort of people who could design and sell jewellery they thought was ugly —and this developed into their own version of a 'corporate objective': to identify and reach all those people in Bratislava who would like to buy and wear the type of designer jewellery they produced.
However, they realised they did not know what feelings their existing customers experienced when wearing this jewellery or how long these feelings lasted, let alone why they bought the jewellery in the first place. And they had no idea how many others might get pleasure from wearing their jewellery.
What sort of people might they be? Would the value they attached to such enjoyment be enough to make them pay the prices the business needed to charge to cover the numerous mark-ups of distributors and retailers? They needed to find out more about their existing and potential customers, and how to reach these people with their products.
For instance, were there ways of bypassing distributors? It was not just that they needed to do market research — they needed to think about the whole way they conducted their business with their customers in mind.
Once you have identified the objective of your organisation, you can generate your own objectives to fit within it, and these will be the objectives that the rest of your plan will aim to fulfil. Next week we’ll looking at this, and how to make these objectives SMART...
Increasingly, hackers are gaining access to corporate phone systems, allowing them to place long distance and international calls through major telecom networks using local systems.
Your organisation could be a victim of this type of fraud and would be responsible for all phone charges. Usually the owner of the phone system isn’t aware it’s happening until an enormous bill from their phone provider arrives. Having a properly secured telephone system is the best way to prevent telephone hacking and mitigate the potential damage and resulting costs to your organisation.
A private branch exchange – or PBX – makes connections among the internal telephones of a private organisation – usually a business – and connects them to a public telephone network via trunk lines, and incorporates telephones, fax machines, modems, and more.
Telephone hackers can infiltrate vulnerable PBX systems to make international and long distance calls, listen to voicemail, or monitor conversations. Victims of hacked PBX systems unknowingly allow the hackers to “sell” the use of their telephone system to others or provide the hackers with an opportunity to maliciously reprogramme their system.
Most PBXs today are software-driven and, when configured improperly, can allow hackers to access the system remotely. By controlling this PBX maintenance port, hackers can change the call routing configuration, alter passwords, add or delete extensions, or shut down a PBX, all of which can be disastrous for an organisation.
Some hackers call in on lines intended for customer use, some use stolen telephone cards, and some will even impersonate someone else to socially engineer their way into your system.
The better informed you are the better protected you are from the risks. You need to stay on top of the current threats, and establish and follow a policy on security for your system.
The principle aim of telephone security is to deter hackers from taking control of a telephone system, as fraudsters after free calls will usually move on to other PBXs if it takes too long to break into a system.
Organisations shouldn’t underestimate the difficulties that can be experienced with this issue. In 2006, the first cybercrime survey conducted by Information Systems Security Association found that 29 per cent of large organisations had fallen victim to telecom fraud at some stage.
In October 2011, the Communications Fraud Control Association reported the results of their 2011 Worldwide Telecom Fraud Survey which told us that estimated annual fraud losses are over £25 billion, and the top five countries where fraud originates include the United States, India, and the United Kingdom.
Some risks can come from, for example, maintenance ports on PBXs which hackers can easily exploit when the ports are left open and are protected by either weak or default passwords.
Organisations often use simple passwords such as 0000, 1234 or the same number as a particular phone extension, which hackers can easily guess to break into the system and run up large phone bills without the victim knowing until they receive their next bill.
You can combat this by installing systems that can bar access to premium rate numbers or even block international calls if the business doesn’t need them.
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