Cut your own trail

Life is interesting.  I read a lot of different blogs, posts and books.  Once in a while something I’ve been mulling over comes to the forefront when I do so.  This morning, I was directed to an article on and their quote of the day was as follows:

“Learn from others whom have walked the path before you, but be smart enough to know when to cut your own trail.” – Narciso Rodriguez

Lately, I have been involved in discussions about best practices, quality management and accountability.  The timing of this quote is apropos – It’s a reminder that it’s not always about what someone else has done. Sometimes breaking the mold or cutting your own trail is a much better solution to the issue.  Sometimes you just have to see what solutions can be created and figure out what works or doesn’t work.

Are you working on the right things?

Recently, I was trying to figure out whether I was working on the right things or not. There are a lot of red herrings in the industry and in my role, so it is very important for me to ensure that I’m spending my efforts doing something that will move the needle. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to see the needle for the haystack.

When I talked to a mentor of mine, I was told a story and I wanted to pass it on:

Once, there were two people in Georgia who saw an opportunity to make money by transporting watermelons. They figured they’d purchase the watermelons in Georgia, drive them to New York, and then sell them to make a lot of money. The two purchased a lot of watermelons for $2 each, drove them to NY, sold them for $2 each, and then drove back with the expectation that they’d made a lot of money — they’d sold all their watermelons! When they got back and started figuring things up, they realized that they hadn’t done as well as they had figured. One of them looked at the other and said, “Wonder what we did wrong?” And the other said, “I know! Next time, we need a bigger truck!”

It’s not always a situation where you need to do more or bigger or flashier – sometimes it’s as simple as looking at the logical things, like your base pricing vs cost. This helped me step back and not try to look at the obvious solutions to some of the issues we’ve been facing. Instead, I’m trying to look at the underlying issues and resolve them.

Is Good Enough Good Enough?


Recently, I was in a discussion with an influential executive and he made a statement that was quite disheartening.  “Good enough is good enoughgood-is-the-enemy-of-great.” Although paraphrased, this was not what I wanted to hear.  I have a solid opinion that one has to do their best and one has to focus on the customer to be great.  There has to be commitment to strive towards excellence.

If your company is succeeding by virtue of passivity and the simple fact that it is too expensive or too difficult for your customer to leave, is that truly success? Is it really a long term, viable solution to a problem?  My view on it is certainly not. The customer should be wanting to stay with you through thick and thin. You want to drive customer loyalty vs customer satisfaction or apathy.

There are most certainly timQuotation-Voltaire-good-best-Meetville-Quotes-176578es when perfection or ‘the best’ is a problem.  Shipping software, for example, is an example of this.  If you hold a product delivery until you are perfect, bug free and have zero problems, you’re probably shipping too late — someone would have beaten you too it or you were solving problems that no one really cared about.  You can not, however, ship mediocre and expect to be successful.M_26A086_original


As a whole, it is always better to strive for greatness and fail than it is to accept being ‘good enough’.   Lead the way towards making things better.  It is better to try to make the customers ecstatic, the product phenomenal, and the employees extremely positive than it is to simply let things be or to be passive in your behavior. Take a chance, make things awesome. Take the shot, drive success and greatness.


Living up to Expectations

I’m very much a believer in bringing very high levels of expectations and driving forward a level of quality within the team that they may not have expected to be beholden to before.  This is often very present and noticeable when taking on a new team.  I’ve done it both by bringing in new organizations beneath my realm of responsibility as well as starting in a new role or at a new company.

When leadership changes, part of the reason that this change occurred is often because it’s necessary. This might mean there are pre-existing bar-graph-business-man-SalFalko-387x295problems, the previous leader moved on, or even that the team has been stable and it is simply time to make a change.  Many times, the new leader coming in needs to review what exists along with the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals and the organization.

I have found that many times this becomes perceived as micromanagement.  Although this can be a problem if the review is coupled with micromanagement long term, there is a very distinct difference between the two.

The micromanager takes essential management practices to extremes and interferes with employees’ ability to do their jobs properly, while creating undue stress for them. (NFIB)

The challenge comes when educating the new team about it. Perception may still be that the leader is micromanaging and, in fact, sometimes they are.  There are times where micromanagement, on a short term basis, is necessary.  Critical junctures, scenarios where there is no time to allow for standard execution and occasions where there are so many problems that they need to quickly be pinpointed and fixed. Just remember not to stay in this micromanagement focus for a significant amount of time.

All in all, communicating expectations and driving to a standard so that everyone on the team (leader and employee alike) knows the current temperature and environment is key to success.

The $300,000 cost of apathy

The other day I was driving home (my commute is almost over an hour each way) and was musing about customer service. I’m not quite sure why, but I was. What struck me was that many companies view customer service as a cost of doing business — not a way to increase business; not a way to drive references; not a way to drive repeat purchases but simply as a “cost”.   This, however, is a well knowapathyn statement – it has been this way for years and will, likely, be this way for years to come.  It is only those “stellar few” that have transformed their customer service, client care, support, order management etc organizations into one that transcends the simple “How can I help you as fast as humanly possible”? The fact is…this is solely driven due to apathy and lack of vision.

I’m sure the question is – does he have a point?

The answer is yes.  My point is that if companies changed their perspective to what Mike Faith, CEO of, calls an “extreme customer love philosophy.” ( blog, 11/23/2014) or Zappos calls “Deliver WOW through Service” (, I believe that companies would be more profitable for their shareholders and owners while, simultaneously, delivering a more enjoyable and satisfying atmosphere for their employees. turnover is 15% or less in a typical industry with turnover greater than 50% ( Zappos is at 40% or less (including promotions) in 2008, when average turnover industry wide was over 150% (

The cost of turnover for a good contact center agent (which are the ones that will leave because they truly want to drive a happy customer) is 20% of an individuals annual salary for individuals earning less than $50k a year (  Assuming that your contact center is of decent size (100 people), that you have a 50% turnover (50 people) and that your average wage is $30,000, you’ve just lost $300,000 because your contact center is mediocre, refuses to invest in their employees and feels that “bare minimum” is good enough.

I guess I’d rather spend that $300,000 somewhere else.

Quality & Call Centers

Recently, I was doing research into quality metrics and methods of driving towards a great support center.  The company I work for, 3M, is very heavily into ISO standards which tend to apply more towards manufacturing.  There is, however, a standard called ISO 10002:2014 that aligns with the more traditional ISO 9001. As per the standard, this “provides guidance on the process of complaints handling related to products within an organization, including planning, design, operation, maintenance, and improvement. The complaints-handling process described is suitable for use as one of the processes of an overall quality management system.”

I reviewed the standard as well as many others, including ITIL CSI, Benchmark Portal’s Call Center standards, HDI guidelines, etc.  The fact is, they are all very similar.  The key is to have something that:

  • Gives your team a standard to follow
  • Allows your management to monitor & audit
  • Has controls in place for long term successaqc-2

If you have no less than these three things in place, you have a system that drives towards a system that improves quality and direction; a system that sets you up for long term success. Just be careful about not having too many.

Allowing for Divergent Opinions

Personally, I believe that a strong leader allows for opinions that are contrary to their own.  In fact, I have at least one employee that disagrees with me on a regular basis and I foster that contrariness.  I am not infallible and certainly do not know everything.   I do not want “yes (wo)men”.

As a leader, part of the role is to understand the larger scope of things and the long term strategy behind decisions.  In really comprehending this, you NEED people who are contrary to your opinion, your work style, and your thought patterns.  This allows you to round out areas that you’re blind and avoid making a decision that is wrong simply because you don’t have the visibility.

I equate it somewhat to having a passenger in the car who happens to look out your side-rear window and yells “Look out!”, even though you’ve been checking all of your mirrors.  purpose-mourkogiannis-quote-01They have a different vantage point that is more focused (only looking at the side) where as you are responsible for all aspects – front, back, and both sides.  You need to trust that someone who is focused on a specific area might have a better view, better information, or better knowledge about what’s occurring in that arena.

This, however, does NOT mean that a strong leader allows an individual to derail everything or to argue with everything.  At that point, you have a backseat driver in your car and should probably ask them to tone it down or step out.  There is certainly a fine line between constant disagreement with your employee and strong leadership accepting the varied opinions of your team.  If your employee is constantly diverging from your vision and direction, there comes a time when you (and they) need to make a decision on whether or not the individual belongs on your team.

In the case of my employee, s/he agrees with the vision; s/he agrees with the direction.  S/he just doesn’t always agree with my direction and is willing to stand up for what s/he believes.  Once the decision is made and the direction is given, s/he accepts it and moves on.  There is true mutual respect and it boils down to a simple fact: I have the final say. Someone has to.

That is how your, as a leader, should allow your team to bring their strengths to the table.


Two quotes I love

David Ogilvy is widely known as “The Father of Advertising”, so the image above may be true in nature… if you’ve read this far, just realize you’re in the elite 20% that read the body copy of something!

For me, he has two quotes that always strike home when I read them.

If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.


Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.

There’s not much to say about these other than I hold them as a true.


Leveraging Customer Loyalty to Improve Sales

In my past blogging attempts, I posted some thoughts that are still very salient.  At least in my opinion.  This is one of them.   In today’s environment, I believe that if you leverage your loyal customers, you have a much better chance of making a sale successful.  The main component of this success, however, is driven by a simple thing:

“Does the person you’re selling to actually need your product?”

If they don’t, why are you pushing them?

Date: June 12, 2006  – Title: Bullies and Sales 

Its an interesting phenomenon that some sales people believe that bullying is a valid tactic. Used car dealers, for example, have brought this to a whole new level and are still stuck in the concept that if they breathe down your throat, you will buy from them. Personally, I’ve never bought a car from a used car sales person that hovered and consistently pushed me.

My family-in-law is looking for a house in Austin, TX. They’re not sure what they are looking for or, for that matter, where in the city. They’ve looked from 30 miles South to 30 miles North along the main highway out here, just to see what the areas are like, the new home models and communities, the pricing, the resale houses.. We spent almost eight hours on Saturday and a same amount of time on Sunday driving around just to identify the right places (we still haven’t, but that’s not the point behind this story!). In doing so, I’ve been into a number of the new home models and spent a bit of time talking to some of the sales representatives as well as listed to my wife and her mother talking after they’ve met with some of the sales people.

The largest complaint?

Bullies. High Pressure. Harping.

A person that comes TO you to look at your product is an immediate positive. They are interested in something to fill a particular need, even if they’re not sure what. It is your job, as a sales person, to show them how the product meets their needs. If you’re talking to them because they called you, then its obvious that there was a reason they called you — identify the reason, identify what it is what need they’re looking to fill, and do your best to fill that need. It is not your job, however, to force a round need into a square product. I realize that, often, your compensation is based on a commission structure, but forcing a round need into a square product will usually result in someone unhappy with you who isn’t going to buy anyway. It is much better to have a person who doesn’t buy from you walk away with a good taste than a negative — perhaps they know someone that could be referred to you that does need your product.

For example, one of the last new housing complexes we saw yesterday had a salesman (we’ll call him Scott) as they all do. Just prior to coming to Scott’s complex, we had finished spending two and a half hours with a gentleman named Jeff who was extremely pleasant and helpful. Jeff did not once — in the entire two hours — ask the question “So, can we get you started today?”. He simply discussed the options, let my mother in law talk and listen, and gave suggestions. He had also sent us to Scott’s complex (a sister area owned by the same company) to look at a model that he didn’t have available, but felt that may work for my family-in-law’s needs.

We arrived at Scott’s complex and went in. As soon as we met him, we said “Jeff over at X sent us to take a look at your models. Would that be possible?” Scott’s response was “Oh, of course! Let me get price sheets and everything for you.” He then proceeded to speak with us about the benefits of his area and asked whether we liked the community. My wife’s response was “Its not really something we like. We like area X and Y much better.”(she always tries to be nice, but in truth she hates the area). He nodded and said, “Ah.. I see. Well, we’ve got a special going today that’ll give you a $5000 discount on your house. So .. can we get you started today?” We looked at him as though he had just grown two heads and said, “No, thank you. We’re just looking. We’re looking at all the different areas before we make any decisions and still have a few other places to visit after this. Can we take a look at your model?” He led us through the first of two models and talked the entire time — not once did he really give us any time to explore on our own, to look at what we liked or did not like, and to privately discuss options that may have worked. As we approached the exit to the first model, he said “So .. did you like it?” Our response was that it was too small for the needs that we had. He nodded and said, “Ah.. I see. Well, if we start you today, you’ll be done in less than four months. So .. can we get you started today?” Again, we looked at him oddly. Did he simply not listen?

By now, you can see how the rest of the discussions went. We toured the third model and talked a bit in the main office before leaving. By the time we had walked out the front door, he had asked “So .. can we get you started today?”a total of six times. In the span of less than an hour. Our first reaction when we got back to the car was “Well, even if we were going to buy today, it wouldn’t be from him.” His entire attitude exuded the fact that he was after nothing but his commission, nothing but ‘closing the sale’ regardless of the circular fit of his houses to our square needs. It seemed irrelevant to him that Jeff had sent us down, it seemed irrelevant that the area wasn’t the right one for us, and it seemed irrelevant that houses weren’t right for our needs. I expect that, had we decided to buy a house from him that day, he wouldn’t have given Jeff any credit either!

When you’re talking to someone on an inbound sales call, LISTEN to their needs. IDENTIFY how your product fits and HELP the client see how your benefits meet their needs. If they don’t, then so be it — don’t keep slamming your ‘closing’ hammer down in an effort to make things fit.

What comes first? The business or the people?

The other day, I saw an image floating around and it struck me as a good way to live and run a business. Whether it’s sales, service & support, an operational business, or some other way that you’re running your business, it’s the people that you build off of; it’s not the business that builds itself.

Too many companies, both large and small, believe that the business will sustain itself and that the people in it don’t really matter a great deal.  I hold this to be a fallacy and have never seen a successful department, organization or business that treats its employees without respect.  At a macro level, a large company may be able to succeed (and succeed well) when a single department or organization doesn’t hold their people as a treasure mine, but once you get down to it, the fact is that particular group is likely failing itself and being propped up by the larger company.

It’s a fairly simple concept, though.  Support your team, lead your vision, and your team will execute towards success.  Build the business without the people and you’ll likely be alone when everything comes crumbling down beside you.