Quality of Communication Channel: Operator’s Manuals

Quality of Communication Channel: Operator’s Manuals

In tonight’s post, our guest writer Ryszard Chciuk continues with his series on the quality of the communication channel with key information on Operator’s Manuals.

When writing about the quality of the communication channel, I meant the definition of service quality worked out by Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry in 1985:

  • Service quality is the degree and direction of a discrepancy between customers’ service perceptions and expectations

To improve the quality, we have to close gaps causing the discrepancy between customer expectation and his perception of service. The main gap is:

  • Not Knowing What Customer Expects

The content of a dealership website shows if that gap is big or large. In other words, is the communication channel quality on a decent level or not? My previous post was about the availability of specification sheets for older machine models. Today I am presenting my point of view on the availability of Operators’ Manuals on a dealer website.

If you monitor discussions on construction equipment operators’ forums, you realize that an Operator’s Manual is rarely present in the operator cab. Your field technicians can confirm. A manual is lost somewhere or stacked in somebody’s drawer in the office.

Please imagine, I am one of many customers who bought, a few years ago, a machine made by a manufacturer you are representing here as a dealer. I have lost both a hard and a digital copy of an Operator’s Manual. Does your parts department keep these documents in stock for all models of machines you sold in the past? Can I buy an Operator’s Manual I need from your parts department as easy as filters? Is your price and delivery time on a decent level? Do you know why I buy that publication from very suspicious sources on the internet?
As your favorite customer, I would like to download an electronic copy of the manual from your website, free of charge. I am going to explain here my desire.

Why an Operator’s Manual is so important for a machine user?

  • It contains safety instructions. Do you care about your partners’ safety?
  • The manual is the only source of information about the machine’s intended use.
  • It explains the meaning of dozens of colored lamps, icons, and messages on the dashboard.
  • It instructs an operator about the meaning of several work modes of hydraulics.
  • In the operation section, they find descriptions of levers, pedals, buttons, switches, and other controls.
  • There are instructions for transportation, storage, and handling a machine in different weather conditions.
  • There is a chapter about troubles and actions concerning running out of fuel. There are also precautions for towing. There are tips on starting a machine with a discharged battery.
  • There is a list of maintenance tasks to be done by an operator daily, weekly, or when required.
  • There is also a list of periodical maintenance tasks every 250, 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, and other intervals specific for that model.
  • It says which tasks will have to be done by authorized service personnel with special tools.
  • There you will also find: consumable parts list, recommended brands and quantities of fuel, coolant, and lubricants, lubrication chart, tightening torque for bolts and nuts, tire sizes and pressures specifications, machine dimensions and weights, working ranges, lifting capacities, operating specifications, machine description including specs of the main components, available optional attachments, how to locate product identification plates, the meaning of information on warning decals, information about compliance with international safety directives, the data of noise emission and vibration levels.

Now you know how important is an Operator’s Manual for your dear customer, so you should understand my arguments for delivering digital copies of operator’s manuals free of charge:

  • During my fifteen years with Volvo CE dealer, we sold spare parts for dozens of millions of USD, including only several copies of operator’s manuals. Their price, set by a manufacturer, was several times higher than a Nobel prized literature, perhaps due to the more oversized format and weight. The availability of manuals for previous models was meager. Finally, nobody even asked the authorized dealer for the offer. Could you please check what part of your dealership parts sales refers to operator’s manuals? Is it more than 0,01%?
    As an experienced service provider, you know how much your current and potential customers are losing money because their operators have not learned to operate their machines according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Of course, it is their problem. But your reports for not-necessary parts sales show you the results of their lack of knowledge. And you do nothing to reduce that dispensable cost. Are you sure it builds partnership relations with customers?
  • I think you can afford to classify digital versions of operator’s manuals as giveaways. You publish plenty of photos of machines on your website, and it is free of charge for personal use. You also post lengthy spec sheets for, what a pity, only the current models. Their production costs are much higher than compiling Operators’ Manuals.
  • I would suggest that manufacturers and dealers not treat information contained in manuals as intellectual property. The Swedish Academy will never award the Nobel Prize for this kind of literature. And machines sold a long time ago have already recovered the reimbursement cost of authors of the manual’s chapters.
  • Could you please check the cost of keeping old, dated manuals on the server space? And how much do the manufacturer and dealerships spend money on, usually useless, giveaways? A digital copy of the manual is much more valuable than a cap or a key ring with your company logo. And it costs you almost nothing. Do not be a skinflint. Christmas is just coming. You can easily make people happy. Why not send your existing customers the best wishes for a New Year together with links to digital copies of Operator’s Manuals to their fleet you proudly service?

It does not matter what kind of marketing you are subscribed to (billboard, engagement, or something else). Machine users expect and deserve a partnership attitude.

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Quality of Communication Channel – Specification Sheets

Quality of Communication Channel – Specification Sheets

In tonight’s post, our guest writer Ryszard Chciuk shares with readers all of the ins and outs of the quality of the the communication channel, especially as pertains to the availability of the machine specification sheets. Please read on to learn more about how these deeply impact your service quality.

When writing about the quality of the communication channel, I mean the definition of service quality worked out by Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry in 1985:

Service quality is the degree and direction of a discrepancy between customers’ service perceptions and expectations

It is depressing that this relatively straightforward definition has not been widespread in our industry for almost forty years. And we would better not excuse ourselves that customers’ expectations are more and more demanding.

To improve the quality, we have to close gaps causing the discrepancy between customer expectation and his perception of service. The most important is the main gap:

Not Knowing What the Customer Expects

I assume you are on the way to becoming a digital dealership. If you do not know it, please search for “digital dealership” on the blog. I am afraid that most of you think you know what to publish on your website. However, if you want to provide excellent service to your customers, you have to diminish the gaps; you have to listen attentively to your customers about what information they would like to find there.

Surveys, focus groups, and research reports have many shortcomings. For example, they are expensive and rarely give you a complete picture of what your customers think of your services. It is because we usually do not ask interviewers about what we do not know. There is a newer approach called social listening — analyzing what customers say on social media. This perhaps will be cheaper and provide more reliable information. However, intelligent analysis of natural language content is still a difficult task for artificial intelligence. So, are you sure you know what your customers expect?

In this article, I am showing my point of view on the availability of machine specification sheets on a dealer website. This is a very straightforward piece of information. You can think it is about not-so-important nuts and bolts but be careful. I am sure it is not. I know it from my experience and a “social listening” using my own, not artificial intelligence.

Manufacturers’ decisions often cause problems with providing machine users with a decent level of communication channel quality. That is an obstacle to having engaged customers. For example, manufacturers decide about canceling information on technical specifications and the performance of older models of their machines. Almost on the day of the presentation of a new model, the previous model spec sheet is hidden or deleted from the website. It concerns both a manufacturer and a dealer website.

That behavior is astonishing. After all, this is against our customers using previous models and also against a dealer. I mean, a positive and trustful change in the specifications could prompt a clever customer to replace an older model with a new one, right now, not next year. Thus, he would get better performance, and a dealer would sell a machine. However, buyers must believe what a manufacturer wrote in a new model’s brochure because an old specification sheet is not available for comparison. Let’s see what a top manufacturer says about the significant differences to the previous model:

  1. up to 25% less fuel consumption
  2. up to 20% lower maintenance cost
  3. up to 45% more operating efficiency

Imagine that I am a potential buyer of a new or a used machine. I know that “up to” means the difference starting from 0%. During my over twenty years of work for a construction company, I used to be very impolite to many salespeople using that trick in face-to-face communication. Here, I will not comment on this kind of marketing information. However, I would ask very politely:

  1. What was the previous model fuel consumption? Please, do not answer that it was up to 33% higher than the new one. From the marketing point of view, the higher figure sounds even more attractive, but the value of information is the same. In practice, it is null.
  2. What was the maintenance cost of the previous model? I cannot believe they managed to reduce it by 20%. That is such an outstanding achievement, they should explain it in detail! Did they get rid of any filters or service tasks? Did they reduce the capacity of oil tanks? Did they increase intervals of service jobs?
  3. What was the previous machine model operating efficiency? 45% more is fantastic! Competitors knocked down! But how was it measured?

I am making fun of the information contained in a new machine model specification sheet, but the usability of the previous specification sheet was almost the same. And we have no chance to find it on a dealer website.

As a potential buyer of a used machine, I have more questions for a dealer. Why are you showing me the door? You have some older equipment in your yard. Do you want to sell any? Are you not interested in selling spare parts and service labor for the previous models?

Let’s discuss an example. When I was very young and worked for a construction company, I looked for a crawler excavator for our new pipeline project. It had to be a used machine. Critical parameters were:

  1. digging depth not less than X1
  2. loading height of bucket with teeth not less than X2
  3. lifting capacity at ground level at maximum reach not less than X3
  4. operating weight divided by ground contact area must be lower than X4 (due to soft ground).

And of course, in case we decided to buy, I wanted to know the shipping dimensions.

Today, to make exercising a bit easier, I would look only for used machines made by Caterpillar, Komatsu, or Volvo. That is because only these manufacturers have decent service abilities in the vicinity of my project.

The market for second-hand machines is vast. How to choose the most appropriate model from a long list? I need access to information comprising the mentioned four parameters (plus shipping dimensions). Surprise! I could not find essential information concerning previous models on any website, including the biggest portals for used machines.

I could find them in Caterpillar Performance Handbook or Komatsu Specifications and Application Handbook but are they available online? That is just a rhetorical question. And I have never seen that kind of publication for the rest of the market.

What annoyed me the most during my research? I found the website “The World’s Leading Source of Technical Specifications.” They say they collected spec sheets of thousands of machine models made by over 1000 manufacturers. Paid access to that information is only for manufacturers and their dealers. O, oops!

That is a pure example of billboard-type marketing, or even worse. How can a dealership entirely shift to engagement marketing?

I do not criticize manufacturers or dealers. They are allowed to behave that way by their meek and mild customers. In the world of the Digital Dealership all of the information has to be current and relevant.

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Quality of Communication Channel

Quality of Communication Channel

In tonight’s blog post, guest writer Ryszard Chciuk walks us through the information our customers need and want to know. The quality of the communication channel directly impacts your customer’s purchases, especially as they move through the research phase before buying.

Ron Slee reminded us (see From Paper to Glass) what he had talked perhaps for decades about the three questions that a customer asks when they need to purchase parts from a dealer:

  1. Have you got it?
  2. How much is it?
  3. How long do I have to wait to get it?

These are the same questions customers have when they want to purchase something else or they are looking for any information regarding their equipment.

So, what does your customer do when:

  • they are going to replace their old machine with the new one?
  • they want to get rid of their old equipment?
  • they think about additional attachment to their old machine?
  • they are looking for spare parts?
  • their machine is down in the middle of nowhere?
  • they are looking for the spec sheet of the older machine model?
  • they miss somewhere an Operators’ Manual?
  • they have to estimate the total quantity of fuel for their new project?
  • they immediately need any other kind of information related to his fleet?

Your customer is doing the research.

Mets Kramer in Candid Conversation with Ron Slee (The Digital Dealership) said:

  • … of the 85% of all the research the customer does is now done digitally, online, prior to making a phone call.

Seven years ago Acquity Group, part of Accenture Interactive made a survey of 500 procurement officers (B2B) with annual purchasing budgets in excess of $100,000. What did they find?

  • Only 12 percent of buyers want to meet in person with a sales representative when determining a purchasing decision and 16 percent want to discuss their purchasing options with a sales representative over the phone.

In the 2014 Acquity Group State of B2B Procurement study they also stated:

  • Thirty percent of B2B buyers report they research at least 90 percent of products online before purchasing.

I am afraid a majority of dealerships are not able to interact with their modern customers in a new way. As a born realist, I think nobody in the construction industry is ready for that, despite everybody is having at his disposal proper technology.

Your existing and, even more important, potential customers changed their search behavior, within the last several years, but you have not noticed that. If you are going to neglect that fact, your company goes into dire straits. Be aware that:

  • 80% of B2B Buyers Have Switched from Suppliers That are Unable to Align Their Services with Buyer Expectations (from the Accenture report for 2019).

Your company, like most dealerships, from time to time is running sales campaigns. Usually, it is done with the use of an electronic channel. Are you aware, it has no advantages over the 20th-century traditional campaign (with the use of a phone or snail mail)? It is because you present your offer on your static website and it contains extremely exciting form “Please contact us for the price or additional information”. How many times a year do you receive back that form filled in?

You fail because you stubbornly stick to so-called Billboard Marketing. If you want to change that, please read about Digital Marketing. Mets Kramer presented there his view on today’s marketing. Mets differentiates Billboard Marketing from the more 21st-century alike Engagement Marketing.

In fact, it does not matter whether the campaign is run with help of any e-mail platform (newsletters), Google, Facebook, or others. A successful campaign brings your potential customer to your dealership, to have a look at your yard, warehouse, service vans, and workshop. This is the way you can easily initiate customer’s thinking about starting or strengthening friendly relations with your staff. The physical presence of a customer on your street is not necessary. In the 21st century, your website is the main place where this can happen. Does it? Be aware that:

  • 83% of buyers use supplier websites for online research (from the Accenture report for 2014).
  • only 37 percent of B2B buyers who research a supplier’s website feel it’s the most helpful tool for research (from the Accenture report for 2014).

Of course, your IT provider can change static pages into dynamic ones, they can use new software for generating modern layouts with nicer pictures or even short videos, etc. Everything looks wonderful, but it is only face lifting. The question is if you provide your customers with the information they are online looking for.

Mets Kramer, in the series of articles about Digital Dealership (search for “digital dealership” on the blog), reminded me of my dreams about a “digital” after-sales department. I began to think about it at the end of the 20th century and it never became real. In the next article, I am going to present to you some obstacles which I had to struggle with. It’s a pity, I’m certain that after a quarter of the century later, your road is cobbled with similar or the same problems.

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Why Do I Do What I Do, Part Two

Why Do I Do What I Do, Part Two

In tonight’s blog post, guest writer Ryszard Chciuk brings us a sequel post: Why Do I Do What I Do, Part Two.

It is a very sad fact; most people have no idea about the meaning of their lives. This is because it is really hard mental work to find it out, and people do not like to overload their brains. As Victor Frankl mentioned in Man’s Search for Meaning, those people are caught in the “existential vacuum”. “They do not even know what they wish to do. For such a man No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism)”. Those poor people are very close to you, maybe in the organization you are working for.

During the lectures in Vienna in 1946, Victor Frankl listed the four main reasons a man wants to kill himself. One of them is the lack of faith in the meaning of the rest of life. Such a person can be very near to you.

As I declared in the article Why I do what I do, I believe the person searching for the meaning of his life can be inspired by the mission of the team he is a part of and will adopt it as a kind of response to his problem of not knowing that. And those who already have a sense of meaning will realize that working for the team is helping them to fulfill their lives’ missions.

Following that concept, around twenty years ago, I decided to start the creation of a new after-sales department for Volvo CE in my country by presenting my own professional mission to my new colleagues. I told them:

We provide machine users with the highest machine availability at the lowest cost of operation, by delivering service works exceeding customers’ expectations, and keeping profitability on the level assuring steady development of the service department and securing financial liquidity of our dealership in a downturn in the economy.

When you read my department mission, you could say:

  • They are devoted to the well-being of their customers.
  • They think customers’ priority is the highest machine availability and the   lowest cost of operation.
  • They are going to satisfy those needs by lowering the cost of machines’   operation by providing customers with excellent services.
  • They are also devoted to the well-being of their dealership.
  • They want to earn enough money to develop their service potential and to   survive in the market turmoil.

You can ask: and what about employees of the aftersales department, what about colleagues working for other silos? What you are going to do for your suppliers and local society. Will you respect the environment?

I was also not very satisfied with that definition. It was already too long to memorize! We could remove part of the definition regarding earning money, but I wanted to be honest with our customers and also, I wanted to keep our owners as my friends.

It was not the best expression of the idea I lived myself with, expression of my WHY I do what I do. My life’s meaning, my mission was ­— and still is — to make the world a little bit better than it was when I was born. Despite our saying “with the good intentions the Hell is cobbled”, I immodestly or naively believe it is possible.

That’s why it was a must to develop our vision and the main principles (values). We also had to work intensively on the organizational culture.

As I mentioned in my post Principia for After-sales, Part Two, it was necessary to present the whole idea simultaneously. I used to do it myself in the course of the introductory training for all new employees.

Then, most importantly was to prove to all my direct and indirect subordinates that I would treat those fancy words seriously, despite my personal cost, all the time. Unfortunately, it was rather common within our corporation, that so-called shared missions were not very popular. Other departments did not define clearly their shared missions, visions, and values. As it appeared in the future, it was an overwhelming obstacle.

Let me close by asking you some serious questions please.

  • What is your life’s mission?
  • What is your purpose?
  • What is your WHY?
  • Have you already found the meaning for your life?
  • Do you intend to spend half of the rest of your life working for an organization without a mission you could share?
  • Do you know why some of your subordinates and coworkers do not work with passion and engagement? Will you help them?

As Ron says, the time for your answers is now.

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Why do I do what I do?

Why do I do what I do?

In tonight’s blog, guest writer Ryszard Chciuk asks a question I think we have all wondered at one time or another: Why do I do what I do? 

Contributing to someone’s improvement and understanding is the reason I do what I do.

Who said that? If you don’t know yet, please keep on reading.

This article is about the meaning of one’s live.

Jim Collins said in Good to Great: … it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.

Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning (over 12 million copies sold) says: … striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man. Victor Frankl also claims that Man … is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values! He also said: There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life. It has been said by a man who survived three years in four German concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

In that book Victor Frankl reminded results of several public opinion polls:  The results showed that 89 percent of the people polled admit that man needs something for the sake of which to live, around 60 percent of the people polled conceded that there was something, or someone, in their own lives for whose sake they were even ready to die. In the statistical survey of 8 thousand students of 48 colleges, conducted by social scientists from Johns Hopkins University, students were asked what they considered “very-important” to them now. 16 percent of the students checked “making a lot of money”; 78 percent said their first goal was “finding a purpose and meaning to my life.”

The polls were made some time ago, but my experience tells me the latest results would be much worse. I mean there are much more students and adults interested in earning more money and fewer people searching for the meaning of their lives. Using Frankl’s words: they are caught in that situation which I have called the “existential vacuum”. For such a man No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism).

To complete this long introduction, I will remind only one sentence from Friedrich Nietzsche: He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.

A company does not have its brain (at least at the beginning of the 21st century), so it can not suffer from the existential vacuum. The feeling of meaninglessness is not painful for a company. But no organization exists without the brains of its employees and managers. If you, as their leader, are aware that a significant part of your staff is searching for the meaning of their lives or suffering from the existential vacuum, you should help them. I do not expect you will create an internal department of logotherapy. Nevertheless, why you could not extend the medical healthcare package and allow some of your people to visit a logotherapist?

Anyway, I believe the person searching for the meaning of his life will be inspired by the mission of the team he is a part of, and adopt it as a kind of response to his problem. And those who already have a sense of meaning will find that working for you helps them to fulfill their life mission.

My life mission is to leave the world when it is a little bit better than it was before I arrived here. Does it sound general, audacious, pompous? Not for me, but as a manager, I made my mission’s definition more specific. I utilized over twenty years of experience collected during my service for the construction company. In that time, as a machine user and an internal service provider I believed I had learned the basic expectations of all machines’ users:

  • The machine is ready to work always when it is needed
  • The cost of operation is the lowest possible

When I got a chance to attend the creation of a new dealership for Volvo CE, I expressed my new after-sales department mission as follows:

  • We provide machine users with the highest machine availability at the lowest cost of operation,
  • by delivering service works exceeding customers’ expectations,
  • and keeping profitability on the level assuring steady development of the service department and securing financial liquidity of our dealership in a downturn in the economy.

That mission statement became a basic foundation for defining our department’s vision and the main principles (values).

The life mission has to be adapted to the changing conditions, so since I got retired, I feel personally obliged not to spoil our planet to a higher degree than the average homo sapiens does. It comprises also sharing my experience in the construction industry with my successors. I would like them to avoid my mistakes. This is the reason to write posts for the Learning Without Scars blog and to publish articles on my blog dedicated to construction machine users and their closest collaborators – after-sales departments personnel (only in Polish – note: and they are all excellent).

I owe you a response to the question I started my blog post with. This is Ron Slee answer to the most important question a human being has to ask himself: why do I do what I do? Helping students of The Learning Without Scars to succeed is his, and his company mission, his WHY.

Dear reader, what is your mission, what is your WHY, have you already found the meaning for your life?

As Ron says, the time for your answer is now.

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Principia for After-Sales, Part Four

Principia for After-sales, Part Four

Today, Ryszard Chciuk continues his blogs on Principia for after-sales with part four of the series.

In Principia for After-sales part 3, I presented the main values of my after-sales team. Today, let’s discuss some examples from the real life of any organization. How would we practice my team’s main values?

Example 1

Your very experienced employee is suffering from cancer. It causes his absence from time to time. This negatively affects some customers’ satisfaction and may influence the company’s profitability. Would you get rid of – dismiss lawfully – that employee? What is your answer? In my opinion, despite the negative impact on profitability, the principle No 2 is more important than No 3. Not convinced? Think about it from a wider perspective. Are you sure all your customers and employees will accept your lack of empathy without any cost for you? What about your profitability if they recognize your behavior as inhuman? Will you be seen as a man of integrity?

Example 2

Your service vans are not equipped with the tools needed to drain used oil into special tanks instead of polluting the ground. Will you accept the spoiling of millions of liters of underground water by your field technicians? Of course, the cost of necessary tools will decrease your profitability. Is your answer: the principle No 2 is more important than No 3?

Example 3

Your key customer demands the immediate arrival of your field technician to the faulty machine. The customer will be very unsatisfied if he does not see your van within an hour. Will you force your employee to drive his van as it was the formula 1 vehicle? I understand your intentions, but man, the excellent service supervisor does not promise to fix the faulty machine in an hour. Otherwise, you will break principles No 4, 3, 2, and 1 due to: consequences and the cost of a potential accident, and the cost of not keeping commitments. You have to explain kindly to the impatient customer that he will be supported several hours later than he was overpromised in just signed service agreement. You are a man of integrity, so you will explain to your customer why you do what you do. By the way: which principle was broken by the signing of the service agreement containing a not feasible promise?

Example 4

Almost every second backhoe loader within the warranty period needs at least one warranty job due to the leaking main control valve. The manufacturer accepts customer claims but only as long as the warranty is valid. Later on, the cost of new seals, travel, and labor has to be covered by customers. It boosts your profit, but you realize that one drop of oil spoils millions of liters of clean water. Will you follow your value No 3 “Profitability”? And what about “Care of people and environment” (value No 2)? Will you be recognized as the man of integrity (it is your value No 1)? Obviously, the manufacturer is breaking his promise regarding quality and environmental care. What would you do then?

***

Some situations in the real life are more difficult to be analyzed from the main values point of view. Fortunately, the real-life circumstances are usually not so demanding as the examples given in the description of the trolley problem. Are you prepared for this kind of challenge at your work? Will your values be helpful?

Nobody is perfect. We have faced breaking our main principles by managers and employees. But when everybody is aware of the common main principles, he knows when, and what he is doing wrong.  I believe the most merciless judge is our conscience.

Are you ready to discuss your values on the examples taken from the real life of your organization? Let’s do it together. And, how would you use them in the situations described in my four examples?

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Principia for After-sales, Part Two

Principia for After-sales, Part Two

Today, Ryszard Chciuk continues his blogs on Principia for after-sales with part two of the series.

In Principia for After-sales and a few next posts, I am sharing my way of defining and implementing the main principles (values). This post is about the potential conflict between personal and company values, how I was writing value definitions, and the importance of constant reminding and following of the main principles.

Theoretically, every new employee joining our team brings his/her own values and his/her own life mission. Unfortunately, many people are not aware of what kind of values they are subscribed to. Thus, both they and their employer can make a mistake when signing the employment contract. But from the other side human consciousness is flexible. Hopefully, he/she will soon realize the values of the company are not in opposition to their private values or they are enough convincing to subscribe to them. And their private life missions can be realized ­– to a certain level – by working for the chosen company.

I numbered the main principles because usually, they conflict with one another. For example, which value is more important: profitability of your department or care of people and environment (it covers also safety)? What gets higher priority: integrity or profitability? If you don’t know, the right answer is indicated by the number of the principle on the list (number 1 has the highest priority).

Some time ago I learned from Start with Why by Simon Sinek that values have to be verbs. He is definitely right. I should articulate my No 1 principal “Integrity” with the sentence “Always do the right thing”. The No 2 principle should be expressed with the words “Always take care of your co-worker, customer, supplier, investor and of all kind of life”. The No 3 “Profitability” means “Not everything we do has to be profitable, but without money, we will not exist as the organization”. The No 4 “Excellence” stands for “We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do” (I use the same definition as in Enron’s statement).

On each occasion, I was explaining to my people what our main principles meant and I was using examples taken from the life of our after-sales organization. As I mentioned already in the post Future is Now – Part 2, that kind of presentation was usually taking place in the course of the introductory training. It was led not later than several weeks after starting the job. We worked out that unique training program with the kind collaboration of Impact Polka. It comprised of two sessions (two working days each). And it was mandatory for every new employee. As the opening lecturer, I presented there our department’s long-term goals (vision), the main principles (values), and our mission. Later on, the after-sales team members had to hear it again, and again. Additionally, once a year, during the annual company meeting I presented it to all employees of the dealership.

The leader must prove all the time, everything he is doing himself is up to the common, agreed, and persistently promoted principles. Employees mostly follow their leaders. Employees never follow the company values if the superiors break principles, both in a company or private life. You do not need to decorate your company cars with the team values, print it on every page of marketing brochures or curve in the stone tablets. Your customers are to recognize what are your values at every encounter with your crew. Have you ever asked your key customers what are your company values? You can be surprised when you do!

The main principles are not to be changed neither every year nor when a new manager takes over. They will be followed even if the founder of the values list has gone away. But it will happen only in companies having a very strong organizational culture. To be honest, I have not checked if the after-sales team I was in charge of in the past is still following our main principles. This is for a few reasons best known to me, not the main one is that I am not brave enough to find out.

There are plenty of potential values to be chosen. You will find five hundred examples here. As you can see these are only names of values, just words. The meaning of every value you have to define yourself. Why it is very important? I mentioned already that the set of values would make you different from the competition. Yes, they can steal a copy of your main principle’s declaration. But don’t worry, you are recognized as a better supplier of services because you have taught your people what those words really meant at their daily work. And they are following it. And your customers like it.

The main principles list should not be longer than 3-4 items. Too many values are more difficult to memorize and certainly will not be obeyed. Perhaps this is the main problem with the fulfillment of the Ten Commandments.

I have to underline: the content of the values list is not essential. After all, nobody would present himself as inhuman, unfaithful, dishonest, improvident, etc., isn’t it? The only difference between two organizations having the same set of values is how their members follow those principles.

Next time I am going to present the details about the main principles of my after-sales team.

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Principia for After-sales

Principia for After-sales

In this week’s guest post, blogger Ryszard Chciuk offers us his Principia for after-sales, and brings us more ways to improve this valuable part of our business.

In Principia for Business I presented my personal view on the foundations of every organization. It was not a summary of the pile of publications on that subject I have read. In fact, I did not find there too many useful tips on how to build a durable and efficient organization.

In this and a few next posts, I am going to describe my own way of defining and implementing the idea of the main principles (values).

One of the main tasks of the founder of a new organization is to define the set of the most important principles binding its members. They should also know the long-term goals (have a look at the post about our vision). After that, they are able to find the proper ways to get closer to the goals. You will help your people in that process by telling them HOW you want to run your business to be different from the competition.

Another two important questions are: WHY you are starting up (Ron Slee explained his WHY in Why do we do what we do) and WHAT you are going to do for the wellbeing of your customers, employees, suppliers, environment, and yourself. Without a clear and public answer for those three questions a new entity is mined and the time bomb is ticking. It is my belief this is the main cause of going bankrupt by so many companies.

When I began to build the best after-sales organization in my country, Simon Sinek was not ready with his great TEDx presentation How Great Leaders Inspire Actions (54 million views since 2009). Just common sense told me that I should establish the main principles for my new team (apart from the long-term goals and mission). Some consultants say it should be done by a group of people. I dare to doubt. Only slaves must obey the rules established by their owners but free people always have a choice to work or not, for a given company. Its founder is entitled to set the main values. However, it is a must to discuss the meaning of values with all employees when somebody breaks any of the main principles. It is also helpful to celebrate when an employee finds a new way of better fulfilling any value.

The main values are important for employees when they have to take immediate action without the support of their superior. Very often they are not even aware that a required ­– in a given situation – behavior is described in detail in one of the dozens of special procedures. The older the organization, the more not understandable procedures, often written in a lawyers’ language.

Big companies define their values on a corporate level. In our case, they were: Quality, Safety, and Environmental Care. They seemed to me too general for the after-sales team I had the honor to create around twenty years ago. I defined the main principles as follows:

  1. Integrity
  2. Care of people and environment
  3. Profitability
  4. Excellence

It is not very common that the after-sales department has its own main principles (values) and purpose (mission) but I believed what I was doing was right. A few years later I found confirmation in Built to Last. Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras: There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t articulate a core ideology for your own workgroup, department, or division. If your company has a strong overall corporate ideology, then your group-level ideology will naturally be constrained by that ideology – particularly the core values. But you can still have your own flavor of ideology, and certainly, you can articulate a purpose for your own sub-organization. What is its reason for being? What would be lost if it ceased to exist? The concept of the core ideology embraces both mission and values.

It can happen the top management of the dealership does not know how they are going to run their business and does not bother about any values. Then CFO, Sales Director, and After-sales Manager lead their teams in accordance with completely different, opposite values. For example, CFO cares mainly about profit, Sales want to increase the number of sold machines, and After-sales are focused on customer satisfaction. The most dangerous is when they do not know each other preferences. Daily conflicts between managers are stepping down to the lowest level of the hierarchy. Employees do not collaborate with their friends working for another department. It is possible to avoid that problem. The managers have to look each other in the eye and tell each other the meaning of their main principles. Of course, their values have to be aligned with those the company founder believed in. Otherwise, it is a great waste of time to work for that kind of organization.

Next time I am going to share my point of view on the potential conflict between private and company values, how to write value definitions, the importance of constant reminding of the main principles…

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Principia for Business

Principia for Business

In this week’s guest blog, Ryszard Chciuk shares his Principia for business.

In my post The Future is Now I presented you why and how my after-sales team worked out its long-term plans, which most of business teachers call a vision. Today I am writing about the way we were going to bring us closer to our goals.

I am repeating myself: without the long-term plans, you are like a sailor who missed all his maps. You can use your compass, but you do not know where you will finally land on. Maybe it will be a deserted island. If you are a very lucky man, maybe you will land in a paradise. I am daring to give you one piece of advice: please, do not fool yourself, most probably you will break up the boat on the rocks. You and your crew have a little chance to survive the crash, it will be just pure chance.

Worse things happen if your team members do not follow the binding rules. I prefer to name them the main principles. Coming back to the metaphor. Before you abandon a port, you must equip your boat with precise maps and a compass. In 1492 Christopher Columbus had an astrolabe, compass, quadrant, and, instead of maps, his assumptions which directions to go. Finally, he was convinced he landed in “the Indies”, but fortunately for him (not for the original inhabitants), the ships made landfall on one of the Bahamian islands.

In real-life our maps are always uncertain, so before you start the journey, you should agree with your co-sailors a small number of basic rules to be strictly followed. For example, the captain is always right, you will keep watch till you are replaced by another sailor on duty, everybody is authorized to ask questions and make mistakes, the person in charge is not always right, and so on. Otherwise, all of you will fight against each other, instead of collaboration in the face of a turbulent market.

Those basic rules I name the main principles. Certainly, you are accustomed to calling them values, so I will explain myself. Most of the dictionaries, including The Cambridge Dictionary, define the first meaning of the word “value” as the amount of money that can be received for something. The second meaning of that word is the beliefs people have, especially about what is right and wrong, but it is only for the plural form. The three laws of Motion Sir Isaac Newton presented in the masterpiece called Principia (in Latin) and it is translated into Principles (in English). That’s why I ask my friends to follow the main principles instead of the values. Values and vision belong to the most overused – and least understood – words in the language of business. I want to avoid any ambiguities while talking about things of so high importance.

The most important for every organization is that all level managers and all employees subscribe to the main principles. It means, you as a manager, should employ only candidates who learnt the company values and agreed to follow those principles during the whole journey with the company. Later on, you have to observe potential breakers of the values and eliminate them. Otherwise, some employees may sabotage the whole organization. However, it’s not easy to discover the true personal values of a candidate during an interview. My advice is not to rely only on the information gathered by the human resources department. Use also your own intuition.

The most severe troubles for every kind of organization can be caused by people occupying more important posts. The company owner should keep it in mind when hiring top management. Do you remember the famous Enron case? In its annual report to shareholders, Enron listed its core values as follows:

  1. Communication – We have an obligation to communicate.
  2. Respect – We treat others as we would like to be treated.
  3. Integrity – We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely.
  4. Excellence– We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do.

The actions of Enron’s senior leaders stood opposed to these core values. They quickly established a culture with values of greed and desire to maximize personal gain. It also appeared that Enron managers were supported by the renowned auditing company Arthur Andersen LLP. What was the result? Thousands of people lost jobs, their money collected on retirement plans disappeared…

I am writing this article because I want all of my friends to be aware of a potential threat. I have read about many leaders driving organizations into bankruptcy due to breaking their values. In the last decades of my life, it concerns mainly political leaders all over the world. It is unfair that dishonest leaders never pay the highest cost. Perhaps Enron’s CEO Jeffrey Skilling was one of few exceptions. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison (finally was freed after 14 years). Have you heard about reimbursing the victims of the Enron scandal?

As I explained in the post The Future is Now, my plan to build the best after-sales organization could not be executed if we employed people having bad habits. In other words, we would fail if new employees were accustomed to the principles which were opposite to ours.

Next time I will explain, what it meant in our daily work.

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Why Things Always Go Wrong

Why Things Always Go Wrong

Why Things Always Go Wrong

This week, Ryszard Chciuk gives us a recipe for success in his blog post on why things always go wrong.

Do you want to have a successful year? Do you want to become a better person? Listen to what Ron Slee is saying to you in his first vlog in 2021 and do it, because The Time Is Now. The time for reading books.

If you are able to read only one book during your whole life, and you want to achieve true satisfaction, both in business and life, read The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull (both of them born in Canada of course).

The Peter Principle:

In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence

What is incompetence? Perhaps you have heard of the nurse who says to the patient: Wake up! It’s time to take your sleeping pill.

First time I read The Peter Principle was in 1977. It was really funny to observe my superiors and colleagues through the Laurence Peter glasses. The book is written in the Mark Twain style so it’s OK to laugh, but you’d better take the content seriously. At that time nobody told me it would be the most important book in my life. Later on, I read it again and again, usually every few years. Also, I read it each time I had an opportunity to get a new job. Why? Nobody likes to make a fool of oneself. I also never wished to be an incompetent person. And believe me, it is not easy to recognize whether you are already only one step below your level of incompetence or perhaps not yet.

Each of us spends his life in a hierarchy and everybody is subject to the Peter Principle. As Peter Laurence claims, in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.

You are not allowed to hurt your employee. So, be careful promoting him to another post, even he is very eager to. Imagine your best technician is getting a chance to manage a team of field technicians. For many years he was solving the most difficult problems with customers’ machines and he was proud of it. Are you sure he will also be happy and competent as a supervisor for another people? Maybe he is destined to become the Chief Diagnostics Specialist? I know, this is obviously about a career path and your HR department should be able to support you in this matter. Are you sure the HR specialist is still below his/her incompetence level?

Let’s jump out for a while from business. In democracy we have rights to vote. Why there are so many totally incompetent politicians occupying posts which are so important for the safety and well-being of the nation? Do you think you are still one step below your level of incompetence as a citizen of your country?

Are there any exceptions from the Peter Principle? The third chapter in the book has a title Apparent Exceptions.

What about super-competence? Standard incompetence is only a bar to promotion to higher post. If you are super-competent and your superior reached already his/her level of incompetence you will probably soon be fired due to the violation of the first commandment of hierarchal life i.e., the hierarchy must be preserved.

The people who have reached their level of incompetence are everywhere, so who turns the wheels? Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.

The final question: is there any way to protect your own organization from reaching the total level of incompetence? Yes, two things could prevent this happening: that there should not be enough time available, or not enough ranks in the hierarchy.

***

Do not decide lightly to read The Peter Principle. This is just a book, but I have to warn you using words of Raymond Hull:  The decision to read on is irrevocable. If you read, you can never regain your present state of blissful ignorance; you will never again unthinkingly venerate your superiors or dominate your subordinates. Never!

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