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Going for Gold: How customer-facing teams can make the boat go faster

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10th Mar 2016
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As a business, you look to stand out, add value for your customers and drive competitive edge.  Often, the key to success will be a focus on performance improvements designed to deliver results. This was one of the issues explored at a recent Enghouse Interactive event with sporting legend, Ben Hunt-Davis.  

At the outset, Hunt-Davis explained that the GB Men’s Eight had consistently finished between sixth and eighth in major competitions in the period 1991-98. In the two years leading up to the Sydney Olympics of 2000, however, everything changed, thanks to a new focus on performance.   

Prior to 1998, there had never been a fundamental modification of the crew’s approach.  In the lead-up to Sydney, there was a collective sense that something needed to change.

The team adopted three clear principles:

  • Focus on what’s important - Find your ‘concrete’ and ‘crazy’ goals, and ‘what floats your boat’.
  • Focus on performance, in order to get results – Concentrate your full attention on driving improvements in performance.
  • Work effectively with others to achieve goals – Work out who to listen to and what attitudes to avoid. No one does it alone.

The Eight recognised that winning Gold in Sydney would require an unswerving commitment to these new principles.  In line with this, every exercise and training routine was analysed to ask: how did we do; what went well; what less well and what can we learn from it to make sure we do better next time? It was all about setting up a culture of learning and improvement.

The plan required total honesty from all members of the crew. Every member had to be prepared to continually challenge the approach. There was no room for compromise or ‘meeting in the middle’. A decision was taken on how to proceed and then all members of the team fully committed to, and supported that decision.

When the team was on the starting line in the Olympic Final, they were aware of how much they had changed; how far they had come; and that gave them the confidence to win. It was an approach that worked perfectly for Team GB as they ended up clear winners of the race and the gold medal. Success was achieved through complete commitment to the three key goals.

The good news is that all the lessons of ‘making the boat go faster’ in elite sport can be transposed the world of customer service. Here are our top tips for ways in which businesses can win gold by enhancing the way they manage and interact with their customers.

Focus on what’s important

  • Make sure that your customer-facing teams are clear about the goals they are working to.
  • In fact, whatever the size of business, people need to be working on what is important rather than simply what is in front of them.
  • To work effectively, they need to be aiming at specific goals and they need to be ‘crystal clear’ about the direction of travel.
  • It is important for sales and service teams to have clear goals – ‘look at what the competitors are doing that they are not’; analyse the customer journey and experience and work out where enhancements can be made, and, finally, look at ways of working collaboratively in partnership with channel players and vendors in order to more successfully achieve end goals.

Focus on performance in order to get results

  • Just as in a sporting context, players being interviewed typically focus on how they performed; what they did to get the result they achieved, customer-facing staff also need to concentrate on the performance that led to the result rather than the result for its own sake.
  • It is always critically important to focus on getting the execution right.

Work effectively with others to achieve goals 

  • The two principles outlined above are relatively obvious in theory but hard to execute well in practice, especially if working in isolation.
  • The practical difficulties of achieving the first two principles helps explain the importance of the third.
  • It’s important to get help wherever possible, towards achieving core goals.
  • In the case of the Men’s Eight, it was key that they were able to draw on significant support from many people that were not actually in the boat during the final.
  • It was important to build mutual understanding across the wider team and make sure everyone was working towards that common goal.
  • Again, this key sporting principle applies equally in the world of business.
  • Organisations can adopt the concept of the connected business, putting the right technologies and processes in place to ensure all departments are able to work together to achieve the same goals.

Making the connection

The three key principles outlined above: focus on what’s important; focus on performance in order to get results; and work effectively with others to achieve goals, translate seamlessly from the world of elite sport to the equally results-driven world of customer communications and service.

Of course, the lessons intonated by Ben Hunt-Davis apply just as much to customer service and sales teams as they do to the businesses they work. Just like the Men’s Eight at Sydney, they get up every day and make sure ‘their boat goes faster’.

Equally, it is worth highlighting that the ‘boat’ itself will be different in each case. “For CEOs and MDs, it’s the business itself; for contact centre managers, it’s about raising the overall performance of their teams while keeping to budgets and  for agents, it’s about driving up their sales figures or the quality of customer service they deliver. In each and every case, however, the individual focus on personal performance helps drive the success of the business as a whole.

Both in sport and in business, that success involves trust, honesty, and sometimes difficult conversations, but critically too, shared goals; a shared commitment to enhancing performance and a willingness to work together to ‘make the boat go faster’.

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