On the path of building a business, we learn so many valuable lessons. Some stick, some get forgotten. One of my mentors, Jack Daly — The Professional Sales Coach — has said to my team and me for years, “Inspect what you expect.” It sounds like a basic management practice, and it is. But sometimes you really need context around a lesson before the learning will stick.
“Inspect what you expect” now has invaluable meaning to me. I say and live the concept almost every day. Let me tell you the story behind why it matters so much to me.
Cameron Herold, our chief operations officer, and I were driving back from a two-day mini-retreat. Our casual conversation centred on how things were going in different areas of the business. When we got to the topic of our call centre, Cameron talked about how well things were going. I asked the critical question: “How do you know?” He answered by saying that training has really been stepped up, all of our agents have completed the new program and, for the first time in a while, we have an ample supply of call-centre agents. I asked Cameron again: “But how do you really know? How do you know that all the effort in recruiting and training has translated into a Wow! impression with each and every caller?”
Cameron suggested we call and find out. We put my cellphone on speakerphone, blocked the caller ID and did a “ghost” call. I expected the call to be good or better. It was terrible! The tone and energy of the agent was void of the enthusiasm it takes to Wow! our callers, and the agent even let me hang up without asking for the job. Fine — it was just one call and we have 120 agents, so I thought I’d try my luck again. And again. And again. The next three calls were mediocre at best. Mediocre is not the “1-800-GOT-JUNK? Way.” Why were so few of the agents using the tools we’d worked hard to develop to assist them in wowing their callers? They weren’t building rapport, they weren’t asking enough questions and they weren’t delivering a friendly, energetic open and close.
I was frustrated, but I’ve always been a big believer in the philosophy of Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth: “People don’t fail — systems do.” This was a classic case of a missing system. There was no one to blame. The leadership in the call centre had a clear vision, smart goals and tight metrics with which to manage their progress, but what was missing were the systematized, random checks to ensure that what was expected was being delivered consistently at all levels in the call centre. This process led us to do a series of “deep dives” into the call centre, listening and asking a lot of questions of the agents on the front lines.
This article is not about how to fix problems; it’s about finding them. You can’t sustain growth without having a process to uncover deficiencies against the performance benchmarks and goals you’ve set. Expectations are the promises you make to your customers and your employees, and random checks are a key business practice that will enable you to determine gaps between your expectations and theirs.
The periodic checks are less about policing and more about systematically ensuring that what you are expecting happens. Most companies measure a set of metrics, but “inspect what you expect” is about so much more — namely, measuring the tough-to-gauge intangibles. Are you, as the leader of the company, happy with the way your service people are talking to your clients? Are you happy with the entire process that makes up your customer experience?
All too often, growth-company leaders abdicate rather than delegate, giving staff control of the outcome and saying, “Just get it done.” Empowering others to solve a problem is great, but too many entrepreneurs fail to inspect the work they’ve delegated to make sure the product meets or exceeds their standards. Inspecting allows you to collect feedback that will ultimately provide even clearer expectations for your people.
Systematizing the process of inspecting is simple. Create a list of the key components of your business, sticking with those that are subjectively measured. Are your stores clean? Are your employees delivering a Wow! experience over the phone? And on site? Then create a checklist of who needs to check each item by when. For example, we have daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly inspection items. I do ghost calls each and every month, and so does our COO. It’s a process that ensures we always have a pulse on key aspects of the business.
Discovering that our deliverables were not in line with our expectations was a blessing in disguise, in that it prompted us to inspect all levels of the business. Here’s a very specific example. As I was creating my outline for this article, I thought it would be a good time to practise what I preach by calling 1-800-GOT-JUNK? to see what kind of impression the sales centre is leaving with our customers. I picked up the phone on a Monday at 5:07 p.m., and dialled in. I am happy to report that my call was a success — I really was wowed. I firmly believe the result is due not only to setting high standards, but also the fact that everyone within the business understands our new culture of inspecting what we expect. I challenge all business owners to add “Inspect what you expect” to your regular routine.
And thank you, Randall, for giving this column a happy ending. You did a first-class job of taking my call the other night — better than expected, in fact. Thank you for the Wow!