30 November 2010

About Process, Training, and TSA

The media has jumped on the flying public's anxiety over the new scanners and pat down procedures with a ferocity rarely seen in recent journalism history. As a result, there is a fair amount material available on the matter. For several days now I have listened to the furor over this issue, read numerous news articles, blog posts, comments to many posts, and watched several YouTube videos. There is no doubt in my mind that we are observing, in a very public forum, the breakdown of a public relations and airport security process.

In case you've been incommunicado with your computer, television, or newspaper for the past several months, the federal government has allowed Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to purchase scanning machines that provide a “picture” containing a high degree of detail about the form and contours of an individual's body, i.e. even though clothed, the image makes a person appear naked. It is possible for a traveler to refuse a scanning experience. However, in doing so, that person tacitly agrees to an "enhanced" pat down procedure.

Discussions have revolved around both the scanning machines and the pat downs. Concerns have been voiced regarding the scanning machines:

  • effectiveness of the scanning machines regarding airport security

  • invasiveness regarding the “nude” appearance of
    the scanned images

  • storage ability regarding the images taken

  • safety in terms of the radiation dosage,
    especially for certain populations – pilots, flight attendants, frequent fliers, and others[1]

As for the pat downs, various individuals have commented on the:

  • demeaning nature of the "enhanced" pat
    downs

  • inappropriate behavior of some TSA officers

  • necessity of "enhanced" pat downs for children

In addition, many journalists, bloggers, and commenters have raised questions about whether or not these changes in airport security could be considered a Fourth Amendment violation, resulting in unreasonable search.

Effectiveness

Security experts are questioning TSA’s approach to airport security. Take the comment from the Netherlands’ Schiphol Airport Security Chief,

"If you look at all the recent terrorist incidents, the bombs were detected because of human intelligence not because of screening ... If even a fraction of what is spent on screening was invested in the intelligence services we would take a real step toward making air travel safer and more pleasant."[2]

American security consultants, such as Bruce Schneier, have similar observations.

“Exactly two things have made airline travel safer since 9/11: reinforcement of cockpit doors, and passengers who now know that they may have to fight back. Everything else -- Secure Flight and Trusted Traveler included -- is security theater."[3]

Other security pundits cite the Israeli[4]method of handling terrorist risks, i.e., profiling, as much more effective.

Am I in favor of racial or ethnic profiling?

No, it is an unacceptable activity in a democratic society. Do I favor profiling questions based upon an assessment of risk? Yes, remember that Timothy McVeigh was an American white male!

Is my sense of security increased due to TSA’s activities? No, not really.

“The current security system in which everyone is a suspect is bound to be ineffective and burdensome. No system can perform efficiently when one is looking for a needle in a haystack by checking each straw individually.”[5]

Flying is risky, but not nearly as risk filled as driving an automobile. Do I want to be on that single flight that has a terrorist that was missed by intelligence services and TSA? No, I don’t. There are no guarantees in life, nor do I expect my government to provide one to me regarding airport security. In the words of a Thanksgiving holiday traveler,

“I just want to know if the TSA workers actually believe they are keeping people safe by feeling us up if we opt out of the full-body scan,” said Cara Eshleman, a baker from Arlington County who is flying out of Reagan National Airport on Wednesday and plans to opt out if she is directed to a full-body scanner. “It's too bad I already bought my ticket. If I'd have found out about this before, I wouldn't be going anywhere for the holidays.”[6]

Am I willing to trade my civil rights, privacy, and liberty for security theater? Absolutely not! It would appear that I am not alone.[7]Yet, TSA is busy assuring the public that “78% of poll respondents approve the use of full body scanners.”[8] What TSA conveniently glosses over is that the referenced poll was taken in January of this year, well in advance of the new procedures being put into place.

Invasiveness

If I have committed no offense, broken no law, nor behaved in a suspicious manner, how is it justifiable that I should be subjected to a machine that produces an image in which my body appears naked? This is just wrong on so many levels! Although TSA openly admits that the scanners are an invasion of people’s privacy, they justify the necessity by invoking images of bomb carrying terrorists boarding an American airplane.

"I just don't think the government has the right to look under
people's clothes with no reasonable cause, no suspicion other than purchasing a plane ticket."
[9]

“I am concerned about the exposure and I am equally concerned that someone saw my precious daughter as if she were naked. I was then put through as well and was humiliated and felt as though I were in a peep show. Before this trip, I honestly felt the scanners were a good idea and a price to be paid for travelling - after living it first hand, I have to say it is flat out WRONG[10]

Some people who experience these scanning machines feel violated. Still TSA basically holds the position that if someone feels violated, “too bad” it’s a small price to pay for security. I disagree. Price of this degree of invasiveness is too high.

Storage

The scanning machines can and do store images! TSA has already admitted that it requires all purchased body scanners to have the ability to store and transmit images for “testing, training, and evaluation purposes.” The agency also contends that those capabilities are not normally activated when the devices are installed at airports.[11] Right! In its reply[12] to the House of Representatives questions about privacy, TSA also states,

No cameras, cellular telephones, or other devices capable of capturing an image are permitted in the image viewing room. Any official or employee who fails to follow these strict procedures is subject to serious discipline up to and including removal.[13]

Given how unforthcoming the agency has been regarding these new procedures, can I really believe that some passengers’ images won’t end up in someone’s private file or on the Internet at a future time? The answer is probably not! In addition, the verbal remarks to buxom passengers attributed to TSA officials don’t fill me with much hope that anyone’s privacy is really respected by the TSA’s employees.

One traveler observed, “I will bet that we will catch more TSA employees guilty of inappropriately forwarding full-body scans of celebrities or attractive women than we will terrorists.”[14]

Safety

As frequent flyer who spends more than 70,000 miles each year, over roughly 45 weeks, in the air, this concerns me enormously.

Over the last several years I have listened to my fellow passengers question whether or not the security measures that the American flying public is forced to endure really work. I fly out of small airports on regional jets most of the time and, due to my frequent flyer status, often sit next to pilots or flight attendants on their way to work. Many of them tell me that I fly more than they do. That being the case, I have a health concern about radiation from a backscatter full body scanner.

TSA maintains that the health concerns are minimal and that most people are exposed to more radiation from their cell phones. This doesn’t allay my unease about the scanners. I want scientific proof! Not only that, but I find the cell phone reference specious, especially since I use a headset to keep my phone away from my head and my phone typically rests on a table at least 3 feet away from my body.

Demeaning Pat Downs

In the few weeks since the policy came into effect, the ACLU has received hundreds of complaints from travelers who have been subject to these invasive and suspicionless searches.[15] Interestingly, the 900 complaints that the ACLU claims to have received exceeds the test sample size of both polls claiming that most Americans don’t mind the scanners but have issues with the pat down procedure.

Below are some of the comments that travelers have reported to the ACLU.[16]

  • “I am upset, humiliated, degraded and feel abused and criminal, when I am guilty of nothing.”

  • “In all of these years and the thousands of flights and millions of airlines miles I have never been so humiliated. If my choice is to risk having my genitalia spread all over the internet and my body exposed to unknown radiation or to have my testicles bounced and my buttocks stroked I will not fly any commercial airline.... our humanity and our dignity are being violated. I HAVE HAD ENOUGH!”

  • “I opted out and was sexually molested in public. The method used to search my body was on par with a sexual massage by a stranger of the same sex. My penis was touched by a man. My anus and groin were rubbed by a man. My scalp was rubbed by the same person. How can this be acceptable...? These TSA agents are not qualified to deal with the psychological or ethical responsibility of this technology.”

In fact, during testimony before lawmakers in Washington, D.C., TSA’s new administrator agrees that the new pat down procedures are more invasive.

“I'm frankly bothered by the level of these pat-downs,” Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla., told Pistole. “I wouldn't want my wife to be touched in the way that these folks are being touched. I wouldn't want to be touched that way.”

Pistole, who has been subjected to a pat-down himself, allowed: “It is clearly more invasive. But the procedures are necessary,” he said, “to detect devices not seen before.”[17] You saw it, ladies and gentlemen, “…necessary to detect devices not seen before.” Comments like this one have led some
to wonder if cavity searches are next on TSA’s agenda.[18] I wonder if Pistole has children. If he does, what is his explanation to them about a stranger in a TSA uniform that may touch them in private places and that it’s OK? One father said it best.

“We spend my child's whole life telling him that only mom, dad and a doctor can touch you in your private area, and now we have to add TSA (agents), and that's just wrong.”[19]

Inappropriate Behavior

In addition to the flying public and lawmakers’ perceptions that TSA’s new pat down procedures are demeaning and certainly more invasive than the previous procedure, what about inappropriate application of the new procedure by TSA officers?

I was the only female in a crowd of men. Even though I was not next in line, I was called over to the body scanner. As I got closer to the scanner, I could clearly hear him say ‘[G]ot a cute one, some DD's.’ ... I was appalled and decided at that point to ‘opt out’ of the scanner.... I was then put through the pat down procedure which I only can only describe as sexual assault.[20]

“Simply, I was sexually assaulted. My breasts were caressed in an almost amorous manner. And on the second canvassing of my groin, single-finger pressure was applied to my labia majora - the plane of which was near-broken, during which the agent made a wildly off-color remark.”[21]

Standardized procedural, as well as sensitivity, training could possibly mitigate much of this issue. Oh wait, according to a report released by the GAO[22], TSA does not have “a standard process to identify and coordinate the necessary computer support” for its computer based training of TSA officers!23]

Clearly TSA needs not only a better understanding of process and procedures, but also better training and execution.

Constitutionality

In an extremely lengthy blog post an author on Flopping Aces reminds the reader that, according to David Leach (first US air marshal under the Nixon administration), that various U.S. courts have agreed that:

“... yes, it was a violation of the fourth amendment, but it was acceptable to the courts with two provisos. One, that it be applied universally so there’s no chance of any discrimination, and two, that the search be limited to looking for weapons and explosives.”[emphasis added][24]

Let’s look at that first proviso, “be universally applied.” If I am to accept the truthfulness of the complaints registered with the ACLU, universal application of these new procedures is nonexistent. Talk to any private pilot, and s/he will tell you that there is NO screening of persons or luggage prior to boarding a private plane. Further, for those individuals fortunate enough to have access to private aviation, whether through company or government access or due to personal wealth, there is NO screening of anything. Again, I question the universal application of enhanced screening and pat downs.

Summary

It’s easy to say, “You don’t like TSA’s rules, don’t fly. Use an alternative.” According one of the polls[25] taken over this last week, some 48% of the respondents intend to do just that. They are going to stop flying. I don’t believe this is a realistic solution. The disruption to our economy could be serious were people to act on this sentiment.

So far, our elected officials seem to have allowed TSA to issue edicts, in the name of national security, without much discussion or inquiry into preserving the civil rights of the American public. To be fair, the American public, by and large, has unquestioningly followed along with each restriction of rights – until now.

TSA appears to have bypassed the process used by nearly every other federal organization that wants to change regulatory guidelines, regulations, or operational procedures.[26] In doing so, they have lost, not only the willing compliance of many citizens, but the confidence of the American flying public that they are acting in our best interest.

Rationality and a conversation about reasonable risks needs to occur. Why couldn’t we as a society engage in a national dialogue about where we are going to balance civil liberties and national security? That is, in part, the purpose of the Federal Register – to allow for discourse and discussion about federal rules and regulations. We could start there.


[1]http://www.avweb.com/eletter/archives/avflash/1777-full.html#203670

[2]http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/11/12/airport_security_scanners/

[3]http://www.schneier.com/

[4]http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-harris/what-israel-can-teach-the_b_408720.html

[5]http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2010/11/22/do-body-scanners-make-us-safer/israel-doesnt-use-scanners

[6]http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/23/AR2010112303954_2.html?hpid=topnews&sid=ST2009122902788

[7]Interactive: 61% Oppose Full Body Scans and TSA Pat Downs; 48% Will Seek Alternative to Flying”

[8]http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/2010-01-11-security-poll_N.htm

[9]Resisting Scanners

[10]Passengers' Stories of Recent Travel/

[11]http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20012583-281.html

[12]TSA reply to House of Representatives – 24 Feb 2010 page 3, question 8, paragraph 3

[13]Ibid

[14] “Note to TSA: Let me keep my shoes on”

[15]http://www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/aclu-reports-more-900-complaints-month-over-enhanced-tsa-security-measures

[16]Recent Travel Stories from Passengers

[17]“New Airport Pat-Downs Are MORE Invasive, TSA Boss Confirms”

[18]"Why Cavity Bombs Would Make TSA Irrelevant"

[19]“A whole new fear of flying”

[20]Recent Travel Stories from Passengers http://www.aclu.org/passengers-stories-recent-travel/

[21]Ibid

[22]"Transportation Security Administration’s Management of Its Screening Workforce Training Program Can Be Improved," Office of Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security

[23]Ibid, pg 5

[24]“The TSA conundrum: When security ugly and hype meets legal reality”

[25]Zogby Interactive: 61% Oppose Full Body Scans and TSA Pat Downs; 48% Will Seek Alternative to Flying”

[26] Petition for Suspension of TSA Full Body Scanner



14 October 2010

Thoughts About Changing Culture

Earlier this week @RomanStanek posted a tweet that is a quotation by the renowned management consultant Peter Drucker.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Drucker also on numerous occasions admonished managers to work with an organization's culture rather than attempting to change it. The rationale for his viewpoint is understandable. Working within an existing framework and building on strengths while minimizing weaknesses can be more efficient than championing major change.

Sometimes it's absolutely necessary that an organization's culture change.

A colleague of mine works with a start up in the Midwest. She is frequently a source of great stories, some of which are more akin to cautionary tales. It seems that the start up is located in a state that is pro-employer with very few laws or regulations that protect employees. Consequently, businesses are able to terminate employees far more easily than might occur in other states, such as Michigan or California. It could be argued that this condition is both necessary and beneficial, especially in an economic environment like the one that has existed here in the U.S. for the last couple of years.

The issue is that organizations might want to think more about how human capital policies and practices are reflective of its culture and strategy, and whether or not the overall the overall community's perception is a concern. Briefly stated,

Doing what is legal might not necessarily be the appropriate course of action.


OK, The Story

Barbara called me last week and her first words were, "They've done it again!" Knowing that she had to be referring to the start up, I could only respond with, "OK, what is it now?"

"Remember when I told you about them terminating the single lady who'd just had her baby?" Barbara reminded me.

"Yes, and while what they did might be considered morally reprehensible by some folks, Small Startup, Inc., (SSI) was operating within the law to say that her position had been eliminated and lay her off."

We had discussed about 6 months the matter of SSI laying off the woman one week after she returned to work. I suggested to Barbara then that since management's philosophy of "If it's legal, it's OK" was inconsistent with hers and she might want to reconsider whether or not helping this company was a wise activity for her. My advice was based on the notion that Barbara would be in constant conflict morally about SSI and, as an advisor, that isn't a good situation for anyone.

"Well now they've terminated one of their developers for not showing up to work." She said.

"On the surface, that sounds reasonable to me," I said.

"Wait, let me give you some background before you say anything else."

I waited for her to continue.

"The developer lost her 10 year old child. SSI gave her bereavement leave of a week. She returned to work after the week and couldn't cope. She asked for additional time. HR said that she had no vacation time left and if she didn't show up for work, they would have to let her go."

Barbara's voice was shaking by the time she uttered those last words. I understood her dismay, but knew that SSI had followed an attorney's advice with regard to their decision.

At the moment. Barbara is trying to decide what she should do regarding her involvement with SSI. For myself, there are several questions whose answers I am still pondering.
  • Given the company's overall strategy for getting its enhanced product to market were there options regarding how to work with these two employees?
  • How would I advise the management team about their decisions' affects on the overall community perception of their organization?

  • How far should they need to go to manage community perceptions of SSI?
What would you advise Barbara to do? How would you advise SSI?

08 September 2010

When Is It OK To Be Dishonest?

A colleague shared with me an incident that occurred recently on one of her projects. Sally is the lead business process consultant helping a client organization automate a record to report business process. As with many projects of this sort, she has encountered challenges along the way. Some of them have been people related; others have been data related; and still others have been technical.

Yet, the challenge that she struggled with the most was discovering that the project manager and engagement manager had deliberately mislead the entire team. How did she know that they had lied to the team? Both of them announced it during a team meeting.

Sally's concern was how could she believe any communications from these two individuals knowing that they had mislead her and others.

There are several relevant questions here.

  • Why did the managers come clean when they did, instead of staying quiet?

  • What choices are available to a leader/manager when sensitive information cannot be shared?

  • Is it acceptable or desirable behavior to mislead or lie to subordinates or colleagues?
The first question is fairly self evident. Many people when confronted with the probability of a dishonest statement being discovered, eventually correct the statement to one that is more truthful. The exceptions to this observation are sociopaths and habitual liars, which would be a topic for different blog.

The next question regarding choices is much more interesting. Leaders and managers frequently are privy to information or knowledge that cannot be shared ever or perhaps until a later date. To complicate matters, some subordinates are very perceptive and can sense when there are social/political/ organizational undercurrents. The more outspoken subordinates will simply ask a direct question. How does a good leader respond?

My response in those situations has been, "I can't answer that right now. We are working on [the matter/situation] quietly, but this is in the realm of confidential information at the moment and I am not at liberty to share." Are people comfortable with that answer?


Absolutely not! My personal preference is to admit to withholding information or knowledge rather than be dishonest about doing so. The other choice, of course, is to answer dishonestly and pray that you won't need to reverse your stance publicly. Are there options aside from the two discussed above? I'm not certain that there are, but if you are reading this blog post and know of any, I'd be interested in your comments.

The last question perhaps should be two questions. The issue of acceptability raises considerations of a more ethical nature. The notion of desirable behavior leads to discussions around practicality. My purpose here is to provoke discussion about a situation that teams -- leaders, managers, and their subordinates -- encounter rather frequently. So rather than endlessly debate the ethics or practicality of dishonest statements in general, I am asking you, the reader, "What would you say to your team if asked about a sensitive, confidential matter?"

07 September 2010

So, Tell Us What Really Happened at OOW 2010!

OK, FMT's Marketing Director is really after me to say something in one of my blog posts about the next Ask Us Anything Webinar on 29 September 2010. Since this blog is more about my personal passions than an advertisement for FMT Systems, I have been challenged regarding a context for talking about our monthly Webinar.

Enough grousing!

Strangely the idea for Ask Us Anything (AUA) came from the Marketing Director and I talking about giving back to a community that had given our organization so much support. In addition, we wanted to participate in helping the Oracle community as a whole learn more about business process and what it means to be a process focussed organization. This seemed especially important given Oracle's SOA Suite of applications and its focus on its Fusion products.

To single out a few of our esteemed AUA presenters might sound like favoritism or an advertising ploy (FMT's Marketing Director would love it though!). We've had numerous Subject Matter Experts present each month so that the momentum and attendance increase with each session. Instead, I want to send a blanket "Thank you!" to everyone who has participated in FMT's webinars. You know who you are. Further, your generosity and willingness to engage are very much appreciated.

I am also inclined to invite new presenters with cutting edge topics to reach out to our Marketing Director. If you have an interest in presenting a topic for AUA in 2011, contact her through aua at fmtsi dot com.

But more importantly, we want to share the knowledge that we have, with you. Of course, you may not tune in each month as some topics may not apply to you. But we do encourage you to keep an eye out for the invitations and Web site postings each month. Happenings in the business process and IT enabling worlds are numerous and frequent. AUA is a marvelous way to keep informed.

Please visit our events website or click immediate registration to join the September webinar. Now that I've made FMT's Marketing Department happy, I'll be talking about an issue related to team dynamics tomorrow.

03 September 2010

Ideas, Innovation and Implementation - Getting Things Done Better Faster

If we're not getting more better faster
then they are getting more better faster,
then we're getting less better
or more worse.

Tom Peters

Ideas are simply that, "Ideas." The key to success lies in effective implementation.

In most organizations, people find that their managers will put the NO in innovation, roadblocking their individual efforts to make improvements. Take this simple statistic as proof: A Sirota Survey of 2007 found that 85% of employees say their morale declines significantly after spending 6 months on the job. (And, 2007 were the good old days when it came to employee engagement and morale, it appears.)

A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world. And there are broad issues of employee engagement and morale operating in most organizations these days. So it would seem obvious that there are some leverage points in the workplace that we can use effectively to improve how things are working.

The real key is the successful implementation of ideas, either from the view of the entrepreneur or the manager looking to improve performance. It is a tool for employee engagement as well as a way to improve performance and profits.

For almost 20 years, I have been using a simple cartoon to describe how organizations really work -- it is an inkblot for leading discussions as well as a metaphor for how things tend to roll along.

Consider that we are using a wooden wagon. A leader is pulling with a rope and people are behind the wagon, pushing it forward. It is rolling along on wooden Square Wheels, but with a cargo of round rubber tires.


Someone said, “Those who do have no clue. Those who lead miss the need.” I think that describes the reality – the view at the back of the wagon (boards and hands) is different than the view at the front. The hands-on people KNOW that things are not working smoothly but have no ability to make the changes. The wagon puller is focused on meeting current goals and there is little time to stop and chat.

The round wheels already exist. In most organizations, the exemplary performers are already doing things differently and their sharing of best practices would be beneficial, if only we had the chance to stop, step back from the wagon, and discuss issues and opportunities.

I successful entrepreneurial businesses, you can see that the good idea(s) are shared with the people and that there is an engaged and involved workforce working to make those ideas a reality. This is the essence of entrepreneurial leadership, IMHO. It is really hard to go it alone, even when your idea is “most fabulous.” You need others to share the vision (and perspective) and to have a sense of ownership and involvement to generate the motivation and peer support to succeed.

Last key point: Nobody ever washes a rental car.

Without a sense of ownership involvement, it is not likely that people will be motivated, and thus the many issues around implementation and rollout of those good ideas will be roadblocks instead of challenges.

The Round Wheels of Today, are the Square Wheels of Tomorrow.


There will always be opportunities for people to implement and sell better ways of getting things done and improving performance. It is really about wheels and about people…

so, "Don’t Just DO Something, Stand There!"

Step back from your wagon, scan the issues, and look for things that could be done differently. Then, involve and engage others in discussions about how to do things differently and how to implement these ideas.

A special thanks goes to Scott Simmerman of Performance Management Company for preparing this post.

See more on this at http://www.squarewheels.com/ and see toolkits of illustrations at http://www.PerformanceManagementCompany.com

For the FUN of it!

Square Wheels® is a registered servicemark of Performance Management Company, ©Performance Management Company, 1993

27 August 2010

Cassandra's Dilemma

I had a visit from Cassandra my 20 year old daughter this week. She and some friends stopped by our house during their journey from New York to Asheville. They were in New York to visit friends and perform. Her friends are street musicians and Cassie is a costume designer who also performs as a living statue. If you aren't familiar with living statues as performance art, go to Flickr and enter "human statue" in the search box. Some of the performers, including Cassie I might add, are very creative in their presentations.

Many folks are content to watch human statues for a bit and move on. Occasionally, people do take photographs. As part of her performance, Cassie requests donations from folks who want to take photographs. She even has a small sign explaining this.

While she was visiting, Cassie told us about her experiences performing in New York and some of its subway stations. She regaled us with stories of people's various reactions to her performances. After several stories, she paused and said that she wanted advice about something that happened during one of her performances. It seems that a passerby saw her and wanted to take a photograph. Upon photographing her image, the passerby dropped a dollar and a note into Cassie's collection box. The note said, "I feel cheated. I paid $1 for roughly a minute. My job requires that I work 7.5 minutes to earn $1. Here is my address so that you can send me a refund of 95 cents." Cassie showed me the note written on a small yellow piece of sticky paper, and yes, an address was there.

Cassie's dilemma was, although she was deeply offended, that she wanted to respond to this person about the realities of her work without sounding hostile or condescending. Needless to say, I was very proud of her mature approach to the matter, but also unsure about how I could help her with this.

Her father told her a story about living in San Francisco and walking back to work from lunch one day when a man approached him and said, "I want you to give me a million bucks!" My husband stopped suddenly and asked the man to repeat what he said as he couldn't believe what he heard. The man repeated his demand and added, "Well, if I had just asked you for a couple of bucks, you would have ignored me!" My husband started laughing while agreeing with the truth of the man's statement. Then he reached into his wallet, gave the man $2, and said, "You made me laugh and that is valuable. I don't get to laugh often enough. Laughter is definitely worth $2!"

As a business process professional and manager of a consulting organization, I am constantly talking to our administrative and consulting staff, as well as clients, about good customer experiences. Without customers, or in Cassie's situation - an audience, we have no work and no revenue. As a business it is vitally important that your customers find it easy to work with your organization. A smart business person designs sales, delivery, and collections processes with that goal. Yet, every now and then, a customer comes along for whom those processes either don't work or aren't perceived as valuable. What then?

I suggested to Cassie that she write a short letter describing her creative process and the activities that comprise it. This approach came from the my own encounters with clients who didn't always understand what was actually involved when attempting to improve a business process so that it was more customer focussed.

Sometimes a description, or education, is necessary. Often an explanation resolves the issue. Occasionally, clarification falls on deaf ears.

My next suggestion was that she refund the 95 cents and think about how this encounter might be avoided. I also asked her to think about whether or not her negative experience with the passerby was significant enough to move her toward changing how she delivers her performances or requests donations.

Why? Her unhappy customer already told her how the situation could be resolved satisfactorily. When a discontented customer/client indicates what it will take to rectify an unsatisfactory interaction, a smart businessperson does what the customer wants. In addition, the entire interaction needs review as a lesson learned to determine what, if any, changes should be made to the business model, its associated processes, and accompanying business rules.

I knew a managerial accounting professor who used to tell his students at the start of each semester, "Cash is god!" My view is, "Customers are Titans!"

14 June 2010

Making Amends and Right Actions

In Roy Osing's 10 June post of his BE DIFFERENT or be dead Blog, he talks about the importance of apologies when working with customers.

I couldn't agree more.

If you are interested in a process for using a mistake as a growth opportunity, look at Harvard Business Review's Best Practices Blog post by Amy Gallo.

One of the many facts of being human is that we are fallible. If your organization is very lucky, it may go for several years in a customer relationship without having any missteps. However, for most of us, mistakes happen and apologies along with course corrections are in order.

What I didn't see in either blog post was that although customers appreciate and value transparency and apologies, you can't assume that they necessarily will forgive you - some will and some won't.

For those customers who are forgiving, recognize that you will work twice as hard and twice as long to regain their trust.

For those customers who are unforgiving, you still need to ensure that your course correction exceeds their expectations. Why? Because it's the right action to take. When you leave, you do so with dignity knowing that you did your best to do the right thing for your (soon to be ex) customer.

What have you done to regain a customer's trust? Or what did you do when your customer wouldn't forgive a mistake?