Books & Articles

Is It Lack of Job Skills or Lack of Jobs?

As published on

Is there a lack of jobs out there, or a lack of skills and training to fill the jobs that are available? A new book co-written by my friend and co-author, Henry DeVries, claims there are plenty of jobs, if you have the right skills and training. The book is called Closing America's Job Gap.It is available for pre-sale next week; due to be published in January. I think the book is terrific. I provided a little data for the book from my experiences doing research on the Workforce Investment Act. The main premise of the book is that even though unemployment stands at or near 10%, there are jobs available. There is just a lack of skilled and trained workers. With math and science skills declining in America's workforce, the workers and the jobs just aren't matching up too well.

If you are a potential employer or a job seeker, you should read this book! Please add to the comments on Barnes& or about the book, even if the comments are brief and merely about anticipation, as the pre-sale starts next week and I'd like to help Henry develop some "buzz" about the book.

Now, does your employer encourage or discourage social networking activity at work? We have all heard of companies that actually encourage it, and have experienced success. PetCo, for example, has become a preferred commentator in the world of social networking by contributing and hosting helpful conversations about pets. I'm sure that does not hurt their business. In the cartoon referenced here, Dogbert winds up giving a promotion to an employee who "wasted" all his time at work on social networking. He was given the job of being the new Marketing exec. Other companies punish employees for such activities.

What do you think? Is spending a little time building your presence on social networks at work worthwhile? What limitations should there be? How should this be monitored?

Chris Stiehl


Is Survey Data Always Relevant or Good?

originally published on

Obviously, if you are fielding a customer satisfaction survey, you want to have good questions. However, some companies have stopped fielding surveys. They are flying blind. Why? Management claimed that they were spending a lot of money to find out that the numbers never changed! Of course, they had not executed the necessary improvements to change the numbers. More importantly, they had not used customer data to develop the questions!

If the questions were written by engineers and market researchers without consulting customers, how relevant are they? It could be that the company referenced in the previous paragraph would be getting more information, more actionable information, if they had good questions, relevant questions.

We talked in a previous posting about how many businesses that changed brands on a product, do so because of poor customer service, having nothing to do with the performance of the product. Does your survey ask about non-product performance? Shouldn't it?

As Dilbert says above, how relevant is your data? Are your questions important to customers?

If you need help developing a survey that reflects the Voice of the Customer for your customers, give us a call at StiehlWorks (619-516-2864).

What do you think, is the expense of executing customer satisfaction surveys a good investment? Is the data worth the cost?


Chris Stiehl


Treat Your Sales Staff Like Customers

originally published on

Start a Trend: Treat Your Sales Staff Like Customers

Have you ever thought of your sales staff as customers? Henry Ford thought of his employees as customers for his cars. He wanted to pay them enough and charge the buyers so little that his employees could afford to buy the cars that they made. I think we should go even further with the sales staff: We should literally treat them as customers of their company's management. If that's not something more and more businesses recognize in the coming year, it should be.

Many salespeople are incented to sell. They often make a percentage of their income based upon how well they do in sales. A recent Dilbert cartoon strip focused on strategies for selling without a sales staff. The pointy-haired boss thought he could reduce headcount by eliminating sales but needed marketing to find a way to get customers to select their products, pay for them and pick them up at the warehouse. Obviously, a sales staff is needed to meet customers' needs.

Some companies have taken the idea of treating sales staff like customers to heart. As I wrote in Find Out What the Customer Wants, First, there are benefits to following a robust process for developing customer-centric products and services (see the figure below). What we have done in these companies is to follow the same process for developing ideas to improve the performance of sales staff.

Figure 1: The customer-driven improvement model

One company that followed this system makes such high-tech hardware products as flow meters. First, we conducted a detailed "Voice of the Sales Person" study. Management had assumed that the salespeople would want more perks, more money and more time off. In fact, most of the wants, needs and pains that were described had to do with reducing roadblocks that get in the way of doing a good job: excess paperwork and reports put in place by management, travel restrictions and lack of up-to-date sales tools.

Wants and needs
Twenty salespeople from around the world were interviewed one-on-one, as is commonly recommended in "Voice of the Customer" studies. After we had generated a list of 75 specific wants and needs from these interviews, we had—in the language of the salespeople—a focus group of salespeople organize and categorize the needs. They created 16 categories of wants and needs. These represented their major ideas for describing the ideal salesperson experience in this company. 

A team of sales managers and salespeople met to construct a set of internal metrics to predict success with the 16 categories. For example, the "amount of time required to generate reports" back to the home office was seen as a metric linked to sales employee satisfaction. The salespeople wanted this metric to be reduced, so they could spend more time and effort selling. Another example was the ability to link information between different sales tools. Some of the tools required the salesperson to enter customer information multiple times in different tracking tools. Team members felt that this was wasted time and effort that had nothing to do with sales success. The metric used was a subset of the previous metric, namely, "time required to enter customer identification and sales data in sales tools."

‘In a very real sense, the sales employees wrote the employee satisfaction survey.’

Twenty metrics were generated to link to the categories of salesperson wants and needs. These metrics were used to generate a salesperson employee satisfaction survey. In a very real sense, the sales employees wrote the employee satisfaction survey; the questions were derived from the categories they had created. In this way, the survey was telling managers what sales employees wanted to say, rather than what management might have asked. The sales staff worldwide was surveyed to determine how well people felt they were supported by the company. Nearly everyone responded, as they recognized that the issues in the survey were their issues, phrased in their language.

The employee team then related the internal predictive metrics and survey data to the categories of wants and needs through a process known as Quality Function Deployment (the most powerful metrics are those than can affect several needs rather than just one).

The internal predictive metrics and survey results were used to generate strategies for improving sales success and evaluated. The survey was implemented again, several months later. In this company, several key strategies emerged that led to a tremendous reduction in the time required to track and report sales progress. The sales tools were integrated and updated.

The result was a 25 percent increase in sales without hiring additional salespeople! A robust system of metrics, surveys and analysis had been created that could be perpetuated. Employee satisfaction improved significantly, as the sales staff felt that management was listening to them and being responsive.

Company executives had learned how to treat their sales force as customers of management and management decisions. Management saw that treating salespeople like customers resulted in better service to the customers and higher customer satisfaction scores.

Treating the sales staff as customers of management and management systems resulted in increased revenue and profits for the company, as well. And that is the mission of the sales staff, isn't it?

Chris Stiehl


originally published on

Find Out What the Customer Wants, First

In the early 1990s, while working on the new car designs at Cadillac Motor Car Co., I found that our customers had a different reaction to scratches and wrinkles in the leather than we did. We had thought these were "defects." Customers, however, were wary of "perfect" leather, without "natural markings" and thought it might be fake. Our leather had no scratches or wrinkles, but it did have a plastic coating that covered up the smell of tanning agents. It also removed the supple feel of the leather. Thus, in removing "natural markings" to please customers, we had actually spent extra money displeasing them. A small investment in market research enabled us to turn this situation around and develop standards for leather for Cadillac, contributing to our winning the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

The key learning point from this example was that a disciplined approach to listening to customers and translating their wants and needs into products and services was the basis for managing the customer relationship.

How do you document what the customer wants and make sure that those desires remain the focus of your customer service efforts?

An engineer and researcher in Fortune 500 companies for more than 25 years and a consultant for 10 years, over the past 20 years, I developed a disciplined process for making sure the products and services that are delivered accurately reflect the wishes of the customers throughout their relationship with the company. I call it the Customer-Driven Improvement Model. Dozens of companies have adopted this process with great success.

Many companies say they are customer-driven, particularly with respect to customer service but do not have a disciplined process such as this one to document how the Voice of the Customer is incorporated into their work and internal metrics.

The process begins with a formal collection of the Voice of the Customer (which may be internal customers, external customers, fellow employees or association members). To do this, we usually conduct one-on-one interviews, rather than hold focus groups. Because the research is qualitative, the number of customers who make a specific request is not very important, but the depth of the research is.

In focus groups, a moderator typically asks the same questions in the same order, and the responses can be dominated by specific individuals. A one-on-one interview should be unique, discussing that particular customer's relationship needs and his or her passions.

This Qualitative Research is used to develop corresponding Internal Predictive Measures. These internal metrics are linked to what customers are looking for from the company. They provide a basis for internally managing service according to the customers' wishes.

Internal metrics
How would you know if your customers' needs were being met, before surveying them to find out what those needs were? Your internal metrics should tell you. 

We translate the Voice of the Customer into survey questions that customers like to answer, because the questions are based upon the customers' thoughts and ideas. This produces external data, which is used merely to check on the accuracy of the internal relationship metrics. You should never be surprised by a survey result.

Finally, all of the internal and external data is combined to direct improvement to the places that can have the maximum impact on the customer relationship—in other words, where you achieve the "biggest bang for the buck." (Note: This process is often called Quality Function Deployment or the House of Quality; see the May-June 1988 edition of the Harvard Business Review, reprint No. 88307).

Here's a specific illustration. A movie theater owner hired me to conduct research to learn how customers decided what theater to attend. Customers confronted with a choice of theaters showing the same movie, often select the theater based upon who has the freshest popcorn (that's the Voice of the Customer).

We coached the theater owner to measure how long the popcorn remained in the bin before it was sold (the predictive internal measure). We then surveyed his customers and his competitor's customers to discover the customer preference (an external measure). Finally, we decided to pop popcorn in smaller batches, more often (process improvement).

The result was more popcorn sold, less popcorn thrown away, greater attendance and greater profits! In this case, managing the customer relationship properly not only increased sales and profits but also reduced costs.

The same techniques work well in business-to-business relationships. How many of your internal metrics can be linked directly to customer needs? How many of them result in behaviors by your staff that are counterproductive? For example, if you measure "call volume" at your call center, your customer service agents can wind up making customers feel rushed and dissatisfied while they try to hurry to the next call. The result is dissatisfied customers back in the queue waiting to have their issues dealt with properly.

Check the health of your internal metrics, and make sure they lead to the results you desire with respect to relationship management. It takes a disciplined approach to make sure the "Voice" of your customers is deployed properly in your organization's customer relationships.


Chris Stiehl


The Best Executives...Listen!

originally published on

The key to the success of any executive is the ability to listen and translate what he or she hears into action. People are in pain. Both your customers and your employees hope that you will hear them and understand their pain. Listening is not always easy. It takes practice and rehearsal. Market intelligence can provide the background, but you need to learn active listening skills, and practice them, in order to succeed as an executive.

Psychologists and sociologists have repeated found that people (your employees and your customers) are more motivated to avoid pain than to seek pleasure. Stanford University researchers (Knutson, et al, Neuron Magazine, January 2007) investigated how people were motivated to buy products. These researchers found that the customers were trading off the hoped for gain with the immediate pain of the price. These two emotions were located in different parts of the brain, but were rationalized to allow the purchase decision.  Many examples of this type of logic exist in marketing and advertising: “Here’s to the road warriors with spines of steel and delicate backs” (Courtyard by Marriott), “Is your cholesterol out of whack” (Crestor by AstraZeneca), and “Unburden your back” (Kensington Notebook Computer by Toshiba).

The secret is to turn the pain of your customers into your gain. Ask yourself, do you really understand the problems of your prospects, customers, employees and boss, or do you just think you know? Each of these groups experiences their own frustrations and pains. So, what is the secret of learning what their pains are and how to solve them? Learn how to listen!

Start by asking about their ideal business partner, or ideal employee, or ideal boss. Then, listen for their passion and pain. Listen carefully to the exact words that they use. Don’t translate into company jargon. Use their language.

Probe for their pain, but listen for their description of what would be their ideal. Here are a few example questions that you may want to use with a customer:

  1. Describe for me the “ideal” experience with a ______ (your product or service). How do most companies compare with this ideal? How do we compare?
  2. Describe for me a recent time that where the experience was less than ideal?
  3. What is the biggest pain about working with a ______ (your product or service)?
  4. In what ways can working with a ______ (your product or service) cost you besides money (time, hassle, effort, etc.)?
  5. How does working with a ______ (your product or service) help you make money?

There are more generic questions like this that you could ask (see Pain Killer Marketing, W Business Books, 2008). The idea is to probe for their passion. What are they interested in talking about? The same technique could be used with employees, though the questions might be altered. What are their pains and concerns? What would an ideal job in your organization look like? What do the employees need to do a better job?

Active listening is the skill that you need to execute this type of questioning. Active listening involves participating with the customer in the interview. When you have heard them, summarize what you have heard to make sure you have heard correctly. As Tom Peters described (Thriving on Chaos, Harper, 1991), “Listening to customers must become everybody’s business. With most competitors moving ever faster, the race will go to those who listen (and respond) most intently.”

Have you learned how to listen to customers with an objective ear? Do you understand the pains your customers have experienced? The most frequently cited reason for product and service failures is a lack of understanding of the marketplace. When employees are asked about their executives, they value the executive who knows them and understands them – the executive who listens. The executive who understands his or her market, customers, colleagues and employees is indispensible.

Executives are often trapped in “thinking silos,” where they keep thinking about engineering, marketing, sales, production, research, product design and support as disconnected. The result of this thinking is, of course, that these areas become disconnected. What can connect them? Without a customer, none of these silos exist.

Learning how to listen to customers and take action on their pain is not just the purview of marketing and marketing research. It is everybody’s job, as Tom Peters described above. This is the common bond across silos: What does the customer want? What is the customer’s pain? Few executives succeed for long without a complete understanding of the customers and the market (The PIMS Principles, Buzzell and Gale, The Free Press, 1987).

By Chris Stiehl

Does Higher Customer Satisfaction Always Mean More Sales?

Posted by Chris Stiehl on April 16, 2011 on

 0 comments  |  2528 reads

In brief, the answer is “No!” – You must do more than merely drive customer satisfaction scores up. As an illustration, consider the Cadillac Brougham of the 1980s. The design of this automobile had virtually no changes from 1978 through 1992. During most of those years, I was working at Cadillac. The result? The people who loved that car kept buying it, through several lifetimes of automobiles (typically 2 to 5 years of ownership). They tended to be very loyal. During that ten-year plus span of time, the average Cadillac buyer aged almost ten years as well. Customer satisfaction was going up for this car. Those who lived long enough bought several and loved each one. However, sales went down!

We were experiencing a diminishing, perhaps dying (literally) market of customers who loved our product. Thus, despite the notion that satisfying customers leads to increased sales, it is not merely the driving up of the scores that delivers sales. You must also have exciting products that attract and please new customers as well. By the time the Brougham was significantly altered, many of the original target market had died. It had been 14 years. Even though these buyers loved that car, we needed to attract a new audience to maintain or increase sales.

Thus, increasing customer satisfaction scores is not enough. Remember, these scores come after the fact, sometimes one or more years after purchase. They can testify to the initial purchase process and design, as well as customer service. However, what you want is increasing scores AND increasing sales. This necessarily means product enhancements and service enhancements to attract and satisfy new customers, with new “pains.”

Have you experienced the phenomenon of increased customer satisfaction and decreasing sales?

Chris Stiehl


How Cadillac Cows Inspired a Marketing Guru

originally published on

The leather used to upholster the U.S. standard luxury car, the Cadillac, had just received sub-par reviews in a survey by JD Powers, despite the fact that GM was taking painful steps to use the best leather in the market. Execs at GM were puzzled; the brand had the most expensive leather among its competitors and “Cadillac cows” were distinguished by not having any scratches, fly bites, neck wrinkles or other so-called imperfections that plague heifers destined to become automotive interiors.

Treat Your Salespeople Like Customers!

originally published on

Your salespeople need to have access to a lot of key information to be able to sell. Shouldn't you treat them at least as well as you treat your customers? In this article, examples are discussed of companies that do this well and reap the sales success that results.