One of My First (and Most Memorable) Business Lessons

Shortly after leaving university and joining 1-800-GOT-JUNK? the company welcomed a new leader to my department, the call centre.

This leader’s name was Patrick Louis.

Michel Falcon (Left) & Patrick Louis (Right) in Toronto, ON

The 1-800-GOT-JUNK? call centre consisted of a team of 100 call centre agents (not all scheduled at the same time) answering 1,000,000 calls per year (if my memory serves me correctly). 

The Scenario

When Patrick came into the company he inherited a team of young individuals. A few people were making $100,000 per year as call centre professionals. If you know anything about the call centre industry, this is extraordinarily unusual.

The company was and still is great! This description isn’t a bash on the organization, it’s a description of the reality at the time. This is likely why Patrick, a seasoned professional was brought into the company.

During my first year, many of my peers and I called in sick regularly. We performed well as a team but we often operated outside of the guidelines put forth to us, and likely made the life of our Workforce Management Team (WFM) very difficult. The WFM team is responsible for scheduling agents in the call center to ensure there was enough coverage to answer 80%+ of calls within 20 seconds.

To summarize, Patrick had a few challenges ahead of him:

  • The profit and loss statement of the call centre was likely in the red because wages weren’t sustainable.
  • Some (maybe most) of his inherited team didn’t have many responsibilities outside of paying rent and earning money for the bar.
  • He needed to find a solution, fast. This key department within a recognizable company couldn’t keep operating this way. 

Patrick’s Solution

Now, let me tell you something…I was one of those agents that called in sick when I wasn’t. 

Sorry, Patrick! I hadn’t fully matured yet.

But, aside from that, I think I was one of the better agents (this was before transitioning to the operations side of the company). I paid attention to the changes that were happening and when I didn’t understand why changes were happening, I’d ask Patrick to tell me directly so I could learn.

Since I left business school to learn how to grow a company and make operational decisions – this was my real-world MBA. I knew I had to pay attention and acquire wisdom.

These are some of the changes I witnessed and their cause and effect:

He Changed The Pay Structure 

Before his arrival, we were largely (and generously) paid on commission with a modest hourly rate. Receiving a loan from the bank with this proof of income wasn’t very likely. He changed the compensation plan so that our commissions were dissolved but had an opportunity to earn a very nice hourly wage, which financial institutions would favour for loans. There were other opportunities to earn more income by way of sales contests but not direct commissions. Not only did this save the company money, but we also performed better as a department!

He Changed the Employee Profile

Before Patrick’s leadership, we were largely a team of 20-25 year-olds. He had the experience to recognize that the company needed a team of people with true responsibilities other than buying beer. These individuals needed to come to work every day to pay their mortgage, support their children and other things that held high value. This new demographic of team members rid the call centre of the absenteeism issue it previously struggled with.

I can’t tell you firsthand how long Patrick conceptualized the plan but it appeared to happen after attentively observing then following up swiftly. Naturally, there was an objection from tenured employees.

Mostly from the individuals who were used to making six figures (or close to). I remember peers of mine requesting one-on-one meetings with Patrick to voice their displeasure. 

Although Patrick’s decision was unpopular, he always stood by it. 

I shared this story with my girlfriend, Sophia. She hung onto every word because she was fascinated by the example of leadership and making tough decisions. As I shared this story with Sophia it reminded me of something I’ve always known…

…1-800-GOT-JUNK? really was my real-world MBA. Scenarios and case studies like this may be taught in business school but it’s not comparable to watching it play out right before your eyes.

The Lesson

Patrick must have known that this major change, one that would impact individuals’ bank accounts (a sensitive topic), would cause some of his team members to quit. But, the decision needed to be made.

I learned to measure risk, think of contingency plans, how to make swift decisions and stay the course.

Are you interested in improving your company culture, employee engagement, and customer experience? If so, my online course, Team Operating System, may be your solution.

Click this link to book a call with me directly to learn if the course is right for you and your company.

HOW TO BALANCE SALES AND CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE & MORE FT. NICK DINARDO

In this episode, I sit down with VP of Salesforce Sales Nick DiNardo.

Here’s What You’ll Learn:

  1. How to Increase Employee Engagement Amongst Remote Teams
  2. Customer Experience and On-Boarding New Clients
  3. How To Balance Sales and Customer Experience

DON’T FORGET! I HAVE NOT BEEN PREPPED ON ANY OF THE QUESTIONS ON MY BREAKING IT DOWN EPISODES.

My answers are honest, genuine and true.

Are you interested in improving your company culture, employee engagement, and customer experience? If so, my online course, Team Operating System, may be your solution.

Click this link to book a call with me directly to learn if the course is right for you and your company.

5 Ways to Know When Your Boss Is Targeting to Fire You (And What to Do About It)

You can feel it. Something is not right.

Your boss is acting…um, weird! 

They’re not the same as when you first interviewed with them. Or, they seemed like a great leader during the interview process, you built rapport during onboarding, you were doing well but then, all of a sudden, their behaviour towards you changed.

I know how this story goes down, not because I’ve been the leader that has targeted someone. Since operating michelfalcon.com, writing blog posts and producing videos, I’ve had many people ask for advice on how to manage a relationship with their manager.

More often than not, after they describe their leader’s behaviours and actions I sense that they are on the path to getting fired. 

Who knows, it very well could be warranted. 

But, whether it’s warranted or not, there is a certain way to coach, uplift, and lead and then there are the following five ways that will tell you that you’re being targeted. 

Not all hope is lost. You can turn this around if you follow the recommendations outlined in this blog post.

Please note, that I believe the five ways I will outline below are a cowardly way of managing someone. After all, someone’s livelihood and career is being played with if you were to lead this way. 

I’ve invited my friend Rhys Green to contribute the “and what to do about it” part of the blog post that we will call The Response.

rhys green, trailblaze partners, small business consultant
Above: Rhys Green, CEO and Co-Founder of TrailBlaze Partners

Rhys is CEO of Trailblaze Partners, a service operations consulting company based out of Vancouver BC. Before that he spent 10 years with 1-800-Got-Junk? leading teams and working on the operational challenges that come from fast growth.

They Cancel (or Don’t Show Up For) Recurring Meetings

I’ve never met a great leader that didn’t regularly meet with their direct reports. A leadership tactic that I learned during my time at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? was something called Goal Setting & Review (GS&R).

Every week, there would be a recurring scheduled meeting on the leader and team member’s calendar in perpetuity. For example, I remember when I reported into someone named Simon, our GS&R was scheduled for Tuesday at 1:00 pm (this was ten years ago, don’t ever tell me something you want me to forget because my memory is undefeated). As the title of the meeting suggests, during this time together we would review our goals and how we were trending toward them with other dialogue to support the meeting too.

Whether it’s a GS&R or some other regularly scheduled meeting, if your manager is continuously canceling or rescheduling your meeting then something is not right. If your leader responds with, 

“Oh, sorry. I’m so busy.”

Remember that everyone has the same hours in the day and that you make time for things that are important to you. These meetings are for your professional development which is why, if I was your leader, my hair would literally have to be on fire for me to cancel our time together.

I will kick it over to Rhys to share his best practices on how to manage if this is happening to you.

Rhys’ Recommendation

Direct and honest communication wins the war here. The next time you are able to get a one on one meeting with your leader, give them a heads up in advance that you’d like to talk about your professional development and performance. Use an I statement like “I feel like my development and performance aren’t important (replace this with however you actually feel about it) when you change or cancel my one-on-one meetings.” This should open up the opportunity to have a really good conversation about where you stand. 

Their Demeanor Changes

It seems like ages ago when you and your manager interviewed each other, it appeared you shared the same values, you even shared a laugh or two. During your onboarding, they seem very invested in you, your development and, ultimately, your well-being. Yes, that seems like 100 years ago.

RELATED: How to Stop Hiring Toxic Employees (a Lesson For Every Company)

Today, you noticed they rolled their eyes after you suggested a solution to a challenge the company was faced with.

They completely ignored your commentary during the off-site team meeting and moved the conversation in another direction.

They used to respond with “Yes, Emily I have a few minutes” when you would ask him a question. Now, they respond with “What!?”

These verbal cues should have you wondering if you have done something wrong or something that upset your manager.

Rhys’ Recommendation

I’d hit this one with empathy. It may not actually be you that has caused the change, but if it is you definitely want to know. I’m a big fan of the heads up, so give your leader the heads up that you want to have a conversation about how you’re working together. Start the conversation out by highlighting the behaviour change you’ve noticed (use examples) and asking if there is something going on that you’re not seeing. Are they having a hard time at home, is their leader giving them the gears? You’ll pretty quickly figure out what’s going on with this approach and it will serve to build the relationship by trying to understand. 

They Abruptly Start Micro Managing 

I’ve actually heard this before, 

“We needed to expedite their exit, so we caught them doing things wrong quickly.”

Damn! That’s malicious. That’s poor leadership! Those are a lot of things I don’t like.

Remember when you would go home and speak to your spouse or tell your friend that one of the reasons you loved your new job was because your manager didn’t breathe down your neck? You had the freedom to do great work! Sure, you made a mistake here and there but your leader would coach you and you learned from missteps.

RELATED: How to Fire An Employee (With Integrity)

Yeah, those days are over. Now, it seems like everything you do is received with criticism. You even were blamed for something you didn’t do. Your manager recognized the mistake but never apologized.

If these things are happening then it’s likely that your manager is targeting you. 

Rhys’ Recommendation

What a terrible feeling! One minute you feel like you’re crushing and have so much autonomy the next you can’t do anything right. For this one I’d over-communicate. If your boss is asking for an update once a day I’d give them two. While this could be that you are being targeted, it may also be just that your boss is stressed now, where they weren’t before and so their more natural behaviours are showing. Either way, more documentation will help you if you do end up getting terminated. 

They Exclude You From Decisions, Meetings and More

You used to be included in key decisions and meetings that impacted your department and company. You felt a sense of pride that your manager was entrusting you and valued your opinion.

But, all of a sudden, you stopped being included in these meetings. One day, you walked to the office kitchen area to refill your cup of coffee and noticed that a meeting that you’re regularly invited to is being hosted. You check your calendar on your phone to see if you happened to miss something on your calendar but, no, there’s nothing scheduled.

This is something I wouldn’t immediately concern yourself with because these meetings may now have an agenda that is too sensitive to be discussed with you right now. However, I would make note of this.

Rhys’ Recommendation

At your next one-on-one (assuming they’re still happening) just ask the question. Hey Boss, I saw the weekly management meeting happened without me this week, has something changed that I should know about? As with all of these remember there is often not an ulterior motive behind this type of change. Your boss could very easily have been trying to get you some time back in your day and save you from an irrelevant meeting. 

Your Responsibilities Start to Diminish

As the newest member of your company’s sales team, you listened attentively during training and sooner than later you started receiving inbound sales leads to manage. You even closed a few leads and other team members started to congratulate you. The better you did the more leads you were closing. You were doing very well! Sure, there were others doing better but they had been at the company for much longer.

Suddenly, the inbound leads you were getting or the marketing tasks you were ordinarily responsible for weren’t being assigned to you. At first, you ignored it but made note but now it seems like your days aren’t filled with as many responsibilities as they use to.

Something’s not right.

You can feel it in the pit of your stomach…

Rhys’ Recommendation

You’ll notice I generally like the direct communication route. This one is no different. Talk to your leader and let them know how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way. If you don’t find their answer to be genuine and reassuring, speak to HR or ask for a skip level. Changing your job significantly without you agreeing to it is a big deal and one you should address as soon as you notice. Follow up on your conversations in writing. 

The best course of action is always open communication, however, you should also be keeping your options open. Make sure you know what the market is for your skillset, who the top employers are and take note of when they’re hiring for someone like you. The impact of all of these behaviours on your mental state can be really damaging and it can be amplified if you feel like you don’t have an option to go somewhere else. There is always an option, it’s on you if you don’t know what it is and how to get it.

Are you interested in improving your company culture, employee engagement, and customer experience? If so, my online course, Team Operating System, may be your solution.

Click this link to book a call with me directly to learn if the course is right for you and your company.

THE FOUR GENERATIONS OF CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE: THE SOCIAL MEDIA ERA (3/4)

My third installment of The Four Generations of Customer Experience is here!

THE SOCIAL MEDIA ERA.

Find out how social media enabled consumers to RECLAIM the power they lost during the internet era and how it changed the way companies and brands interact with their customers.

Are you interested in improving your company culture, employee engagement, and customer experience? If so, my online course, Team Operating System, may be your solution.

Click this link to book a call with me directly to learn if the course is right for you and your company.

HOW TO SET GOALS WITH EMPLOYEES (AND ACHIEVE THEM) FT. SUNNY VERMA

BREAKING IT DOWN EPISODE 2 FT. Sunny Verma the CEO of TutorBright.

In Breaking It Down, I sit down with entrepreneurs and business executives to help them solve company culture, employee engagement and customer experience challenges in their organization.

I HAVE NOT BEEN PREPPED. What does this mean? My answers and solutions are honest, authentic and TRUE.

On this episode of Breaking it Down, Sunny and I tackle:

1️⃣How To Measure Your Company’s Culture

2️⃣How To Manage Turbulence In An Organization

3️⃣How To Set Annual Goals With Your Team

CLICK HERE FOR APPLE PODCAST VERSION.

Are you interested in improving your company culture, employee engagement, and customer experience? If so, my online course, Team Operating System, may be your solution.

Click this link to book a call with me directly to learn if the course is right for you and your company.

THE FOUR GENERATIONS OF CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE: THE INTERNET ERA (2/4)

The internet era has HURT customer experience. Find out WHY in my second installment of my four-part series that explores the best practices of “The 4 Generations of Customer Experience.”

Are you interested in improving your company culture, employee engagement, and customer experience?

Are you interested in improving your company culture, employee engagement, and customer experience? If so, my online course, Team Operating System, may be your solution.

Click this link to book a call with me directly to learn if the course is right for you and your company.

THE FOUR GENERATIONS OF CUSTOMER SERVICE: THE PRE-INTERNET ERA (1/4)

Delivering an excellent product is only HALF of the customer experience.

Check out the first installment of my 4 part series that explores the best practices of “The 4 Generations of Customer Service.”

This is something I’m going to be sharing within my keynotes and workshops in 2020!

Are you interested in improving your company culture, employee engagement, and customer experience? If so, my online course, Team Operating System, may be your solution.

Click this link to book a call with me directly to learn if the course is right for you and your company.

Customer Service Skills, Strategies, and Mindset For 2020

Before the end of the year, we spend time building our marketing plans, setting our operating budgets and creating strategic plans to drive our business forward.

One thing that I believe our companies and the public are getting better at, is understanding the importance of customer experience. Just look at all the content that is being created for customer experience improvement after a simple Google search.

As leaders of our businesses we need to do the following habitually in order to improve our customer experiences:

  • Make improving customer experience a priority, instead of a thought or idea. This means that it needs to be a part of our quarterly strategic plans. EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR.
  • Invest in customer experience strategy just like we do in branding initiatives like marketing and PR.
  • Continuously provide superior customer service skills education/workshops to ALL employees.

In thinking about the year to come, I’ve identified three customer service skills that I believe your employees can learn from. These are the same three customer service skills that I will be sharing with my team in 2020.

Customer Service Skill #1

Adopt The “Everyone is a Customer” Mentality

Here’s something I like to do with my team. Walk around your place of business, visit different departments, speak to three different employees and ask them,

“Who is our customer?”

Make note of what responses you hear. I’m confident that you’re going to hear three different variations.

The answer I expect is, “Everyone who interacts with our brand is a customer.”

Being in hospitality, it’s easy for our team to consider the guest who orders the $300.00 bottle of wine to be our #1 priority. But, for me, that’s not an authentic People-First Culture business.

If we truly want to be People-First then everyone, literally everyone, who interacts with our business needs to be served like they just ordered a top-shelf bottle of wine.

Here are some individuals who interact with our brands, that sometimes are neglected:

  • Your future employees when you’re interviewing them.
  • Your business vendors like uniform and seafood suppliers and bank and insurance representatives.
  • Your investors
  • The media
  • The government

Now, consider who interacts with these individuals. Often, companies only provide customer service training for their frontline employees like customer care professionals and sales team members. 

However, doesn’t your Purchasing Manager manage the relationship with your suppliers? Doesn’t your Controller manage the relationship with your bank and investors?

They do!

With this in mind, every single person on your payroll must receive customer experience training to ensure that everyone that interacts with your brand is provided an exceptional experience.

Starting with the right mindset and mentality will propel the other two customer service skills forward.

Customer Service Skill #2

Defensive to Offensive Customer Service (Switching Gears According to Customer Personality Types)

In my 2019 customer service skills post, I outlined three customer personality types we need to train our teams on, in order to deliver personalized experiences based on their preferences.

When delivering experiences from customer to customer, you need to ensure you don’t deliver the same experience to everyone the exact same way. I call this “switching gears.”

We need to teach our team members how to switch gears and go from defensive to offensive customer service. Defensive customer service requires active listening to understand what the customer’s goals are. Once that’s understood, then we switch gears and move into offensive customer service and act on what it is our customer’s desires are.

Balancing the two can be challenging. I have found that when we are fatigued our defensive mindset can grow thin. We become too concentrated on offensive customer service and go through the motions of doing just the bare minimum. This paralyzes us from being able to deliver personalized experiences for each customer’s personality type.

Customer Service Skill #3

Role Reversal

“I really don’t have the time for that.”

This is what an entrepreneur said to me when I suggested that if he really wanted to build a People-First culture and get closer to his customers and employees, he needed to sit and listen to calls in his call center.

What I was recommending wasn’t an exorbitant amount of time. I said once every two weeks for an hour or two. 

I outlined that this was a small fraction of his time to which he continued to suggest he didn’t know how he’d “fit it in.”

You see, he did have the time, he was just choosing to spend it somewhere else. 

After all, entrepreneurs and leaders, I admire like Neil Blumenthal from Warby Parker make it a priority to do this. And, I’d suggest it’s working. Neil and his team are building a multi-billion-dollar brand in a very competitive market.

Co-Founder/Co-CEO, Neil Blumenthal from Warby Parker in one of his call centers taking the time to understand his employees and their roles in the organization.

There are only a few reasons why a leader wouldn’t do something like this to get closer to their customers and employees to better the experience for them:

  1. They’ve never spent the time to really get connected with their frontline employees. This might be a bit too much, too soon.
  2. They pay lip service to be a People-First Culture leader.
  3. They think they are above this (this is the worst category to fall into).

This isn’t just for senior leaders. I believe all leaders, across all departments, should spend time every month with their customer care and frontline employees. Not only will they gain valuable insights, you will notice a spike in morale and a deeper connection between “the higher-ups” (I despise this term but using it here because it’s what your frontlines may be calling you) and the frontlines.

Make 2020 a pivotal year for you and your company. Will it be the year that you invest more in customer experience to gain market share, increase sales and profit? Or, will it continue to get the smaller piece of your operating budget? Investing in your people is an investment in your business. Give them the tools, training and customer experience skills they need to thrive!

Are you interested in improving your company culture, employee engagement, and customer experience? If so, my online course, Team Operating System, may be your solution.

Click this link to book a call with me directly to learn if the course is right for you and your company.

You Can’t Forcefully Increase Employee Engagement (BONUS: 3 Interview Questions Included)

Employee engagement strategies are one way that I’ve built my business and career. It’s also one of the topics that I regularly keynote speak about.

My three core focuses are employee engagement, customer experience and company culture strategies to grow a business. Like, actually grow a business. None of this “nice to have” stuff.

But, guess what…

I’m going to suggest something that may contradict what you think my beliefs are in growing a successful business. Please know that our company has nearly 200 employees so I’ve seen this firsthand.

How to Identify and Hire Engaged Employees

Okay, here’s my suggestion…

If you want high employee engagement, you can’t hire employees and expect to launch initiatives or strategies to increase their engagement. 

Instead, you must hire engaged professionals and maintain their motivation throughout their tenure with your company.

In other words, you need to find people who are naturally engaged in nearly everything that they do in their professional and personal lives.

You see, some people are natural self-starters. It appears that they excel in everything that they commit to whether they are experienced in the topic or not. These same professionals apply and teach themselves to get better.

How To Maintain Employee Engagement

One of our core values as a company is “ownership.” We want all our team members to take ownership of the guest experience and their professional development. This helps us maintain high employee engagement.

Take Melissa Smilie as an example. 

people first culture employee, increase employee engagement, how to increase employee engagement, people first culture hiring strategy, people first culture strategy
Michel Falcon and Melissa Smilie, a People-First Culture hire.

Melissa joined our company as a server at one of our venues and today she is a key member of our marketing team. When I first met Melissa, when she was a part of our serving team, she said her goal was to pursue a career in marketing within our company. My business partner Brandon and I made a note of this and when an opportunity opened up, Melissa applied for the position and won us over.

But, Melissa didn’t simply get awarded the position because she showed interest and was already working for us. She earned it because I could see that while she was serving she was also investing time and energy into sharpening her marketing knowledge. Even today, after securing the position, she continues to invest in her education by reading marketing articles and listening to podcasts.

You see, I don’t need to increase her employee engagement. She is already engaged! My responsibility is to maintain it. I do this by frequently forwarding her interesting marketing knowledge that I read and touching base with her regularly to ensure that she has everything she needs to succeed.

Another one of our core values as a company is “foresight.” I need to have the foresight to continuously touch base with Melissa to measure her levels of engagement. I’m not going to suggest that Melissa will never become disengaged but I’m confident that I will know before it impacts her and our company.

Warning Signs of A Disengaged Employee

Some warning signs of employees who are beginning to become disengaged are:

  • Their participation in meetings
  • Their quality of work
  • Their response times to emails
  • Their temperament 
  • Their adherence to schedule and timelines

On the other hand, there are individuals who can have their employee engagement experience ebbs and flows. For example, if you manage a sales team, you can run sales contests and experience high levels of employee engagement because the team wants to win the prize.

But, what happens when the contest is over?

It’s likely that some individuals on your sales team will continue with high engagement (these are the Melissa’s of your organization) but it’s equally as likely that some, maybe most, of your team will experience a dip in their engagement.

Prizes, incentives, and contests can only increase employee engagement for short periods of time.

If you want to find professionals who naturally have high employee engagement, I would recommend evaluating your interview process. It’s likely that you’re not spending enough time probing for this habit.

The Interview Process

In our interview process, I like to probe for it during the phone interview (a time when we ask a handful of questions), culture and skillset interviews. 

These are three different interviews in our People-First Culture interview pyramid. Below is an image of our entire process that has helped us experience an employee retention rate 2.5x higher than the hospitality industry average.

increase employee engagement, increase employee retention, people first culture strategy, people first culture interview strategy, people first culture diagram
People First Culture Proven Hiring Strategy

By probing for it regularly, throughout the interview process, it’s very likely you’ll be able to understand if this individual will have high employee engagement because it’s hard to fake it over three consecutive interviews.

Ask interview questions not only related to their career but their personal lives too. Here are a few questions I like to ask to probe for potential high employee engagement:

  • In regards to the role you have applied for, what is going to motivate you to bring your whole self to work every day?
  • How did your last manager or coach motivate you best?
  • Can you tell me of a time in your personal life when you started something that was foreign to you which became a skill set you’re using today? 

These are a snapshot of questions I like to ask while probing for potential employee engagement with the candidate.

I’ve spoken to a countless amount of entrepreneurs and professionals, just like you. A common theme that I’m hearing is that they are trying to figure out their employee behaviours and motivations. 

As we bring 2019 to a close, now is a perfect time to reevaluate our approach to employee engagement.

Are you interested in improving your company culture, employee engagement, and customer experience? If so, my online course, Team Operating System, may be your solution.

Click this link to book a call with me directly to learn if the course is right for you and your company.

What is the 3P Strategy?

PURPOSE, PROCESS, AND PROFIT.

My 3-P strategy was developed to ensure businesses (including my own) are not just successful for a few weeks, months or years, but that they are successful for DECADES to come.

Watch this short video if you want to learn how your businesses can THRIVE for decades as well.

Want more tips like this?

Check out one of my other quick videos like What is People First Culture for tips on company culture, employee engagement, and customer experience or follow me on LinkedIn for exclusive business insights.