You Just Can’t Fake It

copy-of-susan_headshot4 With thanks to Bruce Temkin for The 6 Laws of Customer Experience: The Fundamental Truths that Define How Organizations Treat Customers , this essay looks at telling the truth to all your Toastmasters club members and prospective members all the time. In a word, it’s about transparency.

You can fool some people for some of the time, but most people can eventually tell what’s real and what’s not. Club members can sense if their happiness is not really a top priority with the executive team (Sergeant at Arms, Secretary, Treasurer, VP/Public Relations, VP/Membership, VP/Education, President. )

Second, no matter how much money, time and effort you spend on advertising, you can’t convince potential members that you provide better experiences for them than you do. They will discover exactly what your club is like on their first visit.

Here are some suggestions.

Don’t hide behind a 4th priority. While it’s possible to come up with a long list of priorities, there’s no way that many will get a great deal of attention. Anything below your 3rd priority is absolutely not a priority at all.  Make your club members’  experiences one of your top three priorities.

Sometimes it’s better not to start. If you’re not committed to excellence in member experience, then don’t start a major initiative; it’s a lot of hard work. And if member experience isn’t a top priority, then your club will likely fail. Frustrated club members will be increasingly reluctant to re-engage in membership retention and building in the future.

Advertise to reinforce, not to create positioning.  Since members ultimately know how you treat them, the best you can do with marketing is to reinforce the truth. If you want to change how you are perceived, then start by treating your members better. Then use advertising to reinforce the new way that they’re being treated. Talk about how individual members succeed and how they perceive those successes.

IF YOU ARE  NOT COMMITTED TO EXCELLENCE IN MEMBER EXPERIENCE, YOU CAN ONLY FOOL YOURSELF.

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Members Do What Is Measured, Incented, and Celebrated

copy-of-susan_headshot With gratitude to Bruce Temkin for The 6 Laws of Customer Experience: The Fundamental Truths that Define How Organizations Treat Customers , this fifth of six essays now looks at the importance of measuring, incenting and celebrating positive actions that lead to healthy Toastmasters clubs.

Soclub officers and/or Area Governors struggle to understand why  clubs don’t deliver better experiences to each other and to potential members. But it shouldn’t be such a big mystery. It’s all about how club officers deal with members and with each other.  Members tend to conform to the environment that they’re in. What are the key elements to the club environs? The metrics that are tracked, the activities that are rewarded, and the actions that are celebrated. These three items collectively drive how members behave and how they ultimately treat each other —- and potential members.

Here are some suggestions:

Don’t expect members to do the “right thing.” While members may want to treat each other and potential members well, you can’t just expect them to do it. Why not? Because club officers and, very often District officers  want club members to do a lot of things. But they often fail to link behaviors to  measurements, incentives, and celebrations . So without any explicit intervention on behalf of new members — or even longer-term member experience, the environment will push members to focus on just about anything except member experience.

Clearly define good behavior. To do that, define and describe the types of behavior that you want from members. Do you want  members to strive earnestly to meet the written requirements of the manual(s) they are working in? Or do you want them simply to get through exercises so they can contribute to Distinguished Club Plan goals? Measurements, incentives, and celebrations should be adjusted to reinforce those behaviors.

Watch out for mixed messages. You can only get consistent behaviors from members when all three levers (measurements, incentives, and celebrations) are working together. If you celebrate things that are different than what you measure, for instance, then members aren’t sure which signals to follow.

DON’T BLAME MEMBERS. FIX THE ENVIRONMENT.

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Unengaged Members don’t Help keep or Bring in more Engaged Members

copy-of-susan_headshot4 With gratitude to Bruce Temkin for The 6 Laws of Customer Experience: The Fundamental Truths that Define How Organizations Treat Customers , this fourth of six essays now looks at the importance of keeping members engaged in their Toastmasters experience.

If you want to improve member experience, then it might seem obvious that you should focus on both current and prospective members.   You cannot sustain great members experience unless everyone else is bought in to what you’re doing and are aligned with the effort. If members have low morale, then getting them to “wow” potential members will be nearly impossible.

As Walt Disney said, “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”

Don’t under-estimate the value of training both in your club and beyond.  You can’t just change some club conventions and processes and hope that members will be treated better. Just about any change to the experience a prospective member has requires some members to change what they do and how they do it.

Make it easy to do the right thing. If it’s hard for members to do something, then they are less likely to do it — and more likely to get frustrated.  Encourage the use of enabling technologies, such as posting partially-completed membership applications on your website.  Include your club name and number, your District number and city your club is in on the membership application form.  It’s a rare guest who knows your District number.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. If you want to have members feel like they’re a part of something, then you need to tell them what’s going on. So develop a robust communications plan that not only tells members what your club is doing, but also explains why you’re doing it. (This is a vital part of making the Distinguished Club Program work.)  Look for opportunities to catch people doing the right thing.

Find ways to celebrate. If members do things that helpother members and bring in more members, then celebrate those actions. Thank that special helpful member in front of the club—if the person is comfortable with such attention. With some people, a simple one-on-one “Thanks!” is all that is needed or wanted.

Measure member engagement. Clubs need to put the same rigor in monitoring member relationships that they do in monitoring members performance.  Progress in the Distinguished Club Plan is an excellent tool not only to measure overall club performance; it is also a rough guide to member satisfaction.

THE BOTTOM LINE: MEMBERSHIP RETENTION AND GROWTH  TOTALLY DEPENDS ON THE EXPERIENCE AND SATISFACTION OF CURRENT MEMBERS .

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Member Familiarity Breeds Alignment: Vice Presidents Membership, Take Note

copy-of-susan_headshot4 Today’s blog continues my earlier  Toastmasters view on Bruce Temkins’ Six Laws of Customer Experience — The Fundamental Truths that Define How Organizations Treat Customers. While Temkins wrote about commercial interactions with paying customers, much of what he said relates directly to the Toastmasters experience and the success of our organization.

Not many Toastmasters wake up in the morning and say “Today, I want to make life miserable for my fellow Toastmasters.” Yet every day,  members — from Plain Ordinary Toastmasters to club officers to District officers—make decisions or take actions that end up frustrating, annoying, or downright upsetting their fellow members. It can even be a decision or an action by an International officer. But it’s often not individual actions that cause the problems. Often times, the issues come down to a lack of cooperation or coordination across people and organizations.

Given that most club officers want their clubs to better serve each other and fellow members, a clear view of what members need, want, and dislike can align decisions and actions. If everyone shared a vivid view of the target members and had visibility into members feedback, then there would be less disagreement about what to do to keep the whole club happy and productive. While it may be difficult to agree on overall priorities and strategies, it’s much easier to agree on the best way to treat our fellow members.

So here are some suggestions:

Don’t wait for your club as a whole to solve individual member problems. No organizational structure is perfect; they all have some flaws. And it takes a long time to make major organizational changes. So rather than waiting for a structural change to create alignment, use a clear focus on members needs as a way to align the decisions and actions of individuals — even if your club as a whole remains out of alignment with the needs of a fellow member. Vice Presidents Membership, heads up! Don’t wait for your club Treasurer to “collect dues.” Your club mission is to keep members happy and wanting to renew and renew and renew. To do that, you have got to connect one on one with each of your fellow members to discover his or her special wants, hopes, desires and dreams. Even if those wants, hopes, desires and dreams “have nothing to do with Toastmasters.” There is always some way to connect seemingly “non-Toastmasters-like” desires with our program….and it’s your job to find a way.

Broadly share member insight. While we all know that club officers affect members experience, almost everyone in the club also has some impact on how fellow members are treated. Think of your club as a large production crew making the stars (your fellow members) shine on stage. Since many of the decisions that impact members aren’t debated or discussed, they just happen.  It helps for as many members as possible to understand our fellow members. Think of this as a silent alignment process.

Talk about member needs, not personal preferences. Disagreements are somewhat natural when people debate things from their own points of view. Instead of discussing what you like or think, re-frame discussions to be about overall member needs. If you find that you don’t really know enough about other members to solve the disagreement, then stop arguing and go get more information about your members.

THE BOTTOM LINE: FOCUS ON YOUR FELLOW MEMBERS’ NEEDS. What goes around comes around.

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PEOPLE ARE INSTINCTIVELY SELF-CENTERED

copy-of-susan_headshot4 Today’s blog continues my earlier look at Toastmasters International—a 501(c)(3) volunteer-driven membership organization from the perspective of Bruce Temkins’ Six Laws of Customer Experience — The Fundamental Truths that Define How Organizations Treat Customers.  I start from the self-evident premise that Toastmasters International must sell memberships around the globe. Memberships sales occur one at a time when a volunteer recruits another and when a current member renews her or his dues. Membership sales occur twenty-plus-at-a-time when a volunteer gathers together enough prospective members to form a new club.

Temkin’s Six Laws are here and below:

1) Every interaction creates a personal reaction.
2) People are instinctively self-centered.
3) Customer familiarity breeds alignment.
4) Unengaged employees don’t create engaged customers.
5) Employees do what is measured, incented, and celebrated.
6) You can’t fake it.

PEOPLE ARE INSTINCTIVELY SELF-CENTERED

Temkin points out that everyone has their own frame of reference, which heavily influences what they do and how they do it.

In a Toastmasters marketing situation, prospective members, for instance, care intensely about their own needs and desires but they don’t generally know or care as much about how Toastmasters clubs are organized. Current members have their individual frames of reference that prospects do not.

Consequences of this law in the Toastmasters context include the following:

You know more about the program than your prospective members. You can’t eliminate your biases, but it helps to acknowledge them. Recognize that prospective members may not understand things like our multiple acronyms and service chart.  Simplify your language and cut the Toastmasters lingo!

Don’t sell memberships twice a year when “dues are due.” Instead, help current and prospective members buy them. What value do your current and prospective members believe will come with membership—new OR renewing?

Don’t let the Toastmasters service chart drive all experiences. Just because we have several layers of our organization from club to Board of Directors, that does not permit you to make prospective members jump through organizational hoops to participate as she or he wants to.

The bottom line is: Shift from self-centeredness to member centeredness — both potential and current. You will grow, and so will your membership.

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Volunteer Organization in a Commercial World

copy-of-susan_headshot1 I am a great fan of Bruce Temkin’s Six Laws of Customer Experience — THE FUNDAMENTAL TRUTHS THAT DEFINE HOW ORGANIZATIONS TREAT CUSTOMERS. Tempkin published his Six Laws as separate blogs in 2008 and later combined them into a single short volume.

Temkin was talking about the commercial world. Over the years, I have worked in very large corporations on contracts both for private industry and government.  One experience included a wing of GE, where I learned the value of regarding all other employees as I regarded my customers. For the past year, I have been watching how aspects of each environment—volunteer and commercial—appear to borrowing ideas from each other. So I’ve been thinking about how Tempkin’s’  laws might apply to Toastmasters International.  For purposes of this blog, I think of the individual member as a customer not only of the paid staff but also of Board members whose decisions directly affect programming that in turn affects the individual member.

First, a quick look at the Toastmasters International 501(c)(3) organization. A relatively small paid staff in California provides a wide range of services to a volunteer organization of more than 250,000 members in 106 countries. Members of its all-volunteer Board of Directors serve for two years in staggered terms. A third Vice President, a second Vice President, a Senior Vice President and a President each serve one-year terms in that office.

Now for Bruce Tempkin. Temkin’s six laws are:

1) Every interaction creates a personal reaction.
2) People are instinctively self-centered.
3) Customer familiarity breeds alignment.
4) Unengaged employees don’t create engaged customers.
5) Employees do what is measured, incented, and celebrated.
6) You can’t fake it.

EVERY ACTION CREATES A PERSONAL REACTION

Temkin says that experiences need to be designed for individuals. To the extent that members of Toastmaster decide how quickly they will progress through highly-standardized leadership and speech manuals and how much creativity they bring to each experience, this is partially true in this organization.  With exception of an advanced High Performance Leadership project, the structures and roles of leadership and speaking exercises are identical world-wide. Content of speech projects and actual delivery of leadership exercises, however,  are unique with the individual.

Temkin’s observation that “Customer segments must be prioritized” is difficult to place in the context of this volunteer organization—-until one looks at the major environments in which clubs occur. About 60% of clubs worldwide are sponsored by a corporation or other organization. Many are quite well-known. Maintaining  club membership in a large corporation or organization that not only sponsors club meetings but also offers meeting room space for semi-annual club officer training is obviously a very high priority.  Two such examples include Verizon and GEICO.

Temkin says that customer feedback needs to be the key metric. He talks about letting customer input drive priorities, decisions, and investments. In this world-wide organization and prior to the rise of the Internet, obtaining consistent, reliable feedback from members not at a Board level has been a challenge. For years, the louder, larger squeaky wheels tended to get the corporate oil. Several years ago when those wheels were Board members with little or no  experience or understanding about computer systems, priority on critical systems support for this world-wide organization was low.  Creative members in local districts began designing their own applications as work-arounds.

Temkin says that employees need to be empowered. In a word, front-line employees need to have the latitude to accommodate the needs of key customers.  In this volunteer organization heavily dominated by those with considerably less organizationally-bestowed visibility than others, simply developing the courage to be noticed for positive inputs is, for many members, a challenge in and of itself.  Figuring out just how far one can carry out actions congruent with annual Presidential themes such as “Take Control of Your Destiny,” “Focus on your Dreams,”  “Find Your Voice. Serve Your World”  and “The Courage to Conquer” is another.

The next chapter of this blog will be about people being instinctively self-centered.

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