The Wake-Up Call
The quarterly and monthly reports told a dismal story, one marked by new
records and all of them bad. The monthly advertising and marketing
report showed fewest clicks to our website for the month and the quarter
and the highest number of bounces. Calls to our sales line were the
lowest...ever. Topline revenues continued to grow but at the slowest
pace since I began tracking it three years prior when I became CEO. Cash
flows slipped while expenses rose mainly from failed advertising and
marketing campaigns. In summary, these reports were the exclamation
point for the growing reality that This is not a sustainable business
model. I might have used more colorful terms that day in my office.
Early in the week I had listened as the sales agents grumbled about
leads. No news there; sales agents always complain about leads. Only
their complaints were real now. The newest sales agent had reminded me
of my promise that he would see so many leads a day. I was honest, even
understated, in that promise. But, now, that reality was long gone and
all he cared about were his leads. Collectively, the sales agents told
me our prices were no longer competitive. They were right. Three years
before we competed in the lap of luxury with a price advantage of as
much as 75%. Prospects then asked Are you for real when they saw our
prices. Now, almost three years later and after our competitors, some
whose advertising budgets dwarfed our company, drove our prices down by
70% to new and existing customers we heard the same question asked. Are
you for real? Only now, they were asking why charged so much. We were no
longer the lowest.
Customer Service wasn’t happy seeing so many customers either cancel
or demand lower prices. Their days were demoralizing.
I had no ideas. That’s not sustainable if I wanted to remain as CEO of
this small company located in SE Iowa where we had competed successfully
against global telecommunications companies until now.
I would love to an epiphany, a zigzag streak of lightning, as Winston
Churchill called it, struck me between the eyes some time, any time,
that day. However, this is a nonfiction book.
No. I kept my lunch date that day, hiding this reality from her as best
I could - which was not at all she told me that night. And for another
two quarters, I tinkered here, tweaked it there until finally I decided
we could no longer afford traditional advertising and marketing. The
return on those amounts was no better than if I donated it to a 501C
whose passionate members fought for the rights of lemmings, all lemmings
everywhere, and their right to throw themselves off a cliff en masse.
That’s what I was doing with our company by spending money on Google
adwords, direct mail, email, display ads, sponsorships, banner ads...
So, that was the first step of not doing the same thing and expecting
different results. That was the first step in my journey towards
uncovering the power of employee recognition.
Within two days, I stepped forward again when I discovered Ben McConnell
and Jackie Huba and their book: Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal
Customers Become a Volunteer Sales Force. Over the next few weeks,
maybe a month, I realized that before you create customer evangelists
you need to create employee evangelists.
To do that I needed to answer this question:
Other than meaningless rah-rahs around empty slogans like ‘world class
customer service,’ how do I create employee evangelists, unleash the
ideas and passions I knew resided in the already excellent people in the
That signaled the official, focused, start of my journey discovering or
rediscovering the power of employee recognition, creating a culture of
recognition and engagement that inspires employees to become brand
evangelists, passionistas for each other and their customers.
I hate to segue into business buzzwords. Employee recognition, employee
engagement and even brand evangelists are buzzwords du jour. Employee
recognition is such a buzzword that it’s become a $40+ billion
industry. However, judging from its results on employee engagement
that’s where its impact ends. Employee engagement numbers in the U.S.,
the percentage of employees engaged emotionally and intellectually with
their work has remained at underwhelming 30% for the past decade.
Through this book you’ll see links to support these numbers.
However, here’s why I’m sharing these tips and steps. (Reminder:
nearly all of them cost nothing more than a few moments of your time and
your willingness to try.) The results we generated by taking these
steps, rebuilding our brand from the inside out, from our most important
stakeholders - employees - to our customers included:
Revenues Grew 80%
Cash Flows Returned to Previous Levels
Sales Conversions Rose. With advertising and marketing we generated a
healthy 50%. With brand evangelists, employee evangelists, engaged
employees, we generated over 80%.
A Steady Stream of Referrals and Testimonials. They served as a daily
source of inspiration, motivation and celebration. Imagine that!
Customer Service is too often seen as a painful, must-have, expense. Our
Customer Service became a source of inspiration from customer
testimonials, up-sells and cross-sells and real-time market research.
A vibrant, exciting, culture where laughter was heard far more than
groans and our days were spent pointing out our recent victories far
more often than minor and temporary setbacks. Oh, and I encouraged
everyone to work no more than 7 hours a day, preferably six.
All these and more were achieved in the conference calling industry, by
a small company, whose headquarters in rural Iowa. There is nothing sexy
about conference calls. No one goes home and talks about the features of
a conference call unless it’s to complain. And yet, with the power
unleashed with these simple steps, we were able to not only survive but
thrive in a commoditized industry.
You, Reader, you create, produce, sell products with more interesting
features than a conference call. That’s a huge leverage. You’re
looking for solutions, another great advantage. You know you work with
great people with solutions waiting to be shared, to be discovered, to
be implemented. However, for many in your position, they recognize that
the enthusiasm they once saw especially for new hires has long been
absent. The thrill is gone.
I’m not pretending to be SME, Subject Matter Expert, or ‘thought
leader.’ I’m not the world’s leading anything. I’m not an ivory
tower academic at a prestigious university. I’m you, staring at the
same reports showing the same disappointing results and wondering how do
I change them. I’m you, working with friends and colleagues I respect
but now we grumble too much. I’ve stumbled, fallen, scraped my knees
and even scrapped the knees of others. But, I’ve risen, they’ve
risen and with their help and the grace of a restless, relentless mind I
discovered these steps and walked their journey, rediscovering what I
knew all along: the solutions sat around me, met with me in my office,
performed heroic acts every day rescuing our customers and sustaining
our brand. I share them so you can take them if you think they’ll work
or help you discover ones better suited for your company and
Nearly all of these steps are you can take when you close this book.
They are paced so you can learn as you go, learning your steps not mine,
rediscovering your solutions that sit around you and meet with you and
whose achievements drive your company’s success. And, who want to do
more and would do more if given the right chances.
A few are steps I wished I had discovered and taken myself. You’ll
Some are so-o-o obvious. They will remind you that the sources of even
more simple and obvious steps, solutions and ideas are working all
around you. They’re sitting in your meetings and in the next cubicle
over. The more you recognize their contributions, the more you find to
recognize. Each recognition is the start of a conversation, bringing
more steps, solutions and ideas. It’s a virtuous cycle.
It’s also my experience that these are the ones I overlooked more
often than any others.
I do not know where you are in this journey. There are tips in here for
big companies and small. Most importantly, there are plenty of tips
anyone in any size company can take. Right now.
I’ve organized these 52 ways into four categories: Show You Care, Be
Their Champion, Empower Your Employees, Let Them Shine. Stephen Lynch,
COO of RESULTSdotcom, generously shared his personal story discovering
the power of employee recognition: Stephen’s Story. The last chapter
is titled Conclusion: Sometimes You Just Have to Try.
Included in each category are quotes to inspire you for one more step
and exercises to stretch your recognition muscles to take bigger steps
and take them more frequently.
As you read these ways and take these steps you’ll discover others,
better suited, for your challenges. Excellent! Let me know, let others
know, about these new steps. We have to recognize each other’s
successes and lessons. There’s plenty to go around.
Also, as you take these steps, let me know what happens for the same
Lastly, you may find yourself surprised by the responses and wonder why
or what steps to take. Ask someone. Tell them your story. Ask them Well,
what do you think? Please feel free to reach out and contact me here,
too. I may have a solution; I may not. I may ask you questions to help
you find the solution that’s resting just behind your surprise. Or
another solution may surprise us, the result of recognizing your
journey, your experience and what you’ve accomplished so far.
I wish you the best.
Excerpted from "Recognize THEM!: 52 Ways to Recognize Your Employees In Ways They Value [Kindle Edition]" by Zane Safrit. Copyright © 2014 by Zane Safrit. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.