Performance Lessons From “The Masters”…

“A Tradition like no other”…

Well, folks, it’s “Masters Week” once again, the time of year when Augusta, that little town in southern Georgia, comes to life in an awe inspiring array of colors and sounds that usher in the early days of spring, and the beginning of another golf season. From the proud magnolias and tall pines, to the brilliant display of azaleas and dogwoods, the setting becomes an iconic announcement that spring has well and truly arrived.

Add to that the flurry of colors that will characterize this year’s fashion statements by golf’s superstars, and you have the setting for spring’s equivalent of the Superbowl. As Jim Nantz of CBS will say repeatedly throughout this week’s broadcast, the Masters is, most definitely, “a tradition like no other!”

I know there are those who probably couldn’t care less about the game of golf, (see my friend Brian Kenneth Swain’s comedic golf essay on the nonsense of it all). For these folks, our fixation on watching the flight patterns of a tiny white ball, no matter how inspiring the backdrop, is about as interesting as a marathon birdwatching event. In this context, some might even find it repulsive, because inside this metaphor the birds are white and the measure of success is how hard we can hit them and how fast we can stuff them into 18 tiny holes. If this is you, you might want to fast forward through this post and leave the golf analogies for someone who actually gives a damn.

For some, it’s all about the theater…

For many, this time of year is to golf what opening day is to baseball and the fall chill is to football. But unlike baseball and football, the Masters golf tournament often captures the attention of those who would not normally proclaim themselves to be actual fans. Over the four days of the Masters, most will find themselves sitting down to watch at least some portion of the event. Even the many golf widows like my wife who admittedly have no interest in the game, and whose passion for sports is limited to “Superbowl commercial viewing” will even find time to enjoy a few holes of this springtime fiesta.

But for others, it’s much more than that…

For those in the latter camp, myself included, golf has taken on a somewhat spiritual meaning. You don’t have to be a professional golfer to let this kind of obsession bring you into its grasp. And once it has you, the meaning of golf extends well beyond  the beauty of the day, the dynamics of the tournament, and sometimes beyond the game itself. Before long, we find ourselves exploring the many parallels between the game of golf and circumstances in our everyday lives. And just to prove that I am not alone in this crazy obsession, just look at the number of books that have been written and sold on the non-technical aspects of the game. I can vouch for this because one entire shelf of my home library is dedicated to books on golfing implications on everything from mental attitude to overall relationships and life skills.

As crazy as it may sound, though, I’m not alone in these sorts of interpretations and extrapolations. Perhaps it’s because so many of us overachievers are such underperformers at the game itself, and hence are forced to seek out other meanings to rationalize the time and interest we dedicate to the sport. But I suspect it’s more than that, given that the writings of those far more experienced and respected in the game assert similar observations. One of my favorite books is called “Golf is Not a Game of Perfect” (and the sequel, “Life is Not a Game of Perfect”) written by a famed sports psychologist Bob Rotella, seems to give genuine legitimacy to this perspective.

The connection between your golf game and                          “managing business performance”…

For those of you who know me professionally and personally, it’s probably not surprising to find yet another post that integrates golf with the discipline of performance management. Combine my passion for the game, my ability to draw parallel observations between the game and life experiences, and my everyday profession, and …well…did you expect anything else this week?

But rather than pontificate on one dimension of this relationship (like I’ve done in other posts on “performance sustainability” and  the importance of “progress over perfection“)…I’ve elected to provide just a few thoughts on various aspects of good performance management systems, for which I believe the game of golf has key implications.

So without further adieu, lets “tee off”—

On Vision-

Perhaps no other sport speaks to the importance of vision as golf does. We see this at both the player level, and in the design of the venues on which they display their talent. Anyone who has walked a great golf course, whether Augusta or any of the other marvelous creations like St. Andrews, Pebble Beach, Pinehurst, or the myriad of other golf wonders of the world,” is obliged to respect the vision and imagination that guided their designers and architects. They are much like artists, only instead of painting on canvas or sculpting physical structures, they perform their craft on acres of often undeveloped earth. If you’ve never seen one of these venues, tune into CBS and have a look this weekend. Even the environmentalists in the crowd have to acknowledge the beauty of it all, not only in the landscape, but also in the variety of wildlife that is so prevalent in the audio aspect of the broadcast.

I liken the golf course to the business model that your staff operates within. A great one will not only possess creativity and uniqueness, but will also provide the right level of challenge to truly engage your “players” and allow the great ones to succeed.

On imagination and creativity-

This apparent genius of great golf course design should not be especially surprising, given that most golf architects were good players to begin with. After all, it was a true legend of the game whose imagination and passion went into creating Augusta. Imagination is a requisite skill and competency that all good golfers must develop and nurture. And some of it is innate . “Visualization” is often the word chosen to describe what a player does before a key shot , in that he visualizes every aspect of the shot, from the ball strike to the trajectory, landing spot and resulting ball “behavior on the surface when it lands”. Not surprisingly, good golf courses bring out the creativity in good golfers, and nowhere will this be more evident than on the lush fairways and undulating greens of Augusta National.

In our professional environments, we have to remember that there is a limit to what tactical skills and training can produce. Great performance is often the combination of near flawless execution on the basic skills (which certainly can be taught and measured), along with an added dose of creativity and imagination that often can’t.

On goal setting-

One thing that is always impressive to watch is the way in which professional golfers approach their goals. While most approach each tournament with the goal of winning, this happy outcome rarely occurs week in and week out, since there are not just two competitors but often over a hundred. Thus, if this were their only goal, we’d see a lot of disappointed and demoralized performers. So what happens when a player enters a Sunday several strokes back and it is clear that victory will have to wait for another week? Their perspective simply changes. Most good golfers achieve an excellent balance between short and long term goals, and when some objectives become temporarily out of reach, these individuals have an uncanny ability to shift gears and focus instead on other goals that are just as important to their career success. Sometimes it will be refocusing to the number of career wins, sometimes it’s the overall tour ranking, and sometimes it’s just, well, improving on one specific skill or technique they have been working to improve.

In our corporate performance framework, it is important that we design in a healthy mix of goals and targets that will guide our staff and teams. Our goals should be both short and long term, and should cover various aspects of our performance. And while these should be firm, they also must have some “flex” built in so that success and failure are not binary in nature. For me, the concept of balance in the balanced scorecard goes way beyond having adequate coverage of objectives and goals, and gets to the overall balance and flexibility of the “system.”

On metrics-

I can’t think of many sports where there are metrics and statistics for just about every aspect of your game and playing experience. And every good golfer uses most of these to effectively navigate every part of their game. I’ve never seen a sport with as much focus and transparency as golf when it comes to being able to measure, track, and improve through the use of metrics and statistics. And what’s also amazing is how all of these metrics are tied to each other…from leading indicators like % fairways hit, greens hit in regulation, sand saves, etc…, to result indicators like the stroke count on a specific hole, to the net score on a round, to tournament and season results.

Managers need to really think about their operations in a similar context. Do I have the right metrics that ultimately translate to outcomes desired? Do I actively use the metrics to navigate by? Do I set targets deliberately, or do I aimlessly monitor performance against the absence of desired performance aspirations?

On managing “the game”-

A golf round, whether for amateur or professional, can be both an emotional and trying experience. Just listen to the post-round interviews this week and you’ll hear numerous players describe how they “grinded” through a round, having to endure disappointment and distress while patiently waiting for their “game” to return. I recently read an interview with a college golf coach who says the main thing they look for in junior golfers is how they recover from strings of bad play; in essence, can they mentally recover from the demoralizing effect of three or four bad holes, bad rounds, or bad seasons that characterize the proverbial slump. This requirement is present in most sports, but with golf, that mental pressure, present and highly visible, is on with every shot on every hole. Being able to recalibrate and adjust is critical, not only in their play, but in their attitude and confidence levels they carry throughout the round.

While we must have the ability to reward and promote great performance, and routinely exit non-performers from the business, we must also teach the organization how to manage through slumps. The capacity to do this is both a tactical (in terms of being able to adjust expectations, targets, and strategies to match the environment), and a cultural dynamic and competence in terms of being able to “manage through” failures and consistently harvest the lessons that can come from them.

On consistency-

Earlier this year, as I watched some of the opening tournaments of the season, I had the distinct impression that I was witnessing a true ” changing of the guard” so to speak. In the 90’s we witnessed a tidal shift when Tiger reset the bar, essentially distancing the entire field of golfers that competed at that time. Just as Hogan referred to Nicklaus in his prime as “playing a game with which he was not familiar,” many began to refer to Tiger the same way. But given Tiger’s slump, and the inconsistent play of others from the same class, I began to question whether the new class of “young guns “were beginning to displace them.

But now with the season in full swing, we are seeing  great play emerge from all corners. Amidst the strong play from the game’s new “young guns “, the older icons of the game like Fred Couples, and others who have long been written off by the golf pundits as a legitimate threat, are frequently dazzling us with strong performances. So rather than signaling another transition or sea change, I think we are simply seeing the emergence of the great equalizer- a leveling of the playing field that is free of any single dominant player. Today, it seems great players only win 2-3 events every season/year (not 10+) , and those wins are based on truly brilliant displays of technical competence and creativity. The real mark of a champion now appears to be generating those 2-3 wins year in and year out without fail, in essence creating a portfolio of wins that transcends decades, rather than a few dominant tournaments or seasons.

We’ve seen this play out in business as well. Our performance measures and indicators of success should be built to reward short-, mid- and long-terms success. The failures of Ebers, Maddow and Lay demonstrate both the flawed logic and the risks of just a short term oriented strategy. Once again, the balanced scorecard must not only transcend the types of measures, but also the horizon and depth of ambition that will drive the aspiration of consistency in performance excellence.

Well, I suspect there are many other examples of these kind of parallels, but rather than list all of them here, I’ll invite you to chime in with yours as you watch the events of the week unfold. For any of you that are like me, these will jump out at you as you witness the ups and downs of the four days, and the emergence of a new Master’s champion.

I wish all of you a happy Masters week, and I hope you enjoy the theater this weekend will bring as your senses are dazzled through the screens of your HD TV!!!


Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at

Customer Engagement and Efficiency- Are these conflicting priorities?

The Challenges of Funding a  CEM Strategy…

A few weeks back, I was talking to a client about their latest strategies to enhance what is now known commonly as “the customer experience.” And like most companies that are working tirelessly on driving their customers toward higher levels of satisfaction, delight, and our latest aspiration, “engagement,” this company was going through all the common challenges of funding their new Customer Experience Management (CEM) strategy.

But also, like many others, funding their CEM strategy is meeting some pretty big resistance from their CFO and others who are trying to make corporate “ends meet,” especially in this economic climate. More and more, these two perspectives are clashing, not because the organization fails to value investment in Customer Service (CS), but more so because the impacts associated with that those investments are often less direct and less tangible, at least compared with the realm of immediate cost and productivity savings that produce faster (albeit not always sustainable) payback to the bottom line.

The Cost/ Service Trade-off: Myth or Reality?

For over two decades of working in the Customer Operations arena, I’ve heard clients invariably revert to the “perceived” trade-off between customer service levels and cost savings or efficiency efforts. That is, the notion that there is an inverse relationship between our ability to improve service levels and our ability to capture CS related productivity and cost savings. And for a long time, the data supported this notion. But as technologies improved, and companies began to increase investments in CS-related technology, tools and process changes, select companies started to prove  that notion false by demonstrating the existence of both high service levels and low cost at the same time–companies clearly worthy of the term “myth busters”.

Yet despite all those great examples from the 90’s, we are now seeing many return to the proverbial “trade-off” as a reason for deferring further investments in their CS infrastructure. Make no mistake, there are clearly companies that are pushing the envelope of customer delight, and perhaps even engagement, but more often than not, investments in CEM, and even critical investments in basic infrastructure, are once again hitting the funding wall.

Some of this is clearly driven by the current economic climate. As a CEO from one of my energy clients said recently, “We haven’t given up on CS. But these investments are discretionary, and right now we are struggling to ‘keep the lights on'”. And, while on the surface, this may provoke emotions of heresy from those in highly competitive markets, it’s hard to argue with financial realities. At one time or another, most CS executives, regardless of industry, have encountered this same argument from their C-Suite executives.

Unfortunately, for some, the lack of investment in that infrastructure has created a bit of a back-slide in performance, creating the question of whether we are back to the days of the proverbial trade-off.

Reversing The Course…

As with most things in life, the cup can be either half empty or half full based simply on the lens through which we are looking.

Sure, we all want to delight our customers and make them happy. But from a financial perspective, there is always an ROI at play, and it’s not always easy to establish a causal linkage between that “added delight factor” and the bottom line. Hence the conflict.

But this assumes we are trying to impress, delight, or otherwise “engage” the customer for the sole purpose of selling more of our product or service. And that is clearly part of it. But again, at the risk of offending our hardcore sales and product advocates (of which I am one), I would assert that there are many other reasons for having an engaged customer that go far beyond the next product sale or any direct influence on buying behavior at all.

Beyond the Obvious…

From my perspective, “Engagement” is about changing the overall predisposition of a customer from one of negative predisposition or neutrality, to one of positive engagement that is leveragable in some context. That context could be higher sales, repeat business, or Word of Mouth (WOM) referrals, but it could also serve a variety of other purposes.

One of those purposes is cost savings. What?

That’s right, cost savings.

Over the past several years, we’ve completed a variety of assignments that were geared to identifying efficiencies where the mandate was “zero degradation to Customer Satisfaction”. Not an insignificant challenge. Especially when you consider that most companies have explored every way under the sun to drive more productivity out of their workforce, and have automated just about everything they can automate. And in some cases, these efforts have in fact degraded service level.

But many of those changes were inflicted on customers in a “push fashion”. Sure we’ve made tons of good changes in everything from local office closures, to call center automation improvements, to web interaction, but many of those changes were “pushed on the market” regardless of the level of satisfaction or disposition it happened to be in at the time. Yet we still wonder why the acceptance rates on what may appear to be wonderful customer options are at levels well below their potential. Experts claim that something as basic as “paperless billing” should be hitting 50-70% saturation in the next 3 years, but most of us are only at a fraction of those levels. But to me that is not surprising, given that we have not yet engaged the customer who we are asking to accept these changes. At least not in the spirit of how it is defined above.

Engagement for the Sake of Cost Reduction ?

Just for a second, put on your CFO hat and consider the following argument.

Cost is a product of both efficiency and transaction volume. We can decrease cost per transaction by 5,10, or even 20% in the form of cost-per-call, cost-per-bill, cost-per-payment, and the litany of other transaction types we offer. But the large majority of cost still remains.

Now think about the other side of the equation. Transaction volume. Different story entirely. When we eliminate a transaction, be it a printed bill, a mailed payment, or a call to the call center, we eliminate 100% of the cost. Looking at it this way, there is no question where our focus should be. And looking at the potential that our recent advances in technology could have on enabling these reductions in transaction volume, it’s rather amazing that such a large part of our focus is still on operating and productivity gains.

On this basis, and given the potential that exists in the workload dimension alone, it is conceivable that savings of 30, 50%, or more are possible, and go well beyond what we would ever consider from mere productivity gains.

It all starts with Impacting Predisposition and Behavior…

Given the impact of workload on bottom line, why wouldn’t that become our primary focus?

Perhaps it should be. Or at least one of our primary goals. But haphazardly looking for where we can drive customers to self-service channels without a clear strategy will get us right back to square one. The “win win win” (CCO, CFO, and Customer) if you will, is only achievable if the levels of potential I describe above are fully realized, and accomplished in a manner that leaves the customer satisfied and engaged.

Engagement is about changing customers’ predisposition from negative or neutral to positive and engaged. Once that is accomplished, there exist numerous ways to leverage that engagement, including getting the customer to willingly shift the nature and frequency of their interactions with us, thus decreasing transaction volume. But that is only the tip of the iceberg, as the companies mastering this dynamic are finding out.

But it all starts with the lens we look through.

So next time you are faced with hitting that infamous “funding wall”, or get challenged on the basis of your new CEM strategy, think beyond the obvious.


For more on driving Customer Excellence through combined efficiency and service level focus, see the folloowing posts on . Related articles include:

Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at

What a good preacher can teach us about accountability…

iPads, Insomnia, and Podcasts…

Sometimes, when I have trouble sleeping, I will find a good podcast or ‘sirius talk’ channel that looks interesting, and let the drone of the narrator “read me to sleep”.

I don’t know what it is about “talk radio” or short podcast subjects that do the trick for me (instead of music, for example), because some of the topics are really interesting and engaging and would keep most normal people “awake” rather then send them off to sleep. But not for me. 30 Minutes into one of these podcasts or talk shows, and I’m out like a light.

Who Knows. This phenomena probably has to do more with our childhoods, when we were “put to sleep” by our parents reading us  a good story book, than it does the level of topical ‘engagement’ of the content itself. But that’s a subject for another day, or perhaps my therapist.

Now, sometimes when you download a podcast, there is not too much background available on the host, but that usually doesn’t bother me because the vast majority of them on itunes are pretty much free. So, if it’s a bad one, so be it- it’s still usually enough to put me to sleep through the sheer value of their mindless droning. Last night could have been one of those nights.

Last night, however was about the content. I found a podcast dealing with the topic of “personal change”, something near and dear to me because so much of the consulting work I do involves cultural alignment, behavioral change and leadership skills. Invariably, all of those are in some way dependent on PERSONAL change, often of significant magnitude.

Rapture, repentance, and judgment day…

As the podcast opened,however, it was clear that I was in for a surprise. While the topic was “personal change” (which we all know can span a broad array of angles), this one had what one might call a “spiritual bent” to it, which clearly was not evident by the podcast icon and description.

Although it was not what I was expecting, I did listen on. After all, who can’t resist a little advice from a good “preacher man”!

As I am fading off to sleep amidst his messages of raptures, repentance and judgments, the word “ACCOUNTABILITY” popped out of my ear buds like a shot in the dark. And while it probably was his intention to pique my interest will all of his other words of prophetic wisdom, it was the word “accountability ” that hooked me.

Now, if God is reading this, I don’t mean to say that I didn’t internalize ALL of the other parts of the sermon. I LISTENED TO ALL OF IT!!!” It’s just that the subject of accountability is one that I have been working with many of my clients on currently, and so the mere mention of the topic grabbed my attention just A LITTLE more than the “end of days” stuff. But that was for one instant, until I returned to the rest of the sermon, at which point I paid perfect attention. (Ok- bases covered with God- check.)

What “The Preacher” says about accountability…

Good preachers have a few things in common. One, they are charismatic speakers. Two, they are usually great storytellers. And three, they have an uncanny ability to translate complex principles into very simple messages. So what was his simple message on the subject of accountability? Just tell someone!!

That’s right, tell someone. Such a simple act. Yet such powerful implications. Here was his four step process to accountability:

  • Make a decision to make a commitment
  • Set a goal
  • Write it down
  • And tell someone

Now before you conclude that it’s not that simple (and I am not suggesting it is), just think about this in various facets of your personal, spiritual and work life. Heck, think about something as simple as exercise and weight loss (yet another topic close to my heart- literally!). I know for me, the only time I take that seriously is when I do in fact ‘tell someone’. I don’t know exactly why that works, but it does. Probably, it has something to do with someone else “watching”. Or perhaps it is because you feel a commitment beyond just yourself. Whatever the reason, I find that it works.

It also works in other areas of my life. When I commit something verbally to my kids, it means more than just a superficial personal “intent”. Same with my spouse. And truth be told, as a “good Catholic” (subject to debate, I suppose), when I make a confession to a priest, I take the commitment of “doing better next time” more to heart, than if I just made that same commitment to myself in passing.

I think”writing it down” certainly helps too, since it is now part  of “recorded history”, and something you can go back to and look at. It becomes tangible.

Livin’ “The Gospel” in business!!!

Even if it’s just inside your own sandbox…

As I think about this in a business context, specifically with respect to performance improvement, it all makes sense, doesn’t it? I can’t tell you how many times those “personal change “rock-stars” (from Carnegie  to Covey) have preached these same principles in their books on ‘achieving success’, ‘positive thinking’, and the broad array of topics they wax so eloquently on. And no doubt, every consultant (including your’s truly) has developed some methodology for driving accountability and change that include these basic four steps in some way, shape, or form.

I know many of you are working on driving accountability into your business cultures, and have one point or another, been involved in that type of multi step, multi phase, “journey of change” that was no doubt complex. And for many of you, some level of reward was received from those efforts. Change management programs do work, and with good leadership commitment, can really mobilize and cement long term improvements to a results oriented and highly accountable culture across the business.

But there are other times, when a manager just wants to simply motivate an employee, change the attitude of a team member, or the shift culture within a small workgroup. But instead of moving ahead in their little “patch of turf”, they often get caught up in the narrative of “it’s all about leadership” and the inability to change things from within unless “the top dogs” are behind it. That’s unfortunate, because change can happen in small pieces if the managers of those parts of the business understand the simple behaviors required to catalyze that change.

So before you conclude that reaching an new or ambitious goal is not achievable with your current team and cultural environment, give the preacher man a chance, and try out his 4 steps. Make the commitment. Set a goal. Write it down. And tell someone.

Then come back in a few weeks and see if anything has changed. You might surprise yourself!


Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at

SM Metrics- Getting beyond followers, klout, and social butterflies!

More Metrics Insights- Really? Haven’t we had enough?

I’ve been following all the “buzz” over the past week from #SXSW and now #eMetrics regarding the development, reporting and use of “metrics” in Social Media (SM) space. Quite interesting dialogue to say the least.

For some of you, particularly those who don’t live and breath Social Media, all of this may have turned into “white noise”, as this weekend appears to have exhausted just about every angle on the subject of SM metrics that we could possibly explore. But  fear not! As another week kicks into gear, there will no doubt emerge a new wave of posts and blogs on the very same topic.

But I must admit, that all of this “metrics talk” does strike a chord with me. After all, having spent nearly two decades in helping company leaders and managers get their arms around business metrics, and the broader discipline of performance management, you would expect my ears to jump up at the word “metrics”! (I know…sad but true). And while SM is not an area I have spent an enormous amount of time studying or participating in from “the inside”, I am finding that many of the same principles I use with my “corporate clients” and  very much “in play” for this new and ever evolving market.

Stepping outside my “sandbox” …

While my life does not revolve around advances in SM, I have become what one might call a “steady  user” of it. From my evening “blogging” hour, to ongoing “check-ins” via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn; I would confess to spending at least 10-15% of my ‘awake time’ interacting with online friends and colleagues.

Of course, like many of you, Social Media (which for me includes my morning time with my Pulse reader scanning news and blogs that I monitor) has replaced the time I spend reading newspapers, magazines and “industry rags” (in fact it’s become much a more efficient medium saving me lots of time and energy). And those ongoing “check ins” that I initiate, usually occur when I am either ” restricted” (cabs, airports, etc.), between tasks, or otherwise indisposed (I won’t elaborate on the latter- you get the idea).But the “blogging hour”… that is something separate for me, and while I do enjoy it and it helps me unwind, I also recognize it for what it is- a personal and professional investment in my own development.  So yes, you could say that SM should be important simply because of the 15% percent of my day that I rely on it for.

But for me, it goes a little beyond that, especially now that the conversation has turned to metrics, and the broader issue of managing SM performance and results. Ever since I got into the Performance Management discipline years ago, I’ve been a strong believer and proponent of finding ideas and insights, wherever they occur (different companies, different industries, different geographies, etc.), and applying insights to current challenges within our own environments. Some would call this “benchmarking”. Others may call it good learning practices. For me, it’s not only common business sense, but a core set of principles that I live and manage by. And for many like me, it is the basis of any good Performance Management system.

So it’s only natural for me to observe what’s going on in this space and try to open some good “cross dialogue” on how we can lift the overall cause that I know we all are pursuing: More effective measurement, better management of performance, and stronger results.

Exploring “Best Practices” In SM Performance Measurement…

A few weeks back I published a post on what businesses outside of SM space could learn from what is happening within SM. Many of you found that useful, although I must admit that it was the first time that I really began experimenting with what was available out there in terms of thinking andtools. But rather than focusing on the tools, I tried to explore some of the bigger themes that were emerging in terms of practices and approaches, and attempted to determine which aspects of that thinking in SM might be be “import-able” by other sectors as “lessons learned”.

Today, I want to ‘flip the tables’ a bit, and talk about what other industries can teach Social Media about the art of measuring, improving, and delivering on our individual goals and aspirations.

I was inspired to go this direction by a number of posts over the weekend that appeared to delve into the same question (here’s an example regarding the measurement issues with Klout) When I read that, it sounded like some good stuff, I realized that this was really  the tip of the iceberg on a really important issue. So expanding on this seemed to be the next logical step.

So what Can SM Learn From Others?

The below observations are based on merely a snapshot of what I see taking place now, and fully realize that dialogue is occurring at this very minute in certain hotel bars and restaurants on this very topic. My goal is not to suggest an exhaustive list of “fix it now’s”, but rather to open an ongoing dialogue on what we can learn and apply in our individual areas of expertise.

  • Is what we’re measuring today meaningful?

OK, let’s get some basics out of the way, at the risk of boring (or offending) some of the social media pundits and ‘real experts’ out there. For most users (consumers of Social Media)- the everyday user of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, for example- the answer to ‘whether or not SM measures are meaningful ?’ is “probably not”. Save for ego and vanity, measurement of things like the number of “digital friends” (Facebook friend counts and Twitter followers for example) mean very little to the nature of managing meaningful relationships- whether it is in maintaining existing ones, or growing new ones. Meaningful relationships go way beyond these surface level statistics.

Of course, there are those individuals and businesses who do use, and rely heavily on, more in depth statistics for tracking their progress. So I believe at least some of them would say “yes- meaningful…but with a lot left to be desired”. The stats and measures are there. Are they meaningful and value adding to the business? Subject to debate.

What we can be certain of, is that things like Follower counts, Klout scores, Retweets, and Click-through’s are measures that are becoming less and less valuable, and that there is a deep yearning for more. Whether this takes the form of refining what’s in the algorithms and “black boxes” , or a major rethinking of the metrics themselves (which would be my vote), still appears to be a subject of great debate.

  • For the sake of what?

When you walk into a large company that “manages by the numbers” (and trust me, many don’t), you see that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of things they are tracking. Some are real meaningful, and some are as useless as an “asshole on your elbow” (I heard that one from a old (and wise) plant manager in Texas, and have been waiting months to use it- hope I didn’t offend :)

When I see that level of measurement/ quantity of metrics, a little “warning sound” goes off in my head and I start exploring the question: “For the sake of what?” are you measuring this or that? I use a variety of techniques to get them to tell me how they are going to use a certain metric (most often the question of “why?” asked repetitively works best), but often the question is rhetorical because there is no answer. I once heard someone say, “If you want to see if information is valuable, just stop sending out the report and see if anyone screams!”.

Fact is, if a measure doesn’t have a causal link to some major result area, or worse, if the person managing it cannot see that link, the metric serves no purpose other than to consume cost. Most of the tools I see in SM space for tracking metrics simply  report stats with no obvious linkage to any real outcome. Even if something like # followers was important (and we all know that most often it ranks pretty low), there is no clear path evident in the reports on how the stats actually impact an outcome that is important to the user (other than loose descriptions and definitions at best).

Yet, we all know that the tools and models for establishing those linkages exist everywhere. Just look at some of the basic tools used by stock traders. While they are not perfect by a long shot, “technicals” like Stochastics, Bollinger Bands, and simple breakout patterns, have clear paths to a high probability event or outcome, yet are available to even the most amateur  investor. Even “stogy” old Utility companies can draw connections between things like permit rates, new connection activity and downstream staffing requirements. I’m not suggesting it’s easy, just that it’s important and that the tools are there to execute and simplify.

  • Who really cares?

For me, this is the MOST IMPORTANT item on the list. Most of us have seen the Klout site, Twitalyzer, and the myriad of other tools out there to support the development of personal networks. These tools are extremely useful, and possess a wealth of information if you have the time and stamina to think about what it all means. I mean, come on… to have 25 metrics on one page with trends only one click away is something that a real metrics guy can only look at and say “WAY COOL”. Seriously, very cool! That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it’s the same news for everyone. But we all know the dangers of “one size fits all”. I’m not diminishing the value these tools provide. SM would be lost without them. And in their defense, certain sites like Twitalyzer and Klout have gone beyond the simple dashboards and have incorporated categories that many aspire to, and have begun to draw some connection between these aspirations and those broad categories.

But it’s just a start (I mean come on…Are  any Twitter users actually aspiring to be “social butterflies”? (ok, don’t answer that, because they’re probably some who do!) Perhaps a better question is whether a “social butterfly ” would ever aspire to be a “thought leader” ? My point is that it’s probably not a linear sequence of development, and while these categories get us one step closer to aligning measures with goals, they are still missing 2 things:

1) Better understanding of the goals of users (its probably more than 4 and less than 100) and

2) a guidance system that helps one use the metrics to achieve those goals.

So here’s a thought…What about a simple interface that allows you to pick a goal, and then tells you which metrics you should care about and what the target should be to accelerate within that goal class? You’d be building a model that would clearly feed on itself. I’d be surprised if the BI guru’s out there don’t already have this built into their corporate BI suites and Web Analytics tools, but it would seem to me to be a great draw for the myriad of other users with goals that extend beyond butterflies and mindless follower counts.

Find out what’s important, at as customized a level as you can (and is practical), and tell us how to get there. That’s the “holy grail” in every business, and what every CEO is and Executive is craving from its performance management process – “I’ll tell you what my strategic goal/ ambition is,…and you tell me what the metrics AND targets are  that will help me get there,… and then help me  track my progress!”

  • Can tools help? (and how?)

Absolutely and without question, the answer is yes. But just as other businesses and industries have jumped too quickly, often placing ‘technology before process’, so has SM in my view. Part of this is because of how the industry is “wired”, and how it has evolved. Born through technology, and managed and staffed with a heavy technology bent, it’s not surprising that we’ve reached a point where the data has become king, UI’s have a lot to be desired.

I’m not talking about the ease of navigation, the placement of charts, or the rendering of drill down information. I’m talking about how the user (the customer) thinks…starting with their goals, and accessing the relevant metrics to show progress and critical actions they need to take to improve. I suspect the developer who can “visualize” (to use an overused term in today’s SM environment) that kind of “line of sight” will ultimately win the hearts of its users.

The other role technology can play is enabling the algorithms and models that are required to deploy the kind of “mass customized”/ goals oriented solution I described above. Without these tools, the likelihood of being able to normalize, analyze and model these relationships would be impossible. So in my view, the tools are critical, but the effort first needs to be on the process (getting the line of sight understood) and then working the raw data in a way that renders it in a context-specific visualization. That’s in a perfect world- but it’s still a good aspiration.

Like I said, these are just the things that are ‘top of mind’ for me at the moment, and only informed by the lens through which “Bob” is looking. I’m sure some of these issues are top of mind for you too, and you may actually be unveiling (right now) that new “holy grail” subscription site  that has the answers. If so, great…I may be your perfect customer. But if the last two decades have taught me anything, it is that different perspectives and different lenses often pose new questions and spark new crystal balling that lifts the entire game.

Of course I welcome any comments and expansion on the above list. As I said earlier, this is just the beginning of my own thinking, inspired in part by some of yours. I look forward to more of yours!

PS- For anyone who is interested in Performance Management and Metrics topics outside of the world of SM, feel free to bookmark

Links to some of my more recent posts on these subjects are provided below

Incorporating the principle of “line of sight” into your performance measurement and management program

Managing through the “rear view mirror”- a dangerous path for any business

Data, information and metrics: Are we better off than we were 4 years ago?


Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at

“Lagniappe”- And its impact on customer satisfaction…

The Principle of “Lagniappe”…

Being a native of New Orleans, I have always been accustomed to the term “lagniappe”. For those of you who don’t reside in the deep south, lagniappe is a cajun term used to describe the “little bit extra” someone gives you as their way of saying “thanks” and/or expressing their gratitude and generosity.

And today being Mardi Gras in New Orleans, I can tell you, there will be a lot of “lagniappe” to go around, from extra servings of  gumbo and king cake, to the myriad of beads, cups, dabloons and  other “freebies” that are thrown to the crowds from the parade floats.

Yes, the concept of lagniappe is still quite unique and special to those who live day to day in the New Orleans culture. It is special mainly because it is so rare to see it applied these days, largely because of the many who view this concept as “over servicing the customer” and an unnecessary gesture that could hurt profitability.

Lagniappe- As seen through the eyes of  Purple Goldfish…

A few days ago, I stumbled on a twitter post by Stan Phelps that referenced the concept of lagniappe as it related to marketing and customer service. My interest was piqued for two reasons. First, it was nice to hear the term since I rarely, if ever, hear the term used outside of Louisiana. But more importantly, it reminded me of the “balancing act” that is essential when applying the “lagniappe” mentality inside a business.

On Stan’s blog, there is a  recent post relating to his “purple goldfish project”, an effort to collect the many examples of “lagniappe” experienced by their readers. And there are some great examples starting to emerge if you take the time to read through the comments and entries. What a great idea to expose those companies who do in fact understand the value of great service and going that “extra mile”! There are so many posts lately on the “bad experiences” (see my recent rant on CS storefronts), that it’s refreshing to see the other side of the coin every now and then. So I really applaud Stan for getting that project going. Great stuff.

Lagniappe versus the Almighty Dollar..

Although I am a native of New Orleans, and lived there for nearly 35 years, living in the Northeast for the last 13  has tempered my views on the topic a bit. While I still value and cherish “lagniappe” when I experience it as a customer, I am now more keenly aware what it can sometimes do to the cost side of the equation. Any time I consult to a Customer Service or Marketing Executive, I am always working to find the optimal balance where good service and profitability meet.

If we think about this balance, it’s helpful to acknowledge the two very polar ends of the spectrum that are often at play- The Customer Service and Marketing folks, who view their primary goal as Customer Satisfaction, and who will do “what it takes” to earn it. And the Finance side of the business who view every investment in CS as a highly discretionary investment that, while perhaps necessary in the long haul, will have negative impact on short term profitability.

Of course, few of us operate on either end of that spectrum. Marketing and CS Executives are rarely that pollyanna when it comes to “satisfaction at all costs” , and Finance Executives  are rarely that blind to customer dynamics.But the underlying biases are certainly there at some level. And anytime I hear discussion of going beyond a customer expectation, my “antennas” go up almost instinctively until I can see that a balance is present.

It’s all about Exceeding Expectations…Isn’t it?

Well that depends.

For starters, let’s look at what we mean by “exceeding expectations”. There are many ways to exceed expectations. We can exceed the customers expectation through the product itself. We can exceed their expectations on how the product is sold and delivered. We can exceed expectations on what happens after a complaint. The list goes on….In fact, the “Purple Goldfish” project has good examples emerging of all fronts.

However, while “exceeding expectations” on any one of those dimensions will generally score you points in short term satisfaction, it’s doing it in ALL of the zones that will generate “sustainable” levels  satisfaction and loyalty over the long haul.

For me, all of the dimensions I reference above can be summarized into two broad categories, either of which we are capable of delivering on effectively (by meeting or exceeding expectations) or poorly (by failing to deliver). These are:

  • The  PRODUCT ITSELF (or service) that is purchased- With respect to physical products, this generally deals with quality (does it work consistently without failure?). But with softer products or services, it could be the quantity provided ( for many, lagniappe is  that extra helping or side dish you get with your meal at a restaurant), or a “feature” that you’ve grown to expect in the core product (In flight entertainment, availability  and features of your bank’s ATM, Lobby services provided.)
  • The SERVICE EXPERIENCE (in terms of delivery/ and follow up support)- Here I’m referring largely HOW the service is delivered. It’s HOW you are handled by the sales, service staff, or even the automated channels when you interact with them. This could be during the sale itself, during the account set up phase, as part of a general inquiry or bill payment, or as a follow up to a complaint. For these purposes, I view service as “how the product is delivered“- before, during, and after the sale.

Winning with “lagniappe”…

As the chart below shows, a strategy to exceed expectation on any one of those dimensions, while failing to do the same on the other is a pretty quick recipe for trouble. The below chart shows the range of customer experiences (from below to above expectations) on each of these two dimensions (Product on the horizontal, and the delivery/ “Service” experience on the vertical).

Starting in the bottom left quadrant, few of us would argue that failing on both dimensions is a clear path to customer satisfaction HELL. While its a painful way to go, it’s often quick, unless you’re in a protected monopoly or some other type of “controlled market” that will prolong the agony. Assuming the product concept is good, and  it has a decent enough business model, someone may actually step in to acquire and/or turnaround the business. But short of that, the days are numbered for companies that live in this space. Utilities and  Municipal Services providers can often fall into this category because of their largely protected monopoly environment, although there are exceptions.

On the other end of the spectrum (top right) are clearly the “winners” in this game, the ones who are generating and sustaining high levels of customer satisfaction and delight. Great product. Great service. Interestingly, in more cases than not, they also have lower cost structures for servicing since good products and good first time service resolution actually results in fewer required interactions. The investment up front in product design and development of a strong service process has paid off. Apple is a great example of a company in this arena. The core product is well designed and it works without fail. It’s easy to set up, use and it rarely breaks. The service, wherever it is provided- store, call center, self help, etc…always surpasses my expectations.

(click to view full size)

And while, it’s not the “holy grail” on the chart above, operating in the cross hairs (“core players”) can actually be a pretty safe place to play. It won’t earn you much in the way of lagniappe or high levels of customer “delight”, but there is something to be said for consistently meeting both expectations ALL THE TIME. Customers value that more than we often think. Look no further than Southwest Airlines and McDonald’s for examples in this domain.

Being one dimensional often means trouble…

As with most things, failing to have a balance usually spells trouble downstream. The same is true here.

Companies in the lower right, are those who have a great product, but fail miserably on the service side. Interestingly, many of the quasi competitive utilities like Cable and Cell Providers operate in this space. Their service rarely goes out, and most of the time is truly fantastic (above expectation). But the sign up processes, inquiry resolution, and in store interactions are often pure hell. Auto companies (operating through a dealer network that varies in its performance levels) can also fall into this category.

The trouble here is threefold. First, bad service usually creates a spiral of its own spending (how many times have you had to call a second or third time to get resolution?) Second, whatever gain you got by having a great product, is at best neutralized because of the poor service. And third, given a way to get the same product somewhere else (think bad car deal experience), you’ll take it. Barriers to switch (for example, it’s not easy to mentally “uproot your TV and cable system” after you’ve gotten used to it) can certainly delay the defection. But when those barriers go away (e.g. time for a new car lease?), it’s a whole different story.

That all notwithstanding, I think the most interesting quadrant is upper left. Here lie the companies that are trying so hard, often spending out the wazoo to essentially buy their way to a desired  satisfaction level. You know the types- the incessant stream of discounts, give aways, apologies, follow ups, etc… that occur on the heals of buying a poor product or service and failing to have even your most basic expectations met. Nothing ticks me off more than someone “begging” for a survey score (sometimes overtly), knowing full well that you aren’t satisfied.  Its easy in this area for costs to spiral out of control because you’re fighting a losing battle from the start. Until the core service is delivered, the customer doesn’t (and shouldn’t) care about anything else. This is the one quadrant where lagniappe can in fact hurt more than it helps. Hotels that give me free cookies won’t earn my satisfaction if my bed is uncomfortable or my room is subpar. A happy stewardess does nothing for me if the inflight entertainment is down on a 10 hour flight. And an apology or free drink coupon does not help much if my flight is delayed because of a mechanical problem on a plane that has been sitting there overnight!

Get to the crosshairs, THEN move from there…

If I had to give advice to a company, it would be to first get to basic levels of expectations on both dimensions. Then worry about the lagniappe.

Define what your core product is. Go beyond just the basic product to all the things that customers expect about the service or product they’re buying. What’s your equivalent to the in flight entertainment system? or the TD bank coin counting machine? or the Chase check deposit feature (by capturing image on your phone)? even you’re pricing and rate structure/ plan options?  These are the things that have brought customers to you. And they must work flawlessly just to meet expectations. Introducing new features and tools will do nothing if they either dont work, or are layered onto a poorly functioning base product

Do the same for your service offering and channels. Don’t embed a new self service channel, or new IVR if your underlying process still has major flaws. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck in a 7 layer IVR system, until you recognize that the analog process wasn’t much better. These kind of things speak volumes about the nature of your underlying process and service infrastructure. Same goes for those new kiosks, mobile bill pay, social media interaction, online knowledge base’s. Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than watching a company invest oodles in technology when it consistently demonstrates little in the way of savvy when dealing with the most basic of interactions.

Once you have your baseline set in each of these areas, and get your performance to the minimum expectation for both, you can look for more and more ways to offer those “extras” that will really make a difference, while also raising the bar for your competitors.

Who wants a second helping of crap?

Look folks, lagniappe is a often a good thing, particularly when it is added to a solid buying experience.

But when it’s not , any effort you spend to provide it will at best be neutralized, and may  even cause the opposite effect. After all, who wants a second helping of a crappy meal?

Fortunately, for those who are spending Mardi Gras in New Orleans, there’s little likelihood of a crappy meal. And if you do happen to experience one, you’ll probably be to drunk to notice!


Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at