Thursday, April 3, 2014

He is too nice!!

Several colleagues and I recently had a meeting with a team of engineers and managers at a customer to discuss some technologies Mitsubishi is developing that should meet this customers’ requirements. We went through the concepts, showed a prototype and mock-up components, demonstrated a new software package, and discussed the plans and schedules. The customer provided comments on the new product ideas, re-emphasized their requirements, and provided some suggestions for improvements. In other words, it was a fairly typical customer meeting, like many I have attended before. However, after the meeting, one of my colleagues made a comment that was very interesting, “He is very nice to us today! Almost too nice.” referring to the manager of the customer team.

This particular manager usually has very strong opinions on many issues, tends to be critical about “lacking the features that he wants” in Mitsubishi products, is always demanding certain products or technologies to be available “tomorrow” so he can meet his project schedule. I am sure we have all run into customers like him, demanding, critical, asking for everything, complaining about the product availability and costs… but he didn't behave anything like that at all this particular day. He was nice, commenting on the new features that he saw and liked, even though the timing does not quite fit his requests, he gave us his suggestions and comments for improvement and his ideas on the development, all in a very cooperative and nice way! You know what, as soon as my colleague made the comment, an alarm sounded within me: This is not good!!What triggered in me, was my past experience as an end user. I had met so many salespeople and been through so many sales presentations on various technologies and products. A lot of times, what the person was selling was interesting to me in general but did not have relevancy to the projects or tasks that I was responsible for. So what did I do? I was polite and courteous, I asked questions showing that I was interested in what they were talking about (I actually was), I made constructive suggestions and comments to them trying to provide some value to the conversations, but the bottom line was that the product or technology did not have direct application for me and would not be used on my projects any time soon. So I was “nice” to them, but that wasn't really what they wanted.


I learned quite a while ago that if a person cares about a particular subject, topic or issue, he or she will show a lot of passion about it, whether positive or negative. When people show no emotion about it, generally it means they “don't care” one way or the other because it is not relevant to them. So I think we are in a bit of trouble with this particular customer and we have to figure out how to “stir-up” their passion toward Mitsubishi technologies again.


We also need to realize that it is not enough to generate “customer satisfaction” any more, it is necessary for us to create “customer enthusiasm” (borrowing an old GM slogan) to make our customers really passionate about our products and be excited to use them in their applications. In order to do so, we have to be innovative, creative, open-minded and understand where customers are heading in the future. Providing solid, reliable, cost effective products and solutions is necessary, but we have to give customers more than that. We have to take back the leadership position in customers’ eyes.


It will be fun but challenging to get there, but I am passionate about getting there and not just about feeling “nice” about it!! Let’s get going!!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

It is cold, isn’t it?


I have lived in Michigan since 1980, and I must say that this is the coldest winter I have ever experienced. I used to think the temperature in single digit Fahrenheit was cold, but it is nothing compared to -10 degrees! After a few times experiencing temperatures in the negative Fahrenheit territory, it felt like a heat wave when a couple of 20 degree days came around. It is interesting how our perspectives change based on the experiences we have had.

I visited Nagoya, Japan just a few days ago, and it was in the low 50’s and sunny. It felt so good! I walked around without any heavy coat or jacket, just my suit coat. Then I noticed that most people around me not only had their winter coats on, they had scarfs, hats, gloves and were shivering! I was really surprised to see that, and people looked at me funny also, probably thinking I was crazy walking around like I did. When I had a chance to chit-chat with the people at the meetings I attended, a lot of people were curious about how low the temperatures had been in the USA and how it felt to be in such cold weather. After we went through the Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion, I can see the jaws dropped and they were genuinely surprised and couldn’t figure out how people could function in such “extreme” conditions. Interesting, isn’t it? It was cold, but life goes on and we seemed to be functioning just fine, even though there were certainly some inconveniences we had to deal with.

It shows how experiences and perspectives can really influence how one feels, and the biggest problem we have is trying to convince others that their feelings are wrong! In other words, I thought most of the people were wrong for feeling cold when it was 50 and sunny, and they probably thought it was really strange for me to feel warm when it was ONLY 50 degrees. I heard a wise saying one time: “There is no right or wrong in how one feels, it is only wrong to tell someone else how he or she should feel!” I am paraphrasing here since I can’t remember the whole thing precisely, but I think you get the drift.

We should all remember this when we are dealing with customers and working to sell products or solutions to them. I was on the customer side before, and I still remember a supplier tried to convince me to throw away my strategy and direction because he knew better and his products were all I ever needed and he couldn’t figure out why I would go a different direction and use different products. He spent so much time trying to convince me how good his stuff was, how I felt, and what I knew was wrong. I guess he didn’t care about how I felt and tried to tell me what I felt was wrong and what he knew or felt was correct. He never did try to figure out what I needed and how to satisfy my requirements. Needless to say, I didn’t buy his stuff. It is kind of like trying to convince the people around me that 50 degrees was not cold, and they should all take off their winter coats and be like me instead of finding out whether they were warm enough and whether I could offer them my suit coat to make them warmer.
So, when someone says “I feel cold” when it is 80 degrees outside, just remember he is correct, regardless how you feel!! By the way, Happy Chinese New Year! It is the Year of the Horse just in case you want to know!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Say What??

I came across an article[1] the other day describing the 10 most irritating filter phrases that one should avoid using: “At the end of the day”, “To be honest”, “If you know what I mean”, “You know”, “Having said that”, “Like”, “Literally”, “I am just saying”, “Seriously”, and “I mean.”

After reading the article, I became quite concerned because I found myself using all of them in my conversations, sometimes even during formal presentations, quite regularly. Not that I use them all at once in one setting, some phrases more so than others, but I can almost hear myself saying these words and phrases without even thinking about them. Other ones that didn’t make the list but are used quite often as filler words in conversation are um, uh, er, ah and similarly annoying words. I tried to consciously not to use any filter phrases or filler words in one of my presentations at one time just to see how I did, and I failed miserably. I really had a very difficult time getting through the whole thing without stumbling with my words. That is probably why there are so many of those filter phrases and filler words in our conversations now. 

Are we getting sloppy in communicating with each other now? I started to think why we used these filter words. A lot of times we use them to emphasize a particular point, and other times, I found myself doing so just to give myself a bit more time to think about what I am going to say before letting the words out. Is using these words really bad for communication?

Now a day, with Twitters and Text Messages, we get a whole bunch of acronyms that are hard to understand, unless you are a teenager or have teenagers at home. So are LOL, KK, W/E, BFF, WBU, TYVM, and GTG any better than the phrases described earlier? Do they make communication more efficient or confusing? Do they make people understand each other better? So how about # tag words? We don’t use # tag words in our verbal conversation, but apparently adding the #tag words make certain subjects easier to search in the “electronic” world. The differences in how we communicate in the “real” world (verbal communication, face to face or phone call) and “electronic” world (texts, emails, Twitters, Facebook) become so drastically different; we lost the proper way of communicating with each other in both worlds. In other words, the common courtesy, respect, proper manners, feelings, seem to be lost in all forms now. Because some people believe they can say anything without consequences in texts, twitters, etc. the same mind set seems to creep into the situations when the persons actually have to say something directly to another person. No wonder we have communication issues all over.

I personally prefer to use the communication manner in the “real” world and even propagating the same manner into the “electronic” world. So it is difficult for me to send short text messages and two-line email messages. I actually take more time to write emails to make sure people will not misinterpret what I say because they cannot see my body language or hear the tones in my voice. Is it the better way? I am sure people have different opinions. I prefer this way because I believe it is better than not having any email etiquette and causing unnecessary conflicts and problems.

So what is the point here? No matter how you communicate, whether using “er”, “ah”, or any filter words or LOL, #tags, please know that there are people on the other side, and proper respect and manners are more important than the styles and methods that are used.

Good thing we don’t have to worry about etiquette, filter words, or #tags in machine to machine communications since there are clearly defined rules that both sides need to follow. May be that is what we also need here to make human-to-human communication more effective.

Happy New Year!


[1] “Stop! Don't Use These Words - They're So Irritating!” by Bernard Marr, an author and Enterprise Performance Expert

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Preferred Customers


People watching at the airport is an interesting thing to do while standing around waiting your flight. There are kids going on their first flight and not afraid to show their excitement; and there are those who don’t travel much (if at all), and seem to be lost at the airport, unsure of what they should do or where they should go. Then there are the travel pros, with efficiently packed carried-on luggage and backpacks stuffed with laptops, zipping through TSA pre-checked lanes and “priority” boarding lanes, and occupying the best seats on the airplanes. They project an aura of “arrogance” and “privilege,” show little patience with anyone who block their ways, and snicker at those who are stumbling to get the “3-1-1” bags out of their carried-on bags. Wait….. I think I just described myself at the airport. How did I get to be this way?

Whoever invented the concept of frequent flyers, frequent renters, and frequent buyers is the one to blame for creating a bunch of prima donna customers. Certainly, the “Loyalty” programs are great for providing preferred customers with added benefits, and good for businesses for repeat business and revenue. However, what about the rest of the customers? Are they being treated like second class citizens? Are the “basic” levels of services up to par or they are being neglected for majority of the customers?

In our industry, we don’t really have a written preferred customer loyalty program, but we all treat our best customers differently. They get the best discounts, the priority delivery of long-lead items, the best service from sales people. We jump when they complain about something, and we smile even when some of their demands are so unreasonable. Do we really know the “value” of all these tangible and intangible preferred treatments? Do we really know how much business we may lose because we tend to neglect the small customers and their needs? I understand we need to focus on the main customers and focused target business areas because we all have limited resources. It makes perfect sense from the business perspective, but from customer service perspective, do we operate under a different set of standards? Do we really mean that “Customers are always right” or do we really mean “Preferred customers” are always right and we will see about the others?

All I know is that when I flew on the airline that is not my preferred one, I felt ignored, slighted, and disrespected, despite what the agents and flight attendants said verbally about welcoming me as a customer. Those were not good feelings and made me more hesitant to fly on the non-preferred airlines again. Perhaps that is exactly what companies try to accomplish with loyalty programs, but I believe we can do better if we also treat the non-preferred customers better.

I noticed recently that the airlines are making the qualifications for preferred customers tougher; maybe they also started to realize that all the perks given to these preferred customers are too costly, and too many preferred customers is not a good thing. Or maybe they just realize that treating a special group of customers differently may not be such a profitable idea?

I wonder if we just do business the old fashion way by giving equal, quality services and products to all who are our customers and treat them with proper respect may be a better way. On the other hand, I do hate to give up my TSA Pre-Checks, first class upgrades, and Exit row seats though. What a dilemma!!  

 

 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Bicycle Wheels


With the auto industry continues to flourish in the Detroit Metro area, engineers become hot commodities. Many people whom I know complained about not being able to hire good, qualified engineers who are willing to work in the manufacturing discipline. So when I have a position to fill on my team, I was a bit apprehensive about not being able to find the right person for the job. To my pleasant surprise, I was able to interview seven strong candidates and the difficulties become how to select the most suitable person to fill the opening and make the proper offer to secure the selected candidate.

Being a typical engineer, I laid out the criteria to be evaluated, assigned a weight to each criterion, had the people helped me with the interviews fill out the score cards, totaled the scores, found the average of all the scores, and ranked everyone candidate from top to bottom. You would think that after completing the “mechanical” process, it should be as easy as distinguishing between black and white to pick the person for the job. Well, this is when things become a bit complicated. Just like many of decision processes that we all have gone through, the so called “intangible” factors start to come into play: Person A seems to be a “big picture” person who can see the vision and the direction but not so much in handling detailed tasks; Person B is great in all aspects technically and has the proper experience but lives too far from the office and he expects to reduce the amount of travel he currently has; Person C is good with proper experience and background, but seems to be too much an easy-go-lucky kind of guy and may not be as aggressive when necessary …… and I can go on and on and list all these different considerations. The bad thing about this is that I cannot simply put these intangibles in a spread sheet and start tallying scores and make a decision the same way. Over the years of my career, I have seen people who tried to consider similar intangible factors and influence the outcome of the decision making process by fudging the numbers of the matrix until the answer came out the way they wanted it, just to justify the decision they had made already in their minds (gut feels?). But really, how do you account for the intangible factors, especially for an important decision?

I recently took the Wilson Counselor Salesperson training classes to learn how the selling process will help me in the engineering field (Got to keep up with the sales guys, you know). If you have taken the training also, you will remember the illustration of the “bicycle wheels” to represent the proper selling balance required. The front wheel represents the people and interpersonal issues that need to be considered and the back wheel the tasks and technical issues. (If you don’t know what I am talking about, you should take the training also!) It dawned on me that the matrix I used for evaluating the candidates is the “back wheel” and the intangible factors I need to consider are the elements of the front wheel. If I manage to balance the two, I will be able to select the most appropriate person for the job. If I tried to put the intangibles into the matrix and twisted the numbers to come out the way I wanted it, I would end up with a gigantic back wheel and no front wheel to steer and I will not be able to go anywhere.

Well, I am happy to say that I learned something from a sales training, and I was able to make the decision on the most appropriate person. I am confident about the selection and believe the person will make excellent contributions to the business because I was able to ride and steer the bike with balanced wheels!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Perception or Reality?

As a part of my job, I have the opportunity to travel to different parts of the U.S. and the world for business. At times, like most of June and early July, the trips seemed to bunch together week after week, and it became somewhat tiresome to be at the airport on a weekly basis. When the shuttle bus driver between the parking lot and the terminals recognized me, it is a good indication that may be I am there a bit too often.
One of my friends told me recently that it must be great that I was able to go to so many different places and see different sights, and she was envious of me. Right away, my reaction was to tell her: “if you only knew …” I was going to tell her about the flight delays, the mechanical problems, the red-eye flights, the long days, the boring sights of airports, hotels, meeting rooms, etc. but I caught myself before I actually started to complain because I wondered in my mind what is the “reality” of business travel? Is it “fun and game” as she envisioned or “doom and gloom” as I was about to present? Was her perception accurate or was my “reality” correct? Or is it somewhere in between?
We have all heard the phrase that “Perception is Reality.” However, for those who are experiencing reality, perceptions from others that are “contradicting” to their “reality” are difficult to accept. Unfortunately, in the business world, the perceptions of our customers and potential customers dictate the reality of our business results. It really does not matter how great our products are if we cannot create the proper perceptions in the minds of our customers. As engineers, we often think that it is the job of marketing and sales people to create the positive perceptions (or illusions from some engineers’ perspective) of the products. But often we neglect to emphasize the benefits and advantages of our products to the customers when we have the opportunities, and have the tendency to voice the “not so positive” (hum… that is a politically correct way of saying it) features because we are frustrated that the products are not perfect as we like them to be. I am not advocating that one should tell lies, but we should all be careful about leaving others with the wrong impressions and cause false perceptions that may be damaging to our company’s reputation and business results.
Just like I should not leave the impression that business travel is all bad because it is not true. It is a privilege to be able to visit different places and work with different people, to create new friendships and new business opportunities, to experience different cultures and taste authentic foods locally (my favorite part!!). Yes, the hotels, airports, and meeting rooms may be boring sights, but along the way, I got to see Eiffel Tower, Nagoya Castle, Forbidden City… and that is precious. It may not be all “fun and game” but it certainly is not “doom and gloom.” I am sure many “elite” frequent fliers in my company will agree with me.
My travel schedule for the rest of July is considerably lighter, and I get to stay home more. So the perception is that finally I will be able stay around and relax.  But the reality is … a long list of things to catch up at the office and at home! Well, maybe I will start missing the reality of travel before I know it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Better be Lucky than Good???


I enjoyed playing golf, but the number of rounds I played went down and down over the past couple of years. Not because I don’t like it anymore, but it seemed to be more and more difficult to find time to play this game now. It is already near the end of June, and I finally got out to play the other day, the second 9 holes this year! Wow, at this rate, I probably don’t even have to clean my golf shoes after the season is over (not that I really polish and clean my golf shoes before!)

Anyway, you can imagine my round wasn’t really pretty with wayward shots and three-putts. Then, I came to an easy, short par-3 hole. How much easier can it be? Down hills, only about 120 yards, a simple wage or 9-iron shot… Sure enough, I hit a worm-burner off the tee, and amazingly I watched it rolled all the way to the green, avoiding the bunkers along the way, rolled through the green, up on this high slope behind the green, rolled back on the green and almost right into the hole! It finally stopped about 10 feet from the hole. Two putts later, I got a par! (Hey, at least I didn’t three-putt the hole!) My playing partner kept shaking his head and proclaiming what a lucky shot it was, and of course I countered with the over-used line: “it is better to be lucky than good!” There wasn’t any more lucky shot in the round after that, and my score card was quickly discarded with a not-so-pretty number on it.

So, is it really better to be lucky than good???? My overall score was not good at all, even with that one lucky hole. Hmmm… Just like the competitive business world that we are in, and if you have a choice, do you choose to be the lucky one or the good one? Without taking a survey, I will venture to say that most people will choose to be “good.” Luck is unpredictable, unreliable, uncontrollable, fleeting… and most likely has only short-term impact. (Well, you may argue the lady in Florida who won the Powerball was lucky and the money she won will have a long-term impact. It may be true but we also heard so many stories of lottery winners who went broke not long after that, so you can make the judgment the how long the impact of luck really is.) But being good at something, it is much more dependable, predictable, consistent, and eventually successful… All good qualities an engineer loves.

That is also why we strive to have great products, great services, competitive pricing so we can be better than our competitors and be successful in the long run. If we do business base on luck, we will not be around for long… Of course a little luck helps when you are good! Sometimes we need to be lucky and being at the right place at the right time to win business against our competitors! But if we are not good at what we are doing and don’t have the good products to offer, the luck will not get us anywhere.

I guess I better go back to the driving range and work on my game. So the next time the luck comes my way, the ball will actually roll back on the green and into the hole instead!!