Don’t be surprised if Anne Doris shows up at your door someday soon.
If you’re a customer of Cox Communications Inc. Cleveland, she might just be riding along with the technician who comes to your home or office. And during the call, Doris probably won’t even mention that she is general manager and vice president.
“I first just simply say, ‘I’m Anne, and I’m here to install whatever services today,’” she says of her customer visits. “Then someone might ask what do I do, and I tell them, and they’re very pleased that I’ve taken the time out to come to their particular installation.”
Doris doesn’t ride along on calls every day, but she wants her 180 employees to see that she understands the business, so she has no qualms about rolling up her sleeves and joining the crew.
Smart Business spoke with Doris about why you have to listen objectively if you want to bring people in and how to build rapport by riding shotgun with your employees.
Listen carefully before reacting. Something that’s been critical for me has been the ability to listen. ... Successful leaders have to be able to listen well and use the information they get to help formulate the strategy for their organization.
It’s really critical when you hear information to probe further and get more facts but simultaneously assume as you go along positive intent of the information that you’re hearing.
We’re all in business with the purpose of serving customers, and there are times when information may not be as clear as you might think, and perception may not always be reality. So the burden on you as a leader is to always delve deeper into any issue that you’re faced with and not make any assumptions about the information that you’re receiving.
It’s very important to be objective. You’ll find yourself being cut off if you’re not clearly maintaining objectivity about the information you’re being given.
One of the things that I try to do at all times is maintain a certain sense of unflappable calm, and that gives me a great deal of advantage. That way I am always open and listening. People will respond to how they think you are reacting.
Acclimate employees to you and your company. I can’t personally hire everyone, but one of the things that we do focus on is the orientation schedule for employees. We want to be sure that they understand what each department does, what are their objectives, what their work is in regards to a product or a customer, and we want them to have an understanding of what the organization’s strategic vision and goals are.
So we ensure that their very first day with our company they learn our company history and tell them what customer service means to us.
Then it’s really important for me to set the stage at each new employee orientation class for them to know what I, as the leader of Cox Communications in Cleveland, expect of the organization and the role I expect them to play. I want them to know our products, align themselves with our goals and support their coworkers and to deliver a high standard of customer service.
Create both formal and informal avenues of feedback. It’s very important to employees that they stay connected with their leaders. It’s a two-way [street].
They want to understand the strategic direction the company is headed in, they want to hear feedback, and they want to ensure that the things that they’re seeing — they know more about what’s going on with our business, they know more about our challenges because they see them every day — are being articulated formally or informally. They really need to see that you get it; they need to understand not only the direction you’re headed in but also that they are able to push upward to you information that is being acknowledged and being taken into consideration.
I do that formally and informally. Informally, I begin my day in the parking lot; I may spend some time talking with our installers and technicians as they are getting ready to leave for the day. I walk around my business a lot so that people can find me approachable. My door is literally open to any employee at any time.
Formally, I do ride-alongs, meaning I will join an installer or technician on their route for an entire day. I might join a salesperson. I might sit in on the telephone in either the care or tech support.
I have those visits scheduled on my calendar. I set them up a year ahead of time, and I don’t change them unless there’s a very compelling reason.
I hold ‘Ask Anne’ meetings in which I pull together a cross-functional group of employees and we have lunch so that they can not only talk with me but talk with each other about ... things we can improve on. If there are opportunities for us to take those ideas and implement them, we do.
When it’s something that you can’t do, you know that almost immediately, and you can discuss that with them right there. For the ideas and solutions, I generally bring them back to my senior team and talk about it with them and then create an action. So if it’s something that can be done, we’ll put something in place and get it done.
Then they get the understanding that we want to be close to our customers, and they think that it’s very important that they share that information with me or with their supervisor or manager.
HOW TO REACH: Cox Communications Inc. Cleveland, (216) 676-8300 or www.cox.com