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Jack Antonini Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

Jack Antonini sees some holes in the old adage, ‘The customer is always right.’ But what Antonini doesn’t dispute is that a company must always listen to its customers and do what it can to keep them happy. Most customers don’t want to simply be told they are right; what they do want is a venue where concerns can be addressed, Antonini says. Antonini has used this approach to lead the ATM network operator to $294 million in revenue in 2006 with 275 employees. Smart Business spoke with the president and CEO about how listening nearly always produces more results than talking.

If you do that, then you can set challenging goals and win the support of your team to be able to really stretch to reach those goals. Part of it naturally entails a command presence. When there is a crisis, you need to be able to step up and lead, and people need to follow you. Have a command presence to deal with issues. Be a change catalyst. Life continues to change, our companies change, our competitors change and the environment changes.

If you don’t change, you’ll quickly stagnate and be unsuccessful. Focus on the right things to change and put the right energy into the organization to change it. Part of good communication skills is being able to take those important concepts that you may have and that broad vision and break it down into things that are communicable and measurable with appropriate timelines.

Then you can communicate that over and over so that people buy in to it and understand it.

Keep the future in view. If you’re not thinking about where you’re going, you’re not going to be prepared. Look out a few years yourself and think about how is the customer going to be doing business with us.

What’s it going to be like? Are we going to be delivering relevant products? What’s the customer experience going to be dealing with my company three years from now? How will technology have changed it, and how will environmental factors have influenced how they interact with my company?

We pulled our executive team together, went offsite and spent a day just talking about what was it going to be like. I had done a fair amount of thinking about it and I asked our team to do that, as well. We sat there and just created a visual story about what it was going to be like.

Once you do that, you quickly get the attention and buy-in from your leadership team. They begin to grasp how are things going to be different and how do we need to be different. If you think about the future like that and put it in terms that are real that people can relate to and understand, you’ll start to get their buy-in. They’ll start jumping in to support it and understand it, and they’ll want to help with it.

Respect your customer. The bottom line is, it’s not that the customer is always right. It’s that we always want to be sensitive to and listen to and be responsive to our customers.

Sometimes, frankly, they are wrong. But you don’t want to ignore them or upset them needlessly because of indifference. You want to deal with them in a responsive way that doesn’t just say they are automatically right, but in a way that says, ‘If I was in that situation, how would I want to be treated?’

You want your employees to deal with the customer that way. If I was in that situation and I was all upset, I wouldn’t want someone just to tell me, ‘You’re right’.

What I’d really like to know is that they hear what I’m saying about the problem and they’re going to do something about it. If you do that, that’s typically what satisfies the customer.

Encourage employee input. Be willing to make a decision and not just let it slide because you’re trying to reach a consensus. In the end, the CEO owns the responsibility and he is the one that is accountable for making the decision.

The hardest ones are the times that your team is evenly divided. Be the tie-breaker. I allow for full discussion and a collaborative input process for everybody to be able to share in the decision-making and to have buy-in.

Be the one that is willing to say, ‘OK, we’re going to make a decision here, and here’s how we’re going to go. When we make a decision, even if it doesn’t go your way, you’ve got to agree that we’re going to support each other when we walk out of that room.’

As long as they understand, typically what you find is people feel pretty good about the fact that they got a chance to have a say in it.

Stay on task. Whenever you are setting goals, whether it’s for a particular meeting or whether it’s to work through a particular issue or whether it’s even your very long-term strategic goals, you have to set very clear time frames and accountability. When we sit down to discuss a subject, even in the collaborative approach that we take, it’s always, ‘Here is what the issue is. Here is what we want to resolve.’

Either yes, this is a meeting at which we expect to resolve this, or no, this is an information-gathering meeting so that we can become informed, go back and do more research, and then come back to make a decision.

You start the meeting with talking about what kind of a meeting it is and what do you expect to accomplish. Then you make sure that before you adjourn the meeting, you’ve done that.

Show passion. You have to start with being able to create a vision of where you are going.

You’ve got to really be excited, passionate, energetic and enthusiastic. If you can’t demonstrate that in your leadership, that’s a real issue. Understand where you are in your industry and have a vision of where you want to take it and what you want to do with it.

HOW TO REACH: Cardtronics Inc., (281) 596-9988 or www.cardtronics.net