Stop Numerator Thinking - Innovating Your Service Experience

What happens to most staff and support units when budget time rolls around? For many, there is a fretful push to reduce costs, cut staff, and trim expenses - especially in challenging economic times.

The conventional view is that staff and support units are a part of the denominator—the overhead in their organization’s financial equation. Less impacted by budget pinches are revenue generators—or, the numerators.

What would be the result if support units started acting like revenue generators? Units that use numerator thinking are often the recipient of greater investment, added staff, and expanded resources.

The secret to numerator thinking lies in re-framing your role to one that creates valued experiences, not just relevant outcomes. Unlocking the keys to numerator thinking can lead to increasing influence and worth among the units you serve.

What do natural numerator thinkers do? Take a top-notch sales team. They are the preeminent networkers, always on the prowl for links to getting an audience with those with the gold. They don’t forget a birthday or a chance to surprise a prospect. Then there are the business developers forever in pursuit of new products and new markets. What rings their chime is growth. What about those financial wizards who can find a way to squeeze blood out of the proverbial turnip? They apply resourcefulness to the rational and originality to objectivity. All numerator thinkers are fans of addition and creation over subtraction and cutting; growing over shrinking.

Staff and support units have the same capacity. But, it requires putting a halt to assuming you are in the role of support. To paraphrase a line from the popular Broadway play Grease it means becoming an organizational athlete not settling for the role of athletic supporter. It’s not about just playing the game differently it means getting in the game. Numerator thinkers make things happen instead of reacting to what happens. And, the natural context for applying numerator thinking is the service experience created every time a colleague or unit is served.

I listened to an IT manager explaining on a speakerphone to a colleague he served in the marketing function why it was going to take two days to get a requested report. I was in the marketing director’s office and overheard the whole conversation. It was not a rationale about priorities. Fifteen seconds into his explanation the marketing guy was reading emails and completely ignoring the monologue blaring from his speakerphone. I realized a stark but simple fact: those you serve do not care about how you do what you do; they only care about how your efforts create value.

Numerator thinkers operate with an abundance mentality; denominator thinkers use a scarcity mentality. People with abundance mentality believe the more one gives, the more there is. They cultivate, grow, innovate and invest. Scarcity mentality assumes there is a finite amount of stuff. Use it and there is less; give it away and you have a smaller amount. So, they protect, defend and hoard. They put energy into worrying about turf, credit, and justification.

Numerator thinkers are opportunity seekers. They are not stymied by man-made boundaries such as organizational structure, rigid policies, or restrictive hierarchy. They view service as doing whatever it takes to help a colleague or unit meet a need or solve a problem. While they are respectful and inclusive, they know bureaucracy is the enemy of excellence and the impediment to efficiency. They don’t whine about what they lack, they find a way to go get it! They see challenges as opportunities and setbacks as a key source of learning. Here are six tools for helping you mentally shift from being a hand-wringing denominator to a make-it-happen numerator.

Numerator Tool #1

Be A Great Service Problem Solver - Numerator thinkers are perpetually in search of gaps between what the colleagues or units they serve get and what they really want. They view feedback from colleagues, not as a report card, but as a piece of forensic evidence to help unravel an unmet need, a disappointing encounter, or an unresolved issue. Intensely curious, they approach service recovery as a chance to discover and improve, not just repair and move on. Their indispensability to the organization is born out of their zeal for excellence and impatience with simply adequate. A satisfied colleague to them represents a missed opportunity since they are uninterested in simply satisfying, instead want raving groupies.

Numerator Tool #2

Be An Adventure Capitalist - Numerator thinkers know there is an inextricable link between happy staff employees and happy colleagues served. Since those served well advocate more and forgive more, they view the great service they provide as a springboard for adventure and a context for delight. They invest in nurturing a happy front-line knowing that the ROI will be colleagues served with greater patience and a wider berth for error. They know that great memory they create will translate into positive economics. Units with great reputations are those more immune to the budget-cutting ax since those in charge of trimming resources well know constraining a valued staff unit will be create a backlash of negative press.

Numerator Tool #3

Be A Service Line Extender - Line extensions are the consequence of expanding the benefits of a product or service through a myriad of distinctive applications. A best-selling book becomes a hit movie that spawns a popular video game that leads to a cool toy that becomes an industry. Great service can lead to unique applications each with their own value stream. And, the more the applications, the greater the worth of the service. So, what if you created a collection of powerful YouTube videos on your area everyone could not wait to see? Or a monthly newsletter that was the talk of the break room?

Numerator Tool #4

Be A Human Rolodex® - Become the network link to service greats. Think about a great concierge. Their value is not the width of their smile but the depth of their contacts. They can get you the best seats and those hard-to-find tickets because they learned that resourcefulness and connections was their best route to job security. Say the head of sales needs to get an important package from headquarters to Tenbucktwo by early morning and its way past the final FedEx pick-up. Having a friend of a friend with a small plane willing to make a few extra bucks might elevate your statue. Knowing the chef at the fancy restaurant might be your ticket to getting an important visiting customer the best table.

Numerator Tool #5

Be the R&D Of Customer Service - Stay on the cutting edge in your field and teach others what you know. A local car wash operator learned about customer relationship management (CRM) in a magazine and decided to create his own version. While customers waited for their vehicles to be washed, they completed a simple form that told him a myriad of customer facts from hobbies to driving habits to interest in a tailor made car wash experience. In time customers told their friends about this unique car wash that always had their favorite beverage and magazine, a shoeshine stand, a neck masseuse and a manicurist on location. His tailor-made car wash led to a come-to-your-home detailing service, a minor auto repair service, and an early-warning car inspection service.

Numerator Tool #6

Be A Joy Carrier - Go the extra mile, always. Stay on the lookout for the spirit leeches that enjoy sucking the happiness out of those around them. With surprising stealth, spirit leeches can sneak in their negativity or pessimism before you can say, “Have a nice day.” Remember, the best way to remove a leech is with a lighted match. Meet their cold gloom with hot passion. Transform their caution and skepticism into courage and possibility. Be the “hostess with the mostest” when colleagues seek your support or staff unit’s service.

The budget ax always plagues support units as leaders annually assemble the balance sheet for the upcoming year. Support units too often hunker down or complain about valuable muscle being trimmed, not just worthless fat. It does not have to be this predictable ritual. Worth comes with contribution. And, serving colleagues in ways that are unique and unexpected elevates value.

Pretty good service is not your ticket to avoiding the blade, innovative service is. And, innovative service is the creation of unexpected experiences that get people positively remarking. The greater the buzz you create, the larger the investment you will obtain. Abandon the bottom of the equation and start being a numerator.

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