“If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.”
In our first year of operation, the company I founded earned a profit of $80,000. That was in Singapore in 2001.
We had done well with two Customer Service workshops I had written and we’d landed two global Mystery Shopper research programs which were well underway.
Business was off to a great start.
But I knew that what had made us successful so far wasn’t going to necessarily make us successful in the mid to long term.
I hadn’t left working in the corporate world just to find myself having to go back in to that because I hadn’t helped my Clients solve problems.
So I took $40,000 of that first year profit, signed a contract with a consulting firm in California, and flew myself and a Singaporean colleague to live in the isolated mountaintop home of the firm’s founder.
For a month.
Why did we spend a month on a mountain top in California?
It’s a reasonable question.
My colleague and I travelled to the U.S. to receive four weeks of private instruction in Contact Center management directly from the consulting firm’s founder.
I had done my homework before signing on the dotted line and everything went the way it was supposed to go.
It was a superb and intellectually intense month.
Every morning we were up and seated in our Instructor’s home office to start class at 9:00AM.
Our 12:30 – 1:30 lunch consisted of sandwiches that the Instructor made for us in his big kitchen downstairs (which my Asian colleague despaired of at one point saying, “Argh, in Asia we prefer to eat warm food!”).
To highlight how isolated we were, the Instructor had his own small plane and airstrip and he flew himself to most of his engagements.
But aside from those two or three outings, we lived as if we were in boarding school. And I loved almost every minute.
I was in my element.
Over the four weeks we covered four (4) domains of Contact Center knowledge:
- Operations Management
- Leadership & Business Management
- People Management
- Customer Relationship Management (for CX folks remember it was 2002)
The deep grounding in know-how I went through in that month, coupled with my real world experience managing Centers, has informed my view of the Customer ecosystem ever since.
Which is essentially this –
I believe that leading & managing in the Customer ecosystem, whether Contact Center Management or Customer Experience Management, is a business discipline.
And as with any business discipline, there is a level of necessary know-how, across multiple domains, that an industry professional needs in order to avoid negative outcomes and achieve great outcomes.
In the Customer industry, as was true in my own case, people don’t typically go to school to learn these things.
Many people in the Customer industry end up in the industry by accident and then end dup learning on the job, which as you’d imagine can be very hit or miss.
I know this because I meet so many of them in our workshops and have the opportunity to listen to their stories.
By Year 6, I had signed checks for nearly$380,000 specifically for learning & development
By the sixth year of my company’s operations, I had signed checks totalling nearly $380,000 to cover IP & content rights, long distance travel expenses to join workshops and meetings (the days before Zoom) and to pay for various membership & certification costs.
And it was worth every penny.
By this time, Clients were flying me all over the world to teach their people how to succeed in the Customer ecosystem.
One memorable week I finished a class in Beijing in the evening, went to the airport to board a flight, landed in Delhi the next morning and took the taxi straight to the venue to begin a morning class there.
I also wrote extensive training content of our own and Partners and Clients began to approach us to buy or license our courseware.
I’m grateful I came up through Finance
I came up through Finance so the concept of a business discipline was natural for me. I had been through the gamut of formal learning required to succeed in the finance discipline.
I have never heard any VP, Finance say that their bosses were fine that they learn how to prepare financial statements on the job.
Of course you learn on the job.
But to get those kinds of senior level Finance jobs I had to have a relevant university degree and relevant industry certifications just to get an interview, much less get the job.
In my last Finance role, I worked at a direct marketing company in the US that sold products nationally via TV commercials and catalogs. We served Customers through our own big Contact Center & Distribution Center based in El Segundo, California.
I’d been preparing the financials and budgets for both the Contact Center & Distribution Center for a few years and knew the numbers inside and out.
Then a remarkable thing happened that changed my life.
The VP, Operations resigned from her post to take another job and an hour later the CEO called me up and offered me her position.
To move from VP, Finance to VP, Contact Centre & Distribution Operations.
I was honored and excited and said yes right away.
Looking back, I think my finance background was one of the key factors the senior team took into account before extending the offer to me.
The fact that I knew the numbers and was able to explain them had earned me face time and trust with very senior people.
I was also fortunate that the former VP, Operations had been so generous with her time, often explaining the art & science of Contact Center Management as we’d have lunch or take long walks around the grounds.
Of course over the next eight years of senior Contact Center positions in the U.S. and Asia I learned a lot on the job.
But let me tell you this.
I flat out knew that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And I was the VP, Operations!
So when I left the corporate world and started my own company, I made the decision to close the gaps in my knowledge as soon as I could.
I mean how could I possibly help Clients solve their problems if I didn’t have the know-how and credibility to do so?
And that’s how I ended up on a mountain top in California.
You’ve got to know what you’re talking about
One of the most common feedback comments we get from Participants in our workshops is: “I wish I had taken this course earlier.”
To which I reply with some version of Maya Angelou’s wonderful quote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
And no, you don’t have to do what I did. You don’t have to start your own company and spend $380,000.
I know what I did is pretty unique.
But I would say that there is tremendous value in looking in the mirror and saying out loud, “I don’t know what I don’t know.”
And then doing something about it.
Thank you for reading!
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Daniel Ord teaches the Customer Experience Team at Agoda in Shanghai.