Monday, May 12, 2008

Men, Women, and Bison

Right next to the embarrassing Attachmate-related article this weekend was an article containing an embarrassing number regarding women-owned businesses - fewer than 3% hit $1M, according to Susan Solovic, addressing entrepreneurial women at the Vision to Venture event put on in Seattle by Microsoft last Friday. And this is despite numbers indicating that twice as many women as men are starting businesses, although the Kaufman Foundation says the ratio of male and female entrepreneurship is just the opposite.

In fact, the Kaufman Foundation is very interested in identifying and addressing the obstacles to success for women entrepreneurs and with the women's entrepreneurial success numbers so low, that's probably a good thing, no matter who's starting businesses more frequently than whom. Personally, after reading Berkun's excellent book, Myths of Innovation, I believe that women are ideally situated to become successful innovators.

Think about even the basics, when it comes to innovation and risk.

Innovation and entrepreneurship both require risk and being in a risk-averse situation or stage of life is perhaps one of the bigger obstacles to becoming an innovator or an entrepreneur. My assertion is that women as a group are in a much better place to accommodate the sorts of risks associated with innovation and entrepreneurial activities.

Single women are just as well educated and have no more to lose than single men, so from a mathematical standpoint, women should about equal men in their younger years.

When men and women share a household as couples, it starts making far more sense for women to take on the risky business of entrepreneurial innovation since on average, men still earn considerably more than women. If you're going to risk a paycheck, make it the smaller of the two.

When those couples have children, higher-earning male partners become even more risk-averse, or would if they stopped to think about the math. At the same time, introducing the cost of childcare into the equation makes having both parents working outside the home less mathematically attractive with each additional child.

Sure, finding the time to innovate or start a business gets tougher with children around but no more so for women than for men, especially if they're willing to share the workload and perhaps relax their standards a bit too. And the more flexible paid work that mothers often seek is well-suited to a side venture, whether that happens while children are still young or whether they wait until the extra time is available for something other than tending to youngsters.

Mothers who get involved in volunteer activities are quickly becoming adept at virtual organizations, providing them with valuable skills in working virtually on entrepreneurial pursuits as well, and they're often great at networking even if that doesn't always include asking for what they want for themselves. On top of all that, mothers who stay home with their kids get to see natural innovators up close and personal each and every day.

Although I have lots more thoughts where these come from, you begin to get the idea. I am sure there are even more arguments that I haven't even yet considered, also supporting the assertion that women are well-positioned to be innovators and entrepreneurs. If you have any - counter-arguments too - please share. I'm always interested.

In the meantime, mamas please don't let your babies grow up to be wannabe cowboys who find it necessary to ignore open-range laws and go around shooting someone else's herd of bison. Aside from showing poor judgment that, as pointed out in one comment, is quite likely is not limited to bison, it's flat out embarrassing to those of us who have any past or present connection to the proud history of Attachmate and WRQ. Help them grow up to be fabulously successful innovators instead. Start with teaching kids innovative thinking. Then think about becoming great role models for innovation yourselves.

Where do you see room for improvement?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Bliss'ed Out

I'm not just a geek. I'm a geek with a passion for customer service. And now I have a new hero - Jeanne Bliss, author of Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action, because she lays it all out there exactly as I've seen it over the years.

Wanting customer service done right, with the right kind of leadership, was the whole reason I got into management in the first place. Although I've worked with some great support professionals over the years, I haven't always found my passion for the customer matched, understood, or supported sufficiently high enough in the food chain to make a lasting difference.

I've theorized that getting attention onto the customer - the real nuts and bolts of what it takes to make customers truly happy with the products and services offered by a company - requires executive sponsorship and action of a level I've rarely seen before. With a nod to the other ways it is possible to make good customer relationships happen, Bliss essentially confirms that assertion with her own experiences and recommendations. I couldn't be more delighted.

A recent search of "Chief Customer Officer" shows CCO's are relatively new as a phenomenon , and some circles still argue the value of a CCO or Chief Customer Experience Officer (CCEO). Although the concept seems to be building momentum slowly, at least it's out there now.

In my estimation, it's not enough to say that we should be focused on customers. Having a deep understanding of what customer service really is and what it takes, operationally, to make customers satisfied and be business savvy enough to go about it in ways that are both effective and cost-conscious all push the degree of responsibility and interaction with other leaders of the organization up to C-level and even merit Board-level involvement.

Focus on the customer has to be real, and it has to exist throughout the company. It can't just be limited to technical support or customer service. Bliss has a good CCO-or-Not checklist for assessing whether a company needs a dedicated CCO to manage customer experiences.

The nice thing about the Chief Customer Officer function is that it more effectively describes what's needed in emerging companies.

In the early stages of a company, there is typically not enough volume to warrant a dedicated technical support or customer service person. But there does still have some be some understanding of how customer experiences will be managed, and how a service operation will grow. And the CEO needs the ear and support of someone who understands all of that so that it doesn't get lost in the process of getting funding and bringing the product to market.

Granted, it's generally overkill to have that expertise in play on a full-time basis. That's where on-demand or interim management can be helpful. Plenty of startups hire interim CFO's for similar reasons. Maybe it's time to think about an interim or on-demand CCO as well.

Clearly we're all still finding what constitutes level ground on this one, let alone best practices. I'd love your comments. I'm also looking for more resources to add to my growing collection of notes on the Chief Customer Officer function. I welcome your recommendations.

What if we paid the same level of attention to avoiding re-architecting customer service and corporate culture as we do to building good products?