Are You Having the Right Conversation with Your Customers?



In this video, Lisa P. Callahan, Process & Functional Excellence Senior Manager at Accenture, is joined by HireVue’s Jim Nesbitt to discuss how to navigate dialogue within a diverse group of internal and external customers.

Watch this on-demand webinar now to learn:

  • How to build customer relationships in an increasingly fast-paced business environment, from partnerships through to candidates
  • How to identify customer styles to tailor your approach and improve engagement
  • Methods of navigating cultural differences when doing business on a global scale
  • Aligning your conversations with your customers key metrics to impact upon their results

Watch this webinar now!

Webinar Transcript:

Scott: Please welcome Lisa Callahan, Performance Excellence Senior Manager at Accenture.

Jim: Hey, that’s great. Thank you very much, Scott. This is Jim. Hello.Good day everyone. It’s my pleasure today to have a great conversation with Lisa Callahan from Accenture. So Lisa, welcome to our discussion today.

Lisa: Thank you.

Jim: It’s great to connect, Lisa. I really enjoy working with you in our Accenture partnership and one thing you and I get a chance to do is really navigate a lot of conversations so I appreciate you carving out some time here this afternoon today with us just to talk about how do we have the right conversation? You know, if I look back just a few years ago, not that far really back, a lot of the dialogues or conversations that we would have and this is whether they were at Accenture or other large companies or even small companies where there’s different dynamics, was always about relationships, relationships, relationships. You know, I think about I used to go into an executive’s office and you’d look around, find something that you thought was interesting and you’d comment on it right out of the gate. “Oh, that’s a picture of you with the President. That’s great. Tell me what that’s about.” And today, it just feels like if you start a conversation like that, your customer is going to pause and think, “Wow, do I really have time for this today?” You know, because when I think about businesses, they’re flatter, right? And the pace of business is moving faster. Have you experienced that, Lisa?

Lisa: Absolutely. In today’s world, people are asked to do more with less. The pace is crazy. The pace of our lives, the pace of our work lives. But our customers may be people that we really have nevereven met face-to-face and I think that this can change the way that we approach conversations with them. We don’t always have the luxury of long lunches, face-to-face events where we can build relationships like we used to and instead our conversations with customers might be limited to a series of brief conference calls over time.

Jim: Yeah. That’s really well said and I appreciate you kind of helping me, coach me a little bit today and walk through some of these ideas, these experiences that you’ve had successfully at Accenture. So one thing I probably should define is what’s a customer. You know, so a customer in the old days was that provider, practitioner back and forth relationship and that’s changed, right? I look now at these broader, flatter businesses and what I see is a much more diverse group of customers, right? So at my role here at HireVue, my customers include that traditional role of partnership relationship, but it also equates all the way down to candidates. So here at HireVue, we’ve got candidates taking life changing interview events, right? With big customers like Accenture, so really exciting. So I kind of range from the tactical delivery of all the nuts and bolts of how do we deliver a great digital interview experience, all the way to the executive, that strategic thought leader that’s responsible for our partnership. When you think about your diverse group of internal, external customers at Accenture, can you tell us a little bit about the types of customers that you work with, working at a big, global client or a big, global customer?

Lisa: I think if I look at the roles that I’ve played over the last few years, my customers often include senior HR leadership, some HR middle management, definitely have key leaders within the business environment as well. I think a lot of the comments or the concepts that we’re going to get into today really would apply to all different levels of customers.

Jim: All different levels. That is so well said, right? Because if I think about that flatter business, the flatter businesses that we see, the get to the point thing, that doesn’t always work either, right? So there’s some sort of a balance. Years ago, it was one size fits all. You knew it was that relationship, relationship, relationship and now that kind of seems to have changed. It’s more about style, right? So we see here a great simple visual which I love, right? So the people that we engage with, these various moving people of our business relationships, you know, are all different and unique so when we think about style with that customer, the word customer is in quotes, too, right? Because we know the definition of who that customer might be is changing with every engagement. Can you help me understand a little bit, how do I quickly identify my customer’s style?

Lisa: You know, I actually find myself trying to figure it out before I even go into the conversation a lot of times. I’ll ask other people who have worked with that customer. I might try to do a little research about them to find some clues and then, based on what I know about their style, I have to tailor my approach. Is the person a driver? Are they more analytical? So let me talk about an example for a minute. I worked with a really senior HR leader who was very much a driver, but it turned out that she also really cared deeply about people and she wanted to take those few minutes up front to get to know you a bit, and she would stop you if you dove right in. She really wanted to talk about your family or whatever it was and then she wanted to get right down to business. Then I can think of other leaders that they do want to get you to dive right in, but they need context. And, in some cases, I’ve heard people call them seagulls, where you have people who mostly stay at 10,000 feet, but then they suddenly swoop down into the details. I think the key is you have to be flexible, so you’re always on the lookout. So I find myself, for example, reading non-verbals which, of course, is really hard sometimes if you’re on the phone, but really looking for that slightest hint of impatience so that I can speed up, for example. Or just really reading the tone of the persons voice so that I can tailor the approach based on my customers style.

Jim: I think you told me even though I’m many, many years removed from school, I need to go back and do homework again. It sounds like we’ve got to study up, right? We’ve got to understand the people maybe in advance would be hugely helpful, so that’s a great takeaway for me to begin to think about kind of how I incorporate that. You know, the other thing I think about is the diversity of levels, right? So I love this visual here, right? So you look at the journey we’re all on in business together, right? We’re trying to be better than yesterday, right? But not as good as tomorrow. So how do we continue that? If we look at scaling the mountain, we engage with people at various levels of the journey. How do you see the people’s level kind of impact the way you engage with them? So is it different for a senior level person, if you’re going to get that 15 minutes? How do we engage with them to be super effective?

Lisa: Yeah. In my experience, it is different and the more senior the person, the more carefully I think about how to craft that conversation and I think it’s exactly what you said. You may not have that much time with them. So I always try to focus on using their time wisely, but I also try to be really prepared to adapt in the way that I engage them. One of the things that I’ve really been working on lately is coming into the conversation with a really focused presentation that has one great summary slide, and I’m prepared to stay only on that slide. But then on the other hand, I’m also prepared to go into an appendix where I might have numbers and charts. I might have voice of the customer data with quotes. I might have detailed work plans so that I can answer the persons questions and still show the rigor of my thinking, because I find that a lot of people, they want to know that you did the rigorous thinking, but they don’t necessarily want to hear you talk about it. So that way, I stay focused on that one slide or, in fact, maybe even no slides so I’m ready to just have that summary conversation, but I’ve also got everything that I need in my back pocket to adapt if it turns out that the person really wants to see numbers or they really want to see that personal touch, I’ve got it all right there.

Jim: Yeah. So that’s great. I’m furiously taking notes here, because I love that idea. If you’re not fully prepared A to Z, then they might go off in the direction that I wasn’t planning on or thinking, right? My agenda versus their agenda. I think that’s kind of what I’m putting this together in my own notes is, how do I prepare? I’ve got my points that I want to make sure I check off, but I also need to be prepared to be flexible for their agenda. So I like your idea that one slide prepared to talk about the detail behind it, but that kind of lets them the chance to focus in on those one or two things that they want you to go deeper into versus just trying to force it all in and you’re just not going to get anywhere with it. The device is going to be in their hand.

Lisa: Right. Right.

Jim: We talked about technology in the beginning, right? So it’s making the organization flatter, move faster. Part of the way that happens is our mobile devices, so we’ve all seen that clue, right? Head down, device out and I bet that would be a great clue.

Lisa: Yeah. And I mean one of the things about that one slide is that then I find that when I go back to that person, I can anchor back to that slide and they’ll remember it. And so creates some nice cohesiveness because your conversations are often broken up into little chunks like that, I can always anchor back to that slide which is great.

Jim: All right. great. Thanks. I’m going to write that down. So you just made me think of something else, too. When I thought earlier about style, now we’re talking about people’s level and engagements and kind of what their buttons are and putting that all together, we’ve talked about the professional side, but now I’m kind of thinking, wow. A few years ago, everybody started using the word global. It was kind of the hot word for a while. If I look back, it really wasn’t true. I think many years ago, we were all saying the word global, but the reality was we’re not really functioning globally. You know, we didn’t have global systems, global processes. What we really had probably was more of doing business internationally, but we hadn’t . . . I don’t think we’d quite yet connected those together and I think that’s changing, right? If I think about Accenture, working with you, we’re on calls at 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. because Accenture is truly a global organization, right? You’ve got standardized systems and processes that span the globe truly so you’re driving business internationally with global systems and process, so I think now culture, right? So the style is also made up of the culture of the individual. What kind of impact have you seen an individual’s culture have on our conversations?

Lisa: To me, this is huge. This one has been a huge learning experience for me. So in my personal experience, it depends on the country and I have definitely worked with people from a dozen different countries, even been on teams with people from a dozen different countries. And in my experience, it depends on the country. In certain situations, there’s quite a big influence, so I start off by doing, especially when I have a customer that’s in another country, I’ve done some research on cultural norms and things like that and that helped. It was good to have that information going in, but in the end, I really found that I had to go through a learning curve on this one. I had to adapt things like the pace. I had to adapt the order that I present things. I had to adapt . . . because I’m American, you grow up with a certain style of how to build rapport. I sort of had to adapt my style and my pace in building rapport. So, for example, in certain cultures, having to spend more time building rapport and building that relationship before you even get to the content. That was something that I had to learn. This is a place I would say where I have really had to seek out coaches, so people from that culture who may be at the peer level or who are off to the side that I can use as a mentor to just help me adapt, because this is one I found that it’s just really hard to read stuff and be able to pick it up on your own. And I would say don’t underestimate this factor. People’s culture can have a huge impact on the kind of conversation that you have with them, especially upfront and if you can get that coach type of a person to help you with that learning curve, I think it’s really valuable.

Jim: Okay. I really like that. You’re helping me put together some dots here, as well. So if I think about what you and I work in, in the recruiting technology space with candidates is I do see cultural style differences in candidates. So, for example, we know different parts of the world culturally, candidates will give you different levels of feedback. So for example, North America traditionally candidates will rate us very highly. Other parts of the world, they are tougher graders, right? They’re a little more strict which is kind of giving me maybe a dotted line extrapolation. Say, “Okay, their business process is probably different.” It’s probably not just cultural. It’s style. It’s their level. It’s kind of putting all those things together. I just think about you and I working with Accenture in India, how gracious everybody is there. It’s an absolute pleasure to be on big calls with them, because it doesn’t matter, you know, we have this 10, 12 hour time difference so it’s always a difficult time for somebody and they’re just always so gracious, so really a help there, Lisa, to kind of put that style together. But now, I feel like I’m doing more homework. I feel like I’m in school, right? I’m kind of doing an outline now, is what my notes look like, because you’ve helped me and helped us understand a little bit about people’s style, what is their focus. Are they detailed? Are they strategic? Are they both? In a flat organization, you might have somebody kind of doing both. So we kind of know their level, what the pace they want to go at and now the culture piece, I think that overlay is super critical, but I kind of feel like that’s a really good core here, but I’m a little thinking now more focused on transitions, because we know in business a lot of people are laser focused on metrics. So how do I then transition what I know about style? What’s important to them? Their culture? And this business driver of metrics. How do I take that and formulate it into a focused kind of business discussion?

Lisa: You know, I think one of the key things is knowing what’s important to your customer and one way I like to think about it is knowing how your customer is measured and then focusing your conversation on how you can impact that person’s measures. So for example, let’s say your customer is measured on sales. You’ve got someone where that’s their position and one of the most important things they get measured on is sales and revenue. Maybe you focus on, let’s say, building selling skills if you’re in a learning environment or maybe you’re in compensation. You focus on compensation programs that might help incent the right behaviors in their sales people. But if you’re talking to somebody that’s measured on SGNA, then maybe your conversation is more about cost avoidance or productivity, because that’s what makes that person kick and that’s how they get measured. Or maybe if the person’s measured on market share, you might focus on how your work will help to differentiate your people in the market place. So then I know the one thing that you’re going to ask, because you’re going to say, “Well, what if I don’t know how they’re measured?” Because sometimes you won’t know that. And one thing I have found is that if you ask them with the genuine intent to help them be successful in meeting their goals, that is something that they are very willing to share. So you just say, you know, one of the ways that I like to get to know people is help me understand how you’re measured, because if I understand how you’re measured I can do things to help you be successful. People are very willing to share that and once you understand then how they’re measured, then that helps you focus the conversation to the things that they genuinely find to be important, because that’s the way their job is oriented.

Jim: Yeah. So I want to laugh out loud here, because that’s a pitfall that I’ve fallen into myself, I think multiple times. So I know we’re not relationship, relationship, relationship anymore, but we’re also not metrics, metrics, metrics either, right? So I’ve fallen into that pitfall and I don’t know, I think I’ve kind of defaulted into, well, I’m going to throw up every metric I’ve ever known about this person, right? You kind of overwhelm them is what ends up happening. The intention is good. I think I’m trying to find the one iron that’s hot in the fire, right? The one that they kind of gravitate to, but you don’t always get that opportunity now I’m realizing, because if we’re at the executive level they might want to move a little bit faster. They don’t want to have to wade through to find what it is, so I think that guidance there . . . If I don’t know, I’m just going to ask, right? Potentially like you said earlier, if I ask that in advance of the meeting, I get there prepared and I can really nail those points they want to talk about so I love that idea of finding out that information in advance, what that impact is going to be of the metrics. You know, the other thing I’ve done sometimes, in the meeting you talk about metrics and that’s it, but what feels important now is we used to come away with a lot of action items from these big meetings and now it feels like I probably should be doing that faster. So is there a way or do you have any thoughts on how you can speak the language of the customer function, kind of tying them together versus just the language of the business metrics, you know, whatever it is the story they’re telling us? How do we tie that to their function success?

Lisa: Yeah. I mean, I think the key anytime you’re wanting to speak the language of business, I think one of the things we have to remember is that a lot of times we know a lot of details about things and we spend our life focusing on certain kinds of details, but we need to speak their language and not speak our language. And so one of the keys that I like to tell the people that work for me is I think the key is to use simple language. So for example, I’ll tell people, “Say it the way that you would explain it to your mother.” I mean, we all know how hard it is to explain to our mothers what we do but if you can explain it really simply, right? I’m sure we’ve all tried to do that before. But if you can explain it to your mother, right, that means that you have explained it in a really simple way, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit. But if we look at the examples, focusing in on the recruiting space, a lot of your customers are not necessarily going to know what net promoter score is. Instead of talking about net promoter score, talk about what they care about which is making sure that our candidates have a great experience with us so that we can hire the people that we need to meet our goals. That’s really what it’s about.

Jim: Okay.

Lisa: Or if I’m talking benefits, instead of talking about job evaluations and factor comparisons, talk about ensuring the people are paid fairly for what they do as compared to each other and compared to those in other companies. I mean, it goes back to knowing how they’re measured and then tailoring your language to that as well. But a lot of times, you can use really plain and simple words and terms and descriptions for things instead of using the jargon. I find a lot of folks going into their customers with a bunch of jargon and the customers really don’t get it and they’re not connecting as well as I think they could. The conversation is not as rich as it could be if they connected on the customers level.

Jim: Yeah. I’m laughing again because I think I just wrote down on my notes here, don’t use the word robust anymore, right? Remember that period of business where we all said that word too much? So jargon, I think that’s a nice little nugget to take away, Lisa. That’s a great one, you know. I feel like we, HR, HR technology, we really got stuck on process, right? Because 20 years ago, a lot of manual stuff, we were all super proud, literally proud, right, to deliver an HR foundation, right? A core HR system. All of a sudden, everything was automated. We could do reports. And then we went to the next level which was integration. Oh, some other provider did this HR, this business process and they automated that. Let’s connect to that. That’s a great idea, right? It wasn’t always easy 15 years ago. Guess what? We’ve got that working really smoothly now and I feel like sometimes I kind of get stuck in that rut of being proud of process. Oh look, I built a great process. We think about that sometimes at HireVue I think. Yes, we can source and screen and validate and the tool’s rock solid. What I’ve just realized is I needed to have a message like that for my customer, my customer in quotes depending on who that is, because really what digital interviewing platform’s about at HireVue is getting the best talent, letting people tell their passionate stories. So that’s the outcome, right, that we’re driving towards. So how do I transition that if it’s an HR person into not just process, but outcomes? How do I flip that conversation at all levels?

Lisa: You’re right. I see this all the time in HR. And so one example that I’ve talked to people about before is one that I think almost everybody can relate to and that’s the whole employee engagement space. So as an example, you conduct the survey, employee engagement, and you’re presenting it to leadership. The first 15 slides, 20 slides, 30 slides are focused on oh, we have this response rate, here’s all these charts with all these people from which geographies responded and which levels responded and what were the overall themes and on and on and the process that we used to remind them to fill out the evaluations. It might take you 20 or 30 slides to get to the recommendations. And I think we’ve all seen this kind of deck or even created it ourselves. And instead, I’ve been trying to focus on what if you had one slide and you went in with that one slide and that slide says, “I know that retaining the best talent in our company is one of our key imperatives. We just conducted a survey and our employees are telling us that if we want to keep them here we need to do three key things differently and here are those three things.” And all of a sudden all of this work on the survey boiled down to one slide that had three things on it. And then you’re saying to yourself, “Oh my goodness I spent hours, days, weeks of my life on that.” And I think that’s the danger that we fall into. Just because I spent weeks on it doesn’t mean I need to spend weeks talking about it to the customer. They don’t want to hear about all the weeks. They want to hear about the outcome. But I think if you just get to that first, it goes back to what I said before. It’s not that you don’t have those other slides. It’s that they live in the appendix and you bring them out when you need them. So you just don’t . . . You jump right to the things that your customer cares about first. So I think a related example would be the whole, like don’t come in with a hammer looking for a nail. So, for example, part of my career’s been spent in the learning space and I think one of the dangers that people fall into there is they’ll go in with, for example, some kind of a cool new sales skill vendor course. Instead of talking about sales targets that the customer cares about and maybe where we’re falling short on our targets with the customer and understanding what’s going wrong and diagnosing the problem, we go in with this hammer of this new course. Or we go in with a cool new vendor tool, HireVue, and instead we need to go in and say, “Let’s talk about what’s happening in the recruiting space. What are the problems? What’s the root cause?” Only then do you get to the point where you want to talk about the solution which may be perfectly applicable, but if you lead with it, it often gets lost.

Jim: Yeah. Lisa, I love your style because you’re making me think, putting myself in some of these situations which we’ve all been there, good or bad. The one that I’m thinking about right now is watching a cooking show many years ago. If it says bake for 45 minutes, you don’t sit and stare at the TV or the oven for 45 minutes, right? So why did I put my customer through a “demonstration” maybe of a product, so nuts and bolts, right? All the little details for 45 minutes. I’ve never done that, right? I’ve never put anybody through a slide that went too long. Or like you say, “I have 83 slides this morning.” Everyone’s like, “Oh my gosh, when do I get out of here?” I think I love that idea. Now sometimes, right, what if we don’t hit the mark? What if, have you ever experienced not having it as crisp as you’d like? What do we do then?

Lisa: Well, or even if it is crisp, sometimes you feel like you’re going into the conversation really prepared. You’re feeling confident and it’s just somehow something just isn’t going right. Sometimes it seems like the person’s just having a bad day. And I think it’s another one of those situations when you have to adapt. So when you see that the conversation is getting derailed, then I try to ask myself, “What’s the broader context? What’s going on that is causing this to happen?” And so I might look for clues with body language or if it’s over the phone with non-verbals, tone of voice, whatever it might be. And so I’ll give you an example I think that will really stick with you. So I’m thinking about a time when I went in with a colleague to a really difficult conversation with a customer and it was about a deadline and we were not going to be able to meet the deadline and we had a scope and we just weren’t going to be able to deliver the whole scope and we were just having a lot of issues with the project and the conversation was not going well. The customer was not happy. She was angry and really was reacting to this news that we were bringing and it turned out at the end of the call, that the person’s sister had just been diagnosed with cancer. But that didn’t come out until the end of the conversation, but in retrospect when I look back on it, it was plain to see that something was wrong and it was something that was more wrong than what was typically happening in that kind of a conversation. And so I guess the point that I left that conversation is maybe sometimes you just sort of have to read the lay of the land and save that kind of challenging conversation for another time and maybe even offer to cut the conversation short. But just call out like, “Here’s what I’m seeing today, it just seems like maybe this not a good day to be tackling this. Should we reschedule?” Sometimes you just need to make a call on that and I think it goes back again to that need to be flexible and even respectful, right, if you sense that something’s going on. But I think it’s a different way to look at the conversations that you have with your customers.

Jim: Yes. Yes. Yes. Oh my gosh. Yes. If I think back, something I’ve tried to replicate and never wildly successful at it, you’re helping me today maybe try to make it something that I can repeatable, repeat over and over. I’ve had meetings where I did some of these things. Maybe I didn’t have them as buttoned up as I’d like, but I had some of these parts just not in that beautifully aligned way yet. If I think about them, they weren’t orchestrated perfectly and what I would end up doing is closing the laptop or closing the notebook or shutting down the iPad in a more modern speak and having just a conversation, I think, kind of like you just framed up. And at the end of that, I’ve left those discussions, like, “Whoa, that was a great meeting. I didn’t use any of my slides or I didn’t show them any “product”, right? We didn’t go down any of those paths.” But I learned, looking back, these four or five things that are going to help me kind of build in the future, and kind of go forward so I think that’s a great way here. I know we only had about 30 minutes on our calendars today, Lisa, to talk about this so I appreciate you carving out this time. You have absolutely helped me think differently. I hope our attendees today think the same way. You really kind of helped me put it all together now. There’s lots of moving parts, peoples style, their focus, you know, strategic or tactical. There’s their level. There’s their culture. Love the idea then. You’ve helped me with some great notes here on focusing on the function of the language, right, which is really important, talk about outcomes. That’s really great. And really putting that together to have better conversations with all of our customers, right in the beginning, had that word customer in quotes so our project teams are certainly our internal customers, our executive customers. Just how to prepare properly and cover all those various moving parts to build great conversations so we have the right ones with our customer at the right time. So super appreciative, Lisa. Thanks for carving out this time today with me and sitting down to talk about this. I know we’re going to have great meetings, so I appreciate you sharing those thoughts. Always a pleasure to connect.

Lisa: Thank you. Absolutely my pleasure, Jim.

Jim: Yep. Thanks, Lisa, and we’d like to thank all of our attendees today as well. So my Twitter handle is James, that’s the letter L, james L-N, the number three. If you’d like to tweet us any questions, comments, feedback, Lisa and I would love to hear from you. Just add the hashtag talentinsights and we’ll get back to you with answers. We’ll collaborate together on that and maybe we’ll continue this dialogue ongoing after just our session today. Thanks everyone and thanks again, Lisa. Have a great day, folks. Bye-bye.