Death By A Thousand Cuts: Your Business Is Only As Strong As Your ‘Helen’

There is an ancient and extremely cruel form of torture in the orient called “lingchi. It is reserved for capital crimes and involves systematic cuts made throughout the body (usually starting with the chest). The idea is to make eventual death a long and drawn-out process and exacting the most excruciating pain from the victim.

Small cuts can be fatal…if there’s enough of them.

Something similar can happen to a business. We often wonder why a shop, selling good products, in a good location, can suddenly be closing their doors…for good.

When we can’t point to one or two glaring defects, the death of an enterprise could be very well be caused by a thousand “cuts”—the result of an accumulation of deficiencies, inefficiencies and errors that, by themselves, would not even be felt in the slightest. But taken together, they can bring a business behemoth to its knees.

The accumulated “cuts” could include harmless missteps like:

–a missed phone call from a potential client

–a price point that’s 25 cents off

–a marketing strategy that overlooked a key market segment

–equipment repairs that didn’t come out as well as hoped

–ill-timed capital spending, off by just a few days

Individually, none of these can cause a business to go belly up. So what if one potential client was missed? One can always call back or go after other leads.

The fact that they’re “minor” mistakes doesn’t sound the alarm, and so they’re not elevated as a major cause for concern. That’s exactly why entrepreneurs get blindsided. They realise it only when it’s too late—a case of “slowly at first…then all at once.”

All we have is the corpse of what looked like a well-led, well-run, and well-funded business. And sometimes, years after the fact, when an entrepreneur looks back and tries to piece together what happened, these “cuts” don’t even show.

The DNA Of Your Company

There are a great number of determinants for the failure of an enterprise.

Different areas can contribute to a downfall. However, there’s one area where a high number of possible “cuts” can accumulate.

I’m talking here about the part of the organization labelled “Administration and Support.” These are your customer service representatives, data entry specialists, technical support staff and virtual assistants.

These roles are often near the base of organizational charts and the people performing them don’t usually go home with the biggest paychecks. They work quietly, behind the scenes, with the value of their service usually not showing up in the P&L statements.

But you’d have to be extra careful about this sector because it has a considerable impact on your organization. Every time people are involved, the potential for things to go wrong increases. 

In a growing business, you can’t avoid employees. And when you think about it, rank-and-file members greatly outnumber an organization’s leaders. There’s more of them.

In reality, the day to day operations of a business is performed by the faceless and nameless “rank-and-file” who do the “real work.” General strategies may be discussed at meetings on the top floor, but the execution of them are done on the shop floor.

Many of your employees will have a role of “administration and support.” They’re the ones who lift the handset to make the phone calls, print documents, fix the computer, and set up meetings. They do a whole lot of odds and ends that determine if a Tuesday afternoon will run smoothly or not.

In short, they hold the key to the actual execution of plans, programs and strategies. As such, the quality of people you have in these positions often becomes the quality of the enterprise itself. Think of them as the DNA of the company. Whatever is written in DNA is ultimately expressed and realised.  

And just like DNA, many of these folks are often unseen and nameless. Because of technology, they might not even report to a physical office. The work could be done remotely and you might not even get to see them in person—like the virtual assistant who schedules meetings while residing in another country.

You might not share “watercooler moments” with them, but they will have a major say in the success or failure of your company.

Meet “Helen”

Helen works as a customer service representative at an eCommerce site. The company sells home furnishings like curtains, cushions, rugs, towels, linens, blankets, the works.

As one of the three persons manning the hotlines, Helen fields around 50 calls in a single shift—answering queries, resolving complaints and providing after-sales service for the site.

Helen is a decent customer service rep, and on a given day, her roster of cases might include:

*A customer complaining a wrong parcel delivered

(Helen took too long to “investigate” the matter, asking too many questions, before helping the customer. In the end, she was able to sort things out and apologised profusely for the goof.)

*A customer inquiring about the availability of an item

(Helen checked the database and mentioned that the item was unavailable. She did not give the customer a date of availability, nor did she suggest an alternative item.)

*A caller asked if she can return a comforter

(Helen checked the company policy. In this specific case, a return of the item wouldn’t be honoured by the company. She carefully explained the policy to the caller.)

*A customer inquiring about the status of her order

(Helen said the package would arrive the next day. It arrived three days later.)

*A customer called to inquire about bulk B2B orders

(Helen was not authorised to set price and make deals, so she referred the caller to the Head of Sales and advised him to set up a meeting. She did not give the Sales Department a heads up.)

The most outstanding thing about Helen is that she is perfectly ordinary. She’s your average employee.

She’s not your “CSR-from-hell” type that you’ll see featured on 60 Minutes. She’s not outstanding, but she does her job reasonably well.

She doesn’t commit grave mistakes that put the company in jeopardy. However, in true “death by a thousand cuts” fashion, even little things add up. 

What if the other 2 customer service reps are “Okay,” just like Helen?

Multiplied by three, the little mistakes become more visible. For example, not being able to offer an alternative product may seem like a trivial matter. But how many employees make that mistake?  How many times does it happen in a single shift? In a day? 

One bad phone call is really not one bad phone call.

In the 1980s, the Coca-Cola Company measured negative word-of-mouth and found that one unhappy customer tells 9 other people about their negative experience with the company. (The Sydney Entrepreneur Centre says it’s 9-15 people. American Express says its actually 16.)

But those numbers are probably wrong. Why? Because we now have Facebook. And considering that an average Facebook user has around 338 friends, a single post can reach hundreds.

When that goes viral…well.

That’s where we get “Cancel Culture.”

One cut becomes many. Fast.

The Kinetic Edge

On these terms, it would seem that a hiring decision is like being on a knife’s edge.

No matter how far from the top of the totem pole, every employee, every member of your organization can inflict a “cut” on the enterprise. This means, big or small, businesses cannot take for granted hiring decisions.

Whether you’re hiring a VA (virtual assistant), a data entry specialist, customer service representative or tech support, getting folks who embody the organization’s vision and values is of prime importance.

Kinetic Innovative Staffing understands how crucial these decisions are, especially in today’s world. You don’t just let anybody into your business. It’s like entrusting your precious child to a babysitter. You’d want to know her credentials, references and experience.

Kinetic helps you fill your need for “admin and support” and takes the guesswork out of the equation by thoroughly vetting the remote workers who join your team.

As a staffing outfit with years of experience, we proudly stand behind the diligence and competence of workers from the Philippines. 

Filipinos, the world over, are renowned for their service orientation, empathy and professionalism—making them ideal for roles like VA’s (virtual assistants), customer service representatives and tech support.

Filipinos are a tried and tested lot, and more and more companies from Australia, the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom are turning to the Philippines to fill up their remote positions. 

With remote staff working out of the Philippines, your company gets solid value–a highly-skilled workforce at an affordable rate. The move comes with tremendous cost savings, reducing your labour costs by an average of 70%. (Click HERE for the actual figures.)

So your company, instead of suffering the “death by a thousand cuts,” experiences its flipside–a virtuous cycle where a single hiring decision snowballs…and lets a thousand flowers bloom. 

Kinetic Innovative Staffing has been providing hundreds of companies in the Asia Pacific, North America, and Europe with professionals working remotely from the Philippines since 2013. Get in touch to know more.

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