CIO

Blog: How To Avoid a Layoff? Focus on Customer Service

Like you, I look at all the articles about layoffs, the financial crisis, the bailout, and I wonder, “How will I get through this?” If you are still working, there are numerous articles that explain how not to get laid off (here are 9 tips for taking control of your career in the face of layoffs, and 5 more ways to protect yourself from a layoff). These stories are everywhere, but I have not yet seen what I feel is the most obvious way to prevent being laid off.

That is, customer service.

Let me explain. No matter what job or position you have, you always have customers – whether they be internal managers, peers, business units, branch offices, downstream partners, QA teams, PMOs, sales teams, etc. – that rely on what you produce. They may not even know it, but in today’s economic turmoil, it's to your benefit to know who they are and to make sure they know what you can and do, in fact, do for them!

Obviously, your boss is one of your customers, and you must continue to produce your best results for him or her.

But if push comes to shove, the business users and internal business community will want to keep the top producers that make them look good. By targeting your best “above and beyond” customer service efforts to a few of your key internal customers and making those individuals look good, they will work hard to help protect your job, in order to protect their own.

You just need to estimate the highest ROI vs the opportunity costs relative to each internal customer in order to target and maximize your best efforts to the highest potential customers.

Here are a few qualifiers to consider:

Revenue vs. Cost Center -- Revenue is king! As one of my mentors put it, “You can’t cost-cut your way to success”. If you can help bring in new clients, land new contracts, or add/build industry recognition, that makes you a winner! You don’t have to be in sales to talk up your company’s products and services. Bring your legitimate leads to your head of sales and offer to broker an introduction. Similarly, speak at industry conferences, or write articles or commentaries for industry publications and websites. Be sure to give your name and your company’s name. Meet afterwards with and offer to assist specific authors, editors, and speakers, who prefer to stay connected with others in the industry. Any industry recognition you bring to the company, be sure to send links, copies and information to your boss(es), HR, your internal customers and to marketing. The above is intended to help prioritize your efforts to the revenue side of the house for maximum effect. But, if you can also provide cost-saving solutions, as well, then you may be able to establish yourself as an all-around problem solver and business-enabler.

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Line vs. Support -- Line managers may not be as susceptible to layoffs as support teams, if recent and historical layoffs are any indication. Line managers are more direct revenue producers, while support managers are generally at best indirect producers, and worse, treated as cost centers at many companies. So if you want to protect your job, turn your focus to line managers. Identify the top three line leaders in your customer group and think how you might be able to assist them. Are any of their projects sitting on the back burner that would be easy to finish? Have you overheard of any technical or process issues that are frustrating them? Find out the details with someone you already know in those groups, and work out some solutions you could offer. Research other firms that your solutions have worked at, and verify internally that your solutions have not already been tried at your firm (and failed). But, be careful not to give away your ideas! Then introduce yourself to the top dog and ask him/her for 15 minutes over coffee to help solve problem XYZ (be specific). At your meeting, be direct and to the point – verify that you understand the basics of their problem, that you have researched it (so demonstrating you’re not wasting their time), and then highlight the potential solutions you can offer. Finish with some quick name dropping of the other firms that have solved these same issues using your idea, and then ask for their thoughts.

Production vs. Management -- Whether or not you work in manufacturing, there is always some aspect of every company that is considered “production” – that provides the final deliverable to your firm’s customers. Similar to Line Managers vs Support Managers above, Production teams are the heart, the bread and butter of your company. There is obviously a very fine line here between Production Management and Executive Management. From my experience, in the tense environment of potential layoffs, I suggest it will be easier and more productive to meet with and build relationships with Production Managers and their teams. As you would for line managers, find out what production managers’ and their teams' pains are and identify a way to help. Perhaps a seasoned business analyst (a key to many firms’ success) is struggling with your latest software package, or the warehouse manager doesn’t have time to finalize the internal technology audit documentation requirements. It could even be as simple as configuring the area printer or wi-fi node to notify IT instead of the business manager when it has an error condition.

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In all of these examples, you are working first to get positively noticed and then to make yourself indispensible to key decision makers beyond your own boss.

Once you have their attention, make the most of it! Speak up and volunteer to assist in ways you can, but don’t over-promise! Be absolutely sure you can deliver, because dependability is more important than your promise.

Then, after you have successfully assisted one of your key internal customers, speak up and politely ask them to rate your internal customer service. Make sure your boss and HR get their response, as well.

Finally, one last tip. As the saying goes, “One ‘Awww, sh____’ trumps two ‘Atta-boys.’” Don’t ever, ever bad-mouth the company, your boss, or your team mates. Not in person, not online, not over a couple beers after work, not ever. Assume that nothing is anonymous, and nothing is off the record. Pay heed to Miranda – What you say can and will be used against you.

What other suggestions can you add to this list? Are there other criteria someone should measure against to identify their best internal customers to target? Are there any negatives to this approach?