Remembering JFK: The power of words
As America marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy today, the world will remember a charismatic leader not just unafraid of change but one who fought for it with peerless eloquence and passion.
Shot down in his prime, critics say his legislative legacy is slight compared to other Presidents. Regardless, what Obama described as JFK’s ‘sober square-jawed idealism’ as well as his ability to act decisively under pressure were remarkable. One of his finest gifts however was undoubtedly oratory, which is why his speeches still resonate today, inspiring a new generation of leaders.
From ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” there are countless examples of JFK’s brilliance at choosing and using words with the power to win hearts and minds and ultimately arguments.
Strong leadership and well-honed powers of persuasion are vital for success in any sphere. At CCA Convention last week there was widespread acknowledgement of a need to adopt a new style of leadership and new language in order for customer service executives to wield greater influence where it counts - in the boardroom.
Our research partner Cisco unveiled highlights of collaborative research which revealed that many contact centres are marginalised and overlooked by the rest of the organisation, and in particular by the board. Many senior customer contact executives are battling to demonstrate the strategic value of their operations but struggling to engage board attention - consequently, they have failed to secure board support for investment needed to deliver better customer service.
The fact that new investment is sorely needed is abundantly clear, with more than 70% of CCA members saying that legacy systems prevent them from having a single view of their customers’ interactions. Referred to at Convention as ‘table stakes’, it is a prerequisite for delivering seamless omni-channel service yet many organisations struggle to make a persuasive business case to upgrade or replace outmoded systems which prevent them from achieving this.
It is time to adopt the vocabulary of the boardoom not the contact centre when it comes to making a business case. Talking data and metrics is not enough, we need to build alliances and construct compelling but simple narratives that centre on outcomes for the whole business and its customers. ‘Ask not what investment will do for your contact centre, but what it will do for your customers’ - to coin a phrase!
JFK proved in a number of tense high-stakes political and military stand-offs that changing the language can change not only the conversation but the outcome. He delivered valuable lessons in not only diplomacy, brinksmanship and leadership but in the extraordinary power of words.
Who would have expected an US President and WWII veteran to stand in post-war Germany and declare solidarity with the citizens of Berlin by proclaiming (in German) “ I am a Berliner”? Yet, these four well-chosen words went down in history as an eloquent rallying cry for freedom and democracy. Keeping it simple can be the most powerful way to make your point.
When Americans were polled on which of JFK’s characteristics they would wish to instill in today’s leaders, their top two choices were: a) an ability to build public and political support for policy change and b) an ability to set a bold objective.
These are characteristics we could do with instilling in our own leaders - policy change is required and needs broad-based support to achieve, while a bold new style of customer service is visible in some forward-looking organisations but absent in others. It must be the objective for all.
Even without a world-class orator or speechwriter in your ranks, it is still eminently possible to raise your game and make a more persuasive case for investment and change which will deliver benefits for the whole organisation and its customers.
We know you like orators, at Convention, more delegates chose Martin Luther King as their ideal dinner date than Marilyn Monroe (although it was a close-run thing). Martin Luther King, another master orator who used simple language to great effect like JFK, moved metaphorical mountains with just four words ‘I have a dream.”
Harness the power of words wisely to bring what seems like an unnattainable dream of universal world-class omni-channel customer service one step closer to reality.