Category Archives: sales manager

There is more to life than job hopping

I often see in interviews young people who have quite a history of skipping from one job to another. The rational explanations are often that the previous employer was not able to provide any development, that the job was seen as repetitive, and that they wanted to try something new.

If we put it bluntly, we can say that some of these moves are motivated by boredom. I myself as a sales manager have on occasions lost people for these same reasons and I try to understand the mechanism of this problematic attitude for the employee and the employer. After a couple of years, many think they have nothing more to gain, while, they have simply finished the first chapter of a book that will remain only partially read.

Skipping from one job to another is not gaining experience: experience comes from fully assimilating the required skills to be successful at it. Experience does not come from being a beginner countless times.

But I do believe that those leaving an employer (including my own organization) are very sincere. From what comes this feeling of boredom at work? The manager has also a responsibility in solving these problems.

 

Play the game to win

Think of a job as a game we would play. There are two types of games that can generate a feeling of boredom and turn us away:  the ones that we win too easily, and those that we lose most of the time. There is however a strong difference in these two types of boredom: the games we lose generate no satisfaction. In fact, they make us feel bad about ourselves. For that reason, when we lose some games often, we tend to put the blame in the game itself and not how we play it.

The game we always lose becomes a pointless, stupid game that no one should invest any time in. And we stop playing such a game.

On the other hand, success generates the will to continue, to improve, and more importantly make the job fun.

There is no easy recipe to be successful, but there is an ingredient that is always there: commitment to the mission: doing it in the best way we know and to improve always.

 

Being committed means doing the job with a positive attitude

To illustrate this, think about someone working behind a counter at the post office with customers lining up. One can do everything very mechanically or change what is a very repetitive job into an experience where one makes the most of the opportunity to see many different people and to engage with them with a greeting and a smile. There is no gain in pay, or rank, or working conditions, only the social gain. That gain however can make all the difference when one comes home after the work day with the recognition given in return by some of the customers.

 

Commitment means self-improvement and leaving one’s comfort zone.

Team members should be trained, but most successful people also train themselves. When not reaching a goal, they focus on what they can change to make that goal reachable next time. You can complain on the organization, the price too high…or too low…or the season, or anything. But commitment means also taking in account what you could you do differently. The problem is not doing something wrong but always attributing a failure to external factors you have no control over. And if you convince yourself hard enough, you can spin yourself into your own little depression by feeling so powerless over your future. And you quit your job…because it is pointless…because you are missing some wins…although you never really gave your full potential.

 

Commitment means being focused on the mission

Managers need to encourage that while at work, team members do the job fully, be productive, communicative, eager to learn or to ask. Not to mention fight against poor workmanship by being distracted by the demons of today: social networks and smartphones.

It is amazing to me as the smartphones have introduced a new type of social behavior: People are distracted by their smartphones and do everything at 50%: their job, and their personal life. By giving such a huge place to electronic communication, day or night, during work hours or not, people mix their private life with their professional life and risk being unsuccessful at both. The smartphone is a „plus “, but if by using it we lose the ability to concentrate a couple of hours on the events we are presently and physically engaged in, whether that be at work or with others, that advantage becomes a disability.

 

Commitment should be inspired by exemplarity

Commitment cannot be ordered, but can be inspired. To help team members get committed in their jobs, it is not only to tell team members that their job is important, it is also to act as such.

Managers should not disengage from pointing out attitude issues and workmanship. On the contrary. Let us all be reminded that the manager’s job is not to be popular. If popularity is achieved at the price of people failing in their jobs because not committed, stuck in a comfort zone and losing faith in their abilities, the manager has failed.

Motivation is not given but found

But the manager can only do so much. The team member must also understand that motivation is not given but found. If one wants to be successful, much of the effort comes from oneself. People tend to expect that their employers take completely care of them in all their needs for the future: training, food, leisure, health, and even motivation. A good management can make the environment better for being motivated, but motivation is not a company benefit. One finds motivation internally…Anything else is artificial.

As an individual, you need to take care of the development of your own skills: learn English, improve IT skills, put an extra hour because needed…take care of your body and health. If you do not know how to do a task, you ask, or you learn alone…because you are doing it for yourself, not to please your management.

 

Make career moves, do not job hop

Does all the above mean you should be doing the same job for 40 years? Of course not. Comes a time to move on after reaching ambitious objectives, and having learned the skills you could acquire in the present position. By moving on, I mean doing a job that will bring you complementary skills or that will take you towards the position you wish to have in a couple of years.

 

It is a life lived fully that in the end brings happiness

Perhaps to conclude, I would say that instead of just getting by, one should cherish, commit, and try to outperform oneself in anything one does. I believe that happiness is not found in life when doing things not fully. On the contrary it is winning that makes us satisfied, it is doing something useful to others that provide comfort, it is the feeling of being part of a community that gives meaning to what we do. This attitude applies to all the aspects of our lives we are engaged in: at home, with family, with friends, and at work.

 

I wish all of you a very happy New Year.

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The AI manager on the far horizon

 

 

If anyone was a teenager like me in the 1980’s, they probably remember the movie „wargames“ and the ending of the film in which the computer learns through repeated games of tic-tac-toe that some games are not to be started as they cannot be won.

That was fiction. At that time, and up to now, the most powerful computers we built, with ever-increasing power and speed were prisoners of the functions we assigned them. However, I read recently that „DeepMind“, the AI entity tested by Google is programmed and continuously improved to learn: not only does it not forget previously learned skills, it also finds a way to use them in new activities it undertakes.

And only recently, „DeepMind“ has been in the news for playing video games, and given the circumstances, it chose either to cooperate or to be aggressive in order to win.

So human: choosing aggressiveness in times of stress, or ready to share when it reserves the best outcome. A very interesting turn of events, because I am not sure when we are discussing about the breakthroughs of artificial intelligence that we really foresee the capacity of the entity to develop traits close to those of human beings.

When we read about the new technologies enriched by AI, I find that we mostly focus on the benefits of a more powerful tool that will make better decisions based on its ability to process much more data.

We hear about the activities that could be replaced by AI: salespeople, front-office bank clerks, customer assistance. It is even happening now on stock markets as more and more decisions are algorithm-based and less based on the intuitive human approach of traders. That is what a tool does, but with the latest developments, are we still talking about a tool?

We rarely think of a technology that could one day match the human mind and interact socially with others. We can easily imagine AI organizing tasks, providing leads to salespeople, measuring performance, and identifying high-potential assets. In a more complex approach, if the entity would go beyond these tasks, could it learn enough about the human mind and find how to communicate with members of the team, how to motivate them, to encourage them to grow? The jobs replaced might not be the only ones we think about today.

Of course, we are not there yet by far. More generally, it is in my opinion a vivid question that need to be taken in account in the communities in which we live. If we develop artificial intelligence with a learning curve, it will grow by definition, it will learn many skills but also it will also learn to know us. What we are going to do with this technology will be linked to how we choose to live as a society.

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Management: do what´s right even if it costs popularity in the short term

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Beyond the corporate culture clichés, dazzling videos of teams cooperating hand in hand for the victory of their firm and themselves, reality is much more complicated when it comes to developing a working organization.

And with the new generations of young people, highly individualistic and defiant, the job of making teams functional and expansive is even greater.

Teams are strong, and the stronger the collective, the more the manager feels alone during conflicts.

Personally, I have always viewed my job as to encourage the development of strong collectives. The cooperation between members gives much more business through faster growth of the new employees, and customer satisfaction. But I am always aware that there is a price.

Because the good working atmosphere is not the goal, but the means, and the real objective is reaching targets set for the team. On occasions, you will need to do things that are right for the organization, even if those actions are viewed as unpopular.

If the thought of being unpopular worries you, remind yourself that:

  • Change, extra work, new methods is always disruptive to comfort, and many people value their comfort. Some to the point that it might threaten their results. Negativity is to be expected.
  • You are doing it for the greater good. How many leaders have been dragged in the mud during their reign to be rediscovered later as long-term thinking individuals? Take Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of the U.K. from 1979 to 1990 for instance. She was not after popularity, she knew what was right, and she gave back a job and a future to millions of Britons. Things might not be so dramatic where you are (it is not where I am), but that´s the confidence you need to feel.
  • The team is not your family, you have no moral obligation to defend them in all circumstances. There´s a line, everyone´s interpretation differs to where it is when it comes to work habits and the relationship with the manager, but you have to let go of someone if that person cannot be put on the right track, even after trying to reason him or her. You did what you could.

 

I won´t go into the communication aspects with the team because that´s a whole chapter, but I need to emphasize one thing: do it with confidence and resolve.

Agree, disagree? Get in touch!

 

#management

#nicolasmartel

#leadership

#managementtraining

#nmmanagement

 

 

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Don’t breathe down their neck, but don’t leave the room either!

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Your team members do not like to be looked over the shoulder, nor do they like to be told what to do and if you need to personally order each action and monitor each detail of what you ask your team to perform, you will end up exhausted supervising a team of robots, doing nothing without a clear instruction to do something.

This is known as micro-management. And all management coaches, advisers will tell you it´s bad. As I just did from my own experience. Even a world war legend, general George S. Patton said Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”

Pretty hard to disregard the words of such a great and proven leader. Continue reading

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A strong collective needs to be built on the right values and leadership reasserted

Fotosearch_BIM_182 We had some staff change this summer which made it possible for me to take a look at how the  “collective” of my team.

To be clear, by “collective”, I mean how the team works together, cooperates, helps one another, and respects one another. Building a strong collective is a necessity if you wish to do a little more than manage conflicts during the day, and a strong collective multiplies the speed at which each one progresses as information is shared, tips given, and the manager is not the only reference point for a team member with a question.

That being said, a strong collective is not the signal for a manager that he can pull out of the daily practice and bury himself/herself in pure strategic thoughts or worse, in simple number collecting. A collective has its own dynamics, and can turn to a monster if the goals of that collective are not those of the firm. And if the perceived leader of the collective pulls the rest of the team to thoughts and actions that do not suit the general direction you wish. That can happen if the collective starts adopting a clanic behavior. By that I mean an attitude that would lead to closing themselves to other influences. As the human bonds between the team members become more important and evolve into a sort of friendship, they become the main drive of the collective rather than the goal that is to reach targets and contribute to the growth of the organization.

Closing themselves to other influences might also lead to rejecting newcomers. As said, this has been a concern for me this summer as I needed to add new people to the team, replacing one person who had moved on and adding a new sales position. It would be wrong to consider that such rejections lie on the fear of losing one’s job: it is a typical human trait to form groups and integration for newcomers becomes harder as the team has solidified behind known members and habits. Finally, and this needs to be in everyone’s minds: a strong untamed collective might give the birth of a new leader that would not be the manager. Although the manager is unchallenged as the official leader of the group, he loses his informal leadership and sees his position weakened.

Everyone has probably his own way of keeping on top of their collective, and I hold no unchallenged truths, but here are my suggestions:

First, I do not lock myself in an ivory tower: I take interest in their work and what they do outside of work, I am always on their business deals and I try to find good things to say rather than recriminations to make. The good things are our values and they are stressed and rewarded whenever possible. Overall they are explained. And rules apply to me.

Secondly, I try to get the people to mix. For example I have a few rules on groups who go to lunch for example: I keep each lunch group small so it is impossible for the older members not to go to lunch with some of the new guys.

But finally, and I find this unavoidable, I also have to play harder occasionally. At some point, discussions are finished, and that’s it. The worst part being that you may not be fully right or fair, but it is necessary to show that in the end, the decision is yours. Being unpopular is not pleasant. And as a sensitive person, I prefer to be liked, but I know that the priority of the manager is to make it work. In short, it’s being the catalyst of values and guardian of their application. A mix between being a courteous and friendly working member of the collective and a gang leader. Quite some gymnastics! And yet it is what makes the job of management interesting and you navigate in constant experimentation as the environment, the customers and your own people change.

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The foot in the customer’s door: don’t let it start to hurt.

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On all our Central European markets, we are newcomers. From the Hi-Tech energy-cost saving nozzles that are used by wise companies, and the high quality pneumatic tools that we have introduced on the market, first customers represent 20% to 70% of our turnover depending on the market. In our business, the “customer” is an abstract term: in larger companies, we always have several users and deciders who function sometimes very autonomously.

We know the expression “putting your foot in the door”. My definition of it is that you have done a first sale at the customer’s, although the share of your products compared to the total purchase of similar products is marginal.

I always welcome a foot in the door. I welcome a decision carried out by the customer to buy something from us. It’s the difference between thinking about doing something and actually doing it.

The thing with the foot in the door is that it can start to hurt, because you are actually supposed to go through the door, not to stay stuck in the middle.

Many salespeople consider the job done with the beginning of the first sales. They consider that the hardest part has now been achieved, that the products are referenced, and that the urgency on this customer can be lifted in order to focus on new potentials. That in fact is rarely the case.

What you achieve with a foot in the door is the right to pursue your efforts. It means you are “tolerated” at the customer. You are not a member, but you’re allowed to look around through the partially opened door.

Through that partially opened door, the salesperson can take a better look inside the customer, see new people, listen more closely to customer needs, understand how everything works, who’s using, who’s deciding, who he/she should be talking to. If not, at best the salesperson stays in that uncomfortable place of the marginal supplier, selling little but needing to deliver generous conditions in the hope of bigger sales. And hope alone never generated any revenue.

In the end, frustrated, the salesperson takes the foot away only to see the door slamming back shut and requiring a renewed effort to reopen, but without the visibility and access to people he or she had.

A salesperson should use the opportunity of the half-opened door to push it wide open and close it on the nose of the competitors outside. And that means using the limited access gained by being a supplier to obtain as much info and contacts as possible.

I ask our people to be able to “map” their customer. A salesperson should be able to draw on a piece of paper a schematic view of the organization chart there. The salesperson should identify the places of use of the products, the key people and their motivations, and the potentials in all these places. And I insist on the organization chart even if schematic: Knowing 20 people working side by side in the same office or production area is great, but they simply cannot open new places of opportunity if they have little contact with other potential users of your products.

So the first sale is always something to celebrate with the salesperson. It is a great achievement, but it can get painful if we don’t move on.

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How motivated is the hamster running in his wheel?

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I don’t like running, I do it for the exercise, and the best part about running for me is when it ends. As usual I went running Saturday. Usually, I do 10 km in a circle because I hate going back the same way I came, so I try to plan a circuit I can do and that is achievable without turning back. Yet this Saturday my friend wanted to come along, and 10km is too much for her, so we agreed on going somewhere else where she could do a shorter run and I could complete the distance I wanted to do.

It all ended up for me running around a couple of times a 800m circumference lake in the Ruzinov district in Bratislava. And it was extremely unpleasant. It was unpleasant because it was boring. And because it was boring, I found it physically harder to perform. And after the third tour and seeing the same swan on the shore, an image came into my mind: the hamster spinning in his wheel at the pet shop. How can you be motivated to do anything if you’re not moving! Well a hamster might be OK with it, but people?

There is a saying in France “metro, boulot, dodo” which means in child speak “subway, work, sleep”. This illustrates a state of mind when boredom steps in your workday. When that happens, motivation is much harder to feel and performance goes down.

There are many risks for a team to to fall into the impression that the days all look alike and that the work is always the same. It is quite a threat to the group in performance, spirit, and teamwork.

Perhaps that’s why it is important beyond all these fun team building activities to keep alive with the team the notion that we are on a moving train and the landscape from the window is changing even if the interior of the train remains the same.

It’s easy for a manger to be overwhelmed by daily tasks to forget these couple of minutes that can make such a difference. I occasionally myself realize at the end of the day that I took care of the team technically, but I did not manage to take those couple of minutes to point out how interesting the day, the week and the month is going to be.

I’m glad my Saturday morning run reminded me of this.

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Leadership: do not panic as your technical skills are surpassed!

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It passed by without me noticing it, but it now has been two years since I was given the responsibility to take the lead in the troubled Bratislava office.

I have recruited all but one of the people I have trusted to develop our sales. They all have made tremendous progress as I watch the month of February come to an end with a new record and an outstanding month of January.

I am beginning to work with people who know more things than me on the technical level however: they understand better how the tools work, they know where the switch for changing this setting or this setting is, they know the power output of the nozzles and can assess on the power of the previous customer installation…I fold as their concrete experience has grown and turned them into skilled sales technicians.

Smoking a cigar at home the other day, I wondered how someone like me needs to envision the coming months or years to keep the organization tidy, functional, and successful as my output no longer includes higher technical knowledge or experience.

In general, the manager needs to bring something more to the table than simply a more detailed knowledge, or info, or capacity to do a higher discount.

Here is how I prepare my complimentary cocktail:

1) I stand by the company and my upper management any minute even when I disagree with their paths. Once something is decided, it needs to be applied. I explain and we go ahead. Playing any other game might make you sympathetic to your team when the decision taken is unpopular but it does not help leadership at all. On the contrary, you look like a “loser”.

2) I take decisions quickly and explain my reasons to the team member when a situation arises. I take full responsibility for it and should it be a mistake or should that decision be challenged by my upper-management, well so be it. Once I am convinced, my team can take my decision to the bank.

3) I encourage personal responsibility and return many of their requests to their own personal judgment.

4) I encourage them to review the situations they are in from a different perspective and share experiences I have had in the past. I tell many anecdotes of my work experience, of my business relationships, of my personal readings and research and my “gut feeling”. In short, I try to help them see things through a “people” perspective.

5) I am not afraid to keep my rules valid. It is not because a salesperson starts to be successful that that person can play outside the rules of the firm. You still come on time, you still help out your colleagues, pick up the phone, take down the bin to the container (and I do so myself as to set an example) and there is no eating in the office outside of break hours. Actually for the last one, I wish that was 100% true, but I still have to raise my voice.

There are no guarantees in this business, and you can always be challenged. Perhaps one last thing I see important might be discutable. I work with the opinion leaders of the team and always try to have them as ambassadors and help them understand the reasons of doing what we do. More generally, it is important to listen to each and every one. As a sales manager, you are still selling them the motivation to do their job well, the promising rewards of personal and permanent self-improvement, and the potential enjoyment of working with you and their colleagues. And we all know selling is listening first.

In one word, perhaps one of the pillars of leadership is to demonstrate you care: you care about the company and you care about the people you work with and you want the best for both. And you demonstrate that every day, with your own personality, your own life experience, and your own dreams.

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Involvement requires taking a chance every day

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One of the skills involved pointed out in management is “involvement”.

For me, that latter skill translates as not being afraid to take a risk.
If you get involved in the work of your team, your opinion, your explanations and your advice all become material and are put to the test. If it works, you win, if it does not…you lose. But you do not lose as much as if you had not taken that chance.

One of the deeper impressions your management should project is credibility.

When I started out, I viewed credibility mainly as proving to those I managed that I was capable of doing the same things they were. I personally remember my first 3 months of managing among other people a salesperson over thirty years my elder who had total disrespect for me. I got my lucky break by being able to do a sale he had described me as impossible an hour earlier. And he begged me to put the sale on his salesperson code as one of the products sold came with a hefty bonus. From that day on, I told him how it was going to be.

Perhaps that is one of the original aspects of the quest for credibility: you cannot learn it, you can only seize it.

With time, your management position might go up and even if that does not happen, the needs and expectations of the team members grow as fast as their skills. They require new input, require new motivational goals, and require understanding better their point in the overall organization.

This year, as I am starting my third year on full time with swepro, I know that there will be new challenges for me just as for my team. From one company with one employee (I fired three a couple of weeks after my arrival), we now have three companies on the Central European market with ten salespeople introducing products beforehand unknown to this region. We are profitable on our older operations (Slovakia and Czech Republic), although much still needs to be done to reach the profitability we enjoy in competitive markets such as Germany where our products reduce production costs.

My personal objective is not to lose the edge over the technical aspect of selling. There is still a lot to do regarding the basic sales skills. We will work on reformulation and better reaction to objections. But with those that are the most ahead, the challenge will be to improve our strategic approach with our customers: managing time better, mapping the firms not forgetting people, processes and potential.

January has always been the month where I sometimes started smoking again. Because there is always a little stress factor taking a look at the challenges of the coming year. And evidently the risks that need to be taken from getting involved in the work of the team.

I hope they will look up to me. And they will if they know that I put what I tell them on the line and that I test it in real life.

In short, it takes energy not to retreat behind a computer and manage the daily issues. But there’s no other way than jumping in and sharing what you know, and sharing your vision even if it requires you to be occasionally wrong.

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Let’s put “soul” and “care” in customer attitudes

Family-owned companies try harder

In May, I took a group of Slovak entrepreneurs on an “Armagnac”, “Wine” and “Cognac” tour in Southwestern France. We enjoyed great wine, great small hotels and great restaurants.

I took my friends only to small places, well rated, but not at the top “Michelin” level. And often, we asked the locals where we could go for lunch or dinner.

There is something about these small family owned restaurants. They want you to feel at home, they talk with passion about the special of the day, they offer you a last drink “on the house”. And they were genuinely honored to host Slovaks (many places for the first time) and they made it felt.

It showed the benefits of small operations when it comes to customer attitude. Like others, small entrepreneurs also make mistakes, but it always seems to matter less somehow because they are not just doing a job, they are living their lives.

Customer attitude needs “soul”

I like procedures when it comes to customer service because it helps, especially the newcomers in an organization, to understand how to materialize customer service.

That being said, “soul” is what is the most missing in customer/supplier relationships. The customer is just behind someone doing a job, and following some procedures.

You cannot train “soul”. This comes more or less naturally. You can tell an employee that the customer is important, that the customer brings money in the company, that it’s the customer’s money that is used to pay salaries. All of that is fine, but there is no “soul”, there is none of that committment that is going to result in a real customer/seller relationship.

And worse of all, it stops working as soon as there is the slightest problem.

“Soul” does not equal communication

I have seen many “communicating with customers” trainings. Companies that seeked to improve customer satisfaction worked on communication. Countless programs were invented, countless employees were subjected to speeches, role plays and what not in a very theoretical customer relationship policy.

In the end, and even in large firms for which we expected better, communication with customers just became a training on automated and pre-chewed responses to customer inquiries and remarks. No organization can really improve its customer service if it only thinks that it’s just a technical issue with communication.

Do not get me wrong, communication will work, but if there is something to communicate.

Do the employees feel that the customer is a respected person in the organization? Can the organization renew itself and admit when it is wrong? On what does the organization focus when talking internally to its employees, how does top management set the example, and how are concrete cases debriefed internally and learned from?

Does of any of this exist? Let me blunt, in some companies that thrived from their dominant position, noone even thinks about the above because as long as revenue comes in, it must mean that customers are happy. And if revenue does not come in, it’s the fault of the employees who do not communicate well. Let’s train them with the most expensive firms on the market.

And in the end it does not work. Surprised?

It’s all about care

In those small restaurants I was talking about in the beginning, “soul” is there because people own the place. It’s their creation, they want it to work, they want it to be successful, and they make no charts about it, they go with a feeling.

And the employees follow suit, because they feel part of the family.

That family is bond by the commitment of the owners to make the small operation a success. The owner is also very present, cooking, serving, talking to customers, making those small decisions such as offering a second round of coffee or a drink. Employees see that, they relate to that, and for the most part they start to understand how much the owner cares, and how much it is important to provide to customers the experience that they need.

In such firms, there is no hiding behind some customer satisfaction charts or an empty speech.

What firms need is an exemplary message from top down showing great care about the customer experience.

Given the challenges shown in the latest “Global Competitiveness Report, it is more than time to rethink how we are going to give to every customer a great experience and modernize our customer approach with fresher and more critical thinking.

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