Pride – A Cautionary Tale

Competition can be a little unnerving sometimes.  I happen to be one of those annoying people who will persistently contend that it is good for us, but I will never say it is easy on the pride.  Having competition means that there is high demand for your product or service – bonus!  Competition also makes us better.  It makes us leaner, sharper, and in-tune with the needs of our customers – at least it will if you are legitimately and humbly competing for the business.  I had a disappointing experience today that provides a useful lesson in how pride can be poisonous to customer service.

I went to the new Luxury Galaxy Theatre in Sparks with some friends today (the theater was spectacular by the way!).  Before going in, we decided to get some coffee at this tiny little place in the mall where the theater was located.  Right away I wasn’t terribly impressed with the service because there was a long line with very little standing room and one person taking the orders, making the coffee, and being the cashier.  If this location was off the beaten path it would be one thing, but it happens to be within 60 walking seconds from the theater, so I daresay it was/is underprepared for the amount of weekend business coming its way.  The young lady working did not seem overwhelmed, nor was she in a hurry.  She unapologetically took her time as the line crept forward.  I’ve been in understaffed retail situations – I understand the difficulties – but I do expect acknowledgement, apology, and at least the appearance of swiftness.  Unfortunately, she dug the customer hole even deeper when it was finally our turn.

One of my friends made the ghastly and unspeakable mistake of forgetting she wasn’t at Starbucks and requested a “grande” (rather than a “medium”) latte!  As the person taking this order, there are a few different ways to handle this.  First, you could ignore the terminology and provide the customer with a medium drink.  Second, you could make a little quip out of it and lightheartedly mention that you’ll gladly make that medium latte.  Thirdly, you could let your pride intrude and become disrespectful.  Can you guess which one happened today?  Rudely, straight faced, and feigning confusion, the young lady said, “Sorry, I have no idea what a grande is.”  Somebody should give her a fire extinguisher for her pants!

It was a shameless, passive-aggressive attempt to put my friend in her place for using the terminology of a competitor by mistake.  I believe she is simply young and inexperienced.  I don’t think she made a conscious effort to be rude, but she hasn’t learned the important lesson of swallowing her pride just yet.  She is proud of the establishment she works for, yet doesn’t yet grasp the fact that its success is dependent on the repeat business of customers who don’t choose one of the two competitors within 0.5 miles of her shop.

Having pride in what you do is a great thing; preventing it from being your Achilles heel is the challenge.  Teach your people to take the high road when something like this happens.  Teach them to use it as an opportunity to show the customer you’re better than the 800 pound gorilla you’re competing with; differentiate yourself!  Give the customer a reason to accidentally order a “medium” at Starbucks!  You might be surprised at how often something like this can happen right under your nose.  Has anyone had an experience like this?

Confidence Inspires Confidence

Ever watched, heard, or been a customer who had to demand to speak to a manager?  Depending on supervisors and managers to step into escalated situations as solvers is a waste of your resources.  Alternatively, when your front-line, customer-facing employees have been educated and empowered, the confidence they display in handling your business creates impeccable customer service and far fewer escalations.  An additional benefit is the employee satisfaction that follows.  Employees who feel poised to make decisions without fear of being embarrassed, undermined, or overruled by a supervisor will feel valued and take ownership in their work.

While some customers can be understanding when issues arise, many turn into creatures that can sense and smell fear.  When an employee is handling a difficult situation, her confidence will instill faith.  Confidence makes her appear to be a trusted advisor who will see the customer safely through the storm.  Conversely, hesitation, apprehension, or nervousness will worry the customer into losing trust and demanding a manager.  Don’t make the mistake of putting your customers in a position where they have to bear their teeth, or putting your employees in the position of having to cower – these mistakes make everyone dissatisfied.

Instilling this confidence is both strategic and tactical.  The culture from top to bottom must exude both customer and employee satisfaction.  They must be near equals – like the chicken and the egg – your culture will not truly know what comes first because they will be seen as interdependent ideals.  Management’s role is to be diligent and dedicated to the required education so that confidence is built and good decisions are made.  Without a very concerted effort to teach, confidence can be costly to both customers and your bottom line.

I have had the pleasure of learning this first-hand and from the ground up.  I have also been able to observe competitors botch this time and time again and have learned that you cannot make people care; you have to give them a reason to do so.  Investment in the growth of your people can provide great dividends – and it’s completely scalable from mom and pop to giant conglomerate.  Believing in the power of culture and spending time and resources on education and empowerment are where the choices come in.  Having been raised in a very large and visible company with competitors futilely attempting to mimic our culture was eye-opening.  Wanting it isn’t enough – and not doing it from the heart is transparent and disingenuous, so the choice is to embrace or be in second (or third, or fourth…) place.

I love hearing about organizations that get this and are doing it right!  Please share one deserving of kudos!

The Importance of Educating Your Customers

Unrealistic expectations can ruin even the best of experiences.  Unfortunately, it’s an easily overlooked area because we sometimes forget that it is not the customer’s job to inherently know what to expect, but rather, it is ours to teach them.  It is important that your organization assumes the role of the expert, taking the time to educate before, during, and post experience so that customers are not left entirely on their own to outline and assess your service levels.  Providing guidance during these crucial points will show your customer what to anticipate and take the mystery out of the equation.  There are a few common culprits that can cause these disappointments; all of which are preventable.

First, there is your marketing, advertising, and communications. If any one of them suggest or imply something inaccurate or misleading, you will be starting in the proverbial “red” with the customer.  Sometimes misleading things are a simple oversight, and other times they may be a product of an overzealous sales or marketing team.  Either way, customers are increasingly sensitive and concerned about the bait and switch thing – so whether you meant to or not, you may be forced into damage control if you have misstep here.  One recommendation I have is to stay away from any advertising that requires a lot of small print.  If there are that many caveats, you should find another offer to attract clientele or you’ll probably only see them once.

Second is your process.  When your customer facing employees interact with customers, they know what they are doing from start to finish.  You may have worked out all of the kinks and have it down to a science – but if your customer doesn’t know what you’re doing, the ease and efficiency may be entirely lost on them.  A great way to educate the customer during this process is to explain what is being done, why certain questions are being asked, etc.  This will help them understand their timeline and their next steps as you are working with them.  Remember that saying, “tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, and then tell them what you told them?” Normally this is used as presentation advice – but I would say it works very well in this scenario too.

Finally, make sure you survey, and make sure it’s an awesome and helpful assessment.  I talked about measuring customer service in an earlier post – but it’s really important that you do it right.  There is a very fine line between assessing service, and asking so many irrelevant questions that you inadvertently beg for pickiness and dissatisfaction.  For instance, an airline would focus on service based questions and would never ask about the smoothness of the flight, right – because turbulence from windy day isn’t a fair assessment of an airline’s customer service.  This is an easy mistake to make, so be sure your questions are within your control and don’t lead the customer down the wrong path.

Does your organization look at educating the customer and helping them understand the service that’s being provided?  Please share!

How to Make a Customer Grumpy!

It felt like it happened 67 times this week!  In reality it was probably 5 – but it was enough to make me a little cranky and appreciate my credit card a lot more.  Warning:  rant coupled with sarcasm ahead.  Why, why, why do cashiers hand you your change with the coins on top of the bills and a gigantic receipt smothering it all??  Who taught them this cruel and unusual punishment and where can he be found?  For the purposes of this outburst, I’m mostly speaking to females who do not typically have a pants pocket readily available to shove handfuls of stuff.

The situation usually goes down like this:  The cashier pulls the change out of the drawer according to the monitor, ALWAYS careful to put the coins under the cash in hand due to the obvious ergonomic sensibility of it, of course.  Then she turns smiling to surrender it to you in a heap.  As you accept this wad of thoughtlessness, you usually have your wallet (complete with pockets barely the size of a dollar bill and a teeny tiny zipper for change) in one hand and are trying to collect the cash in the other – so you either accidentally drop the change all over the place or have to re-set down all of your personal items to separate the mess with both hands while both the cashier and the person waiting behind you impatiently stare at the predicament as if it’s your fault.

Are cashiers aliens from the planet Never Received Change in Cash Before?  By my calculations, anyone old enough to be a cashier has likely paid with cash and received change before – so why the sudden and inconsiderate memory lapse?  Is it a conspiracy to make me feel uncoordinated?  I have promoted myself to Miss Manners today, and would like to say for the record that the proper way to provide change in cash is to offer the coins first, the bills second (which makes mathematical sense when counting back change – but since no one knows how to do this properly anymore I’ll stick to ergonomics), and then a verbal request as to where the customer would like the receipt, “with you or in the bag?”

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, it’s time to highlight the fact that this isn’t just annoying – it’s not a good customer service practice.  When we talk about empathy, anticipating needs, and being considerate, this is a perfect example of why it is important to be mindful.  An otherwise great experience can become exasperating when it ends in frustration over something so simple.  Put yourself in the customer’s position and be thoughtful with how you interact.

Well, I feel better!  Hopefully you were at least entertained!  Does this make anyone else crazy?

Beware the Multitasking Myth

Is multitasking bad for your customer service?  Decidedly, yes!  It’s unusual to get “experts” to agree on much, but one thing that has a strikingly high percentage of consensus is the fact that multi-tasking is ineffective, distracting, and seems to slowly disable our capacity to focus.  It’s not so much that you can’t do two things at once, like say, chew gum and walk – but researchers insist that performing more than one task that competes with similar parts of the brain (talking, writing, texting, reading, etc.) is not possible. What we tell ourselves is that we are masters of efficiency, able to conquer several tasks in a single bound.  In reality, what we are doing is switching between tasks extremely rapidly – and often, not terribly efficiently.  The more we push ourselves and inadvertently teach ourselves to do this, the harder it is to garner our undivided attention – we basically unlearn the ability to effectively concentrate.  It’s also super stressful!

Think about that dreadful feeling when you’re composing an important email and another client calls needing your full attention on a spreadsheet.  As you attempt to handle both tasks, your text alert sounds and you look down automatically (because you consider yourself to be an award-winning multitasker!) to read that your child is sick and needs to go home from school.  In the same moment, your Outlook reminder pops up letting you know that you have a meeting in 15 minutes down the hall – and as if that wasn’t enough, there is a person waiting to talk to you, mouthing and gesturing in you in your doorway.  Realistically, you will forget that you are handling at least one thing in this situation, and you will be less effective with all of them.  Sound a little close to home?  Scary!  Your brain can be a “task manager” for you and will prioritize in the order of importance you feel – but that’s it.

We don’t always have control over what comes in and when; in fact, I’m not sure I ever do!  My workdays are unpredictable rollercoasters and I bet your days are too!  However, the simple awareness of the fact that I literally can’t do everything at once helps curb my enthusiasm for making choices that hurt my productivity and the services that I provide.  I let some of my calls go to voicemail when I’m busy because giving my full attention later is better for my business.  I also close my door when I need to concentrate and keep the alerts among my office devices chirping at a minimum.

We have learned to consider multitasking to be a virtue when it is in fact a costly and detrimental myth.  We have to concede that it’s generally better to do one thing at a time really well than to do several things really poorly.  Hopefully these thoughts provoke some assessments to be sure that you aren’t unknowingly damaging both the quality in your services and the productivity of your workforce by aiming at perceived efficiency.

Would anyone like to challenge this assertion?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Art of Anticipation

I just had a phenomenal experience at The M Resort Spa & Casino in Las Vegas and feel the need to share a few of the highlights – most notably, this resort’s ability to anticipate my needs.  I was visiting the area for a wedding very near The M; all of the guests were staying there – so it was not something I put a lot of thought into.  I booked about 4 months in advance which meant I was able to get the amazing rate of $100/night with my Nevada resident discount – yes really!

Until receiving the customer service survey, I was impressed but couldn’t quite put my finger on what had done it – I just knew it was fantastic.  Here is a quick synopsis of my visit and what I found to be so incredible.  Please visit this extraordinary resort if you have the chance!

  • Prior to my arrival: Sent me an email 4 days prior to my arrival providing phone and email to their concierge, making sure I had directions, transportation, etc.  I was very impressed with the timing and thoroughness of the email.
  • Upon arrival: The front desk did not have a roped off line to navigate through, but a fully staffed counter of agents who were making eye contact and showing eagerness to help me.
  • During check-in: The young woman who helped me was extremely professional and efficient.  She explained the process clearly, helped me understand the property map, and even explained their green initiative which meant my key card had to be in a slot in the room in order for the lights and other electronics to work.
  • The Room: About 20 minutes after settling into the gorgeous and immaculate room, I received a call from the same woman asking if everything in the room was to my liking and whether I’d discovered any additional needs she could tend to.  This was a first!  Very impressive service that costs absolutely NOTHING.
  • Housekeeping: The next day, I was up early but my significant other was not.  A woman in housekeeping noticed on my way out of the door that I did not remove the “do not disturb” sign and asked if I would need service that day.  I mentioned that there was a late sleeper inside which she noted and said that she’d come back mid-afternoon instead.  I thought we may have had to forgo the service – so I was delighted that they were flexible with us.
  • Throughout the stay: There was not a single average experience.  Every employee from bartenders to casino hosts were remarkably friendly, helpful, and thoughtful.
  • Upon checkout: The woman who helped me was once again friendly and efficient and did a remarkable job of predicting my needs.  She allowed me to double check the charges before finalizing, asked if I would like a receipt showing a zero balance, put them in an envelope for me, and then insisted on printing my boarding pass without my even thinking of it.
  • Post Checkout: I received a customer service survey via email.  It was very thorough and asked in several places whether the staff had “anticipated” one thing or another.  It was then that it occurred to me what the x-factor of my visit had been.

Very nicely done, M Resort!  I am impressed!  What experiences have left you with this level of satisfaction?  Please share!

Customer Service for the Value Leader

The value-leading organization has the hardest and the most rewarding place in the customer service world.  Bottom-feeders often sacrifice quality of product and service in favor of attracting customers with low pricing; they depend on wooing the customer that either doesn’t know better or likes to gamble with their purchasing decisions.  Ultimately, this model is the least likely to sustain long-term success because service and quality are not priorities and their entire competitive advantage is price.  On the opposite side of the spectrum is the premium brand who can afford to reinvest a chunk of their profits into little luxuries that make you feel special.  The truth of it is that you’re basically over-paying for a service and buying yourself a gift – but there is a sustainable market for an organization to compete as the best and most lavish.

It’s in the middle of the spectrum that you will find the happy medium and sweet-spot held by the value leader who takes a little piece of each model to compete.  The value leader depends on growth and the subsequent economies of scale in order to find a successful balance in its niche because from a pricing standpoint it has to hover much closer to the bottom-feeder than the premium competitor in order to grow.  It is challenged to create efficiencies at every turn and must implement a strong customer service environment to capture loyalty.  Here are some particularly universal areas that the value leader can focus on to get the most out of customer service efforts and distinguish itself from being likened to the economy branded competitor.

  • Put your differentiator front and center.  Make sure customers know what the added value of using your services will be.  The higher price is more than fine when customers are able to envision what that difference means to them.  If they don’t understand what it is, you’ll get compared to the cheap guys.

  • Focus on culture.  The people in an organization that clearly knows its own market position and competitive advantage will have the company’s goals in mind when making decisions and interacting with your customers.
  • Empower your people to make customer service decisions.  The most frustrating part of utilizing the bottom feeder is that their customer service (sorry to be blunt) sucks.  Their customer touch points are poorly managed and if/when you do run into some sort of snag, getting them to pay attention to you and solve your problem will take years off of your life.  In the mid-level position, you can pleasantly surprise customers in service situations by allowing your employees latitude in solving customer issues without escalating them throughout the various levels of management within.

What brands out there do you think are doing this well?  Southwest Airlines comes to mind for me – who else?