Tag Archives: service

How Not to Deliver on Your Mission

rex-familyI’m sitting here in my hotel room at the Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar in downtown Toronto. It could have been an amazing experience… even though the room itself is tiny, the bed is functional but definitely not plush, and there’s quite a bit of road noise. You see, there’s a world class jazz band playing downstairs right now. Perhaps they haven’t even started… I’ve no way to know.

I arrived here around 8pm after a long, 10-hour drive from the fantastic BIF10 meeting in Providence. Although the reservations desk was closed, a nice sign instructed me to go to the bar, where it was very easy to order a beer and a sandwich and get my hotel room and bar tab taken care of in one fell swoop. It felt nice. I was enjoying the ambience, until halfway through my second beer when an older man came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder.

“You’re going to have to vacate this seat for a paying customer. There’s a band coming in at 9:30.”

This was kind of confusing to me, since I was on my second beer, was done with my sandwich, and had just invested $115 in a room for the night. “I’m staying here,” I let him know.

Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Everyone has to pay the $15 cover. It’s not included in your room.” He was gruff and unyielding, kind of like a New Yorker. (I wasn’t expecting that… I thought Canadians were far more collegial, eh?) He walked away, leaving me to think about what just happened.

About 10 minutes later my bartender came over. “Would you like another beer?” he asked.

“Well, apparently I can’t have one,” I said. “Some other man told me I needed to vacate unless I wanted to pay a $15 cover, even though I’m staying here.”

“That’s right,” the younger guy cheerfully acknowledged. “The shows are not part of the hotel room. Either you pay the cover or you have to leave.”

I’m not one to argue, but this made me really mad. I let him know that this “very important detail” was not on the Hotel’s web site. Nor had anyone told me about it. “Well,” he said, “if you had arrived earlier, the doorman would have told you, and it’s also on your information sheet.” So you see, it was all my fault already. I was late and I didn’t read the sheet.

“Where is my information sheet?”

“Upstairs, on the bed, in the room you haven’t checked into yet.” (Whew. I thought I’d missed it.) I explained to him that I came a half hour out of my way to experience the Rex. I could have stayed in the ASQ conference hotel, nearer the airport, for less. But I came here for the experience of a hotel and a jazz club, together – the home-like nature of being able to weave in and out of the club atmosphere as I’d like. I was so encouraged by their marketing materials that said I’d “feel like part of the family”. He said he was sorry, again, but there was nothing they could do. (Really? It would have been so nice just to be able to sit there and finish that last beer for the evening. I probably would have headed upstairs shortly after the show started, anyway.)

In addition to a “sorry” — he tried to convince me of the value of this very prominent New York band that was about to start, and it was important that they collected the extra $15 from everyone. More important than just letting me finish my dinner.

(Apparently, you interrupt the family while they’re in the middle of their dinner to pay $15 or give up their seat.)

This sent a very strong message. In fact, it felt like extortion must feel (to a lesser extent). You’re not welcome unless you pay ANOTHER $15. You need to leave your seat NOW so someone who’s willing to pay can get in!! Doesn’t matter that you have paid quite a bit. You need to pay more. Sorry.

Could I at least come downstairs a little later (after I write my blog post to vent about this service experience) to get a beer and take it downstairs, I asked?

“Sure, if you pay the $15 first. We’re happy to direct you to other bars.” Well, unfortunately, I think you’ve directed me to other bars (and hotels) permanently. Or maybe it’s fortunate. It would be difficult to feel less wanted and welcome somewhere else.

Dear Rex, I do not feel like part of the family. I am upstairs in my room, feeling like the wayward child who’s not included from the festivities because she didn’t bring an extra $15. Feeling like I couldn’t even stick around to finish my dinner. I wish I could leave now where I feel more welcome — even at a nameless, faceless chain hotel that doesn’t say that it would LIKE me to feel like family, but I’m parked in overnight public parking, and I don’t have anywhere else to go. You claim that you are “attentive, convenient, and down-to-earth friendly.” But all I got was a “sorry you didn’t see our policy.”

LESSON TO SERVICE PROVIDERS: Include that extra $15 in the room charge. Make the guest feel welcome at the show, even if they choose not to attend. If they didn’t know the policy (because you don’t have it on your web site), figure out a way to make accommodations. Or they might see fit to write a blog post to 100,000 quality practitioners across the globe who might be able to learn from this and not make the same mistake.

Making Quality Standards a Collaborative Game

maxrestaurantHello again! I haven’t written in a while – suffice it to say, productivity cannot be achieved without sound mind, heart, and body. I’ll write more about that theme during the upcoming year, because I’ve decided to make personal health my top priority for a while – and explore the ripple effects.

I spent a lot of time traveling this summer! In May, I spent almost a week in Reykjavik, Iceland. I’m planning to take students there in a study abroad program which will probably start in July 2015. In June, I was sick pretty much the whole month – an experience I don’t ever want to have to repeat. By the beginning of July, I was feeling well enough to travel again. I spent a few days in San Francisco (one of my favorite places on Earth), and then flew out to Hawaii for some much needed, soul-replenishing reconnection with the things in life that are most important to me. Now, I’m in high gear planning for Burning Man, where Morgan and I will be contributing our organizational capacities to “Transformational Learning” day on the playa on Friday, 8/30. I’m looking forward to sharing stories (and pictures!) from there too.

Today’s quality story comes from the Bay Area – Burlingame, to be exact.

For the few days I was in San Francisco, I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express south of SFO airport. I was tired, jetlagged, and didn’t have a car – meaning that my only restaurant choice was the place situated in the front parking lot of the hotel. That restaurant was Max’s – a place whose web site does not effectively reflect its unique quality orientation!

Here’s what left an impression with me at Max’s restaurant: they have RULES. 15 rules, I think. These rules are printed on their menu, and some of them are also printed on the napkins (see the picture above). Each of the rules are intended to get the customers to co-create a great service experience with the restaurant staff. For example, the management wants to make sure that the staff asks the customers meaningful questions that help them provide exemplary service. If anyone comes up to you and asks the very vanilla question “Is everything alright?” — Max’s will buy you a drink! Same deal if you walk in by yourself and someone asks “just one?” instead of engaging you in more meaningful dialogue.

I liked this approach for many reasons: 1) it gets the customers involved by raising their AWARENESS of the restaurant’s service quality standards, 2) it focuses their ATTENTION on the service experience, and 3) it makes the service experience a game, played collaboratively between the service staff and the customer!

Can you improve your service quality by adding elements of a collaborative game?

Authentic Customer Service: Leadership Through Authenticity (Part I)

This is Part I of a two-part collaboration between Eric Sessoms at MyCustomerCloud & Nicole Radziwill.

Let’s say you’re the Leader of a Customer Service Intensive Environment or a Customer Service Rep working in one those environments. How can you be authentic – and promote authenticity – in your customer service interactions? That’s the motivation for our post: we’ve brainstormed some actionable ideas for how these Leaders and Customer Service Reps can achieve authenticity by using the 10 Commitments devised by leadership researchers Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.

First and foremost, everyone in the organization must converge upon shared or core values – those principles or beliefs that everyone feels are important and worthy of merit. Usually, these values are determined by the leaders of a company, but in some progressive organizations and start-ups, core values emerge more organically as everyone collectively defines the organization.

There are lots of examples of core values, if you need to get some ideas:

Once you know what your core values are, and know that everyone is solidly committed to those values, it’s time to start exploring authenticity in customer service. This initial article explores the first 5 of Kouzes & Posner’s Commitments; Part 2 will discuss the remaining 5 Commitments.

Commitment #1: Leaders search out challenging opportunities to change, grow, and improve.

The search for challenging opportunities to change, grow, and improve coupled with an authentic desire to do what is best for the customer creates an environment ripe for customer-driven development. In a customer-driven development environment, the concerns and ideas of customers are carefully examined and any insight gained is folded back into company policies. As a result, the customers actively participate in defining the organization they want to serve them. Customer-driven development can occur at all levels of a company.

Leaders & Senior Management: Generate an atmosphere of proactive customer contact. And we don’t mean contacting customers with the primary goal being to sell them more stuff. Proactive customer contact done in an authentic way means finding out what (if anything) the customer needs or will need. Sometimes your product meets those needs. Sometimes it doesn’t. If it does, help your customer leverage your product to meet their needs. If it doesn’t, do a quick gap analysis and fold that amazingly valuable information back into your product development plans.

In the trenches: Ask customers directly how your company or products can be more responsive and useful to them. Then listen to what they have to say! Highlight how your product fits their needs now. Resist the urge to shoehorn their needs into the bounds of your product’s current capabilities. If higher management has done their job, there should be mechanisms in place for you to feed back what you learn into ongoing product development plans.

Commitment #2: Leaders experiment, take risks, and learn from the accompanying mistakes.

Leadership is fearless and daring – and simultaneously a practical endeavor that’s infused with a solid vision of where to go. That vision, however, can and should change in response to prototyping and tinkering with new ideas.

Leaders & Senior Management: If your CSRs have new and innovative ideas for how to make customers happier – set aside a period of time to pilot new approaches and techniques, even in they seem crazy. You never know what customers might really respond to, and appreciate. For example, try one of Kate’s Seven Kid Secrets from Tom Kelley’s book The Ten Faces of Innovation. According to Kate, the way to make anyone comfortable sharing their ideas is to use techniques that make kids comfortable sharing ideas. How do you do this? Ask them about their shoes (or something personally important to them). Offer information about yourself. Ask them to invite their best friend along to chat. Remind them you’re working on a “top secret” project. Ask them to describe their house or surroundings. Ask what they would buy with ten dollars (or half an hour of your company’s time). Make them laugh.

In the trenches: CSRs can be leaders too! Use your customer service script for ideas, but don’t be afraid to diverge from the plan to make your customers feel like they’re valued friends. One of the best customer service experiences I’ve ever had was on a two hour call waiting for engineers to fix my DSL service. Turns out the CSR was a retired homicide detective who told me all about how customer service is – and isn’t – like solving murders. It was the best two hours I ever spent waiting for anything. He probably violated his script quite a bit by telling me about murders, but I really felt like he was being compassionate about my ungodly two hour wait. It gave me wonderful fuzzy feelings about my telephone company… can you imagine?

Commitment #3: Leaders envision an uplifting and ennobling future.

Leaders & Senior Management: Positive attitudes are not only important, but infectious. If leaders don’t believe that their organization’s efforts can help make the individual worlds of their customers better places to be – then there’s no sense providing the support! If you really don’t think that the service you provide is useful, maybe it’s time to build a better company. The future is bright! If it’s not, change course – your bleak prospects will poison your customers’ experiences with you.

In the trenches: You have an image in your mind of a world where you can – and routinely do – make your customers happy. You share in the joy of solving their problems, and feel a sense of camaraderie and community as you do your job. This Commitment establishes the kind of attitude you should aim to bring to your store or call center.

Commitment #4: Leaders enlist others in a common vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes, and dreams.

Leaders & Senior Management: In Allen Schoer’s article, Uncovering alignment with authentic stories, storytelling is promoted as an effective mechanism for creating alignment (or common vision within an organization). In an organization for which customer service is an important component, leaders can create a cohesive culture of authenticity through compelling narratives that inspire Customer Service Reps on the front lines. In order for storytelling to be most effective in creating a common vision, Schoer reminds leaders to encourage employees at all levels to participate in customer service and tell their own customer service stories.

In the trenches: For the customer service reps that interact daily with customers, being leader who enlists others in a common authentic vision can manifest in a couple important ways. First, a customer service rep can appeal to the desires of the customer directly through authentic behavior. By listening to the needs of customers and folding their values, interests, hopes, and dreams, a rep works with the customer to create a truly customer-oriented solution. Second, a customer service rep can build a common vision with other reps by example. By consistently demonstrating authenticity in customer service, a CSR provides a model for others to follow!

Commitment #5: Leaders foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust.

Leaders & Senior Management: In any organization, but particularly within an organization that values authenticity in customer service, leaders need to create an atmosphere of cooperation and trust. This means leaders should actively provide guidance to CSRs, empowering them to shape customer service goals. Sometimes, the best way to refine an approach is to temper it through constructive, third party feedback – and that’s the role a leader can play.  In the end, the overall quality of customer service will benefit from a closed-loop system where guidance comes from the corporate level but is refined through experience.

In the trenches: From a previous blog post, Getting to Great: Authenticity in Customer Service, trust between a customer and the company that a CSR represents results from combining authentic behavior with an authentic desire to do what’s best for the customer. Moving beyond a desire to do what’s best for the customer and into doing what is best for the customer requires a collaborative effort between CSR and customer – combining input from the customer and a sense of empathic understanding from the CSR!

Continue to Part II, where we’ll cover the next 5 Commitments from Kouzes and Posner.

XKCD on Secret Customer Service

I love the most recent XKCD that takes a swing at the soulless customer service scripts that prevent mere mortal CSRs from actually connecting with their customer and delivering authentic customer service.

This adds a new dimension to “Getting Blocked” – “I’d like to help you, but I just don’t know enough to figure this out for you, so you’re going to have to wait (possibly forever) for advice from one of our (possibly nonexistent) technology ninjas”.

However, I’d like to enthusiastically support the notion of Expert Easter Eggs so that people with challenging problems can connect to CSRs with great skills whose mouths are watering for those challenges! Great idea, XKCD.