The problem with perfection

March 24th, 2015

Ford CustSat SurveyCustomer satisfaction surveys are carefully constructed by instructional designers who labor over details such as the exact wording, number, and sequence of questions, and the rating scale used. This is done with the intent to produce a survey that yields reliable feedback that leadership can then use to improve product and service quality.

Tampering with customers’ satisfaction survey responses undermines the tool’s design, erodes its validity, and masks legitimate opportunities to improve. It’s like tampering with your bathroom scale to display a more desirable weight: while the number looks good, you know that it doesn’t match reality.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I bought a new Ford Expedition. We had a terrific buying experience at the dealership. Our salesman was knowledgeable, low-pressure, and communicative throughout the sales process. In fact, the only time he applied pressure was when he handed me a sample Ford customer satisfaction survey (see image) – on which he had taken the time to highlight every “Completely Satisfied,” “Excellent,” “Definitely Would,” and “Yes” box to guide my survey responses.

One of the questions asked me to rate the length of time to complete the final paperwork. Although our salesman had said, “It takes less than an hour,” we were there for more than two hours. Even so, I was instructed to check the “Excellent” box in response to this question. While it took longer than expected, our salesman brought us chilled bottled water and the finance rep took sufficient time to offer complete explanations and respond to questions. When I complete the survey, I will check the “Very Good” box.

Another question asked if everything on the vehicle was in working order. Although the touchscreen display on the navigation system didn’t work, I was advised to check the “Excellent” box in response to this question. Our salesman owned the problem and scheduled an appointment for the following Tuesday to replace the navigation system’s touchscreen monitor. But because it didn’t work when we took delivery of the vehicle, when I complete the survey, I will check the “Very Good” box.

Afterward, when we were in the parking lot taking delivery of the vehicle, my wife had a question about the Bluetooth hands-free feature. Our salesman said, “It’s pretty easy to figure out. It’s all in the manual.” But then he added, “They’ll ask on the survey if I showed that to you, so tell them I did.” Now, in our salesman’s defense, it was after 7:30pm, the sun had set, and everyone had had a long day. To expect him to explain every feature on the vehicle at that hour would have been unreasonable. Even so, his response is further evidence that the customer satisfaction survey process at Ford is broken. The actual customer experience has been subordinated to an artificial survey rating that does not reflect the customer’s reality. In their zeal for “perfect” scores, salespeople have lost sight of the ultimate goal: a perfect buying experience.

This approach, which I’ve experienced at multiple Ford dealerships, attempts to cajole customers into assigning perfect scores for imperfect experiences. Let’s face it: most exceptional consumer experiences (whether buying a new car or vacationing on Marco Island) are likely peppered with opportunities for improvement. Why should customers be asked to assign perfect scores when doing so may not reflect their reality? And how exactly does receiving a perfect score on every customer satisfaction survey help you to improve?

Customers should be given the freedom to provide authentic ratings and feedback that reflect their actual experience, not coached to provide what Ford wants to hear. I can’t fathom how a company as sophisticated as Ford Motor Company doesn’t see the fatal flaw with the execution of its customer satisfaction survey process. You can’t tell customers what score to give you. You can’t hand customers a guide demonstrating how they “should” complete their surveys. You can’t tell a customer what his experience was like and how he should feel about it in order to placate your manager, “earn” a bonus, or validate a flawed customer satisfaction survey process.

Ford, if you’re listening, continue to solicit customer feedback. But please discontinue the practice of coaching customers to assign only perfect scores. And recognize that receiving a disproportionate number of customer satisfaction surveys with perfect scores, indicates the presence (not absence) of problems.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

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Do your best customers feel welcomed?

March 19th, 2015

Responsive - Doorman copyMy family and I will travel to Breckenridge next month over spring break. As we do every year, we’ll be staying at our favorite lodge at the base of the mountain. When making the reservation back in January, I requested a slope-side view with the understanding that any request would be noted as a preference, not a guarantee.

During my conversation with the reservations agent, he acknowledged our previous stays and hinted that this would be taken into consideration when assigning units closer to our arrival date. I appreciated that a returning guest’s loyalty would weigh in the decision and felt confident, as this was our fifth stay at the lodge, that we had a good chance of scoring a slope-side view.

So, imagine my surprise when I received a “welcome” letter from the lodge last weekend that, besides misspelling my name, opened with: “Thank you for choosing (our lodge) for your upcoming visit. Whether you are returning or visiting for the first time, we look forward to welcoming you…”

Huh? Although the lodge had no trouble spelling my name correctly when they accepted my credit card information to pay for accommodations and lift tickets in advance, they misspelled it when “welcoming” me. While paying attention to detail separates extraordinary companies from their ordinary counterparts, I can excuse the misspelling. What was far worse was the lack of acknowledgement that I was a returning guest who had pledged his loyalty (and his wallet) to the lodge for years.

Although there are a dozen other places we could stay, my family and I choose to return to this particular lodge. Smart lodging companies mine the data they receive from guest satisfaction surveys to uncover clues to better attract, serve, and foster ongoing (and profitable) relationships with guests like me. Specifically, they ask questions pertaining to one’s intent to return and intent to recommend, knowing that guests who respond favorably to these questions are gold! Not only do these customers cost less to serve, they are more profitable and, through their gushing word-of-mouth endorsements, serve as an unpaid legion of marketers for the company.

But instead of recognizing me as a repeat, loyal guest (a partner in the lodge’s success would not be an overstatement), the lodge sent me the same welcome letter they send to first-time customers who got a deal on And that makes me feel more like an expendable “unit occupant” than a valued, loyal guest.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

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If Walt Disney Drove Your Bus

February 10th, 2015

SprinklesThe following is a guest post by Chip R. Bell, a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best-selling books. His newest book is the just-released Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service.

I recently had keynoted a conference for a large bus manufacturing company. It got me thinking about what service would be like if choreographed through the lens of organizations renowned for those compelling story-telling customer experiences. While this focus is bus-specific, the lessons have application for any organization with a focus on taking their customers’ breath away. So, what if Walt Disney (or your favorite exemplar) was in charge of the experience you create for your customers?

It would be inclusive…like the way Southwest Airlines involves passengers. On a flight to Phoenix, a flight attendant sought the assistance from two adoring passengers to help pass out peanuts to fellow passengers. The most important part of the occurrence was not the obvious fun the two guys in Bermuda shorts and ball caps had. It was the noticeable positive effect the incident had on everyone on board. Even super serious passengers could not help but grin as they received the all-too-familiar snack from the flight attendant-wannabes!

It would be fun…like Archie Bostick, a bus driver for Hertz. After turning in your car you go outside to catch the rental car bus to the terminal. The first thing you notice is Archie standing next to the doors with a welcoming grin on his face! Instead of a tip jar (baited with a handful of bucks to encourage reluctant tippers), Archie paper-clips dollar bills across the front of his shirt. It’s an attention-getter that announces this is going to be a unique experience. Once onboard, Archie delivers a comedy routine instead of the issuing the standard warning about the consequences of forgetting to turn in the car. As Archie pulls up to the terminal, he announces, “Now, I may never see you again. I want us all to say together, ‘I love Hertz.’” He convinces a crowd of strangers to holler, “I love Hertz” before they get off his bus!

It would feature surprise…like Marriott. My business partner and I were staying at the Marriott in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, while working with a client nearby. We both had a very early meeting but I was returning to the hotel afterwards to work in his room. Before getting in the rental car my partner panned to keep, I stopped by the front desk and asked the night auditor and early morning front desk clerk, Linda Zieller, if the hotel had a van that could pick him up at the meeting site, ten minutes away, and bring him back to the hotel at 8 am. Without hesitation Linda said, “We don’t have a hotel van but I will be getting off at 7:30 am and will be glad to pick you up and bring you back to the hotel before I go home.” We made other arrangements, but the generous offer increased our devotion to the hotel.

And, it would be magical…just like Disney. A family took a vacation on a Disney Cruise Line trip that began with a few days at Walt Disney World theme park. The morning they were to shift from their hotel to the cruise ship, they were instructed to leave their entire luggage in their hotel room for pick-up and delivery. Imagine their delight when they arrived on board ship to discover that their luggage was already in their room with the same room number as the hotel—and the same hotel key opened the door! They do not refer to it as the Magic Kingdom just because it is a cool label.

When you visit the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, one of the photos on display was taken in the early days following the grand opening of Disneyland in Anaheim. Walt is touring the theme park with Mickey Mouse in an antique open-air vehicle. And, who do you think is the driver behind the wheel? Why, Walt himself, having the adventure of his life! Who’s driving the experience bus at your organization? And, is it just about the destination or is it also about a great ride?

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Going above and beyond is a choice

February 9th, 2015

Volunteers-At-Work-Sign-lgFor many years, I’ve gone on record saying that the reason you and I, as customers, consistently receive predictably poor customer service is because exceptional customer service is voluntary; employees don’t have to deliver it, and most don’t.

It’s true. While there are things that employees do have to do, providing exceptional customer service isn’t one of them. Instead, their focus is typically on protocol, processes, policies and procedures – the same types of things that managers tend to inspect. At shift’s end, whether or not a cashier’s drawer balances is the subject of tremendous scrutiny by her manager. But whether or not she delighted customers throughout the day by choosing to smile, make eye contact, use names, and add enthusiasm to her voice, may or may not come up.

For a cashier, balancing at shift’s end is a non-negotiable requirement. Choosing to express genuine interest in customers by smiling and making eye contact, however, is voluntary.

Six motivations to go above and beyond

University of Pennsylvania professor, Adam Grant, has conducted extensive research on corporate volunteerism. In this article, he describes six motivators that initiate corporate volunteering that also influence an employee’s choice to expend the discretionary effort needed to raise customer service quality from ordinary to extraordinary:

1. Pro-social; for the benefit of others: In the context of customer service, this means choosing to be helpful and delighting in the opportunity to serve others. This is always a voluntary decision made by the service provider.

2. Belonging; for the relationships: Employees look to build and strengthen relationships with others. This includes both coworkers and customers.

3. Self-enhancement; for the self-esteem boost: Employees, after developing and displaying their ability to deliver exceptional customer service, bask in the glow of compliments from peers, superiors, and customers – all of which reinforce desired behavior.

4. Self-protective; for the distraction: When employees lean in to their roles as service providers, choosing to consistently delight coworkers and customers by refusing to deliver transactional customer service, treating each customer like the one before, they view work as a positive outlet. This may serve to distract attention away from other aspects of their life that aren’t as positive or fulfilling.

5. Developmental; for the knowledge and skills: Employees look to acquire job knowledge and develop job skills that will increase their competency and, by extension, their marketability.

6. Career; for the job prospects: Employees who choose to expend the discretionary effort required to make lasting positive impressions on coworkers and customers anticipate that their initiative will be rewarded with opportunities for career advancement.

The extent to which these motivators are acknowledged and facilitated by management will influence an employee’s decision to take initiative at work, go above and beyond in the service of others, and commit to achieving other organizational priorities.

Designing jobs to promote above and beyond behavior

Job design may have a substantial impact on satisfying the above motivators. In his article, Professor Grant shares three job characteristics that have a substantial impact on employee motivations and contribute to a job’s desirability:

1. Task characteristics: The duties, tasks, and methods used to deliver products and/or services to customers that have a substantial, lasting impact on them. (Don’t assume that employees are aware of this impact. Frequently, employees do not see the connection between what they do day-to-day and the organization’s purpose.) Without purpose, job roles lack meaning. Employees have something to work on, but nothing to work toward.

2. Social characteristics: The structural features of a job that influence employees’ interpersonal interactions and relationships, allowing them to develop friendships and exchange support. When these social characteristics are enriched, jobs fulfill the desire for connection with others, which is a core motive in life and at work.

3. Knowledge characteristics: The aspects of a job that affect the development and utilization of information and skills, providing employees the opportunity to learn, solve problems, and acquire skills. A central desire of employees is to obtain and project competence at work.

Grant’s research suggests that employees with enriched task, social, and knowledge characteristics may feel grateful to the organization for providing desirable jobs and may reciprocate with stronger commitment to the organization’s purpose, goals, and objectives. And employees tend to repeat positive behavior, such as delivering exceptional customer service, when they engage in the experience with strong motives. When employees’ jobs are enriched, their core motivations of meaning, connection, and learning are likely to be satisfied.

Sustaining above and beyond behavior

According to the role identity perspective, the strongest predictor of long-term engagement in delivering exceptional customer service is the internalization of the employee’s role (relative to job purpose) into her self-concept. The repeated act of delivering exceptional customer service leads employees to internalize the particular role as a critical part of their identities.

Research shows that individuals are most likely to internalize a particular identity when company leadership values this behavior. Recognition, for instance, only motivates people when their efforts are important to the group providing the recognition. According to Grant, recognition in conjunction with managerial support is likely to sustain employees’ experiences of volitional, autonomous behavior, promoting internalization.

Beyond emphasizing the importance of desired behavior and recognizing it daily, leadership must model, not mandate, the behavior they expect from employees. In the absence of pressure, employees are more likely to feel personally responsible for their decision to provide exceptional customer service, which will increase the likelihood of internalizing their identity as an exceptional customer service provider. Besides, you can’t force an employee to care any more than you can force a customer to be loyal.

Ready, set, go above and beyond!

While I don’t expect for employees to volunteer their time in lieu of a salary at a for-profit enterprise, it’s not romantic to believe that you can create jobs and a work environment that encourages volunteer-like commitment and initiative.

Professor Grant’s research on corporate volunteerism informs customer service professionals about employee motivation that influences one’s decision to expend the discretionary effort required to elevate customer service quality from ordinary to extraordinary. Further, it examines the characteristics that, when incorporated into job design, promote a stronger commitment to the organization’s purpose. And, lastly, it suggests ways to sustain this effort including frequent recognition and positive role modeling by leadership.

Some readers will finish this article and say, “That was interesting” and return to business as usual. Others will seize the opportunity to explore employee motivation, shape enriched job roles, and create a work environment that encourages employees to take initiative and expend discretionary effort in the moment of choice.

And in doing so, they themselves will be going above and beyond.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration credit: Daniel Ruesch Design

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Casual indifference

January 15th, 2015

TextingEmployeecolorThere is a phenomenon in the services industry (some might say, an affliction) that I’ll refer to as ‘casual indifference.’ Its occurrence is not rare. Casual indifference by uninspired employees toward the needs and expectations of customers is rampant.

Casual indifference is demonstrated by retail employees who pass within five feet of a customer and say nothing; or is reflected in the body language of preoccupied employees who’d rather look down at their texts than look up to be of service. Other times, it’s reflected in the robotic actions of bored employees who are content to simply process customers, treating each customer like the one before, until the end of their shift puts them out of their misery, at least until tomorrow.

I could go on (and so could you), but let me turn it over to Lee, a blog reader who passed along his own example of casual indifference:

“I have ONE big pet peeve at restaurants. I have searched on-line for etiquette for this pet peeve of mine, but cannot find any rules on it anywhere.

My ONE big pet peeve at a restaurant, is when we are finished our meal, the waiter will pick up the dirty plates, AND my plate of food to go in the same stack.

I just cringe when this happens.

My thought is this: pick up the dirty dishes in one trip, then my plate of food to go, in another trip. I know they are trying to save trips to the table, but there is just something about seeing my food on my plate in the waiter’s hand, along with the dirty dishes in the same hand.

Just a curious restaurant goer.”

I can think of many actions that restaurateurs would hope to inspire from patrons (e.g., positive reviews, referrals, repeat business, etc.), but ‘cringing’ isn’t one of them.

So, why would a waiter casually place a guest’s leftovers on top of stack of dirty dishes before schlepping them back to the kitchen to prepare a to-go box? Perhaps he (like the proverbial frog in a pot of water that’s getting hotter and hotter…) becomes acclimated, comfortable, desensitized, and indifferent toward cues that should signal that something’s awry? Maybe the waiter, in the midst of his transactional mindset, is doing his best to “turn and burn” his section, blissfully unaware of his blunder?

As tempting as it is to fault the waiter in this scenario, that would be misplaced blame. Years ago, I heard the statistician and quality guru, Brian Joiner, wisely say, “Blame the process, not the person.”

When managers ask themselves, “How did the process allow this to happen?” and then thoughtfully examine the related processes that may have contributed to an unsatisfactory result, a different picture often emerges.

In many cases where I have observed casual indifference, I have also observed ad hoc recruiting efforts, inadequate selection criteria, unstructured onboarding, insufficient training, inconsistent supervisory modeling, non-existent performance management, and undocumented (or undisclosed) standards. Given such flawed processes, employees are set up to fail.

If I were advising the restaurant in question, the first thing I would do is revisit the performance standards. In the absence of credible, documented standards, good is good enough. Can you imagine this restaurant, or any company, embracing “Good is good enough” as its credo or slogan? Once the standards (and expectations) have been set, documented, and communicated, every single process (from recruiting to performance appraisals) must reflect and uphold these high standards.

Next, I would remind restaurant staff that their jobs consist of both job functions; the duties and tasks associated with their job roles (e.g., seating guests, taking orders, completing side-work, etc.), and job essence; their purpose; their highest priority at work (e.g., anticipating customers’ needs, paying attention to details, displaying a sense of urgency, etc.).

Most employees define their entire job role solely in terms of job functions. And why shouldn’t they? Oftentimes, the feedback they receive from management (assuming they receive feedback at all) pertains strictly to their job functions. When employees focus exclusively on job function, their jobs may become routine, monotonous, and transactional. In work environments like this, employees tend to become disinterested in their work and indifferent toward serving customers.

But when employees recognize the totality of their roles, which includes both job function and job essence, they are predisposed to provide exceptional customer service by anticipating customers’ needs, paying attention to details, displaying a sense of urgency, and serving customers in other ways.

And this is not just wishful thinking. It is possible.

You wouldn’t expect to encounter a preoccupied employee at Chick-fil-A, an unresponsive phone rep at Zappos, an indifferent salesperson at Nordstrom, or a discarded candy wrapper lying along Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland, would you?

These companies have set exceedingly high performance standards and their employees are acutely aware of them. Employees at these companies also recognize both their job responsibilities and their higher purpose at work: to create promoters; delighted customers who are less price resistant, have higher repurchase rates, and are responsible for 80-90 percent of the positive word-of-mouth about a company or brand.

So, while employees are responsible for their personal conduct and performance in the workplace, their managers are responsible for shaping employee performance by setting high standards, establishing processes that enable employees to delight customers, and communicating an employee’s entire job role.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

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It’s 2015. Do you know where your customers are?

December 30th, 2014

It occurred to me while reading through a list of 15 Customer Service Trends for 2015 assembled by Richard Shapiro, president of The Center For Client Retention, that nine of the 15 trends are related to omnichannel: a seamless approach to a consumer’s experience through all available shopping channels (e.g., mobile devices, computers, physical stores, etc.). It’s difficult to imagine a scenario whereby omnichannel is optional for those companies expecting to remain relevant with consumers in 2015.

I’ve read that omnichannel is the realization of social business and I believe that’s correct. But it must, as the above definition states, be seamless. The opposite of seamless is disjointed or faulty. Too often, this characterizes the consumer’s experience in attempting to communicate with an organization. As Richard observes in his article:

“When consumers post a question or complaint on a brand’s social media site, the days of asking them to call you are coming to an end. Consumers expect a response in the same channel of communication. If your brand has a Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. page and you invite consumers to interact, then companies truly need to respond; that’s the definition of interaction.”

In addition to the obvious social media channels and review sites, organizations must also treat channels used to acquire customer feedback, whether web-based or paper surveys, with the same sense of urgency. Too often, customers take time to provide feedback only to be ignored. (This is one reason customer satisfaction survey response rates are so low.)

Consider the following Twitter exchange I had earlier this month with @IHGCare, the InterContinental Hotels Group’s Twitter response team:

This is a good example of Richard’s observation above that “consumers expect a response in the same channel of communication.” If IHG had simply acknowledged or, better yet, responded to my original feedback (obtained via its web-based guest satisfaction survey following my stay at the White Plains, NY Crowne Plaza hotel on Oct. 22nd), then there would be no need for @IHGCare to ask me to email “details” of my experience to them a second time, six weeks later.

What’s even worse than failing to accept responsibility for a faulty channel that fails to capture, archive, and share a customer’s feedback, is to then imply that it’s the customer’s responsibility to duplicate his efforts by resending details of his experience through a different channel in order to assure “proper documentation” for IHG. Do you see the irony of this request? What happened to the original “documentation” provided six weeks earlier through the satisfaction survey channel?

More than likely, this lack of continuity is caused by two different work groups performing two different functions using two different systems. Of course, this defies the “seamless approach” that defines omnichannel and disregards the trend that “consumers expect a response in the same channel of communication” as cited by Richard Shapiro.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

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Incorporate essence into function

December 11th, 2014

Santa SignAn observation: While employees consistently execute the mandatory job functions (duties/tasks) for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate the voluntary job essence (service behaviors) for which there is little or no additional cost to the employer.

Why do you suppose that is? Possibly it’s because their duties and tasks are clearly outlined in their job descriptions. Job function is what they were hired to do. It’s what they’re paid to do. And there are often quotas and other metrics associated with job function. When employees do receive feedback at work from their immediate supervisor, it likely pertains to job function. It’s no wonder employees consistently execute these mandatory duties and tasks.

Job essence, on the other hand, is not generally recorded in one’s job description. While job essence may have come up during the onboarding process, during an orientation video or in a speech by a company executive, that’s often where it stops. While examining daily operating reports, gross revenue reports, and period end or quarterly results, attention predictably shifts to the metrics aligned with job function.

It is, however, possible to incorporate job essence into job function so that it occurs reliably, over time, by design rather than inconsistently, here and there, by chance. For example, Nordstrom initiated a trend in retail customer service by having its sales associates walk around the sales counter to hand a customer her purchases rather than schlepping the bag over the counter after posing the ubiquitous industry farewell: “Receipt with you or in the bag?”

By doing so, Nordstrom was able to consistently incorporate job essence (expressing genuine interest) into a standard job function (presenting a customer’s purchases). As did customers, other retailers took notice and now you see competing department stores’ employees doing the same.

Here’s another example of incorporating essence into function that you’ve likely experienced without realizing it: Snapple, the beverage company, famously includes a “Real Fact” on the underside of its bottle caps. Real Fact #755 states: “There are more chickens than people in the world.” Did you know that? I didn’t – until now. By including these Real Facts, Snapple incorporates essence (sharing unique knowledge) into a function (the bottling process) and, I suspect, has sold a lot more ice tea and lemonade as a result.

And here’s a third example I just encountered the other day: A Denver area shopping center posted break times for its seasonal Santa attraction using the following language: “Santa usually takes Milk and Cookie Breaks at 1:30 and 5:30pm…Sometimes he also makes a quick trip to feed the reindeer. Thanks for understanding that Santa is very busy!” By crafting verbiage infused with humor rather than defaulting to sterile words to convey the same message, this shopping center chose to deliberately incorporate essence (appropriate humor) into a function (posting Santa’s break times).

Managers have an opportunity to consistently elevate customer service quality by deliberately incorporating essence into function in the workplace. Doing so will produce exceptional customer service reliably, over time, by design, rather than – as often occurs – inconsistently, here and there, by chance.

How can you incorporate job essence into job function in your world of work?

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

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You must water the plants

December 9th, 2014

watering-can-1Several years ago, after presenting multiple half-day training classes over four days, I was disappointed to hear my client say on the way to the airport, “Well, now I can check that off my list.” True to her word, all of the follow-up activities we energetically discussed over meals during the week fell by the wayside as her attention shifted to the next priority on her list.

Without follow up, training employees is like throwing seeds on rock: It doesn’t take root or produce much fruit. In one well-known Stanford University study, in the absence of follow up, within 30 days participants forgot 95 percent of what they were exposed to during a training seminar.

Contrast the above client experience with the following message I received last Friday from a client, Paul, who did follow up:

“Steve, you’ll be happy to know that we’ve kept your customer service message alive throughout the year. From May – July we invited all employees to do a 6-week, self-paced training program that I put together, based on the session that you did for us last February (I already told you about that). It was voluntary, but I am happy to say that we had an 80% participation rate, and we set up an award for the Division(s) with the highest participation rates. Two Divisions achieved 100% participation, so they won a nice lunch out. Then, in August, we ran a fun customer service contest where we had employees submit their best customer service stories. The seven winners got cash prizes, and their stories were distributed (via email) to all employees. We categorized their stories based on the customer service behaviors that you focused on during our Annual Sales Conference in February.”

There’s a saying in the world of training and development: “You must water the plants.” Not only is it important to have fertile soil (open minds, receptivity) in which to “plant” new ideas, those new ideas and behaviors, once taught, must be revisited, nurtured, and honed into improved performance.

Otherwise, the lessons, like seeds on rock, will not take root. Over time, they will simply dry up and blow away.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

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Accept your customers, warts and all

November 21st, 2014

1024px-Bufo_bufo_2_(2005_07_11)November has been a hard month for me healthwise. Every October, I dutifully schedule a flu shot. Most years, that’s sufficient and I’m generally flu, sore throat, and cold free throughout the winter months.

This year, beginning the week of October 20, I developed a chest cold that escalated to pneumonia the first week of November. During that time, I’d taken a battery of prescription and over-the-counter medications to combat my symptoms. Although I’m now feeling much better, I have a lingering cough that’s been tough to shake.

Yesterday, I struggled through a one-hour teleconference peppered with involuntary coughs. Even my mute button couldn’t keep up. Afterward, I stopped by my local Albertsons supermarket to pick up a few things for dinner. Although I’d recently taken a 12-hour dose of cough suppressant, I continued to cough – sometimes simply as a reflex to breathing.

When I arrived at the register, I unloaded my cart onto the conveyor belt. As the cashier rung up and bagged my groceries, I placed them into the cart. After I loaded the last bag and swiped my credit card to pay, the cashier handed me my receipt saying, “You should cover your mouth when you cough so that you don’t spread germs. I’d appreciate it.”

I was stunned. Here I was accepting a receipt for my purchases and instead of saying “Thank you” or “I hope you feel better soon,” the cashier chose to scold me. I don’t recall saying anything as I turned away. My mind was busy playing back the previous four minutes to identify when I may not have covered a reflexive cough into my hand or sleeve, as I usually do.

A little background: There are four major supermarkets and one natural foods store with six miles of my home. And I drive past three of them to get to Albertsons (I think they have the best meat department, in particular). My wife is more practical than I am. She usually drives to the nearest supermarket to our home, King Soopers. A quick peek at our budget suggests that our family spends about $18,000 a year on groceries. I estimate that half of that spending ($9,000) goes to Albertsons.

Always resist the temptation to correct customers’ inevitable foibles. It’s inappropriate to reprimand a customer for failing to cover his cough. Similarly, it would be improper for a waiter to admonish a restaurant guest for chewing with her mouth open. And it would be bad form for a restroom attendant to rebuke a customer for neglecting to wash his hands.

Be accepting of your customers, regardless of their flaws and shortcomings. Instead of judging their behavior and admonishing them, apply this advice from the Greek philosopher, Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

They will appreciate it and just may reward your understanding with another $9,000 in business next year.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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Service so subtle

November 18th, 2014

service-heroics-copyToo often, exceptional customer service is associated with breathless, over-the-top actions by employees that capture headlines such as Ritz-Carlton’s Joshie the Giraffe, Morton’s Steakhouse airport delivery, or Frontier Airlines’ pizza order. While these illustrations are memorable and inspiring (not to mention, a lot of fun for the employees involved), they are inaccurate representations of what it means to provide exceptional customer service.

I agree that “wowing” customers is gratifying and, oftentimes, leaves a lasting positive impression on them. When this is elective, it allows employees to display initiative and exercise creativity by performing outside the constraints of a defined job description. It’s liberating for employees and challenges the likelihood that they will describe their jobs as predictable, boring, and monotonous. But when these “service heroics” are required in order to compensate for a flawed process or service model, as author Anne Morriss notes in her book Uncommon Service, “The cape gets heavy.”

Most examples of exceptional customer service, however, do not involve leaping tall buildings in a single bound. They’re much more subtle than that. Exceptional customer service is the difference between recklessly jamming a coat into a coat check closet and cossetting the coat by flattening its lapels while hanging it between coats. It’s the difference between indifferently schlepping a shopping bag over the counter and walking a customer’s purchases around the counter to hand her directly. It’s the subtle difference between responding to a customer request with “No problem” versus “Certainly” or “Right away.”

If you really want to elevate the quality of customer service that you provide to your customers, don’t look to emulate the heroic feats of Ritz-Carlton, Morton’s Steakhouse, or Frontier Airlines. Like a salesman who neglects daily prospecting while awaiting a return phone call from that “big fish” he’s been courting, this is not the best use of your time and energy. Instead, focus on subtle service enhancements like expressing genuine interest in your customers by asking questions, paying attention to detail, or displaying a sense of urgency. These are example of little things that will leave BIG impressions.


The two images above of the gingerbread house are from my holiday card this year. The first image is on the outside of the card. And the second image is on the inside panel. The difference is subtle (though more dramatic at full size) and reflects the message printed inside the card (and the point of this blog post): The difference between ordinary and extraordinary really is that little “extra.”

Happy Holidays from snowy Colorado!

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustrations by Aaron McKissen.

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