Purpose-driven Q&A

dreamstime_m_5093705Q. Steve, in your latest blog post, you asked: “Do you have any employees who perform incomplete work or avoid undesirable work entirely? If so, consider ways to reframe the employee’s job assignments as contributions to a higher purpose.” Can you provide an example?

A. Sure. Let’s say you manage a supermarket where there is a need to periodically clean the public restrooms. When you approach the employee to assign the task, how does he respond? With enthusiasm or dismay? I’m certain that, given the option, most employees would prefer to stock advertised specials or bring shopping carts in from the parking lot. Even so, the restrooms still need to be cleaned.

Suppose the store’s purpose* is Everything Fresh. Now, “freshness” informs every decision that employees make – which is an excellent touchstone in a supermarket. After employees are hired, they acquire technical job knowledge and develop job skills through the completion of their onboarding and training processes. And because they’re working for a purpose-driven organization, they are also informed about WHY they do WHAT they do HOW they do it: Everything Fresh.

Now, when the stocker contemplates, “Why must I rotate the yogurt?” the answer is self-evident: Everything Fresh. Or when the cashier questions, “Why do I have to wipe down my station’s conveyor belt?” or the butcher asks, “Why should I add crushed ice to the seafood display?” or the employee asks, “Why do I have to clean the restrooms?” the answer is the same: Everything Fresh.

If the stocker fails to rotate the yogurt, over time the store will be offering expired yogurt to its customers. And expired yogurt violates the organization’s purpose. If the cashier neglects the conveyor belt, it will become stained and dirty. Customers will be reluctant to place their groceries, especially exposed produce, on the soiled conveyor belts. And if the butcher ignores the crushed ice in the seafood display, eventually the fish will be lying limply in pools of stagnant water. Decidedly unappetizing. It’s the same for the employee who is responsible for cleaning the public restrooms. If he neglects the task by doing a shoddy job or avoiding it altogether, he has violated a covenant with his employer, no different than if he failed to wear a name badge or arrived late to work. The unattended restrooms will become a poor reflection of the supermarket’s purpose: Everything Fresh.

Once an organization’s purpose has been defined and communicated, failure to honor it becomes a performance issue. Just as businesses hold their employees accountable to documented appearance standards, codes of conduct, and other policies and procedures, employees similarly must be held to service level standards that are aligned with the organization’s stated purpose.

The Mayo Clinic, for instance, has a purpose statement that reads: “The needs of the patient come first.” If a rogue employee decides to put his needs ahead of the patient’s by subordinating their care to expediency, indifference, or profitability, that becomes a performance issue, no different than if he neglects a documented policy or procedure.

* Disclaimer: This is not a trick, ploy, or tactic. Employees are observant, and they don’t miss much. If this supermarket has not bothered to define its purpose or the store’s leadership team appears indifferent toward it, then the above example lacks credibility and is irrelevant.

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.

New! Cascade the lessons from Delight Your Customers throughout your department, division, or entire organization. Order the Delight Your Customers Companion Guide by Steve Curtin and Brian O’Neill.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Photo credit: © Monkey Business Images

Dispassionate About Poop

IMG_6677Yesterday, on the way home from the orthodontist, my 15-year-old son, Coleton, and I were discussing his plans for the day, which included a handful of household chores. One of those chores was to dispose of any dog poop that may have accumulated in the yard since the previous day.

After a pause in the conversation, Coleton expressed frustration, saying, “Dad, even though I have three siblings, I’m always the one who has to pick up the dog poop.”

I asked, “Doesn’t Cooper help out?”

“When he does,” Coleton began, “he doesn’t do a complete job and then I end up having to finish it.”

“Are you saying that Cooper doesn’t have a good work ethic?” I asked.

“Well, it’s not that,” Coleton conceded, “He applies himself toward things he’s passionate about. I guess he’s just not passionate about poop.”

That observation got me thinking about the importance of connecting to purpose at work. Clearly, Cooper is not passionate about picking up dog poop. Neither am I. I do, however, see the connection between completing undesirable tasks and achieving some desired result (e.g., a poop-free lawn). As Coleton and I continued our conversation, I had an epiphany: Cooper may never be passionate about poop, but he may feel passionate about making a contribution to the family.

When we returned home, I sat down with Cooper. I believe I opened with: “Cooper, you know how hard your mom and I work.” (As a newly-minted 13-year-old, Cooper’s body language conveyed that he’d already heard what I was about to say…) I continued, “Today, for instance, your mom’s day started at 6am. At 1:30pm she’s giving a speech to 400 attendees at a conference in Lincoln, Nebraska. She’ll land back in Denver at 6:00pm and be home an hour later. That’s a long day. And that’s just one illustration of how your mom contributes to our family.”

I explained to Cooper that contribution is a principle; a fundamental truth that serves as the foundation for a system of behavior. And I emphasized that, by ridding the lawn of poop, as opposed to simply completing a chore, he was making a contribution to the family – just like his mother and I do before, during, and after our workdays.

While it’s unrealistic to expect anyone, let alone a teenager, to do an immediate about-face, Cooper has admittedly begun to view household chores less as (mandated) obligations and more as (voluntary) contributions. That’s a plus because the first step toward any behavior change is awareness.

Do you have any employees who perform incomplete work or avoid undesirable work entirely? If so, consider ways to reframe the employee’s job assignments as contributions toward a higher purpose.

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.

New! Cascade the lessons from Delight Your Customers throughout your department, division, or entire organization. Order the Delight Your Customers Companion Guide by Steve Curtin and Brian O’Neill.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Stop Counting Paperclips!

luxardo_cherriesLast month, I returned to one of my favorite hotels in New York City. It was my first stay since the hotel completed an extensive renovation in 2012. I’ll withhold the name of the hotel because it’s not important. What matters are the observations below – which apply to countless businesses, lodging and otherwise, in New York City and beyond.

Let me say first that management made a lot of great decisions with regard to the renovations of the guest rooms and public space. And being that the hotel dates back to 1902, care was taken to capture and preserve notable aspects of the property’s rich history. And the majority of staff I encountered during my three-night stay was top-notch, expressing genuine interest in me and conveying authentic enthusiasm for serving guests.

What nagged at me throughout my stay, however, was the repeal of certain little “extras” that I’d come to expect from this hotel (and comparable hotels). For instance, at the bar I asked for a bowl of nuts and was told by the bartender that they no longer offer them.

“Cost containment?” I probed.

‘Exactly,” he replied, “We were spending $200,000 a year on nuts.”

Then I asked him why they don’t offer an upgraded bowl of warm roasted nuts with a generous supply of cashews and charge $12 for it? And because salted nuts make you thirsty, wouldn’t some percentage of guests likely order an additional beverage or two as well? (Heck, this may lead to an additional $200,000 in annual sales!) He treated my questions as though they were rhetorical and simply smiled while continuing to wipe down the bar.

Later, when the bartender served me a Manhattan cocktail with an ordinary maraschino cherry, I asked if he had any Luxardo maraschino cherries. He gave me that look of someone who wants to help but can’t, lamenting that while he used to stock them, due to cost-containment measures, they were no longer offered at the bar. This bar charges $18 for a Manhattan with ordinary maraschino cherries. For enthusiasts like me, upgraded cherries complete the cocktail and would definitely influence my decision of whether or not to order one. How would the drink’s profit margin be affected by adding a Luxardo maraschino cherry in place of an ordinary one? Might it be reduced by 2 percent? If so, charge 36 cents more. (Anyone who’s willing to pay $18 for an ordinary Manhattan will pay $18.36 for an extraordinary Manhattan.)

On two separate mornings during my stay I approached the restaurant hostess in the lobby and requested that a pot of coffee be delivered to a nearby table where I’d planned to work for an hour or so. On both occasions I was given directions to the complimentary self-service coffee dispenser located in a small alcove between the hotel lobby and bar.

Now, why is it that when I ordered water in the hotel restaurant the night before, I was given the option between complimentary tap water or a $9.50 chilled bottle of San Pellegrino water? The effectiveness of the pitch: “Would you prefer a chilled bottle of San Pellegrino water or New York City tap?” notwithstanding, it’s quite common for servers to upsell water. Why then would a guest requesting “a pot of coffee” be directed to a complimentary self-service coffee dispenser? Sell the coffee service for $10!

Here’s how: Assemble a lined tray with a stainless steel thermal carafe filled with high-quality coffee, a sturdy ceramic cup, a small pitcher of half-and-half, a variety of sweeteners, a coffee spoon, a cloth napkin, and, perhaps, an orchid or carnation in a simple glass or ceramic vase. Then deliver it along with a bill for $10. (Anyone staying in an upscale hotel who requests a pot of coffee will expect to pay for the coffee service – and will even pay a premium if the proposed flower adorns the tray.)

I once worked for a highly successful hotel general manager in the 1990s, now running a US$100M hotel in Hong Kong, who was fond of saying, “Stop counting paperclips and sell one more room!” Mark was always attuned to proactive revenue enhancement opportunities rather than relying on a sharp pencil and reactive cost-containment measures to achieve profit goals. Mark is not naïve. He holds an MBA. He doesn’t need to be lectured on the financial benefits of controlling costs. He gets it. And more importantly, he understands the correlation between cost-containment measures and reduced overall customer satisfaction.

Think about it: In what scenario is it desirable to tell a customer that you don’t offer the requested nuts or preferred cherries due to cost-containment measures? How does it support customer satisfaction or beverage sales to direct a customer toward the complimentary self-service coffee dispenser when he requested a pot of coffee be delivered to a nearby table in the lobby?

It is well-documented that customers are willing to pay double-digit premiums for exceptional product and service quality. And while capturing all that additional revenue, you will also see increases in overall customer satisfaction whenever customers can get what they want, how they want it, when they want it.

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.

New! Cascade the lessons from Delight Your Customers throughout your department, division, or entire organization. Order the Delight Your Customers Companion Guide by Steve Curtin and Brian O’Neill.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Always prepare the soil before planting seeds

dreamstime_m_936477A colleague recently asked for my opinion regarding the skills that customer service representatives (CSRs) need the most help with. I qualified my response by saying that it assumes CSRs already possess a positive attitude and a willingness to expend discretionary effort in the moment of choice. If they lack these qualities, although capable of consistently executing the mandatory job functions for which they are paid, no amount of skill development will enable them to consistently delight customers.

In my work, I write about three dimensions of job roles: job knowledge (knowing WHAT to do), job skills (knowing HOW to do it), and job purpose (knowing WHY they do it). Most qualified managers can equip employees with job knowledge and job skills through onboarding, OJT, and ongoing training and development programs. As a result, these managers produce competent employees who are capable of reliably executing the mandatory job functions for which they were hired and are paid. Unfortunately, payrolls are filled with highly-trained CSRs who are capable of reliably executing an array of job functions but who lack awareness of job essence; their purpose or highest priority at work.

That being said, assuming employees have been screened using predictive software and/or behavior-based interviewing questions to validate traits such as initiative, optimism, and team orientation, I would advocate for skill-based training in the following areas: listening, empathy, and problem solving.

Listening: Too many CSRs fail to adequately listen. Two weeks ago, I called United Airlines to change a flight itinerary. After explaining that I was canceling the Wichita leg of my multi-city itinerary (Denver to New York to Wichita to Denver), the CSR said, “So you want to fly from New York to Wichita on Wednesday?” I’m not sure if she was preoccupied with handle time or what, but she had not been listening to me. During the same conversation, I requested the 2:59pm flight from La Guardia to Denver. A minute later, the CRS said that there were numerous flights available, beginning at 6:20am. Again, I asked for the 2:59pm flight that I had originally requested.

Empathy: The ability to empathize with customers is a key skill that separates competent CSRs from extraordinary ones. I recently launched a companion guide to my book on Amazon Advantage. Like most entrepreneurs, I was excited for the opportunity to fill an unmet need in the marketplace by creating and offering a new product. Unfortunately, my initial product page was riddled with inaccuracies causing me to open a case with Amazon support. A day went by without a reply. Then two days. Then three. Then four. On the fifth day, after submitting follow up queries from the Amazon Advantage support page, I took to Twitter. Naturally, I was disheartened to learn that Amazon Marketplace’s latest tweet was more than 15 months ago. On the sixth day, I received an obligatory reply that lacked any empathy or sensitivity. It was clear to me that my enthusiasm for my new product launch was not shared by the Amazon Advantage CSRs who, from my perspective, were busily executing the mandatory job functions for which they are paid with no attempt to reflect voluntary job essence by expressing genuine interest in me (as a new Amazon Advantage merchant/seller), demonstrating a sense of urgency, or conveying authentic enthusiasm for my new product launch.

Problem solving: CSRs are generally effective at following established problem resolution protocol. The problem is that a process, policy, or service model rarely contains the sentiment that a customer’s problem is your problem. When employees lack this mindset, their solutions to customers’ dilemmas are limited to what is on the screen or page before them – and this may not completely solve the customer’s problem. But when employees take ownership by adopting the mentality that a customer’s problem is also their problem, this enhances their ability to consistently resolve problems to the satisfaction, if not delight, of customers.

Last year, my family stayed at a lodge in Breckenridge over spring break. We checked out as the housekeeping crew arrived to clean the condominium unit. From the lodge, we drove into downtown Breckenridge for lunch and shopping. After two hours or so, we were on the road back home to Denver. Two hours later (four hours after checking out of the lodge) we arrived home and, while unpacking, noticed that we were missing a bag. When I phoned the lodge, the front desk agent said, “Oh, yeah. That bag’s right here.” Further questioning confirmed that the bag had been brought to the front desk hours earlier (while we were still in Breckenridge) but, remarkably, no one had bothered to problem solve and call us – although they had all of our contact information, including cell phone numbers!

So, while listening, empathy, and problem solving are a worthy skill set to develop, if CSRs lack traits such as initiative, optimism, and team orientation, then providing training in these areas may be analogous to throwing seeds on rock. Without fertile soil, rather than take root, the seeds will wither over time 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.

New! Cascade the lessons from Delight Your Customers throughout your department, division, or entire organization. Order the Delight Your Customers Companion Guide by Steve Curtin and Brian O’Neill.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Photo credit: © Joseph Gough

The power of the frontline

employee-blinders-copyMy family and I stopped by the mall last week to pick up some last-minute items for my 13-year-old’s summer camp in New Mexico. We were tight on time as my wife had called ahead to add our name to the list at Yard House, where the hostess predicted that a table would be available at 8 o’clock.

As my son, Cooper, and I entered Vans, I made eye contact with an employee, looked at my watch, and playfully said, “It’s 7:59 and our table at Yard House will be ready at 8 o’clock. Hopefully, you can help us find a pair of shoes and some shorts in less than a minute!”

About that time, my son approached a wall of shoes that were on display. The employee, who was stocking socks and other merchandise from clear plastic bins, didn’t budge as she said, “Let me know when you find something you like.”

It was clear to me in that moment that I had approached the wrong employee. This employee, perhaps unwittingly, had decided to subordinate customer service quality to a job function: stocking merchandise. When Cooper found a shoe that he liked, I asked the employee if it was available in his size. Only then did she pause stocking in order to retrieve the shoes. Though it may not have been her intent, we were made to feel like an interruption in her work rather than the reason for it.

A couple of minutes later, she returned with the shoes, handed the box to Cooper, and went back to stocking merchandise. No smile. No attempt to confirm the style or size. No offer of assistance. Just a transactional, “Here you go.”

As it turned out, they were the wrong style and she had to return to the stockroom to retrieve the correct pair. In her absence, I located another employee, Khyanah, – who was a delight! She smiled, moved with alacrity, and assisted us in finding a pair of shorts and accessing a dressing room.

When I approached the register, Khyanah confirmed with a colleague the name of the employee who had assisted with the shoes (presumably to credit her for the sale). As I handed her my credit card, I thought it was ironic that the indifferent employee would be recognized for the sale but it was Khyanah who had expressed genuine interest in me and acted with a sense of urgency.

This could have easily been a critical post about the poor customer service quality at Vans. Thankfully, I encountered an interested employee who turned my experience around. It proves that a customer’s perception of service quality, for better or worse, often hinges on his one-on-one interactions with frontline employees.

What types of interactions are customers having with your frontline employees?

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order the Delight Your Customers Companion Guide by Steve Curtin and Brian O’Neill.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

Customer service is the new selling

Coffee's For ClosersThe days of the boorish salesman portrayed in the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross – where the mantra “Coffee’s for closers” was used to both recognize success and admonish poor performance – are gone. Certainly, there are still unscrupulous salespeople and gullible buyers. But it’s safe to say that today’s consumers are more sophisticated and better informed than their twentieth century counterparts who lacked the ability to access customer reviews, make price comparisons, and validate or dismiss inflated claims with ease from their smartphones.

It’s well documented that providing exceptional service to existing customers (as opposed to subordinating responsiveness to breathlessly chasing the next sale) results in more profitable customers who have higher repurchase rates and, ultimately, cost less to serve. Depending on the study and industry cited, “closing” a new customer is actually five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.

Of course, you still have to attract customers in the first place, but even customer acquisition is often tied to service quality. A relationship with one of my clients began as a panicked phone call in search of copies of my book to accommodate 200 managers at a regional conference the following week. The client had assumed that she could place the order through Amazon and have the books delivered within two days using her Prime account. Unfortunately, Amazon could only fulfill 30 copies leaving her 170 copies short for her conference.

I was able to involve my publisher, secure the books, and expedite shipping in order to accommodate her deadline. She was delighted and has since placed multiple volume book orders and hired me to speak at a regional conference. By moving the encounter from transactional (“Here’s a website or 800-number for you to order the books”) to relational (“Let me take care of everything and follow up with you”), I was able to make a lasting positive impression – and position future sales.

Aside from going above and beyond, another way that service quality produces sales is through referrals. Earlier this month, I was referred to a health care prospect from a client with whom I first began working in 2008. Aside from the periodic coffee and lunch meetings that personalized our working relationship, several years ago I mailed her a copy of Karen Kingsbury’s Let Me Hold You Longer after a conversation we had over coffee about “being in the moment” as parents because children grow up so fast.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you send clients pleasant surprises out of the blue with the intent to obtain future referrals. That’s not why you do it. There are no ulterior motives or strings attached to authentic customer service. You offer it because you genuinely take pride in your craft and sincerely relish the thought of making a client’s day.

Instead of chasing the next sale, why not schedule time to meet with a current client? Ask her about her experience with your product or service. What’s working? What’s not? How could you improve? Ask her about her industry, her competition, her own products and services, the challenges she’s facing, and her latest success.

Maybe the conversation will shift and you’ll find yourselves talking about pets or children. That’s okay. You’re not wasting time; you’re building a relationship – and just may be closing your next sale.

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.

The ultimate customer service KPI?

UltimateQuestionYesterday I was asked for my opinion about which key performance indicator (KPI) was the most important. I think if you ask five different people who work in the space, you may get five different answers.

As important as overall satisfaction, value for price paid, intent to return, and a dozen other indicators of performance are, if I had to choose one, I’d choose net promoter score (NPS). NPS is a customer loyalty metric created by Fred Reicheld, Bain & Company and Satmetrix in 2003. Essentially, it identifies customers as being Promoters, Passives or Detractors of an organization, company or brand based on their likelihood to recommend it to others.

Here’s why I like NPS so much as a KPI of customer service quality:

  1. Credibility: It’s based on “the ultimate question” identified by Reicheld in his book of the same title: (On a 0-10 scale) “How likely is it that you would recommend (our organization, company or brand) to a friend or colleague?” At its essence, this is a question about recommendations/referrals, which is inextricably linked to reputation, which, in turn, is inextricable linked to customer confidence in the organization’s performance/product and service quality.
  2. Reliability: Whenever I conduct a NPS analysis of, say, a local competitive set for a hotel client using TripAdvisor data (adapting its 5-star rating to NPS’s 0-10 scale), I’ve never once had a client say that my results/rankings did not reflect the actual product/service quality reputations of the hotels included in my analysis.
  3. Quantifies invisibility: It validates the existence of neutral customers (labeled “Passives”) who largely feel invisible to the organization and its employees. Due to the perceived indifference with which they are treated, these customers are unenthusiastic/uncommitted and easily swayed to the competition – because the company and its employees have done nothing remarkable to acknowledge them or make a lasting positive impression (in order to secure their loyalty and motivate them to become “Promoters”).

How about you? Is there a KPI that you feel is most important to evaluating product and service quality 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.

Does your website promise more than you deliver?

Responsive DoormenOver spring break last month, like many Colorado families, we headed to Breckenridge for the week to ski and board. I had booked a 3-bedroom condominium through VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) at a lodge at the base of Peak 8. I booked this unit in particular because of the upgrades: gas cooktop, wine cooler, steam shower, dramatic 2-sided fireplace facing both the master bedroom and living room, and slopeside views.

Because I booked the unit through VRBO, the management company was Pinnacle Lodging, located off-site on Main St. in the town of Breckenridge. Pinnacle represents real estate owners and it’s their responsibility to rectify any maintenance issues on behalf of owners.

Although the customer service at the lodge was great, snow conditions were “epic” (according to my kids), and our vacation was a blast, following our stay, I submitted this review of the condominium unit to VRBO and TripAdvisor:

“We were very much looking forward to our stay in unit 8413 at One Ski Hill Place. Unfortunately, upon arrival, I detected several oversights: the fireplace did not work, the refrigerator ice maker didn’t work, a bathroom toilet seat was looser than any truck stop toilet that I can recall (hardly what you’d expect at these rates…), none of the clocks were set throughout the condo (including kitchen appliances), there was a single skinny cabinet that acted as a pantry (I spent 20 minutes relocating dozens of champagne/wine glasses to a bedroom wardrobe unit in order to make room for pantry items in the kitchen), and, remarkably, there was no coffee maker – only a Keurig unit with three artificially flavored coffee pods… I expect for everything to work in a $109 per night roadside motel – and more often than not, everything does work. And when I’m spending thousands on accommodations, I certainly expect for everything to be in working order. That wasn’t my experience.”

In response to my review, Pinnacle Lodging offered the following reply:

“Thank you for taking the time to review the property. We are sorry for the items that were not up to standards in the unit as we do pride ourselves on having everything in working order. Breckenridge did have a brief power outage which reset all the clocks prior to your arrival, as does sometimes briefly happen in the mountains. A technician did come up to troubleshoot the ice maker and he reported that it was making and dispensing ice when he arrived. Unfortunately, the blower on the fireplace did go out. Though, we did order a new part in order to rectify it going forward. We do appreciate your comments and thoughts and hope to see you again.”

The management response contains disclaimers – just what I’d expect from an indifferent property management company that continued to send boilerplate correspondence via the Visit Breck app (“Hope you are enjoying your stay and that everything is great!”) and never once called me personally to follow up on any of the problems I experienced during my 4-night stay.

If I claim to offer “superior customer service” (as Pinnacle Lodging trumpets on its website) and am aware of a power outage that affected a unit that guests will be checking into, you can bet that I’m sending someone to that unit to reset every clock prior to their arrival. If in reality, however, I’m just going through the motions, then I’d feel justified (as Pinnacle does in its response) in having the guest set his own clocks during his vacation time. A company’s customer service quality is determined by how well it actually treats customers, not by how well it tells them they’ll be treated.

And while we’re on the topic of Pinnacle’s response, recognize that the ice maker did not work when its technician arrived. His “repair” consisted of dumping half a 10-lb. bag of ice in the receptacle and telling me to “just call us if you need more ice.” But Pinnacle’s management is unaware of the truth because no one from Pinnacle has made any effort to contact me to learn firsthand about my experience. When a second technician arrived to repair the fireplace, he was hardly surprised to see it inoperable, telling me: “These same (fireplace) units are in every other (Pinnacle-managed condominium) at the lodge and this is the only one we have this problem with constantly.”

So, it’s obvious that Pinnacle was aware of the problematic fireplace beforehand and elected to prop it up with stopgap measures rather than properly repair the unit prior to our arrival. As a result, we had no evening fires to enjoy throughout the duration of our stay. In March. In Breckenridge. That was quite disappointing.

When problems occur (which is inevitable), they present opportunities to shine only if you view them as opportunities. If you view them as slights to your quality or competency, then you appear defensive and aloof – as Pinnacle Lodging does to me in its response.

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.

More Proof That Perception Matters

I recently developed a learning activity for a client who wanted his team of 60 commercial property managers to recognize the influence that biases, preconceived notions, and assumptions had on the quality of their tenant interactions. My client was motivated by the recurring conflict that arose whenever property managers had to explain ancillary fees or justify certain limitations on the tenant’s use of space and other restrictions.

When I worked with the same group two years ago, we designed a number of role-plays to reenact quarterly pulse checks between the property managers and their tenants. Adult learners typically hate role-playing for a number of reasons: one reason is the possibility of doing it wrong and being exposed as ineffective before their peers; another is that role-play scenarios often seem contrived, appearing artificial and unrealistic.

So this time around, we decided to craft a case study rather than role-play scenarios as the learning activity. To be effective, case studies, like role-plays, have to be relevant to the adult learner’s “real world of work.” The challenge with traditional case studies in a small group setting is that dominant group participants can take over and influence the group’s outcome or, worse yet, determine it. While this dynamic is always present in group settings, its effect can be neutralized by applying a naïve element to the learning activity. I refer to this naïve element as the “wrinkle.”

The wrinkle in the learning activity we designed was subtly hidden in the first and third paragraphs of the otherwise identical case study. Both versions of the case study appear below.

We were intentional about distributing the first version of the case study (“Mr. Crabapple”) to table groups 1-4 and the second version (“Mr. Crabtree”) to table groups 5-8. Each table group was told that the case study scenario was identical for all table groups. This was true because the scenario containing the facts of the case study in the second paragraph was the same in both versions of the case study. Participants thus assumed that they were working on identical case studies.

Table groups were then given 10 minutes to discuss the case study and determine how they would approach the conversation with the tenant.

two2

case-study1FINAL copy

Afterward, one Case Study Worksheet (below) was distributed to each table group. Based on the group’s discussion and approach to the tenant conversation, they were instructed to assign numerical ratings to the questions below according to a 10-point scale:

  1. From your group’s perspective, how satisfied would you say the customer is with the customer service quality received by the property manager in the scenario?
  2. From your group’s perspective, given the customer’s perception of the ancillary fees presented in the scenario, how do you think he would rate the value of the space for the price paid?
  3. From your group’s perspective, given the tone of the conversation presented in the scenario, how do you think the customer would rate his intent to recommend our company to a friend or colleague?
  4. From your group’s perspective, given the tone of the conversation presented in the scenario, how do you think the customer would rate his intent to renew his lease?

case-study

The ratings assigned to each of the four questions were then transferred and calculated in the table at the bottom of the worksheet.

Finally, one member of the table group recorded the group’s ratings and average on the flip chart at the front of the room where one flip chart was designated to capture the results from table groups 1-4 and the other to capture results from table groups 5-8.

Below are the actual combined scoring grids from the session:

comparison

After the results from each table group had been recorded on the flip charts at the front of the room, I debriefed the results with questions like these:

  • “If your group rated its response to Q1 (dissatisfied with customer service quality) low, what contributed to this low rating?”
  • “If your group rated its response to Q2 (great value for price paid) high, what caused you to make that determination?”
  • “If your group rated its response to Q3 (may not recommend) low, what caused you to doubt his willingness to recommend ACME Commercial Leasing?”
  • “If your group rated its response to Q4 (definitely renew) high, what made you confident that the customer would renew his lease?”
  • “What were some of the sources of conflict in this case study?”
  • “How are customers warned about potential misunderstandings ahead of time?”

As you might expect, as the debrief unfolded, participants from table groups 1-4 referred to the tenant as “Mr. Crabapple” while participants from table groups 5-8 referred to him by his proper name, “Mr. Crabtree.” Initially, participants at table groups 5-8 were amused by the unflattering moniker, assuming it was ascribed to the tenant’s behavior as depicted in the case study. At the time, they did not realize it was the actual name assigned to the tenant in the introductory paragraph of the case study version assigned to table groups 1-4.

It also became apparent that participants at table group’s 5-8 held the tenant in high esteem, describing him as “discerning: shrewd, exhibiting keen insight and good judgment”, while participants at table groups 1-4 labeled him as “difficult and hard to please” – another reference to the “wrinkle” distinguishing the two versions of the case study.

Finally, table groups 1-4 were asked to discuss how they would “deliver the bad news” to the tenant that “these maintenance expenses are, if fact, his responsibility in accordance with the terms and conditions as specified in the lease he agreed to and signed.” The tone set for the discussion at table groups 5-8, however, was less confrontational and more constructive. These participants were instructed to discuss how they would “utilize empathic communication skills (seeking to understand the tenant, before being understood themselves) and offer value-oriented responses to influence customer perception and, together, work to clarify misunderstandings and reset expectations.”

Realize that while the customer’s proper name, description of his demeanor, and the tone set for the conversation were altered, the scenarios (containing the facts upon which the case study was based) were identical in both case study versions. Even so, the combined/averaged scores from table groups 1-4 were lower than those from table groups 5-8 in every category measured!

This demonstrates the very real link that exists between our perception; how we “see” things, and reality; the results and outcomes we achieve. It’s the familiar self-fulfilling prophecy that reinforces the relationship between our expectations (whether positive or negative) about circumstances, events, or people that may affect our behavior toward them, resulting in the fulfillment of those expectations. Just because you and I are aware of the self-fulfilling prophecy doesn’t mean that we’re immune to its effects. If you’re skeptical, just revisit the scoring grids above. The proof is in the numbers.

The objective of this activity was to impress on property managers that success (as defined by higher customer satisfaction, perception of value for price paid, intent to recommend, and intent to renew) requires seeing customers as partners and avoiding the “us vs. them” mentality that often typifies landlord/tenant relationships – and erodes trust and openness. By utilizing empathic communication skills and offering value-oriented responses to tenant questions and concerns, property managers can influence customer perception and, working together, clarify misunderstands and reset expectations.

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.

Esprit de corps in action

Coopercopy1The French term “esprit de corps” means a feeling of pride, fellowship, and common loyalty shared by members of a particular group. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, partly because my 12-year-old son, Cooper, recently joined a new basketball team.

The team is led by four outstanding coaches, one of whom is a former Division 1 student-athlete and a retired NFL linebacker. Coach Terrence speaks with authority from experience competing at the highest level in sports. I especially appreciate the attention he pays to camaraderie and what it means for the boys to be selfless and a part of something bigger than themselves.

During each practice, the boys line up beneath the basket behind the baseline and each member of the team is called one at a time to the free-throw line to take two shots. Rather than talk amongst themselves while awaiting their turn to shoot or, worse yet, critique their teammates between shots, the boys have been instructed to approach the shooter, make eye contact, slap hands, and offer verbal encouragement using the teammate’s name after each shot – whether or not a basket was made.

Coopercopy2The first time I witnessed this, I absolutely loved it. To me, it was the perfect representation of esprit de corps.

I wonder what would happen if more managers followed Coach Terrence’s example in the workplace by discouraging exclusive, divisive, or territorial cliques and posturing (what legendary NBA coach, Pat Riley, refers to as “the disease of me”), encouraging eye contact and the use of names, subordinating criticism to encouragement, and even offering high-fives or “knuckles” every now and then?

Although it’s early in the season, after four games, Cooper’s team remains undefeated. What does being undefeated look like in your business? Do you like to win? Would you like to win more often? If so, give serious thought to how your sophisticated adult workgroup can apply the example of my 12-year-old’s basketball team: conveying mutual respect, supporting one another (no matter what), and embodying pride, fellowship, and common loyalty to a shared goal or purpose.

Update: As of April 16th, the team remains undefeated at 7-0.

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.