Archive for the ‘Employee Engagement’ Category

Serve outside the lines

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

KK flowersThis morning, my 9-year-old daughter asked me for a word that rhymes with “all.” She was writing a Mother’s Day poem and grappling with a verse to follow “Your love blooms for all.” The accompanying picture she had drawn contained a row of tall, colorful flowers, so I suggested, “Like a row of colorful flowers tall.”

Kennedy looked at me with a furrowed brow. “That doesn’t make any sense, daddy. It should be ‘like a row of colorful, tall flowers’ but that doesn’t rhyme.”

Thus began a lively conversation about poetic license, which (after a quick search on my iPhone) I defined as: “the liberty taken by an artist or a writer in deviating from conventional form or fact to achieve a desired effect.” I looked up from my phone to see Kennedy displaying yet another furrowed brow.

“Let me explain,” I said. “A poet has license, which means she can bend the standard rules of writing in order for her poem to rhyme. Songwriters do it too.”

It later occurred to me that this concept applies to all forms of artistry, whether poetry, architecture, or even the art of delivering exceptional customer service. Kennedy’s uncle, Brian, for instance, is an architect. In school, he learned all about the “rules” of architecture. Today, as a licensed architect with offices in New York City and Toronto, even though Brian must adhere to certain building codes, it’s the freedom he enjoys to “design outside the lines” that energizes him and allows him to put a unique stamp on his work.

Service providers must also honor the technical aspects of their jobs (e.g., policies, procedures, protocol). In many cases, this is all they do: execute job function, treating each customer like the last customer. In the process, they unwittingly forfeit the opportunity to demonstrate job essence – to fully express themselves, to interject personality, and to “serve outside the lines.”

Comment below if you’re so inclined,
From a stool, or a couch, or a chair reclined.

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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Communication Showdown!

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Customer Service - Modern copyLast week, I was asked to weigh in on a conversation debating the value of organizations investing in omnichannel, a seamless approach to the consumer 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 that expect to thrive in 2014 and beyond. I’ve read that “omnichannel is the realization of social business” and I believe that’s correct. But it must be done well. Recall the word “seamless” in the above definition. If poorly executed, omnichannel becomes omnishambles.

The reason the term “omnishambles” has entered the conversation is due to the number of organizations that have bastardized the implementation of omnichannel. Frequently, when there are problems with the end result, you can look to the opening objective (not the stated objective, the real objective). If the real objective has more to do with appearing current or remaining relevant than providing a seamless user experience across multiple platforms/channels, then the end result is often omnishambles.

Still, with all the chatter about communicating with customers across multiple platforms, a recent article suggests that, when resolving customer service issues, 90 percent of customers prefer (insert drumroll here…) the telephone. What? The telephone? But we’ve invested all this money in our website, online chat, text messaging, and social networking sites! What about those?

The short answer is, increasingly, you have to be there too. My takeaway from the article and accompanying infographic is that, given finite resources to invest in omnichannel, it’s key to allocate those resources in a way that matches the communication preferences of your customers – and avoids omnishambles.

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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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When problems follow you to work

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

PerformanceThis evening I received the following question on LinkedIn and thought I’d address it here as well:

Question: Given that experts say employees should smile, treat customers politely, and show enthusiasm, how do you suggest dealing with employees who are affected by personal problems at work?

This is an important question because the reality is that we, as human beings, are emotional creatures. When I worked for a large corporation, we used to say to employees, “Leave your problems at the loading dock on your way into work. At work, you’re on stage!”

But years later, I see the futility of this advice. It’s unrealistic to expect employees who have real concerns about childcare, finances, relationships, health, or reliable transportation to place these burdens in a “box” near the loading dock and collect them on the way home.

At the same time, customers have a set of expectations pertaining to service quality. And while they may relax these expectations during a soft opening or when interfacing with an employee-in-training, it’s unreasonable to expect them to accommodate employees’ personal problems by lowering their expectations and settling for a substandard service experience (for which they’re paying full price).

A better way to assist employees who are affected by personal problems at work is to listen – really listen – to their concerns and to make resources available to address their problems, if not eliminate them altogether.

It may not be an employer’s responsibility to solve their employees’ personal problems, but it is their responsibility to address these problems rather than confine them to a “box” near the loading dock and pretend they don’t exist.

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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Soft is hard

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

800px-SmashBurger_logoI’ve been a Tom Peters fan since being introduced to his teachings in my first management role at Marriott International more than 20 years ago. Frequently contrarian and counter-intuitive, Peters often says: “Soft is hard and hard is soft.”

This applies to “soft skills” such as listening or customer service that are often discounted as less important than “hard skills” like budgeting and other technical, job-specific skills.

Last night I attended the “soft opening” of a local Smashburger fast-casual restaurant. In the restaurant world, a soft opening refers to the discrete initial opening of the store (usually for employees’ friends, family, and invited guests) in the days preceding the grand opening – which is promoted and open to the general public.

As my family and I placed our orders, retrieved our soft drinks, and seated ourselves, I observed an enthusiastic workforce made up of newly-hired employees and seasoned Smashburger veterans – all working together to iron out the wrinkles ahead of the grand opening on April 23rd.

About this time, I was reminded of Peters’ quote and thought to myself, “This soft opening is hard work!” and I reflected on the equal importance of both soft skills (e.g., eye contact, smiling, energy in one’s voice, etc.) and hard skills (e.g., menu knowledge, operating the register, preparing a Spicy Jalapeño Baja hamburger to standard, etc.).

Think about it: If I had been greeted by an energetic employee and made to feel welcome but my hamburger was undercooked, I would be less likely to return. Likewise, if my hamburger was prepared perfectly but I felt like an interruption while placing my order, I may not return. It’s critical that employees do both: execute job function (hard skills) AND demonstrate job essence (soft skills).

Soft openings are hard work. Harder still are routine, everyday openings where customers are more demanding and less tolerant of mistakes. The way to win during these day-to-day encounters with customers is for managers to recognize that “soft is hard ” and constantly reinforce the totality of every employee’s job role, which consists of BOTH job function AND job essence.

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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The Effortless Experience

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

EffortlessExperienceEarlier this year, I read the book The Effortless Experience by M. Dixon, N. Toman and R. DeLisi.

The authors compiled some terrific research – really enlightening stuff – but in their zeal to write a provocative book that challenges conventional thinking, they’ve lumped every conceivable customer service action into the category of “delight” (which they translate into breathless, over-the-top service).

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the book (and gave it a 5-star review on Amazon). I just thought it got much better after Ch. 1 – where the authors worked awfully hard trying to persuade readers that “delighting” customers was somehow a poor use of their time and energy.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the customer service maxim to “treat every customer as though he/she is your grandparent”? Well, I put a slightly different spin on that. I think about serving customers as I would serve any other person in my life whom I value (friends, neighbors, children, spouses…).

With this in mind, consider the following paragraph from Ch. 1:

“But as powerful and compelling as (legendary customer service) stories are, what if you checked back with those same customers a year or two down the road to see how much more business they’re bringing you? Because the data shows that in the aggregate, customers who are moved from a level of ‘below expectations’ up to ‘meets expectations’ offer about the same economic value as those whose expectations were exceeded.”

Imagine applying this logic to your marriage: “Honey, from now on I’m going to focus on meeting your expectations as opposed to exceeding them. I read this great new book called The Effortless Marriage and I’m now convinced that there’s no real value to exceeding your expectations by ‘delighting’ you with love notes, roses, and that sort of nonsense. So, what’s for dinner?”

In The Effortless Experience, the authors rebuke those service providers who “delight” their customers (for example, by expressing genuine interest in them or providing them with pleasant surprises) as misguided. Instead, the authors advocate for reducing customer effort. As most reasonable customer service professionals understand, it doesn’t have to be one or the other (delight customers OR reduce customer effort). It can be both.

In fact, as a customer myself, I’m “delighted” whenever a service provider reduces the effort I have to expend during a transaction. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

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Entitled customers

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Entitlement - Arrogant copyDuring a recent interview, I received this question:

How do you handle customers who, once they’ve been “delighted,” now expect that level of service and even feel entitled to it?

To me, the best illustration of this dynamic is frequent flyers. When airline customers first join a frequent flyer program, it’s incumbent upon them to accumulate a significant chunk of miles (usually 25,000 within a calendar year) before attaining status that entitles them to privileges such as priority boarding and waived baggage fees.

While in the process of acquiring status in the airline’s frequent flyer program, these customers dutifully wait in line and pay to check their baggage. But once they achieve a certain status – especially elite status, such as United Airline’s 1K – these same passengers become annoyed, even indignant, when having to wait in line or being denied an upgrade to First Class.

I’m not sure what the remedy is for an entitlement mentality, but I can say this with certainty: Don’t extend perks or privileges to premium customers that you cannot consistently honor. For example, if an airline designates an exclusive station in the terminal for premium passengers to check-in for their flights, then it had better be adequately staffed.

If it’s not and the line of spring breakers moves faster, then you have a problem.

How would you respond to this question?

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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Making “delight” stick

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Pleasant Surprises copyDuring a recent interview, I was asked, “How long does the effect of ‘delight’ (on a customer) last?”

The value of exploring a question like this is that it forces us to examine those variables that contribute to creating lasting positive impressions for our customers. If this knowledge can be captured and then reflected in an organization’s service models, then its employees can be intentional about providing memorable customer service consistently, over time, by design rather than inconsistently, here and there, by chance.

This was my response:

The effect of “delight” varies depending on the person (expectancy), the degree of delight (intensity), and the situation (urgency). For instance, I was delighted when a barista served my double espresso with a 4-oz. glass of chilled sparkling water as a palate cleanser. I later learned that, for some espresso aficionados, this “delighter” would have been an expectation. And there are many different ways to delight – from offering a sincere and specific compliment to delivering service heroics. Both acts will leave a lasting positive impression, but they differ in intensity. The situation matters too. If my chiropractor can see me right away (without an appointment) for a routine adjustment, that’s fine. But if I’m experiencing acute pain in my lower back and my chiropractor can see me right away, then I’m delighted!

At the time, I was quite pleased by the assonance of the three categories that emerged: expectancy, intensity, and urgency, but recognize that consumer behavior is far too complex to fit neatly into three categories – even if they do sound alike.

How would you respond to this question?

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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Where to focus: product or customer?

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Promoter 2 copyOver the weekend I received an email from a New Zealand consultant who is working with a bus tour operator to transition from a product focus to a customer focus. For a bus tour operator, a product focus emphasizes the travel itinerary and mode of transportation for the current trip, whereas a customer focus considers the traveler’s experience throughout the current trip with an eye toward future trips. The consultant’s question dealt with how to move an organization from a product focus to a customer focus.

My reaction to this question is why not value both the product and the customer?

For instance, I appreciate when a bus tour operator pays attention to the product—the travel itinerary and mode of transportation for the current trip. I want the company to take into account the route (e.g., traffic patterns, road construction, and weather) and the bus itself (e.g., safety, seating capacity, cleanliness, etc.) when making tour preparations.

At the same time, I recognize when a bus tour operator considers the customer—and the totality of her experience with the goal of creating a promoter (a delighted customer who is less price sensitive, has higher repurchase rates, and is responsible for 80-90 percent of the positive word-of-mouth about a company or brand). I want the company to value the entire customer experience (e.g., website, reservations, payment, pre-tour communications, reception, tour, amenities, comfort, etc.).

It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum proposition, one or the other. It can be both. Intellectually, this makes sense. The bus tour operator needs a scenic route, a reliable bus, and a knowledgeable tour guide. It also must pay attention to its customers’ experiences with company personnel, policies, and protocol. The problem I tend to encounter most often is that companies become so immersed in their products that they lose sight of their customers—and the totality of their experiences with the product or service in question.

An example: My wife and I have purchased bedroom sets from Pottery Barn Kids for each of our four children. The last items purchased were a navy blue desk/hutch, a full size bed, and a nightstand for our son—all in January 2014. The nightstand arrived with a nickel-plated handle matching the handles on his 5-drawer dresser, but the desk arrived with flat silver-plated handles that didn’t match either of the other pieces.

So I called PBK, mentioned the inconsistency and was told that replacement handles/screws would be sent. About a week later, UPS delivered a packet of nickel-plated hardware but it contained cams and cam screws rather than the requested handles/screws. So, I called back and spoke with a rep who said he’d have the correct hardware shipped the following week.

After four weeks, I called back to check on the handles. Following a lengthy hold, the rep came back on the line and informed me that my request had been denied because the desk only came with flat silver-plated handles. He apologized that no one from PBK had bothered to contact me regarding the denial of my request and then began to end the call when I interrupted saying, “That answer is unacceptable. If you can’t send me three nickel-plated handles and six screws for the desk (because it only comes in flat silver), then send me three nickel-plated handles and six screws for the 5-drawer dresser.”

As I often do in such situations, I asked the PBK rep if he thought my request was unreasonable. He didn’t. I then asked him if he recognized the absurdity of PBK denying my request. He did. He confirmed my shipping address and assured me that he would take care of it. That was more than two weeks ago. As of today, more than seven weeks after my initial call, I have yet to receive the handles/screws requested. In its rigid adherence to product protocol, PBK lost sight of its customer.

Whether a bus tour operator, furniture retailer, or some other business, a myopic focus on one’s product or service without considering the totality of the customer’s experience may reduce customer satisfaction, curtail customer loyalty, and limit business success. The opportunity lies not in determining whether to focus on the product or the customer, but in choosing to value both.

Update: I’m pleased to report that on 4-21-14, after pestering the company president, I received the long-awaited nickel-plated handles and screws I requested in late-January.

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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Poor customer service is unsustainable

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Lady JusticeThis is the seventh post in a series that will explore a set of questions I received from participants during a recent webinar on the topic of customer service.

Question: A recent study by Bloomberg Businessweek showed that companies with the worst customer satisfaction had better performing stocks. How can we justify the cost of customer service?

I have two thoughts regarding this question, both of which can be attributed to Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. My first thought is that Time Warner Cable and other companies that willfully subordinate customer service quality to profits are in violation of principles – natural laws that are timeless and self-evident – such as justice, fairness, integrity, honesty, service, quality, and excellence.

Cecil B. deMille observed of the principles contained in his monumental movie, The Ten Commandments, “It is impossible for us to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law.” Profits that are earned in violation of principles – natural laws – are unsustainable. If you don’t believe me, just ask Bernie Madoff, Jeffrey Skilling, Dennis Kozlowski, Bernie Ebbers or Martha Stewart.

My second thought is rooted in Covey’s theory of Production (P)/Production Capability (PC) Balance. While the P/PC Balance theory may sound boring, it’s quite interesting – and quite true. Essentially, it’s the principle behind the popular Aesop’s fable of the goose and the golden egg. As you might recall, the greedy farmer, in his attempt to achieve great wealth quickly, killed the goose (PC) that laid the golden eggs (P). Alas, there were no reserves of golden eggs…only a dead goose.

Every business can take shortcuts (including customer service) in the near term and, as a result, look better financially. Over time, however, companies that violate principles and exploit customers (PC) in their myopic pursuit of profits (P) learn, as did the greedy farmer, that this strategy is unsustainable.

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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Can exceptional customer service be taught?

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Enthusiasm new copyThis is the sixth post in a series that will explore a set of questions I received from participants during a recent webinar on the topic of customer service.

Question: Is the ability to create delighted customers something that can be taught or something that is inherent in the employee’s personality?

I recently taught this principle to a group in Hollywood, CA. Anyone can be taught to incorporate job essence (behaviors that help to achieve one’s highest priority at work) into her job functions (the duties or tasks associated with one’s job role). In fact, once operationalized, employees will be reflecting job essence in the course of executing job function.

As an example, consider written communication such as email or chat in a contact center environment that relies exclusively on the verbal component of communication. By deliberately infusing written responses with positive language, employees can incorporate essence (positivity) into job function (email responses). Rather than saying (in relation to order status), “Your order won’t be ready until…” saying, “Your order will be ready on…” Or, instead of saying (in relation to product returns), “You need to write your return number on your package,” saying, “Please be sure to include your return number on your package.” (Source: Osram Sylvania’s Positive Language Guidance)

Of course, job essence is often spontaneously reflected in one’s job performance (and, I agree that certain people are predisposed to this behavior). For example, certain employees naturally convey authentic enthusiasm during their interactions with customers – and their passion is evident to the customer. Other employees naturally express genuine interest in their customers by making eye contact and asking them questions – and their warmth is felt by the customer.

Both conveying authentic enthusiasm and expressing genuine interest in customers are examples of reflecting job essence. Savvy companies employ predictive recruiting assessments to screen applicants for these desired behaviors and, as a result, improve the likelihood that their employees will display such behaviors during their interactions with customers.

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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