Archive for the ‘Employee Engagement’ Category

Aristotle was right

Monday, October 7th, 2013

AristotleThis is the third post in a series that will explore a set of questions I received from participants during a webinar on the topic of customer service. (I say “explore” rather than “answer” because I’ve discovered over the years that there is rarely a single right answer to these types of questions. More often, there are a variety of solutions or guidelines that, when applied, produce successful outcomes.)

Question: What is your view of treating “premium” customers better than ordinary customers?

In considering this question, I am reminded of the Aristotle quote: “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.”

This is a slippery slope in customer service because, when taken to extremes, it appears to be prejudicial service, where one customer is prematurely judged as less valuable or important than another customer. (Think about the scene in Pretty Woman when Vivian, played by Julia Roberts, was snubbed by saleswomen based on her immodest appearance while shopping at an upscale boutique along Rodeo Drive.) And, of course, this is wrong.

A popular assertion is that all customers should be treated equally. Here, I’d like to make a distinction between the terms equally and equity:

  • Equally means having the same value as another.
  • Equity means the state, quality, or ideal of being just, impartial, and fair.

Equally means 50:50. Equity might mean 60:40 (or some other unequal ratio) based on what each party needs and deserves. I have four children. The three oldest receive allowance but their allowance is not equal. The financial needs of my 7th Grader differ from those of his 3rd Grade sister and their individual allowances reflect that difference. Their allowance is not equal but it is equitable.

In the same way, customers who have flown 100,000 miles with an airline and achieved elite status in its frequent flyer program deserve to board the airplane ahead of those passengers who fly less often. And retail customers with a history of significant spending deserve to be notified of sales before the general public in order to preview the best selection of sale merchandise. These perks may not be spread equally among the customer base but they are distributed equitably.

The goal should be to treat loyal customers better, not casual customers worse. Doing so reinforces premium customers’ personal importance (not their importance as people—that’s equality—but their importance as customers) while recognizing the value they bring to the business through personal spending, loyalty, and referrals.

In the first paragraph, I suggested that there’s rarely a single “right” answer to these types of questions. You’ve read my response. Now it’s your turn. How would you respond to the above 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.

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Inspiring performance in a unionized environment

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

behind register_00086[1]This is the second post in a series that will explore a set of questions I received from participants during a webinar on the topic of customer service. (I say “explore” rather than “answer” because I’ve discovered over the years that there is rarely a single right answer to these types of questions. More often, there are a variety of solutions or guidelines that, when applied, produce successful outcomes.)

Question: Most of the representatives in our contact center belong to a union. While some demonstrate exceptional customer service, others rise only to the lowest threshold of acceptable performance. How do we inspire those employees who seem satisfied with mediocrity to step it up?

A unionized workforce is often perceived to be less flexible and responsive due to the existence of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that clearly outlines work-related protocol and the specific job functions associated with each job role. In such an environment, taking initiative and expending discretionary effort may be viewed as pointless when material rewards are tied to seniority rather than job performance.

While employees and management may have less discretion to influence job function (the mandatory algorithmic tasks associated with a job role for which an employee is paid to execute) beyond the parameters outlined in the contract, opportunity abounds for employees to demonstrate—and for management to validate—job essence (the voluntary heuristic behaviors that contribute to an organization’s highest priority that an employee elects to demonstrate).

Most employees, regardless of whether or not they’re unionized, are acutely aware of their job functions. These are generally outlined in a job description and reinforced through on-the-job training and ongoing performance management (feedback, coaching, counseling, and discipline). Unlike job functions, most employees are completely unaware of job essence. Job essence is often left to chance and frequently omitted from the feedback employees receive relative to job performance (assuming they do receive feedback on their job performance, which is not always the case).

This presents a tremendous opportunity for managers to present to employees the totality of their job roles (both job function and job essence). Similarly, it has the potential to cause the “scales to fall off” employees’ eyes as they become aware, perhaps for the first time, of job essence—the dimension of their jobs that is not governed by a CBA or limited to a defined job description.

In the first paragraph, I suggested that there’s rarely a single “right” answer to these types of questions. You’ve read my response. Now it’s your turn. How would you respond to the above 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.

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“Can I speak with your supervisor?”

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

annoyedThis is the first post in a series that will explore a set of questions I received from participants during a webinar on the topic of customer service. (I say “explore” rather than “answer” because I’ve discovered over the years that there is rarely a single right answer to these types of questions. More often, there are a variety of solutions or guidelines that, when applied, produce successful outcomes.)

Question: How do you best support employees when disgruntled customers react negatively because of something that has occurred?

This is an important question because the reality is that we, as human beings, are emotional creatures. Sometimes, it’s the customer who is emotional and, because of a problem, vents into the ear, face, or inbox of an employee who is not directly responsible for the offense. It’s normal in these situations, as an employee, to experience an emotional tug (affronted, devalued, disrespected), take it personally, and be left feeling bad about the exchange.

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!” 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 transportation to place these burdens in a “box” near the loading dock and collect them on the way home.

A better way to assist employees is to listen to their concerns and to make resources available to address their problems, if not eliminate them altogether. In the same way, employees can be supported by their immediate supervisors in the event customers behave in an aggressive or reactive manner after experiencing a problem.

Most occurrences of this sort of customer behavior involve the line, “Can I speak with your supervisor?” before the situation intensifies. But then, what are most employees instructed to do? That’s right. They’re trained to avoid escalating calls and, instead, remedy the situation themselves. Unfortunately, not all employees are sufficiently experienced/trained to accomplish this. As a result, customers receive frustrating responses from employees such as, “There’s no supervisor here at this time (even when there is)” or “Sir, they’re going to tell you the same thing.” These responses are sure to fan the flames and further agitate disappointed customers.

One remedy: Encourage employees to escalate calls to a supervisor when requested by customers. After all, unless your company has promoted an ill-prepared employee to a supervisory-level position, he or she should be better equipped to address the customer’s concerns. This demonstrates support for the frontline employee and will alleviate much of the stress associated with contentious interactions with customers.

If your response to the above suggestion is, “Steve, if our employees escalate every disgruntled customer call to a supervisor, then that’s all these supervisors will be doing all day! There won’t be any time left for them to focus on important things—like improving customer service.”

Perhaps you’ve already identified the flaw in this argument?

If your company’s customers are so frustrated as to overwhelm supervisory-level staff with their grievances, this indicates a larger, more systemic problem (e.g., product and/or service quality, billing errors, etc.) that is ultimately beyond the control of your frontline staff—who, inevitably, receive the brunt of complaints.

In the first paragraph, I suggested that there’s rarely a single “right” answer to these types of questions. You’ve read my response. Now it’s your turn. How would you respond to the above 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.

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Crowd control

Friday, September 27th, 2013

employee-blinders-copySometimes, through no fault of your own, you find yourself overwhelmed by demanding customers who may feel entitled to immediate attention. Maybe a large tour group just arrived at your hotel or restaurant, or you’re short-staffed due to job vacancies, call-offs, or lean scheduling, and a line is forming…

In these instances, even careful planning and preparation may not result in the seamless service you’d like to provide to all of your customers. But there are ways to achieve stellar service even when faced with long lines and impatient customers:

Acknowledge the customer. Make eye contact and nod. A customer may feel anxious if you don’t acknowledge his presence—especially if other customers are also waiting to be served. Some delicatessens and other high-volume operations alleviate this anxiety by issuing numbers and serving customers in order.

Smile—a lot! Customers can easily detect tension in your body language. When they do, it may make them feel anxious and uncomfortable. The well-known communications study by Dr. Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, suggests that 55 percent of one’s likeability comes from the visual effect—her body language. Saying “I’ll be with you in just a minute” with a serious or critical expression on your face sends a far different message than if the same words were said through a smile.

Communicate early and often. Most customers will understand delays and other setbacks if there is adequate communication during the wait. Flight delays are a classic example of this. When there is adequate and reliable communication between the gate agents and passengers, then passengers can make use of the delay to work, shop, or dine. It’s when the communication is inadequate that passengers become restless and upset because they’re unable to venture from the gate area for fear of the plane boarding without them.

Re-deploy and cross-utilize staff. Apple Stores do a great job with this. If you need help on the sales floor, reps are there. When you’re ready to buy, there’s no line to wait in because the same rep can complete the purchase transaction with his hand-held payment device. Is your product stocked in the backroom? Don’t worry about a lengthy wait in some line—he will retrieve it for you personally.

Entertain. Disney does a great job of entertaining its customers while they wait in long lines to experience a ride or other attraction. By having characters interact with the guests or providing overhead flat screen television sets designed to entertain, prepare, and/or engage the guest while awaiting the attraction, Disney effectively reduces the perceived wait time of its guests.

Offer lagniappes (something extra). I once waited in a long line at a Starbucks store in Virginia. When I finally received my latte, the barista also handed me a free drink coupon. It was a nice touch. Most often, when customers wait in long lines, they feel helpless and taken for granted. In this case, I felt appreciated that my wait had been recognized and deemed unacceptable by the staff.

While it’s impossible to anticipate every variable that contributes to an operation being “in the weeds,” there are times when planning is the difference between exceptional and poor service quality. For instance, if you’re expecting a large group due to an earlier reservation, then staff accordingly—even when this requires some creativity (e.g., reallocating staff from other departments or locations, utilizing temporary labor, or adjusting employees’ work schedules).

Maybe it’s not a staffing issue. Perhaps it’s a logistical issue. If so, anticipate the processes that you’ll need to address before the group arrives. In the hotel industry, that may be the arrival process (i.e., guest registration, baggage handling, etc.). A restaurant may suggest a prix fixe menu which will streamline the ordering process, resulting in more efficient table service during the event.

Most businesses benefit from receiving lots of customer traffic. When the traffic comes, whether anticipated or not, you must be prepared to address and serve your customers in ways that reflect the service priorities of your business.

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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Exceptions create opportunities to provide exceptional customer service

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

service-heroics-copyHave you ever noticed the tendency of frontline employees to become defensive—even surly—when you bring a problem or misunderstanding to their attention?

Unless your business has systemic, unresolved issues, problems and misunderstandings are exceptions. By definition, exceptions do not conform to the general rule. This makes them infrequent. That’s why they’re exceptions.

When exceptions occur in your place of business, how are they typically handled?

In many cases, exceptions such as misunderstandings, unmet expectations, or problems experienced (when brought to the attention of frontline employees) create a palpable communication barrier that neutralizes employees’ smiles, eye contact, and enthusiasm to serve.

It’s as if a customer’s problem, when expressed, drives a wedge between him and the employee. Instead of seeing the situation as an opportunity to serve, many employees recoil and judge the customer as being difficult or demanding.

Last week, a friend’s 9-year-old son, Evan, fractured a bone in his left foot while bouncing on the equipment at Jumpoline Park Family Fun Center in Aurora, Colorado. According to a text I received from his mother, “(A Jumpoline employee) brought Evan over to Shawntel (Evan’s guardian that afternoon), set him down, and told her he had hurt his ankle. Then he brought her a bag of ice. That was the extent of it. While he was icing to see how bad it was, Shawntel went over to get a rain check because they had only been there 30 minutes and she had paid for two hours for all three kids. So they called over the manager and he wasn’t happy about giving a rain check. Finally, he consented to giving her one hour for each kid, but wouldn’t give the 90 minutes they hadn’t used.”

Here’s the lesson contained in this text message: When a Jumpoline guest injures him/herself on the equipment, it’s an exception. And exceptions create opportunities to provide exceptional customer service. Rather than approach affected guests with suspicion, Jumpoline employees should treat them with courtesy and respect.

Too many service providers view exceptions (like Evan’s injury) as necessary evils to endure (while placating demanding customers) rather than as opportunities to provide exceptional customer service (while creating delighted/loyal customers). As a result, they forfeit opportunities to deliver service heroics, increase customer satisfaction, and cement the relationship.

When Jumpoline staff recognize this truth, parents of guests who injure themselves (or experience other setbacks) will not be labeled as “difficult” and treated as such. Instead, these guests—these exceptions—will be seen as creating opportunities for staff to display empathy, express genuine interest, and, in other ways, provide exceptional customer service.

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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“Discerning” customers are not “difficult”

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Annoyed customer copyFrom time to time, seminar participants ask me, “What’s the best way to deal with difficult customers?”

My standard answer is: “They’re only difficult if you’ve labeled them that way.”

I prefer the adjective “discerning” in place of “difficult.” Consider the definitions of each:

Discerning: noting differences or distinctions; exhibiting keen insight and good judgment; perceptive

Difficult: hard to please or satisfy

Oftentimes, when customers complain it’s because their expectations were not met. This is not an indication that they are hard to please. It’s a signal that they have noted a difference between what they originally expected and what they ultimately received.

Too often, employees go on the defense in these situations. You can see it their faces and their body movements. Their smiles fade and they may fold their arms. As they begin to speak, the tone of their voice becomes a bit more serious—even condescending as they retreat to the safety of “policy” and “terms and conditions.”

I once observed a visibly disappointed customer at Office Depot. He was upset because, in the middle of processing his order, an employee in the print center had left for several minutes to assist a customer in another part of the store. Eventually, he was approached by a store supervisor.

This customer wasn’t hard to please. He simply noted a difference between what he originally expected (timely fulfillment of his print order) and what he ultimately received (an unexpected delay without explanation).

I observe these confrontations on occasion and am always pleased when employees are willing to let the customer vent and they take the time to really listen for understanding of the customer’s problem. More often than not, customers simply want to be heard and have their complaints be acknowledged and validated.

A great technique for employees to demonstrate that they fully understood the customer’s complaint is to paraphrase (not parrot) the facts and feelings they heard while the customer vented. An apology may also be in order, whether or not the employee was at fault.

For example, the Office Depot supervisor who approached the customer could respond, “I apologize that you had to wait while Mark assisted another customer. It’s frustrating when there’s no communication about how long the wait will be.”

The supervisor could then choose to complete the print job personally and, perhaps, discount the order to compensate for the unexpected delay.

Upon completion, the supervisor should reinforce her earlier apology and make the customer aware of the discount applied to the order. Then, she should express appreciation for the feedback by saying something like, “My name’s Laura. I’m a supervisor and will share your experience with the entire team in order to improve our responsiveness and communication in the future.”

While it’s true that some customers are more discerning than others, this does not mean these customers are “difficult.” These customers do, however, present unique opportunities for employees to heighten their sense of urgency, attention to detail, and follow-up in the pursuit of exceptional customer service.

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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Balancing enforcement and accommodation

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Stadium attendantLast week, I attended the U.S. Open in New York. While at Louis Armstrong Stadium, I encountered two stadium attendants: one who understood that his role was to serve spectators and another who viewed himself as an enforcer of stadium rules and tournament protocol.

The first attendant, I observed smiling, making eye contact, and conversing with ticket holders as he escorted them to their seats (which he wiped clean with a towel). Before departing, he gently counseled fans to only move about the stadium during official changeovers in order to avoid distracting the players. He was friendly and instructional. As a result, he cultivated smiles and nods of understanding and agreement from his “customers.”

The second attendant didn’t escort or counsel anyone. Instead, he lazily pointed in the direction of a ticket holder’s assigned seat, surveyed his domain, and then pounced whenever a spectator breached the official 90-second changeover time frame. In one case, he told a fan who was 10 feet from his seat to go back down the steps and wait behind the chain for the next official changeover—even though the players were still making their way onto the court and lots of fans were returning to their seats in other sections of the stadium.

Here’s the insight that I gleaned from these observations: Those wielding authority (such as stadium attendants, TSA agents, and youth sports referees), are most effective when they balance rules enforcement with accommodating counsel. It’s not zero-sum in the sense that it has to be one or the other—enforcement or accommodation. It’s both.

A TSA agent, for example, rather than admonishing a traveler for failing to comply with TSA protocol for transporting toiletries, might say, “I have a bag you can use today. In the future it’s important that you pack such items inside a one-quart clear Ziploc-style bag. In fact, you’ll find all of the TSA guidelines on our website: TSA.gov.” This traveler, as opposed to feeling chastised, would feel accommodated and better prepared for future interactions with the TSA.

This concept also applies to youth sports referees. My 10-year-old son, Cooper, plays basketball in a youth league. I’ve noticed that there are two distinct archetypes for referees in youth sports: those who counsel and instruct and those who myopically enforce the rules.

As a dad, I appreciate the refs who counsel and instruct the boys in a way that develops their knowledge of the game rather than zapping them with punitive consequences like fouls and turnovers without explanation. Please don’t get me wrong. I understand that fouls and turnovers are part of the game and that setbacks and adversity can be powerful teachers. Even so, the kids in the league are 9 and 10 years old—many playing in their first season and all still learning the game.

The most effective referees, who win over both parents and players, are those who balance rules enforcement with instructive counsel that develops players’ knowledge of the game and encourages their continued enthusiastic participation.

When attempting to balance enforcement and accommodation, recognize that customers’ perspectives likely differ from our own. And when we neglect trying to see the world through their eyes (whether disoriented tennis fans, uninformed airport travelers, or inexperienced basketball players), we may be missing opportunities to serve.

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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“But I do everything I’m supposed to do.”

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Apathycigarette copyLast year I met with Zane, a manager of a fast-casual restaurant. During our conversation, he shared some of the recurring challenges he faces in trying to raise the level of service at his restaurant.

One frustration he disclosed was the inability of his staff (with the exception of one or two “superstars”) to consistently provide exceptional customer service. According to Zane, when he challenges employees to “try a little harder” to provide exceptional customer service, the majority reply, “But I do everything I’m supposed to do.”

This response is quite telling and, I believe, holds the key to whether or not customer service quality will improve at his restaurant.

The above employee lament highlights the mandatory nature of job function (i.e., the duties or tasks associated with one’s job role) that is expected by customers and required of employees; that which employees are supposed to do. Absent from this remark is anything that is unexpected and voluntary—that which employees choose to do. I refer to this as job essence, employees’ highest priority at work. And for most service industry employees, the essence of their jobs is to create delighted customers.

I’ve observed that, while most employees consistently execute the mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary job essence for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. This explains why you and I almost always receive the deli sandwich we ordered but may not always receive it with a smile, eye contact, and enthusiasm in the deli employee’s voice. Assuming customers pay for it, deli employees must provide the sandwich ordered. Smiles, eye contact, and enthusiasm in their voice, however, are clearly voluntary.

The reason that Zane is challenged by staff who consistently deliver hot food hot and cold food cold (job function) but inconsistently express genuine interest in customers or convey authentic enthusiasm in serving them (job essence) is because most operations (and the supervisors who oversee them) focus predominantly on job functions and the efficiencies associated with them in order to reduce costs and increase profits.

In Zane’s restaurant, it’s not uncommon for employees to receive feedback on and be held accountable to menu knowledge, following procedure, completing their sidework, and other job functions. And it’s unlikely that a day will go by that he doesn’t scrutinize operational metrics associated with job function: average check, food costs, inventories, productivity, profitability, etc.

That’s what managers do, right?

I told Zane that I understand the importance of job function. (Really, I do. You can’t run a business without it. And you can’t provide exceptional customer service without it. No guest at his restaurant wants an undercooked entrée delivered with a smile.) But job function is only half an employee’s job. The other half, job essence—which is often neglected by employees and managers alike—is missing in most customer service interactions with employees that customers would describe as routine, uneventful, and transactional.

Managers must remind their employees daily through modeling, feedback, and other forms of communication, that excellence lies not in what’s expected and required (what they’re supposed to do) but in what’s unexpected and voluntary (what they choose to do), such as anticipating needs, paying attention to detail, displaying a sense of urgency, and following-up.

And therein lies a key truth: Whether in Zane’s restaurant or your place of business, exceptional customer service is always voluntary.

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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The Streets are Rough!

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

NPIS_cover_finalThe following is a guest post by Chip Bell. Chip’s latest book, The 9 ½ Principles of Innovative Service, uses stories, anecdotes, and quotes to inspire and instruct. If you’ve gotten to know Chip through one of his previous books or by attending one of his seminars, then you’re familiar with his extensive repertoire of stories—like this one:

Karl Wallenda is the most famous aerialist in history. As the senior member of the Flying Wallendas, his antics on the high wire were as inventive as they were death defying. For years the family team was a main attraction of the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus. In 1974, at the age of sixty nine, Karl broke a world skywalk distance record of 1,800 feet, a record that stood until 2008, when his great grandson, Nik Wallenda, completed a 2,000-foot skywalk at the same location. His favorite line: “Being on the wire is living; everything else is just waiting.” When asked why he so loved life on the high wire, he cleverly responded, “The streets are rough.”

Wallenda’s line is a metaphor for the state of customer service today. The streets are competitively rough–crowded with too many ho-hum, pretty good, average service providers.  It makes differentiation as rough as the cobblestone streets in Wallenda’s hometown of Magdeburg, Germany. The alternative is innovative service—experiences that take customer’s breath away much like the Flying Wallendas seven-person pyramid circus act on the wire.

But, while there is far less traffic on the high wire of innovative service than the streets of okay service, its performance takes front line employees empowered and willing to take risks. It requires a spirit of experimentation born of a clear and present desire to be distinctive. It takes encouraging the frontline to pay attention to the scenography of service delivery—all the sights, sounds, smells, touches, and tastes of the experience that communicate congruence and sensory pleasure. It requires a think outside the box mentality that results in inventive actions and creative practices. And, it involves random acts of generosity from a sincere greeting to a warm farewell.

How can you walk the tight rope of innovative service and avoid the rough streets of average service? Read The 9 ½ Principles of Innovative Service as your inspirational instruction manual!

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The problem with empathy

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Service FailureEarlier this year, I read a book by a colleague of mine, Jeff Toister, titled Service Failure: The Real Reasons Employees Struggle with Customer Service and What You Can Do About It.

As the book’s subtitle suggests, Jeff explores common obstacles that prevent customers from experiencing exceptional customer service: broken systems, employee disengagement, incongruent service culture, insufficient communication, and others. And rather than leave readers guessing about next steps, Jeff offers field-tested suggestions to overcome these obstacles. Applying his advice will create a better work environment for employees and an improved service experience for customers.

For the purpose of this review, I’d like to concentrate on one obstacle from Chapter 9: The Problem with Empathy. In this chapter, Jeff makes an astute observation: “Many employees lack the fundamental experiences upon which empathy is built. They find it hard to understand their customers’ emotions, or they may fail to grasp the importance of addressing these emotions when a service failure occurs. They may not even realize that their customers’ perspective is different from their own and miss out on opportunities to serve because they can only see the world through their own eyes.”

To illustrate this observation in action, here’s a true story I heard from friends who stayed with us last month: While traveling from Washington, D.C. to Denver through Dallas with three young children (ages 2, 6, and 8), their connecting flight to Denver was canceled. As a result, they were forced to spend four hours in the Dallas airport before boarding an alternate flight to Denver. Although their seats on the original flight had been blocked together, on the new flight due to an aircraft change, the airline was unable to accommodate their original seat assignments.

While boarding the flight with their restless children, our friends were forced to scramble for seats that were together. This required asking passengers who were comfortably situated to give up their coveted window or aisle seats so that a parent could sit next to a child. David and Beth, throughout the ordeal, were forced to endure the assessing glances of passengers and flight attendants labeling them as disorganized and unprepared. As our friends described it, “We were now those parents.”

I wonder how many of the flight attendants or passengers, as opposed to thinking the worst of David and Beth, thought to themselves, “I bet their original flight was canceled and they had to keep those children entertained in the airport for four hours during the delay. And, because this aircraft is probably different from their original aircraft, they’re now having to scramble to locate seats that will allow a parent to sit next to a child.”

My hunch: not many. And therein lies the problem—the obstacle preventing David and Beth from experiencing exceptional customer service.

While the attitudes of other customers are beyond your control, it’s possible to influence the attitudes of employees in these types of situations by, in Jeff’s words, “(Sharing) stories and testimonials (like this one) from real customers to remind your employees how delivering great service can make their customers feel understood and acknowledged.”

Discover more common obstacles that prevent customers from experiencing the exceptional customer service they deserve, as well as Jeff’s experience-based suggestions to overcome them. Pick up a copy of his book, Service Failure: The Real Reasons Employees Struggle with Customer Service and What You Can Do About It, wherever books are sold.

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