Posts Tagged ‘memorable’

Work vs. Play

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

WorkersEarlier this week, a friend of mine passed along a copy of Daniel Pink’s latest book, Drive. It was a pleasant surprise because, having read his bestseller, A Whole New Mind, it was on my buy list. One of the reasons I enjoy reading authors like Daniel Pink, Malcolm Gladwell, Thomas Friedman, and others, is that they consistently challenge deeply held assumptions that I’ve guarded for years.

And while Drive opened in this way—causing me to rethink what I’d previously accepted as truth—I soon read a sentence that reaffirmed what I’ve known to be true for years: “Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

The implication of this truth, as it applies to my work in the field of customer service, is that to the extent employees see their jobs as a series of algorithmic tasks (the bullet points that make up so many job descriptions) as opposed to heuristic tasks (opportunities to “perform” outside of one’s job description), they will most likely focus on job function (the algorithmic tasks associated with their job role) at the expense of job essence (the heuristic tasks that contribute to their highest priority).

What’s their highest priority? For most customer service employees it’s to create delighted customers—those who will repurchase, be less price-sensitive, and recommend the company or brand to others.

The disconnect I most often experience as a customer of an airline, hotel, restaurant, or department store, is that employees tend to execute their jobs as a series of algorithmic tasks (e.g., issuing a boarding pass, obtaining a valid method of payment, taking an order, or ringing up a purchase) that they would define as work. In some cases, they might even define these tasks as routine or monotonous. And whenever customers detect monotony from employees, it contributes to perceptions of bland, uneventful, and indifferent customer service.

The opportunity then lies in reframing employees’ views of their job roles. That is, expanding job descriptions from a myopic set of required algorithmic tasks that focus on job function to include optional heuristic tasks that support job essence.

Here is what it might look like in a hotel:

Among other job tasks, a front desk agent’s job description presumably includes obtaining a valid method of payment from each guest prior to issuing a room key. That’s an example of an algorithmic job task (i.e., following a set of established instructions) that fulfills the employee’s job function of checking-in guests. In many hotels, employees and guests alike would characterize this procedure as transactional, process-focused, and predictable—each one like the last one.

Now imagine the above algorithmic job task being completed in a way that fulfills the employee’s job function while, at the same time, supports the essence of her job role: to create a delighted customer.

Perhaps the desk agent smiles, makes eye contact with the guest, and says, “That’s a lovely tie. It matches your suit nicely. Who is the designer?” The guest, flattered by the remark, may then proudly answer, “Louis Vuitton” or “Robert Talbott.” Either way, he will be complimented that she noticed and will likely characterize the experience as exceptional, guest-focused, and unexpected. And while he probably won’t recall the transaction at all, he’ll remember the compliment for a long, long time.

All the desk agent did was expand her job description from a defined set of required algorithmic tasks (i.e., obtaining a valid method of payment from the guest) focused on job function (i.e., checking-in a guest) to include an optional heuristic task (i.e., providing a sincere and specific compliment) that supports job essence (i.e., to create a delighted customer). In doing so, she expressed her own uniqueness and creativity by doing something that was entirely optional and beyond the confines of her job description.

The late J.W. Marriott, Sr. said it well when he reflected on his own view of work: “There weren’t these two opposites, work and play, one bad and the other good. It was having a vision of the way things ought to be and then making them that way.”

That quote really encapsulates the message of this post. To the extent that employees view their jobs as a series of others-directed obligations, their jobs will seem more like work—with all the limitations and monotony associated with it. And to the extent that employees exercise their freedom to self-direct their performance using a variety of optional techniques, their jobs will seem more like play—with all the freedom and satisfaction associated with it.

Comments? (Please don’t feel obligated…they’re optional.)

What’s more memorable, T-Rex pancakes or a bowl of Cornflakes?

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

TRexpancakeSeveral years ago, after the birth of our first child, I began pouring pancake batter in unique shapes that our son would recognize from his world. When he was very young, I poured shapes ranging from puppies to pacifiers. As he grew older, I adapted the shapes to his interests—whether dinosaurs or chess pieces.

And holidays always provide fodder for themed shapes. I pour shamrocks in March, firecrackers in July, Jack-O-Lanterns in October, and candy canes in December. The kids love them and enjoy making requests for made-to-order shapes. Breakfast transforms from a predictable meal, a base to be touched each morning, to a festive event where the family lingers and memories are made.

I got to thinking about how this equates to customer service. According to research by Beyond Philosophy, a customer experience consulting firm, 44 percent of consumers described the majority of customer service experiences they have as “bland and uneventful.” These are the process-focused transactions that are marked by apathy, routine, and indifference. To me, that sounds like eating a bowl of Cornflakes. Even though you’ve eaten, and may even be satisfied, you’re not going to remember it.

Contrast that with pancakes in the shapes of dinosaurs—or whatever shapes are meaningful to you: your college mascot, a symbol of your favorite hobby—such as a tennis racquet or a chess piece, or even a pet. Would you describe this breakfast experience as “bland and uneventful?” Is a pancake in the shape of a rook forgettable if you’re a chess enthusiast? I think not!

Now, ask yourself, how does this concept apply to my business? How can I be intentional about transforming a product or service offering from one that may be perceived as process-focused, routine, and uneventful (i.e., a bowl of Cornflakes), into one that is seen as customer-focused, refreshing, and memorable (i.e., a pancake in the shape of a T-Rex)?

Here’s just one example: I know of a bank’s voice mail system which concludes a long menu of options by saying, “If you’d like to hear a duck quack, press 7.” Now, I’ve listened to my share of predictable voice mail directories but have never come across something as refreshing as this. I’d call back just to let my preschooler listen to the duck quack!

If this sounds like it’s going to require extra time and effort, you’re right. It’s definitely faster to prepare a bowl of Cornflakes and easier to pour round pancakes. But remember, they’re forgettable. Even so, you don’t have to sit down with a blank sheet of paper and invent this stuff. Look around for inspiration. It’s everywhere.

Talk with others about unique experiences they’ve had with companies that have made lasting impressions on them. Look for opportunities to surprise and delight your own customers through your company’s products and services.

Just like shaped pancakes, the possibilities are endless and the memories, priceless.

Chipotle’s got humor in the bag

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Chipotle bagCompanies that make me laugh create positive memories for me—of the service experience and brand. Using appropriate humor is an authentic way for companies to express their uniqueness while making it memorable for customers.

Here’s an example from Chipotle Mexican Grill:

Employees at Chipotle place to-go orders in brown bags with handles. Handles are unique—you don’t see that at most quick service restaurants—but what’s truly memorable to me is the message printed on the bottom of its bags:

Don’t throw this bag away!

Try these other uses:

  • Cat carrier
  • Put handles over ears…hands-free burrito eating
  • 401(k) statements filing receptacle
  • NOT recommended as a parachute

Besides reinforcing the importance of recycling, Chipotle uses appropriate humor to extend the service experience from the restaurant to the customer’s home or office.

Compare Chipotle’s to-go bag with one from a typical quick service restaurant. What’s different about it? Chipotle’s bag is so unique to me that I devoted a blog entry to it. In an environment where so many products and services are seen as bland, ordinary, and routine, Chipotle’s to-go bag makes an impression!

Look around your own business. What are some ways that you can transform products and services that are ordinary into something unique and refreshing—using appropriate humor, design, or some other attribute?

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Seafood TimesI recently bought some fresh fish at Whole Foods Market. As is customary, I waited my turn as customers who arrived before me had their orders fulfilled. When it was my turn, an employee behind the counter smiled, made eye contact, and with enthusiasm in his voice asked, “Did you see something you liked?”

As much as I appreciate quality products and friendly service, so far it had been a pretty predictable shopping experience. Whole Foods isn’t cheap and has a reputation for better than average product and service quality intended to justify the higher prices. When I shop there, I expect for the store to be extra clean, for the products to be extra fresh, and for the staff to be extra knowledgeable and helpful.

On this day, I watched as the employee gathered up the salmon fillets I had selected. He handled the fish with care, applying olive oil and seasoning as requested to each side of the fillets. As good as the service was, so far there was nothing out of the ordinary.

Having oiled and seasoned the fillets, the employee then wrapped them in butcher paper. He then handed them to me over the counter with a broad smile and said, “Here you are. Is there anything else I can get for you?”

I said that I was all set and thanked him for his help. Still, as great as the product and service quality had been, there had been nothing that made an impression—that had stuck out as being particularly memorable. What happened next changed all that.

As I looked at the wrapped fish, I noticed it had been wrapped in a customized butcher paper—made to look like newsprint—bearing the name: Seafood Times. Beneath the masthead were a variety of informative and entertaining stories such as Whole Foods Market Pleads Guilty to Seafood Discrimination and Make Your Kitchen a Safe Harbor.

Instead of bland and uneventful brown butcher paper, I had received something extra: a unique and refreshing version that had been customized by Whole Foods to extend my experience from the store to my home. All of a sudden, what had been a predicable transaction at the seafood counter transformed into a memorable service experience. I now had a powerful memory of my visit and a story to share with others.

When so many retail transactions are characterized by indifference, experiences like this one are a breath of fresh air. Companies that go the extra mile to surprise and delight customers will not only make headlines, they will make lasting impressions their customers will remember when it’s time to buy.

What’s in a name?

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Express genuine interestEarlier this month, I stopped by Hooters for lunch. During my hour-long visit, my table was “touched” by three separate Hooters Girls (my server, Felicia, and two others: Lillie and Kassity) and the manager, Ben.

I don’t always do so well remembering names but they made it easy for me. Two of the servers signed a napkin at my table and all four employees were wearing name tags that were clearly visible. That’s not always the case in many establishments.

All that attention not only made me feel valued as a customer, it also made an impression on me. Instead of feeling like just another restaurant “cover,” I felt as though this dining experience had been personalized—like the napkin—just for me. The staff expressed genuine interest in me, the guest. It was unexpected and I was pleasantly surprised.

Providing and using names is necessary to establish rapport. And establishing rapport is necessary to build trust. And building trust is necessary to gain customer loyalty. And customer loyalty—and the future spending and referrals that come with it—is necessary for business success.

So, what’s in a name? Business success.

Providing pleasant surprises

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Pleasant Surprises copyHave you ever received an unexpected upgrade, a complimentary appetizer, or some other pleasant surprise when you were not expecting it? How did it make you feel? I bet you can recall many details from the experience—probably because you’ve reinforced them by sharing the story with others.

Providing pleasant surprises that add unexpected perks to otherwise ordinary transactions, is an effective way to make lasting positive impressions on customers with little or no additional cost.

Here are three quick examples:

  • I brought my Ford Expedition into the dealership for an oil change. When the maintenance was completed, an employee pulled it around front and, to my surprise, it had been washed and was gleaming! Wow—that was a memorable final impression of that experience!
  • While using a self-service kiosk to pay for my groceries at Albertsons, I was approached by a store employee. She asked if I’d like a complimentary bottle of salad dressing that was being given away as a promotion. I gladly accepted and was pleasantly surprised by a complimentary 16 oz. bottle of Kraft Light Ranch salad dressing!
  • And just last week, I stopped by Target to do some shopping. At the checkout register, the cashier rang up my purchases and then handed me a receipt together with a coupon for a complimentary Starbucks latte. Another pleasant surprise!

Providing pleasant surprises can transform bland and ordinary transactions (e.g., oil changes, retail checkouts, etc.) that will soon be forgotten, into unique and refreshing service experiences that will long be remembered!

Sell the sizzle, AND the steak!

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

I read a Wall Street Journal article this week by Timothy W. Martin titled, Choice Advice From Meat Cutters. The article highlighted the benefits of training butchers at leading supermarket chains to engage customers as a chef rather than as simply a meat cutter. The difference separates a memorable, customer-focused experience from an ordinary, process-focused transaction at the meat counter.

As the scale of operations have grown at most supermarkets, many meat cutters disappeared from the meat cases to backrooms where interactions with shoppers were limited to announcements over the intercom. Their roles shifted from a familiar butcher who formed close bonds with shoppers, remembering names and preferences (people-focused), to an anonymous meat cutter whose priority was churning out enough hamburger patties and chuck steaks to fill meat cases (process-focused).

In the article, Frank Thurlow, director of meat and seafood merchandising at Winn-Dixie Stores, observed, “Meat cutters have a reputation for not being the most personable, outgoing types of individuals. I mean, we sit in the back room all day and cut up animals.”

So, how do you address this perception and change it in order to increase sales at the meat counter while boosting employee morale and job satisfaction?

There are many factors including vital processes such as the selection and onboarding of employees. The quality of customer service provided by an employee will never exceed the quality of customer service he or she is ready, willing, and able to deliver. The scope of this blog post cannot take into account every variable, so I’ll just focus on the obvious one: sharing unique knowledge.

Unique knowledge is not the same as job knowledge. Job knowledge is necessary for an employee to be proficient in his or her job role. It is expected by the customer and, generally speaking, is transactional—not memorable. Unique knowledge, when provided by the employee, is unexpected, refreshing, valued, and memorable. It’s the sizzle!

To illustrate the difference, read this testimonial from Aram Dakarian, meat manager at Jewel supermarket in Chicago: “Before, I’d tell customers just to squeeze out the blood and add some salt and pepper (job knowledge).” Now he eagerly offers cooking tips (unique knowledge). For example, for baked chicken, he recommends olive oil with a dash of lemon pepper. For steaks, a garlic or peppercorn seasoning rub, or two hours soaking in a wine sauce marinade.

Instead of simply sharing job knowledge: A flat-iron steak is cut from the shoulder of a steer, he can add more value by sharing unique knowledge: How to properly grill a flat-iron steak and the difference between dry (grilled or broiled) and wet (simmering or braising) cooking.

Grocers are banking on shoppers’ willingness to pay higher shelf prices in return for general dinner advice. And there is also a benefit to employees as described by Mr. Dakarian: “Now, I’m getting more in-depth with the meat, looking at it more like a chef. It makes me feel good.”

While customers appreciate nice employees, they value knowledgeable employees. And the more unique knowledge employees possess, the more value they bring to the customer experience.

Missed opportunities

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Last week, my family and I traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska to attend a family reunion. While in Lincoln, we stayed at a full service hotel downtown. When we arrived at the hotel, we unloaded several bags from our vehicle onto the sidewalk in front of the hotel. Minutes later, a bellman passed by without saying a word and entered the main lobby from the sidewalk.

My wife and I fully expected that he was getting a luggage cart to assist us with our bags. When he did not return, I went inside the hotel and encountered him standing just inside the lobby. He looked at me and asked, “Can I help you with your bags?” Already, I was annoyed because he clearly saw my bags on the sidewalk yet I still had to track him down for assistance.

Now that we were being helped, we no longer felt ignored but did feel as if this bellman was treating us indifferently—as if we were just another “check-in” or transaction. It’s not that he did anything wrong during the remainder of the check-in process, it’s just that he missed several opportunities to anticipate our needs and make a lasting positive impression.

For instance, one of my boys complained about the weight of his backpack. The bellman just stood there as I relieved my son of his backpack and hung it on the luggage cart. A minute later, while I went back to the car to retrieve a cooler, my wife corralled our four children in front of the elevators to take a group picture of them. She commented to me afterwards that she wished she had asked him to take a picture that would have included her—another missed opportunity for him to make a positive impression.

Later, when we were in the guest room, the bellman simply offloaded the luggage near the door, accepted his tip, and bid us adieux with the transactional industry farewell, “Enjoy your stay.”

He failed to observe other cues that would have made the difference between an ordinary check-in and a memorable service experience. Although a cooler, Pack ‘n Play® travel crib, and wine tote were all visible cues, he appeared aloof from any customer service opportunities these items may have presented. In the first ten minutes after his departure I had already retrieved ice for the cooler (which required accessing the 4th floor as there was no ice machine on the 3rd floor where our rooms were located), phoned housekeeping for a sheet to line our toddler’s travel crib, and gone in search of wine glasses.

With so many missed opportunities, the potential for a unique and memorable customer-focused experience faded and we were left with an ordinary and forgettable process-focused transaction. As happens far too often, many service providers are lulled into the monotony of processing “each customer like the last customer” and, in so doing, treating the customer like just another transaction (in my case, just another “check-in”).

Service providers must recognize that each customer presents a unique opportunity to make a favorable impression. By committing to energize their customer service delivery by looking for visual cues, anticipating customers’ needs, and offering the unexpected, service providers will capitalize on opportunities to provide unique and memorable service experiences.

Have you had your daily dose of Vitamin H – Humor?

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Patient: Does an apple a day really keep the doctor away?
Doctor: If you aim it well enough.

Throughout history, humor has been recognized for its healing qualities. The proverb proclaims what modern science has confirmed: “A merry heart doeth good like medicine.” Medieval professor of surgery, Henri de Mondeville, recommended mirth as an aid to recovery from surgery. More recently, a growing body of scientific evidence has reinforced the physiological, mental, emotional, and social advantages of humor.

Laughter has been called “inner jogging” because it stimulates the cardiovascular system, increases the oxygen throughout one’s bloodstream, exercises facial muscles, shoulders, diaphragm, and abdomen. A study by Stanford University showed a good belly laugh can give you health benefits equal to 10 minutes on a rowing machine. While laughter itself is delightfully stimulating, the residual effects create a temporary reduction in blood pressure, respiration, heart rate, and muscle tension.

Laughter enhances creativity and problem solving, reduces stress, eases strained relationships, and promotes mental health. It may even strengthen the immune system and contribute to longevity. In fact, University of Chicago studies show a great sense of humor can add an additional 8 years to your life!

Exercising your sense of humor doesn’t mean that you need to tell jokes all the time or be the life of the party. Just be open to the comic relief that daily life provides and cultivate the ability to not take yourself too seriously.

The French novelist, Colette, said, “Total absence of humor renders life impossible.” Being purposeful about using appropriate humor in the workplace not only affords employee morale and health benefits, it also makes customers’ experiences memorable—and that certainly beats the alternative!

Customers associate authentic enthusiasm with memorable service

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Let’s do a word association. You know how these work: I’ll name a word and you, off the top of your head, identify a set of words that you associate with that word. Ready?

The first word is indifference. What words immediately come to mind?

The second word is enthusiasm. What words immediately come to mind?

When I perform this activity at my seminars, participants’ associations with “indifference” are words like: apathy, don’t care, unimportant, don’t matter, etc. and their associations with “enthusiasm” are words like: lively, energetic, smile, radiant, etc.

Consider this statistic: 68 percent of customers quit doing business with a company because of perceived indifference towards them as customers.

In other words, lots of customers feel as though employees are apathetic and don’t care, and that, as customers, they are unimportant and don’t matter to the company.

What could be leading customers to feel this way? Everyone’s experience is unique but definitely interpersonal communication effects this perception. When employees don’t smile, make eye contact, or add a bit of enthusiasm to their voices, customers notice.

But here’s the good news: When employees do smile, make eye contact, and add a bit of enthusiasm to their voices, customers recognize that too. And because it’s a change from the indifferent service that most customers have come to expect, it stands out as refreshing, unique, and memorable.

Recently, I was reading the book Love Your Patients by Scott Louis Diering, M.D. and came across the following passage:

“Everyone is important. Every person you meet is very, very important. Every patient’s problem, every concern, every appointment, every minute is very, very important. Everything is important to someone. All we need do is recognize that importance. Enthusiasm is the easiest way for our patients to know that they are important.

When we act with enthusiasm, our patients will know that we truly take them seriously. We must ‘get into it.’ Many of the techniques and suggestions (referenced above) show our enthusiasm: We nod our head, make eye contact, and listen intently. We do these things to show our patients that they are our biggest concern.

It does not matter how many other more urgent problems we have to deal with. It does not matter that our last patient and our next patient are dying. What matters is, while we are with this patient, we are not distracted, bored, uninterested or unconcerned…

The best ways to show our enthusiasm are to thank our patients, to ask some non-healthcare questions about them, and to let them know that we are glad to see them…

Someone may criticize this view. They may say small talk distracts us from real patient care. They are wrong. Our business is people. The more we know about our patients, the better we can serve them.”

Many job roles, regardless of industry, become process-focused and routine over time. Service providers systematically go about their tasks and may unwittingly convey indifference towards the customers they serve.

Always look for opportunities to convey authentic enthusiasm: smile, make eye contact, add enthusiasm to your voice, ask engaging, non-routine questions and let your customers know that you’re genuinely happy to serve them.

In doing so, you will be expressing your uniqueness by adding personality to an otherwise routine and indifferent transaction. Best of all, you will be seen by customers as memorable—which certainly beats the alternative.

Contact Steve

Begin generating enthusiasm for your customers today!