Customer Experience Isn’t About Thrill Rides

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“People don’t want experiences, that’s the stuff of Disney or cruise ships.  People just want what they want and they want it to work.”  I read that in a comment to a post on LinkedIn the other day and while I wasn’t overly surprised by the comment, I was surprised that it came from the CEO of a company.  It clearly reminded me of the fact that there are still people, and some in high places, who believe that only product concerns really matter. I am continually surprised by the ignorance of many business leaders who dismiss customer experience as a fad, however, dismissing it doesn’t remove the fact that experiences matter because they happen whether you think they matter or not.  They have since the inception of business and always will.

Imagine you have a leaky faucet in your kitchen and you call a plumber.  The plumber comes in grumbling about something or another, barely acknowledges you and simply asks where the problem is.  You usher them to you kitchen sink and they begin looking around.  They open the cupboard under the sink and begin pulling out everything while commenting that they have to get underneath to get it fixed.  Now sitting with your stuff littering the kitchen floor and the plumber sprawled under your sink you await some news as to exactly what to expect.  To no avail though, that conversation never happens, you just see the plumber madly working away and making a bit of a mess.

After an hour or so, your plumber announces that they have had to replace your faucet and the job is finished.  They pack up their tools and leave.  Of course, none of your under-the-sink items have been replaced, no, that’s up to you to get done.  In addition, your floor is a mess and you later find a small leak right around where the faucet attaches to the sink.  Now the product doesn’t work properly and you have to make another call.

Contrast that to this.

You call a plumber and they arrive.  They greet you professionally with a smile.  They are wearing those little “booties” to protect your floor.  They ask if it’s alright if they open the cupboard under the sink and explain that they will need to move everything.  However, before that begins, they take a picture and let you know they are doing that so they can replace everything the way it was when they came in.  Following that, they place small mats around the work area to keep things clean.

After surveying everything, they explain exactly what they will do, the costs and how long it will take.  When they are finished, they show you the completed work, test the faucet with you, encourage you to use it, and then replace all of your under-sink items exactly as they were per the picture they took.  Before leaving, they wipe up all around the work area and let you know they will be following up the next day to ensure everything is to your satisfaction.

Both plumber stories are examples of a stark reality, like it or not, for all of you disbelievers out there, customers have experiences whether they are designed or just happen by default.  And those experiences can be good or bad – and, by the way, they are all memorable, our brains don’t just dismiss them because the product is great and fault-free.

The comments by the CEO above show just how ignorant many business leaders are to the reality that the hubbub about experiences isn’t about making every customer interaction a thrill ride at a theme park, it’s about making the interaction with your business easy and pleasant while providing products and services that make customers successful.  Essentially, the experience is about getting customers what they need, how they want to get it.  It’s a two-pronged thing that involves product (what customers need) and interaction (how they want to get it), and again, like it or not, both of these elements have existed and will continue to exist forever, it’s just that business is only now coming to terms with the interactive piece and giving it the attention that has been neglected.

If you think about your business, how is your customers’ experience?  Is it easy, are your processes thoughtful of what the customer must endure?  How is the interactive, human element?  Do you welcome customers?  Do you accommodate their preferences?  Do you listen and allow customers to have input?  Do you provide information that keeps customers in the loop as far as what they can expect, pros and cons, how long things will take, etc.?

We don’t live in a product-centric world anymore, perhaps we never did.  Customers need things to be successful and they want them delivered in ways that make them feel good, confident and safe.  Is your business sitting in ignorance or is it moving forward with enlightenment?  Consider more than your product, consider the experience, improve it, and make the memory of your business something positive and noteworthy.


Three A’s for Making Your Customers Feel Safe

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Did you take psychology in college?  Do you remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?  If you do, kudos, if not, here’s a refresher.

Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who reached fame in 1943 when he published a paper called A Theory of Human Motivation where he set out the foundation of what would become known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This hierarchy postulates that all of us have basic needs that must be met in order to reach true happiness and fulfillment.  These needs include physiological needs, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization., a term that can be defined as reaching one’s potential.

Why am I strolling down memory lane to a psychology class of many, many years ago you might ask?  I want to look at one of the most fundamental needs on the hierarchy, that of safety.

How does safety fit into the customer/provider world?  Is it about making sure customers don’t fall or get injured?  Certainly.  But it also means more.  Every customer comes into a business looking for help to get goods and services and this comes with some amount of fear and trepidation. Think about your trip into a store, you have to have a certain amount of trust in them to have what you want, to provide good advice, to provide support over the longer term, to be fair in the deal, etc.  When you have no past dealings with the business, you naturally put up some guard.  Face it, you don’t know how good they are, you don’t know whether you might get ripped off, there’s some, even if it’s infinitesimal, amount of distrust.  The challenge for businesses is how to create that feeling of trust, or safety, from the beginning.

Here are three As – Appearance, Attitude, and Ability – to lead the way.  If your employees demonstrate these three things, customers will be more likely to trust and feel safe so you can proceed in building the relationship.


Imagine you need a lawyer so you make a call for an appointment.  The meeting time arises and you go to meet this person for the first time.  The lawyer steps into the room looking disheveled wearing ripped jeans, a t-shirt and a tatty old ball cap. How do you feel about entrusting them with whatever important legal action you need to accomplish?  Do you feel safe?  Do you want someone else?  Appearance is usually the first indicator we have in the trust journey and a poor appearance can be very hard to overcome.  In fact, a poor appearance can end any further interaction immediately. How do your employees appear?  Do they send a message that your organization is trustworthy or do they just send up flags of distrust?


What attitude do you want when someone is serving you?  How many times have you experienced indifference or that fake smile that says “I’m smiling because I have to”?  The best attitudes I’ve found in people serving customers are ones that say “I want to help you”.  This requires a mindset that first understands that customers are not a means to an end or obstacles to getting work done.  Rather, it’s a mindset that understands that customers are unique human beings with their own objectives, needs and challenges.  It’s a mindset that understands that customers, like all human beings, have bad days, frustrations, personalities, hopes, dreams, fears, the list goes on.  The key here is using this understanding of people to inform that overall desire to be helpful, to always be looking for ways to make others successful and life easier.  How much safer might customers feel when they genuinely feel your employees truly have their best interests at heart?  How much more trust might they have in your business if they experienced that attitude?


Last, your employees must not only express that they want to help, they must demonstrate that they can help.  Your employees must be trained in your products and services so they can provide good advice and counsel.  They must be trained to troubleshoot and provide answers and solutions to problems.  And as a mandatory outcome to training, they must be empowered to make decisions on the spot to do what’s necessary to make customers successful.  This means trusting employees to do the right thing and supporting their decisions.  However, if that idea sends chills up your spine thinking about the possible bad choices that could be made, you need to assess your leadership and make some changes.

Good leaders help employees learn to see things the way they do and make the decisions they would make.  This means showing them how to do things in real life, not role plays, real life.  It means getting out there and demonstrating how to do it.  People need models to clearly see what’s expected. Then, to refine the behavior, they need coaching.  And by coaching I don’t mean more telling them what to do, I mean asking them questions to draw out what they know so that they get engaged and take ownership.  As with attitude, how much safer will customers feel when they know your employees can quickly solve their issues without undue complication?  How much more trust might they have in your business if they knew that they didn’t have to wait for answers or solutions?

Three simple As – Appearance, Attitude, and Ability – that can build initial trust and make customers feel safe working with your business.  Is it worth it to you?

What Is Service Excellence?

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I recently was doing some work where I was asked the question, “What is service excellence?”  It was a good question, and although it may seem easy to define, it is often misunderstood.  Answering the question brought to mind some interesting thoughts from Ron Kaufman, the author of Uplifting Service, about what service excellence really is.  This post is inspired by his thinking.

First, we need to come to terms with the first word – service.  There ae a lot of definitions floating around out there but service is, in its most uncomplicated form, simply helping people.  If you help your kids do their homework you are providing service.  If you help make dinner or clear the table, yep, you are serving.

In business though, service has oddly taken on this dense mystique.  It has picked up a bunch of modifiers to define it.  When I ask people to define service, I usually hear something like, “exceeding customer expectations” or “responding to customer needs with an approach that creates a memory” or some such construct.  While these may describe good or great service, they fail to get to the fundamental, no-qualifier, no-adjective definition.  Service is very simply helping others to accomplish things they want or need to accomplish, period.  The dictionary even confirms this with “the action of helping or doing work for someone.” Nothing fancy, no criteria, just helping.

With that out of the way, what about excellence?  Another look into the dictionary says “the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.”  That makes it sound like excellence is some sort of judge’s score with a finite end, a kind of perfection.  “If you get a 10, it was excellent.”  However, does excellence have a finite end?  If we reach what we believe is outstanding or extremely good, is that excellence?  I don’t think so. Excellence is something that is never reached in its totality, it is an ongoing journey.  It is, in my mind, the relentless pursuit of better.  To make sure you got that I’ll say it again, the relentless pursuit of better.  You never really get there but you keep striving, trying, failing, trying again, incrementally getting better and better in fits, starts, leaps, and micro-steps.  The point is that you never settle, you never get complacent, you always know you can do more.

So, what is service excellence? If we put the two things together, it’s the relentless pursuit of better ways to help others in every interaction.  Thus, excellence in service is not just performing a set of best practices; rather, excellence in service is taking action in the moment to assess the situation and provide more value, more care, and/or more understanding for someone else whether that someone is a paying customer or a colleague in arms.

While best practices or standards may help us to provide a consistent experience with prescribed behaviors at defined points in the journey, excellence is the icing on the cake that makes each experience something special because the points between the defined points are made personal and more meaningful for the customer.  For example, you may have a service standard that your employees smile at each customer when they walk into your business.  The move to excellence though would be not only the smile to the customer but the genuine good word and show of concern that includes listening and engaging with them as if they were the only person in the room.  It’s simply a step up from the script to an expression of something better.

Here are four tips for creating more service excellence in your organization:

  1. Don’t make your standards too complicated and ensure room for flexibility. Allow employees to adjust and adapt to the unique needs and personality of each customer.
  2. In your training, talk not only about standards but also about the frame of mind needed for excellence. Don’t just talk about the scripts; ensure your staff understands that people are all different with distinct needs, challenges, and objectives which will require personalized approaches.
  3. Celebrate not just meeting service standards, but, perhaps more importantly, instances where employees add value and make the experience better by stepping up from mere standards.
  4. Ensure your team meetings and conversations include talk about ways to step up from an experience of scripted best practices to something more excellent that provides more value and more care.

How will you take this thinking forward into your organization?  How will you pursue better ways to help others every day?



Art or Ordinary? You Decide.

Image result for excellence vince lombardiMy job title is Director of Service Excellence.  I often get asked about excellence and what I think it means, and the answer informs how I approach my job and it just might change the way you think about yours.

The dictionary says excellence is the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.  When I talk to a lot of people they take it much further and describe excellence as something approaching perfection.  For me though, I see it differently.

As a human who has experienced many other humans, I know that we are, as a species, riddled with flaws, we make mistakes and fail… a lot.  No one that I have ever met is or has been perfect.  Perfection it would seem is simply out of our reach.  However, to relentlessly pursue it has the makings of a noble quest and is the essence of my definition of excellence.

To my way of thinking, to be excellent is to never sit still.  It is a daily endeavor to be better than the day before.  It is taking the tasks before us and turning them from mundane trifles into the stuff of art.  Seth Godin in his book Linchpin talks about the work we do as art and that each of us is an artisan.  Take a look at this blog post from Godin:

I define art as having nothing at all to do with painting.

Art is a human act, a generous contribution, something that might not work, and it is intended to change the recipient for the better, often causing a connection to happen.

Five elements that are difficult to find and worth seeking out. Human, generous, risky, change and connection.

You can be perfect or you can make art.

You can keep track of what you get in return, or you can make art.

You can enjoy the status quo, or you can make art. 

The most difficult part might be in choosing whether you want to make art at all, and committing to what it requires of you. 

What is more excellent than that?  Committing to the requirements of art rather than the laziness of the ordinary, this is excellence.  Are you creating art or just something ordinary?  How can changing your thinking change your work?

Being the Calm in the Storm

Related imageHave you ever been in a situation where you felt like a service provider had no empathy at all?  I’m sure you have, it happens all the time.  Think about the number of times you’ve been on one of those dreaded Help Desk calls and the dull, monotone voice on the other end gives the impression that you are being ridiculous about such a minor issue.  It happens with mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and myriad other services.  The tone of voice and body language seem to say, “This isn’t that big of a deal, relax.”

This lack of empathy is largely a product of familiarity.  You see, as customers, we see many of the problems with things only once in a lifetime whereas professionals see them every day.  For example, when I go to the dentist and he says I have some issue that needs to be addressed, the nonchalant way he says it makes me think “I have to have all of my teeth yanked out but to you it’s just another day at the office.”  His initial language sounds so ominously serious and sets off a chain reaction of assumptions, rapid heartbeat, and worry.  Of course, once he slows down and explains it all in baby language, I calm down.

Think about your line of work, how many things do you see every day that customers rarely if ever see?  How many times have you dealt with someone freaking out over something that you know is not a big deal?  Why are they going crazy?  It’s not the end of the world and can be repaired.  We do it a lot more than you might think and it sends a horrible message to customers that they are overreacting, being childish, etc.

How do we change this? We need to be mindful that our world and the world of our customers are very different.  We, as professionals in our line of work, have a vantage point that is very different than that of our customers.  We see things they never do or maybe do once in their lives.  What to us is minor may, on first look to a customer, seem disastrous.  Being ever mindful of this and putting ourselves in their shoes can change the game.  Use of some honest language to communicate understanding and provide comfort can go a long way:  “I understand how you feel.  I know this looks bad but I’ve seen it many times and it can be fixed.  I want to help you and make it right.”  Talk like this can provide calm in what to a customer looks like a devastating storm.

Here are three steps for being the calm in the storm:

  1. See the customer not as someone overreacting but as a person who is fearful because they’ve never seen this problem before or may have had a bad experience with it before.
  2. Realize that although you’ve seen it many times, you need to show understanding, not superiority.
  3. Communicate your understanding and share that you’ve seen it before and you have options for making it better.

Why Coaching?

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Coaching, coaching, coaching, it seems it’s all we hear these days. Why is coaching all the buzz right now?  What’s the big deal?  To answer this, let’s look at what coaching is and then how our landscape has changed to require more of it.

So, what is coaching? Counter to popular images, coaching is not barking out orders, suggestions, and advice, rather, it’s about helping people to focus on a specific challenge and then find solutions that they own and develop themselves.  Good coaches resist the urge to provide immediate answers, and instead, facilitate the discovery of solutions people have within them already.

Imagine a child struggling with their math homework. They’ve been taught how to add and subtract but get stuck when they are confronted with large numbers. What good would it do them for you to just figure it out and give them the answer? None. So you ask them questions. You start with basics. “How do you add 2+2?” Then you help them see that big numbers are really no different than small numbers.  “How is this big number any different? How can you take the same thing you did with 2+2 and apply it to this bigger number?” You guide them but they do the deep dig within to “remember” what they know. You guide them to be confident and realize they can do it.

Now, why is coaching so important in workplaces today? It has everything to do with the changing landscape of business and work in our time. We are at a key place in the evolution of management. The old, Industrial Age, command and demand styles of management are simply ineffective today. Controlling management worked when workers were less educated and customer demands for quick and immediate gratification were non-existent. In this era, employees were thought of as replaceable cogs in a machine that managers felt they had to control in order to get productivity. The standard thinking was that employees were producers, they were there to do not think. In addition, as a byproduct, given the slower pace and common belief that only managers were thinkers, customers would wait for answers because it was accepted that only managers had them.

Move to today. Advances in technology have created a demand for a more educated, thinking workforce. Systems are complicated and require everyone to have problem-solving ability. And, as if that’s not enough, the ability to get information at the push of a button has moved customers from patient and considerate to impatient and demanding. They want answers now. Waiting for managers is unacceptable. Thus, in contrast to the man-machine of the past, today’s worker must, at minimum, be competent with ever-evolving systems and empowered to make immediate decisions for customers.

This should make it clear why the controlling management of the past is ineffective. The foundation of this approach is the belief that there are two groups of people, Leaders and Followers. Leaders are the thinkers and Followers are the doers. If you want answers, you have to speak to the leader. But this setup is slow and cumbersome, and today’s environment requires speed with leaders (thinkers) available to step up anytime throughout the organization. In other words, today’s needs require a team of leaders where everyone thinks and does which necessitates a management approach that expands rather than a controlling one that limits.

Our workplaces though have been slow to evolve. Many, many managers are still working with an Industrial Age mindset, a mindset that conflicts with today’s smarter employee who has a desire to contribute not to mention its incongruence with the ever-increasing expectations of today’s customers. If we think about the increasing prevalence of two of today’s biggest business challenges, 1) disengaged employees who feel undervalued and marginalized, and 2) dissatisfied, frustrated customers, and then consider the impact traditional management approaches have had in their creation, it is clear that we need to speed this evolution.

Enter coaching and our definition of it above.  Its value as a tool in this team-of-leaders evolution is starkly apparent.  Imagine managers asking employees for their ideas for improving problem areas instead of just telling them their way. Imagine managers committing to help their employees implement their ideas and recognizing them for their efforts. How would engagement increase? How much more would employees take interest in the business’s success? How might customers benefit from this more engaged and committed workforce?

Leader-follower mindsets focus on telling others what to do and are limited to one way. This is ineffective and inefficient for today’s needs. Team-of-leaders mindsets focus on asking questions to get insight from experience and fresh ideas.  And, as asking is the essence of good coaching, we have our answer to coaching’s extreme relevance to today’s environment.

Want to engage employees and delight customers? Learn to coach; ask instead of tell, engage instead of manage, build a team of leaders.

Don’t let your employees make any customers invisible.

Related imageI read a story in the paper about an elderly woman named Nancy who is largely bound to a wheelchair.  As she cannot manage the wheelchair alone, she tends to have a friend or relative push her in the chair.  In the article, she tells about how being elderly and in a wheelchair has somehow made her invisible.

By invisible, she is referring to the number of times she is assumed, due to her age and infirmity, to have no competence, physical or mental.  As it said in the article, she is edited out of the frame.

Here’s an example.  She tells the story of going into her doctor’s office and approaching the front desk.  The receptionist only acknowledged her friend behind the wheelchair.  And then, to add insult to injury, the receptionist’s language, “Does this lady have an appointment? Does this lady have her medical card?”  This lady?!  Really?  She’s elderly and in a wheelchair, not brain dead.  That’s all I could think as I read on.

Nancy goes on to tell us that it’s not just doctor’s offices, it’s everywhere from flight attendants to movie theaters, dismissive language and behaviors that make her feel unwelcome and marginalized.

With all of this in mind, what about your employees, have you ever had a discussion with them about how they need to treat customers, all customers?  Are they welcoming people regardless of ability or disability?  Are they showing respect by speaking directly to them and looking them in the eyes?  Have you ever thought about the language they use?  “This lady” is definitely not it.

As you lead your business, observe, look for behaviors that are marginalizing others, look for language that assumes things about people…and take action to raise awareness and make changes.  There’s a quote that I love from Plato, “Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  These are great words and ones to heed if you really want to make a difference to people.  It’s good business, and just the right thing to do.

Think Like a Dog

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We have 3 cats in our family (we have a dog too for all you dog people).  One thing about cats is that they want things on their terms.  When my dog wants attention he will come in the room and I can pull him on my lap and he doesn’t mind a bit.  The cats are a different story, they will approach you, rub against your leg and even meow but if you pick them up and try to put them in your lap, they get up and walk away.  You didn’t do things on their terms; you made it about what you wanted instead of what they wanted, slow and careful.

This is how so many businesses operate, they think in their terms instead of customers’ terms.  Think about the rules, policies, and terms you’ve encountered as a customer, how many of those were to benefit you, or were they just there to protect the business?

I worked with a team recently who has a lot of policies for a variety of reasons and they regularly send out messages detailing things because people don’t seem to fall in line and do things properly.  One thing I noticed was how everything was put in terms of commands and demands resulting in a negative perception of the team.  The more I thought about it, it made sense.  The commanding tone of their messaging made them appear inflexible and only thinking about their needs instead of the needs of the people they served.  The lack of compliance with the rules was really just a subtle rebellion.

What I suggested was to start putting things in terms of how it actually helped people to follow the rules instead of just being rules that benefited the rule makers.  Now they talk about their delivery parameters for example as a way to ensure on-time delivery.  In the past, they would have just said it was something people had to do and that was that.

Where is your business doing similar things?  Where are you thinking from your perspective instead of the customer perspective?

Take a look around your workplace for evidence of doing things for the company’s benefit without thinking in terms of how it might impact those being served.  Where are rules, policies, or procedures that appear only to benefit the rule makers but do nothing for those on the receiving end?  Get rid of these obstacles if you can or at least replace the commanding messages with ones that describe how the rules make things easier, safer, timelier, etc. for the receivers.

As much as I love my cats, this is a place where dog thinking (getting what you want by giving others what they want) is the best thinking.

Let Your People Go

Related imageYou’ve probably seen the movie The Ten Commandments where Charlton Heston as Moses commands Yul Brynner as Pharaoh to release the Hebrews from their Egyptian captivity.  We need to do something similar in the workplace today.  Managers need to let their people go and empower self-direction.

I was in a store and asked an employee if I could take 4 items into the changing room (they only allowed 3).  They replied that they would need to ask their manager about it.  It took some time and I got impatient so I left.  Somebody else got my business.

I am always amazed at the number of businesses where employees are powerless to take action, even with the most trivial decisions.  Imagine watching a soccer game where players are continually yelling over to the coach to tell them where to pass the ball.  The game would be no contest.  The other team would win without any trouble.

If teams can’t make decisions and take action, the costs are high.  Lost games, lost customers, lost time, the list goes on.  The best teams do what they know needs to be done without waiting to be told what to do and their leaders give them the room to do it.

If you want your business to drive more revenue, cut costs, and provide better service, stop telling your people what to do. Instead, take a moment to let your team members think about the situation and come to some conclusions. Ask them, “What do you think? What would you do?” This is how you lead and develop their ability to make decisions.

Want service? You must do this.

If you want service, you have to ________, _______, _______.  Imagine if you saw that on a sign at the door of a business.  Would you want to go in?  Would you want to be a customer of theirs?  I feel confident you are saying no.  Yet, every day, we encounter and have to deal with this.

Now imagine going to a foreign country where they don’t speak your language and setting up a business.  Would you demand that your customers speak your language?  Again, I feel confident you are saying no to this too.  Yet, every day, businesses everywhere do things just like this without a second thought.

Customers regularly experience organizations that demand that they fit into their structures and processes.  Every day customers are asked to fill out forms and fall in line with deadlines, procedures, rules, regulations, exceptions, and policies.  Think about how many times you’ve heard “this is our policy.”  Think of all of the fine print you’ve encountered.  Think of how many times you’ve experienced an employee pointing to a sign that says things they don’t do or things you have to do.  Do you ever wonder who is serving who?

If you are a business leader, take a look at your operation.  How are you crunching customers into a box you’ve created?  How are you expecting customers to be what you want them to be rather than being what they need you to be?  What policies and rules can you remove to better make things easy, enjoyable, and a better fit to your customers?  Where do you need to learn their language instead of demanding they learn yours?