Creating Safety is Better Business

So many ads these days talk about how much companies care about us, how the airline or rental car company or hotel cares.  Here’s the problem, a company can’t care; only people can care.  If the company really cares, they need people who care, and the way to get people to care is to care about them.

Top brass, executives, CEOs, hear this loud and clear, all of the mission statements, marketing and taglines can scream about how much you care about customers, but until you demonstrate that caring to your employees, it’s all just words.  Employees won’t care about customers unless their leaders care about them, period.

The whole operation has to be a caring one from the executives caring for managers to managers caring for employees to employees caring for customers, in that order.  It starts at the top – or the center as I like to call it.  If I feel cared for as an employee, if I feel that my job isn’t always on the line, if I feel that I am being taken care of, I feel more inclined to care for and take care of the customer. It’s not rocket science, but it is science, because it’s part of how we’re wired as humans.

Humans were built to be communal creatures.  We work best in groups.  To kill the wooly mammoth took a group, not individuals.  To keep the village safe, we stick together.  We choose leaders because they are stronger, smarter, have more experience, and are willing to stay out in front to keep us…you guessed it…safe!  When leaders don’t keep the contract and do things that are counter to keeping the village safe, we lose faith, we begin to fear, we begin to separate into factions where we feel safer, the village begins to break down.  A broken village invites other, stronger villages to invade and take captives – all in order to strengthen their village and become safer.

So, what do we have in the business world?  We have a lot of leaders and top brass looking out for themselves at the expense of their people, the people lose faith and deliver the bare minimum, service is poor and the company is mediocre at best, potential is lost.   It happens over and over and it’s a shame.

Think about it.  Are you in an executive or management role?  Are you keeping your people safe?  Are you looking out for them?  If you had to go through a financial downturn, would you take a cut to save them or cut them to save you?  If you had a child serving in the military, which leader would you want them to have, one who is willing to suffer to save them, or one more concerned with saving themselves at the expense of your son or daughter?  It’s a no-brainer, so make it the thinking in your world too, take care of your people first and they will take care of your business.


It’s All Service

As I say all of the time, service is not a department nor is it something to be relegated to a call center.  In the book ReWork by Jason Fried and David Hansson, the authors talk about marketing as the sum of virtually everything you do.  They actually make a list of things and how they act as marketing.  For example:

  • Every time you answer the phone, it’s marketing.
  • Every time someone uses your product, it’s marketing.
  • If you build software, every error message is marketing.

Similarly, I would say service works the same way…

  • When you answer the phone, it’s service…or not.
  • The readability/simplicity of your invoice is service…or not.
  • The ease of your self-service portal is service…or not.
  • The look, feel, comprehensiveness and ease of your website is service…or not.
  • Your interactions are service…or not.

Do all of the details of your business reflect a mission of serving your customers…or have you simply made service an afterthought, a department, a call center, or someone else’s job?

Three Ways to Provide More Hospitality

Have you ever been to someone’s house and while using the restroom realized there was precious little toilet paper?  This is one of the most uncomfortable positions to be in that I can recall.  What do you do?  Yell?  Maybe, but that would be embarrassing.   I think most of us would simply make the best out of what we have and make do with what we have at our disposal.

I believe this is a great example of the importance of hospitality, and hospitality is critical to delivering great service to customers.  You see, a hospitality approach would be to pay attention to details and have an extra roll of toilet paper right there in the bathroom, just in case.  Hospitality is doing things so that others in your care don’t have to.  It’s being cognizant of others’ comfort.  It’s being proactive and looking for possible places where people might have trouble and then putting solutions right at their fingertips.

So how do you do it?  Here are three things to ensuring a hospitality experience.

  1. Fix rough patches: Make note of points of pain and make sure the next customer doesn’t have that problem.
  2. Prepare contingencies for things that could happen (that extra roll of TP for example).
  3. Look for ways to proactively serve by being attentive to peoples’ signals. Do they look lost, do they seem uncomfortable, do they seem to be looking for something?  Be proactive and don’t be afraid to help.

It’s not a task, it’s a mindset

I was on a flight the other day when I experienced an example of what I believe is the key problem with customer service today.

Let me describe the scenario.  It was a bad weather day.  Snow was blanketing the northeast and flights were being cancelled and delayed left and right.  The flight I was on was delayed three and a half hours before I finally boarded.

Anyway, there was a woman sitting next to me who was visibly unnerved as she had a connection to her final stop and time was running short to make it.  As we sat waiting for the plane to move, the pilot came on to announce that we would get underway once the “weight balance” was complete.

Now I am a very experienced traveler and know that part of the pre-flight routine is for the baggage handlers to move the baggage and freight around in the hold to reach a certain balance so the plane will be balanced for flight.  This procedure however is not something most casual travelers know so my neighbor was obviously confused.  Once the announcement was complete, she immediately hit her flight attendant call button.  I am sure she wanted to get more details on this “balancing” as well as to get some consolation about making her connection.

When the flight attendant came to her, she promptly asked about the weight balancing.  His quick, curt response was that there was nothing he could do about it and she would have to wait patiently.  She then said that she understood but had never heard of weight balancing.  This is when he said the thing that shocked me, “just because you haven’t heard of it, doesn’t mean it’s not real.”  My eyes got big and my jaw dropped.  I couldn’t believe he could be so rude and unfeeling.  He just didn’t care.  It seemed as if he needed to clarify his superiority and position.  I could hear his mind whirling…“sit tight passenger, you know nothing, we have things under control, you will get there when everything is right.”

Once he walked away leaving my neighbor in a funk, I turned to her and politely explained what weight balancing was and then broke the news that I doubted she would make her connection.  I did however share some ideas for what to do when she arrived in order to get the next flight.

Now, if I could do that, why couldn’t the flight attendant?  Why couldn’t he be nice and simply explain what was happening and offer suggestions for her in dealing with missing her connection?  Instead, he got defensive and offered nothing but a snippy comment.

This example highlights what I believe to be the true problem in service today.  This employee demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of what the true business of business is.  You see, business is not in the business of making money; it is in the business of helping people.  I’ll say it again, business IS NOT in the business of making money, it is in the business of helping people, period.  Making money is the reward for doing a great job at it.

I am sure this flight attendant has been through all of the requisite customer service training where he was taught to smile, say certain things, and not drop drinks on passengers, however, this kind of training is pointless unless an employee’s thinking is right.  If they do not have a mindset that is focused on the principle that serving people is what business is all about, all of that task-based training will fail.  Without a foundation of thinking, these tasks will simply be a robotic action.  In other words, you can’t walk the talk when there is no talk.  Without the talk (or more to the point, the thinking), there is no reason to walk it.

If business owners want to solve the problem of bad service, they need to stop training the tasks and begin training the thinking, a thinking that has customers at the center.

The Needs of the Many


“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”

If you need a vision of what the business of business is really all about, look no further than this quote.  The needs of the many are the reason your business, or any business for that matter, is in business.  You are there to make lives better, easier, more fulfilled, less painful…the list goes on.  RIP Leonard Nimoy.