2016, the Year You Change the World

A new year is upon us.  It’s hard to believe, but it is here.  The question is, what are you going to do differently next year to be a better leader?  What are you going to do to serve others better?  What are you going to do differently to listen more, engage and empower more, acknowledge others more and demonstrate your expectations more?

Sit down, NOW, and answer those questions.  Then do it!  Make 2016 the year you stop managing and start leading others with a servant’s heart that truly wants the best for them.  Make 2016 the year of generous giving to those around you.  Give the person next to you your time, your ears, your words of wisdom when appropriate and your helping hands when they are struggling.  Make 2016 the year you change your corner of the world for the better.

Happy New Year!


Be Kind, Stay Safe, Be Grateful and Serve Others

In the spirit of the season, may you all have a blessed holiday with your families and friends.  Be safe and kind to each other.  Most of all, be grateful.  I look forward to a new year with new challenges and new successes.  May you lead and serve others well.  Cheers!

Have we all become over-demanding customers?


As customers, why do we get annoyed when a store clerk is texting on their phone even though we don’t need them at the moment? Why do some of us walk out of a store simply because we weren’t acknowledged upon entry? Why do we feel slighted when we are told that we can’t do something as it is against policy even when it’s clear that we overlooked what was plainly stated on a receipt or sign in the store?  Have we all become over-demanding customers with unreasonable expectations?

As a service provider, you may ask this question.  You may fret at times wondering why customers act in ways like this especially when you think you are doing everything right; however, take some comfort in knowing that much of this behavior is largely because of how all of us are wired. People are inherently untrusting, not because of some flaw or social construct, rather, as a necessary part of our design.

Our brains are built to look for anything that could harm us because its first priority is our survival.  Thus, our brains start from a position of distrust and apprehension.  They are itching to find anything that might harm us and they do not see the difference in getting the wrong change in a store and a gun held to our head, both are registered simply as threats, and not just idle threats, our subconscious brains see any threat, even ones we might consciously think of as insignificant, as a threat to our very survival.  It takes some effort on the part of others to help remove this armor we carry, no more so than at the outset of a relationship, particularly relationships like customer and seller where we are largely meeting for the first time and also carry potential negative emotional baggage from past experiences where things went poorly. Essentially, as a service provider, you have to go beyond the call of duty to make sure you portray how trustworthy you are and to lessen this natural tendency toward anxiety.

Modern science can shed some light on some of the perceptual features which, if missed, trigger subconscious anxiety that gets demonstrated in subtle resistance and difficulty, not necessarily outright anger.

It’s important to note that most of customer anxiety starts in the mind and is based on subconscious triggers. Thus, the best strategy is to preempt these subconscious fears and concerns rather than react to them after the fact.

Recent neuroscience spearheaded by David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work and founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, has identified five fundamental triggers known by the acronym SCARF that register as threats in social situations like service interactions.  Paying attention to even a few of these things can significantly build customer trust and subdue the subconscious triggers fueling resistance and anxiety.

Here are the SCARF components and a few ideas on how to leverage their potential for making service interactions more successful:

  1. Status: Our brains are more comfortable when we believe we are regarded with a level of recognition and esteem.  Simply put, we like to feel some sense of importance; we like to be recognized as individuals who make some significant contribution. So some preemptive strategies to address status would be to personalize the experience by using people’s names whenever possible and appropriate, and to give people your undivided attention in interactions.  Basic courtesy and respect is always appropriate and adds to making people feel the status they crave.
  2. Certainty: Our brains like to know what’s coming.  They do not like walking down blind alleys in the dark.  When we know what’s going to happen, even if it’s not so good, we feel more comfortable than being uninformed.  With customers, keep them in the loop and let them know what to expect or where things are in the process.  Tell them about products, the pros and cons; let them know all of the steps in a process, etc.
  3. Autonomy: When we feel some sense of control, anxiety decreases.  This means having choices, some decision-making ability, and the ability to have input into what’s happening.  A best practice is to give customers choices whenever you can and to always encourage their input.
  4. Relatedness: Human beings are pack animals, we naturally need group interaction. This means we have a desire to be included and to belong.  When we feel even nominally that we are not welcome, anxiety increases, so in customer interactions, this is why welcoming people and making them feel accepted is so important.  However, the amount of this need for attention varies so a keen sensibility for people’s openness is required.  At the least though, a smile and a greeting is rarely a bad thing.  Be sure to make people feel that they belong and then gauge your continued interaction on their initial response.
  5. Fairness: We all like to feel that the playing field is level and that consideration for our needs is at least as important as consideration for other things. The continued adherence to policies rather than some reasonable consideration of alternative solutions is one typical way things are seen as unfair and will raise the alarm bells quite quickly.  Simply showing a willingness to be flexible and look for solutions can be enough to make people feel they were treated fairly.  Responding with a “here’s what we can do” attitude is a good strategy for moving the finger off of the subconscious trigger.

Doing even a few of the things listed above will significantly build customer trust and disarm the subconscious survival mechanism that sparks anxiety and resistance. This means better customer interactions, more and better communication, and ultimately more sales and higher revenue. Making a few behavioral tweaks can make all the difference. Just implement some or all of the steps above to reduce customer anxiety and improve your business.

Make Your Holiday Customers Happier

The holidays are here and to get your organization ready for the season, here are a few ways to make your customers happier this holiday season:

  • Model relationship building
    Relationships make the difference between just any experience and an experience that will be remembered. Show your employees how to move from meaningless transactions to meaningful interactions. Meaningful interactions can then turn into long-term relationships. Teach them by example how to welcome customers into your environment, how to read customers and adjust their approach appropriately, how to ask questions and share pertinent information, and how to be friendly and show genuine courtesy.  Employees need to see it done in order to see what is expected, that is why they need leadership not commands.
  • Be proactive
    Surprise your customers by looking for ways to serve them before they have to think about asking for help. Empower your employees to proactively look for unique customer service opportunities. Even if it takes them off the specific tasks of their appointed roles, remember, the purpose of business, your business, is to help people achieve their goals, and to do that in a memorable way might mean doing things only indirectly related to your primary service. It’s okay for your employees to be off task as long as they are helping people and proactively delivering a memorable experience.
  • Listen
    Listening carefully to what customers are asking can truly differentiate organizations from their competition. Customers need to know you care, especially during the holiday season when time for individual attention is at a premium.  Begin by allowing employees to take the time to understand each individual customer’s needs and wants, and then respond accordingly with good information.  Your business can set itself apart by being the one that takes the time to understand and to help people with information they can use to find just the things they need.
  • Recover
    Things go wrong and customers get unhappy, it’s part of business. At these times, speed is critical, and this requires that people have the power to make decisions to find solutions in favor of the customer, even if it means bending a policy (as long as it doesn’t endanger anyone’s safety). This means employees must be equipped with tools to enable them to quickly resolve as many issues as possible on their own.  Here are four things that are musts for smooth resolution:
    • Listen to people and don’t interrupt.  Repeat back key points to confirm your understanding.
    • Empathize by stating that you understand how frustrating this is.
    • Apologize that this is happening.  This is not an admission of any guilt, just your wish that this was a better situation.
    • Provide a solution.  Even if it isn’t exactly what they asked for, provide something.  If you can’t do exactly what they ask, don’t say “no,” say “here is what we can do.”  Saying it this way cushions things and is a way to say what you cannot do without saying it.

Some Service Isn’t Service At All

I recently had one of the most frustrating customer experiences ever.  I was trying to cancel a hotel reservation and called the customer service number.  I was asked to input my confirmation number only to be told that my reservation could not be found.  Then there was a long silence.  I, of course, thought that would get me to a person.  Wrong! I was asked to enter another number since that one did not work.  What other number?  I only had the number which I got from the confirmation email I received. At this point, I could not do anything.  There were no options to speak to a living being with the capability to think and discern so I hung up wondering what to do next.  (Please hear this all you automated service supporters: automated systems can’t think and make decisions to help you, they are programmed only for black and white….and life my friends is not black and white.)

Once I got myself back together, I called again thinking that I must have missed an option.  This time I went through the same steps but somehow, in one of the long pauses, a real live person appeared.  When I explained, they asked for my confirmation number.  I gave them the same number I had typed in earlier.  The guy typed away and then said, “I can’t seem to locate it.  Oh, hold on, there is a slight computer issue.  Can you call back in an hour or so?”  My jaw dropped.  “You mean you can’t take my information and when the system comes back on line cancel it for me?”  The reply was even more striking, “No, I don’t have anything to write with and they don’t allow us to do this anyway.”  (Please hear this all you controlling managers: empower your people to think and actually help people or you might as well not have people at all.)

Now you tell me, is this service?  Is this how it should be?  I am now in a position of having to do more work.  I have to wait, call back, and go through all of this again.  How is this service? (By the way, the customer working is the diametric opposite of service.)

What is the lesson here?  First, automated service is rarely service at all.  Second, if you won’t let your people provide service, what’s the point?

Here is a solution.  How about getting back to human beings helping other human beings and giving them the training and tools to do it?  Simple.