Are you leaving customers in the dark?

Imagine you are visiting a friend in another city.  You’re walking with them late at night and they say they know a shortcut back to your hotel.  As you follow them, they start down a very dark alleyway.  How do you feel?  Although you may trust them, do you feel a little uneasy, maybe even a little scared?

While this scenario is only imaginary, it happens in businesses every day, and it happens to customers.  Think about the number of times when you’re a customer and you’ve called a help desk and they’ve told you to send in an item to be repaired or to fill out a form and then not told you what’s going to happen next or what you can expect.  How about the times when you’re told that someone will be coming to your house between 10 and 3 to repair your cable TV or fix your dryer?  All of these are the service equivalent of a dark alleyway and they produce stress and anxiety.

Simply put, the most primitive parts of our brains like certainty, they like to know what’s coming next, what’s around the corner.  When left to figure it out, this part of us typically conjures up the worst, and this “worst” can cause anxiety and even anger.  Think about it, you’ve been told the repair person will be there between 10 and 3 and at 2:45 you’re peeved because you just “know” the cable company is evil and out to get their customers, namely, you!  This part of our brains is pretty selfish and will think up all kinds of reasons why you’re right and everybody else is wrong, especially the cable company.

Now this isn’t new, this is a basic part of our human condition that neuroscience has known for quite a while, and it’s surprising that, in our information obsessed 21st century, it’s still not considered in the customer experience of so many companies. One company though who has done a lot to consider it is Safelite, you know, the folks who come to your house and replace a cracked windshield on your car.  Whether they knew the brain science or not, they’ve made the customer journey clear by creating a video that’s available on their app that shows how the entire process works.  Simple solution, customer anxiety mitigated with the dark alley lit and safe.

So, what can you do in your business to provide your customers more certainty?  What can you do to assure them and help them know what to expect and to give them more definites, especially with respect to time?  Customers are not in service of business, business is in service of customers and the ones who know this are the ones who thrive.  Are you a thriver who provides information and detail or are you stuck in a past that holds customers hostage to the dark alleyway of ignorance? If it’s the latter, it’s time to move forward.


Stop managing and start leading.

How many of you have problems with your managers managing their people?

A colleague recently emailed me bemoaning this within his team and asked what I thought.  Instead of going into a long homily I went for the short approach.  I sent him a few lines that I thought said it all.

  • Getting a promotion…a title on a business card;
  • Being the boss…trying in vain to prove superiority through control;
  • Leading..earning respect and trust in order to help others reach success.

In other words, as I see it, managers need to stop trying to MANAGE people and start thinking instead about LEADING them.  People cannot be managed because management is about control.  The only things you can control are things; people on the other hand have the power of choice so they can only be influenced.  Influence, as opposed to control, requires respect and trust.  So the best thing managers can do is to begin asking themselves this, “how is my behavior (words and actions) influencing my team members?”  This will change the game, guaranteed.

Smiling. What a good idea!


A smile is worth a thousand words; a very insightful quote.  I was traveling recently and while on a plane encountered a really nice flight attendant.  She was kind and considerate and always, always smiling.  She was the epitome of the quote above.

This young lady’s smile made a difference for me.  I was on a very early morning flight and had endured a particularly long line at airport security, an indifferent server while getting some breakfast and a crabby ticket agent.  This young lady was able to change all of that by simply being nice, and most of her “niceness” was encapsulated in her smile.  I felt welcomed and genuinely cared for, and this put a smile on my face.

These days it seems making interactions human is in short supply.  Think about it, I am blogging about someone smiling, but when you examine your experiences, how many times do you get a genuine smile from someone who loves helping others?  Don’t you find it memorable when you do?

What’s the lesson here?  Do your employees deliver a human touch?  Do they make your customers feel welcome and cared for?  Are they memorable for their smile?  If they’re not and you are thinking that the training and behavior or cultural changes are just too expensive to consider, think again.  How expensive will it be to do nothing? That’s the better question.

Is your customer doing the work?

How many times have you asked your customers to do work?  This may sound like a crazy question but there are many instances where businesses are actually asking customers to do work.

Let me give you an example.  Suppose you are on a website just perusing the offerings of XYZ Co and you come upon the phrase, “Keep checking back in to see the updates to our catalog.”  It seems harmless enough, but who wants to do it, much less remember to do it?  Why should I do the work, isn’t that what your company should be doing?

Another one I’ve seen is when you are talking to a sales person and they inform you that their company doesn’t offer some related service.  Trying to be helpful, they give you the phone number of someone who does.  Once again, harmless, but who’s got to do the work?

Thing is, there are simple solutions to both of these.  In scenario one, how about asking for an email address so the customer can be updated with additions and sale offers.  In scenario two, the sales person could let the customer know that they could easily contact a trusted vendor to call and talk over their options.

You see, service is about helping people do things they either don’t know how to do or can’t do themselves…or don’t want to do.  This implies that the customer doesn’t have to work…and it can make a big difference if you take on the work for them…especially when you do it for no particular gain.  I know I would remember you for it and would probably tell others.

Building an army of advocates is the real key to sustaining business success, and finding opportunities to do the work for your customers is a great way to move in that direction.

Lessons from a Lacrosse Team

one band 2

My son plays lacrosse and has done for about 13 years and this year has been a pinnacle experience for him as his high school team recently won the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association Championship.  For those of you not acquainted with lacrosse, to win this in Maryland is a big feat as the game is more like a religion than a sport and thus is extremely competitive with many top players hailing from the area.

Now how did this team do it?  How did they win every league game as well as a championship?  While there was a ton of talent on the team, I think there were other, more critical elements that made them successful and here are a few:

  1. Direction: They had one goal instead of many which caused them to act unselfishly and work for team rather than individual.  There was little to no ball hogging.  There was little to no “buddy” passing where one player tends to only pass to their buddy even though others are open.  When a lesser known player was in position to score, they were fed the ball.  When one player had a chance of scoring but another had a better chance, a pass was made.  To make this overly clear, the players wore shirts at every game with the moniker of “one band, one sound” to keep them focused on ‘We’ instead of ‘Me.’ The direction was clear so the team sought wins rather than individual highlight reels.  This focus on a group result meant everyone on the team was rowing together in the same direction rather than individuals trying to go their own way.
  2. Trust: Each player had faith in the rest of the team.  They worked together to support each other’s ups and downs.  When the goalie was struggling, the defense stepped up.  When the defense was in trouble, the offense worked to create a cushion on the scoreboard, and when the team seemed in trouble overall, everyone stepped up to rally each other.  There never seemed to be any pointing of fingers when someone made a mistake, rather, there was support, encouragement and belief…in each other.  They trusted each other to do the right thing for the team.  They trusted that everyone was in it for a win for the team instead of being in it only for themselves.
  3. Communication: In lacrosse communication is critical since there are so many times when a player is blind to things around them.  For instance, there are times when you are guarding your man with your back turned to the ball.  During these times, the goalie is constantly calling out where the ball is and various other orders so that everyone, even those who cannot turn to look, know what is happening and what they should be doing.  At other times, you may be running with the ball only to have someone hot on your heels and at these times a quick shout from a teammate to watch your back can save the day.  All of this communication gives everyone the information they need to succeed in their role and to ultimately help the team succeed.

What can those of us in business take away and learn from a high school lacrosse team?  Well, a lot actually, at least a lot of things to question in our organizations.

  1. Is everyone in your organization rowing together? Is there a clear, unified direction?  Does everyone understand that it is not about results for a department or person, but rather, results for the organization?
  2. What about trust? Do your “players” trust each other? Are there hidden agendas; are some people or departments hiding things for their own benefit?  Can team members have healthy conflict and speak their minds or do they sit back and hide their ideas for fear of reprisal, ridicule or worse?  Do team members support and encourage one another or do they find ways to diminish each other in hopes of making themselves look better?
  3. How is communication? Do people in your organization make sure communication is clear?  Do they share all of the pertinent information or do they assume people know things?  Do they over communicate on many channels to ensure everyone hears the message or do they have an approach of saying things only once thinking people should get it without needing repeated iterations?

A company, church, school, non-profit, band, orchestra or any organization for that matter is just a team.  We can learn a great deal from a bunch of high school lacrosse players who unselfishly served one another for the good of the larger team goal.  Through trust and good communication, they managed to reach a unified goal to which everyone was committed.  By subjugating the push to make it all about the one, they combined to win it all for the many.  Great lessons indeed and ones your business can use to win.