Tearing down walls with WALS

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A few weeks ago I was blessed to be able to take a vacation to Hawaii.  While there, my wife connected with her second cousin who lives on the Big Island.  As it so happens, her husband, Dane, works for Ali’I Ocean Tours, one of those tour companies that takes people out in the ocean to snorkel.  The reason I am bringing this up is to share with you how the crew on this tour created a fantastic experience by demonstrating four critical practices of great service (and they did it without knowing they did it).  These four practices are built on the foundation of David Rock’s SCARF framework.  If you’re unfamiliar with SCARF, here is a very quick primer.

Neuroscience tells us that we humans are largely negatively biased, in other words, we tend, in our daily life experience, to look for negatives first for survival reasons.  Our brains spend a great deal of time looking for anything that might put us in danger, and, when it perceives something that just might be dangerous, will trigger various responses in order to steer us clear to safety.  This is not only true of things that cause physical pain but also things that cause mental pain.  This mental pain is typically the result of social discomfort.  A good example of this is when you walk into a room of people you don’t know and you get that little out-of-place feeling.

David Rock, an expert in neuroleadership, the application of findings from the field of neuroscience to the field of leadership, has, after much research and brain-scan analysis, observed five key areas that cause this social discomfort.  These five areas, forming the acronym SCARF, are:

  • Status: the need to feel important
  • Certainty: the need to know what’s going to happen
  • Autonomy: the need to have some level of control or input
  • Relatedness: the need to be part of the group, to be connected, to be safe in the group
  • Fairness: the need to feel things are not one-sided, that there is a fair exchange

Rock proposes that we should behave in ways that work with these elements rather than against them if we want our interactions to be low in social pain.  For example, if we do things to recognize people and make them feel welcome and part of the group, they will feel more comfortable which will cause them to mentally open doors to relationship rather than close them.  If we give people the chance to have input and give them information so they know what’s going to happen next, they will, again, feel more comfortable and open those mental doors.

We can apply this thinking to customer interactions with four SCARF-related practices that, if followed, will make for a more comfortable and socially pleasing service experience.  These four practices are:

  • Welcome: Give customers a proactive, warm greeting and make them feel at home.
  • Accommodate: Be flexible. Find solutions and look for ways to help.
  • Listen: Give people your full attention and encourage input.
  • Share: Be transparent and communicate relevant information, what to expect, updates, timelines, etc.

A keen eye will spot how these four practices, known as WALS, hit the sweet spot of all of the SCARF components.  When we welcome, we make people part of the group (Relatedness), when we accommodate, we give a sense of fair exchange (Fairness), when we listen we show others that they are important and that we want their input (Status and Autonomy), and finally, when we share information, we help people to feel more certain about the future (Certainty).

Now, getting back to my Hawaii experience with Dane and Ali’I Ocean Tours, here is how the entire event delivered the WALS practices and created something extraordinary.

WELCOME: When we arrived, we were met by Sharkey, another of the Ali’I crew, who welcomed us and made us feel totally at home.  There was never any of that, “we do this every day and you don’t, so pay attention” talk.  When we said we hadn’t done this before, he completely put things on our level, the novice level.  No terminology was used that we didn’t understand, it was all simple and very friendly.

ACCOMMODATE: As we started our journey, I was talking to Sharkey and mentioned a little disappointment that I wouldn’t be able to see really clearly in the goggles because I would have to remove my glasses.  Sharkey immediately jumped into action to solve this problem and turn my disappointment around.  He dug through a bag of goggles to find several that had magnification.  He looked at my glasses and then found a pair of goggles that were very close to my prescription.  They worked like a charm.  To say I was pleased would be an understatement, Sharkey’s quick action to accommodate my needs and turn what I thought would be a less than perfect snorkeling experience into an amazing snorkeling experience, was remarkable, a definite WOW moment.

LISTEN & SHARE: Throughout the tour, the entire crew, Dane, Sharkey and Ryan (the photographer/videographer who recorded the entire trip for posterity), spent inordinate amounts of time with people to listen to their questions and then happily provided answers that made the trip even more meaningful.  And every time we were going to do something new, they told us exactly what to expect, no one felt nervous about anything.  They made the entire trip informative and safe and every one of the guests were always put at ease.

The entire journey with the Ali’I crew was a pleasure and it stands as a perfect example of a truly customer-focused experience with the goal of making people feel safe, comfortable, and, ultimately, happy.  Now imagine your customers feeling this way about their experience with your business.  Imagine your employees delivering the WALS experience.  Imagine a big welcome where your customers feel like they are wanted.  Imagine more awareness of customer needs and employees urgently accommodating them.  Imagine your employees really listening to the customer and making them feel important and in control.  Imagine your employees sharing information with your customers and making them feel good about what they can expect. Imagine customers leaving happy and promoting your business to others.  Imagine all this and ask yourself, “What do we have to do to make this a reality?”

I’m going to say it starts with you practicing these things in your interactions.  When people see an example that leads to success, they begin to follow that lead.  From there, you must make WALS part of the culture, it must be part of your messaging, your internal marketing.  It must become part of the language of your business.  Your team must see it, hear it, and then live it.

I was inspired by Dane, Sharkey and Ryan.  They all worked like a well-oiled machine to deliver an amazing experience.  That’s something your business can do as well, just get to work…now!

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