Parking lot. We use it in the meeting management world to mean an agenda item that is tabled for later discussion. It is generally posted on a sheet of flip chart paper, taped on the meeting wall, and then placed on the agenda of the next meeting so it is not forgotten as a topic for discussion.
I was working with a large B2B company and sat in on their weekly senior leadership staff meeting. The attendees all agreed they needed to spend a considerable amount of time talking about the negative impact of their customers’ experiences of their company. Survey result verbatims and customer complaints repeatedly contained comments on their great products but their lousy customer service. Their customer churn rate was up. Customer contact employees’ morale was low. But, this particular meeting was already full of higher priority issues. So, customer experience was put on the parking lot flip chart.
A month later I attended the same senior leadership staff meeting in the same meeting room. The parking lot flip chart sheet with “customer experience” written on it was still hanging on the wall and was not on the current meeting agenda. The marketing director again reported an increase in the number of customer complaints and an elevation of customer churn. Yet, it appeared the topic of “customer experience” was not going to make the cut for attention in this meeting.
When I pointed to the parking lot sheet, there was silence. Then, in defense of their negligence, one participant commented, “We have had a lot of hectic meetings over the last month. We’ve just not been able to get to it.” However, someone else, no doubt feeling guilty about their earlier enthusiasm that remained only a good intention said: “Wonder if we are we just rearranging deck chairs on our Titanic?”
If your focus on customer experience is mere lip service, it will telegraph its low priority to everyone in your organization. Employees do not watch your mouth; they watch your moves. Observation trumps conversation. Clear your parking lot of pending items for later attention and put customer experience at the top of your agenda for actions and practices.
My very rural hometown was (and is) in the middle of hunting country. And, I lived on a farm deep in the pine woods on the edge of a swamp. As a youngster I hunted dove, quail and squirrel that often wound up on our supper table. I do not hunt today but my younger brother has continued the sport at the graduate level—he hunts deer and wild boar—with a bow! Hunting, especially in more challenging weather conditions, requires using Kentucky windage.
Kentucky windage is the practice of adjusting your aim to compensate for the circumstances. For example, if you were aiming at a target and had a strong wind blowing right to left between you and your target, you would aim more to the right to compensate for the wind. If you were shooting a dove or a clay skeet moving right to left, you would aim to the left of the target to enable the flight time of the target to intersect with the flight path of the bullet—we called it leading the target. The stationary sights on the rifle only worked if the target and conditions were both stationary.
Great service providers use a type of Kentucky windage. They adjust to and accommodate the target (i.e., the customer) and the conditions. It is the “need a penny, take a penny; got a penny, leave a penny” sign you sometimes see at cash registers. The generous accommodation keeps you from having to break a twenty-dollar bill if you are a penny short. It is the theatre ticket person giving you the benefit of the doubt regarding “senior fare” or “children under six” fare.
One of my favorite examples of Kentucky windage is how Disney World theme park employees (cast members) deal with the most frequently asked question by guests: “What time does the three o’clock parade start?” A smart aleck would view it as a stupid question with an obvious answer. But, Disney cast members use a bit of Kentucky windage and provide the answer to what is really being asked: “How soon should my family make our way to Main Street to get a good curbside seat for the Mickey Mouse Parade at three o’clock?”
Kentucky windage applied to service takes two kinds of understanding—knowing your customer and caring about your customer. It requires being more concerned about the relationship than the transaction. What are ways you can apply Kentucky windage in how you grow customer relationships?
Boating is a lot of fun, especially on a large lake with lots of great sights to see and places to go. I live on the shores of beautiful Lake Oconee. One of my favorite evening activities is piloting my pontoon boat to one of three nice restaurants on the water. The return trip on a moonlit night is awesome. Our favorite restaurant is Gaby’s by the Lake at the nearby Ritz-Carlton.
One of the most important parts of boating is docking. On an active lake if a boat is not properly moored the wave action can damage a boat against a dock. When we arrive at one of several docks provided at the Ritz, it is always important to hang several boat fenders between the side of the dock and the side of the pontoon boat plus secure the boat in the front and back with ropes tightly tied to the dock mooring anchors.
Service providers might spend a lot of time on the main service experience and forget about effective service mooring. Trash in the parking lot of a restaurant could have zero impact on the quality of the food but it can certainly shape the perception of the restaurant by the customer. Signage can spell either an easy welcome or a confusing turnoff. The hosting side of service can signal the start of a glorious experience or it can prompt premature worry about the outcome. What can you do to effectively prepare your customers for a great experience?
Whether it is physically less exhausting to smile than to scowl, it is certainly beneficial, and thus there is something to this ancient exhortation to put aside negative emotions long enough to “turn a frown upside down.”
In a 2002 study performed in Sweden, researchers confirmed what our grandmothers already knew—people respond in kind to the facial expressions they encounter. In the study, test subjects were shown photos of faces—some smiling and some frowning—and were required to respond with their own smiles, frowns, and non-expressions as directed by those conducting the experiment.
Researchers noted that while folks had an easy time frowning at pictures that appeared to be frowning at them and smiling in reply to the photographed smiles, they had difficulty responding in an opposite manner to the expressions displayed in the images. The subjects instinctively wanted to reflect what they had been exposed to, answering smile for smile and frown for frown.
Facial expressions are contagious.
We are wired to instinctively respond like for like; facial expressions are contagious. When taken, the homily’s implied advice to put on a happy face does work to benefit society in that smiling people cause those around them to smile.
Smiling is not just good for the community where the sad sack or grouch lives, it also benefits the person doing the grinning. Facial expressions do not merely signal what someone feels but actually contribute to that feeling. If we smile even when we don’t feel like it, our mood will elevate despite ourselves. Likewise, faking a frown brings on a sense of not much liking the world that day.
Indeed, this cart-before-the-horse effect has been studied and measured by numerous researchers. It has been demonstrated that people who produced facial expressions of fear, anger, sadness, or disgust manifested the same bodily reactions that experiencing bouts of the actual emotions would have provoked (increased heart rate, elevated skin temperature, and sweating). Likewise, in studies of test subjects who were required to smile, compared to those who weren’t, those instructed to force smiles onto their faces reported feeling happier than their non-grinning counterparts did. In both cases, although test subjects knew they were acting, their bodies didn’t, and so their bodies responded accordingly. At least in this chapter of the saga of the mind against the body, the body won.
Smiling makes us feel happier. It isn’t a cure-all for every situation (that is, don’t look to it to remedy overwhelming grief), but in terms of getting us past a small dose of the blues, it can help to lift the sense of sadness.
About David Nielson David Nielson brings over four decades of corporate, Fortune 500, and private consulting experience in organizational change management, leadership development, and training. David has helped guide large-scale change initiatives and business strategy driven by ERP, mergers, restructuring, and the need for cultural change. He’s been a featured and frequent speaker at PMI, Project World, Chief Executive Network, Management Resources Association, TEC, IABC, Training Director’s Forum, and the Alliance of Organizational Systems Designers.
David has worked around the world delivering training and consulting Services. In all those years, those countries, those clients; David has observed, learned and collected great experiences and teaching points. David decided to work on a way to “give back.” His latest book, The 9 Dimensions of Conscious Success helps readers identify their definition of purpose professionally and personally to achieve conscious success.
A crowded Montgomery, Alabama city bus stopped at its usual spot and a middle-aged African-American woman boarded the bus. As the bus pulled away, she realized every seat was taken and was prepared to take the trip on her feet. But, something changed that stance. Three different white men in three different locations on the bus simultaneously got up to give their seat to the woman.
It was December 1, 2018; exactly sixty-three years after Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man boarding the city bus near the exact same bus stop. It was a commentary on the unifying impact this “mother of civil rights” made through her non-violent act of courage.
Rosa Parks was a bridge builder. The daughter of a teacher, she was quiet, soft-spoken and sensitive. Diplomatic by nature, she selected a simple and ordinary act as the underpinning for an important cultural transformation. When arrested for violating a racist law, she triggered a 381-day boycott by blacks of the city bus system. African-Americans made up two-thirds of the riders on the bus. The Supreme Court overturned the law, and a powerful bridge began to be constructed between the races.
But that bridge is still very much under construction. This past week the news reported hanging nooses and “white’s only” bathroom signs in a Toledo, Ohio, GM powertrain plant. Ten African-American employees have filed a suit again GM for tolerating a culture of racism at this plant. It was a work setting where black supervisors were called “boy” and “monkey” and told to “go back to Africa.” Some white employees frequently used the N-word and wore shirts with swastikas on the front.
Rosa Parks’ actions can be instructive in educating leaders on how to construct connections between people effectively. In the countless eulogies following her death, we learned that she never wavered in her commitment to being a bridge building leader. Her courage was not the reflection of a single moment on a bus, but the soul of a person of genuine moral fiber. She was focused, sensitive and humble until her death in 2005.
Today, we also celebrate the monumental civil rights work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
So as we remember Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, let us celebrate the courage of all those who must today endure senseless, ignorant and cruel racial injustices. Let us take time to laud their willingness to stand firm and not give up their “seat on the bus” thus yielding to evil practices and hate-filled behavior.
Over the holidays my wife and I visited the U.S.S. Intrepid, an aircraft carrier docked in the Manhattan harbor. The museum on the deck of the ship houses the space shuttle, Enterprise. Nearby is a tribute to Charles F. Bolden, Jr. who served as NASA Administrator from 2009 until he retired in 2017. It could be a simple historical story. But, it a story of major achievement over enormous odds with a surprise factoid.
Charles was born in Columbia, SC. Excelling in high school, he longed to go to West Point. But his appointment was blocked by then segregationist Senator Strom Thurman. Bolden is African American. With countless letters to President Lyndon Johnson, he ultimately landed an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. He was president of his class. As a Marine Corps fighter pilot, he flew over 100 sorties into North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and began his fast track career that took him to the rank of Major General. He entered the NASA program in 1980 and ultimately spent over 680 hours in space. He commanded the first joint American-Russian space shuttle mission. He was appointed NASA Administrator by President Obama in 2009.
There is one little factoid tucked in his impressive resume that got me thinking about delivering service that soars. While in space Bolden carried a cassette tape of music he played as he worked. The actual cassette is on display at the Intrepid museum. And, what do you think might be the music that inspired his highly technical, exceedingly difficult space work? Handel’s Messiah, a musical composition arguably the greatest composition ever written. The best inspired the best.
It is easy to view a service role as performing a chore, duty or task. But, what if you considered delivering service to others to be your vital and inspiring work on a masterpiece? After all, your signature will be on every component of the experiences you create. How would you like it to be judged? If your next act of service was to be the one that defined you forever, how would you like it to be remembered? Yes, there are barriers to soaring. Bolden did not let the unfortunate attitude of a Senator stop his quest for the best.
Serve others like this is your reason for being on this planet…because it is. Give the best of what you have…because you can. Soar to the top as a winner…because you are.
Walk into the lobby of the five-star Mansion on Turtle Creek hotel in Dallas and the first thing you notice are the extraordinary flowers in the middle of the lobby. They do not look like they came from the local nursery; they look like they came from the jungle. Order a fruit plate at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles and it might contain something unexpected–passion fruit, heirloom figs, or slices of kumquat. Weston Hotels sport everywhere a signature fresh memorable fragrance called white tea. It is the uncommon sense of senses displayed on steroids!
The Hyatt at Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale blends the aroma of mesquite wood burning in the giant fireplace with romantic candle lighting and the sounds of a guitar-piano-steel drum ensemble quietly playing near the lobby to craft an atmosphere as mystical as the Native American artifacts that adorn the walls. And, the Spa at Cap Juluca Resort in Anguilla, BWI not only puts fragrant plant material (like bougainvillea petals) in the bath before a massage, they blend the same scent into the oil used by the masseuse and put a sprig in the bottom of the guest’s locker so the special fragrance is “worn” by the guest after they leave the spa.
The 23 MPH Principle
The 23 MPH Principle is all about ramping up the five senses of your customer’s experience. You might miss noticing a speed limit 25 mph sign, but who would miss a sign with an out-of-the-ordinary number? What do the required forms of your enterprise look like? What do your customers hear in the background when they contact your call center? What messages are being sent by the color, font, tone, images, or language used on your website? What does your parking lot, lobby or waiting area telegraph about your attentiveness to your customer’s experience?
Conduct a Sensory Audit
What should your service experience smell like—sound like—feel like—look like—taste like if you wanted to excite your customers’ memory with an enchanting experience? Interview customers with your antennae up high for any preferences for sight-sound-smell-feel-taste. Examine your customer’s experience through the lens of organizations known for a sensory-driven experience—Disney, Ringling Bros., or Cirque du Soleil. Service is memory-making; make yours out of the ordinary.
It had been raining for days…hard at times. The soccer fields were saturated. But, a day of laser sunlight made a soccer game possible. One side of the field was relatively dry; the other had a few mud holes in low places…like right in front of the goal. My youngest granddaughter, Cassie, was a forward and got lots of play action. But, it required playing in the mud on a breezy day. As she hustled to stop a ball from the opponent’s goal, she repeatedly landed in the mud.
We all went to lunch after her game. She was muddy and smiling. She did not seem to mind her white soccer uniform was dirty; it was like a badge of courage. She did not seem depressed that her team had lost. Instead she had the countenance of a warrior after a long siege eager for the next one. She was upbeat, driven, and unshaken by the harsh elements she had just endured.
A few weeks ago, I stopped by a retail store where I occasionally shop. The happy-go-lucky guy who typically waits on me was nowhere to be found. “Where’s Sam?” I asked the store manager. “I let him go,” he replied. “I did not need a sunny day server.” I probed a bit in search of his meaning.
“He was happy when things went his way,” the manager continued. “But, let it go differently and you got a different Sam. We had a lady in here who questioned him about a price. He loudly let her know he was very right and she was very wrong. Unfortunately, she has not been back in our store.” I thought to myself, “He needs a Cassie.” How can you help your associates serve customers like Cassie plays soccer…focused on success, regardless of the emotional weather?
“If I had asked customers what they wanted,” Henry Ford is rumored to have said, “They would have said faster horses.” Now, before you fire your market research person, it is important to remember Henry Ford’s arrogance about customers also lead him to chide, “Customers can have any color automobile they like as a long as it is black.” Not exactly customer-centric! But, visioning beyond the customer is the responsibility of every person interested in a competitive advantage.
What do Bill Marriott, Ray Kroc and Al Hopkins have in common?
No, they are not all people of wealth and fame! In fact, Al is a small town accountant and part-time preacher! They all are (or were) innovative disruptors who discovered new ways to better serve customers and trigger service transformations. They saw the way a given service was being delivered and found a new way to turn it completely on its ear.
Willard (Bill, Sr.) Marriott in 1937 started the first catering service to airlines for meals on board after he noticed people at Hoover Field (now the site of the Pentagon) were going by his small Hot Shoppes restaurant and buying take out food before boarding flights. Ray Kroc saw the growth of the nationwide highway system and the paucity of reliable roadside eateries and invented McDonald’s–not just as a quick-service restaurant but as a concept of a recognizable chain of hamburger factories that produced consistent burgers prepared quickly, accurately, and served in a clean, wholesome setting.
And Al Hopkins? When he was a young boy in my hometown he watched the other ten-year-olds wait for customers to stop by their sidewalk lemonade stands in the hot summer sun. Al abandoned the “stand” concept and took his lemonade business door-to-door. He made enough money in one summer to buy a new Schwinn Flyer bicycle with a headlight and a siren! The next summer there was not a single stationary lemonade stand in town, but quite a few traveling lemonade sales people.
Being a disruptor takes boldness and the capacity for risk taking.
The president of Henry Ford’s lawyer’s bank advised him not to invest in the Ford Motor Company. “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a fad,” the banker is reported to have told Ford’s lawyer. Today’s lunacy is tomorrow’s conventional wisdom; today’s conventional wisdom is tomorrow’s historical footnote.
Strategy guru Gary Hamel put the requirement for disruptors and transformers this way in an article he wrote for the Harvard Business Review: “Corporations around the world are reaching the limits of incrementalism. Squeezing another penny out of costs, getting product to market a few weeks earlier, responding to customers’ inquiries a little bit faster, ratcheting quality up one more notch, capturing another point of market share–those are the obsessions of managers today. But pursuing incremental improvements while rivals reinvent the industry is like fiddling while Rome burns.”
I am a Lucchese boot man. I have been wearing Lucchese’s high-end, super comfortable Western boots handmade in El Paso for many years. And, I am on my fifth pair—all with a tailored toe, heel, leather, size and color. They are like working in bedroom shoes. At the end of a day on my feet, I feel like I could stand another ten hours. And, I have talked many a boot owner into switching to Lucchese from their preferred brand of choice.
My devotion to their brand is partly about their product—it is the pinnacle of quality. It is partly about their legacy dating back to 1883–the boot choice of John Wayne, President Lyndon Johnson, James Garner and Bing Crosby. It is partly about their sheer functionality of resilience, endurance and comfort since I work on my feet. It is mostly about Gloria. But, I am getting ahead of myself.
About the same time that I moved from Texas to Georgia, the boot dealer in Fort Worth with whom I traded went out of business. Lucchese only sells boots through authorized dealers. I needed a new pair of boots. So, I called a dealer in Georgia to learn if his store had a pair of size 10, ostrich boots with a #2 toe and a walking heal in chocolate brown. He did not. My next question was all about how to learn if any dealer in the Lucchese dealer network had that particular boot combination. Here is his answer:
“I do not. But, if you won’t tell anyone, I will give you the dealer only number I use to call the corporate office in El Paso. They may know how to find that particular boot.” I promised if I needed to order boots, I would have them ordered through his store. I called the corporate number.
“Good afternoon, this is Gloria, how may I be of assistance,” she said with her warmth meter turned up to its highest level. I told her the truth. I was not a dealer. A dealer who will remain nameless gave me the dealer only number to corporate. I was hoping she could help me locate a specific combination of boot. And, I was aware boots needed to be ordered through an authorized Lucchese boot dealer. The next line made me a Lucchese customer for life.
“Yes, Mr. Bell, we know all about your boot preference. There are only four pair of boots in existence with that unique combination and you, sir, own three of the them! We will need to make you a new pair. To which dealership would you like me to ship them. I will be delighted to send you an email when your boots ship so you will know when to contact that boot dealer.”
I was blown away. Here was a B2B company acting like a world class B2C company. I was impressed with their customer information process. I was impressed with their willingness to solve my problem, not give me rules and rebuttal. I was impressed that Gloria was all about a quality outcome as well as a quality experience.
What if the total survival of your unit, department, or organization depended on your customers’ assessment of your processes? It does! Think of your work like this: If there was a Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, or Academy Award for Customer Experience, what would it take for you to win it?