The pinnacle of culinary excellence is arguably a meal prepared at the renowned Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. This institution is to food what Juilliard is to music. The world’s greatest chefs come here to learn their profession. Meals are prepared and served in one of several restaurants open to the public. Food presentation is much like the unveiling of a masterpiece or the premier of a magnificent symphony. Every morsel is a carnival for taste buds. Sight, sound, smell, and taste have all been put on steroids for the customer experience.
My wife and I were privileged for have lunch at the CIA in late June with friends who lived nearby. Our waiter was serving us the day before her graduation and move to Philadelphia to work at the Four Seasons restaurant. One of our party ordered lamb chops. Our waiter smiled and said with authority and warmth, “Our chef recommends the lamb chops be served medium rare.” Then, she added a magical question:
“Do you have a different opinion?”
When Horst Schultz, the founder and president of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, spoke the title of this blog post— “elegance without warmth is arrogance”—his intent was to promote a warm, egalitarian atmosphere in the midst of his hotel properties with obvious elegance, sophistication and class. Walk in the lobby of any Ritz-Carlton and you wonder if you are in the entrance of a great castle. Employees sound like highly refined butlers. Schultz amplified the theme of egalitarianism with the hotel’s mantra, “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”
Dining at the Culinary Institute of America can easily be laced with superiority and authority. Who would dare challenge the opinion of an esteemed chef at this august academic setting?
But, the CIA is eager for its graduates to respect their guest as well as the meal they prepare or serve. That blend creates a patron of culinary arts who raves about the experience as well as the savory banquet. It signals a devotion to a partnership.
What can you do to ramp up the elegance of your customer experience while enhancing customers’ experience of being respected and admired?
Looking for another reason why elegance in your customer service experience is important? Then, see this Sept. 20, 2016, blog post: Why Not Add Elegance?
It happened in a large field after it started to rain. Three hundred people were in make-shift tents or thin ponchos on rural property owned by David Hill. It was a chilly night in late March and people huddled to keep warm. They were on a historic journey. All day they had been harassed and threatened by as the brave crowd walked along a 54-mile stretch of Highway 80 from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The year was 1965.
Some spoke of abandoning the march to the Alabama capitol steps to protest the reluctance of the state government to intervene when African-Americans were kept from voting. Only 2% of eligible blacks were registered to vote, despite a law granting them that right. Governor George Wallace was at the center of that resistance. Ultimately, 25,000 people would join this group of 300 when they finally reached the capitol steps.
But, this was the first night on their journey. A baby cried. Someone yelled an obscenity. Then, a single voice slowly began singing a song they all knew: “We shall overcome. We shall overcome. We shall overcome some day. Deep in my heart, I do declare. That we shall overcome someday.”
The crowd gradually joined in the singing. By the third verse all 300 cold, tired and anxious marchers had joined in, singing the song with fervor and passion. No one dropped out of the march after that first night.
Customers have moments of anxiety. Walk in the Bass Pro Shop at the giant pyramid in Memphis and you are overwhelmed by its sheer size. The store stands 321 feet high, encompasses over 200,000 square feet of shopping, and features a 190-room hotel, bowling alley, restaurants, shooting gallery and much more.
But, right in the middle of the store, shoppers “overcome” with the angst of searching find a peaceful 600,000-gallon aquarium and an indoor swamp with peaceful water fowl enjoying their view of customers. It is as comforting as a familiar song on a cold night in a strange field after a long march.
What can you do to create a place and experience of solace for your weary customers? How can you provide a customer service anchor as enchanting as Main Street at the entrance of Disney World or the soft seat play area in the middle of most large malls?
Great customer service in not just about making the customers’ experiences physically easy; it is about making them emotionally comforting. Look for an enchanting connector that becomes a customer bonding agent as compelling as the first word in the song sung by the civil rights demonstrators in a muddy field who marched into the history books.
Most people will agree that remote leadership feels very different from the way we’ve always worked in the past. It’s easy to point to factors like a lack of eye contact, or the inability to get answers to questions in a hurry to demonstrate the point. But how different is leading remotely, really? A new model may help answer that question.
First, let’s take a look at the model itself. It’s essentially three gears of various sizes grinding to get work accomplished. Here’s what it looks like, taken from the book itself:
The Leadership & Management Gear
The first gear symbolizes the thinking and behaviors leaders need to exhibit. The leadership thinker Peter Drucker stated that not a lot has changed since the building of the pyramids when it comes to motivating, managing, inspiring and leading people. Think about the job of the manager, regardless of where they are in relation to their people. They need to help create a vision, set expectations, delegate tasks… the job hasn’t changed just because the employees are working from home or another location. What leaders do is the same as it’s always been.
The Tools & Technology Gear
What’s changed so radically over the last 30 years is how leaders and their people communicate. We are still expected to inspire people, but often can’t see the look in their eye. We want them to believe us when we communicate, but they can’t read our body language or hear the excited tone in our voice when all they get from us is an email. While there are more communication tools available to us than ever before, many of the tools aren’t as effective as good, old-fashioned, in-person conversation.
Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t get our message across or receive critical input. It does mean we have to use the right tool for the right job. If we are choosing to send an email, rather than pick up the phone or get on a webcam because it’s easier and faster, we’re actually choosing not to use the right tool for the job.
In the research for The Long-Distance Leader, we found that confusion over the available technology and a discomfort with the way we interact through them are big factors in making remote leadership more uncomfortable and stressful.
So, we have a job that’s always been difficult, and now we’re doing it in ways in which we’re uncomfortable and possibly misusing or not using the right tools. This is where a great deal of the drama and stress come from. But that’s not all.
The Skill & Impact Gear
If the first gear is what managers do, and the second gear is how we do it, the third gear is how well we use the tools at our disposal. There are a couple of stunning statistics. One study done by MIT/Sloane says that while 80% of managers say that tools like WebEx, Skype for Business, Slack and the like are “mission critical” to working remotely, only 15% or so (particularly of senior managers) feel that they are “confident and competent” using that technology.
Additionally, there’s evidence that 80% of users utilize only 20% of a given tool’s capabilities.
That’s a problem. Leaders have a hard job. We have to be smart about the tools we’re using and leverage that technology. If we don’t we’re essentially working with one hand tied behind our back.
So why is this model important? It shows us three critical truths:
1. The job of leadership itself hasn’t changed much. Rule #1 of The Long-Distance Leader is, “Think leadership first, location second.”
2. We must be mindful of using the right tool for the right job. This may not be our preference (it’s always easier to send an email than have a tough conversation on the phone) but smart decisions will make us more effective.
3. We must leverage the power of the tools we have at our disposal. This may involve training, coaching and practice, which is often seen as a waste of time. Over the long haul, it’s an investment in productivity and effectiveness.
The 3-Gear Model is only one of the ways The Long-Distance Leader hopes to demystify the challenge of managing and leading people and projects from a distance.
About the Kevin Eikenberry
Kevin Eikenberry is founder and Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group. He’s been named one of Inc.com’s Top 100 Leadership and Management Experts in the World, and is the author of several books, including Remarkable Leadership.
It was supposed to be a romantic breakfast at a renovated historic hotel in mid-town Atlanta. It was early, the restaurant was not crowded, yet our waitress had obviously shifted to a low gear before we arrived. My wife and I ordered the same basic meal and intended to order a side of grits to share with our eggs and bacon. But, the distraction of the slow-motion customer service caused us to forget to request the side order.
The meal finally arrived and we realized our side of grits had not been ordered. “Are your grits already prepared?” I asked, gauging how uphill this pending battle might be.
“Oh, yes,” replied the waitress. Her tone signaled the conversation had come to an end. I restarted the dialogue with, “Could we get a quick single side order of grits?” We were hoping the grits would not arrive as we were taking the last bite of our meal. Then, her show stopping line followed.
“I can’t promise anything,” she said. “But, I can put in your order for a side of grits.” We elected not to take a chance on her tentative terms.
We diagnosed the situation as we are often prone to do. The waitress’ message was: “I cannot trust my colleagues in the kitchen to do their part of producing a rushed single serving of already prepared grits. I only have control and influence over the task I am required to do—put in a guest’s order.
Frontline authority is always a popular solution of ho-hum service.
But, empowerment extends beyond the latitude of the customer-facing employee. It includes support personnel with a desire for excellence and the zeal to delight the person funding their paychecks.
Burned by broken promises, she narrowed her capacity. Her tentative attitude lost the revenue from our side order of grits. She lost our repeat business since we plan to never return. She lost our advocacy when friends heading for Atlanta ask about a good restaurant.
And, the culprit for all this loss? Not, a frontline server without authority but rather a cook with a singular focus on food tasks and not on the paying guests who eat it.
Looking a positive example of customer service empowerment? See my Feb. 4, 2014, post on the Leadership Echo, and read how “Innovative service goes viral when it is echoed from a leader who treats associates exactly the way customers should be treated.”
In Greek mythology, Helen, like many rock stars who followed her, had no last name. She was simply known as Helen of Sparta.
Mythology claims she was the daughter of Zeus, the head god of all the inhabitants of Mount Olympus. Married to King Menelaus of Sparta, she was considered the most beautiful woman in the world.
She was kidnapped (some say seduced) by Prince Paris of Troy—an affront which triggered the Trojan War you read about in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Paris (played in the movie version by Orlando Bloom) was killed in action and Helen was reunited with Menelaus. They also sorta lived happily ever after.
The impetus for the Trojan War was not a military response to a “go get back my wife” directive from an angry king. The people of Sparta were proud of the fact that the wife of their king was renowned for her beauty. It took little encouragement for them to wage a 10-year war at great sacrifice to their families. Their vision and cunning lead to a giant wooden horse, disguised as a victory gift, being pulled into the city walls by the Trojans as soldiers pretended to leave as if they had lost. Many Spartan soldiers were hidden inside. Once inside the walls of Troy they won the war and ended the siege.
‘Helen of Georgia’
Fast forward to 1969. Helen, Georgia, was a sleepy logging town that grew up along the banks of the Chattahoochee River. As the logging industry dried up, the town lost its prize source of revenue and pride.
Given the fact that the town sits in a valley surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, it already had the feel of a Bavarian alpine town in the Alps. The city fought the war against extinction by passing a zoning ordinance that every building inside the city limits assume a classic southern German style (example above). Even national franchises like Wendy’s, and Huddle House had to retrofit their buildings to look Bavarian. The annual Oktoberfest held in the center of town draws thousands of visitors.
But, another unexpected benefit occurred.
As visitors flocked to the quaint town now laced with shops, restaurants and entertainment, a service culture emerged. The rough edges of a lone logger were honed into the smooth warm, service-focused hospitality of a friendly neighbor. The town developed a safe, family-friendly atmosphere that welcomed diverse visitors. Bikers view it as a special haven for gorgeous mountain rides on an Autumn day. The surrounding mountains are dotted with wine vineyards. A hot air balloon competition selected Helen as it home base. Birdwatchers, anglers, campers and nature lovers praise its rustic setting and inclusive attitude.
Like the rescue of Helen of Troy, the service transformation of Helen, Georgia, required vision and cunning. Like the military leaders of Sparta, Helen depended on civic leaders with the will to stay the course over many years.
Today, we use “spartan” as our word for rigor. It is a trait of civic courage that has propelled Helen, Georgia, into a thriving community famous for its tenacity and relentlessness like the Chattahoochee river that runs through the heart of the city and the souls of its citizens.
Sarah was obviously brand new on the front desk of the upscale hotel in Las Vegas where I was staying. My first question at check-in yielded a zealous, “I am new and I do not know the answer, but please let me find out.” She sported a trainee designation under her name on her badge. It signaled to me to lower my expectations and give her a wider than normal berth.
She was eager to serve; earnest in her attempt to do new tasks correctly. While I could tell she was a bit nervous, she was also jarringly authentic. She publicly owned what she did not know. She asked me to hold something for her as she worked to undo an innocent mistake. At one point, she stopped her task and exclaimed, “This is such a wonderful hotel, I wish I was a guest.” She championed my patience by asking a colleague out loud, “Show me how to get this guest a room upgrade.”
The following day when I approached the front desk for a minor request, another employee rushed forward to serve. “I will wait for Sarah,” I said to the employee. I reflected: Why can’t they all stay like Sarah?
While we all desire superior competence, we rarely get the genuine eagerness of a shiny new associate still wearing the personality that got them hired. In today’s competitive world, we also need a Sarah who can be inventive.
There are four phases of learning:
Think of these phases on a continuum. Sarah was on the copying end of the continuum, mostly mimicking, modeling, and acting out of what she remembered from her training.
Her next learning phase will be “competent,” where she can demonstrate she “knows her stuff” and perform out of understanding, not just recalling.
If she gets really good at her skill and knowledge, she may be asked to coach another employee. Competence and Coaching can be the breeding ground for arrogance and self-importance. Wonderment is replaced with superiority. Customers can be on the receiving end of smart and smart-alecky.
The highest point on the learning continuum is the capacity to create or invent. It is the realm of innovative service. From its world comes leaving customers delightfully surprised yielding a profoundly remarkable story they are eager to share. Good service is value-added, the byproduct of competence; innovative service is value-unique, the result of creativity. It is a return to the wonderment of a Sarah who adds ingenuity to her capacity for realness.
It requires an environment of never-ending learning. Wise organizations do not stop at the competence level. Their leaders model the humility of an inventor; the curiosity of an archeologist and the passion of an artist. They trumpet the recognition that good is the enemy of great; discontent the birthplace of progress. When Bob Kriegel wrote the book: If It Ain’t Broke, Break It, it was not an invitation to destroy; it was a charge to transform.
Greatness comes from celebrating the glorious return to “I am new.”
Last week, I requested an Uber in Richmond, Va., and got a delightful surprise. When I boarded the car at the Richmond Airport en route to a downtown hotel, my driver turned, introduced himself, and shook my hand. Then, he asked a magical question:
“Would you like to ride in silence or would you like to hear a story?” I am a sucker for a good story.
With my request for a story, driver Jackie “J.R.” Robinson handed me a picture album and began to narrate each page. The first page contained half of a one-dollar bill (with a story) and a few obviously very old American coins. He told the story of playing in an old abandoned two-story nearby house his mother warned he and his cousin to avoid, worried they would get hurt. As she predicted, they fell through the rotten floor. Fortunately, they were unhurt but discovered a large jar filled with very old coins.
The next few pages of the picture album contained currency from many unique countries, each with a story. There was the Iraqi bill with Saddam Hussein’s photo on it—currency that was supposed to have been all burned after he was killed but made its way back to the states via a soldier-passenger. There was the $10,000,000 bill from Zimbabwe—not worth enough to buy a hamburger! Finally, there was a $50 bill with no photo issued by the Central Bank of Iraq.
“Take that bill out and pass the album back to me,” J.R. requested as we were pulling into the hotel. “You can keep that $50 bill as my tip to you for being my customer.” When I resisted, he laughed: “Oh, I have stacks of those bills. I wanted you to remember my story with a souvenir; please call me next time you are in Richmond.”
Innovative, sincere, and memorable
He got the largest tip I have ever given an Uber, Lyft or taxi driver. I knew the Iraqi bill was likely worth only a few cents; but his gesture was innovative, sincere, and memorable.
Customers love stories. They love telling them and they love hearing them. Good stories make campfires worth lighting, cocktail parties worth attending and performing arts—well, the performing arts. They instruct, inform, entertain, warm and warn. A good story touches something familiar within us, yet shows us something new about ourselves, our lives, or our world.
Couple a story with your service. Look for opportunities for a “May I help you?” query to be followed by a “Would you like to hear a story?” question.
Four identical armadillos were recently born under my house and this weekend made their first foray into our yard searching for food, unaccompanied by a parent. I hate armadillos! It is very personal. When I lived in Texas, I took great delight in eliminating their destructive hog-like behavior with a shot gun and buck shot! Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not a violent person by any stretch of the imagination. But, I spend way too much money and time nurturing the perfect yard with foliage and flowers that would make a nursery green with envy.
Armadillos feed on bugs, insects, roots, ants and worms. They especially like the ones that require rooting up the ground to retrieve. It might be their version of an Easter egg hunt. Our yard ends up looking like a grass track after a rambunctious horse race. Asking them to leave is not effective; they are almost deaf. Signage does not work, they are almost blind. So, how do you get rid of such a pest.
This weekend added a new twist to the frustration of watching your pride and joy uprooted in broad daylight by armadillos. As my granddaughters would say, “They are soooo cute!”
Customers can be like “baby armadillos.” They can uproot your bottom line by sweetly making demands (camouflaged as simple requests) that put the front-line in a squeeze. “I lost my ticket,” “Can I please, please get this at a discount?” or “I only have a $10.” They can coolly ask for the moon and act disappointed, even pout, if they have to hear “no.” They are the customer version of a spoiled teenager uninterested in hearing that dreaded two-letter word. Front-line employees are often trained in how to deal with the angry customer, but not the manipulative customer who can be “soooo cute.”
Be firm but fair. Listen with curiosity, empathize with feeling, demonstrate great caring, but always remain a good steward of your company’s resources. Let your customer know how much you value his or her business and (not but) you want to be fair to other customers. “I wish I could” sounds more accepting to “baby armadillo” customers than “I can’t.”
Stay clear of “rule talk”—customers are not particularly interested in your policies or rules. Remain calm, confident, and competent with a sunny disposition. And, if the customer persists in rooting up your reputation and resources, warmly suggest they find a service provider more suited to their needs.
Let customers witness your obvious commitment to service excellence. (Image credit: https://www.123rf.com/profile_kadmy.)
Crash!!! The rock hit hard on the top of my car windshield, a rocketed gift from the giant truck I was following on the interstate. I could see the small crack it created right beneath the rear-view mirror. I realized it was not likely to remain as it started. Sure enough, two days later the two-inch crack was six inches long and starting to spider. Four days later the creepy crack had expanded to encompass both sides of my car windshield, not just the center where it started.
A week later I took my car in for its regular maintenance and the service tech at the dealership suggested I replace the windshield glass immediately. “That crack will just get bigger and bigger,” he told me. “And, at some point the issue will not be cosmetics; it will be your safety. It could one day end up in your face at 60 miles an hour.”
I replaced the front windshield.
Customers are like a windshield crack. A hiccup happens and there is small kink in your customer service reputation with them.
Another little irritant goes unattended and the crack begins to grow.
Then, another hiccup happens and the crack spiders.
Antennae now up high for tiny service foibles, customers now start spotting imperfections largely unnoticed before. And at some point, customers go away and you never get to hear about the tiny service crack that started their path to the exit door.
Fix the cracked “windshield” through which customers view your service. Let them witness your obvious commitment to customer service excellence. Be on a perpetual lookout for signs of customer discontent.
Unlike fine wine, service hiccups and customer disappointments will not get better with time. Never buy into the myth of “no news is good news” or “let sleeping dogs lie.”
Be assertive in your pursuit of customer candor and be agile in your urgency to repair problems and restore relationships. Remember: customers do not care how much you know until they know how much you care!
BONUS: Personal customer service can fix the biggest “cracks.” Click to learn more about “Signature Service.“
From the time I was a young boy, I heard that one of the best cures for a common cold was chicken soup. I recall in high school looking it up in the encyclopedia (that’s the early version of Google it) to discern what magic this concoction might have that would give it such medicinal powers. Its secrets were not revealed; I only found a recipe.
Even my friend Jack Canfield wrote a whole series of books with titles that started with Chicken Soup for the Soul. It spawned a brand category of countless books for every group and occasion. My chiropractor proudly displays Jack’s (and his co-author Mark Victor Hansen’s) book, Chicken Soup for the Chiropractic Soul. I once teased Jack about when they planned to release, Chicken Soup for the Bank Robber’s Soul!
It was not chicken soup that “cured” your cold as a child. It was your mother’s chicken soup. Granted the broth might have made your sour throat feel better, the small chunks of chicken might have given you needed energy and the noodles might have yielded some ease to your cough, but it was the care and concern your mother put into cooking and serving the soup that made you feel, “all better.”
Customers live in an era of rush, worry, hassle, and complexity. Finding great service can be a rare experience. But, they will value your offering more if the experience you deliver is carefully prepared and compassionately served with the effort your mother put into the chicken soup she spooned into your mouth to make you feel valued and special.