I learned an important lesson early in my marriage: Never buy groceries when you’re hungry. With an empty stomach sending seductive messages to my rational brain, it ensured there was no governor on my “impulse-buy-button.” And, I was likely to bring home Braunschweiger, champagne-flavored mustard, and fancy olives–items inappropriate for a starving grad student budget that only permitted baloney and yellow mustard. But for the local store, it was perfect timing for its customers like me to window-shop with a grocery cart.
Timing can be a powerful feature for customer attraction. My PR team suggests my monthly e-newsletter be launched on Monday morning at six in the morning. A restaurant near my office has big discounts for lunch in the middle of the week—their slow time during the week. My plumber is available to do repairs on the weekend; but, his hourly rate jumps up 50%. Call tech support early in the morning and you are rewarded with a five-minute wait instead of 30 minutes.
The lives of customers have ebbs and flows impacting their receptivity for your offering. It is more than selling guidance, it is also service guidance. The customer eager to buy a present for a child or grandchild is impressed by the service person who can get in the mind of an eight-year-old. The hotel clerk who spots shiny new wedding rings on a couple checking in on Sunday evening ramps up guest loyalty when suggesting the honeymoon suite at a slightly higher rate since it is available.
It takes attention to detail and a willingness to flex to respond to the “hungriness” of customers. Keep your eye on the timing of service and use that insight to tailor-make your response. Who knows, they may come back to splurge for more “Braunschweiger” instead of settling for “baloney.”
The sign on the front door of the restaurant told a significant story. And, it was photographed recently at the front door of a barbecue restaurant near my home in a resort area. The owner-manager claims he pays wages above the norm, hours are only four hours Tuesday-Thursday and eight hours on weekends; the restaurant is bright and cheery; and its barbecue is touted as “The Best” in the area.
Now, here is the best part. Clientele are largely upscale guests from nearby large gated communities willing to leave big tips for good service. And, he is forced to temporarily close his restaurant because he can’t find wait staff. What’s wrong with this picture?
It remained a puzzle until the guy who mows my lawn give me another angle on this crooked picture. “My son’s girlfriend got a job there,” he told me two weeks ago. “She was excited about the good pay, short hours, and a good shot at some nice tips. But, she left after a week.” When I asked him to solve the riddle of the turnover, his answer was short. “Mean manager!” he said. Last week when he was back to trim the hedges, I probed for a bit more detail. “Well, Ellen told me the store manager barked orders, scolded new employees if there was the tiniest mistake, and only cared about how fast orders got from the pick-up counter to the table.”
The more he spun his tale the more the real picture emerged. The restaurant manager treated employees more like servants than co-owners. Since his focus was on efficiency, not on service excellence, the manager treated employee precisely the way he expected employees to treat customers. There was no mentoring, just “don’t screw up.” There was no patience nor role modeling. And, in today’s “word of mouse,” social media mania the message spread very quickly…beware of the “mean manager.”
Some of my neighbors enjoy reminiscing about the good old days when young people worked hard. They too quickly chastise today’s youth as being high maintenance, self-centered, and unwilling to work hard.
“They all want a dang trophy,” is their popular lament.
These powerful words were the front desk clerk’s response to my “I have a unique request.” Before even hearing my plea, he gave me a full-frontal view of the Ritz-Carlton hotel attitude. And, it was a few days before the Christmas holidays—a hectic time when I am certain he had been inundated with way too many “May I’s” and “Can we’s!”
The front line employee of any organization is not only the most visible and vocal ambassador of the organization, her or his persona gives customers a clear and present peephole into the beliefs and bias of how that organization feels about customers. The front desk clerk’s “the-answer-is-‘yes’-what’s-the-question” orientation signaled to me, “we are here for our guests.” He was completely focused on delivering service unleashed.
Compare that perspective with my Veterans Day encounter with a large grocery store clerk in a nearby town. “Are you a veteran?” the young cashier asked me as I was reaching for my wallet. Before I could answer my wife proudly announced, “You bet he is! He was an infantry commander with the elite 82nd Airborne and a guerrilla tactics instructor at the Army Infantry School.”
“Wow!” the cashier responded. “We give our veteran’s a discount on Veteran’s Day!” But, her “I’m impressed” temperament quickly transformed to the stern disposition of a rigid auditor. “Do you have proof you are veteran?” she asked. I was taken aback. “What proof would I need?” I asked disbelievingly.
“I don’t know,” she said, “a military card or a baseball cap with a military pen. We have to have proof before we can give you the discount.” Ironically, the young man bagging our groceries grasped the irony of her assertion and asked her, “What about customer service?”
But, she obstinately refused to give up her rules ‘r us stance when I indicated I carried no proof. “No proof, no discount…it’s the rule,” she said harshly as if educating me, my wife, the bagger…and, all the cashiers within earshot! I silently paid for our groceries and left without acquiescing to my strong temptation to cynically salute her.
As a veteran of major combat, I quickly learned that success on the battlefield had much to do with how ground troops were resourced, prepared, and led. Air support was great; solid intelligence was helpful. But battles were won or lost by soldiers whose pride in their cause and commitment to their unit influenced them to show courage when on the receiving end of enemy fire. As warriors, they took care of business because they were taken care of.
The same is true of your frontline employees. Are your frontline ambassadors just performing tasks until quitting time or are they warriors eager to show customers the very best? Are they focused on following rules or delivering a masterpiece of great service? It all depends on whether they are treated like your most important customers.
There is a gorgeous golf course at the end of my driveway. My lakefront house sits on the water but right near the 13th tee. It is a Jack Nicklaus-designed course and the setting for many golf tournaments. While the 13th hole is gorgeous; the 14th hole gets the golfer’s laments in the bar at the end of an arduous eighteen.
Almost the entire hole is played over water where the lake cuts into the golf course. Despite the fact that it is a mere 186-yard par-three hole, many a golfer has been psychologically distracted by the giant water trap and had their ball land in the water. Or, it rolls in the lake after briefly landing on the green due to the hole’s healthy slope on the lakeside. But, the best golfers know a secret—focus only on the hole and don’t get distracted by the fact that your golf ball will be flying over water.
It is a powerful lesson for great customer service. Customers notice when your focus is not on them. And, there are plenty of water traps in the world of service—from paperwork to procedures, to long lines, to angry customers, to the fact that it is only ten minutes from time to punch out and go home. Customers value those organizations that keep their focus on the source of their profits, growth, and every single employee’s paycheck. Don’t get distracted. Focus on the green and your customers will do likewise.
Arthur Rubenstein is arguably the greatest pianist of this century. Click on http://bit.ly/1E2744I to experience Rubenstein performing Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor at ninety years old. But, it is his attitude toward performance that is the subject of this blog.
“At every concert, I leave a lot to the moment. I must have the unexpected, the unforeseen. I want to risk, to dare. I want to be surprised by what comes out. I want to enjoy it more than the audience. That way the music can bloom anew.”
Customers long for a service performance that blooms anew. They talk and tweet about experiences that are unexpected and unforeseen. Bottom line, they want to be surprised by what comes out. And, they wish they can experience frontline servers who are truly enjoying performing on their behalf.
We live in an era of mechanized, sanitized, carefully controlled. After all, leaders have metrics to respect and standards to honor. Forget about the non-plussed recipient of its byproduct. There is brand consistency to consider. So, one tactic is to get servers to say the right thing, the proper way, the same way, every time…”Would like fries with that..”, “Have a nice day,” or “Your call is very important to us.”
Too many organizations rely on scripts, tightly controlled messaging, automated procedures, and homogenized policies that guarantee efficiency, consistency, and speed. Meanwhile, the performance of service comes out plain vanilla and is promptly forgotten. Customers do not remark about okay, pretty good service; the only service that is unique…that is, remarkable. They enthusiastically advocate for organizations that turn their head and touch their heart, not those that just meet their needs.
Let’s bring back passion and authenticity. Let’s create innovative service experiences as vibrant and fresh as a Rubinstein piano concert. “If you over practice,” said Rubenstein, “the music seems to come out of your pocket. If you play with a feeling of ‘Oh, I know this,’ you play without that little drop of fresh blood that is necessary—and the audience feels it.”
Aesop was a wise Greek philosopher. His fables gave us life lessons in a fashion far more memorable than our mother’s repeated advice. The fable about the race between the tortoise and the hare was not just about persistence over speed. It was about avoiding arrogance that can lead to faulty assumptions.
Just to refresh your memory, the rabbit challenged the turtle to a race. Now, we all know rabbits can run faster than turtles. As soon as the race began, the rabbit raced way ahead. Looking back, he watched the plodding turtle and reasoned, I have this race in the bag. Here are Aesop’s words:
“Hare stretched himself out alongside the road and fell asleep, thinking, ‘There is plenty of time to relax.’
The turtle never took the race for granted, never wavered in his persistence, and won the race. By the time the rabbit woke up from his nap, the race was over and the turtle proclaimed the winner.
Organizations love to talk about customer acquisition. It is an easy metric to use as bragging rights about “speed to market, prowess in selling, and victory in getting new business.” That is all well and good. But, the race is not about acquiring customers, it is about keeping customers. What are you doing to “romance the service” as much as you “romanced the sale?”
Ted Levitt in his classic Harvard Business Review article, “After the Sale,” wrote: “The sale, then, merely consummates the courtship, at which point the marriage begins. How good the marriage depends on how well the seller manages the relationship. The quality of the marriage determines whether there will be continued or expanded business, or troubles and divorce.”
Getting new customers costs 5-10 times as much as keeping the ones you have. It means never taking the real race—customer loyalty—for granted. Don’t rest on your laurels and fall asleep alongside the marketplace road and let the race be won by competitors who treat existing customers with the same care and attention promised to new customers.
Dr. Stephen Covey listed “sharpen the saw” as one of his seven habits found among highly effective people. It meant staying current, always learning, self-renewal and continually growing physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. It is an important principle. My black cat taught me another key principle—”sharpen your claws.”
Our cat lives indoors. She attacks lizards through the screens, growls at squirrels through the glass window, and watches passerby hawks like they were intending to fly into the living room. While being in the wild is only in her mind, she needs to stay ever ready just like her cat family ancestors did on the African Serengeti. “At night, all cats are leopards,” goes an ancient Zuni Indian proverb.
The foundation of her claw sharpen is readiness. We save the fancy furniture in our living room by providing the cat a scratching post for her preparation. It is a circular carpet lined structure complete with large holes (call them caves) for her to explore. There is also a platform on top which gives her a post for her very important guard duty. She has done an excellent job of keeping the elephants out of our yard…at least that is what she wants us to believe.
We were staying at the Hampton Inn in Childress, Texas. Across the back of the property were numerous charging stations for electric cars courtesy of Tesla. BankSouth provides me a small desk calendar and a logoed ink pen they encourage me to “steal.” Over the winter holidays, we stayed in a new Courtyard by Marriott in Beaumont, Texas. Throughout the guest room, there were electric outlets galore for our many electronic devices. The Inn at Loretto in Santa Fe mailed us a beautiful sightseeing guide in advance of our trip out West. It was a great resource for our trip planning.
Your customers need to “sharpen their claws” to stay prepared for their busy daily lives. Think through the lens of what they might need and then provide it before they request it. Look for ways to provide them your version of a scratching post to keep them ready for the elephants!
Time zones have always been a thinker’s game to me. I still do not really get Greenwich time or how time measurement is really all made up. I do know the birds and squirrels in my backyard get up and start foraging for food at the same time every day all year long without benefit of the clock, calendar, or whether to fall back or spring forward.
Time litters our language big time. We mark it, buy it, kill it, make it, tell it, and do it. There is downtime, hard time, bad time, big time, and high time. We worry about a nick of time, a stitch of time, and my how time flies. We want to buy time so we have more spare time. We avoid crunch time so we have time on our hands and more time off.
But the best part about time is how we respect it. When I need to call a client in Jakarta I always Google what time it is in Indonesia (12 hours ahead of EST) so I am not waking my client in the middle of the night. I am always careful to specify time zone when setting up a meeting—” your time or mine?” We make decisions in our professional relationships based on start time, lunchtime, and quitting time. What if we were as careful about all our customers’ particulars as were about their time zone?
Every famous beverage—from Dom Perignon to Coors beer—is laced with great stories. Champagne lovers know that a Benedictine monk and cellar master named Dom Perignon was the “father of champagne” and invited his friends over to “taste the stars!” Coors lovers enjoy the story of people from the East coast importing purchased beer in their luggage when the beer was only available West of the Colorado-New Mexico border.
I am a fan of Jack Daniels Single Barrel Sour Mash Charcoal filtered whiskey. There are many stories about founder Jack Daniel. I want to focus on the present-day story of how the whiskey is made. Fast-forward from the iron-free water from a nearby cave to the selection of corn descended from antique seeds that are mixed with rye and malted barley and then distilled to create mash ready for the filtering part of the process.
Sugar maple trees are cut down, dressed like lumber, and placed in a neat stack ten feet high in a giant vat much like a massive box of matches. The wood is set on fire and reduced to charcoal that is then placed and packed in another large container. The “mash” is poured into the container and allowed to slowly seep through the charcoal. It takes seven days for the whiskey to come out leaving it with a distinctively charcoal taste. Then, it is placed in white oak wooden barrels with their interiors charred and allowed to age for six years.
We live in a time of mass merchandising done quickly to satiate the cravings and desires of an ever demanding, ever-changing marketplace. Speed to market is as crucial as a productive shelf life in a retail store. The “need for speed” sentiment gets passed from object makers to experience creators. Self-service becomes a vital delivery channel; just-in-time service elevates customer expectations for faster and faster service. As customers, we hate to wait.
What would service be like if you made it better, more elegant, more unique, more special, more enduring…even if you sacrificed rapid turnaround to get it? Sure, you would lose the part of the marketplace that prefers mediocre in the moment. But, would you find a niche that so valued your carefully crafted offering they would pay a premium to get it?
Tesla Motors has found that 85% of consumers are willing to wait 3-4 weeks to get the exact vehicle they want. They resist the impulse to buy off the dealer’s lot. The payoff? Ninety-seven percent of Tesla owners say they would buy their vehicle again. Once again, what would be the impact on your customers if you slowed the quickness of service creation in order to fashion something so special your customers would be cheerfully willing to wait?
A two-week four-thousand-mile road journey over the winter holidays gave our cat a trip to “camp,” as we call the nearby facility where she is occasionally boarded. It is a very nice place that gives her a daily brush-out, lots of TLC, and her favorite activity—tree time. Tree time is an hour of play on a giant climbing toy with many tunnels and holes. But, being at camp is not the same as being at home where she can do her professional work—20 hours of sleep a day plus keeping the elephants out of our yard! She does a good job as we have yet to have a single elephant intrusion!
When we picked her up after New Year’s Day, we got the loud motor sound of her purring on our drive home. We know that purring is a sign of contentment. But, the decibel level makes us sometimes wonder if it is also a guilt-inducing gesture. “Why did you leave me there so long!!”
This time I googled “purring” to learn more about it. It is largely found in the feline family (although raccoons, hyenas and guinea pigs can purr). But, here is a startling fact you probably do not know. Members of the cat family that purr cannot roar (mountain lions, bobcats, etc.). And, members of the cat family that roar cannot purr (lions, tigers, etc.). I will let you Google the reason behind this intriguing fact.
If there was ever a metaphor for great customer service it is this: deliver the type of service your customers experience as one laced with contentment and you will never hear them roar. Create a reputation for creating customer experiences laced with TLC and pleasure and you will not attract customers who enjoy roaring, only those that purr. Make your customer experiences purr-fect!