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A Meeting of the Minds

Last week I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days with seven authors represented by the publisher of my book, Lessons From the Mouse (DC Press). We focused on topics ranging from book marketing to presentation skills and had lively, information-packed discussions. I left the meeting feeling jazzed, with several ideas for my business and I can’t wait for our next gathering.

The meeting reminded me of the power of sitting down with a small group and brainstorming issues that impact the business, testing ideas, exploring options, and expanding our point of view. It gets us out of the cocoon of our individual opinions on how things should work and it stretches our thinking. We may not agree with everything that’s said in the meeting, but at least we have the opportunity to consider ideas we may never have thought of ourselves.

Instead of a meeting of authors, why not consider a regularly scheduled customer service brainstorming meeting in your organization? It could occur at the company level or at the department level. A group of 6-10 people meeting on a monthly basis to discuss ideas for improving customer service.

If this sounds like a good idea to you, here are a few suggestions for ensuring the meetings are productive:

  • Have a topic for each meeting. An individual meeting might focus on handling customer complaints, or strategies for keeping the physical environment looking good, or ways to communicate stories of employees delivering great service.
  • Assign a facilitator for each meeting. In our case, our publisher, Dennis McClellan of DC Press performed the role of facilitator and did a great job of keeping the discussion flowing and on topic. There may be an excellent facilitator on your team who would be delighted to run the meetings, or you might decide to rotate the responsibility.
  • Develop a process for escalating the ideas generated. Not every idea will be implemented, of course, but there will be some ideas that absolutely should be implemented. Having an executive champion who supports the process and is willing to remove bureaucratic obstacles makes it much more likely that good ideas will eventually see the light of day.
  • Don’t get discouraged about ideas that aren’t implemented. Everything has its time and this may not be the time for a particular idea. Even if only three or four good ideas generated by this group get implemented each year, those are ideas that wouldn’t have even been thought of without the help of this group. Success isn’t about the volume of ideas that become actual practices, it’s about the quality of the ideas that are implemented and their impact on the business.

I know that I’m not going to use every idea we discussed during last week’s author’s meeting. But I do have one big idea I’m already working on and four or five others that I will likely adapt to my business. Even in the unlikely event that none of these ideas work, my creativity was stimulated and I’m looking at my business in a new way. I’m sure glad I was at that meeting.



Customer Service and the Call Center

A few months ago I posted an article, “What Do Customers Think About Your Customer Service?” In the article I stressed the value of company call/contact centers in gaining intelligence about customer opinions, opportunities, and process issues. For many organizations, their call center is the great untapped resource.

I’ve been invited to speak at the Customer Contact & Call Centers conference in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, October 20-22, 2008. I’ve been particularly aware of information about call centers and recently came across a blog post that I feel is worth passing on, The Technical Person’s Guide to Customer Service. The blog is, “Service Untitled.”

In particular, check the suggestions regarding never suggesting the customer is wrong and telling the customer how to prevent the problem from happening again. Good suggestions in differentiating your call center’s service from the frustrating experiences many customer are used to.

If you are attending the contact center conference in October, please be sure to say hello!

Expand the “Product” to Include the Entire Experience

As more products and services become commoditized, one of the remaining ways to differentiate your organization from the competition is to focus on the overall customer experience. Your product offering might be excellent, but so is the product offering of your competitor down the street.

I encourage organizations to expand their idea of the product to include the entire customer experience. When you consider everything a customer goes through in order to purchase and use your product, it’s apparent that a lot of factors impact the experience – and that impact can be either positive or negative.

Consider the “product” of purchasing a meal at a fast food restaurant. Certainly the food itself has to be of high quality in order for the customer to ever want to return. But, let’s look at some of the other processes that surround the meal:

Expand the Product by you.

And this is just a partial list of the surrounding elements; the list could go on.

In the majority of cases, the physical product (the meal in this example) is of a quality that meets the customer’s expectation. And companies spend a lot of time, effort, and money to get the product right. It’s the surrounding elements, however, that often cause customer frustration. So, the meal may be great, but if the wait is long, the restrooms are dirty, and the condiment station isn’t stocked, the customer certainly won’t think of it as a great experience. He got the product he came for, but he didn’t get the experience that would generate loyalty.

I find this to be an enlightening activity to do with a workgroup. In the center of a flipchart page or white board, write down the end product or service you provide. Then ask the group to brainstorm all of the processes that surround the end product and write those in as participants call out their examples. Then make a big production of drawing a circle around the whole thing and make the point that “this is what the customer is really buying from us – it’s the entire experience.” You can now have a lively dialogue about how the organization is doing with all of the surrounding factors and what can be done to improve where improvement is needed.

This simple activity gets the team to move beyond defining the product too narrowly. It gets everyone thinking about the customer’s experience in dealing with the organization and how well designed and delivered that experience is.

Expand the product to include the entire experience.




Backstage Just Came Onstage

A few weeks ago I posted an article titled, “Never Let Backstage Come Onstage,” (which is actually the first chapter in my new book, Lessons From the Mouse). The backstage/onstage philosophy means that certain operational realities, those that a customer should never experience, must remain backstage. When they somehow creep onstage, the organization’s brand is compromised. Backstage coming onstage can be a physical issue, such as leaving a stockroom door open so customers have a clear view of the typical behind the scenes chaos. Backstage can also be “attitudinal,” such as two employees discussing the previous night’s keg party with earshot of customers.

The reason I’m reflecting on this earlier blog post is because a colleague recently sent me a YouTube clip I had not seen before. The video highlights a glaring example of backstage coming onstage in a very public way. The first minute of the video provides the setup, but watch what happens as the story plays out.

Click here to see the video – Anchor Versus Reporter

Never let backstage come onstage!


Appreciating Great Customer Service

Recently I spoke at a conference of the Travel Industry Association. I arrived a couple of days into the meeting and noticed a buzz going around about something that happened earlier. I caught snippets of the situation, but got the full story after my speech.

Red Bull CanDuring one of the meals on the first day of the conference, an attendee asked a server if he could have a Red Bull energy drink with his meal. It wasn’t a typical request, but the server said she would see what she could do. Sure enough, a few minutes later she came back with a covered platter, and with a flourish uncovered the can of Red Bull. Everyone at the table got a kick out of it and had a good chuckle.

Another person at the table joked, “What if he had asked for, oh let’s say, a monkey and monkey wrench?” Again, everyone laughed and promptly forgot about the comment. Before the meal ended, the server showed up at the table with a covered platter…you can guess what happened. With a flourish she uncovered a stuffed monkey along with a monkey wrench. The joke quickly spread and everyone was talking about the story – viral marketing at its best.

At the closing general session the association’s president thanked everyone involved in making the conference a success. He then reminded everyone of the monkey/monkey wrench story and everyone laughed, applauded and thought that was that. But the presidenStandingOvationt announced the server was in the room and invited her onstage to receive a gift from the organizers for creating such a memorable moment. The crowd stood as one and gave that server a heartfelt standing ovation. The impact of the smile on her face will likely stay with everyone who was in that room.

Two key service principles were reinforced by this story. First, when we can create those wow moments by doing something totally unexpected, we should do it. The impact of the experience might just become legendary. We might not always have the time to do something like this server did, but sometimes we do have the time. At those moments the choice is ours on whether or not we’ll create that “magic moment.”

The second principle reinforced by this story is the importance of a sincere thank you. When we get great service, if someone truly does something extraordinary, creating an extraordinary thank you is a wonderful gesture. I can only imagine how quickly the news of that server’s actions and the resulting standing ovation spread throughout the hotel’s staff. Celebration of achievements creates a culture of achievement.

I hope the next time an extraordinary wow opportunity presents itself that you take a moment to figure out how you can make it happen. I also hope that the next time you are truly wowed by an employee you take a moment to think of how you can wow him or her with your thanks. Because of the story of this banquet server, I know I have a renewed energy to be on the lookout for both opportunities.