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Seeking Service With a Smile

Sally Disher of Cummins Northeast is one of my favorite people – she sends me thought-provoking customer service stories. She’s the one who sent along the article about the Dana Farber Cancer Institute I referenced in this blog’s February 24th post, which has become one of my favorite stories: The Power of Purpose.

The latest item she passed along is an article that relates to a message I know I focus on a lot; it’s the little things (like a smile) that make a difference . Customers notice when these little things are present and they notice when they aren’t.

Click on the link below to check out the article that appeared in the Salem News – and pass it along to your team. It’s a great message.

Seeking Service With a Smile (be patient, it takes a few moments to load).

A Great Leader

I recently came across a verse in the Tao Te Ching, a book of ancient Chinese Philosophy written over 2600 years ago, that caused me to take a few moments (over a great cigar) to reflect on the qualities of great leaders.

The verse states:

The best leader is one whose existence is barely known.
Next best is one who is loved and praised.
Next is one who is feared.
Worst of all is a leader who is despised.

If you fail to trust people, they won’t turn out to be trustworthy.

Therefore, guide others by quietly relying on Tao. Then, when the work is done, the people can say, “We did this ourselves.”

After reading this verse, I immediately thought of a favorite leader from my Disney career, Valerie Oberle. Valerie was a leader who got the very best from people, yet did it in a way in which we could confidently say, “We did this ourselves.”

When a colleague and I launched a division of the Disney Institute under Valerie’s leadership, she  demonstrated complete trust in our ability to get the business up and running, although I’m sure she secretely cringed at some of the things we did along the way. But she supported us, quietly removed roadblocks, and allowed us to build a highly successful business that was also one of the great adventures of my career. I’ll never forget that time and I’ll never forget Valerie’s leadership.

While I appreciate the first line of the verse cited above, Valerie’s presence was known, but it wasn’t the “Look at what a great leader I am” kind of presence. It was a presence of confidence, support, and trust. Valerie trusted us and we completely trusted her. And we accomplished things we never thought we could accomplish.


Customer Service Assignment

As we come into the weekend, try giving your team this informal assignment. As they go about their weekend activities, ask them to to consciously notice the level of service they receive as they interact with companies and their employees. Ask them to look at the physical environment, observe employees as they serve them as well as other customers, and pay attention to the processes they experience during the interaction. What was good? What was not so good? What what was dismal? Ask them to mentally note as many details as possible.

At your next team meeting, request that members of your team share their observations and how the experiences make them feel. Did the experience make them definitely want to come back? definitely not want to come back? or just leave them neutral? Then ask the group how their observations relate to your organization and to their own jobs. This is a quick benchmarking experience that can pay great dividends.

When Walt Disney was planning Disneyland, he sent his “Imagineers” to visit amusement parks and carnivals, and to observe what customers liked and didn’t like. He used this knowledge (particularly the dislikes) in the design of Disneyland. Rather than a haphazard layout, everything would be organized and themed. Rather that surly “ride operators,” Disneyland would have “hosts and hostesses” who treated customers as “guests.” Much of what makes the Disney parks what they are today came from this simple strategy of observing competitors and putting the knowledge to work.

Why not send an email to your team today? Simply ask them to pay attention to their experiences over the weekend, note how those experiences made them feel, and be prepared to discuss it at your next team meeting. I’m convinced it will be an eye-opening and beneficial exercise for the entire team.

Is Training the Answer?

When employee performance issues come up, particularly in regard to customer service behaviors, organizations are quick to send their people off for training in order to fix the problem. Of course, I’m in the business of customer service training, so I’m all for employee education when it’s appropriate.

Oftentimes, however, sending employees to a training class is a relatively easy alternative to holding those difficult conversations (coaching and counseling) or making difficult decisions (firing perpetually poor performers). In my consulting work I find that many organizations do a wonderful job of training employees on how to serve customers in ways that reflect the organization’s brand. What I often find lacking is the communication, accountability, and support that must reinforce training when the employee is on the job.

When employee performance doesn’t match expectations, it’s important to look at what factors may be involved. Lack of training may be the issue, but it’s just as likely that something else is afoot. Are the right people being hired? Do employees have the tools they need to do the job well? Is substandard performance corrected when it occurs? Is strong performance recognized and rewarded?

Here’s a way to think about it: Imagine that you have an employee who isn’t demonstrating a desired behavior and you say to him, “If you don’t perform in this way, you’re fired.” If the employee still doesn’t demonstrate the desired behavior, you may have a training problem. If you say to him, “If you don’t perform in this way, you’re fired,” and the employee then does demonstrate the desired behavior, you have a motivation issue, and other leadership tactics become necessary.

The next time a performance issue occurs and you’re tempted to send employees off to a training class, take a step back and ask, “Is training really the issue here?” My guess is that in some cases you’ll decide that more training is not the solution; in fact more training may confuse the issue.

And if after asking, “Is training really the issue here?” you decide the answer is yes, customer service training is needed, by all means give me a call!

Leadership Behaviors – Everything Speaks

As a leader in the organization, remember that “everything speaks.” Your behavior in front of employees “speaks” about what you truly value, and when words and behaviors don’t align, behaviors will win out every time. Your employees judge your values by what you do.

Here’s an example of what I mean. I was conducting a customer service training program for a company in which every one of the company’s employees was attending. The CEO kicked off the session with a fine speech about the importance of customer service to the future success of the organization, and he then introduced me.

During the program, the CEO was constantly up and down taking phone calls, sometimes conducting calls right there in the room. When he wasn’t on the phone, his face was glued to his Blackberry, often showing a particular message to the executive sitting next to him.

Every single person in that room (including me) was fully aware of this leader’s behavior. And every single person in that room (including me) was making assumptions about how committed this leader really was to the customer service initiative. It doesn’t matter if our assumptions were right or wrong, the damage was done by what was observed.

No matter what initiative or project your company, division, or department is embarking upon, you should approach it with the mindset that no one will be more enthusiastic or engaged about it than you are. You set the bar. And everyone is closely watching your behaviors to see where exactly you are setting the bar.

When you’re interacting with employees in meetings, training programs, recognition events, etc, what would your employees decide is your priority? Would they say it’s the topic at hand, or would they say it’s your Blackberry?

You’re behavior will determine their decision. Because “everything speaks.”