Monday, January 30, 2012

Nothing kills motivation like monotony

Nothing kills motivation like monotony 

I spent this past weekend winter camping with my Venture Company (2nd Nashwaaksis Venturers). The main activity that we had for the weekend was to complete the planning for our upcoming adventure race (The Nine Toe Winter Run). The race is a 5 hour orienteering race, on snowshoes. Our task this weekend was to complete a run through of the advanced course.

The advanced course is designed so that we could complete it at a fast hike, knowing where the checkpoints are located, within 7 hours. That would give us a course distance that should be appropriate for a fast racer with good navigation skills to complete it in 5 hours.

We started hiking the course at 5pm on Saturday evening. The first couple of hours were easy going and we didn't have any motivation problems. As the hours started dragging on, and as the kilometers started racking up, the team's motivations started to wain. The mental stress of doing nothing, but putting one foot in front of the other, was too much. It was turning from a nice night hike into a looooong walk.

We came to a crossroads where we had a choice, take a longer detour and follow a highway back to our camp or bushwhack on a direct route. Many of the guys wanted to take the highway because it was predicable and easier. However, we convinced them to do the bushwhacking instead. It was a quicker route and it would be more interesting. A 10km detour on the highway sounded like a death march.

As it turns out, the first part of this bushwhack was very hard. The bush was thick and the woods were pitch black. We were literally crawling through some of the bush.

The interesting thing about this was the effect that it had on moral. Instead of dragging their feet and complaining, the guys were stoked. We were yelling and laughing and charging through the underbrush like madmen. We were faster in that brutal section than we were in any of the actual trail sections. We ended the hike invigorated ...but slept well!

Whether in the bush or at a desk, the best motivation is a challenging task.

Question: What strategies have you used for motivating people?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Celebrate publicly, challenge privately

The tenet "Celebrate publicly, challenge privately" speaks succinctly to the vision of what I want this blog to be.

I was reading a blog post over at about influencing people. [Interesting piece.] A quote at the bottom of the article reads, "Celebrate publicly, challenge privately". I had never heard the quote before but it struck me as salient. The context of Tim's usage of the quote was around gaining influence with authority figures but I think that it is more generally a useful concept.

This tenet speaks succinctly to the vision of what I want this blog will be. I started this blog because of a good service story. I think that it is important to publicly celebrate good service and good corporate citizens. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I don't think it is usually helpful to publicly humiliate or bash a company for specific issues. Every business has issues, the key is to give helpful criticism and encourage them to change.

What if giving pleasant, constructive feedback doesn't work? There are many stories about companies needing to be shamed into good behavior. Dave Caroll and his United Breaks Guitars song is an excellent example of this. Unfortunately, not all companies make the right decisions about customer service. With Twitter, YouTube and the many social media outlets available, the story will get out.

I have been intentionally vague about the specific businesses when criticizing bad service experiences but I do try to go back directly to give my feedback. I have likewise been intentional in my public positive feedback. I will continue to keep this soft approach where I can.

What do you think? Is "Celebrate publicly, challenge privately" the right track? Or, is shaming the right tactic?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Feedback is gold...if you receive it.

Getting bad feedback sucks. Not getting the bad feedback is worse.

Recently I had a meal at a local restaurant. The restaurant has a great reputation, has won awards, has had articles written about it and everyone talks about it. I have eaten their previously with good success.

Yesterday, however, my meal was substandard. My Wild Mushroom Risotto was bland, over-cooked and the portion was too small. I'm not looking for a mammoth, over-consumption-sized meal but I would like to not have to eat a sandwich after my meal. I'm not looking for gourmet but this place is supposed to be pretty high caliber, in our little city.

Did I complain to the server, no. I was with a client and didn't want to create a scene over something as simple as over cooked rice. I wanted to keep the focus of the meal on the client, instead of my plate of mush.

The problem is, the restaurant now has no idea that a customer has gone away unimpressed. This is the worst case scenario for a business.

As a business, I want to know when my customers aren't impressed. I want to know if our service was slow, sloppy or expensive. I want to, at least, apologize for the inadequacy if I can't rectify it. I want to prevent it from happening again.

It isn't always best to complain at the moment that the bad service is happening. However, take the time after-the-fact to jot down your experience or pick up the phone and call about it. If the owner has an appreciation for the importance of service, they will appreciate the feedback.

If you are a business owner, embrace negative comments as a way to improve. Realize that the act of complaining might have been uncomfortable for the client and they probably had a good reason for making it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

DIY is not a four letter word

Sometimes people want to do things themselves.

As I've previously described, I am in the middle of a bathroom renovation. Doing this project myself is not a rational decision. I am much less skilled than a professional, it will take me infinitely longer and it the cost in the end will probably be comparable to hiring a pro.

On a recent hardware store visit, I was dealing with [another] tricky plumbing problem. Old lead pipe welded to a brass fitting that needs to connect to my bathtub drain in a short space.

I described my situation to the sales person at the first store. They responded, "You can't do this yourself. Call a plumber". This is sound advice. However, it completely misses the point. I came to a DIY store specifically so that I could try this myself. Of course I would call a plumber if I couldn't figure it out in the end but this seemed like a reasonable problem to attempt.

The next store took a different approach. The sales woman listened to my problem, told me that "it might be tricky" but offered a few suggestions to try and some pieces that might fit my puzzle.

It worked...although it was tricky and it was time consuming.

In the IT business I see this all of the time. Customers want to do certain aspects of their IT services themselves. You can try to sell the benefits of using professional services but in the end it is their cost versus benefit analysis. Sometimes the best deal is to be there in a supporting role. "Try it yourself and if you get into trouble give us a call."

If our house only had a single bathroom I would have called in the professionals from the start because my tolerance for "outages" would be much smaller. The same goes in others fields. If customers can tolerate slower recovery, more effort or (possibly) less professional results, it might make sense to do it themselves. When they decide that they are done messing around with the problem themselves, and if we have been supportive along the way, maybe we will win that business.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Local charity - Good causes and good marketing

People remember the good things that your business does. 
Giant Tiger #170 (Union St. Fredericton)
I was at a meeting last night and we were talking about buying food and supplies for an upcoming event. Someone at the table immediately piped up and said, "Giant Tiger will have all of that. Wayne is always good to us. Let's just go there."

Wayne Gallant is the manager of one of the Giant Tiger stores in Fredericton. (He also happens to be a close friend of mine and teammates in our adventure racing team, Team Bulletproof.)

One of the things that I find truly great about Giant Tiger (and specifically Wayne's store) is how much they give to the community. Hardly a week goes by where there isn't an announcement about a sponsorship or some other charity event that they are helping with.

For those of you not familiar, Giant Tiger (GT) is a Canadian discount store chain. Their specialty is rock bottom pricing. My expectation of a discount store, and it is probably common, would be that they need to keep costs to an absolute minimum and that things like community involvement would come a distant second. That doesn't seem to be the case with Giant Tiger. And it seems to be working for them.

Wayne has garnered a great deal of loyalty with the people that he supports. His support ranges from the IWK, Liberty Lane, local schools, Scouts and Girl Guides to a variety of sporting events like bike and running races. People who participate in these causes and events really appreciate his efforts and many pay it back in the form of loyalty to his store.

On the Giant Tiger website they state that they have "A progressive, value-oriented, no-nonsense approach to retailing." More companies should share these values. It pays off for the community and for the company. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

4 ways to do better problem escalation and transfers

Everyone can recount a story of calling some service provider and being bounced from department to department, agent to agent, and inevitably being hung-up on mid-transfer. 

One of the biggest pain points that I see in service oriented companies is problem improper escalation. A problem comes in, the person receiving it is busy, doesn't know exactly how to deal with it or just doesn't care enough. So, they simply forward the problem on to the next person they can think of.

Deflection is easy to justify in your mind. I am too busy, someone else probably has more time to deal with this, or they will be better equipped to handle this. Forward.

This causes two main pain points, first, it obviously causes extra delay to the customer, usually unnecessarily.   Secondly, it causes the next person in the chain annoyance. They might know that you could have handled the issue just as well as they can but you chose not to.

Unnecessary escalations are a major issue in customer and staff satisfaction.

How do we deal with this problem?

  1. Ask yourself truthfully before forwarding the problem, is there anything I can do to resolve this myself?
  2. When you do need to forward a problem, clearly explain to the recipient why you had to forward the problem and specifically what you have done. The last thing you want is for them to have to repeat any steps you have already done. 
  3. Explain to the customer, clearly, why you are transferring them. "I'm sorry but I really think that [insert name here] would be better suited to work on this issue." 
  4. If possible, do a soft hand-off of the customer. Join the recipient into the conversation before transferring. "Hello Jon, I have Mary on the phone. She is having this problem. Can you help?"
Customers understand that different people have different expertise. What they won't forgive is a blind circle of transfers. Co-workers understand that some problems require escalation. What they won't forgive is unnecessary transfers.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Turning customer demands into personal expectations

Most of us have customers that we consider "difficult". We use all sorts of adjectives to describe them. 

If you set aside personality differences (since we can't change those), difficult customers are often described with phrases like:

  • "They expect to much for what they are paying."
  • "They are never happy with us."
  • "Everything has to be done yesterday for them."
  • "All they do it point fingers." 
Customers are always going to fight for the best, fastest and cheapest. Some customers have personalities that make them more forceful and demanding. They often end up being seen as the "difficult" ones.

Given this, when we hear or say a comments like these about a customer, step back and consider; How can I turn that into a service goal rather than taking it as a personal attack? Perhaps they are being difficult in the way that they are interacting with you but there is probably some validity to their complaint.

Ask yourself these types of questions instead:
  • How can I give better value?
  • How can I improve my service standards?
  • How can we improve our response or turn around time?
  • How can I be more accountable for our service?
Remind yourself that the [insert expletive descriptor here] might be demanding, but there is probably something to what he is saying.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

4 tips - Keeping good service when times are tough

Stellar service is easy when the coffers are flush. 

Being in the black isn't a guarantee that you will have good service but it makes the job a lot easier. It is easier when there are no compromises required and when you can pull out all of the stops to satisfy the customer. Whether it is more perks, more staff or better systems. It is easy to have good service when there are no constraints.

Many companies today do not have this luxury. They have been forced to deal with constricting budgets, smaller work forces, and customers that (since they are probably also being squeezed) demand more for less.

As a service manager this is difficult. We all have a picture in our heads of what the best possible service is. If we are struggling to meet this ideal we take it personally. Likewise, it is equally difficult for the rest of the staff. They also have their ideas of what good service is (hopefully it jives with your own) and they also hurt when they aren't reaching their ideal.

What can we do to work through these tough service times?

  1. Everyone in the team needs to understand the situation. If everyone understands the constraints, they are more likely to work within them instead of against them. 
  2. Affirm the commitment to good service. The team needs to understand that the number one priority is still to satisfy the customer. 
  3. Streamline process as much as possible. I've discussed process before. It is important that they are only as complicated as required. Especially when short on resources. 
  4. Focus on the simple things that will make your customers happy. You might not be able to take every customer out for a round of golf or something more exciting but you might be able to provide a quick solution to a problem or make one of their daily tasks a little easier. Sometimes the little things have big impact.
Maintaining excellent service isn't a guarantee that business will improve but it might be the advantage that keeps you ahead of your competitors in tough times.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Paying for knowledge

Me: "Can you help me with a plumbing question?"
Sales guy: "You can ask me anything, I know it all."
I am a do-it-yourself kind of guy. There are not many projects around the house that I won't attempt. Our current project is a bathroom refit. This isn't a minor paint job but a full gutting and rebuild. part of this obviously includes a significant amount of plumbing. I am no plumbing expert!

I have learned over the years that, like most businesses, some building supply stores are cheap and some of them have good service and expertise. The two rarely meet. Unfortunately I was lured into one of the large box stores by their cheap prices. I needed a lot of supplies and figured that I could save a buck.  

Since I knew that I needed help on my current (PEX vs copper) plumbing question I went directly to the stores "service desk". There was a young man (boy?) at the counter chatting with his co-worker (potential girlfriend?). So I ask him, "Can you help me with a plumbing question?". His reply was, a smug, "You can ask me anything, I know it all." 

Now, that response should have been enough to clue me into the fact that he would be useless, but I humored him. It took approximately 10 minutes for him to fumble through a "solution" to my problem. In the end he didn't have one that gave me any confidence that he knew what he was talking about.

Rather than settle for his half baked solution I decided to venture over to Simms Home Hardware. I know from experience that they are not the cheapest in town but that isn't what I needed right now. I needed a solution. 

They didn't disappoint, it took the man all of 30 seconds to hand me the 5 pieces that I needed to complete my project. He was confident, knew his subject and understood my problem. That is what I needed.

This experience was a firm reminder of why the cheapest price is not necessarily the best solution. It is hard to pass on cheaper prices but good advice pays off every time. 

If you are in a business that is not trying to be the lowest price in town, have good service and you will have me as a customer.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tim Hortons - Why go bigger?

Who am I to question the marketing savvy of Tim Hortons. After all, they are a Canadian institution. They are a cornerstone of Canada itself, right?

They have just launched a new endeavor to renew their cup sizes, increasing the size substantially, to compete with their competitors.

My first impression of this is that it was ridiculous. Why would a company that is incredibly successful in every market that it enters change itself to be more like its competitors? Then it struck me, they have saturated the market. They literally can't squeeze any more people into their stores.

If you have tried to stop for a coffee any morning, any time near 10am or any time mid-afternoon, you know that they are at capacity.

This begs the question, if I am a national chain that is at capacity for customers and I want to increase profits, what do I do? I make the existing customers buy more. I increase the sizes of the items.

This is a brilliant move for Tim Hortons. Although, it is probably bad for the health and well being of the gullible, over-caffeinated,  customers that will buy the new monster size drink being offered.

I think I'll go make myself another coffee.

I am not a problem, I am a customer

Remember that customers are not problems. They are your business. 

While on road trips I  try to eat reasonably healthy. I will regularly stop at a grocery store for a healthy alternative to the regular deep fried fair of the traveler.

On a recent stop at a grocery store I was getting some blueberries to accompany my dinner choice. When the cashier tried to ring in the order the berries would not scan into the system. She was annoyed. Muttering, she walked over to the phone and rang for assistance. Meanwhile I was left standing for several minutes waiting.

Understanding that this was not her fault, and that she was annoyed, I tried to lighten the mood by making small talk. No answer.

Once the manager came to perform a manual override I paid the clerk and said thank you. No answer.

This clerk made the number one client service mistake. She transferred her annoyance of the system onto the customer. It became my fault. All I wanted was some blueberries.

The most important thing that any customer facing employee can do is remember that customers are not problems. They are your business. Whether you are having problems with a cash register or your customer is being difficult on a contract, or whatever the issue is, they are not the problem.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Are you losing your mind to processes?

“I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.” -Vincent van Gogh

It is obvious, in this quote, that van Gogh was losing his mind to his unrelenting commitment to his work. Read this from a Service Management perspective, however, and it reads differently. This is what I read:

“I put my heart and my soul into my work,  but now have lost my mind to these processes.”

I come from a process background. As a former security consultant I lived and died for processes. As a Service Manager I have seen that processes are a double edged sword. Sure, having great processes gives you uniformity, consistency and repeatability. I understand that and that is why I continue to push for better processes. But, how is it that our best customer service experiences have come in instances where the process wasn't followed? 

Process needs to be kept in check. Consider the following:
  1. Your processes should allow and encourage your desired end-state. 
  2. Your staff should understand why the processes are important.
  3. Your staff should have your support to make exceptions to the process where necessary.
The criteria for defining reasonable exception cases depends entirely on your business requirements and the process in question. Some processes have much less tolerance for exceptions. If you have good staff, and they understand the parameters they need to work in, they will tend to make reasonable choices. 

Empower your staff to make good decisions. Empower them to give exceptional service to your clients. 

This all sounds easy, making this work in the real world is what makes our lives interesting.

What do you think makes a successful process? Please comment below.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Closed" can be an opportunity

"They would have lost our revenue and might have lost our loyalty to a competitor.  That is not what happened."
Often times, while I am travelling to Charlottetown PEI, I visit my favorite local restaurant/brew pub Gahan House. The other night was no different.

A colleague and I planned to go for a bite to eat and some of their stellar beverages. When we got to the restaurant we were disappointed to learn that they were in-fact closed, due to a renovation.

It is common for restaurants (or at least the ones that survive long enough) to eventually need a face lift. Normally we would have been met with a simple "closed" sign and we would have moved on to another restaurant. They would have lost our revenue and might have lost our loyalty to a competitor.  That is not what happened.

Instead, Gahan's had a pleasant woman, a server a presume, standing in the doorway of the closed restaurant with a stack of coupons. Since the parent company (Murphy Group) owns another restaurant across the street, we were pointed to The Brickhouse and offered a coupon for a free pint of Gahan's beer that they keep on tap at the sister restaurant.

We ventured across the street where our server took some time to explain to us that the Gahan House would be open the following week, that they would be maintaining the same neighborhood pub feel and that it would only be an improvement on the admittedly great pub.

These simple actions had three important affects:

  • It maintained loyalty to the Gahan beer brand and restaurant.
  • It coaxed me into a sister property that I had never before visited.
  • It created a positive introduction to the new property (free beer!)
The Brickhouse had an easy job from this point forward creating new (and maintaining old) brand loyalty. 

As a side note, the Vegetable Beggar's Purse was excellent, the sweet and salty chocolate cake was great, and the Gahan's Red was, as anticipated, perfect. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Exceptional service. Really!

Most companies talk about providing exceptional service but few really deliver. What is exceptional service? It is going beyond normal, beyond good and hitting the next level. 

I am not a road warrior, by most standards, but I do a fair amount of travel in my role as Service Manager at Bulletproof Solutions. I travel several times a month, mostly to our offices around Atlantic Canada.

Several years ago I chose the Holiday Inn chain as my primary hotel chain when on the road. They have a good rewards program (Priority Club) and reasonable quality rooms at a reasonable price. I have had few bad experiences at Holiday Inns.

I stay regularly at the Holiday Inn in Charlottetown PE. They have always provided a great experience. They often give room upgrades, they leave candy on the pillow and usually give a complimentary bottle of beer or water on check-in. What more can you ask for? This is good service. Today, however, they went the extra mile.

Anybody who lives in a northern climate understands the pain of scraping a car window in the winter on a miserable day. It is one of those special tortures that we endure throughout the winter. After breakfast this morning I was surprised when going out to my car. It had already been scraped. All of the cars in the parking lot had been scraped or were in the process.

The Holiday Inn promotes a lot of their complimentary services. We come to expect them. This, however, was unexpected. Even though it was a small gesture it helped me to start my day with a smile. This is not a high-end hotel where you pay for amenities, it is a standard one that is going the extra mile. This is exceptional service.

The first thing I did when I got to the office this morning was to tell this story to my staff on our Service Desk. Every business can learn from this. This is what we should strive for.