I love companies with slow computers

How much money do you waste by making your staff wait for computers?

For slow networks?

For slow internet?

For slow computers?

How hard do you make it for them to get their work done?

How many times has a hotel desk clerk apologized to you at check in time because their computer was not behaving, was slow, or was down? I don’t travel all that much, but I hear this fairly often.

How many times do you get similar messages from retail employees, or from customer service reps that you’re on the phone with?

Regularly, for me.

Is your staff’s productivity hamstrung like this? What impression does a recurring “I’m sorry, my computer is slow, thanks for your patience” message leave with your clients?

I love companies like this – when they’re competition for my clients. Don’t be one of them.

Earning Return Business, part three

In the last year, we’ve experienced the joy of moving. Twice.

Yes, twice on purpose.

Apparently our lives are in such dire need of adventure that one move wasn’t enough.

Census you asked

Why do I bring up these moves?

According to U.S. Census data from 2010, Americans move about 12 times in their lives – and younger generations are trending toward moving even more often.

Moving is not an inexpensive or easy affair. It can stress families heavily at a time when they are already under substantial pressure. Since we do it about a dozen times in our lives, it would seem obvious that there’s lots of incentive to create an experience that encourages repeat business and good word of mouth.

Let’s talk about a few examples.

U-Haul vs. Penske

I’ve rented from Penske once, 16 years ago. I had to drive their truck from Missoula to Cheyenne to return it. In retrospect, this was not the most time and cost efficient plan, but a prior U-Haul experience had me avoiding them.

Despite the crazy return location, I’d rent from them again tomorrow – if they had a local store in the places I was moving from and moving to. Why? 16 years later, I still have good vibes from that move, the rig I received and how they handled the process on both ends.

I’ve since used U-Haul twice. As they were 16 years ago, the trucks are spartan in features, still use gas (less power, lower mileage) rather than diesel and often give you the idea that you’re the last person to drive it before they sell it off.

I’ve used them twice is because they were the only local choice at both ends of a move.

Confidence earns repeat business

Despite my issues with their trucks, the people who work for U-Haul  (and their dealers) have proven to be friendly and service-oriented.

As with many other large businesses, there are roses and thorns with each experience, and once in a while you’re fortunate to meet unique people who set the standard for everyone else you deal with in a particular market, such as Hungry Horse Montana’s Kasey Faulk and her crew.

The thorns usually relate to little issues that point to management’s attention to detail. A recent example is the truck I picked up. The windshield appeared that it hadn’t been cleaned. It was covered with bugs.

Thing is, the bugs weren’t whole like someone hadn’t touched the windshield at all. Instead, it looked like they’d been “sort of” cleaned but hadn’t finished the job.  I suspect U-Haul has someone clean the windshields in every truck at check-in time (or before it goes out), but that they don’t have their people hop in the truck to check their work when the cleaning is done or when the truck is rented.

Yes, these are little things

Little things. Trivial things. But they make you wonder about the attention paid to other little things, like oil, lube, u-joints and wheel bearings.

You see, after you’ve paid a crew to load a truck, the last thing you want to do is find yourself stranded in the middle of Eden on a broiling hot day in the sun.

Actually, that’s the next to last thing you want.

The last thing you want is to have to unload the truck and load your stuff onto its replacement – particularly if it was loaded by a crew as good as Kasey’s. You don’t really want to do that even if it wasn’t loaded by her crew.

Fortunately this wasn’t part of our experience and there was no mechanical issue on either trip, despite the ill-cared-for appearance of the rig.

Earning return business requires creating the right memories

While nothing went wrong for us, these kinds of things are on your clients’ minds when they ponder coming back to you.

  • Have they cleaned the truck / bedspread / bathrooms since the last time I was here?
  • Am I going to have to deal with grease on this and that and that again?
  • Will the tub be dirty again?
  • Will they track in dirt and not clean up the sawdust and drywall dust again?
  • Is that guy behind the counter going to ogle my daughter again?

If these are the memories you’re creating, how likely is it that they’ll return?

Depend on being the best game in town, not the only one.

Consistency drives word of mouth business

Last week, my wife and I went to a place we’d been looking forward to for some time.  Our 31st wedding anniversary dinner was the perfect occasion to try a new (to us) place, so we went to a local Cajun restaurant whose entree price ranking is $$ and name includes “Orleans”.

Long time readers know I rarely name poor performers. I’ve made note of the theme, price range and part of the name to set the expectation you’d expect to find there.

Expectations vs. Reality

The combination of Cajun, $$ and Orleans implied white tablecloths, a Bourbon Street vibe / atmosphere and good Louisiana cuisine prepared to order, perhaps with an emphasis on seafood.

The menu’s broad selection of Cajun seafood dishes nailed that, but expectation delivery faded from there. There was little to tie the ambiance to New Orleans. The table settings resembled something you’d find in a pizza joint. This created a bit of disconnect with the pricing, menu and the restaurant’s name – which implied fine Bourbon Street dining.

Despite arriving at about 7:00 pm on a Wednesday, the place was empty. Warning bells went off, but we figured we’d give it a shot anyway. After being seated, I noticed the floor was filthy. It seats 30-35 and on a busy night, I can see how the staff might not be able to get to the floor between turns. However, the dining area has a tile floor and the place was empty except for us, so finding it consistently dirty throughout the restaurant was pretty surprising.

The chef arrived at the restaurant at the same time we did. Rather than going to the kitchen, the chef sat down in the dining area with a couple of web site consultants and discussed the menu, photos and what should be changed on their site.

At no time during our visit did the chef enter the kitchen – including from the time we ordered to the time we received our food. Likewise, neither the waiter or cook staff approached the chef’s table for guidance. I suspect that the chef has their hand in their sauces and general guidance of the kitchen, but in a place this small in this price range, I expect direct chef involvement in the food and perhaps even a table visit on a slow night in an otherwise empty restaurant.

Instead, there was no welcome, no eye contact, no thank you and no time in the kitchen. Nothing from the chef.

Speaking of empty, it was quiet enough to hear the microwave beeping just before my wife’s étouffée arrived. Despite the microwave, the étouffée was surprisingly tasty and easily the best part of her meal. Oddly enough, the waiter discouraged her from ordering the entree, so she ordered a small cup to get a taste of it despite the waiter’s recommendation.

The inconsistency returned with my wife’s Shrimp Pontchartrain entree, which turned out to be a massive platter of heavily salted pasta / sauce with little sign of shrimp.  Meanwhile, my Catfish Tchoupitoulas was very good. I’d definitely order it again.

Quality and branding inconsistencies can damage any business – even if they don’t serve food.

Police your inconsistencies

Inconsistencies plague small business and can destroy repeat business, as well as word of mouth business. The more processes, systems and training you can put in place to root out these issues, the closer your business gets to marketing itself by reputation.

Our visit included a number of inconsistencies with the business’ pricing, name, menu and food.

The menu listed numerous chef and/or restaurant honors, yet the most recent award was four years old. The years without an award stood out as much as the period of years where consistent annual awards implied high quality. If you can’t show award consistency, don’t list the award years or list them as “Five time winner”. Meanwhile, address the inconsistencies that caused the wins to stop.

Whether you operate a three star restaurant or a tire shop, cleanliness is important. It’s a signal that a business cares and pays attention to details, while sending a message about the cleanliness of other parts of the business that you cannot see. Given the filthy condition of the dining area floor, would you expect the walk-in cooler, prep table or kitchen floor to be clean?

What inconsistencies can you address to increase repeat and word of mouth business?

Tourist season is coming – Are you ready?

Before you know it, the long winter will be a forgotten memory – except for the powder days. As it finally warms up for good (whatever that means this year), school will be out and tourists will be inbound for another summer.

It’s almost tourist season. Are you ready?

Is your facility ready? I’m sure you have a checklist for that, so I won’t go there.

Instead, let’s discuss some steps to help you make tourist season better than expected:

  • Do you have an easy way to prompt your visitors to leave a review? Will they be encouraged by your facility to take pictures at your place and post them to social media? Is there an easy way for them to suggest that their friends should visit?
  • Can they find your place on Google Local, Google+ Local and Google+ Business?
  • Are they on your email list?

Encouraging reviews and photos

Most people like sending an occasional “Having fun, wish you were here” photo to friends, family and co-workers, if nothing else, just to rub it in a little.

You can make this easier with suggestions for the best places to take photos to send their friends, family and co-workers, but also by asking to take their picture. This gets everyone in their group into the photo and gets your staff engaged as well.

Ask your visitors to text their photos to you so you can print a copy for them. With their permission, post the photos in your facility and on your website to provide social proof of the great time your visitors have. Print postcards from the photos for a special touch they can send to friends and family.

Don’t be invisible to tourists

If your business doesn’t have at least a minimal profile (name, address, phone, hours, photos), you’ll be invisible to smartphone maps and the tourists who use them (lots).  That’s the last place you want to be invisible.

Be sure you’ve updated (or added) your profile on the major profile sites, such as Google Local, Google+ Local, Google+ for Business. Restaurants should do the same with Yelp and UrbanSpoon. If you have more time, take the same steps with Bing, your local chamber of commerce and local directory sites. Don’t forget a Facebook fan page.

These days, “Google, local, social” is the smartphone equivalent of “location, location, location”.

Create a special email list

If they’ll be staying with you (ie: you run a campground, RV park, hotel, motel, hostel, cabins, resort, etc), consider building a special email list for your visitors.

To make it most effective, it should be timed to their visit. An email series that gives them a countdown to their visit would be useful, particularly if it prepares them at the right time in advance of their visit. All of this can be automated to make it easy for you while making it super useful for your visitors.

For example, an email might let them know about popular events during certain days, or that a special dinner location requires reservations three weeks in advance during prime season.  If they receive the latter email three to six weeks in advance, they can take advantage of it. If they don’t find out until they get there….too late.

Road problems? Let them know. Don’t expect that they have had time to find your area’s road conditions page – or that it is up to date. Let them know so that your guests are prepared for anything.

Don’t let this list end with the before visit email sequence. Keep in touch during their visit about how you can help with things they’ve forgotten and with local advice. Quality advice will be appreciated if it’s pertinent to their time with you.

Finally, keep a notebook and a camera handy at the front desk for notes and photos when the opportunity presents itself. A casual photo of your guests included in an email – or better, a postcard waiting for them when they return home, is a great personal touch to remind them to return and refer their friends, family and co-workers.

Don’t have their email address? Try a text message sequence. As with email, be sure you get permission first.

Take advantage of the time remaining before tourist season to turn a good visit into a memorable experience that has them ready to return – and talk about you in the meantime.

Pivots make customer service personal

It was Saturday so my social calendar was in full swing.

Earlier today, I met a friend for lunch and barley pops at a place that has a sunny, well-lit dining area perfect for the first sunny day in a long while.

After being greeted as we sat down, no less than five different wait staff walked past us repeatedly during a 10 minute period that made it clear we’d left our cloaking device turned on. This prompted a well-worn thought, ‘This would be a great place for a restaurant.’

Once we were done joking about that, I stopped one of the servers as they passed by and asked if we could get some menus. He grabbed a couple, told us the name of our server and said he would send the server to get our orders. Not much later, our server arrived and while service was still slow on a busy Saturday, we were attended to in a reasonable manner. During this service, the initial delay was never mentioned, despite the fact that our server had walked past our table numerous times without a nod or a glance before being told that we’d asked for menus.

While it really didn’t matter or impact the occasion, I wouldn’t be writing about it if the server had simply mentioned that they were sorry for missing our table, that the place was rocking or they were down a waitperson, or what not.

Failing to acknowledge the lack of attention has a way of implying that the diner is supposed to think nothing of it.

Customer service slip ups happen

Things like this happen all the time. It’s OK. We’re human rather than perfect little robots, after all.

Still, by taking a moment to acknowledge a slip up, we give our clients the acknowledgement necessary to allow their minds to stop dwelling on it (even subconsciously) as a part of their experience, which makes it easier to forget and move on.

With the tiniest personal touch, we turn a negative into a positive.

The tiniest opportunity

Later that day, my wife and I met my in-laws for dinner.

The food was good – better than I expected, in fact. The service was quite good and definitely attentive. The server made recommendations based on their personal experiences with the dishes they serve – and she was spot on.

One of the dishes had a problem, though. When the person who ordered it took their first bite, they found a twisted piece of plastic in their food.

Once notified, the server handled the situation well, took the plastic, said they would show it to the manager and left to do just that. Not much later, the server indicated that the manager would visit our table.

The manager never showed up. I wonder if the kitchen was ever notified. The server comped the meal, which the diner didn’t request, so that was a nice gesture.

Will that diner forget that experience, or will it percolate the next time they consider eating there?

Involvement matters

What I would like to have seen, even though the plate was not mine:

  • The manager tells the kitchen what happened (which they may have done – we don’t know).
  • The person who prepared the food comes out to the table, introduces themselves, acknowledges the problem and offers a brief, but sincere apology with no groveling (again, mistakes happen).
  • The preparer explains what the diner found. This allows the diner to feel comfortable completing their meal, or not, depending on the situation. If the food problem could make the diner sick, they’d take the food and discard it unless testing was warranted.
  • Finally, the person who prepared the plate could, regardless of the explanation, offer to replace the dish, or substitute it for something else.

Consider what each of those steps demonstrates or accomplishes in the diner’s mind.

Consider how they’d describe the event to others after this happened and compare it to “I found plastic in my food and all they did was comp my meal.”

Customer service pivot

In the startup world, a “pivot” is a strategic direction change made after customer feedback indicates your idea needs adjustment.

In customer service, the pivot is that little thing you do to transform what could be a customer-losing experience into one that almost guarantees they’ll be back.

The most important little thing we do

When you’re on the road, little things matter. In fact, they matter all the time. Every. Single. Day.

That extra comment or tip from the lady at check-in. The friendly suggestion from the dude who drives the shuttle. A restaurant recommendation from the parking/cab attendant that turns out to be amazing and a good bargain all in one.

When delivered consistently, they can grow well beyond the sum of each act.

Think about the little things your people do and how your business handles them.

They matter, but they’re almost impossible to put into place with a training program. More often than not, you get them when you hire.

Hire well. It’s the most important little thing you do.

Hooters, standards and politics

HootersFilner

No matter how you feel about Hooters restaurants, it’s clear that at least one of them doesn’t appreciate the behavior that San Diego’s mayor is accused of.

While I think it’s a smart use of the news – particularly in Filner’s San Diego, it will be interesting to see how their customers react. What do you think?

Hat tip to @FrancisBarraza for the photo.

Wanted: Smoking hot hotel room in Kansas City Kansas

Google-Fiber-Rabbit

Of course, I mean a “smokin’ hot internet connection”.

Late last week, I was heading north through western Missouri, I planned to make an overnight stay in the Kansas City area.

Knowing full well (though with a little jealousy) that Kansas City, Kansas was the first winner of the Google Fiber lotto, I thought it would be nice to stay at a hotel in KC hotel that offered Google Fiber.

So I searched for “hotel kansas city kansas google fiber

While there are plenty of search hits about Google Fiber, most were stories about Google Fiber’s choice of KCK and deployment in the area. The only thing that even comes close to a hotel room in the search responses is a story about a “Home4Hackers“, an AirBnB property that offers Google Fiber.

Either there are no hotels in the Kansas City Kansas area that have Google Fiber (a distinct possibility), or the ones that do offer it need to work on their search engine positioning. A simple Google Local entry would have been first in my search, if it existed. Simple. Five minutes work.

What are people searching for when they look for you and don’t find you? Have you asked them when you meet or speak with them?

Finally – be sure you’ve taken care of your local listing on Google and Bing.

The best surprise is ?

Hotels often provide fuel for writing and a recent trip was no different.

I noticed there were some Goldfish crackers crushed on the floor as I got off the elevator at six this morning.

At the time, I figured that the staff hadn’t seen the mess yet.

Six hours later as we headed out for lunch, the mess was still on the elevator floor.

I know that the day shift manager has been on the elevator because I saw him enter it alone an hour earlier. Alone =  easy to see the mess. Yet in that hour, nothing happened.

Easy questions:

  • If a mess can stay in the hotel’s only elevator for six hours without getting taken care of, what else isn’t getting done?
  • Who on your management team is responsible for making sure messes are cleaned up promptly? The mess was still there 24 hours later.
  • What else is being neglected?

Hard question:  What are your customers assuming about your business, staff and management when they see these things go unaddressed?

Manage, don’t report

I went downstairs for coffee that early because I had planned on taking a shower – and couldn’t. When I turned on the water, nothing. When I attempted to flush the toilet, nothing. The toilet tank still hadn’t filled from the prior use the night before.

I spoke with the night shift manager, who noted my room number and said the day manager would soon arrive and check into it. Two hours later, I asked the front desk for an update on my room’s water. The day manager explained that it was out of the hotel’s control because they were in a drought and the city had a broken water main the day before. As a result, water pressures were low everywhere – including at his home.

There was no mention of this during check-in and it didn’t hamper the hotel lawn sprinklers – which ran every morning during our stay.

What should have happened?

I suspect the manager and his front desk staff eventually grew weary of the avoidable task of repeating the explanation and apology. Their handling of it made management seem out of touch, helpless and little more than someone passing along the city’s water main news.

Avoidable? Yes.

They should have taken control of the experience, even if the event itself is uncontrollable.

Most hotels of this size have a phone system that is capable of storing voice messages and probably capable of broadcasting messages to each room. If every room has a blinking “message waiting” light on the bedside room phone, many (if not most) guests would likely check the message since they wouldn’t be expecting one.

The manager mentioned seeing the water problem on “last night’s news”, and added that he’d experienced water trouble at home at 5am. Bottom line: They had the information they needed.

Armed with that knowledge, they could’ve used the hotel’s phone system to send a message to every room phone:

The city has warned us that water pressure will be very low from 5:00 AM to 9:00 AM due to high early morning demand. This will be worse in our above ground floors.

Rather than waking up to find that you have no shower or ability to flush, here’s what we recommend to make your stay more pleasant until water pressure improves:

First: Fill your bathroom trashcan with water before bedtime so you can use it to fill the toilet tank in the morning. Large families should fill both room trashcans. This will help you avoid having an un-flushed room toilet.

Shower before bed or before 5:00 am.

We have limited shower capability in the first floor pool area. We will open that area 24 hours a day for your use.

Small but meaningful steps like these are critical to making the right impression with your guests and differentiating yourself from their next (or previous) hotel stay.

Crumbs

In hospitality, everything that impacts a guest’s stay is *everyone’s* job – particularly little things like elevator messes.

You might find these complaints picky until you view them this way: People notice this stuff when looking for a place to book 500 (or 50) people for an event that will host their customers. Elevator messes and “water crisis management” are a temperature gauge. They predict future behavior.

Imagine how 500 early-rising business customers would feel about the water situation when attending a company event. Now imagine 10% of them go jogging before their first meeting, return to their room drenched in sweat and looking forward to a shower. Except, they have no water.

The best surprise, as one hotel chain says… is no surprise.

Help them help you

20130714-111557.jpg

During a recent road trip, I encountered this sign in a rest room entryway at an Oklahoma Turnpike rest stop.

Below the sign was a standard wall light switch.

While I didn’t test it and hang around to measure response time, it’s a nice idea that allows customers to help a business’ staff become aware of problems more quickly than their periodic monitoring might reveal – particularly at a very busy highway rest stop where a mess might be just around the corner.

The longer that new mess hangs around unaddressed, the more likely it is that it will make a bad impression on a visitor. While not foolproof or automatic, the switch is one more way to build in systems/processes that can improve the business environment.

What systems, tools and processes have you established that enable your customers to help your business?

What about your products and services? Depending on the nature of them, it’s possible for them to alert you to situations you should be aware of that will improve your business and how it’s perceived.