Categories
Business culture Competition customer retention Employees Hospitality Improvement Positioning Restaurants Small Business Travel marketing Word of mouth marketing

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?

Categories
Business culture Employees Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Management Personal development Productivity Small Business

Help them produce their best work

Ahhh, summer solstice. We revel in these long days of sunlight in part because we can enjoy our favorite summer pastimes after leaving work for the day.

For some companies, summer is a time to coast, or at least do little more than get by until September since so many staff member vacations are on the summer calendar. Because of this, it can feel like nothing big happens during the summer months.

For many tourist-based businesses, it’s go time.  All the marketing, prep, process / system building, cleanup and training are front and center. For others, it’s marketing / prep / analysis time.

For retail, it’s often prep time for fall & winter holidays, working on marketing calendars, orders, e-commerce updates, etc.

No matter what business you’re in and what summer does to your workload – summer is a great time to implement improvements that help your staff produce their best work. The return on investment is high and in most cases, the cost is fairly low.

Shedding TEERs

I use an acronym called TEER to describe the most common ways to improve staff performance and results.

TEER stands for Training, Equipment, Environment, Roadblocks.

Training is a fairly obvious one and includes not only skill, process and equipment training, but personal development as well.

Equipment is a great way to improve staff productivity. Have you entered a hotel and had the desk personnel ask you to pardon them for being so slow because they were waiting an interminable time for the check-in computers?

Such frustrations are reflected in their interaction with guests, and can produce mistakes because the check-in desk staff may hurry to make up for that slow computer when it does respond. If your budget is limited, update these machines first vs. that computer in the back office. The back office computer has a much lower daily impact on guest experience, despite being slow when running the nightly audit.

Environment is primarily about the space where your staff spend most of their day. It could be a desk, cubicle, home office, auto parts counter, warehouse or mechanic’s bay. Is their environment optimized for performance and quality?

An office environment can often be transformed by a second (or larger) computer monitor, regardless of the work being performed. Other spaces can be improved simply by reducing trips to retrieve tools and materials. Simple things add up. Staffers may have suggestions that they’ve been “afraid” to make. Ask.

Roadblocks are all about doing whatever you can to eliminate the things that impede progress or productivity.

Roadblocks are often connected to the other TEER components. More often than not, roadblocks tend to be situations, paperwork and processes created by management (present and former) that simply need to be reconsidered or made more efficient. Don’t be your own worst enemy.

Forgetting management

Often times, management tends to focus on personal development and related efficiency improvements and forgets to implement them beyond the management group. This can lead to an undesirable disconnect in culture. TEER can produce solid value for management just as it does for your staff.

Do your senior managers get training to improve their skills and productivity, but not middle managers? What about the reverse? While management may not need the same training as their staff, the need is still there at every level.

Likewise, the equipment that managers use may be different then that of their staff, but better (or additional) equipment that makes them more productive is just as valuable. I mentioned the benefits provided by a larger or additional monitor earlier, which can provide equally strong improvements for managers.

As with other areas, a focus on managers’ work environment may or may not match the environment concerns of the staff, but it’s just as important. Changes to reduce interruptions, lower noise levels, or provide standing desks and/or better chairs can make a serious difference in work quality and health.

Healthier people do better work because their health issues aren’t a distraction. This doesn’t mean getting rid of folks with health issues, it means helping them deal with them where possible – and it isn’t always about physical health.

For example, when someone whose work is repeatedly interrupted suddenly has that situation improved, the change is more than about productivity.

Finally, do managers have their own roadblocks? Absolutely.

What improvements can you make to help everyone work better?

Categories
Business culture Employees Improvement Leadership Setting Expectations Small Business

I despise the term human capital

I despise the term human capital and its partner in crime, people assets.

That aside, if you don’t take care of your staff, they are far less likely to be able to take care of your clientele and thus, your business, in a way that you would prefer and expect.

Like anything that you’d like to retain and improve upon, your staff requires your attention and this comes in several forms.

To that end, this NY Times piece from Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath nails it.

 

Categories
Business culture Competition Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Guarantees Small Business Travel marketing

Create a truly meaningful guarantee

Does your guarantee provide value and eliminate risk for the prospect, or does it simply give their money back?

While giving their money back is often seen as an ideal guarantee, the fact is that while it’s the easiest effective guarantee you can make, it’s also the least common denominator.

Does your business reputation depend on least common denominator service? I suspect it doesn’t.

Least common denominator?

A least common denominator is like a best practice.

The term “best practice” implies something only the best companies employ, but the reality is that there’s so much focus on best practices that they’re often the average.

“Average” because these best practices are what most businesses do. The truly best practices of the best companies are often unseen to most other, or they’re simply not recognized as something that provides a substantial competitive edge.

These things don’t have to be expensive or mind-blowing. They simply require seeing your business relationship with the customer from their perspective. One example is being mindful of opportunity cost.

What about opportunity cost?

While a money-back guarantee does eliminate the client’s obvious loss-of-investment risk, it doesn’t take into account their opportunity cost – the cost to them of your inability to deliver.

Protecting the client from lost opportunity isn’t part of most guarantees, but it should be part of yours.

Let’s look at airline flight guarantees to understand why.

If you book a seat on a plane for travel to a critical face-to-face meeting and the plane is late for reasons other than severe weather, the airline may reroute you, book you on a competitor’s flight or worst case, get you a hotel room for the night so they can try to get you to your destination the next day.

What they won’t do is compensate you for missing the meeting, even your late or non-arrival is entirely their fault. How would they calculate what to pay you, assuming they could afford to?

If you miss a meeting due to air travel issues and this ultimately costs you $20 million, do you expect the airline to cough that up because you bought a $400 plane ticket? Only the narcissistic would have such expectations.

All the airlines can really offer is a full refund in the form of a future flight, a flight on their competitor, or to ask you to be patient while they work to eventually get you to your intended destination.

Even if the airlines sold “guaranteed travel” tickets at a much higher price, the logistics of delivering a guaranteed service would likely make it unprofitable for them.

Given the possible reasons that a flight can be late, it’s understandable, so why does the lack of an opportunity cost guarantee come off as weak in your business?

Create a truly meaningful guarantee

Most of you don’t have the logistical issues that airlines have, so you can offer a guarantee that deals with lost opportunity cost without a huge expense or effort. All it takes is some thought, action and follow up.

That’s why not protecting a client’s opportunity is weak.

If you own a local hotel, there will be times where you can’t fulfill a reservation. Plumbing leaks. Power fails. Stuff happens.

If you have an arrangement with nearby competitors, a bed and breakfast and a few airbnb hosts, you can avoid leaving a guest out in the cold. While it might not seem like a big deal to you, these things have a way of happening when the prospective guest is an influencer on Trip Advisor, or worse, a travel writer with two million Facebook likes and a cable TV show.

The same thought can go into guaranteeing carpet cleaning, car rentals or whatever you do. Take away the investment risk like everyone else, then wrap the opportunity loss in bubble wrap.

Go to the bullpen

When a pitcher throws so many pitches that they “lose their stuff”, managers call the bullpen for a pitcher with a fresh arm.

That’s what customers want. They don’t want excuses. They just want whatever you promised. Your job is to figure out how to deliver that even on your worst day, or when your pitcher has lost their stuff – whatever that means in your business.

To a client, an appointment or a reservation is a promise – and often that client has made promises based on the one you made them.

Categories
Business culture Business model Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Small Business Strategy

Choose your market or craft it?

Sometimes you choose your market, and sometimes it chooses you. Today, we get a little of both.

A discussion with some software business owners prompted this piece, but you should stick around even if you aren’t in the software business – because these problems are universal no matter what business you’re in.

During these discussions, there was a lot of talk about cheap clients.

The discussion started with the group lamenting that their clients are constantly falling back on their lack of a budget as the reason they can’t do things.

The comments started like this:

  • “Our clients say they have no money for tech support.”
  • “Our clients say they have no money for newer hardware, so their 10 year old XP machines will have to do.”
  • Our clients don’t have (this and that).
  • Our clients can’t do (this or that).

The conversation continued for a bit, discussing the kinds of things you’d prefer to avoid when seeking clients.

Thing is, many small businesses are in a position where they can’t avoid clients like this, at least not when they’re small and getting starting.

No matter what market you’re in, you have clients and prospects that have these issues – or say they do. For many business owners, it’s pretty frustrating.

Dump ’em?

Normally, I would counsel you to find a way to sort these guys out from the rest. Actually, I’d still suggest that to a fair number of my clients, but not everyone is in a position to fire a bunch of customers.

Even if you are in a position to shed those customers, you need to be selective about how to do it and even then, do so carefully and kindly.

Why selective? Because a sizable handful of those customers will figure it out, get out of bootstrapping mode and become the best clients you’ve ever had. Your job is figuring out which ones are the keepers. We talk about that fairly often.

What we don’t often discuss is what to do if you’re the one who has to keep most (if not all) of these customers – and what to do about it.

By force or by choice

What happens if you decide to (or must) work with them regardless of their situation?  Not everyone can get out of this situation easily.

Perhaps you manage part of (or work in) a business that this kind of client and you have no control over the situation.

If you own the business, perhaps it’s a situation you’ve unintentionally created over the long haul and it’s either hitting you square in the forehead and wallet simultaneously that it’s an expensive situation, or you’ve known about it all along and are now managing to come up for air long enough to take some action to deal with it.

Either way, it needs to be addressed.

Long time readers would probably guess that my plan “A” would be to execute my time-hardened battle plan to help you help them transform from mere customers to good clients. I don’t say “mere customers” lightly. It isn’t a meaningless smear, as there is a serious difference between mere customers and good clients.

Thing is, plan A has two benefits: While it’ll help some of them become the clients you want, it’ll also tell you who the doers are.

Even if they aren’t good at some (many?) of the things you put in front of them, the doers will try almost everything. Keep them around unless they drive you absolutely crazy. I mean visit your house at 11pm on a Sunday night kind-of-crazy.

Why? Because those are the guys who won’t quit trying. You need clients like that and they need you.

What about the rest?

The doers will listen and execute based on what you tell them. Many of them will get it and grow into the kind of client you wanted in the first place.

The rest? Well, those are the ones that you can part with once you’ve done your transformation work on the rest…unless you just can’t let them go.

If you can’t, then ponder what you’re willing to do about it. They consume time, effort and money that might be better leveraged on other projects. Can you help them? Do you have time to help them? Will they listen if you offer help? (Their effort on Plan A teaches that).

Give them a chance, then make a decision.

Categories
Business culture Customer relationships Customer service Getting new customers Setting Expectations Small Business Word of mouth marketing

First impressions: Driven by mastery

Most likely you’ve heard the saying “A poor artisan blames their tools.

Despite the ROI of blame being zero (at best), this situation goes well beyond blame.

When you blame the tool, at least two situations can pop up:

  • Your current tools don’t produce the kind of benefits / outcome / work you need (even if they used to), and that suggests you need to choose another tool that will do the work.
  • Your comfort level with the existing tool may exceed your need (or desire) to select a better one, even though the better tool has substantial benefits to your business. A frequent obstacle is the inertia created by the anticipated learning curve of a new tool. Even the perception of that curve can prevent a tool switch capable of producing massive benefits.

However, there’s far more to mastery than your expertise with the tools used to create the services and products you deliver.

Beyond mastery of production

This experience includes the tools used to communicate with your client community, such as your accounting system, email list management (such as http://enews.aweber.com), webinar software, phone systems and redundancy management such as backup systems.

Low tech systems should also be a part of these discussions, as they’re as important as the others. Examples of low tech systems include office / shop / restroom cleaning, plumbing as well as trash and scrap disposal. Hazardous materials management (such as benzene containment) will also play a part in the equation for many service and manufacturing businesses.

Even if none of these systems touch the service or product your clients receive, they do form the foundation of your clients’ experience. How they interact with each other, as well as how they interact with your clientele, is critical to the first impression you make, much less the day to day experience you create.

Master your communications tools

Communications tools are a common stumbling point in this way. Consider the last few webinars or conference calls you’ve attended.

How many times have the organizers struggled with the webinar or phone software or hardware? Did it reach the point where it was a distraction that kept participants from accomplishing the meeting’s goals? Did it prevent effective communication in the meeting?

The frustration factor of these things wears on participants, particularly if they experience it repeatedly. The more organizers struggle with the technologies, the worse it gets.

A common factor in less-than-ideal group settings like webinars, call-in shows and conference calls is a lack of rehearsal by the presenters. When presenters read from a script or bullets they’ve never rehearsed, the mechanical / monotonous nature of reading text that the reader has not rehearsed reduces attendee comprehension.  If interaction is expected between presenters, an unrehearsed presentation’s conversation isn’t conversational, it’s mechanical.

Good speakers can ad-lib from bullets or scripted text, but if you haven’t practiced enough to make the ad-lib feel natural, it won’t be sound nearly as smooth as you’d like.

When a conversation loses this natural touch and goes mechanical, it leads listeners down the road to inattention and boredom.

Bark, meow, disconnect

When speakers confuse the mute button with the disconnect button on their phone, it produces a jarring experience. In some webinar software, it’s a challenge for the organizer to return to the call, and in some cases, the conference is terminated when the organizer disconnects. Are you ready to lose 1000 listeners because you clicked or touched the wrong button?

Less serious flubs like echo, feedback, cell phone rings and animal noises in the background not only distract the listener, but they speak to your attention to detail – prompting listeners to wonder where else your lack of attention will manifest itself.

Is it streamlined?

First impressions are rooted in streamlined interactions, a lack of jarring experiences and consistently well-met expectations.

How you achieve these things is not driven solely by product and service quality. Consistency in delivery, interaction, returns, accounting, conference calls, billing, refunds, follow ups and a litany of other minutiae (like spelling minutiae properly) contribute to the overall experience your clientele has, remembers and expects.

When great first impressions become a streamlined, consistent experience, it transforms referrals from “We use so-and-so” to “You’re totally crazy if you don’t use so-and-so. Don’t use anyone else!”

Isn’t that what you want?

Categories
Business culture Business Ethics Customer relationships Employees Entrepreneurs Leadership Setting Expectations Small Business Strategy

Business rules of the road

While they vary from person to person, our values are the central driving force in our everyday lives.

These values form the context of daily decision making that drives our behavior. Quite often, these set-in-stone rules are accompanied by a set of guidelines that we adhere to, but occasionally allow ourselves to bend now and then.

When used as the lens through which we interact with clients, vendors, contractors and employees, these set-in-stone rules form operational boundaries that no situation and no person can convince our business to stray from.

While all of this is obvious, what might not be so obvious is how deep the influence of these rules can be.

As such, it’s worth considering where your rules come from and how you use them.

Mommy, where do rules come from?

Most rules are formed from our personally-weighted mix of religious beliefs, experiences, politics and the lessons we learned as a child.

As parents, we tend to model the rules learned from our parents, with a tweak here and there to make them our own.

As former employees who now employ others, we often model our unshakable business rules from two things – what we appreciated and valued as employees, and what devalued us, our clients and the work we performed.

Teachers, mentors, authors and speakers whose messages resonate with us also influence our chosen rules.

Share your rules

In the “old days”, business values were often demonstrated and rarely communicated, at least not explicitly.

Today, corporate values are often over-shared and under-demonstrated, which is ironic when the over-shares are coming from consistently under-demonstrating companies.

Here’s why I think it’s important to communicate your rules despite those bad examples:

If your employees, vendors and clients know what drives your decisions, it makes your sometimes aberrant behavior all that much easier to decipher.

Aberrant? Really? Yes. Watch any entrepreneur long enough and you’re likely to think their elevator doesn’t reach the top floor now and then. Knowing why is hugely important to helping people understand you and your behavior – and that is key to allowing them to see the big picture.

Sharing your rules also has another effect, and this one is what drives lesser organizations to keep them to themselves: attraction and repulsion.

Prospects, clients, vendors and employees are absolutely attracted to and/or repulsed by your stated values – whether your adhere to them or not.

The traditional thought process is “We need as many customers as we can get, so let’s keep our values to ourselves.” There are a few problems with this. One – you don’t need as many as you can get, though you probably need more than you have. Two – The reason you think you need as many as you can get is often because many of the ones you have are the wrong ones.

Communicating and demonstrating these values will push some prospects and clients away. Would you rather this happened after investing time and money in them, or before?

Would you rather find out that your values don’t match the client’s after having a falling out with them, or would you prefer to avoid clients whose values conflict with yours?

Replace “clients” in that sentence with “employees” and “vendors” and re-read it.

The FlipFlopper

It’s worth paying attention to how your rules impact your business, your staff and your clients. Part of that is recognizing that the decision to adopt a never-wavering rule isn’t always permanent.

While that might seem counter-intuitive, the reality is that we mature and we learn – and as a result, our business’ “never wavering” rules may need fine tuning to maintain peak performance, not unlike the needs of a Ferrari or Learjet engine.

Most of us learn from our experiences and our mistakes and tweak our behavior as a result. If that’s punishable by losing a client, then I dont think you need that client.

It’s not uncommon to feel like a cheeseball when experiences and learning opportunities (aka mistakes) leave you with no choice other than to tweak what you formerly (and publicly) called unshakable. Get over it.

Sure, someone might call you a flip-flopper, so you’d better make the change for a solid reason. Either you learn and adapt or you don’t. Choose one or the other and get over the fallout, because you can’t choose both.

Lost clients who disdain learning and adapting will be welcomed by competitors just like them. If they aren’t right for you, that’s OK.

Categories
Advertising Business culture Customer relationships customer retention Direct Marketing Getting new customers Internet marketing Lead generation Small Business Software Software business The Slight Edge

Customer relationships – Do yours mature and adapt?

One of the things that separates people from most machines and systems is their ability to adapt their interactions as the relationship matures.

A tough-as-nails 61 year old grandfather who supervises workers on an oil rig in North Dakota’s Bakken adapts his communication to the recipient when training a new guy to stay alive on the rig, and does so again when chatting with his three year old granddaughter about her Hello Kitty outfit via a Skype video call.

He doesn’t coo at a young buck and he doesn’t growl at his granddaughter. He adapts. It’s common sense.

Our systems, processes and communications don’t do enough of this.

Adapt to the relationship state

Why do our companies, software, processes, communications and systems so infrequently adapt to the state of our customer relationships?

An example I’ve used a number of times: You get mail from a company offering you a great deal “for new subscribers only” – despite being a subscriber for decades. It’s annoying, not so much because someone else gets a better price for a short time, but (to me at least) because they don’t appear to care enough about their existing customers to remove them from a lead generation mailing.

It’s a trivial exercise to check a list of recipients for a new marketing piece against a current subscriber / client list. Why don’t “we” do it?

For mailed items, it would reduce postage and printing costs. It would cut down on the annoyance factor in clients who inappropriately get special lead generation offers – regardless of the media used.

Adapting your marketing (for example) to the state of the relationship you have with the recipient is marketing 101. It’s a no-lose investment.

Adapt to the maturity state

Like the grandfather, most of us alter our face-to-face speaking to the state of the relationship and maturity of the other person.

Sometimes we don’t, but that’s usually because we haven’t had the opportunity to determine the maturity of the other person in the conversation.

I’m speaking of the maturity of the customer relationship as well as where the client is with your products and services. There’s far more to this than simply adapting to a client’s intellectual and age-related maturity.

Remember that “tip of the day” feature that was popular in software not so many years ago? The half life of that feature was incredibly small and the value it delivered was tiny when compared to its potential.

Why? Because few software development companies took the feature seriously once it had been coded and tested.

How can I say that? Easy. Did you turn that feature off once you realize the tips were of little value after an hour’s use of that software? Did you turn it off earlier than that because the tips were of no use at all?

My guess is that one or both of those are true. The tips weren’t there for users throughout their lifetime of use with the software. In fact, most of them weren’t very useful beyond the first hour of use. Every time we move the software to a new machine, it’s likely we have to turn it off again. ROI for that feature? Not so high.

The content of these tips was everything (in fact, the only thing) to the user of that software, yet the content in most tip-of-the-day systems appeared to be rushed out as an afterthought.

What does a software’s tip of the day feature have to do with your business? Everything.

Take your time, implement well.

That the tips rarely were of use to new users beyond the first hour or so of use shows a lack of investment in their content.

Imagine if these tips were sensitive to the maturity of the user’s knowledge and use of the software.

Some cars do this. They automatically adjust the seat and mirror locations when Jerome unlocks the car and use different seat/mirror positions when Carmen unlocks it. Adaptation.

What if your systems, products, services, marketing, processes and other client interactions recognized and adapted like this?

Adaptive interaction isn’t an all-or-nothing thing. It can mature over time, as other things do. Take your time, do it right. You tend to get only one chance to break a relationship with a client, but you can strengthen it with every interaction.

Adaptive behavior is all about making your business personal.

Categories
Business culture Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Employees Hospitality Management Restaurants service Small Business Word of mouth marketing

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.

Categories
attitude Business culture Employees Entrepreneurs Leadership

Business culture: Reflected by daily conversation

There are a few commonly-used phrases in business conversation that raise the hair on my neck.

Here are three of my favorites, along with one (‘innovation’) that we hear bandied about in the tech press on what seems like an hourly basis.

  • Industry Norms
  • Best Practices
  • Human Capital
  • Innovation

They sound like such good things, so you may wonder why they’re so hair-raising.

You might be thinking that they’re just words, but they could be the lexicon of your business culture. The problem with these phrases is that they sound like one thing but they usually mean something entirely different.

Does it matter? I think so. Employees and even contractors look to the leader of a business for signals that they walk their talk. Words that undermine the stated business culture can do a lot of integrity damage.

Dictionary Man

Let’s review the phrases I mentioned.

Industry Norms

This one is a little sneaky because it seems to convey that you are doing as well as those in your industry who are normal.

What is “normal”, exactly?

In this context, I think of it as average. That means if you are meeting industry norms, you are right smack in the middle. Not doing poorly, but not leading the industry.

I wouldn’t consider that a goal unless you are currently below average – and even then, it should be a pit stop rather than a destination.

When your staff sees industry norm statistics in trade publications, I’m thinking you would want them to consider those as something they’d want to see in the rear view mirror, rather than something to aspire to.

Best Practices

This one is similar to “industry norms” because it conveys the average, or perhaps a little history lesson.

To me, “Best Practices” are those things that are considered the least common denominator of business practice in your industry.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be performing them – it means that the businesses leading your market no longer sees them as something to start doing or strive for. Instead, they consider them assumptions of how to do business, rather than something done only by the best businesses.

If you’re the leader in your market, you know that you can look back at things you started doing two or three (or ten) years ago and find that the average or lower-tier businesses are just now catching on to them.

Human Capital

I see Temple Grandin watching over a feedlot. She observes people’s behavior as they are herded through a Dodge City feedlot’s gates, chutes and ramps. Occasionally, she makes suggestions for how to adjust things so people are less likely to become upset as they mindlessly parade along.

If you’re in the financial industry, “human capital” might be a more positive term, but in that context is still feels a bit like something to consume, spend or exhaust in order to achieve a goal. Like firewood.

If you use it in the context of investment and improvement, I can see a positive, but the word choice is something to be very careful with.

Innovation

Let me redefine it for you: Innovation lights up the face of a customer.

Is that what happens when they see your latest new feature?

This doesn’t really matter does it?

Your staff makes that decision about you and your leadership team. I suspect you make it about those you consider leaders.

When you listen to a local, state or national leader speak – do you dissect their comments and make any judgments based on the words they use?

When viewed through that lens, do your words seem more important?

Another angle: If your employees rolled their eyes every time you spoke, how would that make you feel? I suspect it would tick you off if you were face to face.

Now imagine them rolling their eyes because of something you said in an email, on a conference call or perhaps to a customer while that employee is within earshot.

What words reflect your business culture?

The culture of your business is reflected in the words you and your leaders use every day to describe your business, your people, your products and your prospects in the marketplace.

Are they leading your staff & your business culture in the wrong direction?