leadership dot #3696: guest services

Major League Baseball took seriously all aspects of the games played in the cornfield. Consequently, the Field of Dreams information booths were staffed by the heads of guest services — from the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves. These powerful ladies were flown to Iowa for a week to ensure that MLB processes were followed for how this area was run.

For example, lost and found items were placed in a bag, sealed (like those evidence bags you see on television crime shows), and details of where the item was found were recorded. Each item was then cataloged on a form using a QR code and details were noted when the item was claimed. It was an impressive system.

And then there was the ring. Each of the ladies has their own World Series ring, but Kelli wore hers because it was a special occasion and she knows “people like to see it.” It is a monstrosity, especially on a woman! Kelli generously allowed us to try it on, take photos, and handle the diamond-clad Tiffany masterpiece as she explained the meaning of every single element on the ring. It was a treat!

Four takeaways from my guest services encounter:

  1. Every aspect of your operation matters. It would have been easy to allow local staff to run the information booths, but MLB wanted to bring major league quality to the entire experience and invested in doing so. The presence of MLB staff made guest services better.
  2. Systems are important, even for lost and found. There is an acceptable way to do things and a professional way. Strive for excellence, even behind the scenes.
  3. The World Series ring that Kelli has is the exact same ring (except for her name, of course) that the players themselves have. All the roles in the organization are important and warrant the same attention and recognition for those who perform them. Remember that you can be a champion off the field, too.
  4. Kelli knew that seeing the ring would be a treat for others so she wore it more to share than to be uncomfortable all day by wearing it herself. Most of us have something that is routine for ourselves but means something to others (petting a dog, seeing the big boss’ house, touring non-public spaces like an under-construction building). Be generous in giving people a glimpse of something that costs you nothing but is special for them.
Everything has symbolism: Three big diamonds on top for the three World Series the Giants have won as Giants; five smaller diamonds on the bottom for the five championships the Giants won before there were official World Series. On the sides: her name, engraved replica of the trophy and the year, and the Golden Gate bridge. Around the side, engraved stitching in the pattern found on baseballs. Inside, the scores of the Series games and the Tiffany signature. On top, diamonds — lots and lots of diamonds!

leadership dot #3689: 3 hours

I returned an item at Dick’s and the cashier noted that there was a coupon attached to my receipt, providing me $20 off a $100 purchase. I thought I would give it to my sports-crazed nephew, who undoubtedly spends that amount with regularity — but then I noticed that the coupon was “valid for 3 hours.” Seriously?

My mind immediately flashed to yesterday’s dot (#3688) about stupid rules, but my second thought was “well, at least I’ll get a dot out of it.” I have found that aggravating situations often have lessons buried in them, helping me clearly see what not to do. People often say they learn supervision by doing everything opposite from what their bad boss did; the same principle applies to service situations. If you find something ridiculous, chances are your employees or customers will, too.

leadership dot #3688: raincheck

Our local grocery store is running a week of daily specials and I went to purchase my bargain-priced butter — only they were sold out. I asked if they were offering rainchecks and the answer was “we stopped giving them out at 5:00.” This arbitrary decision didn’t sit well with me, so I asked why. The clerk said: “That’s what management told us to say if customers asked.”

What?! I wonder how the clerk felt as he parroted back this ridiculous line.

The situation made me think of the Harvard Business Review article that I quote often in my supervision sessions. Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones surveyed employees to determine what characteristics made up the “best workplace on Earth.” One of five answers: “Stupid rules don’t exist.”

Employees don’t want to deliver BS excuses to customers and see them infuriated because the policies don’t make sense. They want to be the “helpful smile in every aisle” as they allegedly were hired to be.

Don’t put your staff in the position of being the bad guy. If you determine that an undesirable policy is absolutely necessary, communicate it widely to help set customer expectations, make it universal, and have someone with authority available to enforce it. Throwing in an apology, regret, or an ounce of compassion wouldn’t hurt either.

Stupid rules are just that — stupid — and cost more in ill-will for everyone than they save.

leadership dot #3685: simplifying

Nestled in among the surf shops and souvenir stands that line Waikiki Beach in Honolulu is a different kind of store — one that rents bridal gowns. It makes sense that many destination weddings occur on this piece of paradise, so Something Borrowed minimizes the bulk that brides-to-be need to carry.

Something Borrowed rents gowns ($300) and suits ($200) with their hassle-free “rent, wear, return” policy. While the low price may get you in the door, in addition to the rental boutique, they also offer wedding planning services where you may spend a far greater amount. Their coordination encompasses as much or as little as you are willing to pay for — everything from proposal planning to a photo tour to wedding week coordination ($4500). Their full-service plan will handle the smallest of details and orchestrate everything so you just have to show up.

Think about whether you can “borrow” part of the Something Borrowed business model and handle the details that could come easily to someone who does them all the time but may be overwhelming for one-time users (think funerals, a baby, or a new pet). If you simplify a complex transaction for someone, there are people out there who will accept your proposal and say “yes.”

leadership dot #3684: guide

One of the advantages of traveling as a family of twelve is that you become your own group for tours. As a result, we were assigned a personal guide to help us navigate through the Polynesian Cultural Center, a day-long experience that showcases the culture of several Polynesian countries.

Having a private guide meant that we could craft our own itinerary and then have someone to efficiently ensure we saw the parts of the park that were most meaningful to us. Before we started out, Lohan asked us several questions, such as:

  • Did we want to see a little bit about each country or go in-depth with one or two?
  • Would we rather see shows in each area or spend more time on activities?
  • Was there anything in particular that we wanted to be sure to do?

Lohan said that to become a guide he had to memorize a 72-page script and pass tests on the material. While the Cultural Center may have gone to lengths to standardize the witty comments and information the guides shared, allowing each group the ability to tailor their day helped our group have a positive experience and create lasting memories of the place.

Of course, we paid extra for the service, but having someone who could personalize our visit and expertly navigate us through the park without any waiting, map-reading, or getting lost was worth every cent. Disney and other places could take a lesson from the Cultural Center.

Think about whether there is a way for you to offer a guide for the experience you provide. Many hospitals have volunteers who escort incoming patients to their initial intake location, schools could provide escorts to help navigate the entry onto campus or on the first day in classroom buildings, or government centers and large complexes could also utilize guides to help minimize the confusion.

Don’t stop at providing signs or a map. Adding that personal touch makes all the difference.

Our guide, Lohan.

leadership dot #3676: queue

In Hawaii, we visited the Dole Pineapple Plantation. When we arrived, we encountered a sign warning us that the wait for tours may be up to two hours, but when we went to the entrance booth we were told that the wait was just an hour long. So, we purchased tickets and set out to visit the gift store while someone held our spot in the queue.

Only the one hour turned into two hours plus, leaving everyone hot and cranky to start our day.

If we had known the delay was that long, we wouldn’t have purchased tickets. Or, we would have bought them, then used the time to tour the gardens instead of expecting to do that after the tour. Or, we would have continued exploring on our own instead of re-convening in the line and standing in the sun for another hour.

Dole is a busy enough place to warrant a two-hour delay warning sign. But beyond that, they have done little to make their visitor experience a pleasant one. No canopy or shade for the guests waiting in line. No benches. No reservations or buzzer systems as in restaurants so people can do something besides stand in the heat while they wait. No communication with their ticket window about realistic lines. You just buy tickets on faith and then are stuck when the reality turns out to be much different. Such a missed opportunity.

The problem wasn’t the two-hour wait; the issue came in with misaligned expectations. If you have a chronic situation that is less than desirable for your clients, the best thing you can do is to be upfront about it. Sugarcoated or ignored downsides create more negative feelings than problems that are addressed directly.

leadership dot #3655: latch

In a good example of knowing your customers — both the two-legged and four-legged kind — PetSmart installed a “leash latch” in their restrooms. I had not thought of the scenario where a human who brought their dog into the store needed to use the facilities, but PetSmart recognized that this could occur. Problem averted.

While I never used the latch, I appreciated it being there. It showed an understanding of pet lovers and makes me believe that philosophy carries through in other ways.

Follow PetSmart’s lead and look at who your audience is — I mean really is — then take steps to proactively accommodate them. Not all ideas have to be grandiose — sometimes it’s the small way of caring that you should latch on to.

leadership dot #3642: borrow

I wrote yesterday (dot #3641) about not purchasing a host of accessories in a quest to buy/own less. One way to accomplish this is through borrowing from the library. Libraries are amazing places that have learned while some things work well in a virtual format (e.g. digital books), there are other items that must be tangible in order to be effective. And so, libraries have transformed into repositories of things-to-borrow, including cake pans, tools, musical instruments, technology, puzzles, and board games.

The latest assortment at our library includes two new offerings: 1) fitness kits, and 2) nature exploration packs. Rather than purchasing exercise equipment you may never use again, you can borrow a toning kit, kettlebell kit, stability ball workout box, yoga mat, or cardio-to-go kit and try it out. Wilderness kits are themed around: rocks and insects, animals and birds, weather, and stars — all of which contain books on the subject, a compass, binoculars, and maps — pre-packaged in a backpack ready to go. For free.

If you haven’t been to a library lately or think of them as musty, stodgy places where only spinsters visit, you don’t know what you are missing. Libraries are one of the community’s greatest resources and one of the best examples I know of how to adapt to meet the changing needs of your clientele. You could learn a lot from libraries — and not just from what is within their books. Borrow their mindset liberally.

leadership dot #3640: irritate

My new printer came with a free 6-month “instant ink” subscription whereby HP monitored my page count and sent me refill cartridges when the supply ran low. I have a very irregular printer usage so their ongoing plans don’t work for me, and I canceled before the paid plans kicked in. It was then that I learned once the subscription ends, even the ink in my printer will no longer work!

This seems to me like a petulant bully on the playground — if you won’t play with me, I’m taking my ball and going home. If you won’t buy my ink, I’m making it so you can’t either. They don’t want it back — they just don’t want me to use it, seemingly out of spite.

It’s yet another example of where a company does something that irritates the customer even though it gains nothing from the process. The grocer who throws away a $7 package of brats rather than redeem my $1 coupon they feel is not for that specific variety. The restaurant that remakes a meal rather than offer an adjustment for an improperly prepared dish. The supervisor who would rather lose a good employee than provide her with some flexibility.

You may be right and you may be following policy or upholding your principles, but in the long term, you’re doing more harm than good. Let common sense prevail.

leadership dot #3488: hijab

I saw a Tweet lauding the forethought of Mayo Clinic that had a disposable hijab available for a MRI patient. Of course, the women would feel more comfortable if their head could remain covered, even during a procedure, but not everyone would think of that in advance. Kudos to Mayo for understanding their audience and meeting their needs.

Think about what would best serve different segments of your audience — due to cultural norms, physical accommodations or temporary conditions like pregnancy or nursing. The hijab may have been temporary but feeling welcome will last.

Photo credit: @HoneyBeeRock