leadership dot #3418: beautiful

A friend asked for a glass of water at a restaurant and this is what she received:

It was beautiful: a tall glass with hollow rectangle cubes, and an extra touch of garnish to set it off. It would have been just as easy to provide a plain drink — as everyone else does — but what an effective and inexpensive way to set yourself apart.

What is the equivalent of the beautiful glass of water in your organization? Add an extra touch to something you offer and delight your customers. The goodwill transfers to the perception of your entire offering as well as reminding your staff that going above and beyond is part of your culture.

leadership dot #3399: superstar

My car dealership allows you to choose “your” service advisor and request that person when you schedule appointments. My guy is Nate. My car had a warning light come on so I called him. He was his usual delightful self, arranged the appointment around my schedule, and provided a loaner for my convenience. Only when I arrived, I learned he was home with a sick child.

The gentlemen who took care of me were polite and helpful, but they weren’t anything special. It created a whole different experience. They were good, but they weren’t great, and it caused me to ponder why.

Nate makes me feel like he knows me, my car, and will take care of me. He calls me by my preferred name instead of the formal name in their system. I trust him to be a straight-shooter and to only do what repairs are necessary because there have been times when he did a quick fix to see if we really needed a full replacement. And he explains the work without making me feel stupid — a rarity in the car repair world.

None of this is rocket science but it makes a world of difference in the service experience. I bought my car at this dealership because of Nate, and drive two hours each time I need a repair. It’s all worth it to me.

There are people who can do the job and others who shine at their work. If you find yourself with a superstar, especially one in a front-facing position, never minimize the impact that one person can have on your organization. Reward them, appreciate them, and cherish them as your key organizational differentiator.

leadership dot #3368: not brilliant

Several people sent me a copy of the Inc. magazine news story that carried the headline: “Customer discovered their $350 Lego set was missing pieces. The company’s response was brilliant.” You may have seen it as it was tagged as a top story and featured on several consolidation sites.

In short, the customer purchased a rare and coveted $350 Star Wars Lego set and it was missing a bag of pieces. The story is getting all the buzz because when Lego replied they said “…This must be the work of Lord Vader. Fear not, for I have hired Han to get that bag right out to you…”

While admittedly clever, the rest of the email is what caught my eye: “Your order number is XXX and will be arriving in the next 7-10 days.” To me, Lego’s response was not only not brilliant, and certainly not newsworthy, but I don’t even classify it as acceptable. The guy paid $350 for a defective product and they put the replacement in regular mail? No additional special product included compensating for his delay and disappointment? Just wait a week or so and you’ll be right back to where you should have been from the start.

To me, it seems like Lego forgot that their focus should be on service, not on witty banter. You can do better.

leadership dot #3361: surcharge

When the restaurant bill came, I was surprised to see that they added 3.3% if you used a credit card to pay. This wasn’t an inexpensive place, not to mention that many people operate cashless these days, so I would imagine that the majority of their clients would prefer to settle their bill with plastic.

It seems counterintuitive to me to penalize the masses. Why not calculate the transaction charge as part of the menu price instead? Or offer a discount for those who pay with cash?

Before you enact a policy, consider it from your customer’s perspective. It’s always better to help people feel as if they are getting a discount instead of a surcharge.

leadership dot #3359: idle

If you have in-person clients, it’s important to pay attention to their whole interaction with you, including the waiting period. For example, if you own a restaurant, especially if you are short-staffed or require a particularly long time to custom-prepare meals, it would be in your best interest to proactively address what happens before the food arrives.

As I sat bored in my last pre-dining experience, I pondered what this restaurant could have done during my wait. I realized that other establishments already incorporate elements to mollify customers with such techniques as televisions, hot bread, chips & salsa, butcher paper tablecloths and crayons, music, placements with games or educational factoids, tiny board games, electronic games as part of the payment system, or bowls of Legos. Even offering a wi-fi connection would go a long way in allowing customers to entertain themselves.

If you offer nothing, people have little to do but watch the clock and grumble about how long they are waiting. It sours their overall attitude and impacts their impression when the food (or service) finally does arrive.

Whether you add music before a webinar begins, reading materials in your reception area, interactive artwork in your lobby, or free coffee to guests, do something to engage your customers so they don’t spend their idle moments pondering all the ways you are wasting their time while waiting.

leadership dot #3347: wrinkle

When I order clothes online I expect them to come with some creases that set in during shipping but my latest package exceeded my expectations — and not in a good way. The blouse was so crammed into a tiny envelope that it looks like I slept in it.

Does the manufacturer know their product arrives in such condition? Does the seller know that their efforts to reduce packaging result in such an outcome? Do they care?

Laundering the blouse hopefully will rectify the problem but it highlights once again that you are responsible for your service or product through the whole experience, even if you don’t control all the pieces. If the mail is late or the blouse comes smushed, it reflects on you. Be your own stealth consumer and see if you are happy with the end result. Don’t let a wrinkle in your delivery chain crumple your customer’s satisfaction.

leadership dot #3330: one touch

If you’re serious about wanting feedback, make it easy to give.

The Love’s Truck Stop did just that. As I was leaving the restroom there was a device with three simple buttons — the ubiquitous red, yellow, green — that asked you to rate the cleanliness of the facility. One touch was all that was required.

Think about how you ask for comments from your customers. Some services can be boiled down to a simple three-button metric — or you can at least start there. Help your clientele help you improve by making it effortless for them to do so.

leadership dot #3327: flavoring

The practice of self-serve fountain drinks has now expanded to encompass self-serve sno-cones. People are becoming more accustomed to having their orders customized to their exact preferences and one festival’s Sno-Cone truck made that possible. They provided you with a cup of plain shaved ice but allowed you to do the rest to turn it into a favorite summer treat.

The setup was a win-win for everyone: the truck operator could serve more people and customers were able to mix exotic combinations of flavoring to their liking. It also meant that there was ample syrup to soak through to the bottom of the cup!

When self-serve just is an excuse for customers to do the work of the retailer, there is natural resentment. But when self-serve provides a benefit to the customer as in this case, people are actually pleased to do things themselves. Ask yourself who your “self-serve” is serving: the organization or the customer. Only one causes delight.

leadership dot #3297: abdication

It seems that Walmart is converting their stores to all or at least majority self-checkout. The last time I was there, no humans were serving as cashiers and apparently that is their plan moving forward.

Debate as you will about the merits of such a move but what is most maddening is that they made this decision without any adjustment in the infrastructure to support it. Thus, there were 14 register lanes that sat idle while 100% of their customers had to queue into the two existing self-checkout sections. Couldn’t they have converted some or all of those “human lanes” before shutting them down?

Adding to the delays is the fact that many of their clientele are not self-checkout adept. Like with TSA, there is an art to processing in the automated world and those who do it frequently become much more efficient. Those who are novices tend to bottleneck the whole process in airports, and similarly in Walmart.

With staffing challenges, pressure to reduce costs, and increased automation, I suspect that Walmart isn’t the only business that plans to pass the workload on to the customer. But if you are in a similar situation — whether it be for self-checkout, self-registrations, self-reporting, or any other function where you’re relying on others to do what you once did, make life easier for everyone and prepare for the transition before you make it. Sudden abdication isn’t a smart service plan.

leadership dot #3294: everyone

I recently went to the customer service counter at Target and the clerk there left before processing my transaction. She held out her scanner and said “I have to go deliver these pick-up orders first.”

It seems nonsensical that the person responsible for staffing the main service desk also is required to leave it. Why would they designate that person — instead of someone without a fixed workstation — to go into the storage area to retrieve orders and then to deliver them outside?

It appears that Target is incentivizing a different audience than in the past and giving priority to those who do not even come into the store. First, the pick-up lanes overtook all the best parking places, then those customers are given preference for service. As more perks go to those who shop only online, more frustrations mount for those who actually come into the store. I wonder whether they are trying to promote doing a “Target run” in person or intentionally encouraging more people to stay in their vehicle and treat the store like a distribution locker?

As you shift your business operations to accommodate emergence from the COVID-cocoon or to provide additional options for your customers, take a step back and consider your overall incentive structure. What are you truly trying to accomplish? Who are your priority people to serve? And then align your resources accordingly rather than spreading them thin. Trying to serve everyone never works out well.