leadership dot #2704: color-coded

Some establishments have very few visitors, but others like hospitals have many guests who are there for the first time. In addition to signs and wayfinding enhancements to make visitors’ experiences more pleasant, the University of Iowa Hospitals went an extra step to make their parking garage more user-friendly. Guests can take a flyer that is color-coded to match the garage level and the elevator button so drivers can more easily find their vehicle upon return.

Think of how you can model this strategy in your organization. Is there a procedure or service that you could make a little less complex just through the addition of better signage or color? Can you do something to alleviate the stress or feelings of being lost for those in your building for the first time? Helping others help themselves is a great way to serve.

Thanks, Amy!

leadership dot #2626: protect

On all the trash containers at Walgreens – outside, in the store and in the restrooms – are warning labels about prescriptions but not about the drugs themselves. Walgreens warns customers not to dispose of any packaging or materials related to their prescriptions in these easy-to-access waste bins, presumably to reduce fraud. I never thought of it, but I suppose it would be easier for someone to take the information materials or empty bottle and have enough information to secure a prescription for themselves.

Walgreens doesn’t need to provide these reminders but they have gone the extra step to help protect their customers. Is there a way for you to do the same? ATM receipts do not contain personal information but many other receipts contain membership numbers, names or other identifiers. People toss countless items with their address and account numbers from mailed statements. Electronics packaging can tip off burglars if it is prominently left on the curb.

Your role in a transaction doesn’t stop when money is exchanged. Expand your customer service another step or two to help your customers protect themselves from unintended harm from doing business with you.

leadership dot #2589: de-preciation

Yesterday was Customer Appreciation Day at my local bank – advertised with a big spread in their newsletter inviting me to come and enjoy ice cream at my branch. I had business to transact and it was 90+ degrees so it seemed like a good opportunity to partake in the festivities.

It turned out that “Appreciation Day” was an ice cream machine stuck in the corner that you would only find if you were looking for it. No signs. No balloons. No giveaways. And not even any staff to tend to the table which had gotten quite full of crumbs by the time I arrived.

Businesses have the option as to whether or not to provide an “appreciation day” so it boggles my mind as to why someone would choose to do it but do it so poorly. They would have been far better off either a) doing nothing or b) saying nothing and just having it be a happy accident that a few of today’s customers would stumble upon the ice cream machine. But to make something sound like a big deal and deliver far below is not a good strategy.

If you decide to provide recognition – to your customers, employees, volunteers or any group – think deeply about it before you do it halfway. ‘Tis better to do nothing than to underwhelm.

leadership dot #2584: sensitive

It’s one thing to have the resources that your clientele needs but another thing to be proactive in making the resources easily accessible. The librarians in Brookline, MA understood that some customers may feel awkward asking for books on sensitive subjects so they compiled a reference list and placed it in library bathrooms.

Topics included birth control, depression, domestic violence, eating disorders, grieving, pregnancy and suicide and were listed on a flyer that read: “We are here to help, but we know some things are hard to ask about. We’ve created these signs to help you navigate whatever you’re going through.” This thoughtful tool may be just what is needed to get a person the help that they need.

Think about what sensitive subjects exist in your organization – either for your customers or employees – and then anticipate how you could approach them in a compassionate and private manner. Aim to make the hard stuff as easy to address as you can.

Thanks to Father Nathan Monk for the post.

leadership dot #2557: junk

I received a kitchen towel as a hospitality gift and the whole hem frayed the first time I washed it. Fortunately, it was from Kohl’s – a store that highlights its generous return policy — so I took it back for an even exchange.

Much to my surprise, the customer service manager said: “Oh, they all do that. I bought some myself and they all frayed. We can return it once for you but that is all; there will be no receipt with this exchange.”

I was stunned. Essentially, they know they sell junk – for $8 — but they do it anyway. Without apology.

The bar for customer service is getting lower all the time — but you can do better. Just by having your employees practice the words: “I’m sorry” and insisting they say the phrase to customers when something goes awry can go a long way in making you a provider of choice.

leadership dot #2554: service lift

In a sign of the times, the Portland airport has two islands for ground transportation after flight arrivals, including one just for Uber and Lyft. As a result, Lyft has made some modifications to their pickup process to handle the volume and make it a smooth process for all. When someone orders a Lyft car, the app directs you to the pickup island and gives you a code. You wait at the cue, and when the next driver comes up, you show your code to the driver and they take you to your destination. There still was only the number of cars that had been requested, but you aren’t assigned a specific driver.

It’s a very similar schematic as the normal taxi lineup except you got the best of both worlds – not a bunch of taxi drivers trying to sell you on the best price of their rides (you had a confirmed price when you ordered your Lyft), but it eliminated what I’m sure necessitated this system: the 25+ people looking for their specific driver at the same time.

And to make it even more seamless, Lyft had Lyft Ambassadors that wore the signature pink and helped people get in line and navigate the system, just in case you missed the large signs directing you there. They did not need to invest in personnel to facilitate the process but doing so made anxious travelers have one less stress point to figure out on their own.

Lyft may be number two in the ride-sharing business but won’t stay that way for long with this type of service. They realized it’s not enough to automate and let it go rather continual reinvention helps keep them win over new customers and keep those they have as loyal fans.

What have you done lately to reimagine your delivery process? Have you experienced your service from the customer perspective and made tweaks to improve it? Is there a way that you can “lift” the bar and set higher expectations for your organization? Take a lesson from Lyft on what customer-oriented looks like.

Thanks, Kelsey!

leadership dot #2507: self serve

A few years ago when Walmart announced it was closing 254 stores, a meme quickly circulated that said: “All 175 cashiers will lose their jobs.” While meant to be a slam on the dearth of customer service staff that is often found at the chain, it was a prescient forecast of what was to come.

Not just in Walmart, but in more and more stores, self-service checkouts are replacing cashier-staffed lines. Our Sam’s Club has indicated that they will go to all cashier-less once corporate figures out how to address alcohol sales and cash transactions.

What is striking to me is that instead of a customer revolt, for the most part, people have embraced taking on the checkout tasks themselves. It is a sad commentary on the lack of value-added that most cashiers provide: they can be totally absent and nothing is missing.

Instead of removing your front-line staff or replacing them with self-service kiosks, why not make them your most valuable asset? Use the technology on the front end of a transaction to allow your cashiers to have data that can be used to cultivate relationships with some of the regulars. Teach staff to have meaningful banter with customers, to actually provide service instead of just conducting a transaction by rote and to be so delightful as to be memorable.

No self-checkout will ever be as convenient as online checkout. If companies want bodies to come into their stores, they need bodies there to add value to the experience.