leadership dot #3886: cooking

In the competitive hotel market, there is a continual quest to have the latest feature to set a property apart from others. As a result, such amenities as free breakfasts, streaming services, workout rooms, and internet connections have become standard in many chains. Now, it seems, the attention has turned from focusing on the bedroom component of your stay to upgrading the kitchen as well.

As part of this niche, Marriott’s Townplace Suites promotes a “Something Borrowed” campaign where guests can borrow various tools to help with food preparation on the property. The hotel prominently features grills near the entranceway and facilities now offer grilling seasonings, a Suite Eats cookbook, mixing bowls, slow cookers, rice cookers, and blenders. You can check out supplies to use in your in-room kitchen and have a home-cooked meal on the road.

There is only so much a chain can do to distinguish itself when it provides a narrow service so Townplace broadened its definition of what they offer. Maybe your organization can cook up a new way to serve your clients.

leadership dot #3872: five stars

I went to Chipotle with a friend who has celiac disease. Once she informed the staff of this, it initiated a seamless procedure to serve her safely. They imperceptibly shared a signal with each other and everyone knew what to do: one person got out new serving utensils, another wiped down the preparation counter, someone procured a fresh bin of guacamole out of the refrigerator and everyone put on new gloves. It took an extra minute but there was no drama about it, no confusion, and it was certainly no big deal for the staff or the others behind us in line.

Think about how your organization handles requests outside the norm. Have you thought through the steps that are required to address routine variations? Do you have a process in place where the staff knows what to do with such efficiency that it doesn’t make the requestor feel uncomfortable? Have you ever considered that the ability to customize your offerings could be a lucrative niche service for you?

Allergies and dietary needs are prevalent in the restaurant business, but every industry has sub-groups of audiences that have different needs. Finding ways to cheerfully and easily accommodate them earns five stars for both your organization and those it serves.


leadership dot #3866: orders

I was waiting in line at a fast-food restaurant for a very long time even though there were many employees who seemed to be working furiously. When I finally got to the counter after the line had temporarily stopped, I saw that the delay was caused by an abundance of online orders that seemed to take precedence over those actually there in person. The orders through the app or delivery service were expedited because those customers were standing rather impatiently by the register waiting for pickups while the rest of us quietly stood in the queue.

Something is wrong with this system. The app has no ability to regulate flow so it keeps accepting order after order without regard to whether the in-person restaurant is busy or deserted. There is only so much room on the food preparation line so orders can’t be assembled any faster, and the customers who order via a human instead of an app are the ones who pay the price.

If your output is influenced by multiple inputs (such as the phone and in-person), take care that you treat both sets of customers equitably, or, if you prioritize one method of contact over another, acknowledge the inconvenience and attempt to make amends. Offering free chips and queso to compensate for the delay could have made those in line grateful instead of grumbling.

leadership dot #3856: continental

I’m a volunteer usher in our performing arts center and to help us perform our duties we’re given a “cheat sheet” indicating the location of the balcony seating layout, odd and even section numbering, and zones for each ticket. Every time I usher, I need to refresh my memory with this diagram so that I can accurately seat patrons.

When I attended Six out of town (dot 3855), it was striking as to the simplicity of the auditorium layout. Even though I was a first-time attendee, I could easily find my seat without usher assistance. The theater has what I have come to learn is “continental seating”, with no center aisle, balcony, or boxes. Rows are indicated by letter and numbered straight across — making it easy for anyone to locate their spot. And without a center aisle, it adds in some prime middle seating and trades the space for enough room in each row for people to walk by without everyone else having to stand to let them by. I am a fan!

Have you made your space more complicated than it needs to be? Can you make changes to make it more intuitive for first-time visitors to find you? Have you dedicated prime space (i.e. the middle seats) to purposes that don’t warrant it? You may not have an architect with such an egalitarian vision or have the opportunity to reconstruct your space but you likely are able to rearrange desks, seating, and where resources are located, or adjust how traffic flows in your area. Doing so can be the ticket to better service for your clients and more efficiencies for your staff.

Thanks, Emily!

Des Moines Performing Arts Civic Center

leadership dot #3832: vacuum

Last year, I purchased a new television. While that might be a delightful task for some people, I dreaded every minute of it. So, so many choices. Brands that were exclusive to a particular retailer, making it hard to do any comparison or even to find reviews. Options that I did not understand. I ended up buying one because some teenager in the electronics department had a preference for one model and that sealed the deal.

I went through a similar experience this weekend trying to buy a vacuum cleaner. It was turbo this, and pro that — making a plethora of options that were more confusing than helpful. Even the salesperson at Lowe’s thought they had too many choices — over 25 models ranging in price from $78 to $599. Does a cute golden retriever on the box really mean that it is better on pet hair, or is that just a marketing tool? Again, no reliable comparisons or a clear explanation of differences. Ultimately, I purchased one of the most basic models — because the salesperson had a husky and it worked for him.

These two shopping experiences highlighted for me the value of reducing the overwhelming amount of information that is available to us. The more you can simplify options — may by reducing them or by providing a human to translate — the greater sense of service you will provide. Not everyone is looking for additional options, in fact, many people value less.

leadership dot #3831: librarians

I recently read a Facebook post that said: “Do not mess with librarians. The inner strength required to meticulously care for history’s greatest works of literature and then just let total strangers borrow them willy-nilly is Jedi level stuff.” I think they are even more amazing than that!

I’m not sure where the stereotype of a buttoned-up old librarian came from because today those who work in libraries are some of the most innovative people around. Every time I go into our main library there is a different display around a new theme (this month: A Decade of New York Times best sellers) and books are also arranged to correspond to current events or holidays.

In addition, our librarians seem to go the extra effort to make it easy for people to utilize materials. They have created several series of bookmarks that help readers narrow down the available choices and direct them to resources or books of similar themes. One series is themed around New Year/New You and provides bookmarks for Building Habits, Cleaning, Starting a Business, Travel, Learning a Language, and more. Another series highlights Recommended Reads in multiple categories: Biographies & Memoirs, Nonfiction, Romance, Historical Fiction, etc. All these free bookmarks are handy ways to encourage additional library use.

Instead of letting your customers fend for themselves or become overwhelmed with all that you offer, follow the lead of the librarians and continuously help others narrow down your services to what is most helpful to them. Creativity and curation go a long way in making something useful.

Facebook Post by Jonathan Edward Durham @thisoneOverhere

leadership dot #3814: responding

My student activities colleague Chris Geiger created a tongue-in-cheek Facebook post about what those of us in the profession would have done had we been involved in the Southwest Airlines meltdown. He wrote: “We would have had free pizza and t-shirts (“I flew Southwest and all I got was this t-shirt, “Ho Ho Holy Crap where is my luggage?”), pictures with Santa, hot chocolate bar, kids’ activity area, free counseling, probably even a petting zoo! Ha!” Others chimed in with suggestions to add a jumpy house to ease aggression, a competition to find your own luggage, the massive piles of luggage lined up in alpha order, pet therapy, coloring sheets, button-making stations, and more.

In addition to having a plan to address issues when the infrastructure fails, organizations must prepare — or at least be prepared to be flexible — to address the service issues when things go awry. Southwest could have (should have?) authorized the airport managers to spontaneously do what they could to make the wait more palatable for the travelers. While others were working on the operational fix, front-line staff could have been deployed to make the best of a horrible situation in the airports. A cup of hot chocolate or slice of pizza wouldn’t have mitigated the inconveniences, but it would have been a bit of salve at the moment.

If your organization finds itself enduring a meltdown, try to create an experience around it that provides levity amidst the acknowledged gloom. When the situation is so bad that you want to cry, the other option is to laugh.

leadership dot #3743: tech team

Tropicana Field is totally cashless, so people have to utilize apps at the Tampa Bay Rays games for tickets and all purchases in the stadium. To facilitate this process, a cadre of workers known as the Tech Team roamed the entrance plaza to assist patrons with technical issues in utilizing their phones to do this, and a Tech Team booth was available throughout the event.

To the younger generation, going cashless may seem second nature, but it isn’t intuitive to everyone, including an older crowd that frequents baseball games. Rather than have people frustrated with the new-to-them technology, visible workers in blue shirts were available to help people navigate their systems. I wish a blue shirt worker was on hand at my house!

Kudos to the Rays for being proactive in this area. It would have been easy to leave people to their own devices (ha ha), but they averted lost sales and aggravation by providing one-to-one assistance for the process.

How can your organization take a lesson from Tampa Bay and have help available to address any anticipated glitches? Human intervention can shine a ray of sunshine on an otherwise vexing situation.


leadership dot #3733: they

When will companies learn that while they can outsource services, they can’t abdicate ownership of how those services perform (or don’t!)?

I thought of this while listening to the announcements at a United airport gate, as they loaded a plane emblazoned with United logos, boarding people who purchased United tickets. “The carrier, Air Wisconsin, will not allow any roller bags or large carry-ons,” the agent said. As if United had no involvement in the decision and would have allowed them if it was a United plane.

It happened again yesterday while trying to purchase an online gift card. The customer care representative at Total Wine threw their outside payment processor under the bus, shifting full blame for the outage to them instead of apologizing that “we” were unable to fulfill your purchase. Do I even know the name of their vendor? No. Did I attribute the poor service to Total Wine? Absolutely.

Outsourcing makes sense in many situations and allows companies to benefit from the specialized expertise of others. But never forget that the customers are yours, as is the ownership and responsibility to manage the whole experience as if you were the one providing it. There is no “they.”

leadership dot #3731: automated

When my niece was in town, I took her on a farm tour, not realizing that it would be an education not just about animals but also about technology in action. I was amazed at how much is automated on the farm.

For example, machines monitor how much milk the new calves are eating and alert the staff on their smartphone app when one is behind their recommended allotment. Cows are monitored for how much milk they are giving, and the machine automatically shuts off when the flow slows. Automatic sprinklers turn on when the barns reach 76 degrees, and vents open and close based on the temperature. The hair from the animals is tested to determine their DNA and projected health, allowing the farmer to anticipate breeding patterns and whether to sell the cow.

Pretty much every aspect of the farm utilized some form of technology or modern science, and because of their investment, they are able to manage 600 cows with six full-time employees. I thought of the farm this week when I read about McDonald’s automating the cooking of their french fries. It seems that they, too, are utilizing technology to address the labor shortage and reduce costs.

There are certain aspects of service that benefit greatly from the human touch but monitoring cows and making fries are not among them. Help your organization get comfortable turning over functions to a robot or machine. Soon it will feel like the most natural way to run your operation.

Spreadsheet showing how much the calves ate that day and whether they are in the “red zone” and need to be herded to the head of the line to get more food