Compassionate Caregivers

We participate regularly in a number of customer service discussion groups, and one of the most intriguing threads we came across a while ago was What Was One Of Your Best Customer Service Stories? Virtually all of the submissions were wonderful – heartwarming, inspiring, awesome – the list goes on. But one story amongst all of the gems shone out in particular. It was submitted by Derek Williams, founder and president of The Wow! Awards, a British non-profit organization that is “committed to helping organisations reap the benefits of increased Employee Engagement and Outstanding Customer Service by making it easy for your customers to tell you when your people are doing great things”.

Derek gave us his permission to share his personal story. We think it’s one of the most amazing examples of people not only Owning the Quality of Their Service, but living, breathing and sharing every microscopic bit of it:

“Working so closely with our clients at The WOW! Awards brings me a huge number of great stories. But today I made a nomination for an organisation that helped my father at a particularly difficult time and I thought that you might like to share it.

My family would like to nominate all the caregivers and employees at Newton House Care Home for the incredible care that they have shown to my father, Mike Williams. They have always shown a huge amount of care and love for my father and they treat him as though he was one of their own family. 

My father has the later stages of Alzheimer’s and relies completely for care and protection from the team at Newton House. And he’s not always been an easy patient; despite being very ill he can sometimes be very aggressive and still packs a punch.

Recently, Dad was taken to hospital suffering with bronchial pneumonia. After 10 days on antibiotics he looked incredibly ill. The doctor told us that although they could continue with antibiotics for a couple more days, Dad’s lungs are seriously diseased and he might not survive. We decide to stop the medication. The doctor asked if we would like Dad to be transferred back to Newton House where he might be able to spend his last few days in comfort. And we agreed that this was an excellent idea. I watched the ambulance crew deliver my Dad back to Newton House. He was unconscious and very frail. Other than a saline drip, he’d had no food for almost two weeks and I couldn’t see how he could possibly last more than another day or two. The instant that Dad was taken into Newton House, two of the nurses, Stacey and Poonam, immediately greeted him with cries of “Hello Mikey!” They gave him cuddles and kissed him. Dad immediately responded – he was so pleased to see them. He kissed their hands and told them how much he loved them. Even the ambulance crew were completely taken by surprise. “He’s responding!” called one of the crew.

During the rest of that day, Stacey and Poonam nursed Dad almost constantly. They freshened him up and made him comfortable. They managed to get him to take some fluids which were desperately needed and they came back every hour to repeat the process. In the last few days the transformation in Dad has been amazing. Far from us losing him, he is now sitting up and enjoying life as best he can. Yesterday he even had three Weetabix for breakfast! 

We know that Dad’s condition is never going to permanently improve. And maybe the next infection could be terminal. But for these few days we have all enjoyed so many magic moments with him. He’s been more alert and coherent than he has been for more than a year. And we know that it was love, not medicine, that gave him this extra little chance of life.”

BC Ferries Fiasco

A few weeks ago it was announced that BC Ferries had decided to keep $1.2 million in expired pre-paid travel vouchers purchased by loyal customers. These tickets have been around for years. If tickets were not used in one calendar year, passengers usually rolled them over into the next year and BC Ferries honoured this. For some reason they decided to end this practice and announced that the vouchers would have an expiry date – use ‘em or lose ‘em. According to BC Ferries, they went out of their way to inform ticket holders that these were the new regulations. But it seems as if their efforts failed. Shocked and awed hardly describes the reaction of customers when they learned that their un-used tickets were now worthless. The story made headline news in local papers and a later Angus Reid poll showed that 90% of British Columbians think BC Ferries should refund the money. To make matters worse, the company CEO, Mr. David Hahn, offered what can be wistfully described as a back-handed compliment when he said that BC Ferries customers were sophisticated customers and should have been aware of the new rules and regulations. What the customers heard was:   “too bad, so sad”.


Here are the impacts of his statement:

  1. As Captain of the team, he single-handedly threw his teammates under the bus. What do you think is the ground level reality for all of the ticket takers, traffic directors, cafeteria workers and other front-line staff now? They’re the ones stick-handling the angry comments, accusations and vitriol of understandably frustrated passengers. Remember, if you’re not serving the customer directly, you’re serving someone who is.
  2. People have been grumbling about BC Ferries for years and a slew of back-to-back disasters didn’t help its reputation much. In the aforementioned Ipsos Reid poll, 71% of respondents thought control of the organization should be handed back to the government. With an election just around the corner, it’s possible that, if BC Ferries continues to founder, the CEO could be viewed as a political liability.

However, the bottom line is that people don’t have much of a choice when it comes to traveling to and from the Island. So really, why should David Hahn take ownership? This CEO runs a monopoly so why should he care? We are asked this question quite often – how do you strive to be better when you have no competition?  Or in the case of the front line – why should I take ownership when leadership fails to? The answer is quite simple – you are your own competition. There are huge personal gains to be made by continually raising the bar and challenging yourself in your daily quest for excellence.

A true Leader is someone who has the integrity to take full responsibility for the quality of his/her service, its impact and its outcome. Excellence in service is something to be proud of. When it falls short, then it needs to be fixed. In this particular case, Ownership would take the form of a sincere apology for not looking at a decision from the customers’ perspective, apologizing for the upset it caused and then changing the policy so that it applies only to new passes.

We think BC Ferries can still turn the ship towards public favour…if they can find the courage. Do you agree?

Remember, nobody ever thought there would be a Chunnel from England to France…

To Quit or Not To Quit

We were chatting recently about meeting so many Irish people here on work visas, and people from other countries too who have arrived in the hopes of securing employment due to the drastic economic crises in their homelands.  Like many new Canadians they are in jobs they are not necessarily loving, and all of this got us to thinking about people who find themselves, either wittingly or unwittingly, in a similar situation.

Imagine you are unhappy in your job. Well, it’s easy to suggest that you should just leave. But that’s not always a practical solution. There are many concerns, finances being just one of them.  So is it a job change you really need or is it a change in perspective that’s required? Let’s examine this idea for a sec: some of the benefits you could be enjoying right now in your job could be financial stability, medical/dental coverage, an opportunity to learn from a mentor, or the ability to develop skills that would eventually be a stepping-stone to a different position. Think about these benefits and compare them to the negative aspects that are causing you to consider leaving. If you find that the positives outweigh the negatives, then stay – give it your best and get what you can out of the job. Doing this will help to motivate you and will probably benefit the company as a result. When the time comes for you to move on, you want to be able to leave and be missed, or valued, by your colleagues. Again, your services are a reflection of you first.

If none of the above seems feasible then you should definitely leave. You are not likely to be serving yourself, your customers or your organization well. You don’t want to run the risk of not being granted a positive reference upon departure (which will hinder future opportunities). And you absolutely do not want your mental or physical health to suffer…a path best avoided.

Owning the quality of our service requires us to see the purpose in our work…which reminds me of a story. Brenda and I once spoke to the CEO of a large, well-loved restaurant chain. He told us about an excellent employee who had worked there for 43 years – right out of high school. She adamantly refused to be honoured at a company celebration because she saw her years of work as being so “entry level” to be not worthy of mention.

When the topic of purpose comes up, I think of that woman all the time. She had chosen her job with purpose – the flexible hours gave her time to focus on family and other interests that were important to her. She clearly knew what her priorities were and to what degree she was prepared to devote herself to her work. This clarity had to have contributed to the excellent quality of service she provided to her customers and her company, for which they were extremely grateful.

Do you know what is the purpose of your work? Answering that one question not only inspires ownership but will help you determine both your short term and your long term career goals.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Did you see the movie “Valentine’s Day” last year? There’s a scene in the film where a bunch of friends get together in a restaurant to celebrate their annual “I Hate Valentine’s Day” party. Apparently, none of them were feeling the love.

Been there done that! But now we know better…Valentine’s Day has always been about telling the special people in your life how much you care about them. It’s not just a day for lovers – it’s a day for friends and family too. Despite the fact that the whole business has turned into a Hallmark Holiday, it’s still an opportunity for all of us to tell the special people in our lives how much we value them.

‘Value’ is a key component to the philosophy of ownership in thepowerserve™. Years ago, Brenda and I were asked to develop an Incentive Program for an organization of about 100 employees. During our initial consultation, we discovered that management actually knew very little about their employees. So instead of recommending a program that offered trips and other perks for performance, we designed a short and simple strategy that had one goal: get to know your people.

Leaders have a tendency to get in touch, provide positive feedback and bring on the motivational stuff when the company is faced with a challenge: a big project, a new demanding client, a downturn in the economy, etc.  And while employees will generally respond to your initiatives, they will also be aware of the fact that you waited until there was a motive to inspire them. The result? The value of recognition is minimized.

Don’t wait to connect with others. The best motivation for most of us is respect, appreciation, encouragement and support all of the time.  In a culture like this the employees are more likely to ‘manage up’ and collaborate with management to own the challenge of the day.

What are you doing right now to connect with your team, your customer, your donor? Are you waiting?

Here’s a thought to consider: how we deliver our service (whether it’s filing papers, designing products, serving customers, or leading a team) reflects who we are.  In today’s terminology, it builds our Personal Brand.

Chocolates for the staff on Valentine’s Day are fun, but they taste better when they are another great thing people like about their work.

What’s Out/What’s In for 2011

Happy New Year!  When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, most of us are like polar bear swimmers on January 1st – we race in with gusto but just can’t stick it out. So forget a resolutions list. Consider instead this review of all too common customer service clunkers – and how to turn them into service success. So for your enjoyment, we proudly present the first annual What’s Out/What’s In for 2010/11 – please feel free to add your two cents:

What’s Out – “No Worries!”

Who started this? I can’t tell you how many times I say “thank you” and the response I get is: “No Worries!”  Do I look worried? What is it about my face that says I’m stressed out? It’s particularly bad when I’m asking a clerk to find me a…ahem…bigger size, and I get “No worries! I’ll go find one for you.” What does “no worries” mean now? That this store is prepared for chubby, size 2 challenged people me? Gaahh – it’s humiliating.

What’s In – Good Manners

In response to a customer’s “thank you” – how about a good, old fashioned “you’re welcome”? It’s professional, it’s polite, it’s perfect. And as for the bigger size request, all you need do is say “I will go and check for you and will be back in just a moment”, or “I’d be happy to check for you – just a moment please.” Please is a fabulous word and it has loads of power.

*note: as a side note here you should be aware of the word “another” as in “Can I get you another drink?” This sounds as if you’re implying I’m some sort of a lush. Leave out the quantifier – your customers will be more comfortable and your sales will increase.

What’s Out – Closing with No Eye Contact

How often has a clerk said “thank you” or “goodbye” without looking you in the eye? Sometimes she’s moved on to the next customer even while making the comment. Why bother saying anything at all unless you mean it? Can you imagine doing this as a visitor leaves your home? Time, and often the lack of it, should only have an impact on efficiency and not on manners.

What’s In – Closing with an Opening

Closing with an opening means saying farewell to customers while giving them an invitation to come back.  This could be something as simple as a sincere smile, with direct eye contact, while saying “thank you” or “goodbye”. Whatever you do, toss the “have a nice day” comment in the 2010 garbage dump – this is one phrase that should have been eradicated from the English lexicon the second it was introduced.  We can’t think of a more lame, annoying, meaningless comment. Try replacing it with “thank you for shopping with us” or “looking forward to seeing/talking with you again” which sound sincere because they are.

What’s Out – Who’s Next?

Whaddya mean who’s next? Weren’t you looking? Isn’t it obvious? At best this shows a complete lack of engagement with your customers, at worst it sets up a competition between the customers to jockey for position – and nobody wants to get in grandma’s way on Bay Day.

What’s In – I Can Help You Ma’am

What works best is to acknowledge the person and use the great news of being “next” to connect with them. Try saying ‘I am open and I’d be happy to serve the line starting with you Sir/Ma’am” or “I can help with this line – can I start here with you sir?” Yes this is a rhetorical question but it’s also a considerate one that connects you to all of the waiting customers. These statements make everyone in line feel valued.

What’s Out – I’m Sorry I Can’t Help You

There’s always something you can do, even if it’s to take the initiative to find someone else in the organization who CAN help the client. You work for the company, your customer doesn’t, so you should know how to access internal resources to resolve a customer’s problem even if you don’t physically hold the keys.

What’s In – Let Me See What I Can Do

If, for some reason, there really isn’t anything you can do then you can try this: “I would like to help you with this and what I am able to do/offer is the following…” or “In this situation, the best solution I have is this….” However, if the issue is related to a high price point item or service then you need to escalate it up the chain of command. If you really want to excel in your work, then follow through, learn how it was resolved and re-connect with the customer to gauge their satisfaction.

What’s Out – You Must Be Mistaken

There’s nothing worse than telling a customer (or anybody, for that matter) that they’re WRONG. Nobody wants to hear this. Even if they are wrong, it starts the conversation with a terribly negative tone.  Being wrong or right isn’t the point anyway. The point is sorting through the confusion and crafting a solution.

What’s In – Let Me Understand the Situation

Try starting the conversation with “There seems to be some sort of miscommunication” or “Something isn’t quite right here”. Follow through with “Let me try to figure out the situation”. If it turns out that the customer has indeed made a mistake, work with them to help avoid confusion in the future. If the company is in the wrong, then be sure to own this error on behalf of the company. Don’t try to explain away the reasons for the problem because customers don’t care. They want results – even if it’s just a validation of the fact that an error was made.

What’s Out – Gossiping with Co-workers

“Last night was great – you should’a been there!”, “She’s not coming in – do you blame her?”, “Well, go tell her you need a break!” This is the dreaded “talk as if no one is waiting to be served”. How often have you stood in line and got to hear all the dirt on the supervisor or the best/worst of the staff’s social life?

It’s unbelievable but this happens all the time. Sometimes I feel like chiming in just to see the clerk’s shocked reaction.

What’s In – Chatting with Customers

Add some fun to your day by engaging with your customers – in fact, engage with the whole  line up if you really want to create a positive customer experience. This is an art form you can learn if you start slowly and maintain your efficiency at the same time – and it’s power-packed.

Jump into the game, be the quarterback, go for gold, engage! It elevates your spirits, makes time go by faster and makes your customers feel valued. Most importantly it builds up your confidence and your personal power which you’ll need in the event you are required to handle an issue.

There really is power in the words we use.   Research on the brain and language confirms that our choice of words can affect our thought processes and consequently our behaviors.  It does matter what we say, and how we say it.  Language is powerful.

Got any What’s Out/What’s In ideas of your own? Post them here!

Remembrance Day Reflection

If there’s one thing that I have taken away from all of my years of honouring Remembrance Day is that this day, above all, captures the essence of “Service” like no other. From Governors General laying wreaths in Ottawa, to drizzly ceremonies at the faded community cenotaph, to the annual school assembly, the message of sacrifice and service to the country was the standard from which all our flags flew.

I remember in the third grade being tasked with the responsibility of memorizing In Flanders Fields – the poem written by Canadian Lt. Col. John McRae, MD at the battle of Ypres in 1915 – to recite at the memorial service. Didn’t make much sense to me then and all I can remember is “foe, ye and flailing” but the solemnity of the occasion and the significance of my oration were not lost on me.

In later years I finally understood the meaning of the poem and that it was written in honour of McRae’s fallen comrade Alexis Helmer. But in the meantime I had come across another poem, one written by Mark Twain, entitled The War Prayer. In it, Twain proposed a radical idea – how about not going to war at all? Nobody had ever talked about this before so I requested, and was granted, permission to read a passage at the November 11th assembly.  The effect was remarkable. There were kudos and high-fives from students and teachers all ‘round. Except for one. The Principal. She marched me off to her office and let it be known, quite clearly, that she thought the message was inappropriate. Not only was I confused by her attitude, I was mortified at being reprimanded for coming up with what I thought was a good idea.

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with Customer Service. Here’s the thing – that one comment came this close to destroying any future initiative I would have ever shown to my school, my teachers or, for that matter, any other superior – be it supervisor, manager, or boss. Moving over to the corporate world, how many front-line employees, embracing the spirit of initiative, have thought about showing up at the staff meeting with a brilliant idea…but stayed silent – for fear of reprimand?

Front-line employees, more often than not, can see where the gaps are and figure out solutions. When an employee takes the initiative, he or she is providing the organization with a service. 99% of the time it’s born out of good intentions. But if the initiative isn’t respected, most employees will just clam up. How many opportunities has your company seized? Building a corporate culture that welcomes creative thinking, encourages wacky ideas, champions the “outside-of-the-box” thinkers, will yield productive results and encourage service to both the customer and the organization.

This Remembrance Day, we pause to honour those who served and sacrificed before us. But let us also honour each other.

Facebook Firing

In the news: two employees of an auto-detailing shop were fired recently for making “disrespectful, damaging and derogatory” comments on Facebook about their boss and their employer, West Coast Mazda. The B.C. Labour Relations board rejected a claim of wrongful dismissal by United Food and Commercial Workers International, the union representing the employees, who claimed that they were the victims of anti-union retaliation.

Well.  At thepowerserve™, we figure it’s better to get a successful lawsuit out of the gate early on in this era of social media and its relationship to our work lives.

Ten years ago, can you imagine the idea of going to a party with 100 or so guests, many from work (including the boss), and making derogatory and threatening comments directed at the boss to this captive audience – and expecting to have a job in the morning?

As my Irish mother used to say “Sure, you can’t do that lads…are you mad?”

Now we have Facebook.  The situation is no different.  Wake up out there! You are your job.  Yes, we know we are all more than that in the big picture but how you represent the organization that provides your paycheck in return for your skill and talents reflects on you – loudly and clearly.

If anything, participating in social networking requires that you take a good sober look at how you communicate with those around you. Once sent, your words can not be recovered.  They’re on permanent record.

So what’s different about the cocktail party scenario and the scenario that led to two employees being fired for dissing the company and the boss on Facebook? Consider this: in today’s connected world we are all empowered in the true sense of the word.  We have the power to wreak havoc on a company’s product, service and reputation or on that of another individual just by typing it and sending it to the public arena. It’s sort of like standing on the table at every cocktail party on the planet – with a bullhorn!

But in doing this mischief you do the same damage to yourself.  Even if your activities are magically not traced, you will know what you’ve done and that knowledge will erode the best of what’s in you. Eventually, negativism will seep out even when not using your social weapon of choice.

Temper is pleasure. Think about it: releasing our temper is a pleasant feeling of strength and power – it’s standing up for our rights.  But the aftermath is an emotional hangover with serious consequences. Your quality of service to your company – which is your customer – is your responsibility. The logic here is not complicated.  What is complicated are the emotions and motives that might cause you to use social networking to the detriment of others and yourself.  That might be the gift in this tempting technology – the realization that you need to take ownership of your responses and develop effective coping skills for the things you experience. Using Facebook, Twitter and all the other options to vent publicly is a costly way to express thoughts. This should be dealt with personally, with a counselor or with the appropriate authorities depending on the scope of the situation.

But let’s recognize that there are lots of employees who will use social media in a positive way and even as a tool – particularly Twitter, where front line employees use it to access information to serve their customers better. Another gift from this lawsuit: West Coast Mazda has pledged that management will develop a policy to inform employees about what constitutes “private” on Facebook.  Organizations should take note as they, too, need to get on board and ready their employees for effective and acceptable use of their power to connect with the world’s largest cocktail party.   The key: employees must know what it looks like, feels like, and how it impacts others when you own the quality of your service.


Ignore the Rules & Concentrate on the People

I was watching the movie “The Terminal” this weekend – the 2004 film starring Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones about a man forced into a state of limbo in a US airport terminal. His home country was embroiled in a civil war and, due to this turn of events, the US did not recognize his citizenship. He couldn’t get in and he couldn’t go back. Ever the industrious fellow, “Viktor” settles in and tries to make the best of the situation, much to the chagrin of “Frank”, the airport security manager. Frank finally loses it and all but assaults Viktor – in front of upper management. What follows is an interesting exchange between Frank and his boss:

Boss: “It doesn’t look good, Frank”

Frank: “I was just following the rules.”

Boss: “Sometimes you just have to ignore the rules and concentrate on the people.”

Concentrate on the people” – what a concept. How often have you wished that a customer service clerk would just take the initiative and do the sensible thing – even if it meant ignoring the rule?

I saw this situation in action at a community festival the other day. The organizers had, wisely, stationed volunteer crowd control officers at the front gates of the event. This served a dual purpose – ensuring that the visitors paid the token entrance fee and, more importantly, avoiding a mush of people trying to enter and exit at the same time.

The entire exercise worked well for the better part of the day. About half an hour before the event ended, the crowds had dwindled to a few handfuls of people. Most of these good folks were laden with purchases of Christmas crafts, cake walk wins and flea market finds. Since the fair was almost over and there wasn’t a latecomer for miles around, a sensible person would have seen the wisdom of letting everyone leave through the wide entrance. What did the faithful gate-keepers do? They forced everyone to turn around, packages and all, and shuffle through the narrow exit passageway, lugging their stuff and cursing the inconvenience.

What, exactly, was the point?

The point is – there was no point.

Somebody along the way had said: “These are the Rules!!”  The obedient sentinels carried on and created a stressful situation for many people who had dropped a significant amount of money at a charity event.

In the service industry, Knowledge is Power. It’s not enough to read the handbook and know the policies and procedures; you need to understand the reasons and purpose behind them. You need to be ready for the potential challenge they might pose to your customers. Readiness is also Power.

Armed with the background information to “the rules”, you’ll come to understand “the bigger picture”.

This is key to developing confidence in decision making. In this case, the bigger picture was that the rule was needed for crowd control during the busiest period. Without knowing the purpose of the rule the staffers weren’t ready when the situation proved the policy moot. Their actions ended up being counter-productive to good customer service.

You have to care enough about your own quality of service and understand that it’s a reflection of you first and then your company. You might consider a particular rule ridiculous and feel insecure about how to face customers when trying to enforce it. Take time to learn the reasons for its existence. If it’s still “dumb” in terms of quality of service, and you now know its purpose, it puts you in a position to work on a solution. Using knowledge and readiness to meets the customers’ needs to initiate improvements for your company is powerful stuff on a resumé.

Two rules you want to follow every time: Know Your Stuff & Be Ready.

Phone Fail – Treat Triumph

You just never know who you’re going to run into. The fellow in the Starbucks lineup turns out to be your next client; the lady in the chair next to you at the salon is your old kindergarten teacher; the guy who just about smoked you on the highway ends up being your boss’ husband. That’s why I never flip people the bird when they cut me off in traffic because you just never know

So it always pays to be on your best behaviour. For one thing, you’re representing yourself – your own personal brand.  For another thing, someone may be listening…

I was listening recently while in the process of buying a new phone from a local cell phone retailer. There were two clerks in the store, one serving me and the other helping another woman. Maybe “helping” is the wrong word here – “deflecting” might even by generous. Her problem? She was wondering if the cell phone she had ordered a few weeks ago had finally arrived. The clerk told her that a shipment of phones had come in but had already been sold to other customers. It was immediately obvious by the tone of her voice that the customer was annoyed. Apparently she had put her name and contact information on a list and had been promised a phone call when the phones were in.

What happened next was unbelievable. The clerk serving me raised her head and announced, in defence of her co-worker, that she had, indeed, called this woman and had left a message. The tone of this clerk’s voice indicated quite clearly that she thought it was the customer’s fault for not having responded to the message.

Wow. Them was fightin’ woids.

What ensued was a 5 minute argument between this arrogant young clerk and the customer over whether or not a message was delivered. The clerk had “You’re an Idiot” written all over her face and it was more than obvious in her tone of voice. The customer finally left – infuriated and sans phone. To make matters worse, the two clerks proceed to discuss the issue with each other IN FRONT OF ALL THE CUSTOMERS STILL IN THE STORE! One look around at all of the raised eyebrows spoke volumes to me but the self-righteous clerks were completely oblivious.

My next stop was at the local bakery where I had placed an order which was supposed to be ready by this time. Upon arrival I discovered that only the half the order had been prepared. What did the clerk do? She leapt into service mode without hesitation. First she checked the order and discovered that it had been recorded correctly – the baker had erred. Then she offered to have the second half made up immediately. I was running out of time and couldn’t wait so she quickly offered a substitute – free of charge. In the end, while I was disappointed that I hadn’t received what I had ordered, I still left feeling “served”.

And this is the whole point.

When mistakes happen, and they will, it makes sense to exercise due diligence to figure out what went wrong. Hopefully you can avoid a similar situation in the future. But to get into an argument with your customer over whose fault it was is suicidal. Fault is irrelevant…how people end up feeling is critical. The customer went away feeling angry and, presumably, let everyone in her social network know about her horrible experience. Bad for business. More importantly, the clerk presented herself to everyone in the store as being rude and argumentative. Her quality of service was exposed. Take note here: her quality of service, not her store’s.

Maybe she hates her job, maybe she was having a bad day… maybe maybe maybe. She needs to realize that her attitude and behaviour are a reflection of her personal brand (which she just torpedoed in front of me and the other customers in the store). This is the stuff that personal reputations are built on. I will continue to frequent this store because it’s the only one in town – for now – but will move heaven and earth to avoid being served by Attitude Girl. Who needs that?

The bakery clerk really didn’t do anything extraordinary – she simply did the right thing. But in comparison to the phone clerk, the difference was phenomenal. You never know when you’re going to get an opportunity to impress. Your next customer could be your next boss or business partner. How you present your own brand is the best business card you could ever hope to offer.

Automation Frustration

Aaaack! People have been complaining about this for years and we don’t seem to be any closer to a solution but it still drives me nuts: the dreaded automated phone receptionist.

“Press 1 for this, press 2 for that, press 3 if you’re losing patience, press 4 if you want to shove your phone down our throats.”

In the old days people caught on pretty quickly and figured out you just had to push 0 to get the Operator.  Then the programmers got sneaky and by-passed this convenience. Pushing 0 now bounces you back to one of the following: one, the Main Menu; two, a condescending voice telling you that’s Not An Option; three, somewhere out in the universe where no sentient life exists…although, actually, that just about covers most terrestrial companies with these darned systems.

Of course, all of this nonsense only gets worse the more desperate you are to talk to someone, anyone, who can help you solve your problem….like there’s a mathematical formula that proves the level of your desperation is in direct proportion to the amount of time it takes you to get through the push-button maze.

OK,  maybe these automated services are a necessary evil. Here’s an idea: how about turning the situation around and making it a convenience for your customers instead of the mother-of-all-frustrations?

I got caught again in the push-button vortex recently. My internet server was down and called the tech support line for help. Line 1 was for new customers, line 2 was for existing customers, 3 for commercial services and 4 for the corporate office. Here’s my question: why 2 for existing customers? Most people who call this number are looking for tech support which pre-supposes they’re existing customers. Shouldn’t they be directed to the front of the line? Why make them wait?

When I finally did get through I spoke for a few moments with a wonderful tech guy who had to put me on hold for a moment when, naturally, I got cut off.


Had to repeat the whole process over again.

Here’s a thought – why don’t they take my number so they can call me back if this happens? It’s not unheard of – I was quite impressed when the customer support staff at Dell did this. I don’t normally name names here but that strategy was so unique I think it deserves mention.

When I finally got the whole tech business sorted out I asked to speak with a manager. I was curious to know what kind of analytics the company kept with regards to calls to customer support. I was finally connected to an Assistant Manager who had no idea. What she should have know is that it’s one thing to compile statistics of this sort, quite another to act upon the information to service your customers.

Smart companies would take time to analyze the types of calls they receive and adjust the “button journey”.  This would identify the most frequent callers and their reasons for calling –the vast majority are probably existing customers. Use this information to determine the order of your automated phone system.

Then coach your staff to welcome the customers and thank them for having taken the time to call.  Do whatever you can to help mitigate the frustration of the push-button dance. Then call them back the next day and double check that everything is going smoothly.

Too busy?