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It seems that organizations are in the news for good and bad. From Boeing to the U.S. Post Office, there seems to always be a bad headline in the paper. Organizations spend countless millions trying to mitigate such negative press while arming PR folks to spin the bad and counter with the positive.
And yet some things gather attention with seemingly no effort at all.
A story that has had lots of favorable press is Lego. A 7-year-old from England named Luka Apps had lost one of his favorite mini figures. With his dad’s help, he wrote the company and pleaded for a new JayZX. Lego sent him a new minifigure (how much did that cost?). But what made it send out was the creative way they responded to the young man:
“Thanks for sending us an email!
“We are very sorry to hear about you losing your Jay minifugure but it sounds like your dad might have been right about leaving it at home. It sounds like you are very sad about it too.
“Normally we would ask that you pay for a new one if you lose one of your minifigures and need to have it replaced. My bosses told me I could not send you one out for free because you lost it but, I decided that I would put a call into Sensei Wu to see if he could help me.
“Luka, I told Sensei Wu that losing your Jay minifigure was purely an accident and that you would never ever let it happen ever again. He told me to tell you, “Luka, your father seems like a very wise man. You must always protect your Ninjago minifigures like the dragons protect the Weapons of Spinjitzu!” Sensei Wu also told me it was okay if I sent you a new Jay and told me it would be okay if I included something extra for you because anyone that saves their Christmas money to buy the Ultrasonic Raider must be a really big Ninjago fan.
“So, I hope you enjoy you Jay minifigure with all his weapons. You will actually have the only Jay minifigure that combines 3 different Jays into one! I am also going to send you a bad guy for him to fight!
“Just remember, what Sensei Wu said: keep your minifigures protected like the Weapons of Spinjitzu! And of course, always listen to your dad…
LEOG Consumer Services”
That sort of attention to a little 7-year-old inevitably landed the LEGO organization from media outlets like Huffington Post, MSN, Yahoo and Forbes. You can’t pay money for that kind of good press. And it came from a sincere effort to not only provide service recovery, but to tailor that service to the boy’s circumstances.
There’s another favorite story from a zoo I’ve worked with
Rave To Woodland Park Zoo, who found our 4-year-old son’s missing stuffed gorilla, “Oooh Oooh,” amid the pile of stuffed animals inside the Zoomazium, and returned him to us along with a photo-essay of his “adventures” during his month spent at the zoo. Your creativity, compassion and kindness stunned us, and we are so thankful that our son who declared “this will never stop hurting until I am dead” has his special guy back. Thanks for setting an example for our kids of what it means to go the extra mile in caring for others.
The back story on this experience is that the gorilla had accidentally fallen behind some furnishings. When it was finally recovered, the staff called the family and left a message. A few weeks later the family, upon returning from their vacation, called the staff and told them they would be over right away. The staff, realizing that the family had not called back because of their trip, thought it would be cute to take pictures of “Oooh Oooh” on vacation at the zoo.
Of course, lost and found items are returned regularly in any organization. What made this stand out was the individualized approach the staff took. The small photo book cost practically nothing. The good will–and long term customer loyalty achieved–will last far longer.
So it is with really great customer service. Whatever the cost to select, orient, train, emphasize and reward great customer service is a small price for the returns it yields. It’s an opportunity no organization ignore.
Like the Woodland Park Zoo, and many other organizations around the world, we provide great customer service programming and consulting. We also provide the management and leadership tools to support the transformation of cultures and brands into world-class excellence. Contact us today!
Forbes Magazine has named Sammamish, Washington as the friendliest city in America. With a population of 46,700, this bedroom community to Microsoft was ranked by Nextdoor.com, a San Francisco-based social network for neighborhoods that assess small metro areas with populations between 5,500 and 150,000.
There are a number of factors that lend themselves to be chosen. Forbes reports that nearly 90% of the residents of this Seattle suburb own their own homes. Crime is low as is unemployment. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and overlooking a lake, Sammamish offers outdoor activities like skiing, water sports, hiking and biking. Community-organized events include a weekly farmer’s market, a Concerts in the Park series, Shakespeare in the Park, Sammamish Days and Nights Jazz Music, and an annual arts fair.
But what really makes a town great can’t always be measured quantitatively. Said one six-year resident Katy Chung, “I have never lived in a community that’s more welcoming…When we first moved here, neighbors came out of their homes to introduce themselves and give me delivery menus!”
I’ve worked with the City of Sammamish for many years in an effort to make its employees more customer-friendly. This is a great group of people who truly go out of their way for their residents. I remember many stories of helping people get sidewalks cleared of snow or removing limbs from a storm. One story shared was about a women who accidentally lost her keys down a curbed gutter. City employees went out, got in the sewer system and fetched the keys.
If I were to give credit to any one individual I would say it’s Ben Yazici, City manager. He was appointed back in 2001 but served with the city even prior. City councilmen have come and gone, but Ben has a persistent vision about being there for citizens and of setting the tone for the community. There is an energy and drive he brings to that is contagious. People want to make the city succeed.
Congratulations to Sammamish! You are a great example of what cities can do for their citizens!
One of Disney’s most beloved films, Beauty and the Beasts, speaks to the topic of hosting others. Indeed, its signature song, “Be Our Guest,” is not only an anthem for great guest service at Walt Disney World, it’s now become a hugely popular restaurant. Guests are making reservations months ahead for formal dinner reservations, and standing in long lines for a more kiosk-style lunch at the “Be Our Guest” restaurant. Why? Because they thing they are going to experience something different than most guests experience in standard Disney theme park restaurants–a chance to experience great guest service in an amazing fantasy setting.
But providing great service whether at a Disney theme park restaurants or in the real world takes more than a magical ballroom or a wish before an enchanted mirror.
In earlier days of coal mining, there was a concern about ventilation. Methane and carbon monoxide gases were a poison that could take the life of a miner before it was too late.
To resolve that concern, canaries were brought down in cages to accompany the workers. Carnaries were even more sensitive to those gases and would pass out long before the miners did. As long as the bird kept singing, the miners knew their air supply was safe. A dead canary was a sign to evacuate immediately.
A very different signal comes from this ball of birch mulch.
Found in Japan, this balls unusual ornaments were hung over Sake during the fermentation period. When the birch has turned from green to brown, then you know that the sake has sufficiently fermented. Truly nature has provided her own time table.
Nature provides many signs for us. The first falling leaf, the first snow fall, the first bud in the spring. So it is with organizations. What are the signs that your organization is succeeding? What are the signs that your corporate culture is what you want it to be? What are the signs that you need to make changes before its too late?
“Service is not only a matter of being pleasant to customers—just as being a doctor is not only a matter of having a comforting bedside manner—but also of understanding the systems that make customer satisfaction possible.”
“Understanding how and why the whole system works is the fundamental expertise of service professionals.”
“Ideas at Work, “ Harvard business Review
Just recently our World Class Benchmarking program had the opportunity to provide a great pre-program benchmarking experience in Palm Springs for the SHRM Strategic Conference. One of our opportunities was to provide a benchmark of Desert Recreation. Often our program benchmarks are of renown organizations such as Wynn Hotels, Mayo Clinic and McDonald’s Hamburger University. But we have had association with this group over the years, and so we decided to try them out as a benchmark–even though no one in the group had ever heard of them.
As part of the tour we walked through one of their recreation facilities. In many ways, there’s nothing too special. The facility is several years old–it was by no means sleek and cool. But the staff was energetic, and the place was bustling with people who were enjoying the facilities. There was something in every corner of the building from basketball games to ballet demonstrations to gymnastics practices.
We sat down and heard from Kevin Kalman, who is general manager for Desert Recreation. His story isn’t too unlike so many other organizations that struggle to make do with less–especially when government funding is shortened year after year. The organization had long taken seriously the importance of great customer service. But after a number of years, the customer experience became one of excellent “crappy” service. What does that mean? It means that you can have the kindest, most considerate, most “go-out-of-your-way” staff available, but if there is no air conditioning in the gym, or the coach makes a no show, or there’s no room to sign up for the after school program, it doesn’t mean much.
Desert Recreation knows that it can’t just focus on the service delivery of their employees. They must look at the whole picture. We speak of this in our book, Lead With Your Customer. We note 6 Ps:
Promise: The brand promise you make to your customers. In this instance, it’s the promise of recreational opportunities that truly meet the needs of your constituents. For Desert Recreation, that meant pulling back and focusing only on those things they could really deliver on well, and that mattered most to constituents. Their annual soap box derby was one such example. It was a fun event, but it only delivered to a relatively few, and many of those were not even within the local community.
People: Those serving on the front line. They had this nailed. And honestly, I never saw such a small–and young–team of people anxious to do their best.
Place: The ‘onstage’ setting for your services and offerings. Too often the budget for maintenance was sacrificed for the sake of providing every possible program they could. Again, that tends to create a mediocre offering.
Process: The policies, procedures and rules that govern the delivery of your products and services. At Desert Recreation, it’s about what time you open and close; who can play basketball and when; how do I get a refund if I don’t like the program I’m in. What happens when a coach is absent? You have to create processes that are as flexible as the individual needs of your customers.
Product: The goods you offer to customers. Ballet, Zumba, weight rooms, and after-school care. Those are the products, but again, they are only as good as they people, place, and processes that support them.
Price: This is the tangible and intangible costs to the customer. How big a hassle is it to enroll? Is it worth getting going there to work out? Am I getting value for my money?
Look at your own organization. The customer experience is not just about how “friendly” your employees are–as important as that is. It’s about over delivering on your promise through your people and place and process and product. It’s about whether the people, place, process and product is worth the price. A great customer service experience is fully integrated and delivers on its promise. There’s no cute gimmick to this. You don’t need to give them a “pickle.” You don’t need to get your employees to toss a “fish.” Neither do you need to move everyone’s “cheese.” You need to deliver on your promises and make sure that what you deliver is worth the price. To do otherwise, may only provide excellent “crappy” service.
We help organizations to avoid the dilemma of excellent “crappy” service. Please contact us, and we can help your organization move forward.
We often meet with teams that say they are fairly effective at teamwork. But when we study their relationship with other departments and organizations things start to fall apart. The result is that we often find silos that create gaps in creating a solid, consistent, customer experience. In our book, Lead With Your Customer, we talk about service silos as ineffective, vertically organized, isolated areas of an organization’s operations led by influential people who are characterized by the following:
Service silos prevent an organization from creating an optimal service experience. Some have characterized the people who support these silos as cancers within an organization–caring basically only about their own well-being, to the detriment of the company. It’s critical for leaders to identify ways to break down those silos and rid the workplace of these attitudes by influencing change for the better. There are two approaches to this:
1. The Harder Way. Make sweeping changes to your organization’s structure. This will bust the silo, but it may also bust your ability to get work done in the short term by re-organizing as well as your morale over the short and long-term.
2. The Easier Way. Take time to get to know and build relationships with other parts of the organization. Learn about them by inviting them to come over to your department and share their learnings. Find formal and informal ways to socialize. Create projects where you can collaborate together in a way that makes each side feel like they are contributing meaningfully.
Unless you take a proactive role, it’s difficult to provide a customer experience that doesn’t fall down between organizational silos. Think about the things you can do to bring your organization together.
I’ve posted an article that explores my experiences working in the trench with three different zoo organizations, Chicago Brookfield Zoo, Seattle Woodland Park Zoo, and the Houston Zoo. Even if you don’t operate a zoo, there’s great messages about how to provide exemplary customer experiences while building a service-friendly culture.
Why work at Disney?
Why would you want to work at Disney if Universal or Sea World was paying a you more per hour to work there? Why would you travel all the way out to the Magic Kingdom, get on a bus, walk through a utilidor before punching your time card and going to work, when you could go a few blocks down the street and be there in no time?
The answer is the Disney Difference. More than a slogan, this expression has come to represent over the year’s Disney’s effort to brand the benefits behind working at Disney. As Walt Disney World grew in terms of the number of parks, resorts, and other recreational offerings, it has become increasingly difficult to hire and retain employees. Furthermore, competition has grown over the years, bringing efforts to lure Disney employees away to work elsewhere in the community. Some competitors, like hotel chains, have outstanding benefits already in place. Other competitors simply make it easier to work for.
So the answer to all of this was to create the Disney Difference. Essentially this is a packaging of all the discounts, services, and offerings available to Cast Members and their families. First of these, is the ability to enjoy the parks for themselves, their family, and friends of guests for free. But beyond this, the Disney Difference is much more:
Beyond this, Disney spends much effort not only communicating these benefits to existing and prospective employees, but also branding them like a Disney movie. The packaging bundled together keep current Cast Members focused on the size and scope of the benefit package, constantly communicating all the benefits that are available. The goal is to encourage employees to use their benefits as much as possible, so they feel they are getting as much extra value being a Disney Cast Member.
The cumulative effect is that the Disney Difference attracts and retains the kind of employees Disney wants to retain. In every one of their 3,000 job categories, retention levels are much higher than the national average. Moreover, they’ve retained people who largely love the heritage and offerings Disney makes to its guests, and find joy in being part of such a unique experience. Indeed, many Cast Members are passionate about working in such a magical place–even though they are the people who make the place magical. As its publication states:
You make the Disney Difference
The services and programs represented…also distinguish the Walt Disney World Resort from other area employers. Simply put, it’s the Disney Difference–the basis for everything we do.
Starting with our Cast Members, the Disney Difference is an environment in which Cast Members feel comfortable and welcome. Where people care about their jobs and about each other. Where our guiding principles are to respect, appreciate and value everyone. Where all are inspired and challenged to grow to their fullest potential.
The Disney Difference is that feeling of being part of something very special. It’s the sense of contributing to a growing and profitable enterprise. It’s the advantage of size that provides us with an array of opportunities and a variety of roles to which we can aspire.
The Disney Difference is the pride you feel because you’re part of the Disney Family…Together we create those feelings for ourselves. We deliver the results. And we create the Disney Difference. The Disney Difference is the way we do things at the Walt Disney World Resort.
Rather than thinking about how to cut back on benefits, Disney is at its best when it focuses on improving the mental benefits of working at Disney. We call this Psychic Income. Though, clearly, there are benefits from the status of working for a world-class organization, there’s an even more influential consideration. People don’t work because of the brick, mortar, or logo but because of the culture of the organization. The benefit of working for an organization must be as real and tangible as the ones customers receive from doing business with you. As such, every company must be unique. And at Disney, they call that the Disney Difference.
As my wife and I were driving to Sea World one Saturday evening we drove by the newly opened Wawa service station just across the street from the park. There were cars all over. It’s the first to open up here in Central Florida. Governor Scott had come down to the opening only a few days before. But it still looked like opening day.
On our way back from the park we saw a line of cars again all parked at Wawa. We decided we would go in and take a look. There was a massive crowd in front of the deli counter. An opening special of deli sandwiches were being given away at what I believe was about $2.00 a sandwich. A good deal–but by no means a freebie. Still, I spoke to one of the counter hosts and they said that the wait for a sandwich was between 90-120 minutes! Wow! We didn’t wait to get a sandwich, but there were certainly many willing to do so.
Wawa has a history that goes back many, many years–more than 200 in fact. It’s well known up in the North East with over 18,000 employees and some Many feel that despite it’s growth, it has a “family” feel to it. It offers a competitive benefits package, tuition reimbursement, loan forgiveness and a great employee recognition program. In return it has a very low turnover rate for a business that is typically one of the highest. Most importantly, it has an employee stock ownership program that allows workers to have an actual stake in the organization.
More Wawa stations are expected to open in Central Florida over the months to come. Some 100 are expected to open in the next 5 years. I hope by then I can get in for a sandwich without too long a wait.
Many people know Nordstrom as being one of the best customer-savvy deliverers in the country. And many of those same people have become loyal customers themselves. But because of their very modest corporate culture, few really know what has made this small shoe store become such a major retailer.
When we benchmark Nordstrom in our programs it usually happens early in the morning—before the store arrives and customers come in. We hear from store management about their approach for creating a high performing culture. At the core of this is their organizational structure. Rather than focusing on a top-down organization, Nordstrom prefers a model in which they seem themselves as an executive and management team that is there to support the front line, which is then responsible for providing for the customer.
Following an early meeting with management, we often head into Nordstrom’s pre-shift meeting. Prior to opening, Nordstrom conducts a pre-shift meeting—and most employees working off of commissions, voluntarily attend on their own time. Each store handles it differently, but there is always much celebration and recognition given to not only sales but to service.
Afterwards the store is open for business, and it’s a great chance to see the operation directly. What really stands out is how the store manager usually spends the bulk of the day on the floor supporting sales staff, rather than sitting in the back of the house in an office.