Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Competitive Customer Service

In my customer service classes I discuss the fact that some organizations (like mine) and their competition do things so similarly that the only way to distinguish themselves as the better organization is through superior customer service. The quality of employees and services are the only distinctions between organizations that provide the same or similar service.

I read a great example of this in the book Blue Streak, by Barbara S. Peterson. In beginning the discussion about JetBlue U (university), the trainer for the flight attendants comes in the first day still upset about the JetBlue flight he had had the prior day. One of the attendants on his flight seemed like he was "not really there" for various reasons. [I'm making a long story short here] The attendant didn't do anything bad and wasn't rude. But this is exactly why people want to work - and fly - at JetBlue. "The sort of indifferent service that one would take for granted on another (most) airline would gain you some very unwelcome attention" at JetBlue.

JetBlue does the same "job" as many other airlines. They fly people from point A to point B. But if you talk about customer service within the airline industry, who's name is at the top (along with Southwest)? JetBlue.

Be the paradigm shift. So many organizations can benefit from this kind of thinking. Why was Disneyland successful so quickly? One of the reasons was in a paradigm shift of what amusement parks were like. When Walt started Disneyland his wife would ask him, "But why do you want to build an amusement park? They're so dirty." To this he replied that, "mine wouldn't be".

Don't bank on, "this is the way it's done everywhere else". That will just make you look like "everyone else". Train from the start to be the best of the best.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I recently read someplace that today's society tolerates too much questionable activity, whether it be by our kids, businesses or managers. I got to thinking about it and I'm not quite sure I agree. Do kids today really think that cheating or stealing is okay? Do businesses and managers really think it's okay to cheat and steal?

I think basic misbehavior is considered just as wrong today as it ever was. People are just coming up with more creative ways to try to get away with things (ahem-Madoff) and others are just stupid (ahem-AIG). Society doesn't accept these ways, but people are still going to try, and try hard they do.

Laws don't always require us to do the right thing. This is where ethics has to take over. Ethics are standards of conduct that we "ought" to follow. Good ethics in business is akin to good sportsmanship in athletics. We are to play by the rules, be fair, and be a good sportsman. The rulebook doesn't always tell us specifically what we can or can't do, but yet we know. Ethics guides us in those situations.

As a supervisor/manager, we have a responsibility to promote ethical behavior - and take action when unethical behavior is suspected. We have a duty to:
  • set a good example,
  • ensure others act according to laws, values, and policies,
  • make sure your staff have the resources to do the right thing,
  • enforce standards and policies,
  • report noncompliance,
  • never retaliate or permit retaliation against "whistle blowers".
You can pretty much sum this all up with the phrase, "do the right thing". If it doesn't seem right - it probably isn't.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Com-mu-ni-cate: to share: to convey knowledge of or information about: make known.

Sounds easy. Then why don't more supervisors do it? Nancy K. Austin, a Management Consultant said, "Employees deserve to know what's up and will handle the responsibility better than you imagine." Share.

Staff at all levels of the organization should be considered links in communication. Appropriate information should be freely passed up and down the chain. The key is that it's done quickly, not just by work of mouth. You can't just tell one or two people something and expect that the "grapevine" do the rest. Staff that are kept informed are motivated because the feel like they're involved and a part of the big picture.

Here's a good example of how communication makes a big difference. The book "1001 Ways to Energize Employees" discusses the manager of a Holiday Inn that had a low occupancy rate of 67% - not too good. He decided to communicate the hotel's occupancy rate to all staff every day. Within 18 months, the rate had climbed to 85%, and staff were literally falling over themselves to greet customers, carry guests' bags, and generally be helpful and friendly. Without a doubt, staff who are "in the loop" are staff who are an energized and vital part of the organization.

The word communicate is a verb. There is an action associated with it. Communication is not just something that happens - you have to make it happen.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Field Suggestions

As I've discussed before, the best place to find out how things are really done is the field - your front-line staff. They're the SMEs. Books and manuals are the basis of how a job is done, but experience tops it off.

If you really want to effectively improve a process or business, you've got to get input from the people who actually do it. Be open to suggestions - gasp - yes, suggestions from your line-staff. Just because you're a manager doesn't necessarily mean you're an expert.

You need to encourage staff to make suggestions that can make improvements on anything from customer service to process flow to product marketing. The key word here is "encourage". Just mounting a suggestion box on a wall is not enough. It doesn't matter how small or insignificant of an idea someone has - encourage it. The smallest idea can become the biggest improvement.

Don't forget to respond to your staffs' suggestions. Respond quickly. The longer it takes, the more they feel as if it's just a canned response. Especially if it's something that you're not going to implement. Acknowledge the time they put in to develop the idea and to write it up for submission.

And by all means, let the group or the whole know that suggestions are being considered and implemented. Publicly acknowledge the staff who make suggestions and the changes that come from them. Once staff see/hear this, you'll start to get more suggestions (that's a good thing), and more thought-out suggestions. Staff will definitely begin to feel more valued, appreciated, and motivated.