Are You At An Impasse?

Are you at an impasse?It was 5:30 in the morning. Light enough to see clearly, but not yet at the point where the sun had fully emerged. My dog was quiet in the backyard. When I looked out to see what she was doing, I was surprised. She wasn’t sitting on her normal spot on the deck. She was locked in a standoff with an opossum. There they sat for twenty minutes, staring, not moving, undistracted by anything else going on around them. They were at an impasse.

How often do you find yourself in an impasse in business? It could be with a customer, different departments within your organization, or between individuals. Many times the resolution is either a loss of business, or one party being happy with the result and the other disappointed. The key to resolving the impasse is finding the motivating factor for each party, not what was initially asked for. It is possible to break through an impasse and find a win/win situation. How are you breaking through your impasse? And more importantly, what approaches are you putting in place to ensure you don’t wind up in an impasse again?

Creating a raving fan from a service hiccup

creating a raving fanIf you have a hiccup in service, this is the way to make a raving fan. We all know traveling isn’t what it used to be, breathing a sigh of relief upon arriving at the final destination. This time, the adventures weren’t quite over when I arrived ready to check in at 4:30. The receptionist advised me that my room wasn’t ready yet and would be in about an hour. Without any prompt or comment from me, she offered to buy me a cocktail in the bar for my inconvenience. By 5:00 my salad from lunch had worn off and I decided to have a few oysters to go along with my champagne. Not a bad way to pass the time. 6:00 rolled around and my room was ready. I stood up, asking the bartender for the check, expecting to pay for the oysters, etc. He said it was all taken care of. At the Four Seasons San Francisco, they know how to deliver top end service and turn what could be a frustrating situation into a pleasant one, creating a raving fan.

Service interruptions happen for one reason or another. Many times the response from the person delivering the bad news is “it’s not my fault” that you are not getting the service expected. And it is not. But the person on the receiving end doesn’t care whose fault it is, They just want what they believe they paid for. That is where the company has the ability make either a raving fan or a disgruntled customer. People on the front line have a tough job. Giving them the training, flexibility and authority to create a good experience is what differentiates companies with good customer experiences from those that you see in the news or on social media. How are you empowering your people to create raving fans?

The Missed Turn

consistent excellenceYou’ve seen it. More than once, maybe everyday.   Today, I observed it twice. The car sitting on the shoulder between the lanes of traffic and the off ramp with a flustered driver behind the wheel trying to figure out how they are going to merge into traffic at freeway speed from a dead stop. Rather than taking the next exit and circling back, the driver made the decision to create two hazards – one by slowing down quickly to get to the shoulder, and the second to re-enter traffic suddenly, many times without a turn signal. In both cases, it requires others to be observant and adjust quickly to avoid an accident.

Being clear about your purpose and objectives in business indicates to your investors, customers and people what you are about and how you will behave. They know you will innovate and create value. They may not know the exact details, but they know they will be delighted. There is no erratic behavior. There are no missed turns that create hazards for others. There is consistent excellence. How are you creating consistent excellence in your business?

Can two opposing perspectives both be true at the same time?

different perspectiveI was recently speaking with a neighbor about a local grocery store. It is a fantastic store, has a massive produce section, high quality foods, etc. She agreed with my perspective of the store. Her next comment though, differed from mine. She said it is really expensive. That wasn’t my experience. It wasn’t just a factor of family size. It was the foods we buy. For some items like fruits and vegetables, the quality and pricing is the best around. But in other areas, the pricing is higher than at other stores. There are a number of reasons for that like quality, but just on its face, the pricing is higher. It was apparent that how we experience and use the store is very different. Both perspectives were true based on how we shop.

In the business world, it is easy to dismiss perspectives as true or not without understanding what is driving the perspectives. Whether it is employees, customers or suppliers, each will have a different perspective based on the environment, how products or services are used, and daily interactions. The trick is to understand what is driving the perspectives and if that aligns with that is the experience you want people to have. How are you getting feedback on varying perspectives and making course corrections if needed?

Do your people understand how customers use your product?

do you know how your customer uses your productYes, I’m a bit old fashioned in one area – reading the newspaper in hard copy. There is something satisfying about sitting down and feeling the paper and smelling the print that you can’t get online. Recently, the delivery person changed. All of a sudden, the paper started coming rolled tightly. Presumably the approach made it easier to toss the paper. I’m all for driving efficiencies, as long as they don’t create a new problem. In this case it did. The paper was so tightly rolled, that it would curl back on itself when attempting to read it. My guess is the delivery person had never tried to read a paper after it had been rolled like that. The focus was on delivering the papers as quickly as possible.

Changes in business happen all the time. Sometimes the impact of the change is fully thought through, other times it is not or there are unintended consequences. A critical element in making change is ensuring that the product or service still meets the needs of the customer. A first step to doing that is ensuring your people understand the needs of the customer and how the product or service is used. How are you making sure that your customers needs don’t get lost in the shuffle?

Are you getting the behavior you desire or the behavior you reward?

Are you getting the behavior you wantIt was the most recent round of attempts to confirm appointments. Dentists, doctors, hair salons, restaurants, etc. The forms of contact vary. Postcards, emails, texts, phone calls. They keep coming until you actively confirm your appointment. And if you don’t, your appointment will be canceled. I’ve been told the level of not showing up for appointments/reservations has reached new heights. Businesses now invest money in technology to get you to confirm your appointment, or in people making calls and following up to make sure you are coming. You now need to spend your time to confirm an appointment (rather than calling if you need to cancel). Your time and that of the company you intend to do business with is now consumed because the people who don’t show up aren’t penalized. The business loses revenue due to a person not showing up, and higher administrative costs focused on trying to get people to confirm appointments. And the behaviors of the offenders don’t change because there is no penalty for behaving badly.

There is a local restaurant that has two seatings for dinner. It is small, so important that seats are not open because the hit to revenue would be significant. They implemented a policy that requires a credit card to be provided when you make the reservation. It holds your spot. And if you don’t show up, the charge is nearly $100. Guess what. They don’t have a problem with people showing up for their reservations.

In business and in life, you teach people how to treat you. If you desire certain behaviors and you get them, reward it. If you don’t get the behaviors you desire, design a mechanism that corrects the behaviors you do not want in a targeted fashion such that only those who are offenders are addressed. When you get it right, you’ll start seeing the behaviors you desire. How are you getting the behaviors you desire in your business?

Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there

just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it isn't thereIt was the wee hours of the morning and a heavy storm rolled in. Wind pounded the side of the house and the rain was coming down. And then I heard it. Tink. Tink. Tink. The sound of water dripping in the bathroom. Water was clearly coming in through a vent from the roof and flowing through the fan in the ceiling. A few days later the roof repair folks came out to confirm my suspicion.

While he was investigating, I put my dog in the garage. After he left, I opened the garage door to let her into the house. She was running full speed until she hit the threshold and froze in her tracks. She started sniffing the air, then went to the front door and picked up the scent. She tracked it all the way up the stairs, into the bathroom and then to the laundry room (attic access). From time to time she paused. It was the exact path the man took. I certainly couldn’t see or smell where the man had walked, but she could even though she had no specific training in tracking scents.

Just like the trail of scent exists even though I couldn’t see it, things go on in business every day that are not necessarily visible. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there, it just means you may not see it. Maybe it is a person that works in the background and makes sure that things happen. Or the person that keeps their finger on the pulse of customer needs and finds a way to keep them pleased. Things just seem to work because there are people in the background making it happen. You don’t necessarily see it happen without looking for it. How do you keep your eyes open for things in your business that you may not see?

Are you diverting people without notice?

are you diverting peopleThe economy is coming back. You read about it in the papers, see it on the news. It really becomes apparent when you experience it in the form of increased traffic and construction. Driving to an appointment recently met me with two unexpected adventures in the form of road closures. While many times there are signs down the road indicating a closure is ahead, in both cases, there were no signs. In the first case, the closure was temporary as construction was being performed on the road and flaggers would periodically let people through. The second closure was for an extended period of time. Looking ahead two blocks, I was able to see the closure and make a turn down the appropriate one-way street. Had I not seen it, I would have been on an adventure going the opposite direction.

In the grand scheme of things, the adventure was not a big deal. It was 15 extra minutes. I plan for the unknowns – something will come up, I just don’t know what it will be. But many people do not. And in business, the diversions down different paths and adding difficulties into the lives of your people or your customers in an unexpected way can strain the relationships. If only once, it may not be a big deal. But if people are diverted from the objective regularly, you may lose them. How are you making sure you don’t divert people without notice?

Did you ask?

Did you ask?A recent conversation focused on a group that was trying to expand its membership base. It was fairly narrowly focused, and the goal was to target a specific demographic. Target after target was declining the opportunity to join. And the members were not sure why. Was there truly a desire to expand? For some yes, but for others, no – they were happy with the current composition. Likely, this was conveyed when guests/target members attended.

The bigger issue was nothing changed to welcome the target demographic. Individuals were invited to attend events that were unintentionally designed to turn them off. No-one had ever asked the target individuals about their interests. And there was no intention to do so.

Whether growing in a new market, or in an existing market, understanding what is valued is critical to gaining traction. Simply asking what is valued goes a long way to delivering a product or service that is valued by the market. How do you gain insight into what key constituents value?

Going the extra mile

going the extra mileIt was an afternoon flight. And it was going to be a long week, so I paid a little more to get an upgrade. It was too late for lunch, and too early for dinner, so I didn’t expect anything in the way of food service.   To my surprise, they were serving a salad, garlic bread and a brownie. While I wasn’t hungry, the chocolate caught my attention. With my wheat allergy, I have to be careful, so I asked if it was gluten free. And to my disappointment, it was not. Oh well.

I quickly moved on to an intriguing conversation with my seat mate. About an hour later the flight attendant circled back with two mini chocolate bars – one for me and one for my seat mate. It was a little thing, but she made my day! She didn’t have to, but she went the extra mile to provide excellent customer service. Alaska Airlines prides themselves on their customer service. It is particularly impressive when the stated values align with actions and experiences. And in this case it did. How do you go the extra mile for the folks in and around your business?

p.s. I did write to Alaska about the experience!