How do you like your pizza?

On time, hot, and as expected!

That’s how I like my Pizza.  On time, hot, and as expected.  Of lessor importance is what’s on it, if it is thick crust, thin crust, Chicago style, New York, whatever…  Pizza can be a very personal thing – we all like it different.  Have you ever tried to decide what to get on the pizza with three kids who all have different preferences?  Now that it’s just me and my wife at home it’s definitely easier to reach consensus but really, when you get right down to it, all I want on Friday evenings, when we typically order a pizza for delivery, is that it is delivered on time, hot, and as expected.

Consistently good results that meet one’s expectations is a key ingredient in a good customer experience.  Although I have a plethora of choices, on Friday evenings when  I order pizza I do so from the business that is able to consistently create that great experience for me.   It begins with my call to Bruno’s Italian Restaurant when Jessica answers the phone (within three rings).  I can tell it’s busy in the restaurant by the background noise of people’s voices, phones ringing, and the clatter of glasses and plates.  Jessica is in the thick of it at the front of the house.  She is not only answering phones for take-out and pick-up orders but also greeting customers as the arrive and making sure they get noticed and acknowledged immediately upon entering the restaurant (which is typically bustling with customers delighted by the aroma of delicious Italian food).   Jessica is a young adult and my instincts tell me that this may be her first or second job and that she has no formal training in Customer Service or restaurant experience.  But you know what – Jessica “get’s it”.  She’s a natural and she was a great hire for Bruno’s.

Upon calling or entering the restaurant Jessica is the face and voice of the company . I  don’t think she realizes this because she just does her thing instinctively.  But you know what?  I bet her boss does.  As a customer and as a service advocate I certainly do.  What a difference it makes.  As the old adage goes, “you get one chance to make a first impression”.  Jessica nails it.  And for repeat customers like me I’ve come to expect great service from the moment the phone is answered (within three rings) or that I walk in the door.  So kudos not only to Jessica but to the owner who is savvy enough to know that Jessica is a key asset to his business and makes sure that she at the front of the house.

So what’s the big deal?  It’s just Pizza right?  Wrong!  Sure, Bruno’s has great food that’s reasonably priced.  And Bruno’s is a great venue for families, for a date, or for a group party or family celebration.  But the big deal is – and Bruno’s get’s this – Bruno’s has created a culture of service and excellence the begins with, in this case, Jessica answering your call (within three rings) or greeting you as you arrive.

You can get great food anywhere.  But of you aren’t acknowledged when you walk in or your dining experience begins badly you probably won’t go back.

Here is the lesson for local restaurant owners: pay attention to the front of the house and hire for attitude. Recognize that the employees in the front of the house are  as important as your head chef.  Seriously!  If the person you are considering hiring for Greeter (or Host or whatever you choose to call them) cannot immediately enhance your customer’s experience take a pass and keep looking because you get one chance to create a great first impression and to create repeat customers.  Consistently good experiences for your repeat customers creates loyalty which leads to advocacy (as evidenced by my blatant plug in this post for Bruno’s Italian Restaurant in Livermore, CA).

So Mr. or Mrs. Business Owner,   I think I just described the path to a better chance of a more reliable revenue stream for you.  Just in case you’re interested in being profitable and staying in business…


Don’t Buddy Up Yo Your Customers

I drove away thinking that maybe I’m just a cranky old fart who needs to lighten up.  After all I got what I wanted and it was a pleasant experience with a merchant who always provides a good experience.  So what if the service advisor called me “buddy” as he shook my hand and expressed wishes for a good day.  So what if my new “buddy” was barely half my age and had only known me for 2 minutes and 27 seconds.  So what?

Here’s what.  This morning I took my car to the BMW dealership I’ve been doing business with for ten years.   It’s always a great experience and today for the most part was no different.  I was only there for a few minutes to take care of a minor detail – in and out in 15 minutes.  Upon my arrival the service advisor, Josh,  whom I had not met or seen there before,  came over and greeted me.  Josh is a fine-looking young man with a professional and confident demeanor.  I liked him as soon as I shook his hand.  Josh got the info he needed from me and told me he would be right back.  He quickly took care of what I needed and as he escorted me back to my car he said, “Ok, you’re all set”.  I thanked him and then he said it:  “Thanks BUDDY, have a great day”.

As soon as Josh called me “Buddy” a good experience was diminished to average at best.  I have come to expect, and usually receive, a great service experience at East Bay BMW.   The personnel are always friendly, respectful, and courteous. They recognize me as a long time customer and make exceptions when necessary to meet my needs.  I always feel valued when I arrive and when I leave.  But today was different.  As I drove off I did not feel valued.  Being Josh’s Buddy does not make me feel valued – it had the opposite effect coming from Josh, the nice looking young man who should know better.

I actually use the word buddy often to describe one guy or another.  “My buddy and I played golf last week.” or, “My buddy Marty is a great guy”.  But I cannot fathom a time I would call one of my customers “Buddy” even if it were the guy I played golf with last week or if it was Marty.   There’s a time and place for using certain words.  “There’s a time and place…”.  Now how is that for sounding like an old fart again?  A time and place.  Be respectful of your elders.  Hold a door for a lady.  Geesh…  Maybe I do need to lighten up!

OK, so I will try to lighten up but you know what?  The next time I see Josh and he calls me Buddy I will let him know that I better be MR. BUDDY to him.

What ever happened to “you’re welcome”?

What ever happened to “you’re welcome”?  You know, that term merchants used to use at the end of a service interaction when the customer says “thank you”.  It seems to me that there was a time when the response was “you’re welcome”, whether you were (welcome) or not.  More recently there are wide and varied responses to one’s expression of gratitude at the end of the service interaction.  The absolute worst response is “no problem”.  I’ve written about the use of this term in the past.   “No problem” suggests that if it was, a problem that is, my  service needs may have gone unmet.  I would be out of luck.  I would have ended up with only 5 yards out of 9 yards; only half the enchilada; less than half of the shooting’ match…  You get the  idea.

So as a public service I have interpreted the meanings of other common alternatives to “you’re welcome”. This way you’ll  have a better idea of what is going through the head of the clerk, service manager, or waiter who says this to you.  Picture the service provider stating these terms with a thought bubble over their head – like in the cartoons – with the following subconscious thoughts that go with their alternative to “you’re welcome”.

The service provider says,  “No worries”.   The bubble over his head:  “Your actions did not cause stress or disruption to my life or routine.  Whew!…”

The service provider:  “Sure thing“.   The bubble:  “Obviously, you’re thankful.  You are inept and otherwise incapable of taking care of your own needs.”

Service provider:  “Anytime.”  Bubble:  “Most of the time, if it’s convenient.”

Service provider: “You got it“.  Bubble: “What am I doing here?”

For the record I’ve had plenty of positive and fulfilling service interactions that ended up with one of these phrases.  As a further confession I have used these phrases myself on occasion.  But I am keenly aware that the phrase “you’re welcome” is very powerful.  The phrase conveys a simple and positive message during the closure to a service interaction.  It leaves the customer with confidence that they are indeed welcome.  Welcome to come back, welcome to receive more services, and most importantly to the merchant, welcome to spend more money in their place of business.

I am already sensing gratitude and thanks for stating, with Yoda-like wisdom, what should be obvious to anyone with customers (which by the way is all of us).

And for that, you’re welcome!


Rock And A Hard Place

I resent walking out of my local grocery or warehouse store having to navigate through several non-profit or charitable groups asking me for money.  Does this make me a bad person?  As important does this have an impact on my customer experience?

With all the scrutiny on doing the right thing what are merchants to do when asked by one of these organizations if they can camp out in front of their doors to solicit their customers as they enter and exit?  How can they say no without creating a reputation as being unfriendly to the community?  But do the merchant’s consider what my experience will be when I enter and exit their store?  Do they care?  Do they have a choice?

As customers what should we do?  Should we willingly stop at each set of hopeful eyes, listen to each pitch and open our wallet for each one?  What if our wallet was just emptied as we crossed through the checkout line in the market?  What if we just don’t have time today to stop and “do the right thing”?   What if we are burnt out on people asking us for money?  What if we feel guilty each time we make a point to not make eye contact and just keep walking?  And what impact does all this have on our experience with our local merchants?  Should we blame our guilt on the merchant and find a new place to shop?  Or should we cut them some slack and appreciate their commitment to community and good causes?

Does the cute little Girl Scout enhance your customer experience or detract form it?  Does the homeless vet invoke your inner spirit of compassion and appreciation or drive you away?

Talk about a rock and a hard place.  These are tough questions but worth consideration for the consumer and merchant alike.

Are You A Dog Or A Cat (when it comes to service)?

Bailey and Panda

In our professional lives we are all service providers in some way. You may have internal customers; these are co-workers or a group of employees in another department or division for example. Or, your customers may be external; those people who buy your products or services. If you don’t already, you should get to know them well because these are the people who pay your salary. You can’t get away from it – you are part of the value chain and everything you do ultimately impacts the external customer. For better or for worse…

Think about this: no matter what your job function is your job purpose is to contribute to a positive customer experience? If you don’t agree with this premise then ask yourself another question: if what you do doesn’t in some way add value to the customer experience why does your company pay you to do it? When your customer, whether internal or external, presents you with an opportunity to help do you welcome them and express eagerness to show the value you can add to their experience? Or, do you simply try to stay under the radar and avoid contact all together? This is what leads me to asking if you are a dog or a cat when it comes to service.

In my house we’ve had both a cat and a dog. One day I realized that when someone came to the front door our cat Panda would run away from the sound of the knock or doorbell. Our dog Bailey on the other hand would give out a soft woof and run to the door doing his patented “canine circle tap dance” wagging his tail in gleeful anticipation of seeing who would appear. All the time his eyes going from mine to the door as if to say, “Open it, open it! I can’t wait to see who I can greet and make feel welcome in my house.” What a contrast this was to poor Panda who shows panic in his eyes as he darts up the stairs or behind a couch. Panda briefly looks at me as if to say, “Follow me! If we’re really quiet and hide maybe whoever it is will go away.”

When the door opened Bailey always greeted our guests warmly and in his own way let them know how much he valued them and demonstrated his strong desire to please. Then there’s Panda who doesn’t reappear until well after our guest has left and is sure the coast is clear and that no more guests will intrude.

So in your job as a service provider are you a dog or a cat? When someone approaches you in your shop, cubicle, or job site do you panic and figuratively or maybe even literally, run for cover like Panda? Or like Bailey do you eagerly greet your customer and welcome the opportunity to value them and express your strong desire and commitment to help?