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Chris LoCurto

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May 14, 2012

Customer Service Means Listening

Customer service is big to me. I am always telling leaders and owners to look at their company from the outside. The reason? It’s really easy to get used to how business is running and not know where your company is dropping the ball.

The other day I was going through the Dallas airport when I decided, when in Texas…eat brisket. So I found a Bar-B-Que place in my concourse. As I stepped up to the counter, a gentleman asked me what I would like. I told him brisket and sausage, and please don’t trim the brisket. He looked at me funny so I said it again. He then asked if I wanted the two or three meat plate.

I figured only mentioning two meats would explain that, but it’s cool. So I asked for the two meat plate and asked again to not trim the fat. At which point he pick up his knife…and trimmed the fat. Hmmmm. Oh well. He then handed it to a lady who asked if I wanted sauce on the brisket. I looked at her, shook my head no and said nooooo.

She took her ladle and spooned sauce onto my brisket. Uh…….ok. I thought to my self, my readers would find this funny. About fifteen minutes later I decided I wanted some coffee. So I went to the only place they had, you know the name, and ordered my usual. Decaf short vanilla latte 140 degrees. I paid and the lady behind me put in her order.

As I was waiting, the barista called off my drink, “decaf short skinny latte.” Really? I said, “Skinny?! Mine is not a skinny.” She looked at me like I was a total jerk. She poured out the coffee and threw it in the trash. That’s when the gal behind me said, “Mine is the skinny.” The barista was brilliantly upset. As if I had done something wrong that caused her to screw up.

Still haven’t figured out it was my fault. Still, I said, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to mess anything up.” And I repeated my order. I then asked if she knew it was 140 degrees. She said, “I heard you.” Wow. Now I HAVE to share this with my readers!

At first I thought, why aren’t these folks listening? Then I thought, I wonder what the owner would think? I mean, do they even know how badly their team members are? How much they don’t care about their customers? That’s why I BEG people to experience their own businesses as a customer. Or have secret shoppers shop their business. Because really, wouldn’t you go ballistic if you knew someone was experiencing your company that way?

Question: How can owners and leaders prevent this from happening?

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  • http://LouiseThaxton.Net/ LouiseThaxton

    Listening does seem to be the issue these days.  Everyone is in their own little world of drama – and then a customer steps to place an order and it is as if we are invading their space!   How can I make sure if this doesn’t happen in MY business?  And that my team really LISTENS?  We do customer service surveys to get feedback from customer – did they felt “heard”?  It’s a balancing act.  One person can’t do it all – you must rely on the team – but then it is the training and trusting part that is hard – will each one on the team listen to the customer – the way you would like for them to do?  

  • http://www.crystalimagesinc.com/desk-name-plate1.html custom desk name plates

    customer is like a good for any business man because if customer will come for purchasing than what will he do on his store.

  • http://Davidcreel.wordpress.com/ DavidCreel

    EPIC FAIL.

  • BainterJr

    Two ways for company folks to know how forward facing service members are doing: 1) Undercover Boss and 2) Mystery Shopping & Market Research. And since most people can’t schedule all those cameras in their businesses, Mystery Shopping is going to be the best way to go.  
     
    Companies who really, truly want a birds eye view of what happens on the showroom floors, on the phones or at the counters across their business can find good, quality shoppers who do this with objectivity and professionalism.  Mystery Shoppers are not out to find what’s bad in the locations — they want to show the good, positive things that happen, and to point out where an improvement might be needed.  
     
    I know of several companies that use a Mystery Shopping program and they have seen improvements in their businesses. It is a good way to go. A very good way. 

  • http://www.indueseason.net skottydog

    This reminds me of an experience I had in a diner in NY decades ago. We all have these experiences, unfortunately, but I remember it like it was yesterday. (Actually, 1990 still feels like it WAS yesterday).

    When the waitress was writing down my order…cheeseburger with fries, sour cream on the side…she said, “Sure, honey. But if I forget your side of sour cream, just remind me.”.

    Guess what? Yup. She forgot. And guess what I forgot? To tip her.

    Problem is, I’ve worked in the food service industry for years, and waitresses with attitudes get bad tips. Then they take it out on their next table. It’s a horrible process that gets worse by the minute. It can all start and end by taking responsibility for your own actions. And learning from what went wrong.

    In the healthcare industry, in major organizations anyway, we have secret shoppers. Usually in the form of the CEO’s wife coming in for a mammogram, or someone to that effect. Certainly, no one would sign up to be a hired gun to go “undercover” as a Cat Scan patient! They are real people, who need real studies performed. However, they are connected to administration on some level.

    Also, we send out customer satisfaction surveys to ALL of the patients that set foot in any of our facilities. The results of these surveys (complied by a third party) determine DIRECTLY what our annual bonus checks will be.

    When integrity is not your driving motivation, money usually is. Either way, my organization kicks butt every year! We received 100% satisfaction for survey results in 2011!

  • JoelBoggess

    Hi Chris,
     
    Wow… What an experience. That is pretty disheartening. 
     
    Being the eternal optimist, I see a tremendous opportunity.
     
    If a competitor sees the service gap as you so well described, the up and coming entrepreneur can blast past the  “sleeping” and “unresponsive” giants. 
     
    By the way, come over next time you’re in DFW, I’ll make sure you get plenty of brisket. 

  • http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=36736095&trk=tab_pro TroyD

    I was at the Apple store at the Mall of America yesterday trying to poison my Mac (installing Windows).  The store was a zoo, more than 100 customers.  Do you think the same is true across the hall (literally) at the Microsoft store?  I crossed the hall to Microsoft and interrupted 3 or 4 employees chatting (almost no customers to serve).  I asked if they could install their operating system on my Mac.  They said they could but they would have to ship it to me in 48-72 hours.  To make a long story short, I bought the program and crossed the hall back to the Apple store.  Without an appointment I spent close to 3 hours one-on-one with an Apple team member.  Awesome service, oh they did it for free too.  They are so helpful I just about took the guy out for lunch, just for doing his job.
     
    On a side note, I also wanted to ride a roller coaster with my son after shopping, but couldn’t because an attendant didn’t speak English.  What is a manager’s idea of customer service when the employee looks at you like it’s your fault they can’t understand you?  Help them succeed, don’t through them to the wolves!!

    • http://www.lilykreitinger.com lilykreitinger

      I had the same experience at the Apple store at MOA when trying to buy an iPad. They were definitely friendly and helpful, not “in your face, buy from me!”

      • http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=36736095&trk=tab_pro TroyD

        I went there a year ago to buy an Ipad.  They took the time to teach me that I couldn’t own an Ipad without owning another computer, that the Ipad was simply a day to day spin off of my “real” computer.  Consequently, his service resulted in me buying a Macbook.  By simply teaching me, the customer, I willingly spent 3 times the money I intended to when I walked in, and I was happy about it….  It’s actually weird when I think about it…

    • cabinart

       @TroyD I love Apple. Never had any other type of computer. Never will. Amen. The End.

    • http://LouiseThaxton.Net/ LouiseThaxton

       @TroyD It is extremely hard to deal with a “customer service” agent who doesn’t speak the same language as you!  

    • http://LouiseThaxton.Net/ LouiseThaxton

       @TroyD If you read Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why” – he talks about Apple – and how they are successful because they know their “Why”.  I guess they do!

  • cabinart

    Have you ever actually seen a manager at any of those concourse businesses?? And, it must hard to find employees to work in an airport with all those stressed out customers that never come back again. Where do the employees park? How far do they have to hike in to work? Can you imagine being in a retail store with almost zero repeat customers? 
     
    Not making excuses for such bad service – just trying to get into their shoes for a minute.

    • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

      @cabinart Those are great points! I think it means managent would have to be that more intentional in creating culture and painting the vision.
      It’s great to remember the issues those people face as well! Thanks for sharing!

    • http://www.jonahenry.com/ Jonathan Henry

       @cabinart Think about a mortician; they (should) have no repeat customers either, yet they have an opportunity to turn a miserable moment into one that helps the grieving process for family and loved ones. It does take a unique type of person, and the person certainly has to have passion doing the work. But giving people and their families dignity in death and giving people great customer service in life really are one in the same. 
       
      Fortunately Chris had a blog to think about during his experience, or his entire trip would be ruined.

      • http://www.lilykreitinger.com lilykreitinger

        I had to laugh at morticians not having repeat customers… On the serious side, we just went through my mother-in-law’s passing a little over a month ago and the funeral home director was awesome.  He took care of my father-in-law’s funeral eight years ago and brought up every single detail in our meeting with him. He said to my husband and his siblings “For your dad we did (X), I figured you would like the same for your mom” Wow!  Talk about an extremely difficult job done with dignity and passion.  We could all learn a lesson.

        • http://epicenterlanguages.com.mx/our-blog Aaron Nelson

           @lilykreitinger Totally agree with this. My Mom passed away two years ago – and the mortician was nice, but very…very…cold and down to business at the same time. We were devastated shells walking around his place. It’s a hard job, but man…there’s so much more that could have been done to try and help us deal with the situation. I like your story Lily – while we didn’t have a person who went on before in our situation, there was for sure a…human/warm touch missing there.  
           
          High trauma businesses need to especially experience their services from the point of view of their customers. Doctors. Morticians. Social Workers (I’m one.) Yep. Getting in your customer’s shoes is a big deal.  

  • http://www.bluebridgecomm.com/ JoelFortner

    Imagine you’ve nailed your marketing and you’re driving new people to your business and they encounter people like this.  Infuriating!  So long lifetime relationships and referrals! And pretty soon, so long business.

    • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

      @JoelFortner Hence what Dave teaches, spending the time in the hiring process MORE than pays for itself on the back end.
      It’s all those high importance, low urgency items…

      • http://www.bluebridgecomm.com/ JoelFortner

        Bingo.

      • http://epicenterlanguages.com.mx/our-blog Aaron Nelson

         @Skropp  @JoelFortner Word! 

    • http://LouiseThaxton.Net/ LouiseThaxton

       @JoelFortner You can get it all right but this – and still fail – that’s how important LISTENING is to a business!

  • unknownjim

    To listen is one of the most difficult things to do: it requires patience, time, and most importantly, someone who cares. 
     
    Cogs in a machine don’t care. Minimum wage retail employees most often don’t care. But if you go into an Apple store, you find employees that care. Passion, caring and listening all go hand in hand. 

    • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

      @unknownjim It’s amazing how many cogs there are and how many machines they are in! And I think the problem lies with both the cogs AND the machines depending on individual cases…

  • http://www.unwillingtosettle.com/ Greg Gilbert

    Chris, I agree on all you have said. I am a partner when it comes to customer service. Bad customer service is a by-product of bad leadership and jobs are lost and businesses close because of this. The Undercover Boss program really touches me for their compassion but I think it is an attempt to make them feel better for lying. It inspired me to write a pretty detailed blog http://alarmt.com/blog/?p=565 Thanks for your podcast also. Great material for businesses and leaders. I promote it all the time and haven’t missed an episode. Thanks. Greg

    • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

      @Greg Gilbert I see your point about the show Undercover Boss. Im ok with the premise, depending on what the owners intentions were.
      What I mean is, the owners that did it to get a feel what it was like in the organization and used it as a tool to adjust their leadership I liked. I think it showed a lot of humility to put yourself in the shoes of all your employees to see what the culture you created FEELS like.
      However if an owner had done it simply to “catch” bad employees or to use the information for power and manipulation I believe it would be deceptive.

  • http://www.lilykreitinger.com lilykreitinger

    This story made me feel sad. I feel sad for the people that just want the j-o-b working at an airport restaurant, dealing with stressed-out travelers who need a quick bite before their next flight. 
     
    When that happens to me, I wonder what their story is.  Do they have money problems, marital problems, health issues, employment dissatisfaction?  Do they think taking it out on the customer is going to solve any of that?  What kind of Neanderthal do they work for that evidently does not lead well? Do they think they shouldn’t care because they’ll never see you again?  It must be horrible to go to work like that every day. I’m sure their turnover rate is unbelievable.  
     
    I also felt sad for you Chris, eating trimmed brisket with lots of sauce and thinking “this is a blog moment, and not in a good way”.   Some people think they have an exemption from the golden rule, which by the way according to John Maxwell applies in pretty much every belief system.  How would those people feel if they were treated the way they treated you?
     
    Tip to the owner: Would you be comfortable having your employees serve your mom? Or your spouse?  Or your best friend? Or your pastor?  If the answer is “No way!”, they should ask themselves what changes they need to make.

    • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

      @lilykreitinger Great points Lily. It would be a tough position to be in. I can say from experience, times when I get to the “I don’t give a (fill in blank)” attitude often there is a lack of leadership somewhere above. I don’t say that to pass blame, I’m a guy who was raised to work hard and take pride in my work…and I do that, even when I don’t like what I’m doing, so it takes a leadership breakdown to push me to the “I don’t give a (fill in)” stage.
      I wonder if some of these employees may’ve been there. Im sure some just didn’t care because they didn’t care, but I’d venture to guess at least a portion of the problem may have came from shift manager, general manager, owner leadership issues.

    • http://LouiseThaxton.Net/ LouiseThaxton

       @lilykreitinger Several decades ago (yes, decades!) I took a typing course and the teacher told us to be sure to proof our letters because our initials would go in the lower left hand side – we are telling the world that this was our work.  I have seen many lower paid workers who took pride in their work – even with bad employers – because it was THEIR name on the work.  At the end of the day, I tell my children and grandchildren, no matter your story, how little you are paid, or how bad the employer is – they should do it “with all their heart”.

  • http://www.lilykreitinger.com lilykreitinger

    This story made me feel sad. I feel sad for the people that just want the j-o-b working at an airport restaurant, dealing with stressed-out travelers who need a quick bite before their next flight.  When that happens to me, I wonder what their story is.  Do they have money problems, marital problems,  health issues, employment dissatisfaction?  Do they think taking it out on the customer is going to solve any of that?  What kind of neanderthal do they work for that evidently does not lead well? Do they think they shouldn’t care because they’ll never see you again?  It must be horrible to go to work like that every day. I’m sure their turnover rate is unbelievable.   I also felt sad for you Chris, eating trimmed brisket with lots of sauce and thinking “this is a blog moment, and not in a good way”.   Some people think they have an exemption from the golden rule, which by the way according to John Maxwell applies in pretty much every beilef system.  How would those people feel if they were treated the way they treated you?
     
    Tip to the owner: Would you be comfortable having your employees serve your mom? Or your spouse? Or your best friend? Or your pastor?  If the answer is “No way!”, they should ask themselves what changes they need to make.

  • http://www.jonahenry.com/ Jonathan Henry

    All I can think of is my lunchroom experiences in public schools (across a dozen states), where the mentality is that you eat what we feed you when we feed you. The “standard” customer service… and customer expectations more often than not … reflect that kind of system. It seems like the airport was no different than high school and the dozens of other primary schools I remember.
     
    Changing that experience is weird. The companies break the system are weird are usually involve weird people too. In that sense, your team selection and the culture you create are two important things on keeping poor customer service away. If you hire the best talent that breaks the mold of crappy customer service, but put them in a miserable culture, then they will revert back to the traditional way of doing things. If you hire miserable people into a compelling culture, you weaken the foundation and bring those that believe in it down.
     

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

      @Jonathan Henry Aaaaaaamen!!

    • http://www.lilykreitinger.com lilykreitinger

       @Jonathan Henry I should come up with a training module “Why School Cafeteria is NOT a standard for Customer Service” :D

      • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

        @lilykreitinger @Jonathan Henry Oooh, I like it!

      • http://epicenterlanguages.com.mx/our-blog Aaron Nelson

         @lilykreitinger  @Jonathan Henry I bet that poor customer service at school cafeterias also happen because of their products. Most school cafeteria food I know is pretty….X.  What if they spruced it up? Jamie Oliver’d it? (Have you ever seen his work on this topic? Have you ever seen his programs where he went into the Italian public school cafeteria program? TOTALLY AMAZING. There you see school cafeteria cooks with PASSION. ) They serve up pretty cool food, and in turn, I think that helps create a happy/service oriented culture. Or it’s atleast part of the equation, don’t you think? 
         
         

    • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

      @Jonathan Henry So true!

  • Jim

    Were you talking loud enough over the background sound so they could clearly hear your order :)?

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

      @Jim The gal who took it heard it just fine. :-)

  • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

    Ok, so the funniest thing about the story is the fact during it you’re thinking about what our reactions would be to the retelling of the event! Haha.
    That being said…WOW! What great customer service. I can’t determine if they were just blissfully (or ignorantly) oblivious or just didn’t care. Probably a bit of both. However it probably doesn’t really matter, and I doubt the owner would care the reason.
    I think communicating to your team a purpose larger than “serving lunch” or “making coffee” would probably help. If they knew that their purpose was to “provide a quality meal with friendly service during the travel experience” they’d probably look at that brisket a little differently…just saying.

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

      @Skropp Bingo!!! It has to be work that matters.

      • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

        @ChrisLoCurto It’s hard to care for any length of time if to don’t feel like you’re making a difference or having an impact…

    • http://www.bluebridgecomm.com/ JoelFortner

      From race cars to airports, Chris is always thinking about his blog community!!!  Hopefully we can avoid that inevitable bathroom experience.

      • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

        @JoelFortner I’m terrified to think of the post that would come out of such an experience…haha

        • cabinart

           @Skropp  @JoelFortner STOP IT!

    • http://www.indueseason.net skottydog

      @Skropp Maybe they took the fat off to look out for your cholesterol? I’m just sayin’! Ha ha!

  • http://www.unwillingtosettle.com/ Greg Gilbert

    Oh, I have to know. Not being a coffee drinker, can they give different temperatures of coffee to different people? Don’t remember Frasier and Niles even requesting the temperature. Something new? Not poking fun, I’m just not a coffee drinker obviously.

    • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

      @Greg Gilbert I’m there with you Greg. I was lost at the temp reference too!

      • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

        @ Greg Gilbert @Skropp the milk is what you control when you steam it.

  • http://www.unwillingtosettle.com/ Greg Gilbert

    Chris, I like the idea of the secret shopper. I wrote a blog recently about Undercover Boss wondering if they considered naming it lying and deceptive leadership. All problems on that show could have been corrected by other layers of management without deceiving people. I just experienced this same type of service at a marine dealer in Texarkana. I wanted so bad to ask how they were related to the owner but I didn’t. They had to be very close kin. Surely they wouldn’t select this person to be the first impression to their business. I’ve conducted three classes, told the story of the anti-impression but I still neglected to name the business. Why do we do that? Is it the Golden Rule? Do we owe the owner a call or a note and give them a shot at fixing the problem? If everyone would do that and I was the owner, I would pay attention.

    • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

      @Greg Gilbert Great point Greg, I think you’re right. Any owner (that wanted to remain in business) would love hearing this info!
      I have a friend who owns the pizza place in my town. A few months back it took an hour to get my delivery. Next time I told him. I said I knew they were probably just busy, and that it wasn’t that big of a deal (one time, at least) but that I thought he’d appreciate knowing. He thanked me and have me a pretty good discount the next time I brought my family in. He definitely appreciated knowing!

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

      @Greg Gilbert I think deep down we would hate that to happen to us. And I totally agree that you don’t have to deceive to see what’s going on. It has the potential to setup a system of gossips and complainers instead of hard working loyal team members.

  • http://epicenterlanguages.com.mx/our-blog Aaron Nelson

    Oh, and SO GLAD YOU ARE BACK! :) 

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

      @Aaron Nelson Thanks Aaron!!!

      • http://www.lilykreitinger.com lilykreitinger

         @ChrisLoCurto  @Aaron  Yes, welcome back!

  • http://epicenterlanguages.com.mx/our-blog Aaron Nelson

    This is a hilarious story (not for you in the moment I know) but you made me laugh! And great advice: Experience your business from the outside. 
     
    How to stop this sort of behavior? Work extra hard on on the hire. And, thinking about your brisket experience, I wonder if their ‘system’ was so hammered into their brains that they couldn’t deal with an non system response? Systems can make you more efficient, but they can also totally dumb you down so that you don’t serve people who go outside it. That’s a dumb mistake – and I know YOU know big companies and institutions (usually government) who have mammoth systems that beat down people. 
     
    Have the right system, and teach people how to think within them – the system was made for man, not man for the system — or something like that :). My two cents. 

    • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

      @Aaron Nelson Great point on systems! Now the challenge is having the system without it taking over actual thought and decision making! I think focusing on the hire is great advice and definitely where it should start!

      • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

        @Aaron Nelson @Skropp I call it force of habit thinking. You do it because you always do. What a dangerous and boring place to be.

        • SirLouie

           @ChrisLoCurto  @Aaron  @Skropp I can maybe understand (different than “excuse”) the guy who trimmed the fat after you asked him not to, as evidence of mechanical habit. However, the lady with the sauce ASKED you if you wanted sauce, and then ignored your answer … Huh?  What’s the situation there?  

        • http://www.bluebridgecomm.com/ JoelFortner

          Chris was wearing a shirt that read “I like ’em saucy.”  It through her off.

        • cabinart

           @JoelFortner your “through” threw me off!

        • http://epicenterlanguages.com.mx/our-blog Aaron Nelson

           @ChrisLoCurto  @Aaron  @Skropp Totally! Habit thinking – wow! Never thought of that!

        • http://epicenterlanguages.com.mx/our-blog Aaron Nelson

           @JoelFortner LOL. 

        • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

          @ChrisLoCurto Boring is right! I can’t imagine never having any sort of brain stulation in your day…

        • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

          @JoelFortner HAHAHAHA

    • http://www.bluebridgecomm.com/ JoelFortner

      ”The system was made for man, not man for the system.”  Love it. 

    • http://www.lilykreitinger.com lilykreitinger

       @Aaron Nelson However, the system should train them for “divergent thinking”… which means LISTEN before you come up with an automated response.  They should have their little flowchart in their head that says ” If the customer says [X] go down this path and if they say [Y] go down this path”.   They can have a process down to make themselves more efficient, but that doesn’t mean they check their brain out when they walk into work every morning.