When is it okay to give ice-cold service?

We received ice-cold service … and we were cool with that

Every time there’s a storm or other emergency, some people seem to jump right in to lend a hand to those in need. They help others out of a sense of duty, or just because it’s the right thing to do – and they do so without thought of benefit for themselves. These stories usually spread by word of mouth, though a few do make it onto the evening news or into the morning paper.

I have one I’d like to share, and I hope many of you will weigh in with your own experiences.

Like many on the East Coast this month, we were without power in our home for five days. Living without electricity meant being without a refrigerator, and that meant daily trips to replenish our cooler’s ice supply – and a lot of eating out.

One day, I decided to take my mother- and father-in-law to Famous Dave’s for lunch. (If you don’t have one in your area, Famous Dave’s is a tasty barbecue chain with locations nationwide.) On our way out of the restaurant, after an enjoyable meal, I was swapping power outage stories with one of the servers, Ed. Just as we were about to exit, Ed said, “By the way, do you need some ice?”

“That would be great. Yes!” I replied. Less than a minute later we were handed a generous bag of ice (on the house) and we were told, “If you need more, just swing by any time and we’ll give you some.”

The next day, my in-laws requested that we go to Panera, the national bakery/restaurant chain, for lunch before heading over to my parents’ nearby home for some much-needed A/C. We had a cooler in our vehicle that needed a fresh supply of ice, so our first stop was Famous Dave’s to see our new friend, Ed. This time, there was an enormous cooler of handmade ice bags next to the hostess stand and it didn’t matter that Ed wasn’t around – it seemed the whole staff had been briefed on what to do. Impressive. While I was pouring the fresh ice into our cooler in the back of our vehicle, my in-laws said, “Let’s just eat here (again).”

A Culture of Community Engagement
Did the staff of Famous Dave’s offer up free ice as a way to get people to eat there? Maybe … but I don’t think so. I think they saw a community in need and did what they could to help. While most of the surrounding homes and businesses were without power for several days, this restaurant’s power was restored within only a few short hours. They felt fortunate and saw an opportunity to be of support to those whom were less fortunate. As you might imagine, many of the places that regularly sell ice (supermarkets, gas stations, etc.) had trouble keeping any in stock. At Famous Dave’s it was in stock … and free!

Given the large number of choices of nearby restaurants, Famous Dave’s is now more top-of-mind than ever before. We’ll be sure to visit again soon and we’ll be asking to be seated in Ed’s section.

When have you seen other businesses, including your own, anticipate the needs of the community? I’d love to hear from you …

Do you trust your customers and clients?

Trust begets trust

LowesLast weekend my wife, Maggie, and I stopped by our local Lowe’s home improvement warehouse in search of some spring plants to hang on our porch. By the time we made it out to the garden center, we’d already filled our cart with a few unrelated items from inside the store. We browsed the adjacent outdoor garden center but were unable to find exactly what we were looking for. We wanted to exit that area and see the selection in the parking lot and on the front sidewalk. I parked our semi-full cart in the garden center as we prepared to exit and asked a cashier if it would be OK to leave it there while we shopped outside the traditional store boundaries. The cashier said, “Actually, you can just take your cart with you into the parking lot, if you’d like.”


A policy of mistrust

Our Lowe’s experience got me thinking about the psychology of trust – specifically the trust that exists (or fails to exist) between businesses and consumers. I’ve noticed that merchants typically have policies on one end of the spectrum or the other – sometimes written, but usually implied. While some companies are as trusting as Lowe’s, many create policies that clearly demonstrate their mistrust of consumers.

On our way to Lake Anna, Va., one summer day, we stopped by a deli to grab some breakfast sandwiches. We were jolted when we heard the owner yelling across the store at a patron, “No, no, no, no, no!” The patron, who appeared to be a construction worker, was at the ice machine dispensing ice into a plastic bag – seemingly in order to cover his Styrofoam-enclosed lunch in that bag. The man was clearly embarrassed and unaware that he’d been doing anything “wrong.”

When he finished scolding his customer, the owner barked at his employees for allowing such a practice. (He wasn’t about to give away ice for free.) Then he grabbed paper, a permanent marker and prepared a sign that said, “Ice for Sodas Only!”

All too often business owners create rules for the 1 percent who are – or who might be – “misbehaving,” thus demonstrating mistrust to the other 99 percent of us who never will. Those actions, rules and policies communicate a clear message: “Sorry, but our policy is to not trust you.”

In business, actions speak louder than words. Even if a business doesn’t formally exhibit such mistrust (i.e., a wall sign), its culture and actions communicate it all the same, and the company ends up suffering.


Trust begets trust Restroom Sign

A company that maintains a culture of trust sets a positive tone and communicates a positive message: “We believe that people are good and trustworthy.” This atmosphere permeates everything that company does. Trust has a profound impact on your company’s culture and your brand’s perception in the marketplace.

A funny thing happens when we expect our clients to be honest – not only do they usually fulfill our expectations, they also become more trusting of – and loyal to – us. (Note to the skeptics: Don’t let one bad apple spoil your perception of the whole bunch.)

Bottom Line: Trust begets trust. Once you’ve earned the trust of your customers and clients, price becomes a lot less relevant. Additionally, you will be creating more raving fans and that segment of your clientele is responsible for a whopping 80-90 percent* of your referral business. Trust not only creates profit, trust builds a rewarding and positive culture among your team and with your customers.

Trust is ultimately profitable: Just ask companies like Amazon, Costco, Lowe’s, Zappos.com, FedEx, or just about any retailer with a self-checkout option. These companies all do a wonderful job of demonstrating trust and the positive ramifications of this trust (including profitability) are immeasurable.

  • Do you trust your customers and clients?
  • How are you demonstrating that trust?
*The Ultimate Question, by Fred Reichheld

Impeccability Lesson from … The Public Restroom?

The Power of Anticipating Your Customers’ and Clients’ Needs

Restroom Sign

Have I crossed the line? Stay with me on this – Sometimes I just wind up finding customer service innovations in the most unexpected places.

I turned 40 a few months ago. I’m guessing most of my readers are of an age that you, too, recall the condition of public restrooms just a few decades back. We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? It wasn’t so long ago that we had to turn faucet knobs ourselves and flush our own commodes. Paper dispensers often ran empty with no built-in method of restocking. We even had to walk away from the counter to find a wastebasket rather than just tossing our used paper towels into a large hole cut into the countertop solely for that purpose. And while that last example isn’t high-tech, it still goes a long way toward creating a more pleasant environment.

Making life easier for the customer

Dyson AirBladeA few years ago, I joined some friends for a comedy show at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Later, as we were walking through the indoor mall, a friend requested we wait for him while he visited the public restroom. A few minutes later, he came out excitedly saying, “Come in here! You have to see this!” Of course, I said, “No way,” having grown up with cousins and a brother that were – let’s just say – practical jokers. He insisted it wasn’t anything bad or disgusting; that I should trust him. He was excited to show me … are you ready … the Dyson Airblade. Have you seen this ingenious, touch-free hand dryer that uses forced air (like an “air-squeegee”) to do the work?

I must admit, it was pretty cool, and it got me thinking about how far public restrooms have come in making things easier and cleaner for us. Technology has helped to create an impeccable experience in a surprising place. Now even a lowly restroom can become so innovative that it garners attention.

Today we have the luxury of motion-sensor lights, faucets, soap dispensers, hand dryers, air fresheners and, of course, toilets. Many restrooms are fitted with baby changing stations, televisions, and some even have a complimentary supply of mouthwash, chewing gum, mints and an array of colognes.

Pay attention to the ever-evolving customer

So how do advances in restroom technology translate into better business practices? You must follow the example of these forward-thinking folks who outfitted their facilities with our comfort in mind. Indeed, one of the most powerful things you can do when engineering the customer experience, is to anticipate your customers’ needs. The days of merely offering satisfactory service or meeting basic client needs are long gone. Exceeding those needs must become your best practice. And even then, there is still more you can do.

Today, the habit that will set you apart and create remarkable client experiences is becoming an expert at anticipating the needs of your clients.

Have you noticed that many public restrooms now keep a waste bin near the exit? Many of us are using a paper towel to avoid directly touching the door handle upon exiting. Now a strategically placed trashcan is often there to collect our makeshift “door handle protectors.” (You’ve probably noticed that without that trashcan near the door, you’re likely to see a pile of used paper towels on the floor.) On a recent vacation, though, I noticed that one cruise line had taken this idea a step further with a simple solution. Mounted on the wall at eye level, just next to the exit door, was a tissue dispenser. Smart.

“Satisfied” is Passé

A satisfied client is not guaranteed to be a loyal client – there’s too much competition out there and your customers are armed with the tools (namely their keyboards) to tell the world how you’re doing for them. If you’re not proactively seeking solutions and anticipating clients’ needs, one of your competitors is bound to come along and figure out a way to wow them. Follow the cruise line’s example above, and take your customer service to the next level – give them what they want before they know they want it.

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Amazon’s #1 Business Secret

Obsessing Over Customers

A few words from Amazon’s Founder, Jeff Bezos

Delivering HappinessOkay, my new favorite book is Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos.com). So what does that have to do with Amazon … besides the fact that in 2009 Amazon acquired Zappos for about $1 billion? — I’ll get to that…

There are several reasons to love this book, but if you know anything about Zappos.com, it’s probably that they are a benchmark for customer service. In fact, their company tag line (deservedly so) is simply, “Powered by Service™.” They are world famous for their free shipping (both ways!) and their uber-liberal 365-day return policy, but there is so much more to this company. Their innovative approach to customer service is revolutionary and their success secrets … well … aren’t really secrets. In fact, you can read all about their approach to business, leadership, teamwork, innovation and of course world-class customer service in the book.


On to Jeff Bezos

In Delivering Happiness, Hsieh tells of the long-standing positive relationship that existed between Zappos and Amazon well before the partnership ensued. In the audio version of his book, which the author reads himself, you’ll also hear the voices of many Zappos employees, a customer or two and that of Jeff Bezos all reading to you.

In the following quote from Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon.com, he explains that your energy is far better spent focusing on your customers than on your competitors

“The first thing I know is that you need to obsess over customers. I can tell you we have been doing this from the very beginning and it’s the only reason that Amazon.com exists today in any form. We’ve always put customers first – when given the choice of obsessing over competitors or obsessing over customers, we always obsess over customers. We pay attention to what our competitors do but it’s not where we put our energy; it’s not where we get our motivation from. We really like to start with customers and work backwards. And again, that is the key thing that I know and it covers a lot of other mistakes. If you’re truly obsessed over customers it’ll cover a lot of errors.”

(To watch Bezos discuss this and other top strategies (for world domination), you can watch his 8-minute video on YouTube)


Your Turn

Are you obsessing over your competition … or your customers? I’d love to hear from you.