Archive for the ‘Above the Line’ Category

Last week i was in Chicago’s O’Hare International and ventured into the baggage office, where disgruntled passengers end up without anything to wear tomorrow – literally.  Likely the worst place to work in the entire airport.  You never have a happy customer enter your office.

I watched two different representatives say almost identical words and phrases to the dozens of passengers, but with very different results.  The most effective went something like this:

CustomerA :  “how could you lose my bag!”   I have a meeting in the morning and NEED it!” 

RepA:  “I am very sorry.  (sincere empathy)  The bag did not make the flight (reality).  There is a flight at X:XX time tonight, i will have it to your hotel by 7am.   Here is an overnight kit, discount on future flights, etc…”

The customer did not or could not complain any more.  THe rep did all he could to solve the issue, had explained the reality of the situation and apologized.  The customer left satisfied with the outcome, not happy but satisfied.

A few minutes later i watched nearly the same customer interaction with another individual:

CustomerB:  “how could you lose my bag!”   I have a meeting in the morning and NEED it!” 

RepB:  “Sorry.   There is a flight at X:XX time tonight, i will have it to your hotel by 7am.   Here is an overnight kit, discount on future flights, etc…”

This customer’s response “THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE”   and proceeded to scream and yell about all things wrong with the world.

Two things i noted. 

1.  The words between Rep A and Rep B were almost identical.  But Rep A was much more effective and seemed to genuinely care.   Rep B used the script, but did not connect with the customer as an individual. 

2. Each customer a choice in how they would deal with the interaction and the reality of the situation at hand.  While i think the airline rep played a HUGE role in the outcome of the nearly identical situations, Customer B obviously accepted the invitation to have their day ruined by the event.


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Clare and I just returned from the 2009 International Conference on Emotional Intelligence in Toronto.  It was by far one of the best conferences I’ve attended in my career, with a lineup of speakers who really knew their stuff.  My main goal was to learn as much as I could from other practitioners about why companies should spend cash on developing emotional intelligence in their people.  It seems obvious to me that having competent, engaged employees would make a significant difference in the bottom-line business results of an organization, but I was looking for evidence, i.e. numbers, that proves our philosophy correct.  I’ve written an article about the economic value of emotional intelligence development–what we’re calling “EQnomics”, so look for it this week in our PeopleSmarts EQzine.

One concept I heard in a workshop really grabbed my attention.  Bob Anderson, a partner in Leading Challenges, LLC, pointed out: “You have two kinds of clients.  There are those who are playing to win, and those who are playing to not lose.”

He described the “playing to win” people as those who approach their goals with passion, commitment, and positive emotion.  Because their central drive comes from a place of enthusiasm and energy, they are more focused on the goal and are able to activate the systems necessary to produce their desired results. When they hit their targets, they feel a sense of accomplishment and capability.

People who are playing to not lose operate in defensive mode; they view their lives more often from a place of fear and anxiety.  “Not-losers” do their best to keep things from happening:  They keep the wolves away from the door, they keep the monkeys off their backs, they keep their finger in the dam.  These people stay safe in every way they can, in order to prevent loss. When they reach their goals, they feel a sense of relief.

Since last week, I have thought often about this idea, and how easy it is to operate in the Not-Lose mode.  The challenges in today’s economy have put a lot of people in the not-lose way of thinking, just trying to preserve whatever savings, investments, or jobs they have.  Not-Losers minimize risks, seeing the world as adversarial, something with which they need to cope and/or survive.

But staying in Not-Lose thinking forces us to react to the circumstances and the conditions of our lives, rather than creating the experiences we want by being in our own driver’s seat.  Not-lose thinkers walk through life wearing a metaphorical catcher’s mitt:  whatever is thrown their way, they deal with it.

Play-to-Win people look for opportunities, harness resources, and strategically influence others to help them win their game.  They attract other people with their positive energy and passion; they take calculated risks with confidence and authority.  People follow them.

And yes, they sometimes lose.

But each loss, each failure brings with it learning, wisdom, and growth, and the Play-to-Win people bounce back to their feet to try another angle.

Where in your life or in your business are you playing to not lose?  What would it take for you to turn it around?

Game on.

Merrilee Buchanan, CEO PeopleSmarts

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Ever have great, remarkable, “Wow!” customer service? How about poor, rotten,  abysmal customer service?  Big difference. As customers we usually reward good customer service with our repeat business and really great customer service with positive word of mouth to our friends, family and colleagues. The consequence of poor customer service is that the company loses our business and often earns the resultant bad word of mouth.

In our free market that’s pretty standard practice. It’s a natural system of checks and balances that weeds out the weak businesses and promotes the stronger ones—well, much of the time at least. It’s a good system, but could it be better? We think so.

One practice we’re instituting at PeopleSmarts to encourage great customer service in the marketplace is what I started to call “Appreciation Marketing” after one particular “Wow!” experience at a Checker Auto Parts store.  What we do is we highlight businesses whose frontline workforce excel at demonstrating high EQ (emotional intelligence) by going “Above the Line” (ATL) in their service to the customer (ATL is one of the core practices we teach in developing a WorkSmart Culture). These employees and the business then get an “Above the Line” Award that details the particular circumstance that warranted the award.

How do we select businesses to award? Just simply by the normal, random experience of daily participation in the marketplace. When any of us on the PeopleSmarts’ team personally experiences “Wow!” customer service we immediately take note of who, what, when and where. We then contact the person’s supervisor and/or CEO and personally let them know that someone in their organization is doing something way right.

We then ask the employee why they served us like they did. Is it because he/she is just a great person or is it also part of a their workplace culture? We then ask the employer the same question. Such questioning, besides allowing the person and company a moment to shine, allows the company to identify star performers who can be used to infect the rest of the team with similar star qualities.

The employee, with their team and employer present, gets an award to display in the workplace that tells every customer who comes in what service is like there: “Above the Line.” Each award is uniquely personalized with a narrative description of the specific ATL service the PeopleSmarts team member received from that employee. No generic “atta-boy” award here. Customers get to be impressed with what the individual did in the name of the company.

As you can imagine, employees and employers both love this kind of feedback
, which, unfortunately, they rarely get. Too often they are hearing about what’s wrong. This is a chance for them to hear what’s right and to encourage more of the same behavior from their team.

It’s a simple, and powerful, win all around.
The star performer gets unexpected and well-deserved recognition, praise and appreciation. The boss gets to feel rightfully proud for leading such an individual and for encouraging such a WorkSmart Culture.

The good news is that there are great people every day giving great customer service.
They deserve to be appreciated. We as customers need them to be appreciated—the more they are recognized the more they become held up as the standard of excellence which means the more we as customers will get even more great customer service which we all so desperately want. The more workers are appreciated the better they naturally want to perform. It goes round and round and round in an escalating spiral of what Waid Blanton here at PeopleSmarts calls getting, “Wow-a-sized!”.

The ATL Awards, “Appreciation Marketing”, and WorkSmart Cultures all leverage one of the simplest and most powerful motivators for human change—sincere and specific appreciation.

Whether you give them a formal award or not we encourage you to take the time to let those who serve you well, and their supervisors, know how much it meant for you to be treated right. They daily hear complaints of what was wrong. Let’s start flooding the market, for once, with encouragement for all of those who are going Above the Line on a daily basis.

Rock on,

Jonathan Sherman
Director of Training & Development

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