March 2017
« Feb    

Joseph's Blog

Back with an Apology: Rare Rewards of Service Professionalism

I’ve often made a distinction between service and servitude.

Sadly, and all too often, customers treat service providers like they are lesser beings. At the same time, I am disheartened when service providers take little pride in developing the skills necessary to be true service professionals.

It is my belief that automation will replace many service providers who are not passionately engaged in the art of assisting others. A 2016 Washington Post article highlighted the potential impact of automation on an American workforce currently rich with service employees by noting:

“The ‘automation bomb’ could destroy 45 percent of the work activities currently performed in the United States, representing about $2 trillion in annual wages…Currently, only 5 percent of occupations can be entirely automated, but 60 percent of occupations could soon see machines doing 30 percent or more of the work.”

It is my view that we will always need some level of human service delivery and that the future of service jobs will be relegated to a much smaller number of service professionals. By my definition, service professionalism involves an appreciation that all business is personal and that every customer wishes to be respectfully treated as an individual. Service professionals develop skills in attentive listening, empathy, and resourcefulness.

From a distance, Starbucks barista Andrew Richardson appears to be one such service professional. Andrew recently interacted with a drive-thru customer named Debbie. During that interaction, Debbie became angry about two issues 1) that Andrew’s Starbucks had run out of drink carriers, and 2) that Andrew could not take trash from her car back in through the service window. Andrew listened attentively to Debbie and treated her with respect during what Andrew perceived as Debbie’s “mild irritation.”

The impact of Andrew’s service professionalism was evidenced in a truly rare outcome one day later. Debbie presented again in the drive-thru lane, this time to hand Andrew the following apology card:


Courtesy of Andrew Richardson

Yes, the depicted $50 bill was enclosed in the apology card.

So let’s look at a couple of the key messages from Debbie concerning Andrew’s professionalism, “Keep up your attitude of cheer & hope. Stay hopeful no matter what kind of people cross your path (or drive thru)…You taught this ole lady something yesterday about kindness, compassion & staying humble.”

Andrew noted that relative to the scope of challenges he faces in customer service each day Debbie was at best a 2 on a 10 point scale. Despite that rather ordinary interaction from Andrew’s perspective, clearly, Debbie saw the experience as positively transformational.

So, what’s the lesson from this atypical apology? The art of service professionalism requires, as Debbie so aptly indicated, an attitude of cheer, hope, kindness, compassion, and humility. Additionally, while most irritated customers won’t apologize or express their gratitude for your professionalism you never know the back story that affects a customer’s behavior and typically you don’t know the impact your service professionalism has on them.

I suspect that if a customer ever offers you a $50 tip of gratitude for how you managed their upset, you probably demonstrated the type of service professionalism that will provide some insurance against displacement from automation. What do you think?

Short of having a customer return with an apology card, how else can you know if you’re acting with service professionalism? How can you recognize colleagues when they are serving you or your customers at the height of their professionalism?

Way to go Andrew and Debbie…you’ve reminded us all that professional service matters!

{Infographic} McMobile – Will McDonald’s Mobile Strategy Kill the Drive-thru?


McMobile – Will McDonald’s Mobile Strategy Kill the Drive-thru?

Having consulted with and written two books about Starbucks (The Starbucks Experience and Leading the Starbucks Way), I seldom compare Starbucks with McDonald’s. Typically, I see these two iconic brands in two very different categories. From my vantage point, McDonald’s is an excellent example of a service brand which focuses on price, speed of delivery, and turnkey consistency. McDonald’s has innovated automated service efficiencies and revolutionized drive-thru purchasing. Starbucks, on the other hand, is an experience brand that drives emotionally engaging experiences on top of a foundation of operational excellence. Starbucks has also embraced digital technology swiftly and leveraged mobile technology successfully.

Things are changing however at McDonald’s and those changes will be interesting to watch. At a recent investors meeting, McDonald’s announced that it will be launching mobile order and mobile pay in the fourth quarter of 2017 in every one of its 14,000 restaurants in the USA.

According to Business Insider, “If customers choose curbside pickup, they can skip the drive-thru line and a McDonald’s employee will bring their food to their car. This represents a massive shift for McDonald’s. More than 70% of the fast-food chain’s orders come through the drive-thru.”

As a loyal Starbucks customer, I’ve almost forgotten what it is like to enter a drive thru. I have fully converted to mobile pay. What could be easier than clicking my app, submitting my drink order and timing my arrival so I can walk into Starbucks, have the baristas greet me by name, and whisk out without waiting to pay? The answer – doing all of that without having to leave my car!

While I personally won’t forsake my Starbucks ritual for McDonalds’ curbside delivery, I have to concede the prospect of having my breakfast provided to me as I pull up to a restaurant does sound appealing.

Invariably, McDonald’s has been test marketing the mobile order/mobile pay/curbside pick-up service offering but I suspect execution across the enterprise will be a challenging roll-out. Starbucks has refined its mobile order strategy and still has run into recent hurdles based on the impact mobile ordering has had on the perception of people who wait in line while others like me saunter in and grab our pre-ordered items. (Please see my blog title Are You Up for the Human/Tech Challenge?) for more information on the financial impact of this clash of service delivery methods and efforts to address it at Starbucks).

Increasingly brands are trying to find ways to mobilize their offerings without compromising the experience for customers who are not yet engaging in purchases digitally. McDonald’s will now need to deliver food in a fast, accurate, and economical manner across counter service, drive-thru, and curbside pick-up. All of this adds complexity and stretches resources to deliver the same quality of experience in every way in which they serve their customers.

So will you be mobile ordering and paying for your McDonald’s meal via an app? Will you do that and head to the curbside pick-up area? Or, are you old school and look forward to pulling up in the drive-thru to order at the menu board and pay at the first window, while picking up at the second?

More importantly, how are you accommodating mobile ordering/mobile pay and expedited delivery in your business? If you are expanding your service delivery aided by technology, how do you maintain a quality experience across your more traditional ordering/payment/delivery platforms?

{Infographic} Revisiting Convenience – Lessons from H2O




{Infographic} When The Customer Is Wrong – Should The Business Be Right?


When The Customer Is Wrong – Should The Business Be Right?

In 1909 Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store, is credited with saying, “The customer is always right”.

Through the years, a number of my colleagues and I have emphasized that the customer is not always right but they are always the customer.

I’ve come to believe that in order to be truly successful deploying a customer-experience strategy, you fundamentally have to believe:

  • In general, customers are honest and fair.
  • Lifetime customer value is more important than any single transaction.
  • Your reputation matters.
  • When people are occasionally dishonest or unfair, they should be managed with more dignity than they deserve.

With all that said, let me offer an example that tests all of these assumptions.

Imagine you are a restaurant owner and you have a customer complain about “hair in their food”. Further, let’s assume that the customer threatens to give you a scathing rating on social media unless you remove the charge for that particular meal. Let’s even assume, that you know that person wanting the free meal pulled hair from their own head and placed it in their meal after they consumed a sizable portion. What would you do?

This appears to have actually happened at a restaurant named Casa Nostra Ristorante. According to restaurant management, this is the review that was posted online:

Photo 1

The review suggests a disgusting dining experience, doesn’t it? Now to the purported video proof of the actual “hair-raising” incident (complete with narration from the restaurant owners) from their Instagram account:

Photo 2

After seeing the video, the online review crumbles and looks like blackmail. Let’s think back to your response when this was posed as a hypothetical. Did you consider posting the closed circuit video on your Instagram account? What did you say you would do when I posed this hypothetically? What do you think about what these restauranteurs actually did?

While this situation will get a lot of media attention and the video will likely be a viral hit, even if I had seen the video of the woman putting hair in her food, I would have refunded the charges for her meal and averted any conflict in the restaurant for patrons who didn’t need to have their meals affected. I likely would have “left bad enough alone”.

These owners stood their ground on food charges and tried to take pre-emptive action against, the threatened “blackmail” review, by contacting travel sites and forwarding the video in hopes that the review would never get posted. Once posted they publicly chose to let their video evidence prove that they, the owners, were right. Ultimately the review was taken down and I applaud them for their efforts in that regard – because reputation matters.

While reasonable people can take very different courses of actions when these “extreme” customer situations occur, I’ll continue to champion the view that:

In general, customers are honest and fair.

Lifetime customer value is more important than any single transaction.

Yes, your reputation matters.

When people are occasionally dishonest or unfair, they should be managed with more dignity than they deserve.

I’d love to hear what you think…

{Guest Infographic} Portrait of a Mobile Consumer

Infographic originally published to & design by Maureen Sanford.


{Infographic} The ABCs of PCT & Its Critical Role in Outstanding Customer Experiences