Customer Service Coaching and the Salad

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(Image Courtesy of http://thehealthyfoodie.com)

While eating at a restaurant while traveling, an interesting customer service interaction unfolded that I could not ignore. As the three people at the adjacent table received their food, I noticed one of them make a face and explain to the staff that something was in the salad. Something that should not be in a salad.

The plate was removed, and the other two people shared their food until a replacement meal arrived. You couldn’t help but notice a pretty thorough examination of the second salad. It was declared clean, and the meal continued.

I gave my salad a close look when it arrived as well.

Although the meal continued, you could not help but notice how this interaction somehow tainted what would normally be a pleasant lunch. Whatever topics that would have filled their time together, had been replaced by a salad and service.

The bill arrived. Redness appeared on faces and necks. Conversation intensity increased.

I could only guess that the salad remained on the bill, and no gesture was made to make up for the prior issue. One of them pulled out their credit card and placed it down with the bill.

I got up and walked over.

“Sorry to bother you, but customer service is an interest of mine, talk to you for a minute?”

They agreed, but were still a little stunned/agitated by the whole lunch interaction. I explained that I witnessed and was aware of what had transpired.

“What is really upsetting is not that the salad remained on the bill, it was the indifferent attitude of the staff. We explained what happened, and instead of apologizing, they simply said ‘ok’ and took the salad away.”

I encouraged them to speak up. Talk to the manager or someone to explain what happened. Typically, a business only hears from 4 percent of their dissatisfied customers. That means for every 100 times you drop the ball, only 4 people will tell you.

Never assume that the absence of complaints equates to satisfaction.

That doesn’t mean your customers are not telling someone. Despite not talking to you, those same dissatisfied customers will tell 8 to 10 other people about their interaction, and some will tell up to 20. With social media, now they can tell hundreds or thousands of people.

They spoke up. I watched a manager come over to talk to them, and a new bill arrived. Their tone, and demeanor changed. They smiled, and prepared to leave.

“We told them that we needed to talk about the bill and the lunch experience, now that we had been coached on customer service.”

We laughed and shook hands as they left.

Things will go wrong with your customers. You will make a mistake, or fail especially when things are hectic or busy. How you treat you customers when you make that mistake can makes all the difference.

Apologize.

Acknowledge.

Keep in mind, there may be others coaching your customers to make you better as well.

The Shirt, the Challenge, and the Surprise

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The Shirt

When teaching a class on coaching, I joke with the class about having shirts made up that say “COACH” and threaten to hand them out and make them wear them in their workplace.

 “What if I gave you a shirt like this and made you wear it in your workplace when you get back on Monday? Who here would want to wear it? What would your employees say?”

A few replies to my questions from a recent group of leaders during a class on coaching appear below.

“Not a chance.”

“They would ask me if I started coaching one of my kid’s teams.”

“I would be laughed out of the place.”

I pressed a little further to find the root of the hesitation on being labeled the “COACH” in their workplace. Each was a leader in their organization. Each had a title and at least a few employees. But something was stopping them from coaching.

As the conversation progressed, the obstacles became more clear. There wasn’t enough time to coach (and get their own work done). The culture would be critical of this approach. They were not coached as employees, and the list went on and on until an even more revealing answer came to light.

“Because when a team is failing, they fire the Coach!”

There it was, the real fear behind the hesitation. Being the focus of performance may result in the owners switching leaders if the organization is not performing. With the fear out in the open we could move towards agreeing on why coaching is essential to the team’s success.

Coaching goes beyond holding people accountable for task completion. Coaching is about developing people as individuals, stretching them, and helping them achieve more both individually and collectively. Coaching requires a combination of encouragement and accountability. Coaching is needed for teams.

The Challenge

Beyond a mere threat, I actually had these shirts made up and hand them out at the end of the class. Periodically, I would get an email about how wearing the shirt in the workplace helped the leader focus on coaching their employees, despite the initial awkwardness. I even heard from a leader who must wear a uniform each day at work, but wears the “COACH” shirt underneath once a week as a reminder to coach their employees.

A few months ago, I changed my strategy. In addition to having them take a shirt, I issued a challenge. The first leader to email me a picture of them in their workplace wearing the shirt would win a prize.

The Surprise

The responses have been great. Within a day or two I start to receive photos of these leaders wearing their “COACH” shirt in the workplace. The challenge helped provide some incentive, but the results have been greater than just a prize. Many leaders have been surprised as they experience something more once the awkwardness fades: their employees have embraced the concept and are enjoying the coaching.

But that is not the only surprise.

Last week I taught the Coaching class in the morning, but then there was a break where the group had a few other instructors before concluding the day with me. I headed back in the room and started the session.

It was when I clicked to the second slide of the PowerPoint.

There it was. A photo appeared on the screen. It was a photo of the entire class wearing their “COACH” shirts in the lobby. They had managed to take the photo and put it into the presentation during the break.

“Technically, since we are all on the clock, this counts as working.”

I laughed. I was encouraged by their creativity. I was surprised.

After giving out prizes to all of them, I reminded them that now that they had gotten over their initial hesitation, they could all become better coaching in their workplace.

Over the next few days, other photos appeared in my inbox. Coaches were identifying themselves, and starting to do the work. They were making a difference.

How about you? Do you need a shirt as well?

Make a list of those in your workplace, circles, or life that need some coaching. Once the awkwardness fades, it may be just what they need.

I Will Be There Someday

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(Image Courtesy of Angryjogger.com)

Coaching someone is an interesting adventure. You are trying to help someone develop themselves, establish and accomplish their goals, and encourage them when the journey becomes difficult. A typical coaching session includes checking in and checking up on any progress since the last session.

Progress can be slow.

Progress can be hard.

Progress is about making a repeated effort, over and over again.

Having someone else check in with you can be helpful.

Having someone else check in with you can be frustrating.

Sometimes there is great progress.  Sometimes progress is slow. Sometimes obstacles get in the way. When checking in, you can sense when progress has been slow by the tension during the meeting. There is a quiet hesitation as you begin to ask questions.

When frustration builds, answers sort of blurt out.

“I will be there someday…”

Those words told a story. A story of frustration at how steep the journey had become. A story where each subsequent step was harder than the last. A story that felt endless when trying to envision the top of those stairs when standing at the bottom.

Those words told another story. A story with a little hope. A story that needed to rest between steps. A story that needed to remember to occasionally look back, and see that each step was one step closer to the top. A story that despite the hardship, still believed that “I will be there someday.”

Where has your journey become steep? Where has the progress slowed or stopped?

Maybe today is a good day to remind yourself to take that next step, and remember that YOU will be there someday.