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Archive for February, 2010

Moments of Truth – Use Them or Lose Them

February 5th, 2010

My daily ritual starts with an investment of 2-3 hours “sharpening the saw” as Stephen Covey puts it.  Typically this will consist of a 1 hour workout followed by a visit to my favorite Starbucks store for some reading and reflection.  These couple of hours are the most important in my day because I know they are good for my mind, body and soul.  They set the scene for the rest of my day.

The service experience I have at Starbucks stores is, for the most part, very good.  But like all businesses it’s occasionally disappointing.  The challenge for every business is that the bad experiences will always be judged by reference to the good ones so the better you are on average the worse your customers feel when you let them down.

Earlier this year I made several bad choices when I was skiing at Heavenly, South Lake Tahoe where I spend most of my time when I’m in the US. The consequence of these choices was a broken arm and two broken ribs.  Needless to say I was not a happy chappy.  In fact, because the arm was broken at the top of the (not so) humerus bone it could not be set and all I could do is wear a sling for 5-8 weeks.  This stopped my workouts but it did not stop my Starbucks visits.

The first morning I visited the Tahoe store with my arm in a sling the delightful baristas on the early morning shift who always give every customer the warmest greeting imaginable wanted to know the full story so, basking in the attention and looking for sympathy, I naturally obliged.  While I’m talking about this I want to share a very important point.  The “welcome” you and your team give to your customers and prospects is one of the most, if not THE most, important drivers of customer delight.  In his great book, The Invisible Touch, Harry Beckwith reports on a survey of 200,000 customers of VetSmart, the business that provides the veterinary facilities for the Petsmart chain of stores in the US.  The survey revealed that the greeting was the single key to customer contentment.  He said:

Of the pet owners who reported that they felt “very welcome” when they entered VetSamart, 98% reported that they were very satisfied with their overall experience.  No other factor–the reasonableness of the fee, the cleanliness of the facility, or the clarity with which the vet communicated to the pet owner–mattered remotely as much as the greeting.

This is precisely what we hear from the clients of professional service firms all the time when we conduct Client Advisory Boards and it’s why we believe your Director of First Impressions is so critical to the success of your own customer service strategy.  The welcome establishes the mindset that frames the rest of the visit and therefore the entire experience.  If the welcome is ordinary or, worse still bad, it’s downhill from there but I digress…

Two days later when I visited the store one of the baristas who I shall call Heather (because that’s her name) gave me a get-well card signed by her and her co-worker Nina.  It literally blew me away.  Jan Carlzon, when he was the CEO of Scandinavian Airlines coined the phrase “Moments of Truth” in his book of the same name which is listed amongst the 100 most important business books of all time and definitely worth reading.  This phrase is now well entrenched in the customer service vernacular.  Now, the great service I always get from (most) of the Starbucks crew is not a Moment of Truth–I’ll call it a MOT, that has become my expectation, but receiving that card was a MOT.  It told me that these people actually care as opposed to just going through the motions of customer service.

However, there can be “good” MOTs and “bad” MOTs often from the same establishment.  Here is a bad MOT that I experienced at the same store, same time in the morning (5:30am) but different baristas.  This store opens at 5:30am every day.  I’m there withing 5 minutes of that time. About 2 weeks ago, I get to the store and I see a guy walking around outside and frantic activity going on inside the store.  I attempt to open the door and the barista inside looks at me with a frown and waves me way as he goes on with stocking the food cabinet.  His co-barista goes about her work intentionally not having any eye contact with me or the other gentleman standing at the door.  That was bad enough but it was 28 degrees F which is 4 degrees below zero or, to put that another way, damn cold. I waited for another 5 minutes then decided to visit another coffee shop.  This was a bad MOT.

The following day when I visited Starbucks, the young man who was on the previous day’s shift was there and I asked what had happened.  He gleefully acknowledged that it was his fault, he was late getting to the store and went about this work as though nothing had happened.  I think he apologized but the moment certainly was not memorable.

This experience begs the question: what could the baristas have done on the day they were late opening?  One option was to do what they did — piss off a couple of customers while they work like crazy to get the store ready.  Another, much better choice in my view, would have been to let us into the store (remember there were only 2 of us and there are rarely more than 3-5 customers before 6am anyway.)  The baristas could have then said “We slept in, sorry.  It’ll take us a couple of minutes to get ready.  If you’d like to take a seat we’ll get your order ready as soon as we can and your the beverage of your choice will be on us.”  A response like this would have immediately turned a bad MOT into a good MOT.  I know what the margins are in this business and I know the lifetime value of a customer.  It would have cost the company a few pennies, it would have given me and the other guy something positive to talk about and it would have given the baristas a sense of having recovered from a bad situation.

I’m not going to stop going to Starbucks because of this experience.  It is one bad one out of several great ones and many very good ones.  The team at this particular store, and the one I frequent when I’m in Reno, deliver a consistently good experience so the business has a good solid balance in what Stephen Covey calls its emotional bank account with me. Because the balance of the emotional bank has steadily increased, the occasional withdrawal for bad service or an unpleasant experience can easily be accommodated but a string of bad experiences will ultimately result is a lost customer. Importantly, a successful recovery from a bad MOT results in a large deposit but an unsuccessful response to a bad MOT results in a large withdrawal.

Most businesses today offer their customers a reasonably good service experience when things are tracking along in an orderly manner.  But they get tested when things go wrong and it’s precisely at those times they have a great opportunity to actually show what they’re made of.  These are the MOTs that should be embraced as opportunities to exhibit greatness.  The biggest challenge to delivering a great customer experience comes not from a willingness of team members to do the “right” thing but their failure to know what that could be (i.e. a lack of ‘scenario training’) and, perhaps most important, the company’s failure to empower them to make fast decisions in circumstances where a rapid response is called for.  Once team members “get into the swing” of delighting customers it becomes second nature.

Regular scenario training is one way to get this happening.  Use Towards Awesome Service as a catalyst.  This needs to be supported by a policy of publicly celebrating service failures and recoveries so that all team members fully understand that failure is an opportunity for greatness to be revealed.