Real Communication is Clarity...Just Be Clear!

Before you read this weeks Lessons in Leadership post I want to tell you about another lesson I was reminded of last week.

That lesson is to not believe everything you hear or read about. I had a request to go to Gudalajara, Mexico to give a speech for Tec de Monterrey University for their 35 anniversary of the Gudalajara campus. I was to be one of three speakers.

Everyone including friends and family told me not to go because Mexico is too dangerous. I am glad I did not listen to all of that advice because I did go and never felt unsafe for one second. In fact I had a great time and can’t wait to go back.

Everyone at the hotel I stayed in were extremely professional. In fact it was one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in. I walked to a local restaurant in the evening and had a great time with the locals. The food and service was excellent.

Everyone at the university made me feel special and took great care of me. The best thing was that I now have lots of new friends in Mexico. Frankly I feel less safe sometimes in Orlando or other major American cities I travel to. After going to Iraq last year I have a new way to think about danger.

Thanks to all of my new friends in Mexico for providing me with a wonderful time. All the best as you celebrate the 35th anniversary of the university.


Lessons In Leadership-Real Communication Is Clarity…Just Be Clear!

If you do not have clear service guidelines which are followed, your customers will receive very inconsistent service. This is not a good thing.

While I worked for Disney I continually encouraged everyone to focus on the Welcome and Farewell part of what we called the Guest Experience Cycle. When you train everyone in your company to pay particular attention to the arrival of a customer and their departure you will have moved up the image and reputation of your customer service dramatically and it is free.

When a customer gets anywhere near one of your employees that employee should immediately be focused on that single customers needs. This is the beginning of excellent service.

The Welcome and Farewell are points in time where each one of us—if we are paying attention—can make our customers feel just a little more special than we already do.  Recently on a visit to a new retail store here in Orlando I observed a lot of  employees who were not trained to pay attention to the customer the moment the customer came into their space. This is a leadership training and accountability issue. Your employees want to do what you want them to do but first you have to tell them, train them, hold them accountable and give them recognition, appreciation and encouragement one at a time to make this part of your service culture.

I use to learn a lot when I went out and spent the day in the parks with my grandchildren Jullian, Margot and Tristan.  When I stood in an attraction, food, or merchandise line, I was able to observe how well Cast Members were interacting with Guests.  We were very good . . . but from time to time I noticed opportunities to make improvements. You are never as good as you think you are. One untrained employee can really hurt your business.

The basics are what make the difference. Friendliness and cleanliness are basics, just like salt and pepper. Food just tastes better with salt and pepper and businesses taste better too, when they are friendly and clean.

Our simple Seven Service Guidelines for Guests was a tool I used for training in the basics. Get these right and your customers will be very happy and loyal. Create you own guidelines for your organization. Make sure that you are observing your employees performing their jobs to ensure that they are doing a great job with your guidelines . . . and then do them a big favor and coach them so they can be great!

Service Guidelines for customers are really simple, as long as you teach each and every employee how to make them a part of who they are Teach them:

  • WHY each guideline is important.
  • WHAT it means to your organizations reputation for professionalism.
  • HOW it fits into who you are and what you want to be famous for.

1.  Make Eye Contact

This is a way to acknowledge customers and to make them feel special and to send the message that you know they are there.  This is the perfect way

to have a “one second” interaction with your customers. Looking a customer in the eye and smiling is a positive interaction.  If this happens hundreds of times a day, your customers are WOWED, because most places it does not happen. You will win by comparison.

2.  Greet and Welcome Each and Every Customer

You are probably in some kind of service business so Smile! Smile in person and smile on the phone. Become famous for courtesy and friendliness.  Disney invented it and you can adopt it.  Walt said, “Keep it clean and friendly, and everything will work out just fine even after Disney” (meaning himself).  He was right!

3.  Seek Out Customer Contact

Look for opportunities to approach customers.  They will enjoy interacting with your employees. Share your product and services knowledge with them.  This can become the highlight of their visit to your business. Go to them verses making them have to track you down.

4.  Provide Immediate Service Recovery

Find a way to make the situation better.  Be sincere.   Say you are sorry and mean it.  Don’t be sarcastic, rude, or defensive, as this is not part of your job.  Look for some alternatives.  Ask your manager  for assistance.  Don’t say “no” until you have tried everything else; and then it should be the manager who says “no” as the last resort.  These are your customers; and by the way, you do make mistakes that you need to recover from if you don’t want to lose customers one at a time. Customers have alternatives.

5.  Display Appropriate Body Language

Don’t lean.  Smile and look happy, as this is part of your job responsibility.  Don’t be preoccupied.  Focus on the customer. Have a pleasant look on your face.  As far as customers are concerned, they want to deal with people who are happy, positive and knowledgeable. This is a big part of your job description.

6.  Preserve an Excellent Customer Experience

Stay focused on your job.  Be courteous, friendly, and helpful—even under pressure.  Be professional at all times, no matter what.  You, as leaders, need to stay in role as well—which means always be professional.

Never get defensive or rude with customers.  The louder they get, the quieter and calmer you get.  Don’t take it personally, because they don’t even know you.  They are usually upset because you have not delivered on their expectation, whether it is reasonable in your mind or not.  Are some customers going to try and take advantage of you to get something free?  Yes, they are; but they really are the exception.  So let’s not start out by treating people as if they were dishonest.  Someday, the dishonest ones will have to answer to a higher leader than us.

It’s not your customers fault that your organization has set high expectations for quality products and service.  Treat them as you would a friend, and that is what they will become.  This is what will set  your organization apart from the rest of the world.  Remember that the “moment of truth” is when the customer comes in contact with you, your premises, your product and your employees.   YOUR employees are the face of your organization. In fact they are your organization.

7.  Thank Each and Every Customer

This is a common courtesy that is not so common in the world anymore, and it really is appreciated by everyone.  Do it with sincerity and a smile.

So, there you are.  Always tell your employees why you want them to do something, and the chances of their doing it goes up dramatically.  Constantly remind your employees of your expectations for following your guidelines. We all need to be reminded of the basics from time to time so Just Be Clear!…Lee

PS: There is a whole chapter on this subject in my new book…THE CUSTOMER RULES which will be published March 5, 2013. Here is the link in case you want to preorder:

  1. Hi Lee. Great things to remember. Employees need to realize if they see that people are forgetting their guidelines or haven’t been properly trained, they need to speak up or else the reputation of the organization – and their own reputation – is at risk. I saw an incredible WOW moment on Undercover Boss last night in which the CEO of Checkers/Rallys actually shut down a store, on the spot, due to a lack of procedural/service training in the crew. All leaders should have that kind of passion.

  2. Mr. Cockerell, thank you for your visit to our University (Tec de Monterrey) the last week, your speech was pretty clear, and helpful.

    Working in a Service Area, such as the Center that I am Directing, is a “strategic” position to encourage a leadership and be careful with what I have to do and when I have to do, besides be aware of my colleagues and team mates, to develop a great job and the “user experience” to improve our skills and become a referent into the organization.

    That is why I really appreciate your visit and speech, for learn from the experts in leadership, as you are.

    Thank you and obviously, feel more than welcome to visit us anytime.


  3. Love focusing on the Welcome and Farewell. It is such an easy thing to do and starts them off right as well as leaving them with a pleasant feeling. Often we are so focused on what to do with someone when we have them we are often not good at the first impression nor the last impression. Thanks for this Lee. Great learning.

  4. Lee, great customer service tips. I especially like #4, about only saying “no” as an absolute last resort. All to often I see customer services reps turn away customers because they dont want to put forth the extra effort to find a solution. I place blame on the leadership for allowing it to happen. I like your advice about how the manager is the only one who can say no. That might be a good policy to implement.

  5. Good Day, Lee,

    LC: “If you do not have clear service guidelines which are followed, your customers will receive very inconsistent service.”

    Great planning must be an inherent part of leadership. You are right on track here – to get consistently great service experiences we need a well-developed and communicated set of service guidelines. Our good friend and Winter Park neighbor, Philip Crosby, defined quality as conformance to requirements. The requirements embodied in clear service guidelines lead to conformance in guest service experience.

    I am glad to see you bring up the issue of managerial consistency. I am not sure we talk about this topic enough. It seems to me that managers need to be consistent with their expectations day-in and day-out.

    LC: “. . . I continually encouraged everyone to focus on the Welcome and Farewell part of what we called the Guest Experience Cycle.”

    Why is it that every one of us as customers can come up with so many “war stories” of poor customer service experiences and so few stellar experiences? The cost of a genuine welcome and farewell is zero–thinking about Phil Crosby – “Quality is Free.”

    I agonize over why “common sense” is not common. Just last week I visited our local family owned and operated pizza parlor. I know for a fact that the family has everything invested in this business. Yet when I come in not a single employee or family member has any type of greeting. When customers are everything to a small business – I would think that every employee would want to greet me as a member of the family – common sense?

    When I read through your Seven Service Guidelines for Guests, numbers 1 to 3, 5 & 7 are teachable and free. To me the more difficult are 4 (Provide Immediate Service Recovery and 6 (Preserve an Excellent Customer Experience). Instilling the “say Yes” mentality is not easy (4). I am thinking about Stew Leonard’s food markets up in Connecticut—his policy on YES is crystal clear. Rule 1: The customer is always right!; Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread Rule 1. Number 6 is tough because we are all human. When we feel that a customer is unfair it is natural for our blood pressure to go up. You are correct in pointing out that how well we handle this Moment of Truth will make all the difference in the world in whether this customer will come back and bring their friends.


  6. Reply to Mr. Andy Uskavitch,

    I read your comment with great interest: “I saw an incredible WOW moment on Undercover Boss last night in which the CEO of Checkers/Rallys actually shut down a store, on the spot, due to a lack of procedural/service training in the crew. All leaders should have that kind of passion.”

    I would argue that this incident never should have happened in the first place. I seems to me that if this individual had a true passion for his business and its customers they would have established service excellence guidelines that are adhered to consistently. Why is it that these major corporate “leaders” spend so little time in their stores?


  7. Hi Scott,

    I am thinking about your comment on #4–saying NO. “. . . place blame on the leadership for allowing it to happen. I like your advice about how the manager is the only one who can say no.”

    I am right with you on this — it does imply that the manager is available as there are instances (although few in number) where we may well want to send a disruptive or abusive customer on to our best competitor. I do not believe that our employees should ever be abused by customers, nor should our other guests be exposed to disruptive guest behavior.

    Regards, Jim

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