A Perspective On Sacrifice

Thoughts for Memorial Day 2020

Across the United States, the last Monday in May is Memorial Day, a federal holiday set aside for honoring the men and women who gave their lives while serving in the military. I know many countries have similar remembrances that mark the sacrifice made by fallen heroes. Here, it’s often observed with small-town parades, cemetery visits to lay flowers on the graves of loved ones, and family gatherings that celebrate the beginning of summer.

This Memorial Day, many of us will still be under quarantine restrictions. Parades have been cancelled. Picnics will be limited to nuclear families. It sometimes feels as if we are actually at war, and everyone is experiencing battle fatigue. In fact, the language of war has infiltrated daily conversations and newsfeeds. We talk about combating the spread of the COVID-19 virus, declaring war on the pandemic, arming medical staff, and deploying our frontline workers. Just as in WWII, we’ve seen the conversion of manufacturing facilities to produce a new arsenal — in this case, ventilators, hand sanitizer and protective equipment. Just as in war time, we have true heroes who put their lives on the line: doctors and nurses, first responders, and other essential workers. And just as in war time, some of these people have made the ultimate sacrifice. Sadly, their grieving families can’t even receive the consolation of a public memorial service.

So, this Memorial Day, I salute our veterans, of course. They have earned our eternal gratitude. But I am also thinking of everyone who has had to “soldier up,” who’s had to take a very deep breath and just keep marching forward without knowing what lies ahead. To be sure, the most pressure is on the frontline workers. Thank you to all who serve in this way. But my admiration extends beyond their huge sacrifice. It embraces parents trying to keep their children educated and entertained, neighbors keeping an eye out for each other, and the more vulnerable among us who are quietly self-quarantining and trying to flatten the curve. We are all in this battle. We are all trying to make the right choices and fight the good fight.

I am grateful to each of you.

Make it Personal Is Not Just a Slogan

Unforgettable experiences make the difference.

{A Note to Readers: This is another in a series of guest blogs focused on Customer Experience from the amazing Katy Wild. Working with Katy, I can always expect to learn something; I trust you will, too. ~ bph}

I recently attended an event in Atlanta and stayed at one of Marriott’s boutique properties for the first time — the Glenn Hotel.  The main reason I chose it wasn’t due to a recommendation or price, but simply the close proximity to the event facility.  How was I to know this chance encounter was going to provide one of my best experiences in a hotel as it relates to “make it personal” service?

The experience wasn’t based on an elegant lobby, beautiful view from my room, or the lush, elaborate accommodations.  These were perfectly fine — but on their own would not have been enough to really bring me back.

It was the personal, seemingly natural touch the employees gave every act that definitely earned a second visit.  Every individual I came in contact with made even the simplest request seem like their supreme pleasure to fulfill.   There were actually several occurrences that really caught my attention, but two were especially memorable.

I did not see a taxi stand so I inquired at the front desk if there was a taxi available.  The desk agent personally walked me out (instead of pointing or showing me a map) and actually introduced me to the gentleman at the valet stand.   He responded that there was a taxi waiting and walked me to the vehicle only to find out the driver was missing.  He apologized profusely (even though it wasn’t his fault), took a minute or so to search for the driver with no success, so he then sprinted to the street to flag down another taxi.  And did I mention that it was also pouring down rain?  Just as I was getting in the taxi he had directed to the pickup area, the first taxi driver appeared and was extremely agitated that his fare was given away.  My valet apologized to the driver (even though it was not his fault) and said he would make sure he would have the next guest, then turned and with a smile, apologized to me for the situation, and placed me in the taxi.   A great save for both the customer and his vendor.

The second occurrence really took me by surprise!  When I returned to the hotel, I was looking for the ice machine on my floor and saw that it was being blocked by the car of an electrician who was working on a heating unit in the closet next to the machine.  He immediately stood up, apologized for the inconvenience, took my ice bucket, and began to get the ice for me.

Unfortunately, the ice machine was not working!  Without a second of hesitation, and with a smile, he said he would run down two floors, obtain the ice and bring it to my room.  He opened the near stairwell door and took off down two flights of stairs before I could even respond.  Keep in my mind, this was not a food service attendant – he was the electrician!   He delivered the ice as promised in a matter of 2 or 3 minutes, and with a smile, apologized again for the inoperable ice machine.

In just a few seconds’ interaction, customers can tell whether a service provider has that “make it personal” attitude and are ready to back it up with action. These seemingly small interactions made my stay memorable enough to share with others.  What unforgettable personal experiences are you providing for your customers?

How Important Is It to Please EVERY Customer?

Ask yourself – how many babies is it okay to drop?

{A Note to Readers: This is another in a series of guest blogs focused on Customer Experience from the amazing Katy Wild. Working with Katy, I can always expect to learn something; I trust you will, too. ~ bph}

In 2003, when Freeman launched an initiative to emphasize customer service as the platform for everything we do, we solicited help from customer service consultant, Dr. Chip Bell.  For 90 years, Freeman has had an emphasis on treating our customers well – but 14 years ago, we shifted focus to consider the entire customer experience.  From their first contact to their last, across all companies, including all services, we were committed to making the customers’ experience not just positive, but memorable.

Chip, as all of us called him, had worked with hundreds of Fortune 500 companies on enlightening and expanding customer experience programs.  He spent many hours with Freeman employees, department heads, and executives to learn our business and to share his learnings and proven best practices. We engaged a group of cross-department, branch and company employees to work with Chip. During one of these sessions, a Freeman executive asked our consultant experts, “How important is it to provide this exceptional experience to EVERY customer?  What percentage should we expect NOT to be able to please or satisfy?”

I loved Chip’s response – and have reminded myself of it often. He looked directly at the executive and asked an unexpected question in return.  “What if you worked in the maternity ward in the hospital and were responsible for the care of the patients and the newborn babies?  What percentage of the babies would you think it is okay to drop?”  The entire room was silent and you could have heard a pin drop – then we realized he was kidding – and we all laughed but realized he had made a valid point.  Who wants to be the customer that is “dropped”?  Is it ever okay?

As one of our strategic pillars, we are committed to provide Uncompromising Service to ALL of our employees, our clients and our community. We may not succeed 100% of the time, but that is what we aim for. We plan not to drop any babies and to make every impression lasting and each interaction memorable – for all the right reasons.

We don’t learn from talking; we learn from listening

{A Note to Readers: This is another in a series of blogs focused on Customer Experience that I am collaborating on with the amazing Katy Wild. I can always expect to learn something from Katy; I trust you will, too. ~ bph}

American author Bryant McGill said “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” One of the core principals of uncompromising service is to listen to your customers… really listen.

listening-better-than-talking11

We’ve all had this annoying experience where you are trying to explain something you need, describing a situation you’re in, or asking for assistance and – before you can even finish the first sentence – you are already being offered the solution. This has happened in my personal life but also in business when speaking with peers, managers, and vendors! I always appreciate their insight, but it’s difficult not to get frustrated, especially when it becomes a one-sided conversation in which they simply want to make themselves heard (to make me go away?), convince me they have a fix (for something that’s not broken) or just make a sale (for something I don’t need). When your answer is not about giving me the solutions I asked for or the help I need, you are making my problem worse.

A friend of mine recently witnessed this situation – and the victim was one of her customers. She and two of her associates took an important client to dinner at a nice restaurant in Los Angeles. This was an executive from a high-profile, multi-million-dollar company that they had disappointed with a few service failures over the last year. The purpose of the dinner was to try to make amends and lay the foundation to extend the current contract.

The evening started off on the wrong foot with the two associates arriving 15 minutes after the reservation time. Once everyone was settled at the table, after pleasantries were exchanged, one of the associates began talking about his personal travel and how exciting it had been over the summer. Then the conversation moved to his children, how many important people he had done business with lately, and lastly, how successful his company was. He never stopped talking about himself. Worse, he never asked the customer how HE felt the company was doing with his account, if there were any adjustments that should be made, or if HIS business was growing or struggling in the current market.

When the talkative associate excused himself from the table for a phone call – another bad move – the customer looked at my friend and said “I wonder why I was invited to dinner?” Obviously, the situation did not put her company in a positive light, and she had to make serious reparations to extend the association. In the end, she did renew the account, but the gentleman in question was asked to be removed – and he was her boss!

Freeman is so fortunate to have many customers that love us, our innovation and our enthusiasm! But we can never take that for granted – and should never assume we intrinsically know what they want or need. The only way to find out?  Ask them… and then listen to what they have to say.

My favorite quotation about listening? This one by Thomas Edison, “We have but two ears and one mouth so that we may listen twice as much as we speak.”

Customer-driven approach vs. process-driven approach

The other day I got caught in one of those interminable calls with my cable provider. We’ve all been in this special little hell.

Cust Driven vs Process Driven

My objective was to report a service outage and schedule a hasty repair. The objective of the person on the phone was to follow the provided script and try to appease me without really doing anything to address my concern. She was totally following process—which, by the way, had nothing to do with solving customer problems or elevating my call to someone who could help. She assured me that a routine upgrade was already scheduled for my area, and that would fix it. Of course, my problem was unique to my address, but she wasn’t coached to deal with individuals; she was only equipped to report to members of large, geographic groups organized around the company maintenance and repair schedule.

When I calmed down, I reflected on how grateful I am that my colleagues at Freeman made the wise decision to take a customer-driven approach instead of a process-driven approach.  If you call Freeman today, a real person will answer the phone and connect you with the right individual. This is just one small example of how we’ve structured the company around the needs of the customer instead of forcing them to navigate the arbitrary demands of our own process. It makes a huge difference. And we are constantly trying to improve. It’s more expensive, but it’s priceless, too. Because we know that even customers with a valid complaint will give us credit for being quick and transparent in how we solve their problems.

So here’s a challenge: give yourself a gut check. When you approach clients – or internal customers – are you clinging to an outdated, mental checklist regarding the rules of engagement? Are you expecting customers to jump through your hoops to get service? Or are you opening your ears, opening your mind, and yes, opening your heart, so that you can serve them?

Think of the last time you were trapped in someone else’s bad process. Resolve to do better.