Workplace Wisdom

01 Dec 2015

The Value of Complaining

If the correct thing to do isn’t obvious or easy enough, we usually do whatever seems best at that moment, even if it violates norms. When norms are violated multiple times, though, they generate a data set that should prompt change. The repeated violations show that either the norm is no longer relevant or the tools and structures meant to implement it aren’t working correctly. There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame Here’s a funny example. Recently, while having dinner at […]

20 Oct 2015

3 Reasons to Fire a Customer

When a business has to fight for every sale, the idea of intentionally turning customers away seems like sacrilege. In fact, taking advantage of customers is such a common societal trope that there’s a plethora of consumer advocates, ranging from the Better Business Bureau, to the New York Times’ column “The Haggler,” to numerous websites and hashtags based on the concept “YourCompanySucks.” But as crucial as it is to treat customers fairly and appropriately, it’s equally important not to let […]

22 Sep 2015

How Service Apologies Backfire

If an apology is observably insincere, what’s the point? Politicians, celebrities, and athletes are often taken to task for pro forma or grudging apologies that don’t express true remorse, take responsibility, show recognition of the hurt or damage caused, or commit to doing better in the future. And when the recipient notices that the “apology” contains “weasel words” — language that’s intentionally ambiguous or misleading — the “apology” backfires — creating its own offense, or adding insult to injury. Exhibit […]

11 Aug 2015

Who Defines Your Service Rules?

According to an old Swahili proverb: “When the elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.” That’s certainly true in organizations where executives have ongoing disagreements. Whether the situation involves explicit, pitched battles, or covert, passive-aggressive resistance, it’s the folks lower down in the hierarchy who are most affected by the lack of alignment — they end up feeling either whipsawed or trapped. But there’s a double whammy when this kind of clash happens in the area of customer care. Frontline […]

23 Jun 2015

Good Service Stays a Step Ahead

On Sunday morning, Daughter and I went to a local diner where the food is always good, but the service is often iffy. Our waitress had been somewhat unhelpful in the past, so I studied her this time around to learn why. Here’s what I found, based on her interactions with us and the tables nearby. Longtime customers greet her warmly, and she seems to mean well. She knows the menu. But she has a nervous, scattered demeanor, doesn’t focus […]

12 May 2015

Don’t Paper Over the Reality of Customer Experience

You’ve probably seen that embarrassing Seinfield episode (weren’t they all?) when Elaine is in a public restroom and realizes that there’s no toilet paper in her stall. If this has ever happened to you, it probably only took a couple of times before you made it standard practice to check for paper when you first open the stall door. (Let’s call that customer awareness, or customer education.) Early in my career, I managed an operation that worked weekends. The building […]

17 Mar 2015

How Customer Service Can Neglect Customer Care

When it comes to customer experience, the height of efficiency can take you to a low of satisfaction. Here are two recent personal observations: the first from a small, local eatery during the recent, challenging winter season, and the second from a large restaurant chain that’s new in town. Efficiency Isn’t Everything A nasty winter brings a lot of mess into a storefront. Retailers have to cope with dirty, melted snow getting tracked in, over and over again. Keeping things […]

10 Feb 2015

Service Efficiency vs. Customer (and Server) Comfort

Efficiency and comfort can sometimes be at odds. This divergence is often exacerbated by new technology, particularly in the service industry. Combine the drive for efficiency with technology and customers’ feelings about service providers — and vice versa — and comfort and satisfaction can be lost altogether. The Payment Plan I recently experienced the potential while staying at a lovely hotel in Vancouver, a beautiful city. A satisfying lunch at the restaurant in my hotel was followed by a payment […]

02 Dec 2014

Screened Service Revisited: Another Missed Airport Connection

When does self-service become a barrier rather than a boon? Back at JFK again recently, I returned to Due Amici, hungry for a midday meal. Now that I knew the drill for ordering off the iPad at the table, and had thought through the pitfalls (see The Pitfalls of Screened Service), I felt confident that I could have a relatively calm and pleasant lunch. My vantage point was slightly different this time: my corner seat let me observe a number […]

14 Oct 2014

The Pitfalls of Screened Service

Too much standardization and systematization can eliminate the crucial human element. That was my recent experience at JFK Airport. I had arrived too early for my flight, and decided that instead of grabbing a sandwich, I would calmly enjoy a “real” lunch, complete with actual silverware, at one of Terminal 2’s new iPad-driven restaurants. The place looked clean, modern, and attractive. I didn’t love the idea of sitting at a small table, facing a complete stranger with nothing but a […]


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