Customer Service

presenting like a rock star

Rock and roll2Does anyone else go to concerts and try to figure out how to do your job better? No? A side effect of being a presenter and facilitator is that I cannot attend any training, speech, or event without noticing what is done well, what could be better, and what I can learn from it.

Eighteen months ago I wrote a post called “Rock and Roll Presentation Skills” after seeing one of my favorite European bands perform. As a presenter, this band inspires me more than any other with their stage presence, energy, and connection to the crowd. By sheer coincidence the same band was performing in Dallas the same weekend I was there to attend HRevolution and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see them again.

Reflecting on what I took from this performance, the presentation lessons hold true with what I learned from their last performance.

1. There is a huge, gaping chasm between “pretty good” and “great”. Three local bands opened up and they were pretty good. But there was a big contrast between the opening and main performances and, oddly, it had little to do with musical skills. Some of the local bands had outstanding musicians, but it wasn’t enough to close the gap. They did a “good” job, but not one that made me want to hear more from them.

That has me wondering what I need to do to leap to the next level. Obviously, a presentation has to be well written and delivered with reasonable skill. But, content and technical skills only get you to good. What are the components that move it to great?

2. ALL presentations matter.Although largely unknown in the States, the main band headlines festivals in Europe, playing to tens of thousands of people. In stark contrast, the show in Dallas was in a bar that held maybe a couple hundred people. They could have viewed Dallas an unimportant show and just gone through the motions.

Instead, they played as though it were the most important show on the tour. Full out, completely committed, pouring sweat, not an ounce of energy held back. Even with their relentless schedule of touring around the world they showed no signs of boredom, exhaustion, or the sense that it was just one more gig. Instead, they radiated joy and enthusiasm.

For me the big question is: How do I structure my life and mindset so I have the energy and focus to be at 100% for every presentation? How do I ensure I’m always treating every presentation as though it will define my career?

3. Engage the crowd. Rather than being the untouchable rockstars up on a pedestal, they interacted with the audience at every opportunity. The headlining singer continually and sincerely referred to the crowd as “friends”, showed off signs held by audience members, offered choices of what songs they’d play next, celebrated the energy of the crowd, and thanked the audience for coming out to see them. Sounds obvious, but the local bands did little of this.

What are the obvious things to connect with my audiences and classes that I’m not doing enough or at all? How can I better create a feeling where I’m speaking with the audience rather than at them? How can I connect with as many people as possible on as individual of level as possible.

4. Make it about the audience, not the presenter.The local bands kept mentioning the CDs they had for sale in the back, reasons they weren’t at their best, where they were playing next, blah, blah, blah. Any words between songs were few and focused on the band. In contrast, it would have been easy – almost expected – for the headliners to show up with rock and roll egos completely unchecked and gripe about the venue or small crowd. They could have bragged about the shows they normally do or made it clear a bar gig was beneath them. Yet, everything the headliners said – every single word– was focused on audience and how fun and great they were. It was clear the band was thrilled and grateful that everyone had showed up to see them.

Our words reveal our focus – as a speaker, is the concern for the audience and participants or for ourselves? This is a subtle, but really powerful difference. The audience knows and responds accordingly.

5. Keep it simple. One would think that less experience performers would keep it simple and focus on walking before they run, but it was the opposite. The local bands had five and six string basses and seven and eight (!) string guitars, using sophisticated techniques to play complex lines. The headlining musicians used a traditional instruments, straightforward techniques, and played comparatively simple songs.

As a presenter it’s tempting to show off with technology, complicated materials, fancy language, credentials, etc. But that’s all about the presenter. Complex is the lazy route. Simple is difficult, it takes more time to do, and it often feels unprofessional to the novice. What beginning presenters often miss is simple requires expert level judgment, effort, and refinement. Simple keeps it about the message connecting with the audience.

6. Have fun. It’s hard to travel day after day, connect with the audience, be grateful for any opportunity to get your message out there, and have a blast while doing it. Despite near continual touring schedule and the small venue the headliners were smiling, playing, joking around, and giving full effort like there’s nothing else they’d rather be doing. The headliners seemed to be doing their dream job, the local bands seemed to be showing up for work.

The differences between good and great are small, but significant.

It’s funny how the things that set us apart are often not all that big on the surface. Notice how none of this is about their musical ability. The gap between the opening bands and the headliner was much more about approach, attitude, and connection. Could the local bands have done all this? Yes. Did they? Not really. They were more than skilled enough, but in the end were no more memorable than the background music the club played over the PA between the sets.

It’s a nice reminder to continually step up my intention, focus, and connection. I need to make sure I’m creating a great user experience and not getting between my message and my audience.

For you, what’s the difference between a great presentation and one that’s merely good?

new socks: the last post you ever need to read about Zappos

I ordered several pairs of running socks from Zappos last night and am pretty jazzed about it (it’s the little things that make a good life, right?). After I clicked the purchase button, it struck me – why are there any articles written about Zappos?

The internet is awash with articles and posts about the online shoe store, but why? Yes, they operate differently, but it’s not like it’s hard to figure why that difference works so well. Zappos makes it supereasy to purchase a huge variety of shoes, etc. at reasonable prices with zero risk that it won’t fit or you won’t like it, and deliver them quicker than should be possible. If anything does go wrong, they immediately bend over backwards to more than make it right. Their entire company – every process and system and policy – exists to enable a great customer experience and somehow the business world is surprised that Zappos has an enthusiastic (fanatical?) customer base lining up to give them money. Who knew that people might want to do business with a company that treats them well?

Are we in the business world truly that thick?

But what about their culture?” some might ask. “They have a unique culture and are so successful, shouldn’t we try to figure out how to copy them? What about all their employees with blue hair coming to work in their pajamas? That’s weird isn’t it? Shouldn’t all us business and HR types be discussing how awesome/strange/wonderful/it-will-never-work that is? Shouldn’t we be desperately trying to figure out how to bring the Zappos culture and magic into our workplaces?

As near as I can tell with my very low level of expertise (I once toured their HQ and I have bought some stuff from them), their unique culture and the unique results it creates is based on two things: 1) customer experience is everything; and 2) the customer experience will never exceed the employee experience (they don’t say it that way, they just live it). They commit to hiring great people who want to provide an amazing experience for customers and then create a work environment where those employees can and are expected to do just that. Create a great employee experience and the employees will create a great customer experience.

It’s an embarrassingly simple and devastatingly, disruptively effective approach. And, most businesses predictably ignore it. Puttnam’s Law tells us it’s better to fail doing what everyone else is doing than to succeed by doing different.

Sure, we could build a business around the customer and employee experience. Or, we could just keep on doing what we’ve been doing, keep getting the same results, and read some more articles about what Zappos.


branding, HR, and the customer experience

Want to build your company’s brand? Give a close look at your HR department.

That’s not how we typically approach it, is it? There are a ton of articles on branding, but far too many that discuss it as though it’s a separate activity, as though it’s a shiny bit of chrome that gets bolted on to make the company look nice. Company leaders just decide how they want the company to be known by customers, then they create marketing to support that and it’s done, right? Um, no.

In reality, branding is deeply woven throughout the entire organization, despite our attempts to reduce branding to some eye catching advertisements. It’s a circular “chicken and egg” problem that has to be addressed as a whole and looks something like this:

Brand –> Values/Culture –> Hiring/Retention/Development –> Employee Experience –> Customer Experience –> Brand


Brand. The company decides what it wants to be known for and how it wants to be viewed by its customers. Highest quality, best value, best service, the choice of people in the know, whatever.

Values/Culture. Not the stupid mission statement nailed to the wall that no one can remember and everyone ignores. Not the list of safe values that shows up in the “About Us” section of the webpage but how things actually get down and the (unwritten) values the company uses to make decisions and set priorities. (Lest we forget: Enron’s posted values included “Integrity” and “Excellence” but those clearly weren’t the values underscoring their day-to-day operations.)

Hiring/Retention/Development. I cannot emphasize this enough: business gets done for, through, and by people. What the company stands for and how it operates is determined, supported, and reinforced by its people and the behaviors that are encouraged (and tolerated). The ideals written on the wall are irrelevant if they are not fully supported by who gets hired, who is allowed and encouraged to stay, and what they are taught through formal training AND daily interactions with managers and peers.

Employee Experience (EX). I’m not convinced we can create employee engagement or motivation – that’s one reason why who we hire is so important – but I’m very confident that we can utterly destroy it through the daily employee experience. Is the EX one of support, growth, and pride or terrible manager, toxic peers, inane policies, and a dehumanizing culture? Or, is it trapped in between and a daily dose of apathetic meh?

Customer Experience (CX). The customer experience determines how they think of your company. Your definition of the brand is meaningless next to the customer’s. Who determines the customer experience? It’s a combination of your culture (i.e., how things get done around your company) and your employees. It’s been said the customer experience will never exceed employee experienced (I like to think of it as: CX<EX). That makes sense. It’s ridiculous to think we can make our employees’ lives miserable and have them turn around and create a wonderfully fantastic experience for the customer.

Brand. Yep, all of this leads right back to brand. Not the one you want, but the one you actually have.

None of these operate in isolation; they all feed into each other. You can’t build the brand without linking it to your people and how you expect them to operate day in and day out. So how is you HR department supporting the brand?

Might be time to give it some thought.

no refund, no credibility, no business

I can’t give you a refund. I can only exchange it.”

Welcome to 1986, except that it’s 2013. Remember when things were difficult to return for a refund? You had to have the receipt, there were forms to fill out, and you had to deal with someone who was too bureaucratically rigid to do government work. And it had to truly be defective. You wouldn’t dream of attempting to return something simply because you (or your spouse) decided you didn’t want it.

All that changed when more and more stores realized there was a real long-term advantage to having you come to the store to return things. After all: 1) you were in the store and likely to buy more; 2) it created good will that made you want to return; and 3) the few that might abuse the return policy are more than countered by everyone else.

That’s one of the real secrets to Zappos. Make it easy to return or exchange items. Reduce the perceived risk of purchasing to almost nil. Never make the customer feel bad or stupid about their purchase. Actually, that’s not a secret at all. It’s right on display for all the world to see. And to ignore. And to wonder why Zappos is doing great while other businesses flounder.

In a rare family trip to the mall this weekend, my daughter purchased a curling iron from one of the booths in the middle of the mall. The salesman had curled a bit of her hair as a demonstration and she’d liked the results enough to make a purchase. But, it didn’t work as promised and over the next hour, the curl came out. We went back to return it and were told, “No refunds”. In fairness, there was a sign declaring “no refunds” and it was also stamped on the back of the receipt. Buyer beware.

Except, so what. Let’s look at the much bigger picture:

  1. Malls are struggling – that’s not opinion, that’s business article fodder.
  2. My pre-teen daughter is just a few short years from having a job, disposable income, and needing a safe place to meet friends.
  3. She now sees the mall as a place where businesses don’t stand behind their products. And that’s my nice way of putting it. I suspect she sees the mall as a place where businesses can rip you off.
  4. She already likes and is in the habit of buying books with her Kindle. It’s a small jump from books to other items.
  5. She is not alone.

That last one is the most important point. Dwell on it for a while. This isn’t about her, it’s about a pattern. It’s about establishing and building credibility and reputation or allowing it to be whittled away. It’s about missing the steady drip, drip, drip that becomes a river of movement away from an already troubled business model. Thinking about it, I’m actually pretty surprised that the anchor stores and the mall management allow smaller shops to do anything that might hurt their overall credibility and reputation.

Sure, the bigger stores can fairly and logically argue that they have nothing to do with the little booths. Except, so what? It’s guilt by association. Purchases are made with emotion, not logic.

Will anyone miss the malls when they are gone?



[Note: this may seem like a lot about one stupid curling iron. Except it’s not. It’s about bigger patterns happening in the world right now. It’s about Human Resources, sales, and customer service. It’s about retail, not-for-profit, and restaurants. It’s about business and humans. The world is changing quickly and reputation matters. Being right isn’t nearly as important as your credibility and the feelings your customer has toward you.]



We hear about “customer loyalty” and “employee loyalty” and I have trouble fitting these concepts into my brain. “Loyalty” – to me – is a very important virtue. It says I will support you even when it’s difficult for me, even when I don’t want to, even when it is against my best interest. Loyalty – again, to me – is two way: you bleed for me and I bleed for you. Perhaps it’s because I hold loyalty so dear I find it offensive when it’s watered down and treated as a one-way relationship.

“Customer loyalty” seems to mean that I simply prefer your products and services and choose them over others. Not much virtue in that. I might prefer your brand because of what I think it says about me or because of quality or price or because your business happens to simply be convenient for me. Calling it “customer loyalty” implies that the customer is at fault if they shop with a competitor. Yet, am I “disloyal” – is there infidelity – if I purchase elsewhere? No, I’ve made no commitments to you. No, oaths or vows. You provide a product or service. I exchange money for it. You make a profit and I gain a product or service I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) provide by myself. That’s the extent of our relationship.

I received an email a month or two ago from one of the universities I attended. They thought it would be swell if I thought I should send them a check. In fact, they thought it would be swell if I thought I had an obligation to send them a check. The email actually stated: “Your support of [X University] signifies your loyalty and belief in the university, its traditions, and the power of [X University] to impact the world.

I have a difficult time writing my thoughts about that sentence without using a lot of swear words. “Signifies”???? Signifies to whom? Who’s going to know? Am I signifying my loyalty to their accounting department? My “loyalty and belief”?!? Did I take a blood oath when I graduated? Was I knighted? Did I swear any kind of allegiance to the university’s traditions? What traditions?

Here’s the extent of my loyalty and belief in the university: I gave them money, they let me attend classes, and after a certain number of classes they gave me a degree. It’s a business transaction. An exchange of money for services.

I understand that some (many? most?) people feel a connection to the university they attended. It might even be a part of how they identify themselves, of how they think about who they are. Which makes that email all the more offensive. It’s preying off of people’s desire to be virtuous and loyal, yet providing nothing in return, not even a t-shirt or window sticker for their car. They want me to think I owe them something – that I must continue to prove loyalty –  because I chose to attend their university over a decade ago. That’s a manipulative one-way relationship and the very definition of servitude, not loyalty.

This was just an example, but how often do we do this and think our customers or our employees “owe” us something out of “loyalty”. They owe us money for our products or services, they owe us work for their paycheck. AND we owe them products or services for their money, we owe them a paycheck for their work. But once the debt is settled, it’s settled.

The best companies get this. The companies with the best reputation for customer service focus on better serving the customer’s need versus focusing on figuring out how to better get the customer to serve the company’s needs. That’s a key distinction. They know that if the customer was “disloyal” the problem is with the company, not the customer.

Hopefully our customers and employees stick around, but it’s up to us to earn their loyalty daily, not assume it or insist on it.

What thinks you?


screwing up giving the customer what they want

A couple weeks back I purchased an adapter to hook an iPad to the projector at work for an upcoming presentation. It turned out we didn’t need it so I brought it back unopened to return it. It turns out the store has a two week limit on returns and I was a few days past.

At that moment in time, the clerk has a few choices:

1) Hold to policy and deny the return.

2) Cheerfully accept the return explaining how normally policy wouldn’t allow it but because it’s unopened and close enough to the deadline he’s happy to take it back.

3) Point out the deadline. Act as though I’m trying to get something past him. Seem irritated. Stare at the receipt. Ask if I knew there was a deadline. Stare at the receipt longer. Seem more irritated. Proclaim that he’ll take the item after all in a but-you-better-not-try-this-nonsense-again tone of voice.

Unfortunately, he chose #3. Even though I got my money back, I would have been happier with #1. Rigid policy is silly, but not as blatantly stupid as being condescending to the customer. The $34 will not change my life. If he had stuck to policy, I would have been annoyed, but I would have understood because I did not follow the rules clearly written on the receipt. My bad.

If he had done the second option, I would have been thrilled. I would have understood this was something special and felt like he’d looked out for me and done me a favor.

Number three though… The sad thing about the option he chose was that I’m sure he thought he was doing the second option. He did take the return. I didn’t have to argue for it. He did bend the rules for me. He also made it clear that I was a thorn in his side, talked down to me, and left me feeling a bit of an idiot.

So close, yet so far.

It makes me wonder if I ever do that to my internal customers. Do I ever give them what they want but in a way that’s difficult, obnoxious, or makes them feel like an interruption? Do I confuse solving their problems with providing great service? Am I grateful for them or do I serve them begrudgingly? Do I ever almost give great service and then mess it up at the end?

I don’t think so, but that’s not quite as important as what they think, is it?

checklist counterproductivity

Consider for a moment the possibility that checklists just might destroy innovation, block creativity, stymie thinking, roadblock excellence, and basically hurt the customer and employee experience.

Checklists, like screwdrivers, email, insecticide, etc. are simply a tool that’s great for doing the job they were designed to do. And they are dangerous and damaging when used for most anything else.

Where do checklists work great? Keeping us on track for superstandardized but critical tasks. Pilots follow a pre-flight checklist even though they’ve done pre-flight checks hundreds of times because: 1) every step is crucial; and 2) the tasks are so routine it would be easy to start taking shortcuts. Checklists are critically important in these types of situations. Not coincidentally, these are situations where innovation, creativity, etc. are not desirable. We really, really want the pilots to do the exact same process every single time.

Checklists are fantastic for ensuring a minimal standard by removing variation. Fast food places standardize everything to ensure a consistent result are delivered, no matter who is doing the work. You’ll never be wowed, amazed, or delighted by the food, but that’s not the intention.

Where do checklists NOT work? In situations where we want people to experiment, think, create, innovate, and improve, where the purpose is more important than the step, where doing it right is more important than simply getting it done.

Checklists aren’t bad, but like any tool they can be misused. It’s very easy for people to abdicate their results and responsibilities to the checklist. They become reactive order takers, waiting to be told what to do, focused on checking the task off the list instead of thinking through the task. “I did it,” they say, but they rarely say, “I found a way to do it better.”

In my world, I see this when people focus on attending a training, getting the certificate, or earning the degree but put no value on what they learned, how they will apply it, or how it will help them do the job better. I see it when people say “I can’t move this forward because I called but they didn’t answer” instead of “I called, emailed, and tracked them down to get the information I needed.” It’s there when people stick to the letter of the policy, never considering the spirit or situation. It shows up when people cannot tell you the value their job provides, only the tasks it accomplishes.

The problem is that checklists don’t measure quality of work. They don’t measure persistence, adaptability, or caring about a job well done. Checklists treat every customer and every interaction the same. They ensure a minimal standard. They allow people to say “I did it”.

Some days, some situations, some tasks that’s enough. But any job that can be reduced to checklists is a prime candidate to be farmed out, done cheaper, mechanized/computerized, or eliminated. Any person who cannot think beyond the check box is setting themselves up for irrelevance.

easy to get right, easy to get wrong

A simple question: When is 2/5/13?

It’s not a trick question and the answer is more significant than it seems. Hold that thought, we’re going to come back to it.

Jim Rohn used to say that when something is easy to do, it’s also easy not to do. And that’s the problem. He’d point out that it’s easy to “eat an apple a day” for your health, yet  many people don’t because it’s so easy not to. It’s easy to put off until tomorrow and tomorrow often becomes never.

Likewise, you may have noticed that when something is easy to get right, it’s generally easy to get wrong. We put all kinds of processes and instructions and safeguards around the things that are hard to get right, but assume that the easy stuff will be done perfectly because, well, it’s easy.

So when is 2/5/13? It looks so cut at dried, but the answer is: it depends. If you’re sitting in Frankfurt 2/5/13 is May 2, 2013, but if you’re in Dallas it’s February 5, 2013. In an isolated world that’s ok, but in a globally connected world it matters.

I was watching a video from a Swedish band on YouTube the other day and noticed that there was a link announcing the band was playing at a local(ish) venue on February 5. How cool is that? Truly, if the whole tour schedule had been posted, I wouldn’t have paid it much mind, but as a snippet of the information most pertinent to me, it caught my attention. As I was marvelling at the wonders of this modern age and debating going to the show, I went to the band’s website and noticed that, yes they are playing that venue. On May 2.

Details matter. So easy to get right and so easy to get wrong.

Yesterday, I was digging into the data in our Learning Management System and was having trouble sorting it because some of the items were inconsistently entered. If someone signed up for but didn’t attend a class, the “Post-Status” field was either left blank, marked “incomplete”, or marked “no show”. All mean essentially the same thing, yet aren’t. Data consistency is so easy to get right and so easy to get wrong.

A friend works at a company that just switched payroll providers. Many employees discovered that their expense reimbursements were processed (and taxed) as income. The company that messed it up is a well-known and experienced payroll company who should never make such a simple mistake. It seems so easy to denote income and expense reimbursement differently. So easy to get right and so easy to get wrong.

Or what about the interviewer who swears they will call you with a decision by the end of next week, but never do. Or… or… or… How many examples of great / terrible customer service, HR, leadership, etc. come down to getting the little, simple details right?

So when is 2/5/13?

Your thoughts?


Underdogs don’t always win. They’re not supposed to. The odds are stacked deeply against them and to pull it off would be a miracle. That’s why we root for the underdog. That’s why it’s so powerful when they do win.

Enter Hollywood. The underdog myth is so prevalent it would be easy to think that underdogs always win. That they’re supposed to. All it takes is heart and a three-minute montage of effort set to a catchy rock tune. Suddenly the hero is as masterfully adept as the villain who has spent a lifetime at their craft.

It makes for a great story. Who among us can’t identify with feeling outclassed, mistreated by jerks, held down by the cruel and incompetent boss, played the fool by circumstances beyond our control, or being the victim of an unjust world? We’ve all been there at some moment.

Then the credits roll and we return to the real world. A place that can be as mean, vile, nasty, and indifferent as it can be beautiful, loving, caring, and inspiring. And we try to muddle through because we don’t have the answers and the world is bigger than us and feels overwhelming.

When a movie ends, it ends. There is a happily ever after or at least a resolution and a stopping point. In real life EVERY MOMENT IS A NEW BEGINNING and we don’t know how it ends because it is always beginning again.

We take actions and we make choices and we don’t know if it’s the right one or not. What career, what job, what city, what spouse? We will never know what might have been, only where we are now. And we’ll never know if today’s decisions are right until tomorrow (and sometimes tomorrow is a long ways off).

That’s what your employees are feeling. Your customers. Your boss and your kids.

Everyone wants to be the hero of their story. No one thinks they are the villain. And we all feel like the underdog.