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Friday, July 26, 2013

Blurred Lines

 Every so often I think maybe I am just old school in how people should behave at work.  My first full-time job was at Walt Disney World as a merchandise hostess (Epcot, Centorium -“The Gifts of Future World!”) One concept engrained during my first few days of pixie dusting was the concept of onstage and backstage.

What it meant was anytime a cast member (employee) was anywhere there could possibly be a guest (customer), AKA Onstage, the expectation was to act on-the-job.  The culture was employees were always on best behavior in front of customers, regardless of the circumstance.  When not in front of customers, usually physically behind a door or fence, AKA Backstage, it was more relaxed and informal. 

Sometimes, I miss those days.  There are good things about society become more relaxed and casual (Ask any woman about wearing pantyhose during a humid Florida summer.) But there are blurred lines I wish we could reestablish.  Sometimes I think, “Yuck! I did not need to see or know that!” or “You do know you are at work?”

What Happened
My hubby and I were checking out at a Walmart express lane.  We are third in line.  The customer at the register seems to have a lot of merchandise for an express lane, and there is a problem with his order.  The next person in line is a Walmart employee, presumably on her break as she was buying a cheesecake snack from the deli.   The first transaction is taking longer to resolve, so the Walmart employees opens the cheesecake and starts eating in line while waiting to check out!  I can’t imagine Walmart appreciates this behavior from customers, let alone an employee.

At all types of businesses, I’ve heard personal and inappropriate conversations taking place between employees, this includes managers.  I've heard about the results of doctor’s appointments I never wanted to know about. I know about relationships in ways that make me think, “Too much information!”   When I worked in a call center, even though employees aren’t physically in front of customers, I remember conversations taking place on the floor that made me scratch my head, “You did not just say that!” The other thing is how often smartphones come out at work.   Does everyone realize that they are paid to work, and not check in with their personal life?

When employees are so involved in their personal lives at work, customers are seen as an interruption and not the reason they are paid.   In this context, personal life includes talking to fellow employees.   More importantly from a business perspective, it makes the customers feel unimportant and many times uncomfortable.  I won’t ask an employee for help when I hear a personal conversation, nor do I tend to linger longer. That is lost revenue. 

Clear and Muddy
We spend so much time at work that it is clear many of our co-workers become our friends.  We establish personal bonds because we see our co-workers more than we see our actual families.  That part is good.  Having friends at work typically improves an employee’s satisfaction and engagement.  It’s nice to know our co-workers, share good times, and have a sympathetic ear in bad times.

Where it gets muddy is the idea that the personal relationships are more important than the job itself, or a job is an extension of life outside of work.  When an employee talks to another employee about marriage issues, eats in front of a customer, talks about their children’s book report, or a gazillion other behaviors, it says they made that decision that whatever is happening in their life is more important than what they are getting paid to do.  That is not the type of employee that creates satisfied customers.

How to Solve

The key here is to keep it simple.
  • If the supervisors are doing any of these behaviors, the employees will do it too, as they create the defacto culture.  Find ways to help them manage their behavior.
  • Have this question guide behavior: “If my boss’ boss was standing right in front of me, would I be doing this?” 
  • Put a physical line on the floor and make a sign that says, “Beyond this line it is Game On!” or whatever terminology works for your environment.  It does not have to be formal, but the point needs to be made. 
  • Office environments work a bit differently, so ask your team for their ideas how to manage this behavior.
Help unblur the line for your teams.  Set the expectations, reinforce them, and be a model of the best behavior.  There is a time and place for everything, onstage and backstage.  Define what that is for your world and tell your teams.  Are you ready?  Lights, camera, ACTION!


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Lazy makes me Crazy!

There are a few of thing that really irk me beyond sanity when it comes to customer service.  What makes it so frustrating is they are simple to correct and just unnecessary actions of the employees.  The first one is lazy makes me crazy!

As a customer, I am pretty reasonable and easy going (Well, I am in life too).  You will not find someone more empathetic to service employees because I spent so many years there myself.  I know days are tough when people come to you one after another.   With all that said, I cannot tolerate laziness.  I have an expectation if your name tag has the company’s logo on it, then you should be able to answer basic questions about your organization, your immediate physical location, and even if you don’t know, just be pleasant while you, not me, find out. 

The Situation

Poor Carnival Cruise Lines, they can’t seem to get a break lately with dramatic and scary technical problems on their ships, and even worse they seem to handle service recovery just so poorly.  Normally, I would not pick on them because it doesn’t seem fair to kick a man when he’s down, but this experience illustrates best my point about laziness.

In April, my family boarded the Carnival Legend for its first Mediterranean voyage of the summer season.   One thing I enjoy about cruising is a ship’s library and the ability to borrow books.   I am not an e-reader kind of girl, so the ability to check out a hardback book is a nice amenity.   

Disembarkation day I went to the library to get a book.  The books were locked up, and there was a sign that said the library would open at 7:30pm for an hour.   This wasn’t unexpected, as almost all cruise lines control the inventory to avoid books walking off, so I made a mental note to return later.

I went back around 8:00pm, but the bookcases were still locked.  Hmmm?

There is one Carnival crew member in the library, and she is the internet manager according to her name tag.   It’s not unusual for the passenger internet computer stations to be in or near the library.   The total space was probably no bigger than a 20 feet X 20 feet area (For my metric audience, it's about 7 meters x 7 meters). 

I waited while she helped other passengers and when it was my turned I asked, “When does the library open?”  She answered, “I don’t know.”  In my head I thought, “But you are in the library, how could you not know?!”  She clearly had no interest in finding out either, but she told me to check my daily events schedule that should be in my room.   In my room?! She was very short, and I have rarely had someone so non-verbally say to me, “That’s not my job.” 

The Gurus’ Solution

This is such an easy solution, which annoys me all the more.  She should have had a schedule of events with her for any such basic questions, and apologize the library was not open when the sign said it would.  As a customer I don’t care if it was her job or not.  If you are standing in front of the library books, you need to know when the library will be open.   It’s not rocket science.

If she was a proactive type of employee, she would verify the hours on the sign and work with the cruise director team to ensure it was always correct.  This would take literally minutes of her time, and the funny thing is it would save her a world of heartache from whiny passengers.  (Not that I am ever whiny. ;))

The Larger Organization Solution

For organizations, I propose you take every customer service position and think through what are the top 10 questions that employees in that role could get related to the company, their physical location, and other general information.   Some of the top questions will always be where are the restrooms, and what are the hours of operation?

If you can train people to these answers, then you will proactively solve 50% of your customer challenges.  Employees will also feel more confident, which leads to higher job satisfaction.  The trick to train them is as an organization you must know the definitive answers to those common questions.  Sometimes that is not as easy as it sounds.   

Life is a Carnival

Carnival just installed a new CEO, and I hope they are able to turn around their sinking ship to ensure passenger safety and create enjoyable service experiences.   If you are a regular reader of the blog, then you know I love cruising, so I am sure I will give Carnival another opportunity to wow me someday soon. 

Until then, I wish you safe and fun summer travels!