Olympic Service with Abundance

by Chip Bell

olympic torch

The owner answered the phone. “Are you still open?” I asked him incredulously. “Oh no, we close at 6pm. But, I call forward the store phone to my cell in case of a customer
emergency.” I explained my attempt to repair my aging pipe and the part I needed. “Why don’t you meet me at the store,” he said. “I can be there in five minutes.” You know the rest of this story. I still smile when I drive by his store and recall his abundant service.

Abundance is a self-less gesture that changes the calculus of service from miserly subtraction to Midas-like addition. It signals to customers their preeminent importance. It telegraphs a true customer-centric operation. And, it elevates customer loyalty into the stratosphere. Such service is often the subject of stories we share for years, not just through next week.

The sports world was uplifted in the 2016 Rio Olympics 5000 meter heat when Abbey D’Agostino of the USA fell, causing her to trip up Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand, a fellow runner she did not know. D’Agostino could have regained her composure and continued toward the finish line. Instead she worked to help Hamblin to her feet. But, D’Agostino’s injured legs buckled in the attempt and Hamblin returned the favor, helping D’Agosion. Neither runner resumed the race until both could successfully run. Because neither was at fault for the fall, both were allowed to race in the finals. “It is a moment,” said Hamblin, “I will never, ever forget for the rest of my life.” The cheering fans that watched the abundant gesture are not likely to forget it either.

Give to your customers the very best that you have; their best will come back to you. The ROI will not just be in the form of retention, revenue and recognition; it will be a customer that works very hard to take care of your brand. A friend raves about her favorite restaurant. She admits she tides up the lavatory after using their bathroom so the next patron will be impressed. How can you serve with such abundance that your customers work as hard for you as you work for you?

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Service with a Magic Touch

By Chip Bell

The Platters were a favorite singing group of mine. They had forty songs that made the Top 100; four that were #1 hits. One of their top songs opens with the lyrics: “You’ve got the magic touch; it makes me glow so much. It casts a spell, it rings a bell, the magic touch.” Now, assume your customers were singing a song about their experience when dealing with you and your organization. What would it take for them to use similar lyrics in describing that experience.

The magic touch that makes customers glow is one that is more than a whimsical tease or a momentary cosmetic delight. It is enduring and memorable. It causes customers to remember their experience long after they have forgotten the outcome or product they came to you for.

My business partner and I walked into a Starbucks in LA we had frequented a few times while working with a client. It had been a year since we crossed their threshold. The barista put her hands on her hips and said, “Where have you boys been? We have missed you.” And, then proceeded to make our drinks just like we had ordered them a year earlier. Now, here is the enduring part. That was six years ago and I am still telling that story—and I would drive an hour out of my way to get a tall skinny cinnamon dolce from that Starbucks.

Make your experiences as deep, personal and enduring, as they are fun and energetic. Look for ways to customize. Make it uplifting and filled with passion. Find approaches that light up your customers’ spirit and make their day special. When you cast a spell and ring a bell, you make your customers glow and your bottom line grow. Reach out to your customers with your magic touch.

The Leader as Santa

by Chip Bell

Santa silhouetteFull disclosure with a hat tip to Clement Moore, the author of the famous 1823 poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” This is not intended to advocate obesity (“chubby and plump”) or smoking (“stump of a pipe”).  But, the holiday season and his poem provide a metaphor through which to examine the role of the leader.

The obvious connection to Santa is the message of generosity—always an important dimension of great leadership.  The holiday day season underscores the significance of compassion, peace and good will–all necessary cultural ingredients for a growing organization; especially one that recognizes competitive advantage comes from innovation.  But the poem provides us more than the typical festive messages; Santa, like great leaders, is also fun-loving, passionate, and humble.

Leadership is undergoing a metamorphous in our democratic culture.  As we shift from a brawn-based, manufacturing economy to a brain-based, service economy; and, as the values of Gen Xers and Millennials replace the influence held by baby boomers, there is an opportunity to rethink effective leadership.  The new leadership models are not determined by the age of the leader but by the attitude and values she or he brings to the role.

For our exploration through the Santa Claus lens, I have chosen two renowned leaders as examples:  Herb Kelleher, the founder and long time CEO of Southwest Airlines and Cheryl Batchelder, the CEO of Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen.  Each brings a unique expression of the tenets of effective modern day leadership.

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Lighting the Pilot Light of Service

by Chip Bell

It happens in my house every year around the first frost. The pilot lights for the gas logs in the fireplaces get lit in preparation for winter. It signals that leaves will be falling, layers of clothing will be increasing, and the den and living room will soon be turned into a wonderland of nurturing warmth, dancing light, and rustic scents. It is the season of holidays.

The parallel in the retail world is the season of sales. Holiday shopping is punctuated by days bantered as black and decorations that seem to be put on display earlier every year. Layaway plans are in full force. We get constantly reminded of the number of shopping days remaining. Buyers are getting in shape for competitive shopping, wish lists, credit card receipts, long lines in stores, and countless “click to purchase” messages! It is the season of spending.

Will you be ready for the onslaught of customers who sometimes put wrangling over etiquette and show unfiltered greed despite the message of the holiday carols playing in the background? Will your frontline be ambassadors of a joyful experience or just indifferent automatons counting the minutes until closing time? What should leaders do to prepare for the season of burnout, sellout, and freak out? It starts with solid preparation by lighting the pilot light. Here are three ways to get your employees ready.

Talk About The Mission, Not the Chore

The task is typically clear to frontline employees struggling with grace under pressure. But, sometimes the mission can seem only like an arithmetic target…increase sales by 32%, gain 21% more revenue, or answer 27% more calls. Bricklaying is still just bricklaying if only the task is known. However, if the focus is on cathedral building it alters the calculus of commitment. Employees need clear assignments and expectations with realistic goals. But, talking about the mission of the enterprise and tying daily tasks to that grand cause enables employees to better weather the pressures of being on stage in front of a sometimes angry audience.

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Maverick Leadership: Leading Undisciplined Great Service

by Chip Bell

She was over-the-top friendly. Her eye hugs made you feel you were in the presence of a forever friend. As she rang up my purchase at the checkout counter of the super-sized, well-known department store, she commented on my cowboy boots. “You’re either from Texas or you got a heap of cowboy in your blood,” she teased as she put my purchases in a shopping bag. Then she added, “I put a discount coupon in your bag for apple cider. You know you are gonna need extra cider this winter; they say it’ll be a cold one!”

As I thanked her for her delightful service she shattered the stellar moment with a quiet pronouncement. “I am sorry I won’t see you when you come back; today is my last day.” I had to know the reason so I coaxed her for an explanation. “To be honest,” she said with obvious disappointment, “I was terminated. My boss said I was too undisciplined.”

I left the store with her closing comment refusing to vacate my brain. It made me wonder: Was this “made in heaven” checkout clerk perpetually late? Did she mouth off to her supervisor? Did she have poor work habits her colleagues complained about? What exactly did “undisciplined” mean? After a nearby meeting, curiosity won out over “let well enough alone” and I went back to the store, found her still on the checkout counter, and asked my burning question.

Her answer: “He said I was not following the script and that I was doing things for customers that made other checkout clerks look bad.”

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Partnership – A Crucible for Innovation

by Chip Bell

Luca de Meo at Volkswagen AG did it. Ed Catmull at Pixar Animation did it. Larry Page at Google also did it. Realizing the path to innovation would require revolutionary new thinking; all three leaders grasped that it would also take a new way of coalescing and harnessing talent.

Reading Collective Genius, The Innovators, Creativity, Inc. and The Google Guys yields a strong confirmation that the pursuit of innovation might require a partnership approach, not a traditional teamwork style.

Ask twenty people the difference between a team and partnership and you will likely get as many answers. We enjoy watching powerful examples of superb teamwork on the court, field or racetrack pit on weekends and think it must surely be the most effective structure for all manner of results. But, what if a collection of people with complimentary talents focused on an innovation goal actually worked better as a high performance partnership, not as a team? We sometimes use the words synonymously but there are fundamental differences.

A team is focused on accomplishing a mutual purpose and uses an effective relationship as a tool for achieving it. A partnership is focused on creating a relationship context from which all manner of outcomes can be accomplished. Among a team the task is preeminent; however, relationship distinguishes a partnership.

Stated differently, the task focus of a team might be so compelling that even a less-than-superior team could produce superior performance (see the movie Hoosiers for an example of high performance teamwork). In a partnership, excellence cannot be sustained without a superior relationship of diverse strengths (see any movie about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson for an example of a high performance partnership).

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