April 13, 2021 /
Comments Off on This is why your staff are uncontrollable

This is why your staff are uncontrollable

Woman in conflict

There’s a screaming match across the counter.

I’ve got a customer yelling at a staff member. The staff member is giving as good as he gets with a passive-aggressive smirky tone that’s winding the customer even more. Other customers are looking on. Everyone is triggered.

Woman in conflict

My Apple watch is beeping with a warning that my own heart rate is elevated.

At the same time, everything goes into slow motion. Time freezes.

How did it come to this? I never want this to happen again.

We’ve done all the training, all the procedures have been written. We’ve even written a policy on how to respond, how to stand (non-aggressively), and how to escalate (to a manager). 

Some of my staff silkily swerve through conflict, while others bombastically berate their ‘opponents’.

Why can’t this employee just snap into line?

They can’t.

We assume people can ‘control’ their emotions and how they react. We believe people can ‘choose’ to act a certain way.

But as author Lisa Feldman Barret explains in her book Seven and a Half Lessons About The Brain, we don’t really have as much free will as we think – a view shared by neuroscientist and author Sam Harris.

We are shaped by our culture and our experiences. As Seth Godin likes to say:

People like this do things like that.

It’s a big adjustment to know how to deal with a different skin colour when you’re bought up in a small homogenous town.

It’s not easy for a kid who’s dragged themselves out of poverty to listen to whining privileged snotty customer with 1st world problems.

Deep down, we understand this, but we think people can turn off their ‘being’ when they’re at work.

Automatic actions

We act automatically in most circumstances. Just like we retract a finger from a burning stove, a screaming customer could cause a similar employee reaction. An employee who doesn’t understand (experience or learnt) how to deal with that situation will revert to how they deal with the problems in their personal life.

If the employee is from a rough neighbourhood, they may respond with aggression. Or, they might react to attack with calm because they know aggression might get them killed. It depends on the environment they’ve experienced in life. Did they have parents to guide them? Did they have someone harmed by violence? These experiences will shape them more than a procedures manual.

Uncontrollable events create uncontrollable events.

So what do you do?

Our brains are in a constant state of pruning and tuning. A blind person prunes neurones related to sight and tunes the ones related to sounds. The brain’s plasticity means it’s constantly changing its physiology based on its environment.

Learning and experiences shape minds.

Anyone who has travelled knows how much it changes you. Someone who hasn’t travelled will never know. Someone who has had a child knows the profundity of birth. Someone who’s been incarcerated knows what it means to suffer.

The more experiences we have, the more we adjust.

It’s not the fault of the poor kid from a homogenous background that they react to their antagonistic customer. It’s not the customer’s fault who’s been fleeced by a business partner while their husband cheated on them. 

It’s not the fault of a poor child that they didn’t get to experience travel. But a guide can ‘share’ their experiences.

Don’t ‘blame’ poor behaviour. Understand it. 

Don’t correct their way; show them the way.

People are in constant search of mentors and guides. You don’t have to be a sandal-wearing navel-gazing guru sitting in a dark cave; just lead with an open hand. Show another way. Show by example. Lead with an open hand.

April 06, 2021 /
Comments Off on We forget that thermometers don’t cure anything

We forget that thermometers don’t cure anything

Thermometer to take temperature

You wake up in the morning feeling slightly off; what’s wrong? You have a cup of coffee and try to shake it off, but it doesn’t leave you.

What do you do?

What you don’t do is reach for every pill and syrup in your medicine cabinet. Of course, that would be stupid.

So you whack a thermometer in your mouth and notice you’ve got a slightly elevated temperature.

So the next thing you probably do is go to the doctor; the doctor asks some questions, does a few more diagnostics, and then tells you you’ve got an infection.

The doctor then prescribes a particular antibiotic for the infection. You take the tablets and slowly recover.

There is a clear business parallel.

At first sight of a problem, many businesses will grab every tool they have available. They’ll do some extra training, advertising, staff motivation, new reporting, and any other thing they can get their hands on. It’s the equivalent of reaching into the medicine cabinet and popping a bunch of pills you “think” will work.

Customer surveys, focus groups, and market research are the business’s thermometers from a customer service or sales perspective. They take a quick temperature check of the organisation.

However, the business temperature tools can’t tell you what the problem is, and, like a thermometer, these tools can’t fix the problem.

Tools such as operational audits, Mystery Shopping and external consultants act more like the diagnostic doctor. You don’t see the doctor every day, but when you visit the doctor, they delve deep, prod and diagnose the problem. You don’t need to do a mystery shop every day any more than you need to see a doctor every day. Find the problem, then do your maintenance.

Management then comes in as the medicine. Management fixes the specific problem identified by the diagnostic, detected by the thermometer. Sometimes the pill has nasty after effects, but there’s a net good.

To wrap up the analogy. Not all pills are nasty or have to fix a problem. The doctor could just as quickly prescribe a vitamin for good general (preventative) health.

February 22, 2021 /
Comments Off on Why this survey doesn’t work

Why this survey doesn’t work

Image of Survey form QR code

Dan Murphy’s is Australia’s biggest liquor chain. You’d think they’d know how to do a survey.

No alt text provided for this image

I found a pile of these paper slips at the counter. Whilst it’s admirable to “do something”, Its got problems.

1) The staff member is supposed to enter their name, but they didn’t do that.

2) Staff members may be tempted to write fake names.

3) What happens if a staff member switches counters? Will they remember to take their ‘pile’ with them?

4) A $100 gift card sounds fine, but is that for the store or one prize for the whole network?

5) The paper was tatty and poorly cut, making them look amateur.

No alt text provided for this image

6) Once you scan the QR code above you’ll see a bunch of instructions and even an example. Their customers want booze, not homework, and they’ll be turned off.

No alt text provided for this image

7) As the customer scrolls the screen they’re confronted with the following above dog’s breakfast. They’re expected to go the their receipt and extract data. Drop out rates would be astronomical.

8) Many customers won’t keep their receipt so they couldn’t give feedback even if they wanted to.

Not burning the house down.

I don’t want to burn their house down but would make a few simple suggestions. It’s better to get a lot of information, even if it’s less granular, than specific information from a few people.

1) Dump the staff member name.

2) Direct the customer go straight to the first question. A good questionnaire doesn’t require instructions.

3) Try a technological solution like we deploy directly onto the customers smart phone.

4) Put the QR code on the receipt.

February 18, 2021 /
Comments Off on 6 ways Amazon zigged when others zagged

6 ways Amazon zigged when others zagged

Photo of Amazon Pixel, thanks Pexels.com

We’ve all heard that we should zig when others zag. Find that blue sky, be unique. But it’s harder than it seems. Here are 6 ways Amazon went their own way.

After smashing the digital bookstore space, Amazon had to deal with the new digital world.

Photo of Amazon Pixel, thanks Pexels.com
Thanks Pexels.com

Steve Job even invited Jeff Bezos to Apple HQ for a sushi lunch, where he goaded Jeff by showing him the yet to be released iPod. The iPod launched in 2003 and digital media age was born.

What would happen to Amazon? At this point they only sold hard copy books.

Bezos is quoted as saying ““You don’t want to become Kodak,”

Kodak did nothing. Not an option. So what did Amazon do? They did the unexpected. If you just read the paragraph headings below, they will read like any business article. But the execution is radically different.

1. Don’t focus on the “what”

The first question usually posed by a management team is this, “What will we do/make?” But Bezos didn’t do that, he organised a team. 

“He did not jump straight to focusing on what product to build, which seems like the straightest line from A to B”.

He zigged when they zagged.

“He focused first on how to organize the team and who was the right leader to achieve the right result.”

He didn’t take the bait presented by Jobs.

2. Focused priorities

Amazon already had the infrastructure and relationships (e.g. publishers). It would be easy to tack on the new digital division. But they didn’t do that. They formed a whole new division so it could remain focused only on digital. A skunk works if you like.

It’s one thing to create a skunk works, it’s another to be ‘truly’ committed to a skunk works for an undefined category.

3. Clear intent

Should they be a fast follower or invent a new product on behalf of the customers? Bezos said “either approach was valid but that he wanted Amazon to be a company that invents”.

He didn’t want to be a copycat version of the iTunes store because “invention leads to greater long-term value for customers and shareholders.”

Most companies will make incremental (or even massive) improvements existing categories. He didn’t do that, he invented. I don’t do that, do you?

4. Understand the market

Amazon was in the aggregator between the content creators and the content consumers. They added value by sourcing and aggregating a massive selection of goods in one place.

But in the digital world, anyone could source an electronic file and pass it through to consumers. Amazon could quickly lose its competitive advantage.

Three boxed with Content creation on the left, aggregation in the centre, and content consumption on the right. There is are two arrows extending from the centre to the edges.

This meant moving out of the middle to either side of the value chain. Apple clearly moved to content consumption. Amazon could move the same direction, except that it didn’t have the skills set.

Apple already had a 1st mover advantage with music and Amazon hadn’t conceived a compelling enough music device.

Video hadn’t gone digital yet, and was an opportunity, but internet speeds were too slow for the massive volume of data and movie studios were a huge barrier.

But e-books were in their infancy, as expensive as printed versions, and they were a category Amazon understood.

They believed customers would want an iPod equivalent in the book category.

Amazon didn’t just see itself as the most successful bookstore in the world.

5. Start from the customer.

Most companies would ask, “what can we do next with this skill set?” At Amazon they would figure out what the customer needs and then ask, “Do we have the skills necessary to build something that meets those needs? If not, how can we build or acquire them?”

Who does that? I don’t. It means completely reorganising (hiring and firing) the workforce.

They then worked backwards from the customer’s need for digital books and invented their own device. This is despite having never built hardware.

6. Commit

This device was taking way longer than expected and chewing cash. During a heated exchange with finance someone pointed to Bezos and asked point blank, “How much more money are you willing to invest?”

Jeff’s response? “How much money do we have?”

And so the Kindle was born and changed Amazon forever.

Side note

As a side note, the Kindle was also Amazon’s first foray in to cloud storage for the books, which they later developed to the new uber-lucrative Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Acknowledgement: This article is my take on a piece written in Entrepreneur magazine summarising a book by two longtime Amazon executives Colin Bryar and Bill Carr called Working Backwards

December 23, 2020 /
Comments Off on eVouchers are broken

eVouchers are broken

Online gifts still don’t work.
Well, they technically work, but not as a consumer event.
Giving a gift is an event but treated as a transaction.

My grinch-like last minute Christmas gift buying laziness means I buy a lot of ‘considerate’ vouchers. I know I’m not alone.

But most companies don’t help.

On the surface, the certificate below looks OK, but…..

They gave the option to email it to the recipient on a certain date. Makes sense, but as a Christmas or birthday gift, do I turn up empty handed and tell them the gift is ‘in the mail’

Do I send it a day early and then ruin the surprise? Either way it eliminates the social norm of handing over a gift.

So I send the eCertificate to myself. Then it’s plastered with ‘my’ email address.

The certificate doesn’t print well because the bottom is littered with disclaimers.

The certificate is poorly sized and needs to be trimmed with a guillotine (or crooked scissor cuts).

A transaction makes an experience not.

eGift voucher example
October 16, 2020 /
Comments Off on Don’t benchmark, except when….

Don’t benchmark, except when….

Oscars behind smoke benchmark

How do we compare to competitors?

Are we more efficient?

Is our service better?

Don’t benchmark, except when you are running your own race

Don’t get obsessed with benchmarks.

You are running your own race.

Except for rare circumstances there is no prize for being the most efficient, best service, or most admired stakes.

Each organisation has its own strategy.

A high touch, high price industry player should not compare to a low cost automated player.

A local council in one part of the city could have different priorities to another.

Elon Musk doesn’t compare his manufacturing costs to Volvo. How can he compare engine production costs when his cars lack a petrol engine?

Apple? Jobs? Enough has been written about them.

Your competitor won an award? So? We judge awards with criteria set by someone not even in the industry.

I see this all the time in mystery shopping and customer surveys. Measure your own strategy, not someone else’s.

When to benchmark

Now a twist. If you want to a comparison, do so according to “your” strategy.

If you want to attract high end high touch customers with genius service reps, then test how you are doing against your own criteria. Then mystery shop the competitors to see if anyone is implementing your strategy better (and thus attracting your target market).

Use your own criteria.

October 14, 2020 /
Comments Off on Don’t be the customer’s spider

Don’t be the customer’s spider

spider web

Why are people so afraid of spiders?

Why are people (me included) freaked out by spiders? Because they are so different to us. A dog has two big black eyes, whereas a spider has eight. Yuk.

The answer to that question also answers a question I often get asked by clients.

Exactly what should my staff say when serving customers?

When it comes to serving customers, don’t think of what to say, think of what to “be”.

Be a mirror.

Researcher Richard Wiseman studied whether mirroring or positive reinforcement was more effective at building customer connection.

One group of waiters used positive reinforcement by dishing lavish praise about the menu choice and encouragement with words such as “great”, “no problem” and “sure”. 

The other group mirrored their customers simply by repeating the orders back.

The results were stunning. The average tip of the mirroring group was 70% higher.

A mirror is the door to empathy.

So a mystery shopping question aimed at evaluating the welcome is more complex than it seems. 

Instead of asking:

“Was the staff member pleasant?”


“Did the staff member repeat you request”, then ask
“Did the staff member adjust the conversation to follow your needs”.

Don’t be a spider, be a dog.

September 23, 2020 /
Comments Off on Why I drove 1,500km for $80

Why I drove 1,500km for $80

tesla on dirt road

Why would anyone spend two nights away from home and drive 1,468km (880 miles) for less than $80?

2 minute video of why I drove 1,500km for $80

I did it to complete a single mystery shop in a town called Walgett in the western outback on the NSW QLD border. 

I did it for $80. 

I impulsively decided on the trip the day before. It felt right. On reflection, there were 8 good reasons to do it. 

I’m not going to tell the client I did it myself.  To them it’s just one of many sites (jobs) ticked off for the month.

I had a good reason not to do it. It’s a hard job in a town in the middle of nowhere with only 2,300 people. Though the client wouldn’t be thrilled, I had an excuse, not to do it. 

But I did it for many reasons. 

  1. It’s a long standing client (over 10 yrs).
  2. We’ve earnt great money over the years so I owe them.
  3. The contract renews every couple of years. Like they say about wives – Happy client happy life
  4. It shows my staff we MUST deliver (and we do).
  5. It helps me price future jobs because I can ‘feel’ the issues that come from its remoteness.
  6. It helps me truly understand why my staff struggle with some jobs (they aren’t being lazy).
  7. I tacked on a couple other remote jobs, which eases the stress on my scheduling staff and account managers. Its also marginally helps pay for my time.
  8. I get to discover a new part of the country and I love driving (I didn’t need much pushing).

Did I just justify my gut feel, or confirm my gut was right?

September 21, 2020 /
Comments Off on How a flimsy sign altered behaviour

How a flimsy sign altered behaviour

Hungry Jacks Coffee sign

We see thousand of pieces of advertising each day. 

Sure consumers feel bombarded and it seems impossible any of it can stand out. 

But it works!

Why else would companies keep spending the money?

Today I was in an unfamiliar town looking for a coffee break during a long drive. 

On one side, KFC, on the other Hungry Jacks. 

I thought to myself. Do they even do coffee?

Then I saw a sign at Hungry Jacks advertising Barista coffee. 

I know there isn’t a barista in there but it was a signal. A signal that a) they sell coffee and b) that they sell coffee worth advertising. 

A sign is a signal. Same word, one is a noun and one a verb. 

So I bought it. 

These forms of advertising are expensive to buy and maintain. 

But in order for it to work the store must actually have the sign on display and it must be in good order. 

Maybe KFC should have had a sign on display and it wasn’t taken out for the morning? They should. 

Tardy signage signals tardy product.  Non existent signage signals non-existent product. 

These little things matter. So does the little matter of auditing signage, presentation and displays. 

Two minute video of how a flimsy sign changed my behaviour.

August 11, 2020 /
Comments Off on Why you should collect useless information

Why you should collect useless information

Why a staff member should collect information even if they can’t do anything about it

I closed a bank account today, and the reason I had to close it IS relevant.

2 minute video explaining why you should collect more information than necessary

I closed it because my bank, Greater Bank does not have Apple Pay as part of their Visa card offering. 

I am now wallet free, digital license, apple pay, phone key, electric car driving child of the internet age. I don’t want to carry one single card, so I decided to ditch this last dinosaur by opening an account with another bank.

The staff member who closed my account could not have been more helpful. But she didn’t ask me why I was closing my account.

Now sure she couldn’t do anything about it but she could’ve done two things. Firstly, she could have asked me why I was closing my account, and second, she could offer to leave the account with a zero balance and no fees until such time as the function I was seeking would be available (which it will eventually).

Now another bank has got my transactions, and our banking does tend to follow our transactions. So they’ll probably end up getting the whole of my company’s banking.

Collect information from customers, even if you can’t do anything about it.

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