3 Questions Live – Episode 3

Here we are again, with another episode of 3 Questions Live!  This is where I will answer 3 questions from you and ASK 3 questions that I would like for you to answer.

In this episode, I answer the following questions:

  1. How do you convey to a new leader that their role is not just about wearing a different colored shirt?
  2. How do you get respect from your leaders when they discount your ideas for being a “millennial”?
  3. How do you get respect from peers after a promotion, especially when one of them was up for the same promotion you got?

If you have thoughts or comments on any of these topics, I would love to hear your perspective as well!

My 3 questions for you are:

  1. How often should we do formal evaluations?
  2. What are the best ways to teach leadership skills?
  3. What are some of your favorite books, podcasts or resources that provide great insight?

Please enter your answers to the above questions, or your questions for a future episode in the comments below, or email me at matt@performanceoptimist.com.

Looking forward to your input!

Thanks for watching!

Want to SLEEP BETTER?  Ensure your Supervisors are ready to LEAD with these two resources:

The Myth of Employee Burnout Supervisor Training Program – takes the worry and stress out of supervisor development!

NEW BOOK – “ALL CLEAR! A Practical Guide For First Time Leaders and The People Who Support Them”.  Available NOW! (and makes a great gift!)

Use the coupon code POC10 for 10% off! Valid through Dec. 31, 2017!

Big time service in a small town

Since moving to the mountains of North Carolina, we have encountered many “small-town” pleasures… being surrounded by caring neighbors, greatly reduced traffic-induced anxiety, and knowing both our mail carrier and UPS driver by name.

Before we even moved in, we happened to run into a local UPS guy who told us that Eric would be our driver.  Based on our businesses, we knew that UPS would be making lots of trips up and down “The Beast” (our neighbors unofficial name of our steep and curvy driveway).

And Eric has proven to be a reliable, pleasant, personable and considerate deliverer of goods. He is always smiling and ready to offer a friendly greeting or comment.  It’s been fun getting to know him, and we especially appreciated the over-and-above service he provided the other day.

First, a little context: while in Orlando recently, my laptop bag was stolen. And yes, my laptop was in it at the time. Upon returning home, I trucked off to the Apple store to get a replacement.  They didn’t have the exact configuration I wanted, so I had to order it and have it shipped to my house. I had already been without my main laptop for about a week, so what’s a few more days?

I knew I was going to have to sign for the box when the laptop was delivered, so I watched the tracking carefully to make sure either my wife or I would be home.  On the day it was to arrive, it said the earliest it would be delivered was 1 pm.  My wife and I had some errands to run, so we got in the car and headed down “The Beast” at about 10 am.  We would be back in plenty of time.

As we headed down the driveway, a very familiar brown truck made it’s way past our driveway and up the road. I wondered if it was Eric just as the truck started to slow down.  It stopped right in the middle of the road, and I knew what was happening.

Eric saw our car coming down the driveway, and because he knew we were going to have to sign for the package, he decided to stop and make sure we got it right then to avoid missing us on his way back through the neighborhood.

To me, that was amazing. 

He didn’t have to do that. He could have kept driving, knowing that he would have gotten back around to our house eventually and maybe someone would have been there to sign for the package, maybe not. In the grand scheme of things, what difference did it make to him?

Thankfully for me, it made at least a little difference to him, and his actions made a BIG difference to me.

And quite frankly, I don’t know if this scenario plays out the same way in a different municipality, if a different driver was on the route that day or if we hadn’t gotten to know Eric before this point. My guess is that it wouldn’t have.

So first and foremost, I am thankful to Eric and his efforts to make sure I got my new laptop in a timely manner.  Secondly, I think there is a business lesson to explore.

Not knowing a ton about the UPS culture, I would imagine that as an experienced driver, Eric has the freedom to make these kinds of decisions… to alter his route or delivery schedule to better serve his customers.  What’s another way to say “freedom to make decisions”?

Empowerment.

Yes, I said it. And yes, I know that this was an over-used business cliche a number of years ago.  But here’s the thing… when it’s done right, it actually works.

I think empowerment has gotten a bad rap because of the lazy managers who let the process fail.  You can’t simply say to an employee, “you’re empowered” and expect them to all-of-a-sudden know what they are empowered to actually do.  It just doesn’t work that way.

But that’s what we did back in the day. We told people they were empowered and left it at that. We then scratched our heads when this great empowerment initiative didn’t work.

Once you say, “you’re empowered”, thats when the work actually STARTS!  Now you have to set parameters, provide guidance, seek out suggestions, give feedback, equip with resources, observe behaviors, rinse and repeat.

And maybe lazy is too harsh a word for those managers… maybe forgetful is more accurate?  How often do we forget what it’s like on the frontline, or to be a new employee?  How often do we forget that the things we know BY HEART are things that others may just be learning or may be struggling with?  How often do we forget that not everyone has had the same experiences that we have, which means they could be on a totally difference planet when it comes to appropriate empowerment.

Empowerment is like delegation… it takes a truckload (no UPS pun intended) of work upfront to make it work, but the results can be outstanding!

So whether UPS got empowerment right, or Eric just took it upon himself to help me out, the result was the same, and I am thankful.

Thanks for reading!

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Want to SLEEP BETTER?  Ensure your Supervisors are ready to LEAD with these two resources:

The Myth of Employee Burnout Supervisor Training Program – takes the worry and stress out of supervisor development!

NEW BOOK – “ALL CLEAR! A Practical Guide For First Time Leaders and The People Who Support Them”.  Available NOW!

Trying something new!

Many of you have seen my #3Questions video series. If you haven’t, it’s an interview series I did where I would ask 3 questions of a guest and they would ask 3 questions of me. The guests I had were INCREDIBLE, and I want to thank them again for their time and willingness to share.

For the fun of it, decided to change up the format a little to challenge myself and to get even more people involved.

So… #3Questions LIVE was born.  I’ll explain more in the episode below, but long story short, YOU are now the guest.

Here are the questions I answered in Episode 1:

  1. Was Renegade really the best coaster on CNC 17?
  2. What advice do I have for someone who wants to write and speak?
  3. How do I get a job with Universal or Disney?

And here are the questions I have for you:

  1. How do you deal with “difficult” employees?
  2. What is your best advice for new leaders?
  3. What is your favorite coaster, attraction, exhibit, or haunt?

You can respond in the comments here, on YouTube, or email me: matt@performanceoptimist.comYou can also submit YOUR questions for me to address in another episode.  

Thanks for watching, listening, and participating!!!

Founder – Performance Optimist Consulting

www.performanceoptimist.com

matt@performanceoptimist.com

407-435-8084

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Want to SLEEP BETTER?  Ensure your Supervisors are ready to LEAD with these two resources:

The Myth of Employee Burnout Supervisor Training Program – takes the worry and stress out of supervisor development!

NEW BOOK“ALL CLEAR! A Practical Guide For First Time Leaders and The People Who Support Them”.  Available for PRE-ORDER through Nov. 10!

 

 

 

Bad service – who gets a pass?

My wife and I just spent a few wonderful days with friends in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, Crazy Horse, Wall Drug… it was a GREAT time!  We even got to stop and see my friends Cameron, Vivian and Mark at Rushmore Tramway Adventures (with a bonus ride in the Mammoth)! 

And of course, with great times come great guest service lessons! 

Because it was October, the area was in the wind-down phase of their busy season.  We caught our friends at Rushmore Tramway Adventures on the very last day of operation, and other establishments were closing up soon or were at skeleton staffing levels.

Unfortunately, two experiences stood out with underperforming/unprepared staff members, but they were received very differently.  Here they are – would love to hear your take.

  • Server 1 – mentioned multiple times that she was normally the bartender and was not used to waiting tables. The service at this restaurant was slow and inconsistent.  There seemed to be one ketchup bottle being shared by all tables (5 out 30 were occupied), and 4 out of 6 of our orders were delivered incorrectly.  When service recovery was performed, it was with an air of frustration.
  • Server 2 (different restaurant)- When asked what beers were on draught, the waiter said, “I’m not sure, it’s only my 4th day.”  He was young and timid, hoping against hope to make it to his 5th day. “Could you find out, please?”, we asked. “Sure”, he said, and disappeared.  He came back with a written list. His confidence grew throughout the meal, and when service recovery was needed this time, there was a sincere apology AND a 10% discount on the bill.  In fact, one of our pizza’s came without the pepperoni we ordered.  We were too hungry to wait for another pizza to be made, so he brought out some cooked pepperoni to add to the pizza that had been delivered.

When analyzing the groups’ reaction, it confirmed something I have believed for a long time about service… people don’t necessarily want service perfection, but they do want effort and don’t want to hear excuses.  To me, the bartender telling us she wasn’t normally a server felt like an excuse.

I think it felt like an excuse because she didn’t put forth any effort to overcome the deficit.  We joked that she was probably also responsible for housekeeping, maintenance and renting kayaks at the lake during the summer… and she would have rather been doing any of those activities at that time.

It may be a fine line, but server 2, after announcing that it was his fourth day, never returned to the scene of the crime.  He didn’t use his lack of experience as a crutch. He smiled, answered our questions, apologized for errors, made efforts to improve, and actually did improve, right before our eyes.

Here’s what I find interesting… server 1 was probably in her late 30’s or early 40’s (I am a terrible judge of age), and had a worn name tag, like she had been working at this establishment for some time. She’s the experienced one who fell back on the “this isn’t my normal job” excuse. You would think, hope and maybe even expect that with her level of experience at that hotel/restaurant, that she would be able to jump in to many different positions and perhaps not excel, but at least not act like a fish out of water, either.

By contrast, server 2 was probably in his early 20’s, admittedly in his 4th day of employment at that restaurant, and didn’t seem to possess a TON of worldly work experience.  He was the one who busted his hump to make things right.

And who knows, maybe server 1 was like server 2 on her 4th day on the job?  Maybe she LEARNED how to shirk responsibility and play the victim from the people around her and her – GASP – leaders! Since we know that leaders have a tremendous impact on employee morale, engagement and productivity, she could just be reacting to her environment.

What are the lessons?

  • Cross train early and often – to combat the “not my job” syndrome at the end of a long season, prepare those who will be with you to the very end.  Create a plan to have them ready to take on the new role BEFORE others vacate the job.  Just because it’s the end of the season, it doesn’t mean that training is automatically easier or less time consuming (if you do it right).  When cross training is done at the 11th hour, it can be viewed as a desperation move, and people will be less likely to see it as an opportunity.  Doing it early gives you a chance to reframe the conversation from “oh crap, we have to do this” to “this is what we planned all along.”
  • Encourage effort, even if not perfect – server 2 wasn’t perfect, but he did display a good amount of effort.  That effort needs to be encouraged so he will put forth the effort again. That effort might show up as learning the draught beers by heart or reaffirming the order with the kitchen.
  • Discourage the “victim voice” – Even as you reframe the conversation with early cross training, you may still hear people saying “it’s not my job”, or “I normally don’t do this”. If they say it, they believe it.  If they believe it, their actions will reflect it. There is no need to beat them over the head with “it IS your job!  Your job description says ‘and other duties as assigned!'” Instead, talk to them about their objections… maybe learning a new area brings them back to new hire fears… maybe they have gotten so comfortable (and it’s taken awhile) that they don’t feel they can achieve that level of skill in such a short time.  They need to SEE for themselves that it IS their job (and that it will be okay) before they start telling themselves that.

What do you think? What do you do to prepare your team for the end of the season?

And oh… would you have given a “pass” to server 1 or 2?  Neither?  Both?  Let me know.

Server 2 gets a pass from me.  Server 1?  Not so much.

Thanks for reading!

FREE Event in Orlando – November 12, 2017

Seating is limited!  Click the pic for details and tickets!

If you liked that post…

Many of you have been faithful readers since I started this blog back in 2009. THANK YOU!! I love hearing about how you use the stories to better yourself and your business and quite frankly, that’s what keeps me going!

That’s also what led me to put together over 80 of my favorite leadership articles into one, free, downloadable eBook.

How do you get it? Click this link and enter your email so we know where to send it.  That’s it.

Should you have any trouble with the download, let me know right away.

Happy reading!!

Visiting 7 amusement parks in 7 days taught us…

CNC17 (Coaster Nerd Con) is but a memory (and a bunch of Facebook posts), but the lessons learned still linger!

For those who like data, here are a few things to chew on:

  • Number of rides and coasters ridden: 52 rides on 27 coasters
  • Number 1 coaster of the trip (IMO) – Renegade at Valleyfair (especially in the rain at night!) Super fast, lots of airtime, and out. of. control.
  • Total length of all coaster track ridden: just over 28 miles
  • Day 1 of trip in MN – 59 degrees
  • Day 7 of trip in TX – 95 degrees (biggest temp swing on any CNC trip)
  • Total driving miles: just under 1300 miles

So what did we learn?  As I mentioned in my last post, we observed that an old concept is still true: the parks with the more visibly engaged management teams also had the best performing employees.

And the parks where this was most evident were Adventureland, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, and Silver Dollar City*.

I put an asterisk by Silver Dollar City because while we did see engaged management, there was something else going on there.  Something beyond employees and managers and good guest service.  At SDC, it wasn’t about a theme, it was about a lifestyle.  There was something so genuine about the experience that you didn’t feel you were in a “park”. It’s more like stepping into another time and the people aren’t employees or cast members or actors playing a role, this is who they are.  And for many, this is absolutely true.  For the craftspeople and artisans that line the foot trails, this IS their life.  And others around them embrace it.  I didn’t feel like anyone was putting on a “show” (unless they were literally part of a show) but that they were just living their lives and we had been invited to be a part of it.

While you can’t replicate that kind of atmosphere everywhere, you can replicate the genuineness that people display.  Whether you run a museum, zoo, theme park or FEC, allowing and encouraging people to use their talents and creativity on the job generally leads to higher satisfaction levels for both employees and guests.

Here are some things we oberserva-learned (made that up) during our trip:

  • Valleyfair – speaking of letting people be creative, there is no better way to stifle that creativity than to surrender your safety spiels and announcements wholly to an automated system. Luckily, Valleyfair balances this pretty well.  On many rides, we heard operators using the theme or name of the ride in their speils.  On High Roller (roller coaster), the operator would say, “enjoy your ride on the Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh Roller!” – and they would hold that out until the last car left the station.  At Renegade, they said “Yee Haw” as you left the station.  In both cases, guests were playing along, which enhanced their experience.  You can’t do that with a recorded speil that says the same thing every 45 seconds.  People tune those out.
  • Nickelodeon Universe – It was hard not to be nostalgic both here and at Valleyfair, since I had worked at both places. At NU though, the changes over the years not only included new rides and attractions, but a new name, brand and theme.  When I was there is was Knott’s Camp Snoopy, and it was themed to the woods of the upper mid-west.  It was cool and quaint and really neat.  And while there are some elements of the old park still there (like home plate from the old Met stadium), there are also LOTS of new things to dazzle the kiddies and extend a stay at the Mall.  And that’s when the “don’t do what you’ve always done” lesson kicked in.  It would have been neat for me to see the park exactly as it was when I worked there, but that would have been bad for business (most notably since the Knott’s name was no longer able to be used!).  For any business to survive, they have to change, grow, and adapt.  And that’s exactly what has happened.  The park has evolved to offer new and fresh experiences that keep people coming back.
  • Adventureland – This was our first visit, and boy were we impressed.  We enjoyed the mix of rides, the cleanliness of the park and the friendliness of the employees. It really shows that you don’t need a Disney or Universal sized budget to provide a great experience and excel in all areas of operation.  It just takes a commitment to quality and knowing who you are so you aren’t trying to be something that you’re not. PS – Petunia the Pig says hello!
  • World’s of Fun – Despite the rain (and it RAINED!), we had a great time at World’s of Fun! This was largely due to our tour guides, former IAAPA Ambassador and friend Deborah Burnett and her roommate Koen.

    Just before the deluge!

    They both have a deep love of the park and it’s history, and it was so fun hanging out with them and hearing their stories.  What this reiterated to me was that enthusiasm really is contagious, and that a positive attitude can make even a rainy day at an amusement park a fun and memorable experience.  Don’t let others, or the conditions of your situation, stifle your natural enthusiasm about something… there are others who need to see your example.

  • Silver Dollar City – See above! Oh, and do the cave tour.  It rocks.
  • Six Flags Over Texas – File this under, “you may not think people notice, but they do!”  Okay, so we rode The New Texas Giant a bunch of times on this visit.  A bunch. When we rode it first thing in the morning, there was a young lady with red hair at the controls, and she was there just about every time we rode. Toward the end of the night, she was still there, however this time she was on the load side of the platform where we could talk to her.  As we entered the station, she smiled and said in a humorous way, “oh you guys are back?  Going to the front seat again?”  Apparently, we made an impression – and were predictable! The point is that while I could see her diligently watching the ride when at the controls position, it hadn’t dawned on me that she was actually paying attention to us – so much so that she remembered us and where we sat. Thinking back to my operating days, this really shouldn’t have come as a surprise.  I remember when the same people would ride over and over and again, and it was fun to interact with them.  This also proves that as a leader, people are watching you, too. Your employees, guests, managers and peers – they all notice what you do, even if you don’t notice that they’ve noticed.
  • Six Flags Fiesta Texas – this is where the “visible management = better performing employees” really came to life.  While at the park, we had the great pleasure of getting to hang out with Park President Jeffrey Siebert, Director of Marketing Ron McKenzie, and Admissions/Waterpark Manager Josh Parisher.  And while a bunch of the time was spent geeking out and talking “theme parks”, we also got to observe these three in their natural habitat… talking to guests and employees, picking up trash and setting an incredible example for employees to follow.  One of the first things Jeffrey did while walking us through the park was to straighten a trash can on the walkway.  I found myself later wanting to do the same thing, almost as if I had stepped back into my management shoes and was suddenly responsible for such things.  But what was most impressive was how each of them, at different times, broke away from our conversations to address an employee, usually by name, and genuinely interact with them for a few moments.  We could tell by the employees’ reactions that this seemed to be a pretty normal occurrence, that talking to the upper management was not out of the ordinary. There were genuine smiles and conversations that only happen when a trusted relationship had been established. We also saw this when we weren’t with these three.  By and large the employees were friendly and efficient, and absolutely added to an outstanding overall guest experience.

A quick recap:

  • Find ways to let your employees use their creativity
  • Honor the past, but don’t get stuck in it
  • Budgets don’t determine quality, your commitment does
  • Let your enthusiasm be contagious
  • Be genuine, be who you are, know who you are
  • People notice what you do
  • Visible management = better performing employees (bonus – it all starts at the top!)

For some of you, there could be a few “A-HA” moments in there that you can work to implement.  For others, this may be validation of current practices.

For those of who KNOW this stuff but for some reason aren’t doing it, I challenge to think about why.  Is it you, your team, your company?  What is standing in the way?  What will it take to knock down the roadblocks?  Sometimes it can be hard to identify specifically what’s holding things back.  Let me know if you need some ideas about where to look.

Our itinerary for CNC18 is already in the works! Stay tuned for where we will go (and what we will learn) when we venture out next year!

Thanks for reading!

NEWS YOU CAN USE!!

Did this post get you thinking about how to develop your own leadership skills?  How about the skills of others?

For you:

Attractions Mastermind Group – a small, trusted group of peers who meet regularly to discuss issues and support one another

For your team:

The Myth of Employee Burnout Supervisor Training Program – self-guided 8 week program that helps leaders build skills, relationships, and avoid burnout!!

4th of July… Resolutions?

If Jason McClure from Cedar Point can do a fun July 4th/Thanksgiving mash-up as a clever way to recognize his employees, I thought a July 4th/New Year’s mash-up might be fun, too!

Truth be told, I’m not big on actual New Year’s Resolutions, as they rarely last. What I am a fan of is when we we truly commitment to what we believe in.  And if you believe in your employees, there is no better time than right now to recommit and RESOLVE to support and guide them.

I will soon be sharing more of my observations during #CNC17 (Coaster Nerd Con) in which two buddies and I visited 7 parks over the last week, but what I can tell you now is this: the parks with the more visibly engaged management teams also had the best performing employees.

This really shouldn’t be a surprise if you have been following my rants about employee burnout for the last few years.  A leaders’ engagement has a direct impact on how an employee feels about their job and to what lengths they will go to be good at it.

The graph below shows what I have found to be the trend when tracking employee engagement.  Managers start off strong as employees are coming on board and the season is ramping up. As the season gets into full swing, if the management team disengages with employees or spends less time guiding and coaching them, employee engagement (morale, enthusiasm, energy) suffers (and it’s REALLY hard to get back).

Now, let’s not confuse leadership engagement with being busy – they are two different things. You can be doing a lot of stuff with very little time left at the end of the day.  But, are you doing the right things?  Are you taking an active role in the continued development of your team? Are you looking for and evaluating possible candidates to be in leadership roles next year?  Are you eliciting suggestions for improvements from your staff?

Heck, are you just out there with your team so they can see you?  At a few of the parks we went to, we didn’t see ANY management presence for about 90% of our day – and we were looking!  You can’t say you are engaged and only spend 10% of your time (if that) in the actual operation.

Contrast that with the parks that had engaging, service minded employees.  You saw a lot of this:

That is a manager at Six Flags Fiesta Texas picking up a piece of trash.  We saw this ALL DAY LONG there.  It made me, as a guest, want to pick up trash, too – which I did!  They were setting a great example, and the employees (and guests) were following it.

Now it’s your turn.  What is your 4th of July resolution?  What are you going to commit (or recommit) to that will help your employees feel supported and engaged?

If you feel so inclined, leave your resolution in the comments or email me here.  Would love to hear what you are committing to!

Thanks for reading!

DON’T LET YOUR EMPLOYEES BURNOUT THIS SEASON!!

You can prepare your supervisors to identify and eliminate burnout before it happens – but you have to start NOW! The Myth of Employee Burnout Supervisor Development Program was designed with your busy schedule in mind!

“I am super excited about the Myth class. I have noticed a marked improvement in my supervisors who took the course. Their interactions with the employees they supervise have improved. They have a sense of purpose and belonging. The time spent in class definitely advanced their skills to the next level.”

  — Sam Gage, Director  of Operations, Silverwood Theme Park

Click here, or the picture below to learn more!!

 

 

 

 

Call me a coaster nerd, I really don’t mind

It’s time.

Yes, it’s time for CNC17 (coaster nerd con), where two buddies and I descend on one particular area of the country and begin an epic roller coaster road trip.  This year’s trip will kick off June 24th in Minneapolis.

Our final stop on CNC16!

This year, it seems like every stop is EXTRA special:

Here is our route in case you want to follow along or if you are ON the route and want to say HI!  (We do allow tag-a-longs, as long as you are willing to ride the coasters over and over and over again!)

And you can bet your sweet bippy that we’ll not only be evaluating the airtime and lateral G’s on the coasters, but we’ll also be making notes about guest service, food, cleanliness, etc.  In other words, the whole enchilada (and maybe one of those, too)!

While I’m gone, I have an assignment for you.  Take a good look at you and your leadership team.  What do you need?  What will help take you or your team’s leadership to the next level (or just help you get through the season)?

If it’s something I offer (like the list of links below), give me a shout and we’ll chat! Even if it’s not, let me know and I will help you find the resource(s) you need.  That’s how I Help Leaders Lead!

See you on the midway – thanks for reading!!

DON’T LET YOUR EMPLOYEES BURNOUT THIS SEASON!!

You can prepare your supervisors to identify and eliminate burnout before it happens – but you have to start NOW! The Myth of Employee Burnout Supervisor Development Program was designed with your busy schedule in mind!

“I am super excited about the Myth class. I have noticed a marked improvement in my supervisors who took the course. Their interactions with the employees they supervise have improved. They have a sense of purpose and belonging. The time spent in class definitely advanced their skills to the next level.”

  — Sam Gage, Director  of Operations, Silverwood Theme Park

Click here, or the picture below to learn more!!

 

Something positive worth shouting from the rooftops

On October 4-5, I was scheduled to work with the leadership team at Zoo Miami. Unfortunately, this was also the time frame that Hurricane Matthew was ripping it’s way through the tropics with an eye on the eastern Florida coast.

Because hurricanes are hard to predict further that 12 hours out (despite being talked about around-the-clock), we weren’t sure when, or how significantly, the Miami area would be affected. We got through our Tuesday and Wednesday morning programs with no issues, but it was decided that we would postpone our Wednesday afternoon sessions so that employees could prepare the zoo, their homes, and their families, and I could try to get a flight out before the airlines felt the need to suspend operation.

This is where the story gets shout-worthy.

My flight was on Delta, and so I did the responsible thing of calling the reservation number while also checking flights online that I might be able to change to. Given the call volume, my wait was listed as over 2 hours. Crazy, but expected given the circumstances.

As I refreshed my searches, I saw flights disappearing. I clearly wasn’t the only one who wanted to get out of Dodge (or Miami) earlier than planned.

I didn’t want to wait for 2 more hours and risk losing any of these flights, so I went ahead and changed my reservation online. There was a fare difference that I would have to pay for and a reservation change fee. Okay, them’s the breaks of travel – it is what it is.

BUT – I got a flight that would get me out of the way of the storm, so I was happy.

The next day, as I was waiting in the Miami airport, I got an email from my wife that included an article about airlines waiving the reservation change fees because of the hurricane.

Hmmm… wonder if they would waive mine, even after the fact. So I called.

Still a one to two hour wait on the phone. By then I would be on the plane.

That’s when it hit me. In the contact section of the Fly Delta app, it also included their Twitter handle.

So I sent this tweet.

A few clarifying tweets later and I was asked for my reservation number in a Direct Message.

By the next morning, I had a Twitter message stating that they were refunding my reservation change fee. No other questions asked.

Sweet! That takes a little of the sting out of the extra expense.

Moreover, it provides us some lessons about service recovery.

  • Have multiple ways for your guests to contact you. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised that the wait to speak to an agent was as long as it was. These weren’t exactly normal travel conditions. Lucky for me they also had people monitoring Twitter (and I’m guessing other social channels). Oddly enough, it never even dawned on me to approach one of the Delta employees working the multiple gates in the H concourse of Miami International. Don’t know if they could have helped, but they were there. That’s at least three different ways to contact someone for resolution.
  • React quickly. Again, I don’t really blame Delta for the long phone waits. I do COMMEND them for the quick response via Twitter – not only to correspond with me, but also to actually issue the refund. All they asked for was my reservation code, and the next thing I know they are refunding my fee.   I didn’t have to fill anything out, go through an inquisition or prove my case. I would imagine the agent did their research without needing me… they looked up my reservation, saw that I was originally scheduled to leave at 9 am Thursday morning and did in fact change it the night before to leave 16 hours earlier. From my original tweet to the message coming through stating my refund was being processed, it was less than 10 hours. I had the refund for this BEFORE my original flight was supposed to take off. DANG!
  • Make it easy for your employees. I don’t know what the process was behind the scenes, but for my tweet to be received, researched and processed within such a short period of time, the process has to have some efficiency to it. Make it easy for your employees to take care of your guests, and they will. Make it complicated or convoluted and they will find every excuse to circumvent your service initiatives.

Want more customer service and service recovery resources?  Check out the LeaderTips: Guest Service ebook!

So, the outcome could be seen as me getting a refund and us learning some things about service recovery. But the story doesn’t end there.

When I got on the plane, I was sitting in seat 1C. I got to talking with the guy in 1D, and told him that I had just booked the flight the night before. He said, “that’s strange, that seat has been booked for weeks.”

How and why he knew that was puzzling, until he said…

“I’ve been in seat 1C on my last 83 flights in a row. I tried to get it on this one but it was taken when I booked the flight.”

Needless to say, we switched seats so he could make it 84 flights in a row.

He then said that he ALWAYS flies Delta. He said, “I know it’s a big company, but they always take care of me.”

So it’s a story about a refund, lessons on service recovery and LOYALTY. Taking care of people leads to loyalty.  I know I felt taken care of by the agents monitoring Twitter that night.

And THAT is worth shouting from the rooftops!

Thanks for reading!

Matt

visit-me-wwa

Infographic “How To” Post 9: Empowered

This is part 9 of a 10 part “how to” series covering the points in the infographic below.

Employees Stay9I can hear the rally cry now, proclaimed by well-intentioned executives bent on improving customer relations and employee morale:

“We’re going to empower our employees to go above and beyond for our customers!”

So let it be decreed… and POOF! Employees are now empowered.

Not so fast.

No one that I know of has ever acted empowered just because they were told they were empowered.  There’s a wee bit more too it than that.

Let’s start with the “why”.  Why did Mr. or Mrs. Bigshot declare open season on employee empowerment?  As I said above, they meant well.  Chances are that there was a desire to streamline a process… perhaps it was the guest comment or complaint procedure… maybe it had to do with processing a return… or maybe it was so when something went haywire, their front line employees would be able to handle it and spare the guest the further inconvenience of having to trudge up to guest services to have their problem resolved.  Lastly, it could also be to encourage random acts of kindness – want to do something nice just because… go for it – you’re empowered to make that decision.

In my experience, what DIDN’T happen after the “why” was fully examined, was to determine “HOW” this was going to happen.  It was assumed since management was lying down the empowerment gauntlet, that eager and willing employees were going to jump at the chance to pick it up.  That they were just chomping at the bit to do all these wonderful things and were just waiting for permission from the powers that be.

Permission is part of it, but it ain’t all of it. Sadly, this is where many people stop, and wonder why they employees aren’t acting as empowered as they should.

So let’s turn that around.  Let’s dive into HOW we empower employees so they will actually feel and act empowered.

Did you see what I did there?  I inserted a word we haven’t discussed yet.  Feel.  First an employee has to feel that they actually ARE empowered in order to act that way.

Uh oh… we gotta talk about feelings again?  Good gravy.

Afraid so. No matter what age, nationality, ethnic background or chosen NFL affiliation, all human beings are wired in much the same way.  Our actions are based on how we feel.  Are you feeling like you are learning something from this post? If so, you’ll keep reading.  If not, it doesn’t really matter what I type here because you are long gone. (If you are still here – thank you!)

This is why the decree of empowerment alone does not inspire actions. There are still too many variables in play that the employees have questions about.  For example:

  • What am I empowered to do? You said I could go above and beyond.  Above and beyond what and how far above and how far beyond? Who can I ask if I need help? Meh. It’s too confusing. Forget it.
  • How do I do this? Is there a form to fill out?  A procedure?  An app?  In what situations would I empower my empowerment? My manager said one thing, but the guy next to me said something else. Meh. It’s too confusing. Forget it.
  • Am I going to get in trouble?  If I’m giving stuff away or letting people break the rules, aren’t I going to get in trouble?  It was reinforced and reiterated how important our rules are, so I’m not sure what’ll happen if I decide that one isn’t so important. Meh. It’s too confusing. Forget it.

If you’ve struggled with empowerment in the past, this should give you a quick-start guide for revamping your initiatives:

  • Be clear about WHAT sort of things they are empowered to do
  • Be specific about the procedure or steps to take so employees get comfortable with doing something outside of their comfort zone
  • Explain (and live by) what will happen when an employee takes on the challenge of doing something out of the ordinary. (Praise the effort, even if the execution needs adjusting)

For clarity, I should mention that in many cases, there won’t be a specific blueprint for employees to follow every time they want to go above and beyond or do something special. If there were, it would be called a Standard Operating Procedure and it would be part of their everyday routine. We do have to set guidelines and expectations at first to get people thinking in a way that it’s okay to step outside of the norm and do the extraordinary, but the ultimate goal should be about developing their decision-making skills.

Because that’s what empowered employees do, and it’s what Mr. and Mrs. Bigshot WANT empowered employees to do… make decisions that will have a positive impact on the situation.

To encourage these decisions, it will be important to constantly reinforce not only that you WANT them to make these decisions, but again you have to make them feel good about making them (so THEY’LL want to). This process takes time, encouragement, guidance and patience on your part.  Talk to employees about scenarios where different decisions could be made, and walk through the possible outcomes.  Encourage them to try different things to see how they work, and follow-up with them on their progress.  Continue to encourage experimentation while you praise the effort of stepping outside their comfort zone, even if the action wasn’t exactly what you envisioned.

Let me take a quick side journey at this point… when you truly empower people to make decisions, and give them the latitude to do so, it’s imperative that you prepare yourself for a time when they could do something so off the wall it might make your head spin.  People are funny like that.  Give them opportunities to actually use their brains, and they might surprise you.  I would contend that as much as that surprise might make you cringe, there is also a chance that they could come up with an incredible idea or solution to a problem that you have been struggling with for years.  The connections in the brain and the desire to actually share that with you don’t come from people who are only taught to keep their head down and focus solely on the task in front of them.

And now, back to our story…

The more you encourage little decisions, the more comfortable employees will feel about making those, and even larger decisions.  You also get to evaluate and guide their learning in terms of making those choices for the best outcome for everyone. Win-win.

As a little overlap to our final post on Trust, I think it’s important to address trust as it applies to empowerment.

For you, you need to trust that your employees will do the right thing.  They may not all the time, but that’s why you will be there to guide them the next time.  You show trust by not micromanaging, respecting their decisions and helping them grow.

Your employees need to trust you to not change the rules on them midstream.  If you encourage empowerment, but employees get in trouble for thinking outside the box, you will unravel any desire to do that again in the future.  They also have to trust that you’ll have their back if something goes south.

I know I’ve told this story before, but it more than applies here as we talk about employees making decisions and how trust factors in.

When I was an Operations Area Manager at Valleyfair, one of the departments I oversaw was Admissions, which included Guest Services.  I was extremely lucky to have a returning Supervisor on my staff named Lisa.  Lisa had worked there for many years already, and had probably forgotten more than I would ever learn.  One day early in my tenure as manager, Lisa came to me with a guest complaint issue.  She explained the situation and asked my opinion about what she should do.  Based on her experience, I had more than an inkling than she already had a resolution in mind, so I asked what she thought.  She quickly provided a great solution, so we went with her idea.

Lisa KNEW what to do, and of course I had told her before that that she could make those decisions, but we hadn’t established the trust in our relationship yet that made her feel comfortable to go ahead and make that decision without my approval.

The moral to that story? For empowerment to work, it takes time.  It’s a perfect storm of knowledge, desire, permission and encouragement.

Oh, and trust. Can’t forget trust. Good thing that is the topic of our next post in the series!

Next up: Trusted

Thanks for reading!

Matt

About the author – After 20+ years in hospitality leadership and human resources, Matt Heller founded Performance Optimist Consulting in 2011 with one simple goal: Help Leaders Lead. Matt now works with attractions large and small and leaders at all levels to help them improve leadership competencies, customer service, employee motivation and teamwork. His book, “The Myth of Employee Burnout” was released in 2013 has become a go-to resource among industry leaders.