Customer Service – The Next Level

At the recent Florida Attractions Association conference in St. Augustine, I got to have some great conversations with many of the association members and vendors in attendance. One of those conversations centered around taking customer service to the “next level”, and while this person stated that he wasn’t actually sure what the next level looked like, he knew there was room for improvement.

As it happened, I had an experience at the Starbucks in the hotel that might help us figure this out.

I was at the hotel for three nights, and each morning I got up early, went to the Starbucks to get a hot tea, then took a walk around the beautiful grounds of the hotel. It’s a great way to do some early-morning thinking, get some fresh air, and get the blood pumping (especially since I knew I’d be sitting down most of the rest of the day).

The first two mornings I would say that my experience at Starbucks was good. They took my order, instructed me where to get the tea bag, and provided an efficient transaction.

The third morning, however, was different. From a consistency standpoint, it was above and beyond the first two days, however some may argue that it may have just been what Starbucks is looking for as the standard.

When I ordered my tea the third day, the Barista let me know that it actually included two tea bags, and if I wanted to use them now fine, or I could take one of them and use it later. This is something that the Baristas did not mention the mornings before. He then asked if I had any exciting plans for the day, to which I answered that I was simply driving home to Orlando. This led to the inevitable conversation of backed up traffic on I-4, which is an all too common occurrence in Central Florida.

Ultimately, this transaction was much more personal, while just as efficient as the other two. Guess who got a bigger tip in the tip jar?

To me there were really two things that set this interaction apart from the two previous mornings. First, he offered additional information, in the form of letting me know that my order actually included two tea bags.

Second, he asked a question that allowed me to give him some bait. In a previous blog post, I mentioned how important it was for service providers to “take the bait” that customers provide them in order to make a more personal experience. When I mentioned driving to Orlando, he definitely took the bait to make the conversation much more personal.

In terms of taking customer service to the next level, it probably didn’t take that much more effort for this gentleman to ask me those questions and to provide the information. But something was different about how he did his job and why he did it the way he did compared to the other Baristas.

So to me, two lessons about taking customer service to the next level come out of this:

  • Paying attention to the details
  • Consistency

Paying attention to the small details of the conversation allowed the third Barista to engage in a person interaction. On the other hand, this was actually INCONSISTENT with the other two Baristas, making me question how often I would get this level of service. “Sporadic” is not how you want people to describe your excellent service.  The goal should be to CONSISTENTLY provide GREAT service ALL THE TIME!  That means every encounter, every employee, every interaction.

Is that easy? No. Is it ‘next level’?  Yes!

Are all of your employees providing knowledgeable and personal experiences for your guests on a consistent basis, or is the service experience hit or miss?

Had I not experienced this Barista on the third day, I probably wouldn’t have thought that the first two did anything wrong. And while they probably didn’t do anything wrong, they also didn’t do enough things right to take their service to the next level.

What does next level service mean to you, what does it look like for your customers? If you can’t explain in specific terms what this will look like to your employees, it will be very difficult for them to deliver that to your guests.

Leave a comment about what “next level” looks like to you – would love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading.


About the author: Matt has added “conference exhibitor” to his resume. The FAA conference in St. Augustine was his debut.  The P.O.C. pens were a hot item!


Lessons from Colombia (and even before!)

As some of you know, I recently had the very good fortune of traveling to Medellin, Colombia to do a presentation for the Colombian Association of Amusement Parks.  It probably goes without saying that I learned a thing or two while there… like about how gracious and polite the people are, how beautiful the country is, and what a lifesaver Google Translate is. All of these are true, but that’s not what I want to talk about here.  Instead, I would like to share something that I learned while I was getting ready for my trip. (For a few pictures from the trip, click here).

Medellin, Colombia

My presentation was titled “Beyond the Smile, Building a Winning Customer Service Culture.”  For reference, I did some research on, as they have built a reputation for great customer service, and it all starts with their culture.  I wanted to see if there were things that they were doing that we could adopt in the theme park business – and there were.  I started with the Zappos Family Core Values, which are listed below.

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

Here’s what I found to be tremendously interesting about these values, especially when they are lined up against some of the things we typically associate with customer service.  I would say that 7, maybe 8 of the values fall under one heading – teamwork.  Maybe some have more of an indirect impact on teamwork, but even that is important.

I found this fascinating because I think sometimes the relationship we have with others is often overlooked in the pursuit of customer service.  Sure we think about how the employee relates to the guest, but how about how the employees relate to each other? But of course it makes sense… everything, and I do mean everything, works better when people openly communicate, respect each other, feel like they can be themselves, and have the confidence that they can tackle any hurdle that is put in front of them. Together.

Once I realized this, I made sure this was a key point in my presentation.  I often say that there is no magic pill, no secret sauce, no “one thing” that will improve customer service or your ability to lead others. This may be as close as we get.

Focus on better teamwork, and other successes (including better customer service) will follow.

Thanks for reading!

Sobre el autor: Matt Heller escribió esto en el Traductor de Google para ver si se trataría de traducir de nuevo. ¿Lo hiciste?

One foot out the door

If you know me or have read my blog for any period of time, you know that I am a glass half-full kind of person. Recently, I’ve also been pondering about another way that we sometimes view our employees- are they one foot in, or one foot out?

It was an episode of Tabatha Takes Over that brought this out. (If you have never seen the show because you don’t have an interest in the ups and downs of the hair salon world, I understand.) However, Tabatha usually has some pretty good “tough love” lessons for ineffective managers. Worth checking out!)

Back to our story…. In this episode, an employee admitted that she was on the verge of quitting the salon because of how he was treated by her manager.  She said she already had “one foot out the door” and that it was only a matter of time before she left. (For an example of how her manager, Brian, treated her, click here). That got me thinking about how we view our employees, and how that might impact how we treat them.

If we think they are on their way out anyway, will we provide the guidance, feedback, care and compassion that we would if we felt someone was going to be with us for the long haul?

In my experience, the answer is no. Worse, is that we could likely treat them in a way that pushes them out the door faster – which is exactly what the ineffective manager did on this episode.

The big question for us is: in our environment of short employment seasons and high turnover, how many of us feel like many of our employees have one foot out the door?  And if we feel that way, are we treating them in a way that would push them out faster – even without knowing it?

Here are a few thoughts that might help us get out this pattern:

  • Don’t assume they are unhappy – employees sometimes have trouble expressing what they are truly upset about to their bosses (especially if it’s their boss that they are upset about!). If they are complaining (just like a guest) they are looking for you to fix something so they can feel good about working for you.
  • Don’t assume they are happy – employees can sometimes have a hard time expressing gratitude to their bosses. Take the time to talk to your employees individually to find out what’s really going on.
  • Just don’t assume!  Refrain from assuming someone is already one foot out the door. The real problem with assumptions is not that they are usually wrong, it’s that when we believe them they typically lead to the wrong behavior.

About the author: Matt Heller has never met a bag, box or bowl of Peanut M&M’s that he didn’t like.

Guest post from Chris Harper

This weeks’ post comes from a good friend and colleague, Chris Harper (@thatChrisHarper).  He’s got a lot of great ideas about how companies can improve the way they communicate, both internally and externally.  Chris took a few minutes to share some of his thoughts… with more to come!

What’s going on around here? – a case for good communication

We’ve all heard it. Many experts tell us that compensation and benefits are just not enough when it comes to job satisfaction. Instead, they say that things like good recognition are the most important to fostering a healthy work environment.

Of course, we all know that no one factor leads to job satisfaction—there are several elements to a happy, productive employee. But have you ever considered that communication might also play a role?

I believe that a strategic, well thought out internal communication plan for your business is vital to not only employee satisfaction but also your bottom line. Informed employees know about your product, ever-changing operational information and other vital information your guests or customers might need.

But uninformed employees are left not knowing answers or, worse, making up their own answers. Not only will this misinformation lead to confused employees and customers, it very well could lead to an unhealthy working environment.

That’s why it is important for managers to always keep communication top-of-mind. Better yet, building a formalized communication plan will help you to make sure that the right information is getting out at the right time. Just as you might spend time developing an extensive plan for communicating externally to the media or directly to your customers, time should be spent on an internal communication strategy will enable your employees to know what is going on so they can provide the best level of service possible.

As you build your plan, be sure to consider the following categories to help you get started:

Communication vehicles

  • Ask yourself: “How do my employees get the information they need?”
  • These can be physical tools (such as bulletin and dry-erase boards or handouts), electronic tools (such as intranets, social media and digital signage) or verbal tools (such as preshift meetings and supervisor/employee one-on-one time).
  • Use a variety of vehicles to best meet differing preferences between your employees.


  • Ask yourself: “What do I want my employees to know?”
  • Your content could include operations or procedural changes, guest or employee event information, safety reminders and guest service tips.
  • Additionally, as you build marketing plans for new products or services, be sure your employees know the points you want them to hit when they are interacting with your customers.

There are of course many more facets to a strategic communication plan, but these categories should get you started on thinking about your business’s communication. The good news here is that what I am suggesting is probably not going to take a reinvention of the wheel for you. You’re probably doing some of these things already. But I encourage you to start thinking about your communication and how the categories above fit together into a cohesive plan.

In future posts, I will to walk you through that a bit—it’s not as hard as it might seem.

Picking rotten apples

The other day I had lunch with a good friend who was telling me about her new job. To say that she had a rocky start would be an understatement. What was inspiring, but not surprising knowing her, was how after only 7 months on the job, she transformed a toxic team into one that is cohesive, respectful and productive.

I was thinking of all of you when I asked this question, “how did you do it?”

Out of the 25 people she inherited, 2 of them were the most challenging. And one of them in particular was enough to make most people quit.

We all, unfortunately, know the type of person my friend had to deal with. Long term with the company, very vocal when things don’t go their way, and have seen other managers come and go. They rarely get the feedback and coaching they deserve for their negative behavior, which tells them it’s okay. Left unchecked, you get an employee no one wants to deal with.

Which could have been my friends approach, but it wasn’t. She stuck to that employee, got to know her, gave honest feedback and didn’t let her get away with her usual shenanigans. A few months in, the employee went to my friends boss and essentially said, “this isn’t working out, it’s either me or her!” Luckily for my friend, her boss wasn’t playing that game, and the employee ended up resigning.

The other bad apple ended up leaving shortly thereafter.

It wasn’t too long until the other 23 people realized how much more pleasant work had become, so much less negativity. So much less hostility.

I often ask people if they would rather run their operation with a full staff including the bad apples, or a little short staffed with with everyone giving 100%. Overwhelmingly the answer is short staffed with an engaged and productive crew.

It’s a tough call to make, but sometimes the tough answers are also the right answers.

In fact, most of the time that’s that case.

Have you had situations like this?  How did you handle it?

Business and leadership lessons from Alaska – part 1

Went to Alaska.  It was beautiful.  That’s not what I want to talk about.

What I’d rather talk about are the three valuable lessons I learned while on vacation.  I know, I am supposed to be on vacation, but I can’t help it!

So here they are: Be honest.  Give great value.  Tell a story.

Let me start with the last one first (parts 2 & 3 will cover the others).

Tell a story

So this first one actually comes from Seattle, but this was on our way to Alaska.

Many people have heard about the Fish motivational video.  It stars fish mongers from Pike Place Market in Seattle, and tells the story about how they turned a dirty, stinky job into something fun and energizing.  They throw fish, sing songs, and choose to have a good time all day long.  Oh, and they sell lots of fish.

Now, if you haven’t been to Pike Place, you might think by the video and the buzz around these guys that they are the only game in town.  You’d be wrong.  There are a number of other fish vendors at the market, and from I could tell, their fish was just as fresh and stinky as these guys.  Here is the difference.

When you walk by the “world famous” fish guys, they greet you like an old friend, invite you into their world, have some fun with you, pose for pictures, and throw a fish or two.  You smile, laugh, giggle, take a picture, and go home and tell your friends.  You may not buy a thing, but you talked about them.

Contrast that with one of the other fish vendors, literally within 100 yards of the world famous guys whose spiel includes, “We’ve got fresh Alaskan salmon, on sale today, we can ship it anywhere.”  Snooze.

Who do you remember and talk about (unless you are blogging)?  Right. The people who have chosen to act world famous so they become world famous!

So what do you and your employees think about your business?  I guarantee that has an impact on the way you do business.

Stay tuned for parts 2 & 3!

Gotta have the right keys

I love the IAAPA Expo.  Sure it’s great to get to taste the latest flavor of Dippin’ Dots, but it’s also a great way to connect and reconnect with some of the brightest people in the industry.  This year was my favorite by far, mostly because of all the great people I got to meet and hang out with.

Two great new folks I got to meet were Kim Skaggs and Amy Briley from Six Flags Magic Mountain.  They presented a great education session called, HR: Where the Thrills Begin, where they outlined some great strategies for recruiting, training and motivating a large seasonal staff.

What struck me was the example they used that many of us can relate to when it comes to supervisory and leadership training.  It goes something like this: “Here are your keys, here’s the radio.  Go be a Supervisor.”  We probably all know someone who might have been trained like this, or we have used this tactic to train others.  No surprise… it’s usually not all that successful.

Then I started thinking about the keys. To open a door, you need the right key.  You may have a plethora of keys, but if none of them fit the lock you are trying to open, you’ll fail.  Now think of those “keys” as knowledge, information, and tools to be a supervisor… people still need the right “keys” in this case to unlock the secrets of dealing with a difficult team member, motivating a seasonal workforce and not playing favorites. Where do those keys come from?  Do we provide enough of the right keys to our up-and- coming leaders, or do we set them up to fail?

I know many of you have come up through the ranks, paid your dues and have become successful leaders in the industry. (You are some of the “brightest people in the industry” I mentioned earlier.)  And because of that, I want to hear from you.

I have started a new page on the blog called Suddenly Supervisor, where I would like to collect your best stories, tips, resources, links, books, videos, or anything else you would like to share that might make someone else’s transition to leadership a little easier.

I know a lot of you have great stories – who will be the first to share?

Thanks in advance!


Dress code or good service? Radio Shack has answers!

I remember when Radio Shack’s slogan was “You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers”.  Based on the service I received back in the day, I used to joke that it should be “You’ve got questions, we’ve got questions” because of the unfortunate lack of information you could count on from a RS employee.  I am glad to say that over the last few years, things have gotten a lot better, up to and including the experience I had today.

Today I met Casey, a twenty-something, mutli-tasking employee that would make ANY employer proud.  He was the only employee in the store, which would usually spell a long wait to check out and no assistance – but that’s not what happened. Here’s what he did:

  • When I entered the store, there were two people at the counter and two more behind them.  Clearly the two at the counter were involved in a long transaction, and I heard Casey say to the two waiting in back, “Can I help you find something or point you in the right direction?” They were there for a cell phone battery, so Casey motioned them to another counter where he was able to assist both guests at the same time.
  • When I was ready to check out, the same two people were at the counter, and Casey was still patiently helping them through some sort of cell phone upgrade/trade-in thing.  You could tell by what he said that he knew the various plans and offers well.  He saw me waiting and asked if I was ready to go.  He motioned me to yet another counter where he started my transaction while in between calls and things he had to do for the others.
  • When he saw what I was purchasing (a video cable), he smartly asked if I also needed the audio cable.  I love it when people ask me questions that might save me a trip later.  I didn’t need that cable, but I appreciate that he asked!
  • He politely finished my transaction as he was carefully setting up the other customers’ phone.  He was masterfully engaged in three transactions at the same time – it was a thing of service beauty!

So what about this dress code thing?  I mentioned that Casey looked to be in his twenties.  If I had to guess purely on looks and appearance, I would say that Casey is a surfer, or at least he likes the beach.  Longish blond hair, goatee, and from my apparently “old guy” perspective, his clothes were a little disheveled.  As I related this story to my wife, she more correctly identified his appearance as “fashionable”.  Ouch.

So now the question of appearance vs. service comes to mind.  If this interaction is the standard, I will take service every time. Casey was honest, genuine, well informed, efficient, thoughtful, proactive and personable.  Did I notice his slightly disheveled yet fashionable look?  Yes.  Did I care?  No.  Would I go back to THAT STORE the next time I need something electronic?  You bet!

Many entertainment facilities (and non-entertainment facilities, for that matter) use the Disney look as the gold standard for employee appearance.  It’s a squeaky clean, all-American, boy-and-girl-next-door sort of image.  I am NOT saying this a bad thing, but thinking about this made me ponder 2 things: Is it still relevant today, and is it relevant in all industries?

When the Disney look debuted, it was 1955 and Walt was trying to set his cast members apart from the carnies and unsavory types that most people associated with your typical carnival worker – and I think it worked.  Fast forward to 2010… I think it’s a lot tougher to stereotype and say that someone is to be avoided, just because they have a tattoo.  Things have changed.

In Disney’s defense, they are about escapism, and I think that image works for them, but they are also a business who needs to hire people.  They have recently changed their appearance guidelines to respond to shifting cultural norms.  So here’s a question – has your dress code changed with the times?  Are you trying to enforce a look that many (including your employees) may not even care about in your business?

The big question here is about balance.  Are you enforcing a dress code or set of appearance standards at the expense of paying attention to and reinforcing the SERVICE your employees provide?  Casey may have been a bit “disheveled”, but his service was out of this world!

Thanks for reading!

Want Better Customer Service? Be A Better Customer!

It’s probably safe to say that at some point in your life, you have been the recipient of less than stellar customer service.  It’s also probably safe to say that if you have worked in the customer service industry for any period of time, there was at least one time when you were not 100% on your game, and your service level slipped.  C’mon, you can admit it (just don’t let it be a habit!).

As the title of this post suggests, I think that as consumers, we have a big impact on the kind of service we receive.

I think it helps to think of the person on the other side of the counter or the telephone as a person.  Despite what we may be thinking when they tell us something we don’t want to hear, they are still a person with feelings, fears, emotions, a family, possibly pets, a life outside of work… not to mention their own set of personal issues they may be dealing with.

I know a very popular sentiment (especially in the amusement park business) is that when we are working with the public, we should leave our own problems at home… forget about them while at work because ultimately, that guest in front of you just wants their food when it’s hot, and they aren’t concerned with the fact that your hamster got stuck in the Habitrail this morning.

While I do believe our guests deserve our best, I don’t know how realistic it is for most people to flip a switch and NOT think about what they have to deal with (or are looking forward to) when they get home.

Where I think we sometimes go wrong as consumers is that we get stuck with the labels associated with doing business.  We are customers or guests, and they are employees, staff, or the help.  It’s almost as if from the get-go we are setting up an adversarial relationship.  I know people who believe that people in customer service roles are essentially lower life forms, and he/she treats them accordingly.  What do you think his/her view of modern customer service is?  Yep, bottom of the barrel.

When I talk to people about how THEY provide service, most say things like, “I love helping people who are nice.  I would bend over backwards for them.  But start yelling at me, you won’t get anything!”

With this is mind, here is what I would suggest.  Be nice to people.  Notice I didn’t say “employees” or “staff”, but people.  Dare I say treat them the way you would want to be treated?

What are your thoughts?