Which customer do you choose?

You may have noticed that my last few posts have been about customer service (this one included). Maybe it’s because I’ve been getting out more, or because there are more situations that happen that I think we can all learn from.  My last trip to Walgreens was a perfect example.

I walked in, and like many establishments these days, the person behind the register greeted me with a “Welcome to Walgreens!”.  It wasn’t particularly enthusiastic or welcoming, but that’s a different topic.

To me, the issue is one of priority.  While I suppose I appreciate the gesture, I wondered how the person AT THE REGISTER felt when the employee’s attention was diverted from their transaction to greet a brand new person in the store. All the time in customer service we talk about engaging the guest and building a relationship.  Nothing says “I care about you” more than a self-induced interruption of your transaction so I can yell across the store to “welcome” someone else.

Somewhere along the line, management said, “we’re going to greet people as they come in.”  Was thought given to the CIRCUMSTANCES when that would be appropriate?  Or, did they just give their employees a directive to follow all the time because they didn’t trust their employees to make the judgement call of when they should provide the ‘entrance greeting’.

I can hear them now… “Well, if we tell the employees to only do it when there are no customers in front of them, they’ll take advantage and never do it.  No, better that we use the all-or-nothing approach.  You never know what employees might do if you let them THINK!

That’s right.  They could just AMAZE you!

To me, this situation also plays out when you have the same person attending to guests at the counter while they are also supposed to take incoming calls. The phone rings, and the person stops helping you to answer the phone. Like the automatic entrance greeting, management has made it clear that the phone needs to be answered in 3 rings or less, no matter what.  So you’ve just created another self-induced interruption of the service experience.

Both of these situations lead me to this question… which customer is more important? The person that’s in front of you or the person on the phone or walking through the door?

And you can’t say both, then willingly put your employees in situations like these.  You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

But I get it, it’s cheaper to have one person doing both those jobs than to have a dedicated person at the counter and a dedicated person on the phone.  Only you will be able to tell when the disjointed customer experience has impacted your sales.  Or maybe it already has, which is why you mandated that everyone be greeted as they walked in… to give them a sense of welcome and better customer service.  Is that working?  Hmmm….

What do you think?  How does this effect you as a consumer?  What do you think about it as an employer or a service provider?

Thanks for reading!


About the author: Matt Heller is a dynamic and engaging speaker, trainer, author and coach who builds confidence, courage and awareness in leaders of all experience levels.  He also likes vanilla ice cream with crunchy peanut butter mixed in.



Book launch: The Myth of Employee Burnout

It’s here!

Many of you have been hearing me talk about this for months, and now the book “The Myth of Employee Burnout” is ready to go!Book for web V1

In case you haven’t heard, this book follows my quest to uncover the truth behind why some employees start off strong but eventually fizzle out.  What I found was very interesting, and will open many leaders’ eyes to how they may be causing burnout, but also how they can fix it!

“The Myth of Employee Burnout” explores how every facet of the ‘employee life cycle’ (from recruiting to termination) can play a role in determining if an employee will continue working at a high level or not.  I then give practical and strategic steps you can take in order to reverse the effects of burnout, or eliminate it altogether.

BenefitsHere are some very kind words about what happened when the information in this book was applied in the real world:

“I continue to use your teachings on a daily basis, whether it’s in regards to our “motivation levels” to combat employee burnout, or just on day-to-day recognition and ways to compliment employees on what they are doing right. Overall this season has been such a success “guest compliment-wise”, and I am convinced it is because of your help.”

– Steve Gioe, Operations Manager for Sodexo at Canobie Lake Park.
Attendee at The Myth of Employee Burnout workshop

How to get your own copy!

There are two ways to order:

  • For special orders (such as signed copies), please visit: www.performanceoptimist.com
  • If you require quicker delivery, please visit: www.amazon.com
  • Paperback is just $16.95 plus shipping.
  • “Kindle” version also coming soon!
The book will also be on sale in the bookstore at the IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando, FL, Nov. 18-22, 2013.
For other inquires, please contact me directly at matt@performanceoptimist.com or 407-435-8084.
Thanks so much for your support!

AND and/or OR makes a difference

I recently started following Julie Winkle Giulioni on Twitter. She co-authored a book that I thought sounded intriguing, even though when I first saw the title, I misread it.  The real title of the book is:

Help Them Grow OR Watch Them Go

Reading quickly, here is how I read it the first time:

Help Them Grow AND Watch Them Go

The more I thought about it, the more I came to think that both versions were actually valid.

Julie’s point, and it’s a good one, is that “career development is the single most powerful tool managers have for driving retention, engagement, productivity and results, and that if you don’t help your employees grow, they are going to go elsewhere.”  In other words, develop them or lose them.

Based on my first misread, my interpretation was a little different.  I thought she was going to say that as a leader we have to help our employees grow and then get out of their way, allowing them to take the reins and carve their own paths. Kind of like winding up a top and letting it go.

After all, isn’t a leaders’ job to develop the next generation of great people, employees and leaders? If that’s true, at some point you have to let your employees take the guidance you have given them and let them run with it.

It might be scary to some, but your employees may just surpass your achievements. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s the point.

If we didn’t learn and progress and surpass the previous generations’ achievements, you might be experiencing this story as cave drawings rather than reading it on a computer.

The sad part is that I’ve known leaders (and you probably have, too) whose outlook was exactly the opposite of this.  THEY were the ones with the power and information, and their employees were on a need-to-know basis – and for the most part they didn’t need to know.

Part of this comes from the leaders they learned from, but part of it also comes from the fear of not being needed or important. If you give up all of your information, then you aren’t as special anymore. If you aren’t as special, you aren’t as unique.  If you aren’t as unique, there may not be a reason to keep you around.  Again, people are afraid of not being needed.

But the good leaders I know don’t take their worth or satisfaction from the amount of knowledge THEY possess.  Their satisfaction comes from seeing others succeed, knowing they were a part of that persons growth and development.  It’s a longer journey, but they see that in fact they ARE needed because each person requires different communication, recognition and guidance, and that can only come from a skilled and caring leader.

So if you don’t want to see them go, AND you want to see them grow, give them the information and guidance they need and get out of the way.  You just might be surprised what people can do when given the chance.

Thanks for reading!


About the author: Matt is proud to partner with Scot Carson of Amusement Advantage to provide detailed trend analysis data based on AA’s mystery shopping reports.  Matt’s insights provide additional information about a facility that leaders can use to strengthen teams, improve communication and boost the bottom line!

Less is more

The other day, Linda and I had a hankering for breakfast. Of course, it was 2:30 in the afternoon, but still, omelets and bacon were on our minds. So off to a local all-day breakfast joint we went.

Our server could not have been better, I think her name was Carol. She was friendly, efficient, and was amazing at anticipating what we wanted and needed. The food was hot, fresh and tasty.

Where’s the controversy? The drama? The ranting and raving about less is more?

It happened during a “table visit” by one of the managers. I really shouldn’t call it a visit, it was more like a drive-by, meaning it was brief (at best) and the manager’s stride was never broken. I knew it was some sort of interaction, because he said “hello”, and may have even (quickly) said, “how are you?”

Even though the restaurant was far from busy, this attempt at a visit didn’t bother me. I am sure there are restaurant aficionados who would say this is unacceptable, but it was a pleasant enough interaction and everything else with that visit had been great.

So far.

As he passed us, I responded to his question by saying, “how are you?” And this is when it happened.

“I’m tired,” the manager stated. “I’m ready to go home. I opened today and now it looks like they are going make me close.”

If his words and sentiment weren’t bad enough, he said it as he continued to walk away from us, I guess expecting us to turn around to respond in some way. We didn’t.

So now you probably know what I mean by “less is more”. I would have been totally fine with his drive-by visit if he had left out the part about not wanting to be there. I think that’s something I learned early on in my customer service career – if you, as an employee, don’t want to be there, why should your guests want to be there?

As strange as it sounds, though, I can almost guess where these comments came from. I would imagine it was his way of relating to us in a “work sucks” kind of way. Everyone hates their job, right? No one would want to stay longer than needed, would they? Yep, buddy, work sucks.

And in fact his work may suck, but I CHOSE to come to his workplace for a pleasant experience, and the LAST thing I want to hear about is that he doesn’t like his job.

What also struck me was the way he said, “THEY are going to make me close.” They… as in management above him. As in someone he doesn’t identify with. As in the boss, the enemy, the Man.

And maybe this is the root of the problem, and ultimately where the “work sucks” attempt at camaraderie-building came from. There was a palpable “us vs. them” attitude coming from this guy, and it was directed at this establishments’ management team, of which he is a part!

We talk a lot about front line employees and their impact on the customer experience, but what about you and your leadership teams? If you have leaders working for you who feel like this guy does, they could be really weighing down your service efforts.

How do you know if your leaders are are “on board”?

  • Listen to them. When they talk about management do they say “we” or “they”. We means “I belong”. They means “I don’t”.
  • Watch them. Their behavior is a reflection of their feelings. Are they setting the desired example for your employees?
  • Ask them. When talking to other managers, don’t just talk about tasks and budgets and deadlines, get to know them as a person. Develop some common ground that they can buy into.

One area where less is not more is in the area of personal and professional development for your leaders. The more they feel a part of the leadership team, the fewer blog posts like this will be needed… Oh, and the better your business will run.

Thanks for reading.


About the author: While this post is about ‘less is more’, Matt quickly acknowledges that less can occasionally be less, and sometimes less just isn’t as much.

Learning How To Drive

As I was driving around town the other day, I noticed a car trying to make a left-hand turn across oncoming traffic. It struck me (the idea, not the car) that the driver had to develop good judgement in order to time the turn just right to avoid a collision.

Not sure where the synapse collision happened in my head, but it made me think of the judgement a leader must develop, and just how long it takes to develop “good judgement”.

Think about when you learned to drive… there was some classroom or online instruction, practical application behind the wheel, and probably more than one very stressful episode with a parent or older sibling trying to enlighten you on the finer points to vehicle manipulation.  You then took a test and got your license.  Even with this certification, it doesn’t mean that you learned everything there was to know about driving, or that you would consistently apply what you do know (turn signals, anyone?).

In many ways, the judgement you need to be successful as a leader is similar to that of driving a car – and it takes just as long (if not longer) to develop even a remedial level of “good judgement”.  You need to know the hazards, the capabilities of your resources, and what your overall role is in the process.

Also like driving, good judgement in leadership comes from experience.  And experience takes time.  No matter where you are on your leadership journey, it is your previous experiences that determine how you judge future situations.  When it comes to developing other leaders, we have to remember that teaching the tasks of what to do is only part of the equation… we also have to give them the opportunity to gain experience, make some mistakes, and develop good judgement.

Here are some lessons we can take from drivers ed…

  • Vary the teaching method: give some theory, allow time for practical application, and provide feedback the progress
  • Allow mistakes (to a point): In the special drivers ed car, the instructor has an emergency brake, but other than that the student is in control.  Allow your leaders to take the wheel, so-to-speak, but be there to assist if they really get into a jam.
  • Give it time: drivers need to practice parallel parking, much like leaders need practice providing feedback to their teams.
  • There will be tears: learning to drive and developing leadership skills are life-changing processes, both with their share of bumps along the way. Know that these will make you stronger.

Please lead, and drive, carefully.

Thanks for reading!


About the author: Matt’s first car was a 1977 Buick LaSabre.  Her name was “Bessie”.

Why so many leadership books?

The other day I was sent a question via LinkedIn from a young leader named Zach.  His question was this:

“What are some good books on leadership I should read? The only one I have right now is Love Works by Joel Manby.”

Back when I first wrote about Joel’s book, I hadn’t read it yet.  Now that I have, I highly recommend it. So I think Zach is headed in the right direction, but his question also got me thinking about why there are so many books, blogs (including this one), videos, webinars, seminars, conferences, and discussions about leadership.

To me, a big part of it comes down to application… or lack there of.

If everyone had applied all the wonderful principles they learned from each book or video, we’d have a world full of incredible leaders. But we don’t, so we must need more books.

Be honest, how many times have you come across some really insightful information, whether via a blog, book, video or live seminar?  Now, how much of that information have you actually applied to your daily routine or actions? (And by applied, I don’t mean that you wrote it down only to then forget where you put it.)

This doesn’t make you a bad person or even a bad leader.  It makes you normal.

We all have good intentions, but sometimes finding the time to read the book, attend the seminar or watch the video is all we can muster.  Application is either assumed just by participating, or is such an afterthought that it falls off the schedule.  Some books try to set you up for success by very explicitly stating that the “application of the principles herein” is entirely up to you. Some authors will even encourage you to stop reading if you are not going to be open to changing your behaviors and actions.  I wonder how many people stop reading at that point?

Worse, I wonder how many keep reading and still do nothing with the new information?

To go along with the lack of application theory, there is also a strange corollary that exists that ultimately creates a market and demand for these resources, and they are opposite sides of the same coin.

People who are already good leaders are usually the ones who recognize that they can improve, so they seek the resources to do so. Books sell, so more books are written.

Bad leaders, on the other had, typically don’t know they are the bad leaders and may not feel that all these resources are meant for them. People complain about these bad leaders, and more books are written.

Since you are reading this, I would imagine that, like Zach, you are a good leader who wants to improve.  If that’s the case, I have some recommendations for you… not about what to read or watch, but how to make sure you can apply the new knowledge.

  • Read, watch and consume as much insightful information as you can about leadership qualities and strategies (not all at once – more on that below).  The more varied viewpoints you can gather will help you define your own leadership style and purpose.  You will come across things you don’t agree with, and that’s okay.  Deciding what you don’t want to do as a leader is as important as deciding what you do want to do.
  • Take your time and don’t get overwhelmed.  Your development as a leader is a journey.  If you do it right, there is no end to learning and improving your skills. You’ve got lots of time to take in all the great information out there.  Don’t rush it.
  • Do not consume (read, watch or attend) another leadership experience before applying the lessons you learned from the last one.  If you are reading a book, take notes, then take a break after each chapter and apply something that you read about.  It could be a small thing, anything.  Just get in the habit of putting this knowledge into action.  Don’t watch another video or attend a seminar until you have applied something from the last one. (This can be tough when you attend a conference with multiple seminars, but take good notes and immediately document what actions you want to take based on that information.  It’s a good idea even to put in on your calendar right then and there so you don’t lose focus.)

You just read a blog post about applying what you have learned.  I did my best to present a compelling argument, and even supplied specific action steps for you to take.  Now the question is: what are you going to DO about it?

Thanks for reading (and doing something about it)!

About the author:Matt Heller specializes in helping people apply the knowledge they have just learned, or realize the knowledge they already have.

When poor communication happens to good employees

I am sure I am not alone in the realization that most of our management and leadership woes can be traced back to poor communication. The worst part is when a leaders’ poor (or lack of) communication has a negative impact on the front line employees (which is probably a lot!).

Jay Salazar is one of the maintenance guys at a place my wife rents to hold meetings. He’s consistently pleasant, easy going, and responsive to any requests we might have. He checks on us and remembers what we need from our last visit. We know that when Jay is there, things will be taken care of.

Except last week.

As she always does, my wife called the day before to ensure everything was ready to go. The person she normally talks to, Barbara, was not there, and she actually spoke to Barbara’s boss, Julie. Julie assured us she would pass the note to Barbara and we’d be all set.

That didn’t happen.

Julie didn’t pass the note to Barbara, who in turn did not pass the information to Jay.  Barbara was completely surprised when we walked in the door the next day. When we got to the room, Jay was there, however he was in the middle of replacing all of the light bulbs. He had no idea we were coming, either. Of course he was gracious and apologetic and helped us turn the room around in record time. Jay is a rock star.

Unfortunately, the all-to-often response in these situations is to take our frustration out on the person who is right in front of us… Maybe that’s why they are called the front line (of defense!)?

But that’s not right. Neither Jay nor Barbara had fault in this situation. The problem goes higher than that. In fact, there were multiple “dropped balls” concerning communication, and not passing along the note to Barbara was just the tip of the iceberg.

Turns out, the schedule that my wife set up of dates for the entire year had not been communicated to the staff. Not to Barbara and not to Jay. In addition, the room set-up diagram was out of date. (Jay was only getting right each month because he knew what it was supposed to be from working with us so often.). If we trace each of these missteps to their origin, we end up in the same place.

Julie. The boss.

When confronted, Julie placed the blame anywhere and everywhere except for her. It was kind of insulting.

If we didn’t know the back story, we would have simply shown up that day, assuming that Barbara and Jay were dummies who didn’t deserve to be employed, and we would weep in the face of poor customer service.  That’s not fair to Jay and Barbara.

Your job as a leader is to set people up for success, and in this case (and I’m guessing many) the lack of success was a direct result of simply not giving the employees the information they need to do their jobs correctly. Passing one note to one person would have saved at least 5 people a whole lot of undue stress, plus would have negated the topic for this post.

Here are few lessons I think we can take from this to avoid similar situations of our own.

  • Pass along information – Often you are the conduit to bring information to your employees.  Don’t clog the pipes!  Give people the information they need so they can be successful.
  • Know who needs to know – Nothing worse that being caught off guard or out of the loop. Think about everyone who might be impacted by the information you have… then tell them!
  • Take responsibility – We all mess up. The unfortunate reality is that Julie will not see that this is her fault, and will likely keep spreading the blame (and poor communication) among her staff.  Only when you realize that you are part of the problem can you become part of the solution.

Thanks for reading!

About the author: Matt Heller lives in Orlando, FL with his wife, Linda.  When not helping leaders lead, Matt enjoys Geocaching, playing drums and reading Carl Hiaasen novels.

So… what do you do?

Since I have started Performance Optimist Consulting, people have been asking me, “so what do you do?”.  It’s a valid question.  Essentially I like to help leaders get the most out of themselves and their teams.  Take a look:

Great music (and leadership) starts with listening

I did it.  I said I was going to do it, and I did it.  On a recent trip to New Orleans for the World Waterpark Association Symposium, I took some time to head down to the French Quarter to go to Preservation Hall.  This is a tiny little historic music hall that is home to the quintessential New Orleans jazz experience.  I was there last in 1996, had a blast, and was NOT going to miss it this time around.

So I went.  Heard some GREAT jazz in an intimate setting, and along the way I learned a thing or two about listening.  And it wasn’t just about how the audience was listening to the band, it was also about how the musicians were listening to each other.  It made me think about how we may or may not listen to each other or our employees, but also what kind of great music we could make if we did.

The really cool thing about Preservation Hall is that all of the instruments are acoustic.  No amplifiers or speakers or monitors or wires or microphones.  Just a clarinet, piano, sousaphone, trombone, trumpet and a drum kit.  It was really cool to watch the interaction among these acoustic musicians, it’s an art form that is often lost in bands with enough electronic firepower to make the neighbors go deaf.

What we saw were little head nods, a look, even a word or two between players.  When the piano had a solo, the rest of band played softer.  In the musical world that’s called dynamics.  The volume swelled when it needed to and pulled back when it needed to.  Sometimes various players would lay out (not play at all) to feature another member of the band.  What did they do when laying out? They weren’t checking email on their phone, they were listening to the other players.  At one point during a drum break, the sousaphone player closed his eyes and just bobbed his head to the groove.

You could tell this was a group of well tuned (pun intended) musicians who understand that hearing what each other plays is as important as any note that they play.

Let’s put that in our terms.  Hearing what someone else has to say is as important as anything we have to say.


Do you feel that way?  Do you know people who seem to feel exactly the opposite… that anything they say is more important than what you say?  These folks will typically talk over you, interrupt, or generally won’t listen.

There are numerous reasons for this, and we don’t have space to Dr. Phil the issue.  What I do want to emphasize is how YOU listen, since that is what we can control.

To listen effectively, I think it takes these three things (some not always associated with listening)

  • Patience – Don’t worry, you will get your turn.  A little patience goes a long way and shows people that you care (because you are listening)
  • Confidence – You need to feel good enough about your topic or position (and maybe your stance on it) to know that simply letting someone else share their opinion is not a personal attack, but just a difference of opinion.  Another dose of patience can be inserted here as well.
  • Focus – we’ve all seen distracted listeners.  Eyes moving around the room, looking at their watch, can’t intelligently respond to your last comment or question.  Don’t be that person.  Avoid distractions and focus your listening attention and energy on the person speaking.  You might just learn something.

I’ve probably said this before but it’s worth repeating here.  Studies show that being listened to is so close to being loved that most people can’t tell the difference.  If that’s true, there was a lot of love at Preservation Hall that night.

What do you think?

It’s all about what you believe

I’ll admit it, the first time I saw the DaVinci Code, I fell asleep. It was late, I had been at the beach all day, there were subtitles… you get the idea. Anyway, I never really understood the hype around this movie until recently when I watched it again, stayed awake, and was able to follow the story.

Religious implications aside, I was especially intrigued by the last scene between Robert Langdon and Sophie, as Sophie was struggling with the news that she could be a descendant of Jesus. Asking what she should do now, Professor Langdon simply said, “it all depends on what you believe”.

I think that is an important life and leadership lesson, no matter your potential blood line.

If Sophie really believes that she is the last living descendant, she will certainly act differently than if she feels like this is all a bunch of religious mumbo jumbo.

Don’t believe me? Look no further than the things human beings have done through the ages in the name of religion, politics, or even sports. People often have deep seated beliefs in these areas that ultimately guide their thoughts and behaviors.

So what do you believe?

Do you believe that you are a good leader, or that your teams run amok no matter what you try? Do you believe that young people coming into the workforce are lazy and worthless?

Guess what?  Whatever you believe shows up in your actions.

If you believe the young folks are lazy, then you treat them that way and go figure… They act that way. If you believe they deserve respect and compassion, they’ll respond to that, too.

I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people who can’t understand why their employees are lackluster, yet when you talk to them about how they treat them, it’s typically reactionary to their belief that they are lazy and worthless.

Do you see the cycle that is created here?

Here is one of the problems. Beliefs don’t change easily or quickly. Many people look for undeniable evidence to alter their perception, but often their beliefs are so strong that they are not open minded enough to see it, even when it’s right in front of them.

As a leader, this is where you need to LEAD! If you are waiting for someone to change who they are, get ready to wait for a long time. Instead, if you are willing to make the first investment of trust, respect, compassion and dignity, you will find that your story has a much different outcome.

That’s why we are called leaders, not waiters.

So I ask you again… what do you believe?