Sometimes You Only Get One Chance at a First Impression

Have you ever thought about how important your front line employees are?  We all know that everyone pays attention to the C-Suite, but do we pay attention to those people that are actually interacting with customers, or guests, on a regular basis?

A few weeks ago I wrote about a bad customer service experience that was compounded by a bad social media customer experience. Whenever I do this, which hasn’t been too often, I always give an update on the situation regardless if the brand I mentioned takes action or not.

This time it was Outback Steakhouse, and you can read about the details of our visit here. After some support from social media friends, I was contacted by the regional manager through email and was sent a card with some store credit.

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There were a couple of things that stood out. First was that the card was note inside the card was hand written. I think that’s great because it shows that the regional manager actually took the time and effort to write something. It wasn’t some pre-typed and mass produced apology card.

Second, the amount that was given to us as credit covered the amount that we paid. I don’t show all of the credit / voucher cards in the photo, but what was included in the card covered what we paid. That’s also great because it shows that they took the time to actually check our bill and see how much we spent.

It’s very clear that the Outback Steakhouse team is trying their best to make up for the bad experience that we had, and to be fair, I’m appreciating the effort. From what was communicated through email, the team also knows that it is definitely a training issue. And that brings me back to the original question, have you ever thought about how important your front line employees are?

Your front line employees, the ones that interact with your customers the most, are your chance to make a good first impression. And sometimes you only get one shot at it. You won’t be able to prevent all mistakes from happening, but proper training and doing what you can to hire the right people will help.

I’ve been to Outback Steakhouse once in the last 10 years. So for all intents and purposes, this one time can be considered a first time experience. And as you know, it wasn’t a good one. Even though the Outback Steakhouse regional management team has made every effort to try and get me to return, I am still unsure if it’s worth it. I only have this one experience as a reference point, and I’m not sure a free meal is worth the aggravation and frustration of a bad experience. See what I’m getting at?

I applaud the Outback Steakhouse regional management team for trying to make things right. It’s really a good example of customer service done right after something has gone wrong. I just hope they make every effort to improve their service training, and impress on their front line employees the importance of making a good impression.

When looking for influencers, try your existing customers

I often wonder if influencer programs are still worth it. It’s an argument that have in my own head all the time. If you’ve been following me, you already know that I’m a big fan of employee advocacy programs, and I feel that the rise of these programs has had an effect on external influencer programs.

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Looking for influencers? Try your existing customers. Photo Credit: 10ch

There will always be questions about whether or not influencers are authentic, especially if reviews and opinions are compensated. It isn’t my intention to start that circular conversation, it’s a topic that can and will be debated over and over. Instead, what I’d like to point out is that an influencer program can be a great way to reward loyal customers.

In full disclosure, I am a part of an external influencer program for Verizon FiOS, and this blog post was created as a part of the program. BUT I was a customer for five years before being asked. So no, I wasn’t paid to convert from some other cable or satellite TV company. In my opinion, it’s great to feel recognized or rewarded by a brand for being a loyal customer, and being a part of this program just reinforces my commitment to them.

Existing customers are great for influencer programs because the decision to buy into the brand was informed and not made because they received products and/or services for free. If a customer has been loyal to a brand for a long time, there are most likely to be pretty passionate about that brand. And I would venture to guess that they have made that passion known to others in their own way without trying to be a salesperson.

The definition of a mercenary is “working or acting merely for money or other reward” (dictionary.com). If you pay someone to initially like your brand, once that payment stops, or there’s a higher offer from a competitor, that person will most likely switch sides.

I’m not saying Verizon is perfect because no brand is perfect. The reason why I paid for the service, turned down competitors that knocked on my door repeatedly promising to lower my bill, was because I believed that the Verizon’s service was better. And throughout all this time, that opinion hasn’t changed, the service is great.

Whether or not brands want to believe it, consumers aren’t stupid, they can see through all the fake advertising and people that are put in front of them. Loyal customers don’t need to be fake, because they’ve already bought in. It’s encouraging to see brands like Verizon reward them for their loyalty. That’s definitely a good thing.

Brand Lessons From a Bad Customer Service Experience

Update: See how Outback Steakhouse responds to my experience.

Everyone has different experiences when they interact with a brand. I’ve had some great brand experiences in the past and some that have not gone so well. And what I experienced could very well be different from what you’ve experienced. Whatever the case may be, there are always lessons to learn.

Over the weekend my extended family and I decided to go out for dinner, which was most likely a mistake to begin with. With four adults and four children six and under, we knew it was definitely going to be an interesting experience. What we didn’t know was that it was going to be the restaurant we chose that gave us a headache and not the children.

Customer Service, the unsung hero of every brand.

Customer Service, the unsung hero of every brand.

We had gone out to the mall on Saturday to eat and decided to try Outback Steakhouse. It wasn’t our first choice but since they had seating available we figured we’d try it. We were seated at 5:15pm and were able to place our food orders at 5:30pm, requesting that the children’s food and the one small appetizer we ordered to come out first. The kid’s food and the appetizer came in about 15 minutes, and 45 minutes later the adults were still waiting for their entrees to show up.

Throughout the time we were waiting, there were no updates from the wait staff, no checking in to see if we needed anything else. After sitting and watching people that were seated after us get their food and eat, we decided to ask a manager to check on our orders, twice. The first time the manager said it would take six to eight minutes longer, and quite honestly, that was not acceptable. For orders to take six to eight minutes longer to prepare that were ordered an hour ago just did not make any sense.

To make an already long story shorter we ended up getting our food, even though we had to remind them of side orders that were missing two times. And the restaurant did their normal attempt at damage control by removing the cost of the one appetizer and taking 15% off our bill, but only after we had complained about it.

In the meantime though, I sent two tweets to Outback Steakhouse, which went unanswered. In fact, I delayed the writing of this post because I wanted to give the brand a chance to respond. At the time of this writing, which is 2 days later, I still have not received a response. So that brings me to these points:

1. Social media is a great customer service platform

There should be no explanation needed for this, and if you find yourself scratching your head on this one, you have a lot of catching up to do. There are people creating Twitter accounts with the sole purpose to complain to brands that have made them upset, and they are reaching out to brands through social media expecting a response. If brands want to make an experience worse, then I would suggest not responding.

2. You can turn negatives into positives

Bad things are bound to happen, and people will have bad experiences. Brands can work to lessen the number of bad experiences that their customers will have but they will never be eliminated. What brands can do, is work to turn those negative experiences into positives. Advocates are created when a brand goes out of its way to make things right. In my experience, The Home Depot is a brand that was able to do this and for me it will always be one of the best examples of customer service from a social media team.

3. Ignore people at your own risk

Like I mentioned earlier, I delayed writing this post because I wanted to see if Outback would respond to me, and they haven’t. What’s disappointing to me is that they’ve tweeted and responded to other people since then, and have chosen not to respond to me. To be fair, it’s well within their right to respond to whomever they choose. One thing that I’d like to say about that is, if you’re going to be very selective about whom you choose to respond to, it doesn’t endear you to the ones you’ve ignored.

4. People need help when they need help, which might not be when it’s most convenient for you

When I did a search on Outback to see where their corporate headquarters was, I was disappointed to learn that it was in Tampa, Florida. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Tampa, I was disappointed because you would expect a restaurant chain to be online during the time when their establishments would be most busy. And since I am also on the east coast, it would seem to me that dinner on a Saturday would be a busy time for any restaurant chain. Unfortunately that falls outside the hours of Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. The thing that brands need to understand is that people are going to need help whenever they need it, and that might not be when it’s most convenient for the brand. Setting up an account and a team dedicated to customer service might not be a bad thing.

5. Customer service is the unsung hero of any brand

If I had to guess, a brand’s customer service representative engages with customers more than a brand’s salesperson does. Customer service is responsible for helping to keep your customers loyal, and if it can’t do that, then it’s counterproductive to whatever sales you have. Lastly, your loyal customers can either be your best brand advocates or your worst enemies, your customer service team plays a huge part in that decision.

10 Life Lessons From Spartan Racing

Over the last three years I’ve had the chance to run some Spartan Races and earn trifecta twice. If you don’t know what the Spartan Race is, and are wondering what trifecta is, here’s a quick rundown for you. The Spartan Race is an obstacle course race that has different levels of difficulty. The shortest distance is the Sprint, ranging from 3-5 miles. Next is the Super, which falls between 8-9 miles, and there’s the Beast, that can run from 12-15 miles. If you complete each distance in a calendar year, you have earned your trifecta.

I'll never forget the experiences that I had earning these two Spartan Race trifectas.

I’ll never forget the experiences that I had earning these two Spartan Race trifectas.

The Spartan Race is pretty popular now, and I’m sure you’ve heard people describe the obstacles and terrain. If you want to get a better picture you can visit the Spartan Race site and see photos or you can watch the NBC Sports Channel because it’s actually televised. If you’re a Verizon FiOS customer like I am, it’s channel 590 in HD. I just end up recording it on my DVR to watch later so I can fast forward through the commercials. We pretty much DVR every show we watch for that same reason.

Here are 10 things that I’ve been able to take away from my experience running the Spartan Race (they are in no particular order):

1.  Don’t be overconfident.

I learned my lesson about overconfidence after my first Spartan Race, which was a Sprint at Citi Field. I thought I was in decent shape, but I was wrong. Completely unready for the race, the Sprint proved to be extremely challenging for me, resulting in a very harsh reality check. When people are overconfident about things, they usually don’t prepare as diligently, which can end up in failure.

Thanks to my brother and sister-in-law Mike and Anne for getting me to sign up for my first race and causing my addiction.

Thanks to my brother and sister-in-law Mike and Anne for getting me to sign up for my first race and causing my addiction.

2. Anything worth doing isn’t easy.

I have this phrase on my Twitter background for two reasons. I’ve found that the things that matter often require more effort and commitment. The more time and effort we put into things, the more meaningful they are. And also, we are defined not by what we say, but by what we do. If you want to separate yourself, or distinguish yourself from others, you have to do things that others aren’t. And I’ll be that most people are already doing the easy things.

The Citi Field race got me started, and humbled me at the same time.

The Citi Field race got me started, and humbled me at the same time.

3.  You don’t know what you can do until you try.

If you told me 3 years ago that I would have run 8 Spartan Races and come away with 2 trifectas, I would have said you were crazy. But I credit my brother-in-law for getting me to run my first Spartan Race and challenging me to push myself to another level. The Spartan Race definitely isn’t easy, but going through those races has allowed me to see how much I can push myself to do. It’s also shown me that I can still push myself even more.

Citi Field was the first piece of my first trifecta run.

Citi Field was the first piece of my first trifecta run.

4.  Enjoy the journey.

After the reality check of my first Spartan Race, I went into overdrive with my training. What I learned was that in order for me to succeed, I had to make the training fun. While you’re on the road to achieving the goals you’ve set, make sure you enjoy the journey getting there.

Two-thirds of the way through my first trifecta.

Two-thirds of the way through my first trifecta.

5.  Who you surround yourself with matters.

Jim Rohn says that you are “the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”.  Therefore whoever you surround yourself with has a big influence on what you do. Training and conversing with the friends that I had that were running these Spartan Races with me helped keep me focused and made the journey that much more fun.

The Vermont Beast at Killington was the hardest thing I have ever had to physically do. This crew made it bearable and enjoyable. Start together, finish together.

The Vermont Beast at Killington was the hardest thing I have ever had to physically do. This crew made it bearable and enjoyable. Start together, finish together.

6.  Always challenge yourself.

I guess this piggybacks off Number 3, so after you’ve gotten yourself to try new things, keep pushing. You can always improve and always get better. And when you do conquer the next challenge, you’ll feel great. I remember being intimidated by 9 and 10 foot walls that we had to climb, but after learning how to scale them and successfully doing so at the race, it was such a big confidence boost. The more you challenge yourself and push through, the more confidence you’ll gain moving forward.

The 2014 Vermont Beast medal, the last piece of my first trifecta, looks pretty good.

The 2014 Vermont Beast medal, the last piece of my first trifecta, looks pretty good.

7.  Plan ahead.

The goal was to run the Spartan Races to the best of my ability. Realistically I’m not one of the elite racers and I know that. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t plan. The workouts had to be planned to maximize time and gains. Of course there are things that you absolutely cannot plan for, but if you an eliminate as many question marks as possible with good planning, getting over those unforeseen obstacles is much easier.

2014 Spartan Super

2014 Spartan Super

8.  Don’t be lazy.

It’s one thing to take a break, it’s another to just spend a lot of time doing things that don’t help you accomplish your goals. I believe that laziness actually sets you back, reversing some of the progress you’ve made. I’ve definitely had my moments of laziness and the results of those moments were magnified on the race because my laziness made some of the obstacles tougher than they should have been.

The 2015 Spartan Beast was tough for me. I injured myself at mile 3 of the 13 mile race. My teammates stuck with me and got me to push through and finish anyway.

The 2015 Spartan Beast was tough for me. I injured myself at mile 3 of the 13 mile race. My teammates stuck with me and got me to push through and finish anyway.

9.  Quit complaining.

Everyone needs to vent now and then, and I’ve definitely done my share of it. But complaining about things doesn’t change the situation, it just makes it worse for yourself mentally. Being on the mountain at Killington in Vermont was brutal. There was one section where we had to climb up the K1 slope. Complaining about it wouldn’t have made the task any easier, we just had to put our heads down and move forward.

2015 Spartan Sprint, two-thirds of the way through my second trifecta.

2015 Spartan Sprint, two-thirds of the way through my second trifecta.

10.  Eyes on the prize.

Always have your end goal in mind and keep focused on it. I won’t lie, during many moments at different races I’ve asked myself why I decide to put myself through these things. What gets me through is the finish line, and the feeling you get when you know you’ve just done something that most people won’t even want to try. Whatever your goal is, stay focused on it. Don’t let the speed bumps and detours discourage you, because when you accomplish what you set out to do, the feeling is great.

The 2015 Spartan Super capped my second trifecta. Not easy, but completed.

The 2015 Spartan Super capped my second trifecta. Not easy, but completed.

Disclaimer: This post is part of a campaign I’m doing with Verizon FiOS in NYC. #FiOSNY

Do We Need To Rethink How We Hire Managers?

I can still hear the advice that was given to me years ago loud and clear, “You want to be a manager if you want to move up in the world”.  Being a manager is what most of us see as the first step in climbing the proverbial corporate ladder.  Depending what organization you work for and what industry you work in, being a manager is the prerequisite to director and vice president and so forth.   But what actually makes a good manager, and how do you evaluate that?

Not everyone is cut out for management

Not everyone is cut out for management

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic suggests that “The Best Managers are Boring Managers”.  In his article on Harvard Business Review, Thomas writes that “it is time for organizations to understand that their best potential managers are not the people who stand out; they are not the people who self-promote and take credit for others’ achievements, or have mastered the art of politics and upward career management. They may lack charisma and have no remarkable vision for the future, yet they are probably the best people to help execute the company vision and ensure that staff stays engaged and productive”.  Could this be true?  Well if you think about it, a manager is successful as long as his or her team can come through for them.  So it would make sense if a manager’s top priority would be to motivate the team to work at their best.  In order to do that, a good manager would want to put the needs of their team before any of their own.  Ego would be have to left at the door. 

If a good manager is one that is on the constant look out for his or her team, then one suggestion would be for the team to have a voice in managerial promotion and evaluation.  That was the suggestion by Tariq Ahmad in his post, “Should organizations ‘Promote Down’ instead of ‘Promote Up?’”.  Tariq writes that, “while a person who wants to be promoted wants to impress upper management (and may have all the requisites necessary to succeed at the next level), the colleagues and direct reports of those people might not like working with them or don’t speak highly of them, which could be an indicator of what type of future manager/director/VP this person might (or might not) be”.  It’s definitely and interesting point, especially considering that “Bad Managers Are the No. 1 Reason People Leave Their Jobs”, according to PayScale.

So what does it all add up to?  Well it goes to show that not everyone is cut out for management, and that’s ok.  Companies need to give employees other ways to move up the corporate ladder without necessarily getting into management, or management of people anyway. 

How is management handled where you are, and do you feel that the process needs to change?

Lessons in Parenthood: A Father’s Validation

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think that most parents want to be proud of their kids. And on the flip side, I think that most kids want their parents to be proud of them. Where this all gets messed up is when there are expectations set by parents that children cannot live up to.

Our kids want us to make us proud, just as much as we want to be proud of them.

Our kids want us to make us proud, just as much as we want to be proud of them.

I was into a lot of sports growing up, both playing and watching. I don’t recall starting that young, which has always made me wonder if I would have been better at them if I would have started earlier.  I still enjoy being active and competitive. The sports that I participate in now have changed, but I’m not less competitive than I was before. Now as a dad, I definitely pass on those competitive expectations onto my boys, and I was about to have a big reality check on the ramifications of that.

Not a fan of selfies, but had to take one with D before the kids Spartan Race.

Not a fan of selfies, but had to take one with D before the kids Spartan Race.

My older son D, is five years old, and has taken some interest in the sports that I like, most recently Spartan Race. And I know that it’s partly because he’s interested and partly because he knows that I’m very interested in it. Preparing for the Spartan Race requires a good amount of cardio training, and so I go running often. D has shown a genuine interesting in running, and I love it. When we were in Maryland during our summer vacation he ran a mile with me when it was 82 degrees and humid. I thought the same enthusiasm that he had for running would translate to bike riding, but I was wrong.

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Up and over, he pushed through.

D enjoys riding his bike, and right now we have him using training wheels. He’s also a cautious kid, so it’s taken him a while to build up his speed. But after successfully running the mile in Maryland, and at a decent pace too, I thought that he would be more willing to go faster on his bike. I can’t explain the logic of that, but it’s what I thought. So when our family went to the park for a walk around a lake near our house (about 2.6 miles), I figured that D would ride his bike and I would run while he does that and my wife would push our younger son L, who is two and a half, in a stroller. As you can gather, it didn’t go as I had planned.

At his own pace, he made it through the whole course and didn't stop.

At his own pace, he made it through the whole course and didn’t stop.

From the beginning, D didn’t want to go very fast. The speed he felt comfortable with was equivalent to a fast walk for me, and I wasn’t too happy about that. He actually ran faster in Maryland than he was biking, and I couldn’t understand why. I did try to encourage him to go faster, telling him he could do it and there was nothing to be worried about, but it didn’t work. He wouldn’t go faster. So I ended up taking the stroller and running around the lake while pushing L, and my wife walked with D the rest of the way.

He might have been scared or intimidated at times by the obstacles, but he tried each one.

He might have been scared or intimidated at times by the obstacles, but he tried each one.

When we all finally met up at the end my wife told me that D started to ride faster as the ride progressed, and at one point said, “I bet that daddy would be proud of me now”. The words hit me like a ton of bricks. My son was doing his best to make me proud and I caused him to think that I wasn’t proud of him.  My wife has told me before, D wants validation from me because I’m his father.

It was great to watch him compete and experience the Spartan Race.

It was great to watch him compete and experience the Spartan Race.

I’ve realized that I have to change my thinking. The problem with me putting certain expectations on my children is that they aren’t me. For better or for worse, they are not me. Don’t get me wrong, I expect them to be good people, and if they do bad things it is not acceptable. But while they might have the same interests as me, they also might not. And they will adopt and learn things at a different pace than I have, most likely faster. I have to remember that my kids will make the effort to make me proud of them, and that I should validate that effort.

I'm proud of these two guys, and I'll be sure to tell them all the time.

I’m proud of these two guys, and I’ll be sure to tell them all the time.

I recently had a chance to take D biking again, and this time I stayed at his pace. And as the ride progressed, he went faster and faster. I’m super proud of him and I let him know it.

Why We Go Back To Cape May Every Year

I’m a creature of habit and I’m all about the routine. Some routines I like and some I don’t, but over the last few summers we’ve had one routine that I’ve really enjoyed, and that’s going to Cape May for a week for vacation. And since this year the warm weather has continued through September, it makes me really want to go back there.

A great little beach town to visit in the summer.

A great little beach town to visit in the summer.

My idea of an ideal vacation is to get away from the crowds and have absolutely nothing planned. That’s not to say that I don’t like doing things while I’m on vacation, I just don’t want to have a schedule.

So for me, Cape May definitely solves the crowd criteria. It’s a nice small town located at the bottom of New Jersey, exit 0 off the Garden State Parkway. While it is a popular summer destination for some, it’s not nearly as crowded as it is in New York City during a regular workweek.

I wouldn't mind living here for the summer.

I wouldn’t mind living here for the summer.

Why I Like It There

One advantage of being in a smaller beach town is that you can go bike riding in the street and not have to worry about a ton of cars. From what I’ve seen, it’s how most of the people get around town there anyway if they’re not walking. So it’s a great place for the kids to go biking. We stayed in a location that was within a short walk into the center of town and beach, so it was great to not have to drive everywhere.

It's nice that the kids can ride their bikes in the street because it's not too crowded.

It’s nice that the kids can ride their bikes in the street because it’s not too crowded.

And then there’s the beach. You do have to pay to get on the beach, and I particularly don’t mind that. In my opinion, it helps to keep the beach from getting too crowded. Our family can spend the whole day at the beach, the boys love playing in the sand and building things. A huge plus is having a beach box to store all of our things in so that we don’t have to keep lugging stuff back and forth each day.

The kids can play on the beach all day.

The kids can play on the beach all day.

Besides The Beach

So if you’re wondering what else there is to do besides hit the beach, the answer to that is yes. If you’re willing to take a walk more inland, or a quick bike ride, you can see the Fisherman’s Memorial, which is a statue and monument dedicated to the local fishermen that have lost their lives at sea.

The view from the Fisherman's Memorial.

The view from the Fisherman’s Memorial.

Washington Street Mall is where you’ll find some restaurants and shops, and great places to get snacks. Nearby is a great breakfast place that we love called The Mad Batter. We love the fresh juice, pancakes, and corned beef hash.

The kids color their placemats while waiting for breakfast to be served at The Mad Batter.

The kids color their placemats while waiting for breakfast to be served at The Mad Batter.

This year we didn’t do as much exploring as we did in previous years. So we didn’t go to the Cape May Lighthouse and we didn’t hit Sunset Beach. Maybe we’ll try to do that next year. I’m hoping my boys will want to go to the top of the Lighthouse with me.

There are other cool things to see around town, like the fire house.

There are other cool things to see around town, like the fire house.

We did venture out to Wildwood one day, which is another town not far from Cape May, to take the kids to the amusement parks and boardwalk. The kids enjoy the rides there and it’s a nice way to change up the scenery and take a break from the beach.

Just a short drive away, Wildwood has a boardwalk with come cool rides for the kids.

Just a short drive away, Wildwood has a boardwalk with come cool rides for the kids.

Evening Entertainment     

Since the kids are still pretty young, our evenings are rather low key. We made the effort to go and see the sunset on the beach a couple of times, and the experience didn’t disappoint.

You don't want to miss sunsets like this.

You don’t want to miss sunsets like this.

The kids had a chance to participate in the Kiwanis Sunset Flag Ceremony on one of the nights. It was a great experience for them. From Memorial Day through September 11, the Kiwanis Club invites kids to help lower the flag. “Each child receives a certificate signed by the Mayor of Cape May and the President of the Kiwanis Club, indicating their participation”.

Participating in the flag ceremony was a nice thing for the kids.

Participating in the flag ceremony was a nice thing for the kids.

After the kids went to bed it was nice to be able to close out the day watching a movie. Even though it’s great to unplug for a while, we really like watching our TV shows and movies. Verizon FiOS allows me to sync up the UltraViolet digital movies that I have and I can play them through the FiOS app or website. It’s awesome because I can watch whatever I want to wherever I am.

I'm probably one of the few people left that buys Blu-Ray discs. So it's nice that I can virtually take my collection wherever I go.

I’m probably one of the few people left that buys Blu-Ray discs. So it’s nice that I can virtually take my collection with me wherever I go.

Until Next Year

Sadly vacations don’t last forever, and after a week it was back to reality. I would rather leave a place itching to go back, than leave a place that I can’t wait to get away from. If you’re looking to get away from the busyness of the city or just looking to take a break, Cape May is a great relaxing place to go. I highly recommend it.

Can't wait to get back to Cape May.

Can’t wait to get back to Cape May.

Disclaimer: This post is part of a campaign I’m doing with Verizon FiOS in NYC. #FiOSNY

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