red rosesA while back my wife and I had a few friends to our home for a small party. My wife’s sister was visiting us from Spain and we wanted to introduce her to some of our close friends. We wanted to keep the gathering simple and decided to order sandwiches from the deli at our local Albertson’s grocery store. Our party was scheduled for a Saturday so I went in on Friday to place our order. The friendly deli clerk took my order and cheerily said it would be ready the following day at the specified time.

On Saturday, an hour before our guests were to arrive I went to Albertson’s to pick up our sandwich platter. At the deli counter I handed the clerk my receipt and watched as he turned to retrieve the order. After a few minutes of nervously looking around for our platter the clerk returned to say that he could not find our order. As our party was set to begin shortly I became concerned and asked to speak to the manager. The manager assured me that the order would be ready for pick up in an hour and that they would be happy to deliver it in time for my party. I left the store bothered but pleased by the immediate attention the manager had provided. Sure enough within an hour the door bell rang.

What happened next is one of the most impressive examples of exceptional customer service I have experienced. To my surprise standing at the door was the store manager along with staff member. The manager apologized for the mix-up and handed me the sandwich. If that was not exceptional customer service alone, she then handed me a complimentary bouquet of flowers that she brought for the party. Needless to say, the exceptional customer service provided by this manager was the talk of the party. My sister in-law, not accustomed to such a high level of customer service in her home country, could not believe her eyes.

This is a story I share often with my Retail Management students and clients. It serves as an example of employee empowerment and the exceptional customer service that can result when retailers allow their staff to be creative in how they handle service issues.

Do you have a story of exceptional customer service? I’d love to hear about it.

Broken windowsIn March, 1982 George Kelling and James Q. Wilson published an essay in the magazine Atlantic Monthly that would change the way many police officers approached their work. The essay, entitled “Broken Windows,” argued that if things such as graffiti and broken windows are allowed to occur without being addressed quickly, then soon those relatively minor crimes lead to major crimes such as assault, robbery, and murder. The reason is that minor crimes and dilapidated conditions send the message to people that residents in that community don’t care.  Worse, it sends the message that the authorities don’t care. In their influential essay, Kelling and Wilson referred to an fascinating experiment conducted by the famous Standford psychologist Philip Zimbardo:

‘[Zimbardo] arranged to have an automobile without license plates parked with its hood up on a street in the Bronx and a comparable automobile on a street in Palo Alto, California. The car in the Bronx was attacked by ‘vandals’ within ten minutes of its ‘abandonment.’ The first to arrive were a family–father, mother, and young son–who removed the radiator and battery. Within twenty-four hours, virtually everything of value had been removed. Then random destruction began–windows were smashed, parts torn off, upholstery ripped. Children began to use the car as a playground. Most of the adult ‘vandals’ were well-dressed, apparently clean-cut whites. The car in Palo Alto sat untouched for more than a week. Then Zimbardo smashed part of it with a sledgehammer. Soon, passersby were joining in. Within a few hours, the car had been turned upside down and utterly destroyed. Again, the ‘vandals’ appeared to be primarily respectable whites.”

So what does crime in New York have to do with customer service in your store? The idea behind the broken windows theory is quite simple, and by now considered conventional wisdom.  It is that small things matter. As simple as that idea is, it is one that I have seen over looked time and time again by managers too busy with “big picture” management issues.

Often the small things that we think are not worth our time are precisely the kinds of things that can send the wrong message to our customers. They are the details that can determine whether a new customer will become a life-long valued customer or whether they will exit your store as quickly as possible with a bad impression, never to be seen again.


photo_1824_20060728Ever wondered why your customer service program seems to show little, if any, measurable results?  If so, it may be because your program lacks at least one of the three essential components of a successful customer service initiative: Research, Analysis, and Training.

Here are the three components that your customer service program must have in order to truly gain a customer service competitive advantage.

Like gears in a machine, these components must be well aligned if your organization is to provide the kind of service your customers deserve.

1. Research:
Understanding your customers’ experience is done most effectively through formal, organized method.  This approach helps you understand your customer’s shopping experience. This can be in the form of exit interviews, online and in-store surveys, and mystery shop audits.

2. Analysis:
But tons of shopper reports reviewed independently of each other tell you little about the big problems that you may have. I have often spoken with potential clients who have spent months or years receiving shopper reports and conducting very little, if any, analysis of the results. You need to dig deeper into the results if you truly want actionable information. Conducting quarterly reviews of the results can be well worth the time. A mystery shop provider with marketing research experience will help you identify micro level trends.

3. Training:
The final component of a successful customer service program is training. Aligning your training program with the results of your analysis will allow you to focus on the attitudes or behaviors that may be resulting in low customer service indexes.

By aligning these three components your service initiatives will lead to a much clearer understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement.

goalsWhen was the last time you set a goal? The life-changing kind of goal that challenges and pushes you out of your comfort zone? I’ve been thinking a lot about goals lately. Big goals. Life changing big.

It started about three weeks ago. That’s when my wife and I sat at the kitchen table and like newlyweds, planned our future.  Well, the next twelve months of it, anyway. We talked about our personal and financial goals and asked ourselves big questions: “what did we want to accomplish?” “where did we want to travel?” “how much did we want to save?” and “how were we going to pay these ridiculous university tuition prices when our four year old goes to college?”

My wife and I have set goals before.  At times we reached them. Other times we modified them, convincing ourselves that we hadn’t failed, but rather that circumstances had changed.

But this time was different. This time the goals were too big to fail. This time we needed a strategy.

So we discussed it, debated, negotiated and finally came up with fourteen goals that we feel will help us get to where we want to go personally and professionally. We also came up with a clear strategy for achieving them.

Here is our four step strategy. I know it’s going to help us reach our goals, and I believe it will help you achieve yours as well.

1) Think big AND small
Set goals that are ambitious. As well, set a few goals that are challenging but within your reach. This big and mall approach allows you to get a few small victories and helps you maintain your momentum over the duration of your time period.

2) Write them down
Plenty of research suggests that individuals who write down their goals are more likely to achieve them. In my experience, something magical happens when I see my goals on paper. They seem to instantly become attainable. As well, putting the goals in writing is like signing a contract with myself. A little voice inside my head says “OK, This is it. Failure is not an option.”

3) Share them with someone who will keep you accountable
Sharing your goals with others is a powerful way to ensure you stay on course. I don’t mean sharing it as a Facebook post. I mean verbally sharing with others. If writing them creates a contract with yourself, sharing your goals creates a contract with others. We don’t want to let them down, and so we don’t let ourselves down.

4) Post them where you can see them daily
Successful goal setting is all about accountability. Posting your goals where you can see them on a daily basis keeps you accountable. Guaranteed! I know, I posted our goals on the bedroom mirror. I look at them daily and my wife and I will sometimes review them together. Having them so visible forces us to ask ourselves daily “what did I do today that gets us one step closer to reaching our goals.” Making sure that we can answer this question positively is now part of our daily routine.

I recently came across a quote that you may have read as well: “A goal without a plan is just a dream.” The four goal setting strategies above are my plan. They are helping my wife and I reach our goals, and I believe they can help you as well,

And in case you are wondering about my goals for the next twelve months. Goal #5 is “Start a blog”. Check. One down… 13 to go!

Question: What goals have you set for yourself recently and what strategies do you have for achieving them?

Welcome to my blog!

September 28, 2012 — Leave a comment


Hello and welcome to The InnerDrive. This blog is where I will share my ideas, opinions, and general thoughts on a number of topics important to me personally and professionally. I plan to blog at least once per week and see where it goes from there. I’m about to embark on what I expect will be a fantastic experience and I hope you join me in this conversation.

The topics covered in this blog are:

  • Self development
  • Customer service
  • Leadership
  • And occasionally fatherhood.

I’m as excited to read your thoughts as I am in sharing my own ideas.