Variation is top of mind for me this week. I know I have discussed variation in other articles, but it just always flaws me the level to which it consistently shows up everywhere. More importantly, the variation that shows up within the same organisation.
I am home from a 3-week working trip in the US. I have flown 14 different flights, stayed in 7 different hotels, used rental cars and obviously been to numerous restaurants during this time.
It’s important to note that the US airlines I flew with were all affiliated with Qantas. I’m part of the One World Group, I get my points and status points and other benefits whilst travelling the US.
The competition in the airline industry in the US is huge. They all make big promises to attract customers and retain them.
As an example, one airline that really stood out was Alaska Airlines. Because of my Qantas status I’m normally at the front of the queue waiting to board the plane so it’s a great place which to observe. Alaska, invite people to bring their bags on the plane if it’s a full flight and not charge a fee. You can bring your bag up and check it in, and there’s no cost. Wow, right! This is one of their promises to attract and retain customers.
Alaska Airlines also guarantee your luggage will be with you in 20 minutes from landing. Wow, right! This is one of their promises to attract and retain customers.
The one thing I noticed in the US even with luggage, is that priority luggage comes out first. In Australia, it is supposed to but it doesn’t seem to.
In America, this system is clearly very good. I never had to wait for my luggage, by the time I got to the pick-up area my bags were either coming along the conveyor belt or had already come out and were waiting in a nice pile to be collected. Nice touch.
I was watching a female team member, and she was fantastic with the way she engaged people, she demonstrated good eye contact, a big smile, greeted each person with lots of energy and farewelled each person at the end of the conversation. She had a constant line of about 7 or 8 people.
And then there’s a young male team member, standing next to her trying to get people over to his side of the counter and here’s the difference, he demonstrated no eye contact, no smile, and his energy was flat as a tack. He just didn’t seem to be making any real effort to be engaging or engage. They were like chalk and cheese.
How successful do you think he was at bringing people to his side of the counter? What line would you choose to be in? Only a few customers went over to him.
The female would have been in her 50s and the male would have been in his 20s. How come there’s such a difference?
I guess the airline must leave it up to each employee to choose how to serve their customers.
Even some of the rental cars I booked, I had to get a bus from the airport to the rental center. I was really impressed with the guys driving the buses. They were really engaging, talking to us and letting us know about the area, sharing some funny stories along the way. They engaged us during the trip and looked like they enjoyed their job.
Then I was in Orlando checking into a hotel, and it was a similar experience. There was a lady serving on the reception desk and she was bright and cheerful, she acknowledged I was waiting and demonstrated a lot of vitality whilst serving the person a head of me. I was happy to wait for her to serve me. Then a young guy joined her at the desk and again, he demonstrated absolutely no personality. No eye contact, no greeting, no smile, no energy!
Whilst he checked me in, I had to ask questions to ensure he had found my booking and to understand certain information that would normally be communicated about the hotel on check in.
The next morning, I went and spoke to the same lady on the desk and told her my feedback. She replied by telling me “we get quite a bit of feedback along those lines, about him”. What’s happening!
They are receiving feedback, and it would seem no one is taking action. Why isn’t he being taken aside and upskilled in their customer service standards and in so doing, clarifying what is expected.
I went to another place in New Orleans arriving late in the evening and a young guy came out to the reception desk from the back as soon as he saw me. He greeted me with energy and a big smile and said we’ve got everything organised for you, Mr. Cherry.
As with my Orlando example above, I find in a lot of hotels, while they’re finding your booking and focused on the computer, they don’t say anything to you.
And here’s the difference, this guy was talking to me the whole time. Providing me with the information I needed to know like – I’ll just let you know that the doors lock so all those ladies that are chasing after you, they won’t bother you again. It was a fun conversation. Right. He demonstrated lots of vitality.
I’ll always give feedback on both sides, negative and positive. So, I made sure I spoke with the manager and told him that guy was one of the best I have ever experienced. In fact, I’d love to employ him.
You can look at so many different examples where the customer experience is so dependent on who serves you which shows a lack of training and customer service standards.
I went to Universal Studios and Harry Potter world, both are amazing. Every employee was really helpful. In fact, I would say 95% were on point. They seem to have the same approach as Disneyland. They invest a lot in training. There’s a lot of focus on the behaviours. Even if something went wrong, they talk to you, they let you know you might have to wait for a while for a ride etc. They manage people’s expectations.
This trip I found the fast food type places were just fine. Nothing stood out. None were amazing. The restaurants were a little bit better. But I wasn’t overly impressed with the level of service and the level of engagement. In fact, a cheaper organisation like Denny’s, I found to be consistently good compared to some other ones that I went to that would charge twice the price.
I would always argue that where there is consistency, it is under pinned by a good system. Whereas inconsistency tends to be about a poor system or that nobody is held to that standard by the leaders or are the leaders modelling those behaviours themselves??
At the beginning of my workshops I show this diagram and ask the participants which of these three words (Skillset, Mindset and Structure or system has the most impact on improvement, I do mention they are all important but one has the greatest impact.
Most people vote for mindset. All are important when you think about improving your business, but structure is the most important.
Even if you’ve got a great mindset, if the system you follow is poor, you’ll be brought down to that level. If your system is effective people do a good job because they’re following the system. Imagine a restaurant without a system to follow, even though the staff are friendly and have great attitudes but they don’t know where to take the meals or meals are cooked at different times it would be chaotic.
My point is, most of my experiences during this trip were driven by individuals attitudes. So many times, there were a number of staff serving you in exactly the same place. But the difference in the level of service was huge. It impacted your overall experience.
It comes back to the importance of coaching and feedback and consequence.
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