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    Entries in service (4)


    Taking care of customers by taking care of employees, (give them all a raise edition)

    ETERNAL TRUTH: Better engaged employees are happier, more productive, are retained at higher rates than less-engaged folks, and provide higher levels of customer service, all things being equal.

    So if you want/need/desire improved customer service, all you have to do is find a way to improve employee engagement levels of the folks meant to be providing the customer service. 

    Easy, right?

    Except when it's not. I have written plenty here, (and so have lots of other folks), about how despite tossing money and effort at improving engagement for at least 20 years, that in aggregate engagement levels are about what they have always been since it became a member of the 'something we measure' club.

    But what if there was another, simpler way to improve customer service that didn't involve 'engagement' at all, but did impact those employees that are on the front-line working with and helping customers every day? You'd be interested in something like that, wouldn't you? What if it was as simple as cutting a check? Well, make that several thousand checks.

    Check this excerpt from a recent Fortune piece - McDonald's Says its Wage Hikes Are Improving Service:

    The hamburger chain in April announced it would raise the average hourly rate for workers at the U.S. restaurants it owns to $9.90 from $9.01 starting July 2015, with average wages climbing above $10 per hour by the end of 2016. The company also said it would allow those employees to earn up to five days of paid vacation every year following one year of employment.

    McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook, who took the helm in 2015, has since moved swiftly, closing hundreds of weak stores, bringing back all-day breakfast, and simplifying the chain’s menu, reducing bottlenecks in serving customers quickly. But improving the customer experience hinges on workers being on board with all these changes, hence the raises.

    “It has done what we expected it to—90 day turnover rates are down, our survey scores are up—we have more staff in restaurants,” McDonald’s U.S. president Mike Andres told analysts at a UBS conference on Wednesday. “So far we’re pleased with it—it was a significant investment obviously but it’s working well.”

    The move reportedly created friction with franchisees, who hire and pay their own workers, as they felt pressure to match the wage hikes. Still, there are early signs it is paying off: In October, McDonald’s reported its first quarter of comparable sales gains in two years. The company built on that growth with a huge 5.7% increase in the following quarter.

    Wow, is it that simple? A general 10% across the board wage increase and sales and customer service both rise enough to offset the costs of the increased wages? That's it? Man, what took them so long to sort that out?

    In truth, there are a few things to tease out of this experiment, and it could be that some of the non-wage increase changes have been at least somewhat responsible for this recent turnaround in McDonald's fortunes. But as CEO Easterbrook rightly observes, in order for these operational and strategic changes to really work, the employees had to be on board, and raising wages was the simplest, (and possibly best) way to accomplish that.

    There are probably a few special circumstances that make this strategy more effective than it would be in other places, even small reductions in turnover are likely to have a big impact on service levels in the fast food business, and even with a high number of employees, giving blanket increases of 10% does not represent massive spending. So get turnover down just a little, keep a few more longer-tenured staff on each shift, and boom - the drive thru lines move a little bit faster and the customers are happy.

    Sometimes, maybe most of the time, we tend to over think what it takes to keep people (reasonably) happy, and give them a situation where they feel good about the work they are doing, and the customers that they are serving. 

    You might not be able (nor necessarily should you), give everyone on the staff a 10% bump. But there probably is some other, simple, reachable change you can make that would serve the same purpose. It's out there. You can find it.

    Just don't call it "employee engagement" and you will be fine.  


    Notes from the road #12 - On helping each other

    On the road this morning on the way down to the Brandon Hall Group's Excellence 2015 Conference where I am pleased and honored to be a participant tomorrow in a panel discussion on HR, data, and analytics. Hopefully, I will also talk about basketball, craps, and Lucha Libre, (which are all relevant to the HR and analytics discussions, trust me on that).

    Today's Notes from the Road dispatch involves one of the most simple, yet increasingly infuriating elements of modern business travel - the airplane boarding process. As most regular or even occasional travelers know, boarding planes these days is some kind of hellish mix of mosh pit, confusion, violations of personal space norms, and utter despair. Boarding planes today is a test of patience for sure. People crowd the gate area the second that they get a sniff that boarding is about to begin, the folks in first class (me too sometimes), jockey for space in the 'preferred' line, and once on the plane, lots of fighting for limited overhead storage space for bags ensues. The advent of checked bag fees has made the 'I don't care how large it is, I am not checking this bag' mentality even more prevalent.

    So that was the context in which I boarded the 6:00AM flight today. Boarding just in front of me was an older lady, probably about 70 or so, who was clearly struggling with her bags as she made her way down the jetway and onto the plane. She had taken advantage of the call for pre-boarding to take a little extra time to board. About half way down the jetway it became clear to me that she was going to have some issues actually hoisting her bags up to the overhead. By the time I caught up with her, we were just inside the plane and I offered to assist her (since I am of course a consummate gentleman), in carrying her bags on to the plane and then up to the overhead bin. And so I did, and once making sure she was situated and seated, I headed back up the aisle (to my seat in Row 1, thanks Delta), and sat down.

    Later, once the flight had commenced, and the flight attendant in First Class came round to take drink orders she stopped to thank me for helping the aforementioned older lady with her bags. I thought it kind of odd that the flight attendant even noticed, and just stammered 'Thank you'. It was not really that big of a deal. The older lady clearly needed some help. I am (thankfully), still able to lift relatively heavy objects off of the ground, so I helped her. This is not that big a deal.

    But the fact that the flight attendant made a point to mention it to me once we took off, at least 30 minutes later, kind of struck me as a little unusual. Like it must have been unusual to her, like maybe she doesn't see people helping each other all that often.

    Which, if true, is kind of sad. 

    It is hard out there. Especially for older folks, or people who don't travel all that often, or for people that are just a little nervous about the entire experience of airports and planes and TSA and everything else.

    It is pretty hard out there sometimes. And it is pretty easy to help out. And to be kind.

    Happy Wednesday.


    Notes from the road #11 - We're not going anywhere edition

    Submitting this dispatch to the Notes from the Road series from another Delta Sky Club at a ridiculously early hour. 

    Short story - Weather/air traffic control/mandated pilot rest period (or some combination of, we never really got a full and/or definitive story), caused cancellation of a bucketful of late night flights heading out of NYC last evening, including the one your humble correspondent had boarded and had been patiently waiting on for about 3 hours before No Joy was called. Nothing like a planeful of angry passengers who, at about 1:00 AM, get informed that they are not, in fact, going to make it home at all after such a long delay, and had better scramble to make alternate arrangements or prepare to sleep in the airport.

    Good times.

    Me being the smart and savvy frequent traveler that I am, managed to book the best available alternative flights home, (and I do mean flights, I will enjoy flying about 300 miles past where I actually live, in order to get on another flight to come back). I then pulled some Elite Status traveler magic (or so I thought) to get a room at the closest hotel to the airport, figuring I could get about 4 hours of decent sleep before coming back in the morning. Only when I arrived at said hotel did I find that no, there were no rooms at all available, and the reservation the nice man on the Elite phone line made for me was actually for TONIGHT and not last night (which had already turned into today, as it was about 1:45 AM when this was all happening).

    So now who was the savvy traveler?

    Not me. Now I was looking at only about 3.5 hours or so I had to kill before heading back to the airport, sitting in a deserted hotel lobby that had no room for me, (except on the couch in the lobby where I hunkered in to ride it out), and praying that I didn't wake up and freak out from not knowing where the heck I was.

    Sure, things happen in business travel, these kind of bad nights are almost unavoidable from time to time. But there were a few customer service/training and employee empowerment kinds of things I noticed that if handled better, could have at least taken some of the sting out of the problems.

    1. I'll will try to find out is better than I don't know, which is better than the wrong answer

    I had to try and figure out, since I was switching to a different NYC departure airport, if I needed to get my checked bags back from the original plane. I think I asked 4 different airline personnel questions about how to make that happen. I basically received three 'I don't knows' and one essentially incorrect answer. Only when I pursued the line of actions that proved to be incorrect did I find out what was really happening. No one offered to actually try and help, (except for the guy who simply gave me the wrong information).

    2. Generalists are more valuable than specialists most of the time

    I think the primary reason why it was so hard to find out what the process should be for recovering my bags lies in the fact that every person I encountered had one primary role and if that role did not directly involve the baggage handling procedures, they were simply not able to offer any advice. I may have well been asking them to break down the quadratic equation or recite some sonnets. Customers can't be asked to maneuver their own way around your org structure and hierarchy when they need assistance. Having even one or two people that could reliably address a wider range of customer issues would have made everyone's lives easier last night.

    3. Different parts of the organization need to communicate more effectively

    The hotel debacle last night was pretty simple when you analyzed the cause - the agent on the phone did not back date my reservation by a day, and since it was already past midnight local time, the reservation was made for the wrong day. A bad error on his part, but sort of understandable at least. But the bigger issue was when I arrived at the hotel and the counter agent told me about the reservation problem, he added that 'This happens all the time when flights get cancelled late at night. Phone reservations keeps sending people here with a reservation for the following night'. Sure enough, two more folks after me turned up in the ensuing hour or so in the same situation. So obviously the moral here - if this happens all of the time, why can't someone at the hotel near the airport talk to someone at phone reservations to build in some kind of process to safeguard against it happening in the future? Ticking off your best customers because two parts of your organization don't know how to communicate is simply not acceptable.

    Ok, that is it - rant off for the day. Going to try and get on another plane. Hopefully this one will go a little farther than the end of the tarmac and back.

    Happy traveling.


    Notes From the Road #6 - Accountability in the Air

    The scene was the start of the cross-country Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta - San Francisco. As the last few passengers were getting settled, the head flight attendant commenced her normally familiar and standard set of pre-flight announcements. You know these standard flight safety announcements, you tune them out just like I do - I mean what person alive is actually not familiar with how a seat belt is fastened?

    But on this flight - the announcements were different and distinctive. No, not for being all that clever or funny, like sometimes are found on Southwest Air flights, but for being more real, personal, and accountable that most. 

    Before launching into the speech about the faster seat belt light and turning off cell phones, the flight attendant said something along the lines of this:

    'I know that you many of you may find air travel frustrating or stressful or too expensive. I know what people sometimes write or say about flying on our airline. I understand that feeling sometimes myself. But I want to let you know that it is my personal responsibility to make this flight an enjoyable one for you, and to take some of that stress and frustration away. So if and when you need something, you let me know, and I will take care of it.'

    What I loved about the speech, apart from the sincerity from which it was delivered, (you kind of had to be there to get that sense), was that the flight attendant talked in first person, using 'I' and 'me' in her statements, rather than the softer and more general 'we' or 'us'. She was not suggesting that the other flight attendants on the flight did not share her desire to make the flight a successful and enjoyable one, but rather she was taking personal ownership and accountability for results. It is a small thing, but I thought it stood out, and to me it was pretty refreshing.

    And as the 5-hour flight passed, from what I observed she backed up that statement with her performance. Cheerful, attentive, professional all the way. I think demonstrating some of the best leadership I've seen in action in a long time. 

    Recognize the issues, take ownership, have a plan, be personally responsible, and then follow through.

    Very cool and a definitley helped make a Sunday night cross-country flight much better.

    Have a Great Weekend!