Customer Experience

Are you ready to blow your customers away in 2019?

My wife and I welcomed in the New Year sitting in the same restaurant, in the same seats, at very the same table where I proposed on New Year’s Eve six years ago. We have a standing reservation at Boca Restaurant every NYE at table 77 however our loyalty to Boca goes well beyond the tradition of celebrating our engagement.

A few years ago, my wife made a reservation at Boca, for my birthday celebration. In the end, she ended up having to cancel the reservation. Several months later, my wife made a different reservation at Boca, this time for a dinner with our family. My wife didn’t do or say anything special when she made this second reservation — it was just your normal, run-of-the-mill phone call.

The four of us sat down for dinner that night and ordered our drinks. They were delivered to our table, along with a plate of fried pickles. Note that Boca is a high-end restaurant; they do not serve fried pickles, and we didn’t order them. Nonetheless, there was a plate of my all-time favorite comfort food, sitting in the center of the table, and prepared just how I like them (cut into chips, not spears — this is a critical detail!).

Excited, I look over at my wife. She looked very confused. It was at this point that our server looked over at me and said, “I understand you love fried pickles. These are compliments of the chef.” As the server walked away, I leaned over to my wife and thanked her for putting a bug in the chef’s ear.

“I didn’t!” she responded. “When I made your birthday reservation, I mentioned that fried pickles were your favorite, but that was months ago.”

Through this conversation, we realized that Boca obviously has some type of reservation system that allows them to make notes about customer preferences. Not only do they have this system, but they make a point of actively referring to and using it, as the delicious plate of fried pickles sitting on our table proved. We were blown away.

Blow Your Customers Away

Had the pickle chip incident happened on my birthday as my wife had originally orchestrated, I still would have been impressed with Boca. However, the fact that it happened months later at the least expected time made it a truly memorable moment. I will forever be loyal to Boca. It also bears mentioning that my undying loyalty came at virtually no cost to the restaurant. It is also something they never could have accomplished through any amount of marketing or advertising dollars. Intrigued, I started researching the Cincinnati-based Boca Restaurant Group, including interviewing the CEO and chef, David Falk. All told, Boca has over 650 employees spread throughout restaurants in four different states and continues to grow.

Based on my own experience, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Boca has a company-wide mandate to “blow people away,” or, as they refer to it, BPA. As Falk puts it:

“Our highest ethos in the organization is BPA. It was all predicated on the idea that I was scared to death when I opened my first restaurant because I didn’t have anyone to blame for my failure but myself. I just kept saying over and over again, ‘We have to blow people away.’ Soon, BPA became a noun and a verb. ‘We have a BPA on table 77’ or ‘We BPAed that table.’”

Team members at Boca actively and regularly look for opportunities to blow their customers away. As I can attest to, it works!

As Falk shared with me, over the years, Boca has even codified the process of blowing away. It consists of three primary steps:

1. Aggressive listening, which has to be done in a covert way

2. Creative and organic ideas, which have to be genuine and spur-of-the-moment

3. Flawless execution

The idea here is to keep the BPA system as open and flexible as possible. Falk explains, “It nullifies the power if you try to make it too regimented. Genuine hospitality and generosity are really hard to find.”

While we are looking at BPA through the lens of the customer in this chapter, it doesn’t have to stop there. Falk explains, “My favorite BPAs are when we BPA our staff or our staff BPA each other.”

I am personally deeply inspired by this BPA policy, but it’s not something most establishments actually do. Obviously, BPA results in an incredible and memorable customer experience. However, for it to be more than just words on a page, Boca has to do a very important thing: they have to empower their employees. To truly blow people away involves more than just polite, route service. It requires going the extra mile. If team members have to check in with their manager each and every time they want to go that extra mile, it would amount to nothing more than good intentions much of the time.

By empowering your employees, you open the floodgates for unparalleled customer experience. You are essentially handing over the keys to each of your team members, allowing them to create the kind of personal connections and lasting memories that foster a deep-seated loyalty to your brand.

-The above is an edited excerpt from “Thanks for Coming in Today — Creating a Culture Where Employees Thrive & Customer Service is Alive” by Charles Ryan Minton. Available on Amazon.

Want to offer a great experience experience? Start with your employees!

The following is an edited excerpt from the book Thanks for Coming in Today: Creating a Culture Where Employees Thrive & Customer Service is Alive by Charles Ryan Minton.

Your team members’ experience of working for your company begins from the very first point of contact they have as an applicant. Immediately, their opinions are being formed about what it means to work for you.

This is why onboarding is so important. In fact, a recent article in HR Daily Advisor points to the fact that 91 percent of employees remain with a company for at least a year, and 69 percent remain for at least three years if a company has a well-structured onboarding program. Talk about a huge payoff!

The Hiring Process

Very few companies put the attention they should into the experience of applying for a position. Everyone should, for two very important reasons. The first is that from the moment a candidate logs on to your website or picks up an application, they are absorbing cues about your company and what service means to you.

Secondly, applicants are also either customers or potential customers. Even if they don’t ultimately get the job, your business may very well have an ongoing relationship with them in some capacity. Just like any other customer or employee relationship, you want to nurture your relationship with applicants.

Finding The Right People

In a perfect world, your dream candidate would just show up on your doorstep. Unfortunately, finding a great customer-experience-oriented employee can require some sorting. Let’s look at some key points of the hiring process that will help you find just the person you’re looking for.

Often, the process of curating candidate options is done at the discretion of the human resources department, but I’ve found it’s helpful to give HR an idea of what I’m looking for. I have come to believe that most people like serving others for the simple reason that it feels good to make other people happy. However, certain people have developed more of a skillset around service than others. Some people are great at coding, others are great at painting a picture, and some are born to serve. Those are the people you want to identify and bring onboard.

If you notice some common key attributes among your preexisting star employees, be sure to let HR (or whoever comes into first contact with potential employees) know what those are so that they can screen for them both in the job posting and during initial conversations with candidates.

Over the years, I have learned that candidates with a positive attitude, high energy level, and sense of presence do very well in customer service. I also look out for people who have a history of volunteer work, are involved in their community, and are excited to talk about their family. All of this provides promising clues about how you can expect that person to interact with others.

Job Posting

I’ve noticed that there often seems to be a disconnect between the person writing a job description and general brand messaging. Remember that not everyone who sees your job posting will apply. Some of the readers will be (or already are) customers. Job postings should be an extension of who and what your brand is. After all, you want to find employees who align with your brand philosophy and what it stands for.

While you may very well not be the person writing the job posting, you will generally have the chance to give it a once-over. Aside from checking for consistent messaging, also notice if the job description needs to be spiced up. Remember that your potential candidates are looking at other job postings as well. You want yours to stand out so that you can attract the highest-caliber employees. By all means, do not stretch the truth and make the job or your company sound like something they’re not. That’s a tactic that will only backfire in the long run. Do remember, though, that good people want to work good jobs for good companies. Make sure your job and your company sound like a situation that outstanding employees will want to be a part of.

All of this might sound a little bit overboard. Trust me, it’s not.

Today, the biggest challenge companies face is finding and retaining great talent. That’s right. It’s not creating more product or finding more customers; it’s finding great people to be on your team.

According to a 2017 report from the National Restaurant Association, 37 percent of its members said labor recruitment was their top challenge, up from just 15 percent two years earlier. Just like you are selling customers on the fact that your company is the best, you’re also selling employees. A little extra effort is well worth your time and energy in the long run.

You won’t always have control over all of the communication that goes on between your company and a candidate, especially during the early parts of the hiring process. But remember, every bit of communication from the first touch point on conveys a message about how your company treats others and the kind of service it provides.

When it’s appropriate, I might approach the person who is either overseeing or having those initial conversations with candidates and say something along the lines of “Hey, can you please walk me through the applicant process?” If I find out the person leading up the charge is someone I haven’t worked with before, I might offer a very gentle — and extremely respectful — reminder that they will be providing the applicant with the first glimpse of our company’s service.

Likewise, you want whoever has first contact with potential employees to be screening them immediately as well. How do they interact on the phone? What about emails? All of these are important clues that give you an idea of the type of customer service you can expect from a potential employee.

Interviewing

I feel it’s important that the highest-ranking person in any customer service organization personally meets with candidates before they are hired as part of the final interview. This is an integral part of building your customer service experience to the greatest degree — ensuring that every person on your team is a good fit and of the right mindset for the service environment you are creating.

Since employees have already been prescreened before I interview them, our meeting generally consists of two primary questions that tend to let me know everything I need to know. For example, if I managed a spa, the first question I would ask is “What do you look for when you walk into a spa?” This same question can be applied to any industry. While this is somewhat of a softball question since most candidates will reply that they want it to be clean or expect good service, you’re beginning to instill a very important mindset — that you want your employees to put themselves in the customers’ shoes.

The second question — which I consider to be crucial — is “If you could do any job in the world, why would you choose to serve people?” The answer that I love most to hear is something along the lines of “Because it makes my day to see someone smile,” “I like to make people feel good,” or “I want to impact someone else’s day in a positive way.” This is a good clue that the person sitting across from me is wired to thrive in the type of environment I want to create. When I hear people give this type of answer, I know they were born with a service hospitality mindset and will thrive in this position.

A few times, an otherwise perfectly qualified and experienced candidate has gotten to the point of speaking with me and provided an answer that’s more along the lines of “I’m looking for a part-time job” or any other number of responses that have nothing to do with service or interaction. No matter how much I need to fill the position or what kind of previous job experience they bring to the table, I always pass. This type of response is a clear red flag that they’re not going to have the skin in the game my team needs in order to meet the level of service we want to provide.

There are a few other cues I look for in a potential employee that give me a good idea of how they’ll interact with guests. When they’re waiting for our interview in the lobby, I notice their body language. Are they smiling at people as they walk by? As we speak, I take note of whether or not they are engaging in our conversation. Are they polite? Do they make eye contact? Do I sense genuine excitement? All of these things are important and will translate well with customers.

It’s easy to get caught up in hiring based on experience and background. The truth is you can teach anyone the rote tasks they need to perform. You can’t teach an attitude or instill in someone the desire to want to help others. It’s these intangible qualities that matter most. Over the years, I’ve hired plenty of people with literally no work experience. What they do have is a great attitude and a genuine excitement about serving people. Not once have I regretted one of those hires.

Many years ago, I interviewed a woman for a front-desk position whose personality was downright infectious. She had no experience whatsoever in the hotel business. I passed her right through, but she failed a mandatory personality assessment that the hotel required all potential employees to take. It was company policy that you had to pass this test in order to work for the hotel. Still, this woman had crushed our interview, and I knew in my gut she would be incredible in the position. I had to have her on my team.

I bent the rules and had her retake the test after some coaching. This was a big no-no, but I didn’t care. I needed to get her where she had to be so that I could hire her. Fifteen years later, she is now a highly successful hotel industry sales manager.

The most important action I took in that situation was to listen to my gut. If your gut tells you someone isn’t right for your team despite the fact that you can’t pinpoint why that might be, they’re not your person. End of story.

One final caution when it comes to hiring: in the service industry, it can be easy to settle for someone who is “good enough” because your team is overtaxed and you need to fill a position. In the moment, it might seem like any warm body will do. I can tell you that every single time I’ve fallen into that trap, it has backfired.

After years of experience, I have learned the hard way that I would much rather suffer through leaving a position open for as long as it takes than putting the wrong person in a role. Logistically, it is difficult to exit people. It is also difficult to coach someone who is not the right fit. You end up spinning your wheels and, in the end, spend a lot more time, energy, and money working with someone who has been cast in the wrong position than you would have if you had just waited it out to hire the right person.

Create A Welcoming Environment

When it comes to onboarding, I think Dustin DiChiara, who owns a Chick-fil-A, has got it right. In the 2018 American Consumer Satisfaction Index, Chick-fil-A received a rating of 87 out of 100 for the third year in a row in the limited service category. Its closest competitor, Panera, was a distant second, with a rating of 81. Clearly, Chick-fil-A is a leader in customer satisfaction.

DiChiara has every new employee spend their first day at the restaurant’s administrative office rather than the storefront, where it is much more distracting and difficult to focus. While it may not always be possible to utilize multiple locations, it is possible to incorporate the sort of intentional process DiChiara exemplifies in terms of making time for new employees throughout the onboarding process.

Even if you are onboarding a team member at the same location where business occurs, you can make sure the two of you are away from the front lines, where it’s less chaotic. You want to get yourself into a situation that allows you to give your full attention to the new hire.

This is especially important because I’ve noticed this special sort of Murphy’s Law: Onboarding days always tend to be the craziest days. This makes it easy to lose focus on the important task at hand in favor of putting out fires and dealing with day-to-day business. Also, if it does get crazy, it can be intimidating to employees. You want to ease them into the fray and allow them to connect with you before hitting the front lines.

Making this sort of space for employees — even for a relatively small portion of time — communicates a lot. It sets the tone for the sort of experience an employee can expect working with you. You are also serving as the representative of your brand. On a subconscious level, you’re emulating the sort of attention and experience that your brand wants to create and that you expect the employee to create for customers.

I’m sure that you’ve had plenty of first days at work, so you can relate to the fact that starting a new job can be nerve-racking. It’s even more so when you feel like you’re in the way or don’t belong. If an employee starts off feeling cast away, it can be a difficult feeling to reverse. Having an organized process helps by greatly reducing the chances a new hire will feel as though they are lost in the shuffle or floating out there on their own.

You can minimize an employee’s first-day nerves by creating a structured approach. Before they even arrive, let them know what to expect — when and where you’ll be meeting, where to park, what to wear, who to ask for, and any other details they’ll need to make their arrival as smooth as possible. This might sound like minutiae, but have you ever been in a panic when you’ve arrived at an important meeting only to find a confusing parking situation? It can be enough to throw your entire day off, particularly if you end up running late or are harried because of it.

Another big part of making each employee feel welcome, important, and acknowledged is having everything they’ll need ready to roll by the time they arrive. This includes tiny details like having their email account (if they have one) set up and ready to log in to, name tags printed and waiting for them, and a folder with their paperwork all set. Just like details matter to customers (which we’ll discuss in depth in Chapter 7), they also matter to team members.

Finally, make sure that either you or a direct manager are there to greet the new hire on their first day. I’m always shocked when a department manager schedules a new person on their day off. This leaves so much room for error, and there’s no amount of planning that will keep the new hire from falling through the cracks to some degree. No one else will care about the newest member of your department as much as you do.

The person meeting the new hire should have a firm understanding of the importance of onboarding, how it’s structured, and your expectations. Furthermore, I always like to assign a buddy to the new person. The buddy system doesn’t have to involve anything more than ensuring the new hire has someone to eat lunch with that first day, but it still allows them to begin to build their network and start feeling like part of the team. It can be difficult to be an outsider, at a loss for where to even begin making connections. Again, put yourself in their position — being a new hire can feel a lot like the first day of school all over again. It’s intimidating. Do everything in your power to make it less so.

Your onboarding experience is one of the first glimpses team members will have of what it’s like to work at your company. It’s also their first look at what service means for your brand. Just like they will be serving the customer, you are serving the employee. Things that might seem small or even inconsequential — like being disheveled or disorganized — matter. They convey very real cues that can potentially set a tone you don’t want to communicate.

Most importantly, you’re showing new employees they matter. Right off the bat, you’re telling them their presence is appreciated and important. They are a priority and the most important item on your agenda during that time you are spending together. Much like you create an experience for customers, you also create an ongoing experience for employees. Onboarding is a particularly critical touch point within that experience.

In Summary

It sounds almost too simple, but the bottom line is that you can’t offer a great customer experience without great employees on hand to provide it. Of course, you want employees who execute and are responsible. However, even the most technically proficient and efficient employee won’t add what your team needs if they are not service-oriented.

By keeping this at the top of your mind throughout the interview and onboarding process, you will find the people you need to create a stellar customer service environment, and you will make them feel invested in your team from day one. Employees who feel appreciated create customers who feel appreciated.

To keep reading, download Thanks for Coming in Today: Creating a Culture Where Employees Thrive & Customer Service is Alive by Charles Ryan Minton.

Charles Ryan Minton talks about his book "Thanks for Coming in Today" on the Author Hour podcast

Listen here or read transcript below.

Charles Ryan Minton, author of Thanks for Coming in Today, is a customer service expert, a keynote speaker, and the president of CRM Hospitality and Consulting. He’s also an award winning hotel general manager, that was what he did before this and he worked with some of the world’s biggest brands, helping them shape their customer experiences. Companies like Jaguar, Land Rover, Hilton Hotels, Marriott, Ultimate Jet Charters, Delaware North, you name it, he helped them improve their customer experiences.

In this episode, he’s going to be laying out all his wisdom that he’s accumulated in his career, learning about all-star customer service and how to create an environment in a culture where your team can thrive. If you feel like there is a real opportunity at your company, to improve employee engagement and to be able to elevate the customer experience, this is the episode for you. He’s going to give you immediate low cost solutions that can transform your culture into a customer centric enterprise.

 

Get Charles’ new book Thanks for Coming In Today on Amazon.

 

Charles Ryan Minton: At a very young age, I knew I was born with hospitality in my blood, so after college, I gravitated towards the hotel industry and my first hotel job was at a Marriott and I was the front desk manager and I had a young man named Jason who works for me who is a hospitality student at a local university, he was aspiring to be a hotel general manager.

Jason was just the kind of guy who as an employee, you just wanted to just replicate him and put him in every department because he was so incredible on so many levels but the biggest thing was his attitude and his energy. It was really funny because Jason actually was very much a country boy with a little bit of a twang in his voice, but when he put that suit on, you would never know, except for his giant belt buckle that I allowed him to wear.

Jason would come in to his shift with this energy that was unlike anything I had seen before. He would seek me out, and when he got to work and he would come up to me and just give me this really like strong handshake, look me right in the eye and say, “Thanks for coming in today, Ryan.”

It was funny because I was his manager. Really, I should be thanking him, but he was thanking me. In a funny way, it was really endearing and it made me feel like I mattered.

I watched Jason do that with everyone, with his coworkers, with the guests…

I kind of became a little bit of a mentor to Jason. I took him with me to another hotel as he moved up the ladder.

One night I got a really difficult call from his fiancé that he had been killed in a car accident.

It was devastating, and he had so much in front of him. He was a young guy and was about to graduate with his degree. I found myself as kind of a way of honoring him as I started to say, “Thanks for coming in today,” to my staff, to guests, and before I knew it, it was just becoming this part of me.

As I progressed through my career and I would go to a new location or take over something a new project, I’d say, “Thanks for coming in today,” to a new employee.

A lot of times I got this kind of, “Of course I’m here,” you know? “You’re paying me to be here.” They thought I was being sarcastic, but I would explain “No, really, thank you. Because you have a choice to come to work. If you don’t, it impacts everything, it impacts your coworkers, it impacts your managers, it impacts the guests, and it ultimately impacts the bottom line.”

As funny as it sounds, I run into ex-employees and they say to me, “I miss you saying that.”

I realized there was something to that. That’s obviously the title of the book, and what I’m really focusing in on is the importance of showing sincere appreciate to those that work for you. The reality is that it’s critical because if employees feel valued, they will turn around and make customers feel valued.

To me, that’s really where it hits home for me and why I titled the book, Thanks for Coming in Today.

Appreciation Shapes Culture

Charlie Hoehn: When it comes to shaping a culture, is it really just as simple as saying thanks to your staff? Thanks for coming in today?

Charles Ryan Minton: When you strip it all down, I do believe that certainly there’s other things that have to happen, but as a leader of a department or a manager of a business, a lot of times you don’t have control over the budget. You don’t get to decide how much your employees make or how much you can spend on doing a particular sign of appreciation for your team, et cetera.

What you can control is your ability to create a positive working environment. That’s so critical. I’ve always said that when I was a GM of a hotel or any leader that has someone or a team of people reporting to them, your ultimate responsibility is to create an environment where people genuinely want to come to work.

That’s the first step. If you can do that, then other things can start falling into place. But if you have people that don’t want to come to work, you’re already starting off on the wrong foot.

Charlie Hoehn: What are some simple or even surprising ways that companies can actually start to create that environment?

Charles Ryan Minton: In the book, I talk a lot about how the employee experience really should be right in alignment with the customer experience. All the things that you hear companies and brands talk about that they’re doing with their customers. Very easily translate to the employee.

For instance, Marriott likes to surprise and delight their guests. Well, surprise and delight your employees. What I mean by that is, look for opportunities just like you would with a customer where you’re listening and you’re looking for cues on how to make an impact on a customer experience.

Look for cues and opportunities with your employees. So for instance, if you overhear that an employee is moving into a new home in a couple of weeks, make a mental note of that. Put it on your calendar, step away, because that’s a big deal in someone’s life. That’s a big deal in anyone’s life.

When that time comes around, you send a house warming gift to their home from the entire business. Can you imagine the impact that would make on someone that their place of employment thought to do that?

I talk a lot about in the book of just as you would try to find opportunities to impress the customer, you’ve got to try to find opportunities to impress your employees.

Stories from Thanks for Coming In Today

Charlie Hoehn: Share some stories from the book—what makes it unique?

Charles Ryan Minton: I talk a lot in the book about the importance of being present as a leader and as a manager. It’s very simple to say, “Roll up your sleeves and get dirty,” but I think that a lot of companies say that or a lot of managers say that, but you have to be intentional about it.

Especially know because there are so many distractions when you are managing a business, whether it’s a restaurant or retail location or hotel or anywhere. Especially with technology. If you’re not intentional about being in the frontline then a lot of times it will not happen. As a general manager, I would get to the hotel by seven AM and I would literally be in the lobby from seven to nine AM.

I wouldn’t even go to my office. In the hotel, we refer to that as lobby duty or marble duty or lobby lizard. Not all GMs do that because it can feel like there’s so many things that I need to be doing right now. But it is so crucial to be present, because there’s a lot of things that happen organically just by you being there.

I dive into the book about how being there, especially at the beginning of a shift, can set the tone for the day. It instills trust to your employees that you’re going to be there if they need some help. It gives you a sense of confidence about how the day is going to go.

Make time to work in every department, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

One of the things that I always found really entrusting about being a GM is that when the sky was falling or all hell was breaking loose and something was happening, maybe two tour buses just showed up and they’re all trying to check in at the same time. You get the call that it’s going crazy, we need help.

I would pick up my fire hose and just run down the hall and want to go help, and then when I would get there, say “hey, how can I help,” it was, “we’re good.” There’s just something about showing up that was so key and I know that that just goes a long way in fostering an environment where your employees feel like that you’re part of it that they’re a part of it and that they can trust that you’re going to help them whenever they need it.

Crossing Departments

Charlie Hoehn: I’m curious what other lessons you learned from testing out work in multiple departments.

Charles Ryan Minton: Yeah, I mean, one of the things that I really caught on early on was when things were just going crazy or something unexpected happen. There are departments where I didn’t know necessarily how to do exactly the task within the department, and I learned very quickly that you had to be okay with that.

I remember specifically the first time this really dawned on me was, as a young manager, I was running a hotel at night, an airport hotel. The airport called and said “Hey, we just had a whole bunch of canceled flights, we’re sending you a hundred people.” It was almost closing time in the restaurant.

Needless to say, these folks were coming to us already frustrated, they weren’t getting to their destination, and they were hungry. They had been in an airport all day, they did not have any food, and we had one restaurant. The shuttle vans start bringing them over and they’re just you know, crushing the restaurant.

Charlie Hoehn: How did you feel in that moment? I mean, were you panicked or had you seen this before?

Charles Ryan Minton: As a young manager, seeing it for the first time, I was panicked. My immediate response was to go in the kitchen and try to help, so I threw on an apron and jumped on the back line and was grabbing tickets and just absolutely made it a hundred times worse.

Because these guys, they had a rhythm, they had a system. I’m not a cook, but I felt like, “Oh my gosh, I’m the manager on duty, I have to help this.”

I ended up doing so much damage.

It got to the point where finally, the guys were like, “You need to go, you need to get off the line” and in that moment, I was very frustrated. I felt like they should want my help. I felt like I could help wherever I want and could jump in.

I realized, I can’t help if I don’t know exactly what to do. I have to be okay with not knowing exactly what to do. There’s things in every situation like that one, where you can help and not be the expert in that particular area.

I can help with the wait staff and help them clean tables or get on the other side of the line and get trays of food ready to go to go out to the dining room, or there’s a giant pile of dishes that were piling.

As my career progressed and I learned that and I would respond differently obviously in those situations when the kitchen did get slammed, I would go in and help in the dining room or help on the line, putting up plates rather than getting back there, trying to flip burgers or prepare a steak perfectly.

There’s just something about the morale that changes, there’s something about the team that just really embraces seeing the leader come in and say hey, I’m here with you, we got this.

Creating a Culture of Success

Charlie Hoehn: Do you have any stories, part on of your book is about creating that culture of success. You talked about like first impressions matter, setting the bar, lead, don’t manage. Treat your employees like customers, are there any other stories you want to share from this section of the book?

Charles Ryan Minton: One of the things that I really think is so important is understanding immense responsibility you have, especially in a service industry of potentially being someone’s first boss. I hate that word boss, I really try to stay away from it, but a lot of people relate to it.

In a service industry, there’s a lot of people that’s their first job. You are the first manager that they may ever have and so, you know, I think my first manager is the reason why I feel this way, you know, Brian Perkins was my first general manager.

He was amazing, he was just the best—to this day, the best leader I’ve ever had. So at a very early age, he modeled for me, what a great leader looks like and a lot of ways, that’s why I am the way I am today because of him.

In the service industry, you have to understand like you have a big responsibility. You’re modeling for people potentially what a boss looks like for the rest of their career, and you know, I always say you think about your first job, you always remember your first boss. It can be a really good memory or a really bad memory.

You know, I think that that’s one thing that sometimes you have to pause and remember, “Wow, I have a pretty cool opportunity here, I could really impact someone and their career.”

Customer Experience Strategies

Charlie Hoehn: Now, let’s transition to part two of the book. This is about winning customer experience strategies. Tell me about empowering your people, how do you go about doing this?

Charles Ryan Minton: It’s easy to say you should empower your staff. I think a lot of people say that. Then, you’re on the flip side here, well, up to. They get to up to $500 they can do this. Or Ritz Carlton I believe says an employee can do whatever it takes to take care of a guest up to $2,000. That’s incredible.

Ritz Carlton absolutely is the model for customer service in my mind, but that is one area where I take a little bit of issue. By saying that it is $2,000, you are saying, “Okay that is where we draw the line.”

I think that empowerment really means that you trust your folks to the front lines to do whatever it takes to take care of that customer, and you have to support that. One of the things that comes to mind is I have a new employee at one of the hotels that I managed.

We had set up the expectation, “Whatever you need to do, you have to take care of the customer. We don’t want the customer leaving here upset.”

So a customer checked in, it was late and she checked them in. She did great, and then the customer went down the hallway, which in this particular hotel the elevators were a mile away. So this would happen occasionally, so the guest gets to the room and then five minutes later they’re back in the front desk.

And they are just upset because the key didn’t work. I mean how many times have we experienced that, right? We go to a hotel and the key doesn’t work.

I think it is such a good example because this is where you have to understand that every guest is different. Every customer is different, because when that happens depending on how your day went as a guest or what is going on, that may not be a very big deal or may be a very big deal and so this particular instance.

I sit off to the side. I wanted her to do her thing. She was very apologetic and she showed empathy and all the things that she should do.

And then she said, “I’m sorry this happened. I am going to take care of your stay”—and he was there for an entire weekend.

Charlie Hoehn: When you say take care of your stay she just waved all of that?

Charles Ryan Minton: Yeah, we’re comping your stay.

Charlie Hoehn: For messing up the key?

Charles Ryan Minton: Right, exactly. I had observed the situation. He was blown away when she said that, you know? So now here’s an opportunity, do I beat her up because she gave away the weekend and then potentially she’s never want to do anything for a guest again, or do I just use this as an opportunity to coach?

So that is what I did. I mean I absolutely applauded her for taking care of the guest and what she felt like she needed to do in that moment, but helped her understand that maybe in the future a free breakfast would have been fine.

The thing about this is I’ve personally interacted with guests where giving them the entire weekend because their key didn’t work would have been absolutely the right thing to do.

There are certain hotels that are black and white, and I talk about that in the book. I remember walking into a hotel that I took over in the back office and there was a huge chart on the wall. It was like a grid, and it had if the guest is upset that the internet wasn’t working then you give them a breakfast coupon and if the light bulb is out in the room, you get 25 points…

I immediately ripped it off the wall because if you start having prescribed responses you are taking away from the authenticity of the interaction with the guest.

So I can’t stress it enough when you are empowering the team. I carry this a lot when I am working with new customers. They are going to give away the house or we’re going to go broke because we are giving everything away.

I can confidently tell you and I tell them that never happens. I never experienced it—and the times that they do have to give away something, it’s so much better in that moment to do it in there than potentially the backend. Stress, financial issues, impacts of social media negative reviews, all of those things you can have.

I literally would argue with this point in where we’re at today that the value of a positive or negative social media review far outweighs any marketing dollars that you are going to spend.

Charlie Hoehn: I am sure you’ve seen those types of moves actually result in those types of reviews.

Charles Ryan Minton: I always say you have to celebrate when a customer complains, and I know that sounds weird but I get excited. I get excited if I get called to interact with a really upset customer because it is such a huge opportunity to turn that person around.

A lot of times, they can literally become your most loyal customer if you handle it properly.

Charlie Hoehn: I totally agree. I was just going to say that, I have noticed that the angrier the person is the further the pendulum can swing back the other way to the opposite end of the spectrum of totally delighted overjoyed blown away like the more volatile their emotional state the more of an opportunity it is.

Charles Ryan Minton: Yeah, it is huge.

Charlie Hoehn: It goes the other way too. If somebody is exuberant and overjoyed, you can turn them into a hater pretty quickly by messing things up.

Charles Ryan Minton: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean that’s the flip side. I think there is a study, a Stanford study that said for every five positive experiences someone has all it takes it one to completely erase them and then you need five more to get it back.

Aggressive Hospitality

Charlie Hoehn: You have two chapters in this section of the book with interesting titles. The first one is everything speaks and the second one is aggressive hospitality, which one do you want to cover and tell a story about?

Charles Ryan Minton: Yeah, let’s talk about aggressive hospitality because a lot of people when I say that phrase there they don’t really understand what I mean by that.

It goes back to my first general manager who I mentioned earlier, Brian. He was like a bull in a china shop in the lobby with guests. I mean he is just high energy everywhere and he modelled for me just what being aggressive with your hospitality was. There was no one that was going to come within his space that he wasn’t going to interact with and help and ask, “How can I help you? How are you doing?”

So when I talk about aggressive hospitality, I talk about how you have to be over the top, and there is a lot of people that do service well.

But if you want to differentiate yourself from your competitors, you have to be above average.

The way you do that is being aggressive.

One of my favorite stories, there’s a restaurant group here in town that my wife and I are extremely loyal to, and it is because of an interaction we had. My wife made reservations for my birthday at this restaurant. It’s called Boca, and something came up where she had to cancel it and we didn’t end up going to our reservation.

So fast forward several months, we go to the restaurant for a different occasion, and I think we were with her sister and brother in law. No special occasion, just dinner right? And we order our drinks, out comes the drinks and this beautiful plate of fried pickle chips and fried pickle chips are my favorite all time comfort food. I just love fried pickles and important to know here it has to be chips not spears, because spears is too much pickle.

I probably should say this in the beginning but Boca is the nicest restaurant in Cincinnati. They don’t serve fried pickles. This is not a pub.

So I looked at my wife all excited like, “What did you do?” and she looks at me and she’s like, “I didn’t do anything” and so I looked at the server and she says, “We just knew you like fried pickles.”

So of course I have to find out how this happened.

My wife didn’t even really recall, but when she had made my reservation for my birthday she mentioned that I really like fried pickles like months ago, and they made a note of it. They have our system obviously, just like a lot of places do. They made a note under our profile or whatever and did it.

If they would have brought out the fried pickles for my birthday, I still would have been blown away, but the fact that it was months later, I was extremely blown away. To the point where I was like, “All right, I have to know more about how this happened, how this worked” and so I actually met with the chef. I actually interviewed him for the book.

This restaurant group literally has a program in place called BPA, and it stands for “blow people away,” and they look for opportunities like what they did with us to blow people away because what that does is it creates a story that now I am telling you.

I have told hundreds of others. That is such a great example of what aggressive hospitality is and another thing I talk about in the book a lot is the whole book really is a lot of things you can do to impact your employee experience and your customer experience really doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.

That probably didn’t cost them anything. I’m sure they already had some pickles in the kitchen, they threw some flour on it, and they fried them up.

That was dollars if anything, and that made all the difference in our experience.

So I think that is a key point in understanding that it is easy to get overwhelmed if you are trying to shift your culture, that it is going to break the bank. No, it is actually the opposite.

There’s so many things that you can do, and I talk a lot about it in the book, that really doesn’t cost anything.

Success with Thanks for Coming In Today

Charlie Hoehn: What are you most proud of in seeing the execution of some of these principles? Does anything really come to mind that sticks out?

Charles Ryan Minton: I think about the hotels that I have gone into and try to shift the culture and have shifted the culture with literally all the things that I lay out in the book and I think the thing I am most proud of is just watching that shift.

The last hotel that I managed was the Marriott in Cincinnati, and when I came into that hotel, the hotel was doing okay but it was really near the bottom system wide in Marriott for service, and it wasn’t because they were giving bad service.

It was that and a lot of businesses deal with this where their surveys are sent to the guest or customer after they leave and it is a one to 10 kind of scale. Well in Marriott if you get an eight or less on a survey from a guest, it’s a zero.

Charlie Hoehn: That is a rough net promoter scale.

Charles Ryan Minton: At this particular hotel, we were just getting a lot of eights. So it wasn’t like we were given bad service and so on the flip side of that our employee engagement scores were actually the lowest in our company and so I just started to make very slow and deliberate steps that like I said, I outline a lot of it in the book.

Over the two years, I watched as we shifted from being one of the lowest ranked Marriott’s to being the top 10 of North America out of over 360 Marriotts.

And I watch us go to the top of the list in terms of our employee engagement and all of the things that we as a team implemented really did not cost anything. There weren’t resources that we when we got there were extra.

We already have everything at our disposal.

Charlie Hoehn: Why is it that more hotels, more businesses are not implementing these things? We all know the cost of employee disengagement. It is massive.

Charles Ryan Minton: That is the million dollar question, and I think there is a lot of reasons why, but I think the biggest one is one of those cliché things. It starts at the top. Whether it is the GM or the owner of the business who doesn’t embrace everything that we are talking about and doesn’t model it and doesn’t live it every day because it is a discipline. You have to come in aggressive on this every day, every minute, every interaction.

For some people, they get tired. They don’t want to do it. They just don’t for whatever reason. Their heart isn’t in it. so I think that is why you don’t see a lot. Then the other is you have to make sure you have the right people in place. You have to hire people that genuinely want to provide good service and care for people and that’s a lot of times the first step is you have to evaluate, “Okay, do I have the right players in place to do this?”

Connect with Charles Ryan Minton

Charlie Hoehn: What is the best way for listeners to get in touch with you, follow you in your journey that sort of thing?

Charles Ryan Minton: Yeah, I appreciate you asking me that. I love interacting with my followers on social media. So you can find all of my social media channels on my website, charlesryanminton.com. I am very active on LinkedIn. It is probably my most interactive social media platform, and of course you can find me just by looking, searching Charles Ryan Minton.

Charlie Hoehn: Nice and it looks like you do some speaking as well just looking at your website.

Charles Ryan Minton: Yeah, absolutely. I speak to companies all over the world that want to engage with creating and bettering their employee experience, their customer experience, leadership.

Charlie Hoehn: So you’ve got a wide array of people you have helped in the service industry.

Charles Ryan Minton: I think that is what I am very excited about. One of the things I am most excited about with this book is that if you’re in any customer facing business, I know there are parts to this book, actually all the book that will apply, it certainly rings very true for restaurants, hotels, retail, but really anyone that has a customer facing part of their business will find value in the book.

Charlie Hoehn: What is the one thing they can do from your book this week that will have a positive impact?

Charles Ryan Minton: I think you know one thing that would be very, very simple, it is almost too simple but I know that there will be or you will see a difference. Just apply the title of the book as you’re interacting with your customers and with your employees. Take the time, take a minute as you interact with folks. Maybe you don’t have to necessarily say “thanks for coming in today,” but just say, “Hey I really appreciate you being here today”.

You will see people’s eyes light up, you will see people respond. Because it is so easy to get in the grind every day of the customer service things that we have to do all the different tasks and sometimes we forget.

We need to take a minute and thank the people that are making it happen.