Dancing With Customers: Rodolphe Renwart And The Art Of Hospitality

What is it to be a human being?  There are many answers. I find myself attracted to the answer provided by the philosopher Martin Heidegger.  A human being is necessarily a being-in-the-world.  One of the key characteristics of human worlds is the presence / absence of others. So one can say that a human being is a being-in-the-world-with-others.

What kind of withness characterises the ‘with-others’ for folks living-working in western cities?  I invite you to relive your ordinary day and come up with your own answer.  Is it primarily detachedness, aloneness even in the midst of others, even indifference?  Are not most of the encounters transactional where the feel and form of the encounter would be the same even if the parties to the encounter were replaced by other parties – even automatons lacking soul?  Which is to say that the primary character of withness of ‘with-others’ is one of a certain coolness as opposed to the warmth of genuine human relating and human connection.

Some folks, maybe even the majority, are ok with such withness. Some folks even prefer it as it leaves them unencumbered by the demands of other people. Not me.  I miss genuine human relating and connectedness. I miss smiling, talking, sharing, laughing with my fellow human beings.  I especially miss this when I find myself away from home like I was earlier this week.

Now allow me to introduce Rodolphe Renwart.  Here he is at work at Natural Caffe on Boulevard Ansbach in the centre of Brussels.

Rodolphe_Renwart

 

This week I walked into Natural Caffe and came across Rodolphe.  On a cloud dull morning I was looking for someplace quiet, clean, and spacious to get a breakfast. I got exactly that. But that is not the reason that I returned the following day for breakfast.

Why did I return given that there are so many cafes and restaurants in central Brussels and I like to try out new places?  I returned because Rodolphe provided that something that few provide.  Rodolphe did more than take my order or serve me.  He made me feel welcome. He brought me an English newspapers without being asked. He took up my invitation to enter into a conversation. He shared some things about himself like is German ancestory and the way he has been treated when travelling in England.  He invited me to return the following morning. And when I did return he recognised me and looked pleased to see me.

It occurs to me that Rodolphe is at home, in his very being, in that cafe ‘dancing’ with customers.  Notice, that dancing implies a certain kind of intimacy that is absent in merely serving customers.  Put differently, at the cafe, the quality of Rudolphe’s kind of withness with customers is the differentiator.

Why am I sharing this story with you?  Because I notice the addiction with data, information systems, and business process redesign. And a neglect of the human  – people, conversation, helpfulness, sharing, caring, smiling, laughing…. In a world saturated with the withness of indifference, detachedness, and superficial politeness, some of us yearn for folks like Rodolphe who embody the withness of genuine humanity, warmth, and connection. They leave us feeling good about ourselves and the world. They provide what technology does not provide: genuine hospitality.

I thank you for listening. Until the next time….

Customer Experience: how two staff in a wine bar left me feeling great and grateful

After a long week we find ourselves at Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport

It had been a long week, a week full of interviews, workshops, dinners, fellowship and travel from one site to another in Texas.  I found myself at the Dallas/Fort Worth international airport on a Friday afternoon with my colleague.  As there was some time before we would be boarding our flight back to the UK, we found a wine bar where we could sit, talk and drink some wine, together.

We ordered our wine and a friendly lady took our order and promptly returned with two glasses of wine.  Immersed in conversation, with the glass almost full, I found that I knocked over the glass.  The wine glass shattered and the wine poured onto the table and made its way to the floor.  Suddenly, I found myself self-conscious and embarrassed.

An angel shows up and leaves me relaxed and at ease, soaked in humanity

One of the employees noticed our plight and came over to clean up the mess.  She occurred as relaxed and helpful as if she had witnessed this kind of event many times.  As she was cleaning up she talked to me and assured me that there was nothing wrong, that I had done nothing wrong, that the glasses shattered easily.  And I was not the first person to knock over a wine glass.

I found myself delighted and grateful with this fellow human being.  And I told her that.  Specifically, I thanked her for recognising my embarrassment and putting her humanity into the encounter and thus easing my tension and leaving me relaxed.  She got my thanks and I got she got my thanks – we both smiled at each other.

With our humanity in action and rapport established we found ourselves sharing our personal selves.  She told me about her concerns/troubles like one of her parents being affected by Alzheimer’s disease.  And what that brought with it given that she is the daughter.  I found myself  being touched  by her humanity and reciprocated by telling her about my mother and how she is slowly losing her memory….. Then the time came for us to part company – each thanking the other, each grateful for the humanity the other put into the encounter.  I know that to this day I think of that lady and wish her the very best.

Service does not get better than this

With the cleaning up done, the lady that had served us the wine came to the table and brought me another glass.     She placed it on the table, smiled, and told me that it was on the house.  Both surprise and gratitude were present for me and I found myself smiling and thanking her.

Nothing beats the human touch that touches the heart and leaves the customer feeling grateful

It occurs to me that in our data/technology/process obsessed culture we miss the importance of the people who work in the business and make the business work.  Yes, it is the people that make the business what it is. And determine how the business shows up in the experience of the customers.  Yet, customers also have a role to play.  How customers treat the staff in the business and how the staff in the business treat customers makes such a huge difference.

If you want to generate customer advocacy then ..

I say that if you want to excel in generating customer advocacy then you have to excel at generating surprise, delight and/or gratitude.  And the most effective way to do that is to have in place staff that delight in / excel at dealing with customers.  Staff who have that human touch.  My friend Richard Shapiro calls these folks ‘Welcomers’ and has written a book on it: The Welcomer Edge.

And finally

If you happen to be in the International Airport (Terminal D) then pay a visit to The Bodega Winery.  Say hi to them for me – let the staff know that they have a grateful customer who remembers their generosity, their kindness, the humanity.   Tell them I wish them the very best and hope that one day our paths will cross again.

I thank you for your listening; it is your listening that makes my speaking worthwhile; it is your listening that provides the motivational fuel that results in that which shows up here at The Customer Blog.  I wish you a great weekend.  I wish you a great week.  I wish you great living.  And I say, go out and touch a life!  And if you are in business then touch your customer’s lives – that is how you generate advocacy.

Customer Experience: a personal insight into people and organisations (part I)

Over the last four weeks or so I have touched and been touched by the ‘medical system’ in the UK – in particular my doctor’s medical practice and the NHS (national health service).  I want to share with you the key insights that opened up for me on people and organisations.

Women show up as being more caring than men

Women as a whole whether in the role of receptionist, ‘blood taker’, nurse, trainee nurse or doctor simply show up as being more caring.  In their being and in their doing they transcend the merely functional – the task.  They put their humanity into the encounter – they smile, they strike up a conversation beyond the merely functional, they reassure, they do more than is necessary.  The men, as a whole, focussed on their area of expertise and the task at hand.  They are distant.  They stand farther away (afraid to get close), they don’t smile, they are matter of fact, they focus on the task, time is clearly of the essence as they are keen to move on to the next person, the next job.     There are exceptions.  One female receptionist was particularly cold, clinical and showed up as being disconnected from even a thread of humanity. On the other hand Dr Jeremy Platt is almost always smiles and greets me warmly and takes the time that is necessary.

Insight.  If we genuinely want our organisations to ‘touch’ our customers so that we show up as caring and thus create a space for emotional bonds to show up and form then this challenge has to be addressed.  Men, as a whole, are one dimensional – functional.  Either they are emotionally illiterate – that is to say that they are not in touch with their caring emotions or the cultures/communities they are embedded in do not give them permission to express their caring emotions.  I suspect it is combination of these two factor – their is a lack of permission to show caring as this shows up as ‘soft’ and over time men lose touch with these soft emotions.

Question/Challenge.  If the Tops got to the top by being ‘macho’ and ‘functional’ then how likely is it that these people will undergo a transformation and embody the softer emotions, values and associated practices which are the key to showing up as caring?  Perhaps they will take the Steve Jobs approach – build that caring into the product.  Or they will take the Amazon approach: build that ‘caring’ tone into the design of the operations.  Yet, these approaches are not enough in services heavy industries where people (the employees) are the product, the experience and there is intimate contact between the customer and the employees.

The people on the front line can show up as ‘robotic’ and ‘inhuman’ because they perceive themselves to be powerless

I turn up at the scheduled 8am appointment for the endoscopy.  Pain is present – that is the reason that I am there, to figure out what is the cause of the pain.  The nurse ‘sells’ me on taking the right course of action – taking the sedative as it will relax me.  I agree, I tell her I am in pain and so the sedative is the right way to go.  Then she asks me who will be coming to pick me up and take me home.  I tell her that my wife cannot pick me up until 3pm and that if I am well enough to go home earlier then I plan to use my favourite taxi firm to get me home.  She responds by saying that she cannot offer me a sedative unless I have a family member to take me home and look after me for the next 24 hours – that is the hospital policy.  I say “If you are not going to give me a sedative then you are not going to give me sedative. I am ok with that.”  Except that I am not really OK with that.

Later the Consultant- the specialist who is going to do the endoscopy – comes to see me with the nurse trailing behind.  He asks me some questions, I answer.  Then he asks me why I have chosen not to have the sedative.  I tell him that I want the sedative and I have been told that I cannot have it.  And I tell him the reasoning.  He tells the nurse that he will be giving me the sedative as that is the right course of action given the pain I am in and the procedure involved.  He tells her to find me a bed.

Instantly the whole being of the nurse changes.  It is clear that ‘God’ has spoken and his command must be obeyed without question, no excuse will suffice.  She tells the doctor that she will ring around several wards and that she is confident that she can find me a bed in a specific ward.   There is no doubt in her voice, absolute confidence.  She leaves and several minutes later she comes back and tells me that she has found a bed for me.  I am amazed at the instant/profound change in this nurse.  It occurs to me that she is happy/proud at what she has accomplished; she has a big smile on her face and her tone of voice is different.

What is going on here?  For the better part of 20 minutes or so this nurse showed up as robotic – going through the motions, following the script and preaching policy, ignoring my needs and the right thing to do, even changing her advice 180 degrees.  Then the Consultant shows up, tells her what she needs to do and instantly there is a new human being in front of me: confident-resourceful-helpful as opposed to helpless and robotic.

What made the difference?  I say she was given permission from THE authority figure to bypass policy and put her knowledge, her resourcefulness, her caring into action.   I say that the Consultant showed up and instantly changed the context from which the nurse was operating from:  from be a good robot/ follow the script/procedure to here is challenge/make it happen.  Furthermore, the nurse was absolved from responsibility and blame – she was simply following orders.  Which reminds of the Miligram experiments in obedience to authority.

Insight.  When we look at poorly performing front line employees the tendency of managers, management consultants and the training industry is to assume that the fault, the deficiency, lies in the front line employees.  In short we have an automatic bias.  This reminds me of the story of the drunk looking for his lost car keys under the street lamp when he had lost them somewhere else.  The smarter place to start looking for performance issues is in the context/the environment/the ‘system’ in which the front line employees are embedded and operating from.  That means facing the reality:  in about 95% of cases ‘poor employee performance’ shows up because it is the natural, inevitable, result of the assumptions/prejudices of the Tops and the ‘system’ that they have designed, actively or passively, to cater for those assumptions/prejudices.  Let me put it bluntly, if you want to drive up performance and the customer experience then focus on the managers, the management style, the organisation design.  That is where the real leverage is for step changes in organisational performance, customer experience and customer loyalty.

And finally

I will continue to share my insight with you in the follow up post – part II will be coming soon.  If you are up for it then I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Some of you have been kind enough to enter into a conversation with me by commenting.  You will have found me wanting – I have been lax in responding to your comments.  I ask for your forgiveness, my excuse if there is one is simply that the last four weeks or so have been a struggle:  the body, my health is not showed up as being my own.


Customer Experience tale: how humanity and inhumanity shows up and the impact it makes

Whilst some of you loved my last post,  some of you found it a little too philosophical.  “Look Maz, we live in the real world.  How does what you say apply to us in the hard world of business?  OK, this post is for you.  I will share with you how humanity and inhumanity shows up in the world of the customer and the impact that it has.  Allow me to share my story with you.

I need to go and see my Dentist

Some days ago I started to experience toothache whilst eating.  I meant to do something and when the pain became painful enough I did do something. I rang my dentist only to find the line engaged so I opted for the ‘ringback’ option.  To my surprise and delight within two minutes of hanging up I was on the line to the receptionist.  We talked and she booked me in for Wednesday morning 8:45am.  At the end of this encounter I was left feeling that the Receptionist got me as a human being in pain who needed help and she played her part in helping me solve my problem.  On Wednesday morning I turned up at the Dentists.  The Receptionist greeted me warmly, told me to wait upstairs and showed me where the stairs were.  Excellent, I am now in the waiting room – all by myself.  Then I wait for around fifteen minutes for the Dentist to see me.  This waiting could have shown up in my world as a pain and it did not as I was busy on my smartphone doing email.

My “I-Thou” encounter with the dentist: my dentist oozes humanity!

Before I knew it I was with the Dentist.  He greeted me with a warm voice and smile and mentioned that it had been a while since we last met, “two and half years to be exact”. I told him my issue, he listened and said “That is the issue you came in with last time and I put a filling in there.  Let’s take a look.”

He started looking: he prodded here, he prodded there.  Then he told me that he could not see any issues with any of my fillings.  “I wonder if it is do with the fact that you have sensitive teeth?”  I replied that I did not think so.  He suggested that we do a test and see if he could recreate the pain I had been feeling on previous days.  So he blew a jet of air on the side of my gums and sure enough I felt pain but not the kind of pain I had been experiencing and that is what I told him.  His response? “OK, there might be something there that I am not seeing so let’s do some x-rays!”  So he did the x-rays.

Looking at the x-rays my Dentist showed me how there was no difference between the state of my teeth since my last visit.  He could not see any issues.  Nonetheless, I told him that I had experienced pain. Did he ignore me?  No.  He suggested that it was possible that I had a crack and that was the cause of my pain.  He went on to tell me that he could not see it and the x-rays would not show it.  So he recommended that I use the teeth on my right hand side more than I had been using them (I had been using the left side because that side was not in pain) and if there was a crack then that would show up quicker.

He gave me advice on how to brush my teeth and he gave me some toothpaste for my sensitive teeth.  Why did he show me how to brush my teeth?  Because he noticed that I had been overbrushing my teeth and he knows I have sensitive teeth.  He showed me a way to brush my teeth that would work better for me.  Why did he give me the toothpaste?  So that I could smear it on the sides of my teeth /gums so as to provide some pain relief and protection against pain.

As I was getting ready to leave he recommended that I see the Hygenist.  I noticed that I was hesitant and he looked at his records.  “I see that you don’t like visiting the Hygenist.  Why is that?  What’s the reason for that?”  So I told him that it occurred to me that all the Hygenist was doing was making my teeth look white and pretty.  And that I had little time for vanity – I simply had not been brought up that way.  I ended by saying that I was open to being persuaded if I had got things wrong.  So he told me.  He spent about five minutes explaining the benefits to me – healthy teeth and gums – of seeing the Hygenist once a year, starting there and then.  I found his education persuasive and I agreed to see the Hygenist. [ Now here is the interesting thing: during our conversation on the merits of using a Hygenist I was fully engaged in the conversation.  The Dentist did not have to use gimmicks or tempt me with prize competitions or entice me with an online game…  He simply invited me to enter into a conversation that mattered to me – my teeth, my health.  And by doing so he had my full attention and participation.]

Then it was time to leave.  I looked him in the face, smiled, shook his hand and thanked him for being great with me.  He smiled and wished me well.  “What a great experience?  He really cares about me!  He listened to my concerns.  He did more than that he educated me in an amazingly friendly, non-condescending way!”

I encounter that helpful Receptionist again!

I take the paperwork (that my dentist has given me) and head downstairs to the Receptionist.  She smiles and asks me if I want to book in an appointment with the Hygenistt. “Yes”, I say.  “When?” she asks. “Can you do this Friday?”.  “No, the Hygenist does not work on Fridays.”  I look disappointed and say “Oh”.  The Receptionist, seeing and hearing my disappointment, says “How about today, right now?  She is free for the next half an hours!”  I agree and she shows me into ‘Hygenist’s office’.

Hygenist: an excellent model of inhumanity, of the “I-It” encounter

The Hygenist does not greet me.  She does not smile.  She does not use my name.  I notice that she has not noticed me – not as a human being, not as the dentist did only some 20 minutes ago. She tells me to sit down in the chair.  I sit, she reclines the chair and gets busy working on my teeth.  Have you been to see a Hygenist?  If you have you will know that it is not the most pleasant of experiences.  She prods here, she scrapes there, she pokes here, there and everywhere.  In the process of poking around, vigorously, she pokes one of my upper teeth on the right hand side.  EXCRUCIATING PAIN.  EXCRUCIATING PAIN.  When she stops doing that momentarily I raise my hand, move my head forward and empty the contents of my mouth – mainly blood into the little sink next to me.

I tell her. I say “That was incredibly painful.  It is the most pain I have experienced for a long time!”.  And move back into the position.   “I am sorry.  That can happen sometimes.  Do you want me to stop? Or I can carry on?  I promise to be careful so that I do not touch that tooth there again.  What do you think?”  That is what I am expecting her to say.  That is what I would say in that situation and mean it.  And that is what my dentist would say and meant it.  What does the Hygenist do?

In my world it occurs that she has ignored me! How? Why? Because she does not say a word.  She gets straight back to work and guess where she goes back to work?  The exact spot that had caused me that pain!  So there I am again: excruciating pain – though less than the last time.   I am captive, I cannot do anything whilst she is doing what she is doing.  And shortly after that it is all finished.  I am grateful that my torment is finished.  There must be some humanity there I say to myself.  So I say “It must take great skill to be able to do what you do in such a small space!”  In a flat, cold, voice she says “Yes, it does.”  The way that is said I tell myself “This person is not a people person.  She is not interested in conversation.  She is here to do a job and that is it.  Everything else is simply ‘waste’.  Clearly she has been to the six sigma school of business: do the job as effectively and efficiently as possible and when that is finished get on to the next job.” I am convinced that in her world I do not show up as human being.  I bet that to her I occur as a product that has to be processed.  This is not that much of a surprise – one of my best friends is a doctor and I remember him telling me (a long time ago)  that after a little while human beings simply show up as ‘pieces of meat’ to be processed and sent on their way.

I thank the Hygenist.  She does not look at me.  She does not smile.  She does not wish me a good day. She does not offer any advice.  I walk out of that room and make a promise to myself.  I will NEVER go and see that Hygenist again – no matter what!

How does inhumanity show up?  Inhumanity is simply indifference to the humanity of our fellow human beings.  We get on with the ‘task at hand’ and completely ignore the person in front of us. We do not acknowledge, we do not validate, we simply ignore the other as a human being.  The leave us experiencing that they have been experienced as objects – not as fellow travellers on the path called life.

What does it take to put humanity into the game?  When I mentioned the excruciating pain a humane person would have:

a) acknowledged that I was in pain – “So when I was cleaning your top teeth you felt a tremendous amount of pain.  On a scale of 1 – 10 how painful is it?”;

b) validated me – “10! That is amazingly painful.  I don’t know how you managed to keep so calm, so still.  If I was in that much pain I would not have been able to do what you just did.”;

c) worked with me to address my pain – “I have only a little bit more work to do on your teeth.  Are you up for that today?  I promise, I will stay clear of that tooth that is causing you so much pain?”

d) left me feeling as one human being interacting with a fellow human being who gets me and who cares about me. 

Final words

You might me tempted to dismiss the example that I have shared with you here – you might label it “extreme” or an “exception”.  If you are serious about cultivating that personal emotional connection with your customers then I counsel you to recognise that inhumanity (the “I-It” mode of encounter) is pervasive – it is the default condition.  And you have an opportunity to differentiate yourself simply by moving from “inhumanity” as the default to “humanity” as the default.  As I said in my previous post, Zappos and Rackspace have become extremely successful businesses in competitive industries simply by the amount of humanity (genuine caring for customers as fellow human beings) that they put into the game every day.