Tag Archives: customer service

the noble art of saying nothing new

Everything has already been said.

That’s how it seems sometimes. And there are some people who are just stuck explaining. It’s not terrible creative, they think, to explain what a policy means. It’s simple (and nothing to celebrate) to explain why a rule exists or how to apply someone else’s story to your life.

The self-denial is not at all admirable, however.

Think for a moment of an interpreter, standing between heads of state, helping each understand the other, bringing a sense of peace and understanding. A critical role, right? Think of a translator, taking a peace treaty written in one language and painstakingly finding the right word, the right nuance so it says the same thing in another language. Incredibly sensitive, right?

Though we usually think of translators and interpreters as moving between languages, sometimes we find them in business and church and organizations moving between the language of formal structure and the language of real people, the language of board and the language of client, the language of “Thus saith” and “you know how when you feel ___ and you want to ___? We’re helping with that.”)

When you are an organizational translator, a customer service interpreter, you are removing confusion and adding humanity to the rules and stories of an organization.

Looking at the confusion on someone’s face, a translator starts with a simple question: “Would you like to know what that means?” Then the translator connects what the person knows with what the organization or text says.

Not everyone can be an interpreter or a translator. Good translators have lived in both worlds. They are able to find equivalent words, yes, but they are also able to find equivalent stories, similar experiences, metaphors than illuminate the intent as well as the technical meaning. They aren’t trying to change anything about the rules or the policy or the guidelines. They are trying to remove the misunderstanding.

(However, a good translator may go back to the policymaker and say “this isn’t at all clear to anyone, even me.”)

Recently it worked for a wise saying I shared with a friend: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” became “Think flattery before the knife in the ribs vs an elbow in the ribs from your wife.”

Occasionally it’s “Jane, can I talk for a minute? Jim, here’s what she means.”

There will always be people who speak the language of stuffy, of legal, of technical, of formal, of structure (and if you think that everyone understands what you say or that “this is self-evident” or “that’s obvious”, you are one of these people.) There will always be people who don’t understand. And there will always be opportunities for interpreters to help the latter stay alive long enough to connect to the organizations they need.

Including your business. Including your church. Including you.


The appearance of available

hope and catcherAll she wanted was a picture with a baseball player.

All he said was, “I don’t have time for that right now.”

He was sitting in the bullpen. He’s the catcher that helps the relief pitchers warm up. For the first six innings, he sat on the end of the bench. Except when he walked to the dugout and then walked back.

He was anything but busy. He had nothing but time.

Except for a 15-second picture with an 18-year-old.

I know that you are going to say, “but he has to concentrate, he has to stay in the game. If he looked like he was having fun, posing with the fans, flirting with the girls, it would hurt his chances to move up from Class A baseball.”

I agree completely.

But notice that he is sitting right next to the fence where Hope is standing. This new ballpark in Fort Wayne has been created so that fans feel close to the field. It’s not even feeling close to the field; it IS close to the field. The bottom row of seats is at the same level as the playing field. You can touch the players.

You feel like you are part of the game. There is the illusion of closeness, of transparency, of immediacy. During the game, however, it is only an illusion. A physical wall is replaced with a distance.

It would be better, in many ways, to have more of a barrier. It would protect the players from expectations of accessibility.

I guess as a dad, I should be glad. And we did, after all, get our picture.

But I also learned something about seeming to be accessible if I’m really not. Assumed openness disappoints customers…and readers.

I wanted six

Hope and I were running errands. We needed lunch. We needed stuff. Both were at Wal-Mart.

I know. Big chain.

But they also had a McDonalds.

I know. Big chain.

We ordered. Hope went to get whatever else we needed. I waited.

And waited.

It was a busy time, it’s a McDonalds-ette and for some reason lots of people were ordering little pieces of chicken.

I waited patiently, taking pictures with my phone, watching the Amish family and the other-than-Amish families. The order-taker and the manager both kept me updated on the progress of my little pieces of chicken.

Finally, our order was ready. “I gave you ten,” the manager said. I had ordered six little pieces. “And here. Sorry about the wait,” as she handed me a card for a free burger or cheeseburger or chicken or fries.

The correct thing for me to do is to point out how unhealthy the food is and that more of unhealthy isn’t a helpful thing. But you and I both know that we end up going to both of these places because they are quick and affordable and on the way. And the manager, without any complaint on my part, without any squeaky wheelness, saw my wait and wanted to apologize by, in essence, giving me my meal free (the coupon and the 4 extra chicken pieces).

I never thought I’d find proof of a Seth Godin piece in a McDonald’s in a Wal-Mart outside Fort Wayne, Indiana. And yet today he wrote about listening to the loud people and, as I just read his piece, I realized that the manager in this store was behaving as if she had read his post. Of course, he hadn’t written it yet, and I didn’t read it completely until between this paragraph and the previous one.

He talks about listening for need and meeting it. Don’t spend so much time listening to the complainers, don’t spend time assuming that everyone is the same, he says, listen. And meet needs. And find the people who are most likely to spread the story.

I know. This sounds like a post that is about customer service and misunderstood organizations and linking to a really cool writer. And all that may be true.

But I’m also thinking that there was this guy who came representing the biggest, most misunderstood, faceless, pervasive family-owned business of all. And he spent a life-time, a short life-time, listening. Knowing that everyone may have the same core needs but is struggling with very different pains and broken places and challenges, he started with those broken places. Blindness. Insecurity. Abuse. Irrelevance. He didn’t care much about the complainers, about the self-righteous critics.

And he’s ended up with some people who are absolutely committed to his brand. Stupidly so, at times, and he’s had to talk to them about their customer service and…at times…calling some of them to the home office because they were messing everything up. And, for reasons that make no sense to some of us, taking some of the wrong people and leaving some of the wrong people.

But sometimes, when you least expect it, one of those people committed to the brand does something caring, listens, just like the boss.

And you think.

Rockin Robin.

Last Friday night, Nancy and I went out for supper. Hope was coming back from a choir trip, Andrew was working at the soccer field and so we decided that something good and simple was appropriate.

So we went to Red Robin.

If you’ve looked at my flickr account, you’ve see pictures of our family celebrating birthdays at Red Robin. They have a birthday club, where you get a free burger. Because Nancy and I can often split one, that ends up being a pretty cheep cheap family meal.

This time, we decided to just go, no coupons.

What happened next is probably best taken from the message I sent on their customer comment site:

Kyle was great. He was the host and then turned into our server. However. my wife’s schroom burger, ordered without the bun, also came without the shrooms. (They also seemed to be canned and too briefly sauteed.) Kyle took it back and got the shrooms. My banzai burger, ordered with no pink, came with plenty of pink. We got kyle (who was carrying supplies to the front) who took it back to get a new burger. He checked with us to see if it had arrived (after my wife had finished her burger) It hadn’t arrived so Kyle went back and brought it out. He did great, and was very gracious. However, whatever was happening that was both keeping him that busy AND messing up both of our orders isn’t great. We end up there maybe half a dozen times a year (including birthdays). You usually do great. I wanted to let you know about this one. thanks.

As you can tell, I’m not a very good complainer. Too nice. However, the messed up burgers were making the server look bad.

I sent the message Friday night and got back the automated reply.

Monday morning I got an email back.

Hi Jon,

Thank you for stopping by our website and taking time to comment. We appreciate your feedback. At Red Robin we try to exceed every guest’s expectations by providing a great dining experience and unfortunately, it looks like we very much let you down.

We will do whatever it takes to make your experience right and we will learn from our mistakes… Your email has been forwarded to the General Manager and the Regional Operations Director for this Red Robin restaurant and they should be contacting you shortly.

Then Nancy got a call from the manager who was very apologetic.

On Tuesday morning, we received by overnight delivery, a gift card for more than twice our order and an apology and the general manager’s business card and cell phone number. The letter said to ask for the manager when we came in.

On Tuesday night we went back, but there was no way we were going to announce that we were the complainers.

Our order was taken…and read back to us.

There was an error on one of the meals, noticed and immediately fixed.

And the giftcard covered everything, including the tip.

Living out what they believe

On their website, Red Robin has a clear statement of who they want to be:

About Us
Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Inc., was founded on four core values: Honor, Integrity, Continually Seeking Knowledge and Having Fun. These core values are the foundation for every Red Robin decision from creating its mouthwatering gourmet burgers to hiring energetic Team Members and even to deciding new restaurant locations. They also are the foundation for how the company treats its Team Members, Guests and communities. Red Robin’s core values can be found embroidered on the sleeve of every Team Member’s uniform, which serves as a constant reminder of what makes the company unique and special.
The only way those values can have any significance is if they come off the page–or off the sleeve–and end up translating to service. In our experience, here’s how they do that:
1. Free burgers.
2. They sing for birthdays–but they are very happy to NOT have to sing, to just celebrate quietly.
3. They consistently relate well as servers, not overly bubbly, but friendly.
4. When they have this kind of critical comment, they respond in an over-the-top way, by management. Email, phone call, letter, gift card–that for me is amazing.
5. The interface between corporate and local works. I commented to corporate and got a local response, two miles from our house.
I can handle mistakes–when the process of fixing them works. So thanks for the dinner, Red Robin. We may come back for full price.