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Sunday, February 01, 2009
Volume 14 | # 329
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The customer's perception is your reality. » Kate Zabriskie

Texting Your Nerves

I was reminded a couple of times this week about how the words and actions of employees can absolutely trump whatever marketing message a company may be attempting to convey.

Earlier this week, my wife visited our local mega-mart. Being the wonderful steward of the environment that she is, she brought with her the reusable cloth bags that this chain promotes. Yes, they promote these reusable bags and sell them near the cash registers.

When my wife began loading her purchases onto the belt, she handed her reusable bags to the non-smiling cashier. Again, these are the very ones that this chain promotes for customers to use. The cashier let out an audible groan. My wife ignored it. Then, while she was scanning items, the cashier turned to another employee and said, “I hate these bags. They’re a pain.” (I am always amazed at how some folks can hold discussions oblivious to the fact that the nuisances called customers can hear them.)

The cashier then stuck items into the reusable bags so sloppily that she eventually needed plastic bags as well. Needless to say, my wife is rethinking whether or not using those bags is worth the scorn from cashiers. The displays of those bags now remind her more of that negative interaction than the benefit of using them. Actions speak louder and last longer than any of our marketing messages.

The other example was less obnoxious but more common. While in an airport today, I walked over to get a coffee at a certain national chain’s kiosk. The young lady who took my order was very polite and friendly. The other woman helping her was quite busy “texting” on her cell phone.

As the first young lady called out my order, the thumb-typist never looked-up. She nodded and finished pecking her obviously super-important message. As I waited for my order, she stopped twice to read a text. If I had her number, I would have sent her one reading, “Yoo Hoo!”

Sure, her interruptions only cost me about 10 extra seconds of waiting. But the impression that filling my order ranked somewhere below personal text messages left a far longer-lasting impression.

I’ll cede that it’s not always easy being “on stage.” You’ll see hundreds of customers today. But they will only see you once. Will they get the feeling that they are your top priority when they do?

Whistling a More Positive Tune

Last weekend I found myself in one of the more high-pressure public situations I’ve experienced in quite some time. Thankfully, I was able to muster enough communicating and coaching skills to survive the event relatively unscathed.
No, I wasn’t giving a presentation to bankers. I was asked to referee a couple of 10-and-11-year-old-kid basketball games.

To be honest, I had really tried to get out of it. I was pretty mentally tired. I have been coaching my younger son’s team this year and had just finished a game.

The best way I can describe this task is to ask someone to rent the movie, “Over the Hedge” and pay attention to the character of Hammy the Squirrel. Now imagine having 8 of those on a team and trying to explain things like double-dribbling, blocking-out, and not screaming your teammate’s name 17 times at the top of your lungs because “you’re open.” (Sorry, I digress. But it’s therapeutic.)

But, being the nice (gullible) guy that I am, I found myself wearing a striped shirt and a whistle around my neck. It was also no accident that these were the games with no volunteers to referee.

These games featured some of the more reckless and out-of-control kids, who conveniently often come with some of the more out-of-control coaches and parents. Every whistle against one of the little darlings is likely to be met by a puzzled look from the kid and grumbling or all out jeers from the benches and stands. Hey, fun time for me!

After a few minutes, I realized that part of the problem was that these players (and even parents) often didn’t understand what they were doing wrong. Also, they only ever heard “negative” things from the guys in striped shirts. The kids didn’t particularly like us, and the parents seemingly liked us even less.

I immediately began giving the kids calm, detailed descriptions of why I had blown the whistle. I also began to make a point to yell out, “That’s the way!” and “Nice job!” when they later did something better. The kids actually began improving, and the parents began yelling encouraging things as well.

It helped remind me that we are all kids at heart. When all we hear is what we do wrong, we begin tuning the message out. And we respond better to suggested corrections when positive feedback comes along with them. Could your team use a little more positive reinforcement today?

I learn teaching from teachers. I learn golfing from golfers. I learn winning from coaches. » Harvey Penick

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