From Success Sorry  Service in Sixty Seconds

Here’s a short cautionary tale of the damage your employees, the ones on the front line actually serving customers, could be doing to your business through poor attitudes and behaviour.


Before I get to the story however I have a couple of questions for you.

Q: Have you ever received the kind of customer service that leaves you wondering how little the person who served you understands about customers?

A: Of course you have.

Q: Do you think they understand the negative impact their behaviour has not only on you the customer, but also the company they are employed by?

A: Not a chance.

If we’re honest poor service happens all the time. It’s as if we’ve come to accept it’s going to happen, so that when it does we just shrug our shoulders and move on.

But here’s the contradiction. Whilst you accept bad service as a fact of life when you go shopping, as employers or managers would you be happy if your team delivered the same shoddy customer experience? Of course not.

Hold onto that thought as I tell the tale of my most recent example of this, which in the scheme of things didn’t seem like much of an incident at all. In all honesty I was chuckling to myself when it happened as it was so minor, although it did leave me literally shaking my head. While it may seem that this example is a storm in a tea cup (a really small one), there are consequences for the company concerned despite the almost inconsequential nature of the incident. We’ll look at those in more detail later.

Let’s get into the tale of how one waitress went from Success to Sorry Service in Sixty Seconds.

Some time ago I found myself working London. I live 200 miles away, so to be sure that I was ready for a 9am start on Monday I’d driven down the previous evening, and after a 4.5 hour drive to get there I was damned hungry.

Not a problem. I was in London after all, there were eateries aplenty.

I wandered a short distance from the hotel and found myself gazing upon Byron Burgers just opposite the Shaftesbury Theatre. It looked good, it sold burgers, and being partial to a burger I was even more keen to eat there when I noticed in the window that they were posh burgers! They sounded good, it looked good, and in a flash I was in.

I was greeted and seated in seconds by a very friendly waitress. She was chatty, made me feel welcome, and was all smiles. I liked the place already, and liked it even more when I saw the range of burgers on offer. I was into a winner here! Smiles the Waitress was soon back for my order and I waited in anticipation with a rumbling belly. Once again Smiles the Waitress seemed to be back in no time with my food, smiling as always and super friendly. Let me tell you, that burger was good, the fries were great, even the coke tasted better than usual.

I was enjoying great service, great food, and for London great prices. I was even wondering if there were any Byron Burgers near where I live. Well, I was hoping so, they were great.

So far, so good. Success loomed large for Byron Burgers. I was all set to become an avid fan. I asked Smiles for the bill and she cheerfully said that she’d be back in just a moment. True to her word she came over with the bill, still smiling.

I decided to pay by credit card, and when she passed me the chip and pin terminal there was a message on the screen. “Would you like to include a gratuity?” or something similar. Well in all honesty the burger was awesome, and Smiles was nice enough, plus it was pretty cheap. But worthy of a tip? No. Which happens to be the button I pressed on the terminal. I handed it back to Smiles……… who suddenly wasn’t smiling any more. It was clear that from the millisecond I’d pressed no that I’d become a worthless inconvenience of no interest to her. A credit card receipt was unceremoniously tossed my way and a now not smiling Smiles stomped away from my table without so much as a by your leave. I love to read peoples body language. Hers told me that I was now considered to be something a dog may have left behind on its daily walk……

As I left I could feel the imaginary daggers flying viciously through the air and embedding themselves deep into my back.

That’s it. Like I said, not that big a deal on the face of it.

It is though. Here’s why.

1. You’ve just read my tale and my bet is that if you were ever going to be tempted to try a Byron Burger in future your mind will flick back to this blog post. Something will resonate in your head about their poor service and you’ll move onto the next restaurant. In fact just today a friend and colleague commented that since I’d told her my tale she’d noticed loads of Byron Burgers all over the place although she’d never heard of them before….. but because of my experience she’ll never go into one.

2. I would have been a real advocate for them if it hadn’t gone so wrong at the very end. No advocacy means no recommendations which means no extra clientele through me.

3. Lost revenue. Ok, just me on my own, not so much. But me, plus you, plus my friends and colleagues, multiplied by the many times we could and probably would have visited over the next few years. Now that’s a big number.

4. It’s not just me! I’m willing to bet that Smiles does that to every customer who dares to not leave a tip. How many times does she do this per day? Then consider points 1 to 3 again.

5. Reputational damage. You may be thinking it’s just one waitress in one restaurant in a chain. But as the old saying goes, it takes just one bad apple in the barrel to turn all the apples bad. It starts with something small, and once that becomes the norm then the rot sets in.

Will I ever eat in a Byron Burgers restaurant again? No. Not a chance. Never.

Is that unfair over such a small thing? Not at all. After all, I’m the customer, it’s my money, and my choice where to spend it. If you want my money you’d better give me great service or I’ll vote with my feet and go elsewhere.

The irony is that I really enjoyed the whole experience up until that last sixty seconds. I really would have raved about how amazing they were, but instead Smiles snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Or to put it another way. She turned Success into Sorry Service in Sixty Seconds.

Sadly this kind of incident happens all the time. Ask yourself, what are your employees doing that will persuade your customers to buy elsewhere in future? How are they turning success into sorry service. How are they costing you revenue, reputational damage, lost recommendations, lost profit and more?

My advice is this. Find out before it’s too late, because by the time the damage is done, it’s too late to find out.

How Fuzzy Vision could save your business.

Imagine this. There’s a new company taking your business, your customers. They’re using new technologies and strategies and tactics you’ve never seen before. It’s worrying, but hey, you were here first. After all you’ve got years, maybe decades of experience. You’ll soon put them back in their place. The important thing is that you “Do something. Do anything!”

When facing challenges the above statement is one which many of us can relate to. The question is what exactly is the “something” or “anything” that we do when faced with new problems, challenges or competitors?

For many of us it will be to try something that’s worked before. That makes sense. After all, if it’s worked before it’s bound to work this time……… won’t it? Actually that’s the trap that awaits the unwise. It’s not just individuals who fall into this trap however. Companies large and small have succumbed to it.

Let’s take a look at Kodak.

Back in the day Kodak used to be huge. At its peak Kodak employed over 145,000 people. Yet despite the fact that it had been in the photography business since 1888 it didn’t leverage its experience in the face of the advance the modern era brought in photography. Digital cameras, smart phones, memory cards and so forth. Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012. When you have a 100 + year head start in the game fail to react to those new threats that’s got to be pretty dumb. There’s a real Kodak moment for you.

Another of my favourites is Blockbuster. You remember them, that once fantastic video rental company that embraced DVD and rental by post and then kind of stopped innovating. The same Blockbusters who passed up the opportunity to buy a fledgling Netflix because it was too niche. Come on, why aren’t we watching BlockbusterFlix every night?

So doing “something” or even “anything” may just help you. But not if you fall into the trap of Active Inertia it won’t. Which is exactly what Kodak and Blockbuster did.

Active Inertia is a concept first put forwards by Donald Sull, associate professor at London Business School.

He argues that when faced with difficult challengers Managers fall back on strategies that have worked in the past.

Sull defines Active Inertia as follows “management’s tendency to respond to the most disruptive changes by accelerating activities that succeeded in the past”.

So clearly when facing challenges we have to do something. The danger is that if our “something” isn’t radically different to what we’ve done previously we can soon find ourselves stuck in a hole. As we dig deeper and deeper we find ourselves in a position where we have to try desperately to scramble back out. Only by that point we may just end up pulling the whole lot back in in ourselves and we end up buried and gone.

Of course the best way to deal with unforseen threats is through thorough and detailed planning and strategy. Which is all very well until something you could never have imagined or envisioned appears on the scene and sucker punches you.

Which is why Sull advocates that leaders should articulate a “fuzzy vision” which gives general direction future strategies without prematurely locking into a specific course of action.

That makes sense to me. Will you have a strategy? Yes. Will it give you direction? Yes! But will it leave you in a vulnerable, inflexible position in which you’ll be trapped, unable to respond? No!

The real beauty of Donald Sull’s idea is that it can work just as well for an individual as a huge multi national company.

Fuzzy vision. The best way to see the road ahead.

Thin Slicing People Is Dangerous

The Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
The Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How long does it takes you to make up your mind about a person?

Common assumptions are that we usually decide what we think of another within 90 seconds or so.

However according to Malcolm Gladwell‘s fascinating book Blink: The Power Of Thinking Without Thinking, it may actually be much quicker than this.

It seems that we actually make our decision within less than two seconds.

In evolutionary terms it makes sense that our ancestors didn’t have time to stand around pondering the dangers posed by an approaching Sabre Tooth Tiger. Using all of their previous experience and the things that they’d been taught and learnt they would thin slice the information about the approaching danger without thinking about it. Danger is coming, so run away.

Which is what we do now when we meet new people or assess new situations. We thin slice the information about them. We think without thinking.

And that’s where the danger lies. We thin slice information based on all of our assumptions, experiences, biases, assumptions and much more besides. In the process we can change things to fit our own world view and fail to see the truth in any given situation.

A surprising example of this is the use of blind auditions by orchestras. In the 1970’s women accounted for less than 5% of the musicians in an average orchestra. When blind auditions were introduced this percentage rose, and currently sits at around 25%. Why? Because sadly in the 1970’s many men felt that women simply couldn’t play as well as men. When the women auditioned, regardless of how well they played the judges existing bias would thin slice in such a way that women stood little chance of being selected. It seemed obvious to the judges at the time that they just weren’t good enough. Blind auditions stopped the judges thin slicing based on gender and hence more women now play in orchestras.

The above is an example of thin slicing where people were wrong in their judgement. But there are other times when you need to listen to what your instincts tell you.

Here’s an example from my own experience. In the past I’ve interviewed people who have come across incredibly well. They’ve said all the right things and really sold themselves to me, but for some reason there’s been a little alarm bell ringing in my head telling me not to take them on. Did I listen to the alarm? No, of course not. After all they gave a great interview, so I gave them the job……. Only to find out very quickly that my gut instincts were correct all along. Of course by then it was too late and I had months of hassle managing them until they left the business.

So what’s the answer? After all if you thin slice one way you make the right decision. But you could also make the wrong decision if you thin slice another way.

Personally I’d listen to my gut instinct first, and then really drill down into where that feeling came from. If that feeling is still there then listen to it.

Having said that we don’t always have the luxury of time to think.

If you step off the pavement into the road and catch a blur in the corner of your eye you’ll quickly step back, breathing a sigh of relief that the bus whizzing past didn’t squash you. That’s thin slicing in action, thinking without thinking.

Death Of The Sales Person – A Rant!


global sales of erythropoietin brands
global sales of erythropoietin brands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


“Timid salesmen have skinny kids. ” – Zig Ziglar

The Art Of Selling

I served my apprenticeship in sales the old fashioned way. My initial years were spent learning to sell from some truly amazing sales people who taught me everything they knew.

I also learned by getting out there and doing it. Selling insurance door to door, selling loans in an office, TV’s, mobile phones, and computers in retail, and more besides.

Later on I studied sales by reading the books of the sales greats. I became familiar with Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy and Tom Hopkins to name just a few. I soaked up the techniques that I learned and tried them out as soon as I possibly could. Some worked and some didn’t, but I gave them all a shot. I put in the hard work day after day for years.

So does that mean I think I’m the best sales person in the world? No, far from it. But what it does mean is that I truly understand the art of selling.

Many of you reading this will have been on a similar journey. Like me you understand that selling is a skill that you need to learn, practice and develop, and will have put in the time and effort to do so. We know what a great sale looks and sounds like.

Sadly this just isn’t true of many sales people today. Some wouldn’t recognise a buying signal if it slapped them in the face.

Too many of today’s sales people don’t get it, don’t try, don’t develop, or don’t care. They call themselves sales people although in reality they’re often little more than information givers.

This lack of engagement in selling leads to second rate sales people delivering a third rate service. The art of selling is being eroded to a pitiful level.

I don’t know how or when it became like this. I’m not sure if that really matters.

Because what I really want to know is this.

Where The Hell Did All The Real Sales People Go?

I’m being serious. Where are all the real sales people? The sales people of the past who used to live, eat, and sleep selling. Those who used every trick in the book to sell a product. The ones who got knocked back, dusted themselves down, and kept moving forwards, relentlessly pursuing their next sale.

When did sales people stop being a highly trained, highly skilled, highly motivated group?

When did it become OK for sales people in Car Dealerships, Retail Outlets, Door to Door Salesmen, and Telesales, to be plain average at best?

When did the rot set in that’s resulted in too many sales people not knowing or understanding the basics of selling?

You Know Things Are Bad When

Sales people think that Objections are a bad thing which indicate that their customer is not going to buy.

When they don’t know what Buying Signals are and therefore fail to grasp the opportunity they offer.

They fail to understand the part that Emotion plays in driving a customers buying decisions.

They don’t understand how Fear can stop both the customer and the salesperson proceeding with a sale.

They have no understanding of the importance of building and maintaining Rapport.

Their world crumbles when their customer wants to “Think About It” and they don’t know how to proceed.

They commit the cardinal sin of sales, and fail to even Ask For The Order.

Order Takers vs Order Makers

When did the delusion begin that just because a sales person has taken an order this qualifies them as a sales person?

Taking an order is one thing. Making  an order happen because You had the skill set to do so is another. Taking a prospect and turning them into a paying customer requires a particular set of skills. A skilled sales person will turn a prospect into a customer and then into an advocate in ways that an order taker could never do.

Tellers vs Sellers

A Teller does just that. They tell. Their badge may say sales person on it, but in reality they know little about selling or the theory behind it. They spew information at you but they don’t do any actual selling.

Try the following.

Go into your local computer store and pretend to be in the market for a laptop. When you are approached, ask for some help choosing. The chances are the following will happen.

The sales person will reel off a list of features a particular laptop has. They’ll tell you all about the software, the memory, the programmes. They’ll tell you the price. They’ll even tell you if they have one in stock. Maybe they’ll tell you about some other models.

But the chances are they won’t ask you many questions, if they ask any at all. No rapport build. No getting to know about you. No finding out what you need the laptop for. No attempt to sell extras unless you ask for them. No attempt to up sell to a better model. The list goes on.

They will be telling. They definitely won’t be selling.

On the other hand Sellers use the techniques and skills that they’ve acquired to sell their customer a product. They build rapport, spot buying signals, explain features and benefits, handle objections and close the sale. If they ask for the order and get knocked back they try again. No, they don’t close every sale, but they close a hell of a lot more than the Tellers and the Order Takers.

As for scripted selling, try nudging a Telesales person off script and listen to them struggle. I listened as my wife did this recently. She picked up the phone to a guy who was cold calling selling pensions. She explained that she was busy, so he asked if he could ring back at a more convenient time. So far so good. Obligingly my wife asked if he could phone back at 10:45. He replied happily that he could, until she explained that she meant 10:45 pm as she works shifts. He stuttered and stammered for a second or two, stated that it wasn’t convenient for him to phone outside of office hours, and hung up. He fell at the first hurdle.

A Final Question

In what other profession would it be acceptable to know only some of the skills you need to do your job? A half trained pilot, or a semi skilled surgeon perhaps? No thanks.

So why is it acceptable for half trained sales people to be selling pensions, cars, houses, or anything else for that matter?

Yet many businesses stand passively by and accept lack lustre sales skills from people they employ. Is your business one of them? If so what’s the cost of not training your team? You could be losing money and sales hand over fist.

If you’re a sales person what’s the cost to you in lost earnings through not studying the art and science of selling? Why would you choose not to develop?

You do have a choice of course. Train yourself or your team in the art of selling. Practice what you’ve learned, develop your skills and ultimately sell more. Or take the easy option and do nothing.

I know which option I’d choose.

I’ll let Zig Ziglar have the final word with this insightful quote.

“The most successful sales professionals continue to have the attitude of the beginner. The selling pro who gets to and stays at the top of the profession is an experienced rookie. By that I mean when we approach sales as an ongoing learning experience, we’re continually learning the little things that make the big difference.”

Optimism Is Dangerous – Don’t Let It Kill You

English: US POWs and NVA officers during Vietn...
US POWs and NVA officers during Vietnam War, 1973 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the middle of a recession it pays to remain optimistic. Business is tough, and you can’t let things get you down. This recession can’t last forever and everything will work out just fine in the end. After all, if you give up all hope then what chance do you have of winning through? This time next year everything will be back to normal. If not next year, then the year after that, just you wait and see.

On the face of it that would seem reasonable and logical. We all need to remain optimistic in the face of adversity or we’d just give up. That makes sense doesn’t it?

Actually the evidence would suggest otherwise. In the most extreme situations relentless optimism could even lead to your death.

It’s those who remain optimistic tinged with a strong sense of reality who survive.

Why? Because the overly optimistic simply bury their head in the sand, confident that things will all work out in the end. They never address the challenges facing them. Finally when things don’t improve they give up.

On the other hand those who grasp the reality of their situation work towards solutions, face their challenges head on, and never give up. These people are the survivors.

This is know as The Stockdale Paradox, and it’s named after Admiral Jim Stockdale.

Stockdale was a POW during the Vietnam war and suffered torture and all the other horrors that faced American POW’s. The likelihood that he or any other POW would ever get home were slim, yet in Stockdale’s words “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

He accepted the reality of his situation and sought ways to improve the morale of fellow prisoners, as well as secreting intelligence information out of the prison. He even invented a code which allowed prisoners to tap out messages to each other.

It was Stockdale who noted that the most optimistic of prisoners were those who died. He said “They were the ones who said ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come and Christmas would go. Then they’d say ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Are you mired in blind optimism that your company will survive the recession? Then I would ask you to stop, take a reality check, and really look at the challenges you’re facing.