My 5 Favorite Memories This Year

I share a lesson learned in life each weekday. Here is today’s lesson…

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I usually wake up earlier than Nicole. Since she sleeps curled in my arms or with her head on my chest, I try not to disturb her. Instead, I use that time to think about the day that passed and plan the day ahead. This is often when I come up with the day’s blog post.

While I lay awake today, I thought it would be fun to recount my top five memories of the year so far. There was way more than five though, and it was impossible to place a specific five at the top of the list. Every time I thought I had one, another memory popped in my head that I thought for sure was a top five.

In the end, I settled for the five most persistent memories I have of the year so far. In essence, not necessarily my top five but the five most popular based on how many times they kept resurfacing. The funny thing is, there was a surprising lesson about them. But first here are five of my favorite memories this year (in no particular order):

Our first Stand-Up Paddleboard excursion to Caladesi Island. It was a game changer for me, solidifying my love for SUP. We saw stingrays, a school of jumping fish, crabs, a shark, and more. It was a fascinating day all around.

Anna Maria Island (Nicole's View)- 151108     Also, our first trip to the beach at Honeymoon Island. That was our first day of relaxation after we moved. It was in the middle of March and we were swimming in the ocean. It just doesn’t get better!

Strolling the riverwalk downtown. Every time we walk along the river downtown we are sure to have an adventure–whether Tampa Bay Veg Fest, Yoga in the Park, watching cruise ships or spotting sea life.

Hanging out with our adopted vegan friend, Chris. Our pal Chris is far from being vegan but I give him credit for being willing to try new things. He has gone to a few veggie restaurants with us, and every time he does, he goes 100% vegan, ranting against meat-eaters like a pro. He might be the only non-vegan who has ever made me laugh about being vegan.

My parents visiting. Mom and dad were our first Michigan visitors and it was so great to have them here for a few days. Sitting with Nicole at my side and hanging with my parents was a blast. Plus, I got my first pedicure with mom and dad, for fun.

I have to give an honorary mention, too, though it is not technically a specific memory…

Visiting Ethos Vegan Kitchen in Orlando. This is far and away my favorite restaurant here. It is so good it reminds of my Grand Rapids hometown favorites like Bartertown and Marie Catrib’s. I wish I could fit Ethos into my pocket and take it everywhere.

The most interesting thing about these memories, though, is that none of them involved spending a great deal of money.

Of my favorite memories this year, I think it is noteworthy that the nearly 80 grand we shelled out for our new cars was not at the top of the list. The 6 thousand dollar investment in Paddle boards was not there, though the act of paddle boarding itself was. It was the experience, not the shopping. The Dyson vacuums and high-end Nespresso latte machine are great toys but not even in the top 20 memories of the year. The large sums of money we threw at furniture, clothes, and moving (twice) were not among my favorite memories either.

Money buys things of present value, but not valuably present things. Only connections and experience will give you something to value forever. Looking at this year, I have to say people and adventure are the things I will remember, not gadgets and shopping for them.

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Where Does Customer Service Start?

I reflect on each day to find one lesson I learned from it. Then I share each lesson on this blog.

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Nicole and I live in a beautiful apartment complex. The grounds are well-maintained, our apartments have premium fixtures, we have a great veranda, and the community has outstanding facilities, like a resort-style pool and full workout areas with Yoga props, boxing bags, and more. All that is great but we can barely wait to move out.

Despite all the amenities and premium features, the company that owns it seems absolutely clueless (or remarkably careless) about their customer experience. As long as nothing goes wrong, it is a fine place to live. As soon as you have a problem (such as sprinkler heads breaking through the ceiling or the apartment rent payment portal being down), it is as if the management company races to show you how bad they can perform.

No matter how nice the polish is, if you stand on a rusty, deteriorating foundation then you will not be standing for long.

What really struck me today, though, was that I realized this philosophy of poor customer experience was not incidental. I thought surely someplace putting so much attention to detail on the grounds and interior must just be suffering from a rash of bad hiring or training practices. No company culture could be so dysfunctional that they have a fundamental misunderstanding of how to please customers at the root of their business.

Then I looked at the parking lot. Directly in front of our building, there is one available parking space. The other parking spaces are across the road or in front of the adjacent building (and there are only 3 spots in front of that building). There are three floors to the apartment building, which means everyone on the second or third floor have quite a long haul each week when they do things like unload groceries or have furniture delivered. (Incidentally there is no elevator, either, causing many of our packages to be dropped at our downstairs neighbor’s doorstep–an astounding feat of laziness by our UPS driver–but I don’t blame him for the apartment’s bad design).

The point about the parking lot is this: when there is only one decent parking spot, it creates a sadistic rush among tenants to secure and hold onto that spot. When you pull into the complex with 8 bags of groceries and you see that spot is taken (it’s always taken), you can not help but curse under your breath. Worse, you start paying attention to who holds the spot the most and begin questioning the fairness of the parking situation.

It is silly to stress over a single parking spot each day. And yet… that is the experience our apartment is literally built upon.

As a brand, company, or even just a team within your organization, when you start by encouraging your customers to hate each other, how can you expect them to love you? (Call centers with infuriatingly long hold times… I’m looking at you…)

Understanding that customer service starts even before a customer pulls into your parking lot is a good place to begin thinking about how your customer’s experience will end (in a blog post ratting you out or in a recommendation to a friend?).

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Old People Are Cooler Than You Think.

Today’s Lesson: Live longer. It makes you look better.

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I spent today with a new hire. We car pooled to a work site to shoot a training video, which meant two hours of driving together, plus some down time between takes and lunch. We had a lot of time to chit-chat. Being more than twenty years younger than me (and both enthusiastic and inquisitive), she offered plenty of conversational questions for us to mosey through.

As I shared stories about my past experiences and hobbies, we covered a lot of ground. I am vegan, I have a black belt, I publish a blog and write copy for hire, I used to write song lyrics for a music publisher, I have both traveled and lived in several places, I like to kayak, I have led sales teams, and designed clothes, etc. At one point, she paused and said, “Wow, is there anything you haven’t done?”

I said, “Actually, I don’t think I do that much…”

I realized later that my response was, for the most part, true. It is not that I have done a lot of things. It is that I have been alive twice as long as she has. I have had a lot longer to build that list of experiences.

Easy tip for boosting self-esteem: If you want to look like a total badass who has it all together, hang out with people half your age. They can barely believe how accomplished you are!

 

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You Have to Experience It.

Live for the experience of living.

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Nicole has a knack I admire for seeking out new adventures. We probably did something I have never experienced before every day this weekend.

Left unattended, I gravitate toward building rituals and habits but I love adventure and new experiences (or even revisiting old experiences that I have not tried in many years). These two extremes, I think, are what have given me a reputation for being “adaptable” to many social environments while also still being strategic and consistent in my work habits and hobbies.

New experiences, in my opinion, are the core of what makes life worth living. Some adventures are better than others. Sometimes adventure leads to danger (real or perceived, social or ethical, physical or financial) but that is part of the game. As long as you are not intentionally causing damage to yourself or others, it is probably worth doing.

Especially if you are a young adult (but even if you are not), here is advice that has enriched my life and I hope will put you in the mindset of living a (mostly) joyful experimental life:

Live lots of places. If you have an opportunity to move, take it (or create one). There is no rule that says you have to spend your entire life within five miles of your current friends or family. Let the world be your family and make friends everywhere.  Every place is so different. I have lived places I have loved and places I have hated (and sometimes they were the same places) but I have never regretted a fresh start somewhere new. Living somewhere new, especially if you are on your own, is difficult but it teaches you self-sufficiency, forces you to leave your comfort zone and grow, and builds character. It is one of the best things you can do for yourself, if you ask me.

Explore. The first thing I do after settling in a new town, is explore it, mostly by foot. I try to find the nooks that hide the best coffee shops or the lushest parks. But exploring does not have to be saved for moving. Pick something you have never done in your own town and try it. Either way, just get out in the world and go somewhere you have not been. When fuel was cheap, me and a friend would meet every Sunday, pick a direction and just drive for 4 or 5 hours, seeing where the road took us. We always found cool places to eat, if nothing else.

Say “Yes” a LOT. People present us with chances to explore and experiment all the time but we are often so caught in our own routines and rhythms that we miss the opportunity. If a friend says, “Hey, I was thinking about trying (tennis, a new restaurant, rock-climbing, the museum, going to a roller derby, seeing a cabaret show, checking out a live jazz band, the ballet, yoga, etc…), just say, “Sounds cool. What time should I be there?” Even if it sounds like something you will hate, remember your mom’s advice about broccoli and try it anyway. My personal rule is, “I’ll try anything twice.” I figure the first time I am going to be nervous, not know what to expect, maybe feeling some trepidation. Whatever it is, even if it is a bad experience, I will very likely give it another shot in fairness.

 

Those tips work for me and I am reminded of them almost daily (Nicole really keeps me on my toes–I am almost never sure where the weekend will lead, but I am lucky to be in a new city now so every day is an adventure either way!). I hope living an experimental life works for you, too.

 

Today’s Lesson: Home is not so much where the heart is as it is where your feet take you. Go explore, wherever your are. Say “Yes” often and try anything twice before deciding you do not like it.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Customer Service Sucks

We have had bad customer experiences despite being promised great service. Why? I’m glad you asked. I’ll tell you…

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Yesterday, I wrote about a great customer experience I had. It was so good and so simple it made me wonder why many businesses and entrepreneurs miss the mark on delivering service.

I assert businesses only fail at customer service and customer loyalty for one reason.

Customers are never let down by poor quality products (or IKEA would not be a world-class brand). They are never let down by bad service (or McDonald’s would have been bankrupt 30 years ago). They are not even let down by outrageously high prices for value (or no one would choose Porsche over Toyota or Macy’s over Target).

Customer service fails when businesses make promises they are not willing to keep.

The customer experience only suffers when a business makes an absurd claim like, “Your call is important to us” followed by, “The current wait time is… 14… minutes…” (clearly your call is NOT important to us or we would have answered right away–your call might be important to your dad, but not us). Customers feel let down when a company says, “Our only goal is your satisfaction” but follows-up with, “I’m sorry I can’t help you with that return. You are outside of our insanely restrictive return policy.”

Customers never stop going to Taco Bell because the service people are insensitive or get the order wrong half the time. That is because Taco Bell never promised a great customer experience. They promise to deliver mediocre food at cheap prices, fast, and they rock at it. They never fail to hold up their end of that bargain. Your call is not important to them and they do not pretend it is. I don’t even know how to call Taco Bell. Do you?

So, how do you deliver a world-class customer experience? To me, 3 things stand out and most everything else is window dressing that can enhance but not dramatically improve the feeling customers are left with. Here are my 3:

1. Solve every problem in less than 1 hour. I mean solve, 100%, not promise to solve or get a response, within an hour. With the technology at our hands today, no employee is ever more than an email, instant message, video chat, or old-fashioned phone call away from a decision maker. An hour is being generous. It should be half an hour and in five years I expect it to be within 5-7 minutes.

2. Give power and authority to your front line. The team member standing in front of the irate customer is the person the customer expects to fix whatever the customer’s problem is. There is little in life more frustrating than being handed off or transferred to person after person who has no authority to simply say “Yes, we can make that right, and we will do it now” or “No, we are sorry but we will not do anything more for you on this…”. If you know you can afford for any employee to spend even just $5, $10, or $20 per day (or per week) to fix a problem immediately, encourage your front line to abuse that privilege with no permission needed, no questions asked, and no rules about what is done with the $20–just provide a receipt and a recap afterward.

3. Be the enemy of vague words and jargon. Make promises to your customers that are specific and clearly actionable. Define your lofty words and hold yourself or your business accountable as a matter of integrity. If you make vague promises to your customers like, “no-hassle returns”, then assume they will interpret it in the most liberal way possible. When they bring an item back, “no hassle” means they can bring it back with or without a reason, receipt, or re-packaging. “No hassle” means you will arrange the pick-up and pay the postage if they are shipping it back. “No hassle” means they will not spend 15 minutes waiting in line and then trying to plead a case for you to take back the item they do not want.”No hassle” to a customer actually means “no hassle”. If you promise “great customer service” then either define what “great” means specifically for your customers or assume they will take it in the most grandiose way possible. What makes you “great” or “the best” compared to the exactly similar experience they will find up the road with your competitor who is also making the same vague, lofty promise? (By the way, to me, “great” means following the three guidelines I have listed–instant resolution, clear actions, and transparent language.)

Those are my three guidelines to deliver top-notch customer service that commands loyalty. I probably could have listed 300, but I figured 3 is a good start. Remember, customers are never mad that a business is not run well. They become mad and vindictive when a business is not run well but promises to be.

 

Today’s Lesson: Whether talking about customers, family, or friends… if you want to build (or rebuild) loyalty and trust, the formula is simple. Say what you are going to do (in clear, specific language) and then keep your word, not your intentions.

 

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Today’s Lesson: Roam If You Want To [140912]

Nicole and I were chatting about how long we have lived in certain places and came across an interesting fact:

On average, Nicole stays in the same place (home or apartment) for about 2 years. For me, it averages about 4 years.

 

Maybe not so interesting on the surface, but I am in my early forties so that is quite a bit of moving and it has had both positive and negative outcomes. The good part is I have a broad range of experiences to learn from and share. I have met people from many walks of life and have access to a level of learning I would never have achieved without travel. The not-so-good part is I have had a lot of fleeting friendships with a lot of people and moving so much has more or less trained me not to get too close to people emotionally. I am always available to friends and family wherever they are but I am not very good at proactively reaching out and keeping in touch with them (partly because I do not have long-standing roots anywhere–part of my family lives in Michigan, part in Texas, part in California, part in Canada, part overseas–my family lives all over, too!).

 

Overall, I think experiencing new cultures, scenery, and architectures is a great benefit worth undertaking but it is also good to always have at least one companion or friend that really knows you–sometimes a place to call “home” does not have to be geographic. It is just someone you love and you can share that anywhere, not just in your current town.

 

The world is REALLY big. There is no reason to spend your life in one tiny corner of it.

 


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