Remembering My Father, Celebrating Book Lover’s Day

Wednesday August 9 would have been my father’s 90th birthday.

It’s also Book Lover’s Day.

Those two seemingly incongruent circumstances actually have a powerful connection for me.

After suffering a major stroke on February 10, 2012, my father passed away on February 25. By the time I was able to get back to Tennessee to see him, he had lost motor functions and speech capacity. Over the few days I was there, the slow but steady decline continued.

I had last seen him during the Christmas holidays. While there, I spent some time alone at home with him. After suffering a series of strokes over the past several years, he could no longer read – but the legacy of his reading lines the bookshelves all over my boyhood home. In the quiet hours when everyone was asleep, I scanned the shelves and remembered hearing him talk about this book or that one. I pulled a few off the shelf, and opening them, was instantly transported back in time to a conversation about the subject, or to memories of the event itself.

I’ve been a reader of books since, well, before I can remember. My father was an avid reader, and he passed that passion along to me at an early age. Even though he worked 6 days a week, 12 hours a day, he often spent several hours reading at night. He insisted my mother take my brother and me to the library in the next town and check out books – every two weeks. I would get the maximum number of books, take them home, and read them – usually in the first day or two. Then it would be an impatient wait till the next library trip.

Reading is a passion I treasure, and one that I am thankful instilled in me by my father.

Tomorrow it will be Book Lover’s Day – not an official holiday but one I eagerly celebrate. Book reading is a great hobby. It’s an important one, too. Employers look for it on resumes. Reading is educational, informative, and relaxing. It makes us both smarter, and happier people.

Book Lovers Day is a great day to celebrate. Just grab an interesting book, find a quiet, cozy place, and crack open the cover. Celebrating Book Lovers Day in August is pleasurable on the deck, under a shady tree, poolside, or in a cozy hammock. If you fall asleep while reading, that’s okay. It’s all part of the relaxing benefits of being a book lover.

I’m also celebrating this Book Lover’s Day as a part of my vocation – Vision Room Curator and Digital Engagement Leader at Auxano. My role requires me to read – a lot – and then write book summaries, Tweets, Facebook posts, and blogs about what I’m reading. During a recent consultation with a client, I was able to pull a half-dozen book titles off the top of my head when asked for recommendations on books about Guest Experiences. That’s part of the benefit of reading!

I love my job!

Here’s an example:

 

I call these my SUMS Remix Book Towers. These towers contain 218 books, representing 73 issues, one published every two weeks. The format of SUMS Remix is simple: one problem statement faced by churched leaders, 3 brief excepts from books that provide a solution to the problem, and ready-to-use applications for leaders to try out immediately.

With a two-week production cycle, and a two week preparation phase, at any given time I’m working on 4 SUMS Remix issues, which means there are 12 books on my front burner.

And that’s just for SUMS Remix reading…

Then there’s current reading for Auxano social media (Tweets and Facebook posts), other writing projects, and believe it or not, reading just for the pleasure of reading.

So, on Book Lover’s Day, and in memory of my father, I’m trying to emulate Thomas Edison, who believed that voracious reading was the key to self-improvement. He read books on a remarkable range of subjects to address his endless queries. As Edison noted, “I didn’t read a few books, I read the library.”


If you want to know more about my dad, here is the eulogy I gave at his funeral. After the funeral, while my sons and I were moving some things around his gas station and I discovered one reason I am so passionate about guest services. And read this post to find out why readers are leaders.

How are you celebrating Book Lover’s Day?

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The Importance of Clarity in Your Guest Experience

The process of making consommé is one of the most interesting things a chef will do in the beginning of his culinary education. Interesting, because you take a perfectly good stock and add a mixture of egg whites and lean ground beef, which has the effect of looking like a ground beef milk shake.

Consumme

courtesy The Atlantic

That gooey mess is the secret to the final product. As the consommé simmers, the ground beef mixture, known as a raft, floats atop the liquid. During the cooking process, the raft magically draws proteins and other impurities that are found in every stock, leaving the resulting liquid perfectly clear.

How clear? According to the chefs from the Culinary Institute of America, if you can read the date on a dime at the bottom of a gallon of consommé, it’s clear.

The secret to making a good consommé is leaving it alone. Once the raft is in place, all the work is done by the simmering action. Any attempt to stir the consommé will disrupt the clarification process and result in a cloudy consommé.

Properly done, the distinguishing characteristic of a great consommé is its strong flavor and clarity.

Your church’s Guest Experience should have clarity, too.

Completing a 3-part series begun here and continued here, today’s post delivers the final three “secret sauces” from Chip Bell’s book Sprinkles.

 

Alliance

Alliance can be defined as “an association formed for mutual benefit, or a relationship based on an affinity in interests, nature, or qualities.” Guests care when they share, particularly if sharing is invited, not expected. Simplicity and sincerity are important to remember when helping the Guest move toward a position of helping you.

The secret sauce of Alliance reminds us that the partnership between team members and Guests always carries a co-created experience. Guest inclusion begins by being comfortable enough to ask the Guest for assistance. It also means being willing at times to sacrifice a little on efficiency or effectiveness for the commitment gained through participation. How are you involving your Guests in a partnership that creates and delivers an exceptional experience?

Accessible

Accessible can be defined as “able to be reached or entered.” Recent research shows that being easy to do business with trumps every other feature of basic customer service. When a customer feels they can connect with you anytime, even big problems can be reduced to manageable proportions. Make access to stressless service a vital and obvious part of your Guest Experience recipe. After all, “stressed” spelled backwards is “desserts.”

The secret sauce of Accessible is best used by examining your Guest’s experience through their eyes. Often, that involves the conscious effort to see details that we are blind to. When was the last time you took an “empathy walk” in the shoes of your Guests, experiencing exactly what they do?

Adventure

Adventure can be defined as “an unusual or exciting experience or activity.” Is the Guest Experience you provide more like a light or a candle? Lights are important because they provide us with the capacity to see or see better. Candles do they same thing, but with style. If you want a romantic dinner, you don’t just turn on the light.

The secret sauce of Adventure reminds us that a great Guest Experience is light-like, but an innovative Guest Experience is candle-like. People who deliver great Guest Experiences focus on being good at what they do; people who deliver innovative Guest Experiences seek to add imagination to what they do. What could your organization do to make your Guest’s experience unexpectedly unique?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief culinary excursion into the 9 Secret Sauces from Chip Bell’s wonderful book Sprinkles. I’ve only briefly touched the surface of the great ideas you will find in it. Want to create a great Guest Experience recipe? Look no further than Sprinkles!

Sprinkles

Your Guest Experience – Like a Fine Sauce – Only Happens with a Lot of Work

Some of the most flavorful, satisfying, and versatile sauces in the culinary world are an emulsion – but you’ve got to work to make one.

Emulsion

This is an emulsion: an agreement between two unlike elements (butter and water), achieved by heat and motion. If you get it slightly wrong – as when the sauce starts to dry out, destroying the balance between the fat and the liquid – the unlike elements pull apart and break up. When that happens, it takes more work to get the emulsion back to where you want it than it did to get it in the first place.

 As a ChurchWorld leader, you are, in effect, an emulsion.

Both leadership and management are necessary skills to bring your organization forward. While many people separate “leadership” and “management,” they are both necessary.

Leadership involves inspiring, motivating, crafting a vision, setting direction, strategic thinking, and bringing out the best in your people.

Management involves planning, tracking, and measuring – in short, handling all the nuts-and-bolts of day-to-day business operations.

People in positions of responsibility and leadership – like you – need to do both well in order to be successful. This need dramatically intensifies during times of economic uncertainty, shifting internal and external forces, and the constant need to do more with less – like now.

You need to be an “emulsified leader:” building solid skills in both leadership and management AND the ability to switch gracefully between the two.

The skills of an emulsified leader are certainly called for when Guest Experiences are concerned.

Continuing a 3-part series begun here, here are three more “secret sauces” from Chip Bell’s book Sprinkles.

Ambiance

Ambiance can be defined as “the character and atmosphere of a place.” As humans, we are wired to favor symmetry. Our psyche reads dissonance in an experience long before our logical mind comprehends the reason. When you weave all five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste) together, you can create an experience that yields a story your Guests are eager to spread.

The secret sauce of Ambiance involves integrating all the sensory elements of a Guest Experience so they are congruent around a compelling story, theme, or vision. The secret is attention to minute details because the Guest’s brain can pick up any dissonant signal or symbol. What opportunities would you discover if you looked at your organization’s environment and experience with all five senses in mind?

Adoration

Adoration can be defined as “deep love and respect.” There is no greater gift one can give a Guest than serving them with love. Love is also expressed in how your team members love the organization they represent.

The secret sauce of Adoration comes from ensuring that your front line team members know your organization’s benefits, not just the feature. It comes from investing in your team’s training. What can you do to make your Guests fall in love with the team member and the experience they are receiving?

Allegiance

Allegiance can be defined as “loyalty of an individual to a commitment or cause.” It is created through the small acts of communication and caring that make Guests feel they can trust your team members to serve them well.

The secret sauce of Allegiance is demonstrated when your team members treat Guests like valued neighbors rather than strangers. It grows as a trusting relationship is developed, with a focus on the Guest, not the task at hand. How will your organization deliver an unexpected surprise to Guests, seeking to build trust with them in every encounter?

 

Next Up: Alliance, Accessible, Adventure

Sprinkles

Whipping up 9 Secret Sauces for Over-the-Top Guest Experiences

The best meal imaginable starts with the basics – and the most basic culinary technique is making a stock.

courtesy  caspermoller/2411842951 CC

courtesy caspermoller/2411842951 CC

Even before two of my sons became immersed in the heat of the culinary world (one a kitchen manager for a national chain, the other the chef of a retreat and conference center), I have long had a fascination with everything that goes into making an amazing meal.

When I began researching the culinary world several years ago, the importance of a “stock” to the rest of the meal was made early and often. Generally made of a few simple ingredients, a stock in the hands of a gifted chef can turn into dozens of variations, each becoming something greater than it began.

The creation of tantalizing sauces is often the next step beyond the creation of basic stocks by a chef. But sauces aren’t limited to the kitchen: over the last few years, many different uses of sauce outside the kitchen have appeared: secret sauce, awesome sauce, special sauce, etc.

Chip Bell, author, consultant, and keynote speaker known for his service innovation practices, released a book earlier this year entitled Sprinkles. As you might guess from the title, Bell uses language and examples from the culinary world to focus on providing “that surprise that takes service from great to awesome.”

Like a sauce takes basic ingredients and makes a mouth-watering, memorable meal.

When the book was released, I wrote a review that introduced the heart of the book: Bell’s Nine Secret Sauces. In this post and the following two, I would like to go a little deeper into these sauces and particularly how they can be applied in the setting of Guest Experiences in the church.

Amazement

Amazement can be defined as “a feeling of great surprise or wonder.” When Guests come to your church, they are probably expecting several things, one of which is to be made welcome. Because today’s church Guests live in a consumeristic world, they often expect more than just a normal greeting; anything less is a negative.

The secret sauce of Amazement takes the welcome concept to a whole new level. To differentiate yourself from your competition (which isn’t other churches, by the way), how can you amaze your Guest? What will you say, do, and/or provide that takes away your Guest’s breath, capturing their attention and ruining their appetite for your completion?

Animation

Animation can be defined as “ the state of being full of life or vigor; liveliness.” Guests coming to your church will be frustrated by indifference. They spend enough of their day at work or other places encountering boring, comatose service. Surely it will be different at a church?

The secret sauce of Animation is present when your team members are alive and spirited. They anticipate Guests, eagerly welcome them, and leave the Guest’s energy level higher than they found it. What does your organization do to instill and inspire in your teams so that they are full of life?

Abundance

Abundance can be defined as “a very large quantity of something.” Who isn’t surprised and delighted when receiving a little something “extra”?

The secret sauce of Abundance is demonstrated by the generous attitude your team presents to Guests. Almost magnetic, it attracts Guests because it conveys an unconditional positive regard. How are you developing your teams to go beyond the expected with a generous spirit and attitude?

 

Next Up: Ambiance, Adoration, and Allegiance

Sprinkles

Customer Service is Never Out of Date – or Out of Place

Epiphany at the Gas Pump

Regular readers of this blog know of my borderline fanaticism in the area of Guest Services related to ChurchWorld. Some leaders cringe at those words, but the fact is people who come to church are consumers, and leaders in ChurchWorld can learn a lot from good customer service practices wherever they find them – even in a 1946 training manual for Gulf Dealers.

In a recent conversation with a friend, I was asked the question, “Where does your passion for Guest Experiences come from?”

The answer to that question became a little clearer in the last week.

My father.

My father passed away in 2012, and recent changes in my mother’s health required that she move out of the house in which she and my father had started their family in 1954. Over the last week, as my brother and I were going through the process of moving her from her home of 61 years, I took great delight in looking through some of the items my dad had saved and stored over his life. When I found this manual pictured below, I knew it would become a special part of my Guest Services resources.

After my father was discharged from the Army Air Corps following WWII, he worked at several jobs before he and his brotherGulf Service Plan 1 built a Gulf Service Station outside of Nashville TN. My father operated it for 44 years, closing it when he retired in 1993. Growing up in that gas station (literally – our house was about 100 feet away) I learned a lot about how to deal with people by watching my father interact with his “customers.” What I didn’t realize until recently was that his natural, easygoing style was augmented by customer service training materials supplied by the Gulf Oil Company.

It seems that good service is never out of date.

Notice the red dotted line around the vehicle – that’s the suggested travel path for the service man – or two – to take when a customer pulled up to the gas pumps to have gasoline put into his tank (I realize many readers have no clue nor experience of this, but it did happen!). Starting by engaging the driver, here are a few of the suggestions for engaging the customer:

  • Always be prompt – the service plan starts when you see a customer driving into your station. Whenever possible, be alert and at his side when his car stops, ready to greet him.
  • Greet the customer – your greeting is your first important step in showing courtesy to the customer, and it should be friendly, cheerful, and always in your own words.
  • Acknowledge the other customer – when a second car drives in, you should immediately recognize the other customer and saying you’ll be right with him. This kind of greeting pays off because you not only please the customer who is waiting but you also please the customer you are waiting on, who notices that you are courteous to others.
  • Improve the rear view – while you are at the rear of the vehicle putting gas in, wipe the rear window and tail lights. Should a light be out, call it to the attention to your customer at the proper time.
  • Look at those tires – while you are back there, take a look at both rear tires for cuts, blisters under inflation, etc. and make a mental note to tell your customer before he leaves your station.
  • Work to the front end – walk around the right side, cleaning the right windshield, checking the wiper blades, and inspecting the front tires.
  • Under the hood – check the oil and water levels; it’s your responsibility to protect your customer’s car. If any is needed, ask him if you may bring the levels up to the correct level.
  • Keep alert under the hood – while you have the hood open, keep alert for other service needs. Train yourself to quickly observe all needs, informing the customer as appropriate.
  • Collect for the sale – it is important to give the customer the right change, so count the change back into his hand. If he is using a credit card (yes, they had those in 1946!), learn to fill out the invoice quickly and accurately.
  • Courtesy is pleasant – before your customer leaves the station thank him and ask him to come in again. By this time you should have learned his name, so make it personal.
  • Help him safely on his way – if your station is on a busy street where it’s difficult to get into traffic, give your customer a hand. Guide him into the moving traffic safely. He may not expect this added courtesy, but he’ll be glad to get it and remember it. Every courteous act will be appreciated by your customers, and make them regular patrons of your station.

And a closing reminder:

With the Gulf Service Plan, every time you do some little service for the customer, it makes him realize that you know your business, and that you’re looking after his welfare. These services keep your customer coming back again and again. Good will – the tendency of the motorist to return to a place where he has been well-treated – is being created every time you give him not only what he wants, but what he needs. He remembers you are the man who looks after his best interests by taking good care of one of his most prized possessions – his car.

To all of us who live in 24/7, always-connected world, the actions above probably seem like a throwback or an anachronism of the good old days.

I happen to think they are a timeless reminder that service still matters – especially in ChurchWorld, where there is no “product” per se, but the outcome of the interactions with our Guests may be eternal.

Thanks Dad, for the lessons you taught me even when I didn’t realize it, and for the lessons you still teach me after you’re gone.

 

It All Begins with Hospitality

Church leaders need to understand the fact that our competition is not other churches; it’s places that provide WOW! Experiences and to which guests compare our churches.

While that may seem a negative, it can also be turned into a positive by LEARNING from those top-notch places and their leaders.

Take for instance Danny Meyer, the founder and co-owner of multiple top-rated New York restaurants and author of a book entitled “Setting the Table.” Subtitled “The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business,” Meyer shares the lessons he’s learned while developing the winning recipe for doing the business he calls “enlightened hospitality.” They are lessons that the church can learn from. Here’s a sample:

Hospitality is the foundation of my business philosophy. Virtually nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any business transaction. Hospitality exists when you believe the other person is on your side. Hospitality is present when something happens for you. It is absent when something happens to you. Those two prepositions – for and to – express it all.

Understanding the distinction between service and hospitality has been at the foundation of our success. Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes it recipient feel. Service is a monologue – we decide how we wan to do thins and set our own standards for service. Hospitality, on the other hand, is a dialogue. To be on a guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response. It takes both great service and great hospitality to rise to the top.

People duck as a natural reflex when something is hurled at them. Similarly, the excellence reflex is a natural reaction to fix something that isn’t right, or to improve something that could be better. The excellence reflex is rooted in instinct and upbringing, and then constantly honed through awareness, caring, and practice. The overarching concern to do the right thing well is there or it isn’t.

Eleven Madison Park, founded by Danny Meyer

Eleven Madison Park, founded by Danny Meyer

What a great learning environment for churches wanting to improve their Guest Services team!

Last week, I posted a series on hospitality based on Le Bernardin, the famous restaurant in NYC owned by Chef Eric Ripert. If this post resonated with you, click on the links below for more.

Creating experiences of hospitality allow for positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships. They will help you connect to people coming in your door week in and week out.

How will you practice hospitality in your church this weekend?

 

photo courtesy Julian, CC

The Three Ps of Service Magic

Service Magic

An unexpected experience with a touch of style, grace, and imagination the customer remembers with fondness and a smile.

Creating an unexpected, unpredictable, and valuable experience that is both memorable and reproducible.

Today’s customers are often surrounded by lackluster, mediocre service in every industry. How can you win their attention, admiration, and loyalty?

By using the magic of amazement, delight, and enchantment to create a customer experience that soars far beyond their highest Service Magicexpectations. Service wizards Ron Zemke and Chip Bell share their powerful bag of tricks in their book Service Magic. Subtitled “The Art of Amazing Your Customers,” it delivers a powerful bag of tricks to help you add zest, memorability, and value to your customers’ experience in ways they would never expect.

For leaders in ChurchWorld, the translation from customer experience to Guest Experience is an important one – starting with your mindset. You may not think you have “customers” in the traditional mindset – and you don’t. But you do have Guests coming to your church (hopefully!) and they, like you, live in consumer-driven world.

Why not study and learn from some of the best minds and practitioners from the customer experience world, and translate them into Guest Experience practices for your church?

Take Service Magic, for instance.

There is a feeling of awe, wonder, pleasure and delight in Service Magic. When it is present, the customer perceives that something special and unique has been done to, for, or with him or her. It can come from a word spoken, an experience observed, a process experienced, or the context in which the service occurred.

There is magic in Place, Process, and Performance – and all three are available to the skilled service magician and the organization determined to create consistent Service Magic for its Guests.

  • Place Magic: a venue – natural or manmade – with physical attributes that attracts and pleases, and that are subtly enhanced by human endeavor. We vacation at national parks to enjoy the great out-of-doors and visit theme parks for fun and thrills. We remember most of the great views and the rides, but without a little Service Magic, those pleasures would be greatly diminished.

ChurchWorld Application

You meet in a facility – owned or rented – that conveys a powerful impression to your Guests. What does your facility “say”? What are you doing on a regular basis to evaluate your place? What plan do you follow to make sure your place is the best it can be? Does your place invite people to come in – or does it turn people off, or even away? Do you have a plan of constant evaluation and upkeep? How “fresh” are your interiors and exteriors? Does your place fit into your community or does it stand out?

  • Process Magic: the often thankless, almost always invisible effort that makes the difference between policies, procedures, and routines that are difficult, confusing, maddening, and frustrating – and those we experience as surprisingly easy, positive, and memorable. No waiting where once lines were long; sign-ins, sign-ups, and renewals that are hassle-free and even interesting – if not fun – are the result of a little well placed Process Magic.

ChurchWorld Application

Your Guests should experience an invisible, seamless flow of actions from their first contact with you all the way through a worship experience and back again. The processes behind that invisible, seamless flow are probably complicated and maybe even confusing. What are you doing to regularly evaluate and change the process behind the curtains? Do you know what Guests experience when they come to your church? Are you using and speaking with a “churchy” language or do you make things simple to understand and follow?

  • Performance Magic: the surprisingly positive interaction with someone from an organization during the acquisition of a service or a product – or even when a problem with a product or service is being resolved. The wait staff who makes the dining experience “work” for you by correctly reading your mood and engaging you in light-hearted banter or by leaving you alone to your solitude are card-carrying, practicing, professional service magicians.

ChurchWorld Application

When it comes down to it, your front-line teams: parking, greeters, ushers, etc. – make the first and most powerful impact on your Guests. Their actions often dictate whether or not a Guest will return – even before, and often no matter what, the worship experience. When was the last time you ventured out to the front lines to observe? How often do your teams receive training – and encouragement? How high are the expectations for your front-line teams?

Each of these three “magics” is powered by a set of principles – which I hope you will join me in discovering in the next few posts!