The Most Important 2 Feet in Your Guest Experience

It’s the space between your Guest and your front-line Guest Experience Team member.

The interactions that take place in those 24 inches are rich with expectations – and can also be filled with missed opportunities.

In that space your front-line team members have become the face and voice of your organization.


On the 2nd day of Christmas Guest Experiences, your Guest Experience peers give to you:

The Most Important 2 Feet in Your Guest Experience

There is an idea-generating and innovation factory that remains untapped in most organizations simply because most leaders do not know how to connect the experiences and insights of their front line to solving Guest problems. – Chris DeRose, Judgment on the Front Line

How they represent themselves, what they do (or don’t do), what they say (or don’t say) – that’s the powerful human “first impression” your Guest is experiencing – and will remember.

How does that make you feel?

inspired by What’s Your Green Goldfish, by Stan Phelps

What's Your Green Goldfish


The Other Side of the Coin: What Drives Front Line Team Member Engagement

Yesterday’s post approached the topic of front line engagement from the perspective of the leaders in your organization. Today, it’s time to look at the other side of the coin – your front line team members.

Involving team members in decision-making processes, enabling them to innovate, and providing the autonomy and resources to solve customer problems collectively offer frontline team members the essential elements that have been shown to drive team member satisfactions and engagement.

Research has provided many labels for the drivers of team member commitment, but authors Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy, writing in Judgment on the Front Line, summarize them as the “four C’s.”


Frontline employees want to connect their daily interactions with the customer to the achievement of larger long-term goals. This requires an understanding of strategy and customer and business objectives.


Frontline workers, like most people, want to feel empowered to make autonomous decisions and take action when necessary. There must be established boundary conditions in which employees feel free to make decision, and they must be given the training and tools to make effective judgments.


Ultimately, if employees do not feel connected to their organizations and have a sense that coworkers and managers are unconcerned with their well-being, they will not care about he organization or their job.


Work is a personal endeavor that occupies the majority of waking time for most people, so frontline employees need the opportunity to exercise their individual thought and creativity and invest their own personality in their work.

The concern and trust that senior leaders exhibit for all team members in a front-line focused organization translates into strong culture and improved work environments.

That’s something both sides can agree on!

Trust helps you move quickly. It increases your speed. When it’s absent, you can see it – more checks, controls, and processes. That’s bureaucracy.

Randall Stephenson, Chairman and CEO, AT&T

ChurchWorld Frontline Facts

Front Line Teams are uniquely positioned to create value in your organization

  • Generating value – your team can offer new ideas based on first-hand dialogue with Guests about their needs
  • Solve problems – when your frontline team is free to exercise its judgment to make good decisions for the Guest, they can solve problems on the spot
  • Avert crises – frontline teams know where the trouble spots are, and can help your organization avoid disasters by providing early warnings


Part of an occasional series translating the best of Customer Experience in the Corporate World into Guest Experiences for ChurchWorld

Adapted from Judgment on the Front Line, Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy

Undercover Boss May Make Good TV, But It’s a Lousy Way to Keep in Touch With Your Front Line Team

On Undercover Boss, the brilliant CEO goes undercover on the front lines of his company to learn just what’s going on, and how he is going to make it better.


In the shows that I’ve seen, it’s more like a Three Stooges comedy from my childhood, only this time there’s only one stooge – the Boss.

Without fail, the Boss learns that he lacks the skills, intelligence, and experience required to keep up with his tasks. His coworkers and supervisors, though clearly frustrated with him, try and try again to train him.

The end result? Big Boss CEO, now humbled by his front line, vows to make changes to the policies and procedures which will improve his team’s working conditions, performance, personal lives, and, by the way, maybe even his bottom line.

I’m not too cynical of Undercover Boss – just thinking there has to be a better way for the CEO or senior leadership team of any organization to find out just what’s happening on the front lines.

If CEOS and senior leaders don’t create routines for understanding customer needs through the eyes of frontline workers, they run the risk of creating strategies that can’t be put into operational practice. Building a business model that is aligned with customer needs is only the beginning – once these needs are identified, the leadership team must work backward from the moment of truth when their team is face to face with the customer.

Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy, writing in Judgment on the Front Line, show just how to make that happen. They don’t advocate that CEOs try to do the jobs of their front line workers (like Undercover Boss). Instead, DeRose and Tichy think that leadership teams must design and build a front-line focused organization. They begin at the top:

Five Responsibilities of Leaders in a Front Line Focused Organization

  • Define a Customer-Based Vision – set the vision and define the strategy based in part on observations, feedback, and learnings from the field
  • Develop a Front Line Focused Culture – create a culture of front line focus with a deep respect for the needs and experience of the front line
  • Obsess over Talent – while deeply respecting their entire organization, leaders know they will win only by having the best talent and right kind of leadership at the front line
  • Define the Judgment Playing Field – leaders ensure that front line teams are equipped with the right resources to make good judgments on behalf of the organization and in the interest of the customer
  • Live on the Line – leaders need to go where the action is, a reality check at a deeper level than just an annual fly by appearance

Now isn’t that better than any episode of Undercover Boss?

My name is Herve Humler and I am the president of Ritz-Carlton… and I am a very important person. But you are more important than I am. You are the heart and soul of this building.

Herve Humler, addressing hotel staff shortly before the grand opening of Ritz-Carlton’s Hong Kong property

ChurchWorld Frontline Facts

Strong leadership is required to unleash the front line

  • Senior leaders use their authority to create the architecture and support systems
  • The organization’s top team must stay directly connected to those in the field
  • Information from the front line should be used to define and refines strategy

Building a front line-focused organization is a process

  • An integrative framework is needed to replace a collage of initiatives
  • The process helps whether starting from scratch or rebuilding a decades-old institution

Part of an occasional series translating the best of Customer Experience in the Corporate World into Guest Experiences for ChurchWorld

Adapted from Judgment on the Front Line, Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy

The Frontline Innovation Factory

If you’ve spent anytime on Amazon, you are probably familiar with their recommendation feature – you know, the bar of products across your screen with the title “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought”…

It has been very successful to say the least – many shoppers, having found what they are looking for, are delighted to look at other items that compliment their find. (Especially me, when it comes to books!)

When the engineer who developed the idea, Greg Linden, developed a prototype and took it to his boss, he was expressly prohibited from proceeding further with the project.

Wow – Talk about a missed opportunity!

In the vast majority of other, larger, older organizations, the idea would have been killed right then and there. But, as we all know, Amazon was (and is) different.

Customer centricity has been deeply ingrained in Amazon’s culture from the outset. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has been known to leave an empty seat open at a conference table to remind all attendees that they should consider the seat occupied by their customer, “the most important person in the room.”

Amazon’s overriding respect for the customer gave Linden the freedom to proceed with his trial – even over the objections of his senior vice president. The results were so clear and irrefutable that the feature was fast-tracked, and shopping cart recommendations, as we know them, were born.

That’s the power of the Front Line.

In my experience innovation can only come from the bottom. Those closest to the problem are in the best position to solve it. I believe any organization that depends on innovation must embrace chaos. Loyalty and obedience are not your tools; you must use measurement and objective debate to separate the good from the bad.

– Greg Linden, former developer and engineer,


ChurchWorld Frontline Facts

The front line is the richest untapped source of ideas and innovation

  • Those closest to the Guests most often understand their needs best
  • Frontline leaders have the know-how to solve operational problems

Winning organizations embrace the paradox of creativity and control

  • Leaders control by setting context and boundaries
  • Leaders creatively unleash their front line by teaching them to make judgments


Part of an occasional series translating the best of Customer Experience in the Corporate World into Guest Experiences for ChurchWorld

Adapted from Judgment on the Front Line, Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy


Utilizing the Power of the Lineup with Your Guest Services Team

It’s one thing to have a Credo, Three Steps of Service, and 12 Service Values like the Ritz-Carlton (see the post here for more details on these Gold Standards). Many businesses go through the exercise of defining key values or composing mission statements. They might even display them in their literature, or in imposing art displays on the corporate walls.

But how many business leaders understand the importance of regular and repetitive presentation of these core aspects of their business – not only to management, but also to their front-line staff?

Enter the “lineup” at Ritz-Carlton.

To truly appreciate the Ritz-Carlton leadership approach to repeated dissemination of the “Gold Standards” mentioned above, you would have to drop in on a section of the housekeeping staff as they prepare for their days work – or at the corporate headquarters – or in the kitchen of the fine restaurants that serve the hotel chain – or anywhere, and everywhere, throughout the entire organization.

You would observe that a meeting is taking place at the beginning of each shift. Not just any meeting, though: the leader in each group starts by sharing the Credo and talking about the importance of creating a unique guest experience. Another team member might share a guest story from a Ritz-Carlton hotel in another country. Another team member shares how what they do in their department helps create memorable guest experiences. Then a few quick announcements, special recognitions are given, and another team member closes the meeting with a motivational quote.

All in about 20 minutes.

Every day.

On every shift.

In every Ritz-Carlton hotel and office around the world.

The magic of the lineup involves the following:

  • Repetition of values – the core belief that values need to be discussed daily, and that values can’t be discussed enough
  • Common language – shared phrases across all tasks binds the team together
  • Visual symbols – The Credo is printed on a card that all team members carry at all times
  • Oral traditions – Personal, direct, and face-to-face communication makes a huge impact in a world increasingly dominated by e-mail, text, and voice messages
  • Positive storytelling – stories communicate life in a powerful and memorable way
  • Modeling by leaders – the active, daily presence of the leaders communicates the importance of the time together

What would “lineup” for each of your Guest Services teams do to preserve the core values, communicate the importance of everyone on the team, and provide momentum for the day’s activities?

Or how about this word for the process?


Excuse Me, Can I See the Manager?

The best place to start thinking about process is at the end; in this case, where a customer or guest didn’t have a great time/meal/service/whatever.

The customer/guest usually takes it out on the person who was most involved in the transaction – a clerk or waiter or flight attendant – a front-line person.

But is it really their fault?

Seth Godin wrote a great post entitled “Who’s responsible for service design?” which provides an excellent starting point for a better understanding of the “process” that must go into your Guest Services Team. Here are a few highlights, but be sure to read the entire post:

Too often, we blame bad service on the people who actually deliver the service. Sometimes (often) it’s not their fault. Sadly, the complaints rarely make it as far as the overpaid (and possibly overworked) executive who made the bad design decision in the first place. It’s the architecture of service that makes the phone ring and the customers leave.

Three quick tips for anyone who cares about this:

  • Require service designers to sign their work
  • Run a customer service audit. Walk through the building or the event or the phone tree with all the designers in the room and call out what’s not right.
  • Make it easy for complaints (and compliments) about each decision to reach the designer (and her boss).

That’s powerful.

  • What are the processes behind the scenes that make your Guest Services work?
  • What are the processes you have in place when something unexpected pops up?
  • What are the processes you have in place when something needs to be changed?
  • How do you even know that something needs to be changed?

A closing quote from Seth Godin:

In my experience, most of the problems are caused by ignorance and isolation, not incompetence or a lack of concern.

Are you ready to be a process engineer for your Guest Services Team?

Building an Experience Culture

Design has the power to enrich our lives by engaging our emotions through image, form, texture, color, sound, and smell. The intrinsically human-centered nature of design thinking points to the next step: we can use our empathy and understanding of people to design experiences that create opportunities for active engagement and participation.

– Tim Brown, Change by Design

And the truth of the above quote is delivered to people by people. An exceptional guest experience starts with the front line team that delivers that experience.

Creating an experience culture requires going beyond the generic to design experiences perceived as uniquely tailored to each guest. In order to do that, your front line team has to know something about the guest they are serving. An experience comes to life when it feels personalized and customized.

Do you know who are you serving? Maybe it’s time to create a persona.

Personas are fictional characters, created out of the insights of research you have conducted, that can exemplify certain attributes. Because they make the potentially abstract concept of “guest” very personal and human, personas enhance your ability to build the empathetic understanding of guests that is at the heart of design thinking.

Using the persona concept will allow you to reveal deeper insights into the various kinds of experiences that your guests are having and to help generate innovative ideas about how to improve those experiences.

Here’s a homework assignment for your guest services leadership this weekend:

  • Create 2 or 3 different personas that represent a cross-section of the guests you are trying to reach; make sure they vary in description
  • Brainstorm the way those personas interact with your church, from the time they approach your campus through the time they depart
  • Note each decision point they have to make and each personal interaction they have with your team
  • Chart those on a big whiteboard

What are those fictional personas revealing about a very real experience?