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?

Organizational Physics

A team at rest tends to stay at rest.

Seth Godin, writing in “Linchpin“, states that forward motion isn’t the default state of any group of people, particularly groups with lots of people. Cynics and politics and coordination kick in and everything grinds to a halt.

In an old school, top-down factory model this isn’t really a problem. The owner controls the boss who controls the foreman who controls the worker. It’s a tightly linked chain, and things get done because there is cash to be made.

Most modern organizations are now far more fluid than this. Responsibility isn’t as clear, deliverables aren’t as measurable, and goals aren’t as cut and dried. So things slow down.

Sound familiar? Like maybe your church?

Enter the linchpin. Understanding that your job is to make something happen changes what you do all day. If you can only cajole, not force, if you can only lead, not push, then you make different choices.

In many organizations, but especially the church, you can’t say, “Get more excited and insightful or you’re fired.” No, the men and women who go beyond their job description (if any at all) to do the unexpected and out-of-the-ordinary do it because they were inspired to do so by a leader who isn’t even around when the team is at work.

Are you that kind of leader?


The Bell Curve is Flattening…

Seth Godin is at it again.

Godin’s latest book “We Are All Weird” was just released last week. As one of the most influential thinkers of today, I always eagerly anticipate a new work by him – and I was definitely not disappointed. Here’s a sample:

The distribution of a population is often shaped like a bell curve. For example, if you asked all the kids in a school to line up in order of height, the graph of how many kids were of each height would be shaped like the classic bell – you’d have as many 4 foot kids as 6 foot kids, and a whole bunch more in the middle at 5 feet.

Not surprisingly, this curve is called a normal distribution. It’s incredibly common in almost any phenomenon you look at (Internet usage, miles commuted to work, length of hair).

Something surprising is happening, though: the defenders of mass and normalcy and compliance are discovering that many of the bell curves that describe our behavior are flattening out.


Distributions of behavior remain, but as the anchors holding that behavior in place have loosened, the bells have spread, like a thawing ice sculpture.

There are now many bell curves, not just one. We don’t care so much about everyone; we care about us – where us is our people,  our tribe, our interest group, our weirdness – not the anonymous masses.

If you persist in trying to be all things to all people, you will fail. The only alternative then, is to be something important to a few people.





If you cater to the normal, you will disappoint the weird. And as the world gets weirder, that’s a dumb strategy.


The Meatball Sundae Goes to Church

Seth Godin’s 2007 book The Meatball Sundae examines fourteen trends of the realities of what he calls New Marketing. As with all of Godin’s books, it’s a fairly quick read that will have you wondering “Why didn’t I think of that?” So, with apologies to Seth Godin, here is a quick analysis of the fourteen trends in The Meatball Sundae as applied to ChurchWorld.

  1. Direct communication and commerce between producers and consumers – The Internet; need I say more? Organizations hear more, and more often, directly from consumers. Church leader, you may hate that word consumer, but your church is full of them, and there are many more in your community that you could reach. Are you listening to them?
  2. Amplification of the voice of the consumer and independent authorities – In a market where everyone is a critic, the need to create products and services that appeal to and satisfy critics becomes urgent. The same is true for after-purchase issues of service and quality. Your church probably doesn’t have a guest experiences department, team, or even single person. Why not?
  3. Need for an authentic story as the number of sources increases – Consumers hear about organizations from many sources, not just one. As a result, you have to get your story straight. Saying one thing and doing another fails, because you’ll get caught. Wait a minute – didn’t the church invent hypocrisy?
  4. Extremely short attention due to clutter – The death of mass marketing is partly due to the plethora of choices and the deluge of interruptions. As a result, complex messages rarely get through. Does your vision take a wall to display – or can you put it on a t-shirt in large type? Do you communicate one big idea every week – or dozens of unconnected thoughts?
  5. The Long Tail – it’s a book by Chris Anderson, but it also demonstrates that in almost every market, “other” is the leading brand. Domination by hit products is fading and consumers reward providers that offer the most choices. Wait – doesn’t that contradict number 4? Maybe; maybe not. You’ve got to figure out the difference and do it.
  6. Outsourcing – it’s not just possible to find someone to make/code/do something for you quickly and cheaply; it is now easy. The means of productions of physical goods and intellectual property is no longer based on geography but is based on talent and efficiency instead. The biggest resource for churches is surprise, within the church; it just may not be your church.
  7. Google and the dicing of everything – No one visits a Web site’s home page anymore – they walk in the back door, to the page Google sent them to. By atomizing the world, Google destroys the linear, end-to-end solutions offered by most organizations (churches). It is being replaced by a pick-and-choose, component-based solution. Chaordic is a term I’ve come to like very well; church leaders might want to get comfortable with it!
  8. Infinite channels of communication – New forms of publishing, communication, and interaction are arriving by the second in an already cluttered world. Some organizations will thrive from this increased chaos, some will be unprepared, and some will merely fight it and lose. Which will you be?
  9. Direct communication and commerce between consumers and consumers – eBay and Craig’s list on the commercial side, social networking on the personal communication side. As these networks become more powerful, consumers will gravitate to each other, not just informing each other about their experiences but banding together into groups that will pressure organizations for more of what consumers want. How do you know if someone is talking about you? To someone else?
  10. The shifts in scarcity and abundance – your organization is based on exploiting scarcity. Create and sell something scarce and you can earn a profit. But when scarce things become common, and common things become scarce, you need to alter what you do all day. Okay, this one really messes with my head. Churches don’t “sell” – or do they? They don’t make a profit, right? What are the things that are becoming ever scarcer? How can the church leverage these things? Here’s a biggie to get your brain spinning: time.
  11. The triumph of big ideas – in the industrial society of commoditization, little ideas are the key to success. Small improvements in efficiency or design can improve productivity and make the product a little more appealing. New Marketing in a noisy marketplace demands something bigger. It demands ideas that force people to sit up and take notice. The Church is happily humming along, tweaking ideas, practices, and policies from the 50’s – the 1850’s. Have you checked your calendar lately?
  12. The shift from “how many” to “who” – organizations used to market to the mass: shovel attention in the top of the funnel, and over time, sales come out the bottom. The funneling process sorts the wheat from the chaff, separating those who can buy from those who aren’t interested or can’t afford to participate. That works if you assume all consumers are pretty much the same, or if you can’t tell them apart. Unfortunately, they aren’t, and you can. Now we need to focus on who is hearing and talking about our message, and reach out to them.
  13. The wealthy are like us – rich people used to be all the same, just different from the rest of us. Now they’re not just different from the rest of us but different from each other. As the number of people considered rich increases daily, the diversity of the rich increases as well. It may not seem like it in this troubled economy, but we in the US are filthy rich in comparison to the rest of the world. Even in the US, there is a growing gap between groups of people. How will this play out in ChurchWorld?
  14. New gatekeepers, no gatekeepers – one way big organizations got bigger was by working with the other big guys. It was who you knew, and what they could do for you. There were channels to work through, gatekeepers to work with. Not now; it’s YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and dozens of other social networking options. It’s you going to the world, and the world discovering you.

Movements are at the heart of change and growth. A movement – and idea that spreads with passion through a community and leads to change – is far more powerful than any advertisement ever could be. ChurchWorld – or at least what it could be, what it started out as – is all about that kind of movement and message. After all, it’s the Good News we have.

How are we sharing it?


Good Cooking is Simply a Series of Problems Solved

The title of this post is actually a quote from one of the instructor chefs at the CIA’s cooking school. Author Michael Ruhlman, in “The Making of a Chef,” chronicles his time at the legendary cooking school, the oldest and most influential in America.

The comment came in response to a student’s unique suggestion of how to keep hollandaise sauce at just the right temperature to keep it from “breaking”. The chef had never thought of his idea, and encouraged him (and the rest of the class) to approach a problem from a unique angle (outside the box” thinking?).

This line of thought falls right into a post by Seth Godin entitled “Sell the Problem.” He noted that many business to business marketers tend to jump right into features and benefits, without taking the time to understand if the person on the other end of the conversation/call/letter believes they even have a problem.

The challenge is this: if your organization doesn’t think it has a  problem, you won’t be looking for a solution. You won’t wake up in the morning dreaming about how to solve it, or go to bed wondering how much it’s costing you to ignore it.

And so the marketing challenge is to sell the problem.

I’m passionate about helping churches thrive by turning challenges (problems) into opportunities. It’s very personal with me – I want to understand prospective clients so well that I know their situation almost as well as a leader or staff member. In fact, that statement, made a couple of years ago by a pastor, is one of the highlights of my career!

It’s my job to understand their problems.

When a prospect comes to the table and says, “we have a problem,” then you’re both on the same side of the table when it comes time to solve it.

All I have to do now is follow the recipe – a series of problems solved.

You Can’t Improve by Coasting Downhill

I’m training to participate in the 24 Hours of Booty bike ride in a couple of weeks. It’s my 7th annual Booty ride; I won’t ride all 24 hours, but one or more members of my team will. As you might expect, riding even part of 24 hours takes training. I don’t mind training, but I hate hills – at least going up hills. Coming down, now that’s pretty cool. You can coast and catch your breath.

The only problem is you can’t improve by going downhill all the time.

Living in North Carolina, there are hills everywhere; you can’t train without encountering them regularly. When I plan my training rides, I used to dread the uphill parts. No matter what techniques I tried, going up long, steep hills was a killer. Give me a flat surface and I can move along at a pretty good clip. Even better was a slight downhill run. I haven’t found a one-sided hill yet, so I would labor through, barely surviving, looking forward to the flying downhill on the other side.

Business blogger Seth Godin caught my eye with this comment: It’s very difficult to improve your performance on the downhills. 

I agree completely. No matter what I try, I am not going to get any better by just going faster on the downhill side. The place to improve performance, to get better, is to work on the uphills. That’s where the work is, the fun is, the improvement is. On the uphills, if I work hard and don’t give up, I have a reasonable shot at improving my time. The downhills are already maxed out by the laws of physics and safety.

Suddenly, the truth about biking can be translated into my work world as well. The best time to do great customer service is when a customer is upset. The moment you earn your keep as a public speaker is when the room isn’t just right or the plane is late or the projector doesn’t work or the audience is tired or distracted. The best time to engage with an employee is when everything falls apart, not when you’re hitting every milestone. And everyone knows that the best time to start a project is when the economy is lousy.

Godin’s book “The Dip” is a quick read that reinforces this line of thinking. A Dip is a temporary setback that you will overcome if you keep pushing. But maybe it’s really a cul-de-sac, which will never get better, no matter how hard you try. According to Godin, what really sets superstars apart from everyone else is the ability to escape dead ends quickly while staying focused and motivated when it really counts.

Winners quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt – until they commit to beating the right Dip for the right reasons. Winners seek out the Dip. They realize that the bigger the barrier, the bigger the reward for getting past it.

What uphill are you facing right now? Will you push through it, improving your performance along the way and on the next hill?

Or will you be satisfied with coasting on the other side?