Last month I posted an article with its genesis from an article in McKinsey Quarterly titled The Moment of Truth in Customer Service. The basis of my post was to take the McKinsey article and look at the subject from the perspective of front line staff in a ski area. My attempt was to address what is referred to as the spark in the article – the joy of doing the job. There is the “moment of truth” in interactions of customers and staff that generate loyalty and just satisfactory customer service.
Four levers were shared:
- Creating meaning and clarity of purpose for people in frontline work, thereby addressing their thoughts, feelings, values, beliefs and emotional needs
- Improving the capabilities of employees – influencing their mind-sets – so that they acquire the right emotional skills
- Putting structures, reward systems, and processes in place to back up these changes
- Enlisting frontline leaders to serve as role models and to teach emotionally intelligent behavior
Let’s talk about these four levers in a bit more detail as they are the keys to getting at the “the moment of truth” in customer service.
Get meaning into people’s work
This is the what and why of work they do. The “what” addresses their intellectual selves, the “why” the subconscious feeling that motivates them to work. Now if we put this in the context of a lift operator for sake of discussion, you’ll say it is simple, the what is load and monitor the lift and the why is because people want to ride the lift to ski down, don’t make it any more complicated. But it is. This is one of the most up front frontline jobs that exist in any ski area. How many discussions have mountain ops folks had about lift operators? How much anxiety have lift operations managers and supervisors gone through worrying about who will show up, and in what condition will they show up; will they ski/ride the appropriate trails when making the switch from top to bottom, the list could go on? If the customer service formula can be figured out for this group the model is now in place for other front line seasonal jobs.
The “what” even in the lift ops scenario is more complex than just load and watch the lift. Ski areas need to keep it simple, but repeatedly communicate the values and principles avoiding the dilettante manner of communication. The “why” in this scenario might be a bit more challenging but if we do the “what” better the “why” might have a broader spectrum. There is nothing that creative or spontaneous about loading lifts. Allowing creativity might mean letting the lift operator’s personality be more prevalent in how they interact with the customers. We have all seen this where we have a great lift operator who smiles, engages the customers and creates a sense of fun in the coral or loading process. This comes from the “why”. A suggestion here, which has so much relevance in so many areas of customer service, is the hiring process. Suggest you take some time with your HR folks and make a list of the best personality attributes for a lift operator, and develop a test method for interviewing to reveal these attributes. Hire based on attitude and personality, attributes that fit the profile you have developed in synch with the ski area’s values and principles. This might be the first step in gaining that “moment of truth”.
Use learning through experience
People can learn new behavior but only if they are motivated to learn. They can learn new behavior based on what works and doesn’t work, on feeling good when something is done well, and watching and copying role models. People learn emotionally intelligent behavior when they become aware of their own inhibiting mind-sets. How? Feedback and reflection. Admittedly most Lifties don’t reflect a whole lot on their performance but I will also state they probably don’t get a whole lot of feedback, except when there is a negative situation. This is where being repetitive about values and principles play such an important role. Providing feedback in the context of the values and principles means that you as their leader are providing discovery to them in the desired mind-set of the job, the customers, the company, the wider view.
Align structures, systems, and processes
Having a sense of meaning in the work and the emotional basis to be motivated creates a strong foundation for handling moments of truth. However, how they do the work is also part of the equation, the systems, processes and structures and these need to be consistent. Rewards for behaving in a certain way and demonstrating new suggested behavior should be in place.
Ski areas need to institute some form of metric for lift operators, I am sure some have such so to those readers hats off, maybe you can share what you do with us. These metrics strike a balance between financial results, which are difficult to impose on lift operations and the things that really matter in lift operations. You should define your own, I have mine, which I’ll use here but I am not implying these as gospel.
- Attendance and punctuality
- Station appearance
- Loading stops
- Loading incidences
- Guest interaction
These would all be more specific as they relate to the specific, of the values and principles of the ski area.
Another potential metric is to set up questions about lift operators and lift operations in your Net Promoter scoring – then share that feedback with the Lifties.
Allowing the Lifties to participate in the design and set up of processes or systems that are used at the lifts produces a strong sense of empowerment and engagement. They will feel they are part of the whole not just a lowly grunt. Asking for their input will lift, no pun intended, their motivation significantly.
Enlist frontline leaders and mentors
We all love learning from people who we know have the knowledge about a topic or skill set. Employees watch their leaders and adopt what seems to work and what they perceive to be acceptable to the ski area.
So, leaders take notice, a major contributor to a Liftie’s performance rests on your shoulders, they learn from watching you. How you treat fellow Lifties and customers is how they are going to perform. You set the tone for empathy and self-confidence.
Raising the skill and the will of leaders involves many in the company, senior management, HR staff, and the CEO. In ski areas especially, I have learned that there is often a strong emphasis on emotions needed to serve customers, but not on the emotions required to help frontline staff perform well. The necessary skills include identifying opportunities to improve customer service experience and the ski area’s performance, coaching and having tough conversations with employees, Lifties, and facilitating an environment where Lifties can learn from those who excel at the job.
Emotional intelligence, something most of us don’t associate with Lifties, may be largely innate, yet ski areas can take concrete steps to improve the EQ of their Lifties, and all frontline workers. Doing so can pay off in improved interactions – and more profitable relationships – with customers.
I’d advocate that you are only as good as your frontline staff so invest in them to become successful.