I’m sure that there are situations in your life, the mere thought of which are terrifying. For some folks it’s public speaking. For others it’s hosting a dinner party. For many business people I know it’s facing a blank page.
Many authors have delivered quotes about that challenge. Most of the good ones welcome the empty expanse of the blank canvas as an opportunity for personal growth. Not so much business people. They are making commerce, not art, and so there really are wrong answers. A faulty business plan. An unclear presentation that won’t deliver a sale. Maybe even a blog post that means to be thoughtful but never quite hits the mark. I face that vast wasteland every work day morning and here is what I’ve found with respect to navigating it.
First, try to get yourself into the recipient’s head. If it’s a presentation, your focus is on the reason they’re seeing you, whether it’s at a conference or a one on one meeting. If it’s a piece of writing such as this, what question are you answering or what enlightenment are you bringing? Next, don’t get too caught up in the words as you write them. You can’t edit what’s not on the page. I know you all believe these screeds come out of my head fully-formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus but there is a fair amount of editing involved. Embrace the help others can bring. Let them read drafts and ask them if anything is unclear. Be sure you don’t ask the person who would totally understand it even if it was all over the place. Maybe the receptionist?
Every blank page is a challenge, but the hard part isn’t in the creation. It’s in having something to say that others will find worth their time. Hopefully, this was worth yours!
Yesterday, we began our Foodie Friday Fun with my description of a bad customer experience and the lessons learned. Today I’ll continue the tale with what happened after I ended up in an Irish Pub due to a blown reservation and a nasty storm.
Having been seated in a nearly empty pub, I waited for a server to appear. The fellow who showed up had little energy and stood there wordlessly awaiting a drink order. I asked about “espresso vodka” (don’t judge) and was told they didn’t serve espresso or cappuccino. That was not a good sign. I ordered a black and tan, something that’s a staple of any Irish place. “No draft beer at all. It’s a building problem.” After ordering something very simple to drink, I waited. And waited. And waited. I looked into the bar area – it was pretty empty.
Eventually my drink and server appeared. I asked about specials – there was a “catch of the day” on the menu as well as a couple of other dishes that changed daily. “We don’t have any – just what’s on the menu.” I made my mind up then and there that I would have a little something to tide me over and head elsewhere for supper. The artichoke and crab dip that showed up was badly made (chunks of unmelted cream cheese, very little crab or artichoke) and delivered to the table warm, not hot. I can’t blame Mr. Personality for the food but it was his lack of attention and knowledge that changed my mind about staying, costing his employer a larger check and him a larger tip.
After the storm, I walked across the street to the local iteration of Brio, where I met James. I had barely taken my seat when he appeared (in a fairly full place) to offer me a drink, comment on the storm, and begin to tell me about the menu. I asked for a wine list and it appeared in a few seconds, along with a few suggestions about what was well-priced and delicious. The rest of the meal went the same way – highly competent service delivered with an engaging personality. It was so good that I asked him who had trained him. He told me he had gone to college for a degree in hospitality. Boy did it show! He also asked if I would tell his manager which, of course, I agreed to do. It was the only time that James wasn’t squarely focused on me.
These were two diametrically opposed service experiences. In one place the server had such a negative effect that I left and the business lost revenue. In the other I ordered a dish I might not have otherwise, tipped extremely well, and left impressed by the professionalism of the entire operation. It reinforced everything I believe about proper training, good management, employees for whom the business was a career and not just a job (James was not waiting tables while looking for a “real” job) and customer care being a direct route to more revenue. Was it the best Italian food I’ve ever had? No. The food was very good but it certainly was one of the best service experiences and it made the food better as well as the evening a lot more enjoyable.
The night ended with a dessert sent over by the manager with his compliments. Believe me, the pleasure was all mine. I’ll leave highly positive reviews around the web but I’m hoping you take away the business points I did. Amazing how in the space of 2 hours one can see both ends of the service spectrum!
I know it’s Thursday, but we’re going to begin our Foodie Friday Fun today. This is actually a two-part post about my dinner experience the other night and there are some instructive business points I took away.
I’ve been traveling this week on business. A fellow has to eat, so I had made a reservation via Open Table a week or so ago. It’s a place I had been before and liked a lot. Upon arrival, there was a note on the door that the place was closed for a private party and all non-party seating would be outside. I’m not a huge fan of dining al fresco and given there was a massive storm about 2 minutes away (no exaggeration – thunder, lightning, heavy rain, and extreme winds), outdoors was no option. There was no one from the restaurant at the host stand to provide further detail. I flagged down a waiter, explained that I had a reservation, and asked if there a table someplace away from the party where I could dine? He went to find a manager and came back with a polite but firm “no”.
Under normal circumstances, I might be a little angry and very disappointed. Given that leaving the area was a non-starter (by this time it was a deluge), I was mad. The place is in an indoor complex with other restaurants but most were fast food places that held no appeal. I ended up in a faux Irish Pub and we’ll continue the tale there in a minute.
What could have been done differently? First, if the party was booked prior to last week (I’m willing to bet it was), the times should have been blocked in Open Table. The manager must have been counting on outdoor seating being available and thought he could double-dip – have a big party and serve a bunch of covers as well. It was not possible due to the weather, but even if it had been, anyone making a reservation (me) should have been informed they must eat outside. Second, they should have reviewed the day’s reservations as they opened up and reached out – my contact information is in the reservation – and said there was a problem. In a perfect world, they’d offer a suggestion of a comparable place and maybe even make the reservation for me. Third, someone should have been greeting the diners they were turning away. There was a table greeting the party goers but it wasn’t staffed by restaurant employees. In short, this place put their own needs – the party, maximize revenues – ahead of the needs of their customers. There were a few others who showed up when I did and who seemed equally disappointed. There actually were a few tables being served outside – I didn’t stick around to see what happened to their food when the storm hit – I don’t imagine they were allowed inside by the invisible management.
As we all know, unhappy customers make a lot more noise than happy ones. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about what became a happy ending and more business points learned as two other businesses get it right.
There was a piece this morning about how Samsung appears to be blocking Windows updates on its laptops. The folks over at The Next Web are reporting on a security researcher’s findings during his investigation of Samsung’s softwareupdater. That updater installs another app:
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The app, conspicuously named Disable_Windowsupdate.exe, is installed automatically without the owner’s knowledge. According to a support representative, it’s there to stop the computer from automatically downloading drivers from Windows Update that could be incompatible with the system or cause features to break.
Unfortunately for Samsung it also appears to change the user’s update settings and disables Windows Update entirely. Once installed, the app even disables Windows Update after the user re-enables it.
As anyone who has ever owned a Windows computer knows, no updates means security risks and other issues. Which raises a question – who owns the device? When you buy a house, you’re free to make whatever changes you want – paint it, knock down a wall, or add on. When you rent, your options are far fewer in number and you might not be allowed to make any structural changes at all. In my mind, Samsung is behaving like a landlord – you’re a tenant, don’t change our building’s structure.
They’re not alone in this. Think about your iPhone – your ability to make changes to the device are pretty limited. Even Andriod phones carry bloatware from manufacturers and carriers that can’t be removed unless you void your warranty and gain root access. As Wired reported –John Deere—the world’s largest agricultural machinery maker —told the Copyright Office that farmers don’t own their tractors. Because computer code snakes through the DNA of modern tractors, farmers receive “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”
I’m sure you have other examples, but it raises the question of who owns what we buy? At what point does the notion of ownership become outdated? You might not realize it but you may not own your music, your electronic books, or even your car from a legal perspective. So what are we buying?
This Foodie Friday, let’s delve into the world of food mysteries. I hadn’t really noticed but apparently the holes in swiss cheese have been shrinking and no one quite knew why. A cynical commentator (who me?) might speculate that the opposite ought to be true, as margins rise when you’re selling empty space. Be that as it may, it was really a problem and scientists did some investigating. The answer is instructive for anyone in business.
You know that cheese is made by the interplay of bacteria and milk. The bacteria is added and the differences in the milk (sheep, cow, goat, etc.) and the strain of bacteria are what make different cheeses. Swiss cheese is cow’s milk and three unpronounceable strains of bacteria, none of which had been changed; yet over the last hundred years, and very much over the last fifteen, the holes have been shrinking. Why?
Turns out it had to do with improved cleanliness. Better sanitation resulted in a safer product but also removed microscopic bits of hay from the milk. Those hay bits were critical in the formation of the holes. That solves our mystery but also raises the business point.
We’re all familiar with the law of unintended consequences but how many of us take the time with our team to think through the effects that law might bring with every new action? Product changes, a new marketing plan, or any other change has the potential to bring about changes that aren’t readily foreseen unless we spend the extra time to think about them. It’s nice to tie executive compensation to our stock price but maybe that has the unintended consequence of focusing on the short-term or good financial results at the expense of better customer service. Maybe we cut the price to get a deal but then realize we’re losing money. Maybe we reduce quality to save on costs and watch as a competitor steals share.
Making the milk cleaner was a great idea – who wants customers getting sick and dying? The unintended consequence was a big change to one of the product’s signature features. After all, without the holes, Swiss Cheese is just Emmental and Appenzell. That mystery took 100 years to solve – hopefully the mysteries inherent in your business won’t take that long.
Filed under Consulting, food