VOLUME TWO, ISSUE 8

3 Human Elements   I grew up in a resort area that had a very distinct tourist season - things got rolling over the Memorial Day weekend and died down after Labor Day. Most businesses shut down in November and stayed shuttered until late March. A lot of the labor that fueled those businesses came from high school students - like me.
I got my first full time summer job when I was 13, in a hotel kitchen. In the early morning I was a "salad and sandwich" girl. At eleven, a co-worker and I filled up utility carts with supplies and rolled our way to the pool snack shack, where we cooked burgers, hot dogs, fries and "O" rings. I spent the following summers working as a bus girl, a prep cook and a cashier. They were all entry level positions - something that today's vernacular would call a McJob.
The term "McJob" was coined by a sociologist in 1986 and later appeared in a best-selling book, "Gen X". Slang for any menial, low-paying, low-prestige job that requires little skill, a "McJob" usually refers to work in the service industry.
At the time, of course, I didn't know I had a "McJob". After all, there I was, learning to be on time and honor my commitments because my co-workers and employer depended on me. There I was, learning to problem solve when the electricity went out and the register wouldn't open and people still needed to pay for their burgers. There I was, learning that part of my job was to be pleasant, even when the public wasn't. There I was, learning to prioritize my wants because my paycheck was hard won and only went so far. There I was, helping make a family's vacation a little more enjoyable. Yes, there I was learning all kinds of valuable skills that would impact the rest of my life - who can blame me for not knowing I was just working at a lousy "McJob"?
Seriously, could someone please explain to me why we've chosen to demean these entry level jobs? It's how the vast majority of us, in our youth, enter the work force. It's where we begin to establish our view of and relationship to work that will follow us for a lifetime. No wonder so many young people are cynical and have a negative attitude about their work. But who wouldn't - if you've come to believe that you're just working at a lousy "McJob"?
I say we retire the term "McJob" from our vocabulary. Are you with me?


Jennie Ayers
Senior Partner, Challenge It Now  
In This Issue
Are You a Killer Customer?
Service: Give It to Get It
Down with McJobs
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"Are You a Killer Customer*?" by Janice Criddle
(676 words - estimated reading time: less than 3 minutes)

irate customerCorporate America's efforts to attract and retain customers has created the Killer Customer.  I know, because sometimes I'm one of them. We're the customers who demand high quality service and products at extremely low prices. We expect all of the "bells and whistles" served on a silver platter with a smile, with no regard for the organization's need for profits.  But customer service is a relationship and somewhere along the way, we lost sight of our responsibility in the equation.

A recent experience reminded me of my role in that relationship...and that it pays to be a good customer. My car died. I mean died! I've owned this car for 4 years and have been a customer of this car manufacturer for 30 years. The service manager told me my out of warranty repair bill would be $15,000; however, since I'd been a loyal customer, he'd spoken to his factory rep and gotten that reduced to half. My response was to take a breath. I wanted time to think.

Customer Service is a Two-Way Street
In my head, I was ranting and raving! I've been conscientious, diligently taking my car to the dealer for service every 5000 miles. The car had been in for service just 2 weeks prior to the death. When my anger began to subside, I started to focus on skills I'd learned as a Customer Service Manager and had taught as a Training Specialist. I reminded myself that customer service is a 2-way street and the relationship (key word) works better when both parties are working efficiently. I needed to be a "good customer". Here's how:

  • Remain calm and professional.  It's difficult for a provider to help you if you're out of control. I know it's easy to feel entitled, make demands and bully. But you'll get a lot more cooperation if you're perceived as calm and logical.
  • Patience is a virtue. Particularly if you're dealing with a difficult or abnormal situation; your vendor needs time to work through their red tape.
  • Understand their system.  Ask questions about how their system works. Ideally, you learn about this before a problem occurs. In my situation, I knew there was a Corporate Customer Service Department. I called and asked for their assistance.
  • Don't complain. I know that's what we normally do.  Companies used to actually call it the Complaint Department. By complimenting the dealer's efforts to help, I retained their support in escalating to Corporate.  My goal was for all of us to work together to get my vehicle back on the road at a reasonable cost. I wanted my "team" involved, not demeaned.
  • Know what you want.  Most providers want to "meet or exceed your expectations".  They can't do that if you can't articulate what you want. In my case, I specifically asked the corporate rep for guidance on what I could expect. I didn't want to short-change myself or ask for something that was so unreasonable it would be denied easily. 

These principles work whether you're an external customer, working with a business or organization, or an internal customer, working with co-workers or team members. We expect a lot as customers. Being a good one is vital to a customer service relationship. And when you're a good customer, people look forward to working with you and go out of their way to help.

Because of my focus on remaining a "good customer", the Service Manager I worked with was able to practice BoldWork™ in our efforts to get this dilemma resolved. He worked consistently for the higher purpose of my satisfaction as a customer, he demonstrated excellence in our work together through his follow-up and, ultimately, he remained accountable to his own integrity and to the greater social meaning of "the right thing to do" for me as a loyal, conscientious customer. Who doesn't want that?

In the end, my bill was reduced by 75% and my service manager still loves me.  I know I'll continue to receive stellar treatment in the future.

*Killer Customers: Tell the Good from the Bad by Larry Seldon and Geoffrey Colvin

"Service: Give It to Get It" by Rebecca Ripley
(521 words - estimated reading time: 2 minutes)

In our consulting practice, we see it as our life's work to encourage employees at all levels to do BoldWork. What does that mean and how does it relate to superior customer service? BoldWork has three defining characteristics:
  1. Purpose - guiding passion, reason for which something is done, the intention of a goal or aim
  2. Excellence - work possessing outstanding quality or superior merit; remarkably good.
  3. Accountability (to self & others) - impactful work that contributes to the "greater good of society at large"
Workers doing BoldWork approach their jobs with a sense of purpose for the greater good, strive for excellence and take personal accountability for their impact on others - just like the Service Manager did in Janice's article above. Who wouldn't love to see this level of commitment in service providers everywhere?

What Goes Around Comes Around
I'm sure it comes as no surprise to you that service in the United States is plummeting.  This is doubly sad, since we claim to have a service economy. Why is poor customer service tolerated and what can businesses do to reverse the trend? Some time ago while designing customer service training, I came across Robert Desatnick's powerful book, "Managing to Keep the Customer".  Desatnick says that if we expect workers to provide stellar service to our customers, we've got to consistently demonstrate respect and support for our employees. Employee relations mirror customer relations.  What goes around comes around.  Employees give what they get.  The bottom line is that employees treat others like they are treated by management. If this is what's at the core of poor customer service, American businesses are in worse shape than I thought. Nothing is ever quite this simple, of course, but I believe we would generate significant improvements in our service economy if we treated service providers, i.e., our employees, like professionals who have the capacity to meet others' needs rather than like nameless, faceless drones who owe us because we give them a paycheck.collaboration cubes
If you're a leader, think about how you can help your service providers reconnect with your organization's greater purpose. Help people feel proud of the work they do.  Every business has a purpose and a vision. Find a way to inspire others to share that vision. For example, if you run a fast food restaurant, inspire your workers with the message that you want to create a respite for guests during the 20 minutes they spend in your establishment nourishing their bodies. Of if you manufacture widgets, help people see how the widgets fit into an end product that betters the world, whether by attaching to a piece of farm equipment that results in supporting our nation's food source or to a piece of medical equipment that saves the lives of accident victims.  Maybe you're a car manufacturer who helps people safely navigate their world. Some businesses have a harder time connecting to a higher purpose than others, but it's worth the effort to forge the link.
When we help employees connect to a greater purpose, they feel good about the work they do and are much more likely to service customers with pride.  What's one thing you can do right now to ignite the passion in your team?

"Shifts Happen" by Jennie Ayers
(444 words - estimated reading time: less than 2 minutes)


Our country's economy has undergone a fundamental shift since the end of WWII and moved away from producing goods to providing services. Industries providing services now account for more than 80% of all non-farm employment. The American Customer Satisfaction Index lets industries know how they're doing when it comes to customer service. The Index interviews more than 16,000 customers in 225 companies across 45 industries and 130 government agencies and puts out a quarterly report on how satisfied the American customer is with the services they receive.
The latest figures for July 2010 show that roughly 75% of the public is satisfied with the services they receive. Sounds impressive, doesn't it? It might be...if it weren't for the fact that the percentage is roughly the same as it was when the Index was first established in 1994. There have been ups and downs within industries, but overall, as customers, we're no more satisfied with the service we get than we were 16 years ago. And fully 25% of us are unhappy with the service we're getting. So let's picture this - if there were 10 of us standing in a retail store, about 7 of us would be satisfied with the service we receive and about 3 of us would not. I don't know any company that could stay in business if over a quarter of its customer base was dissatisfied.
Standing in The Service of Whom?
collaboration cubesThis country may have shifted to a service economy, but I don't think our perceptions have shifted when it comes to "standing in the service of others". I think way too many of us have embraced the "McJob" and "McWorker" mentality, thinking of people in the service industry as "less than" or "low end" or "unskilled". And we, as customers, often treat them accordingly. Our less than positive engagements simply reinforce what the worker thinks of his/her job to begin with. Remember, how we "see" another person has a great deal to do with how we engage with them, and guess what this determines? It determines exactly what we get in return from the service people we meet. Then the cycle begins... what we get determines what we expect and on and on and on.
If we want a different kind of service economy in this country, then it's time to change our "see" and the manner in which we interact with each other when we engage in a service transaction. I think it's a privilege and an honored profession to "stand in the service of others" - which is a good thing, since 80% of us are doing it.

Are you ready and willing to change your "see"?


3 Human Elements
Challenge It Now focuses its energies on a common goal - through consultation, coaching and facilitation, we help professionals in business organizations create and sustain a workplace climate where the positive experience of work is optimized, engagement is enriched and performance potential is maximized.
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