Archive for the ‘Service Personality’ Category

Service of Details

Monday, April 26th, 2010


Every business involves hundreds of details. I often think that one of the clues to Martha Stewart’s success is that she is said to be a micromanager and detail-obsessed. Time permitting, so am I, revising and editing copy until the moment I send it to a client or post it here.

Many businesses succeed regardless. A mystery.

Details be Damned

After a tasty lunch as a guest at a white tablecloth level restaurant near our office, a PR colleague and blogger, David Reich, My 2 Cents, mentioned something that I also notice when I walk by it several times a day: The street outside this place, that makes an effort with its food and décor, always looks fiercely skuzzy. Nobody polices the sidewalk and curb during the day to pick up what people toss, nor does it look like they ever scrub the real estate around them. It always looks dingy and dirty. It’s not the case with any of the other [food] businesses around us-including the Chinese [largely] takeout spot with the $1.85 wonton soup I mentioned in “Service of How Do they Do It?,” an earlier post. The takeout place is just 300 paces up the street and around the corner.

Irony: The restaurant has plenty of customers and doesn’t seem to suffer from what for us is a turn-off.

drwaitingroomI went only once to a particular blood test mill. Why? There was no soap in the bathroom and when I inquired, the woman who took my blood shrugged. The waiting room was standing-room-only.

sundaynytimesIt drives me nuts when I get home and realize that my Sunday newspaper is missing a section–usually a favorite. I blame myself for not carefully vetting the stack before heading for the cashier. At $5 to $6 [upstate surcharge], I expect the assemblers to take care. The paper is usually a sell-out at the grocery and convenience stores, gas stations and pharmacies that carry it.

Detail Delights

Twenty blocks north of the restaurant-with-the-dirty-sidewalk there’s an indoor parking garage–on East 63rd Street off of Lexington Avenue. I’ve joked for years that I should have a picnic on its shiny, freshly painted gray floor. I’ve never seen such a remarkably clean garage entrance–or business–open to the public, anywhere. I’ve also never seen anyone drive in nor have I parked there-my car isn’t clean enough.

hairsalonWhen I get my hair done, Stacy gives the woman who washes it some of the shampoo and cream rinse she buys because she doesn’t like what the salon owner supplies. I’m not there often enough to tell whether she has more clients than the others. She’s always busy when I come.

I admire well-made clothes, and price doesn’t always enter in. I’ve been appalled at the lousiest construction and sleaziest fabrics of clothes hanging in some of New York’s trendiest boutiques while finds in favorite discount haunts feature the finest cotton, silk or linen with well-finished seams and detailing. Go figure.

My dentist, Kenneth Hochman, “Service of Assistants,” makes me laugh [and not just to show off his handiwork].

Sam, the coffee-cart man on East 44th Street, “Coffee Service with More Than a Smile,”  knows my name, how I take my coffee and waves at me as I walk by.

What details do you appreciate most and which missing ones annoy you? Do you think the omitted ones affect business success?


Service: Genuine vs. Groveling

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

West Mountain Inn, Arlington, Vt., from the side

West Mountain Inn, Arlington, Vt., from the side

Two recent experiences help describe the intangible difference between genuine and groveling service. The authentic kind makes you feel welcome; the unctuous, uncomfortable.

We had dinner at an attractive restaurant in Dutchess County, New York last weekend. The food was tasty, the prices reasonable, the courses came quickly and were served efficiently, but the waitress turned us off. She acted as though she’d known our friends for years-which she hadn’t-and as though my husband and I were invisible. The next morning we chatted about the otherwise wonderful evening and agreed that while we liked the food and ambiance, the waitresses’ tooth-achingly saccharin chumminess was unattractive and made us squirm. We don’t plan to return in anticipation of either being ignored or fawned over.

You know you’ve arrived in a special place when you drive by the planters filled with impatiens before climbing the hill to the inn.

You know you’ve arrived in a special place when you drive by the planters filled with impatiens before climbing the hill to the inn.

If your room doesn’t overlook the majestic mountain view, there’s a row of Adirondack chairs from which to enjoy it.

If your room doesn’t overlook the majestic mountain view, there’s a row of Adirondack chairs from which to enjoy it.

It was a different story entirely at the West Mountain Inn in Arlington, Vt.  Amie Emmons made us feel welcome in a quiet, natural, understated way from the moment we arrived. Amie’s son, Owen, who is four years old, greeted us as well. He was charming, articulate, smart and endearing as he punctuated Amie’s welcome tour of the public rooms and bedroom suites (we could choose from) with appropriate comments, warnings and instructions.

It may be unfair to compare an innkeeper to a waitress, but Amie also served our dinner the first night. When she was away the second night, her staff echoed her composed, unhurried, gracious yet efficient and engaged approach. One of the dinner guests who said he knew Amie’s mother, Mary Ann Carlson–the previous innkeeper who shared the role with her husband, Wes–teased Amie incessantly. She remained unfazed and friendly, never familiar.

Chiselville Covered Bridge, East Arlington, Vt, a short drive from the inn.

Chiselville Covered Bridge, East Arlington, Vt, a short drive from the inn.

A word about the inn on the Battenkill River, which started out as a farmhouse some 160 years ago, became a gristmill and a lumber mill before, in the 1970s, Wes and Mary Ann Carlson transformed it into a  classic Vermont inn. Each room is lovingly decorated with country antiques; guests leave with a potted violet to remind them of their stay along with a remarkable sense of calm and peace. Guests prefer board games and chats with others over watching TV in the bar. For breakfast and dinner there’s hearty, plentiful, honest American fare. Always on hand is coffee, tea, homemade cookies and during our stay, muffins too.

We can’t wait to return to the West Mountain Inn. Can you tell us about a similar oasis–whether restaurant, inn, hotel or spa–where the art of service equals the surroundings?

This pocket garden is outside the dining room on the path to the inn's front door.

This pocket garden is outside the dining room on the path to the inn's front door.

Service of Being in Many Places at Once

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

When a company has many branches, offices or several plants, how its management team tracks quality, customer service and whether people are doing their jobs correctly and meeting deadlines, fascinates me. Not everyone acts like a grownup when they get paid for work. In fact, I’ve known people who gloat when they figure out effective ways to do nothing and remain unnoticed.

The owner of a company that prints textiles and wallpaper in two factories hundreds of miles apart never lets anyone on staff know where she plans to be. She shows up unannounced at one or another plant and finds everything in order in both places.

That’s one person and two places. What if you have hundreds to watch over? I recently wrote Cumberland Farms to report an aggravating service malfunction at one of its 600 branches. Cumberland calls itself a “petroleum marketer” and on the web site reports that it is the largest convenience store/gas station operation in the Northeast–in 11 states–and in Florida. It handles 1 million+ customers a day. The company started as a dairy, hence its name.

I ended my letter to Cumberland: “I’m also aware that you can do nothing about it if you don’t know about it which is why I’ve dashed off this note to you.”

I was happily surprised by three, prompt, gracious responses. One was a phone call from Al Trotta, a general manger, followed by a letter. In both he thanked me for letting him know about the situation so that he could address it with the employees involved. Mr. Trotta encouraged me to return to the convenience store/gas station in question and enclosed a gift card with his letter to grease the wheels.

In a second letter from Cumberland, Joe Petrowski, CEO, thanked me for mine and shared what the company plans to do about what he described as “indifferent service.” He wrote:  

** “First, we are designing a program that attempts to select  individuals who have service oriented personalities.

**Secondly, we will train our associates both in the field and at our corporate campus in the very best methods of customer service.

**While much of how we should treat a customer would seem to be common sense and based upon how we would like to be treated, it is often quite necessary to outline specific actions and ‘role play’ various scenarios that come up in the day-to-day course of providing great customer service.

**Finally we are designing an evaluation and rewards system that will be based upon a mystery shopper program that identifies many factors leading to a great customer experience.”

Based on the topnotch, instantaneous response to my minor grievance, Cumberland understands the importance of earnest service. Management recognizes that it sells more than gas, milk, soda, lottery tickets, newspapers and other goodies. They know it is so easy to drive up the road.

Have you worked for, read about or experienced a company in which goof-offs go undetected, sliding under management’s radar? Or for a company where management seems to have eyes in the back of its head?

Service of Tone of Voice

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Without audio assistance, it’s as challenging to write effectively about tone of voice as it is to describe luscious scenery without visuals, yet most will agree that how words sound and how we interpret tone of voice are crucial components of service.

My Dad was the voice police. If he detected the slightest twinge of rude when I disagreed with my Mother, I’d hear about it. Maybe because of that training I’ve usually been selected to give bad news to clients [or is it that I’m the chump?].

I maintain that some people are simply not trained and have no idea that a care-less sounding “yes” or “no” with a generous dollop of “you’re bothering me,” is a turnoff.

How you counsel or critique a client, customer, colleague or boss’s ideas and suggestions requires finesse, delicacy and charm and the right turn of phrase as well as a positive approach, rather than aggressive, “I’m right and you are too dumb for words” eye-rolling manner. Obvious? Not to everyone. On countless occasions I’ve been invited to brainstorm with insecure colleagues and co-workers who belittle everyone else’s ideas. I’m usually busy when future opportunities to help them come up.

Here are some of my techniques:

***Instead of attacking a dumb idea [serving cranberry juice and Chianti for a reception in a white-on-white showroom] with a fist-slamming, “where have you been?” approach, I’d ask a question using a gentle, almost dumb-and-stupid voice: “I wonder if serving white wine and water might save on cleanup costs?”

***A client is elated by the press launch you directed and immediately wants to throw another one to introduce another line. I know that they’ve spent their script with the time-pressed media. I might say, “You’re right that the launch of xyz was terrific, your presentation was brilliant, but because the press needs to stretch itself so thin these days, don’t you think we might generate more impact if we…” and give three terrific alternatives. If that doesn’t work, especially if the client isn’t an advertiser with big pockets, I’d point out my concern that the press can’t /won’t come again so soon.

***A client with microscopic budgets wants a celebrity to headline a bash. I know that giving this star an award won’t coax them to attend. What do I do? I sound enthusiastic, I don’t suck in my breath and guffaw that never in a million years could they afford so-and-so, I get the information and report that the honorarium is $100,000 for a three-minute address, plus first class air fare for the star and manager. Maybe there are deep pockets I don’t know about. And I’m ready with some other ideas to help soften the blow.


***A client is launching a program of open houses for a nationwide dealer network and is overcome with excitement. He wants me to promote this day with local and national media. I learn that nothing special is happening during the open houses. So I note that while he might pay for ads with this news, to attract the press’s interest he might consider some ways to distinguish this day from all others and I suggest a few.

Has someone given you bad news where their tone of voice served to engage rather than crush you? Do you have tips to share about how you handle delicate situations and how your tone affects the outcome?


Service of Craft Fairs

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Berkshires Arts Festival, Mass.

Berkshires Arts Festival, Mass.

I love going to craft fairs–a brisk round of all the booths, the anticipation of seeing an innovative piece of jewelry, sculpture, pottery, fine art, textile, tee-shirt, jacket or winter coat topped by a stop at hot dog, lemonade or fruit smoothie stand. It can’t be beat.

I remember some of the crafts people I’ve met as others remember meeting sports or movie stars, musicians or politicians. Some of my most whimsical, cheeriest ceramic serving bowls were crafted by one of the grouchiest, surliest women I’ve ever seen. She was an equal opportunity screamer–at her husband, mother and customers alike. Last time I saw her, some eight to 10 years ago, she was pregnant. I felt sorry for the child. It was shop at your peril in her booth, but the bowls remain my favorites. [Maybe customer service takes a back seat when you really want something and the price is right.]


Over the 4th of July weekend, at the Berkshires Arts Festival in Great Barrington, Mass., I saw something new for me: Flowers–hibiscus perhaps–in tropical colors, as large as the surface of a card table, made of basketry. They wouldn’t fit the style of my home–or would they? I can’t get them out of my mind.


One ceramist demonstrated how he shaped a vase on a wheel and another, how he achieved crackle on a bowl. No fancy ovens–he had well-used pots over fire and after he removed the bowl from one pot and poured water on it, he buried it in some mysterious looking natural concoction of blackened wood shavings and other natural elements.


Several glassmakers created remarkable under water-like scenes in pendants to paperweights. A beautiful young woman with a dazzling smile sold romantic, over-the top summer hats decorated with lace and posies in juicy colors. Nobody was in her booth the few times I walked by.  Jewelry counters attracted the biggest crowds. 

My husband is not a craft fair enthusiast. He gets the same happy, “I’ve been on a vacation for a while” feeling from watching a golf tournament or football game or from hearing an opera well staged and sung. What does it for you?

Service at 1,000+ Supermarkets vs. a Pair of Bread Boutiques

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Off the bat, I’d guess that the service at an upscale Manhattan bread boutique with one branch would be a gazillion times better than in a supermarket with over a thousand outlets.

Not true.

According to Timothy W. Martin in “May I Help You?” an April 22nd Wall Street Journal article about the Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix supermarkets, the service in these groceries is superb. This is in contrast with my experience at a high-priced city bakery.

Martin wrote that one day the Publix president, Todd Jones, noticed a missing bagger in a St. Augustine branch. Like a great maitre d’ in a top restaurant, who picks up and delivers plates if need be, Jones pinch-hit for the bagger until a replacement arrived. And, Martin reports, in this economy the chain is maintaining its staffing and lowering prices to please current customers and attract new ones.

Back to New York City, I tried to buy a loaf of bread from an Upper East Side bread and muffin bakery and after waiting in line for what seemed a long time, noticed that the customers behind me were being helped. So after a salesperson had finished with his customer, I asked him about one of the breads in the window. He answered and walked away, mumbling, “I will be right back.”

He was gone. I was still waiting.

The next free salesperson, a woman, called out, “who is next?” and turned to the man behind me, asking him what he wanted. I said that I was next and she snapped, “Let me finish with him first.” He hadn’t ordered a thing–she hadn’t yet reached for a crust or crumb on his behalf.

But I’d had it. I stormed out of the store without a word. The customer she’d tapped called after me, “Ma’am, Ma’am,” but by then, I was beyond wanting to spend $4.00 for a small loaf of bread and to feel unhappy and angry at the same time. The bread was no longer a treat.

Got back to the office, looked at the bread boutique’s web site, found an e-mail address and dashed off a note describing my experience.  That was four days ago. I haven’t heard a peep.

Something tells me that Mr. Jones from Publix, with millions of customers, wouldn’t let an angry customer slip through his fingers as quickly as this bakery has.

I find it fascinating that a bigger retail operation can out-service a two-horse boutique. Can it be a regional issue? Some might blame a New York City attitude. I was born, brought up, live and conduct business here. I don’t treat people that way nor do I expect this kind of treatment from anyone at any price.

In a future post I plan to ask some experts to address how an operation with more than one branch assures good service. I’ve always been fascinated by how it’s done. The owners can’t be in two or a thousand places at once. What are your theories?

A Certain Smile

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Our guest post is written by Martha T. Takayama, who frequently comments on this blog and on December 5, most recently shared her thoughts in a guest post, “Reflections on Sales, Service and the Holiday Season.” Mrs. Takayama owns a prestigious Boston gallery, Tepper Takayama Fine Arts,

Marc Francois is courteous, articulate, charming and very bright.  A graduate of Massachusetts Bay Community College, Wellesley, Mass., with an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration and a minor in Fashion Merchandising, he thinks and moves quickly and is a supremely gracious and efficient salesperson.  He says he is always at work, which means that at least 35 hours weekly he is in the Housewares (Small Electrics) Dept. of Bloomingdale’s in the now languishing Mall at Chestnut Hill in Newton, Mass.   

Shopping for a toaster oven unexpectedly turned into a cheerful and even interesting experience with Marc as our guide. He patiently explained the merits of all the different models and manufacturers so that in moments, both my technically savvy husband and I could process the information.  He even went so far as to inform us of what model(s) were best received, and what one we might not find satisfactory even though its costliness suggested that it offered magical feats. With his information about the option to pre-buy an item, which could be picked up within a week when the upcoming sale would commence, we made our purchase and left smiling.  

When we returned to pick up our toaster, Marc effortlessly brought it to us while suggesting that we might want to look at the varied merchandise that was also “All deeply discounted.”  Once again he explained the merits and disadvantages, this time of pots and pans, and skillets–electric and stove top, etc.  We left happier than ever with a new toaster and a much-coveted luxury Le Creuset covered casserole feeling like it was Christmas or a birthday.   

It may be the intrinsic charm of his Haitian origin, his multilingual abilities, his affinity for engineering (he would like to be an X-Ray Technician), and his general fondness for people, but Mr. Francois is a delight. He deserves to be acknowledged professionally for his earnest sales, and service, and socially, as the kind of much sought after individual who makes our society function smoothly.

Focus on Service Personalities, Part 4

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

How would you define a service personality?

To answer this question, the virtual focus group used words pleasing, pleasant, positive, helpful, accommodating and capitalist to define a service personality in this the last of four parts.  I would add intuitive and sensitive.

We are grateful to the busy people in this focus group and again thank them and Jean-René Gougelet, president, Burnes Home Accents, who provided the thorough response in Part 1.

Adam T Levine, sales trainer and interior designer liaison for Furniture Marketing Associates: “A person who has the desire to help solve other people’s challenges with a positive, caring and knowledgeable demeanor. A positive outlook is key.”

Ally Gunduz, global business director, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce: “The first thing is being pleasant, flexible, and providing others the best service possible. Make the person feel that they are getting the best service.”

Holly Koenig, vice president, Kellen Company:  “Someone who aims to please–a ‘people person’ who knows how to deal with difficult customers.  Although ‘the customer is always right,’ the truth is we all know ‘the customer is not always right.’ It’s really just about how you handle him/her. 

“Those who succeed in service businesses know how to deal with difficult, demanding and angry customers. The answer is not always YES, YES, YES, ANYTHING…and kill yourself to make sure there are no errors. It’s really about negotiation and how you handle the situation after a miscommunication, an unsuccessful experience, etc. and the follow up. Making sure that all sides are satisfied.” 

Edward Baecher, owner of both NTC Auto, Dutchess County, New York, and a real estate business abroad: “A capitalist, someone looking to get ahead.”

Lucy Frank, author of books for young adults such as Lucky Stars, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2005: “Someone who takes satisfaction from meeting others’ needs, whether because she’s happy to have pleased the customer/client, or because it confirms her sense of herself.”

Warren Shoulberg, editor-in-chief, Home Furnishings News {HFN}:  “The ability to not only ask how they can help you, but be able to help you without being asked.”

Elaine Taylor-Gordon, principal, FlashForce LLC, agents for the world’s most beautiful fabrics: “Someone who enjoys accommodating others’ needs, wants and desires. Good industries for people with this type of personality are healthcare, hospitality, advertising and PR, and sales of any kind.”

Homer Byington, secretary, JM Byington & Associates, Inc: “A service personality is found in someone who derives pleasure from pleasing others.”


Focus on Service Personalities, Part 3

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

What would prevent someone from being successful in a service industry or position?


The word “arrogance” came up quite often as a deterrent for being successful in a service job according to the responses by the virtual focus group of thought leaders. However, nobody hit on an observation I’ve made: If a person’s competitive streak is such that they must win every argument and always be right–i.e. “You didn’t ask for milk in your coffee or a rare steak,” or “You did not reserve for tonight,” –a service job won’t be the best fit even after hours of training.

Elaine Taylor-Gordon, principal, FlashForce LLC, agents for the world’s most beautiful fabrics: “Self-absorption would be a major deterrent.”

Warren Shoulberg, editor-in-chief, Home Furnishings News {HFN}: “Other than a nagging spouse? Probably motivation is the single greatest inhibitor. We all know lots of talented people who never got anywhere because they just didn’t try hard enough–same with being successful as a service person.”

Adam T Levine, sales trainer and interior designer liaison for Furniture Marketing Associates: “A lack of honesty and integrity. I was taught there is a fine line between an overly enthusiastic salesperson whose eye is on the close vs. a wonderfully caring and sincere salesperson. The knowledge of the product also catapults the sincere one into a level of mastery.

“An overly enthusiastic salesperson needs to channel that energy into the correct direction in order for the prospective client to feel comfortable and trusting. Someone who is looking out for his own interest will read a prospective client as pushy or insincere–not positive traits for success. Knowledge is power so the more you know your products, the better.”

Holly Koenig, vice president, Kellen Company: “A bad attitude–someone who doesn’t believe.”

Ally Gunduz, global business director, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce: “Someone who is unpleasant–who doesn’t smile–will fail.”


Lucy Frank, author of books for young adults such as Lucky Stars, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2005: “On one end of the spectrum: Arrogance, anger, or a chip on her shoulder; or, on the other continually meeting with disrespect.  Though now that I think about it, the anger might result from the lack of respect. Hmm… this isn’t so easy to answer.”

Homer Byington, secretary, JM Byington & Associates, Inc: “The shy, the awkward, the incompetent, the lazy, the arrogant, the surly and the liar will fail in the service industry.”

Edward Baecher, owner of both NTC Auto, Dutchess County, New York, and a real estate business abroad: “Arrogance.”

To Come:

 How would you define a service personality?

Focus on Service Personalities, Part 2

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

If you are not born with the service personality “gene,” [if there is such a thing], can you be trained to provide earnest service? What must you acquire?


In follow-up to the first question addressed by the virtual focus group of thought leaders posted January 9th, responses mostly fall in the “Yes IF,” range.

Two exceptions: Warren Shoulberg, editor-in-chief of Home Furnishings News, feels you “must have something there to begin with,” and auto body shop owner Edward Baecher concedes that when truly faced with the wolf at the door, some people might change their tunes.

Edward Baecher, owner of both NTC Auto, Dutchess County, New York, and a real estate business abroad:  “No, I don’t think you can be trained, but then again, I’ve observed that whether people change their attitude largely depends on how hungry they are. You’ve heard people exclaim, “I can’t–and won’t–work like that!” yet when facing no paycheck, they quickly change their approach.”

Homer Byington, secretary, JM Byington & Associates, Inc: “Yes, one can be trained to understand the importance of being of service, but there are many caveats. The training will work better if started young by parents, teachers, etc. Cultural backgrounds are likely to impact deeply the likelihood of success in converting the personality of an individual from that of his traditional surroundings to that of a service oriented individual.”

Lucy Frank, author of books for young adults such as Lucky Stars, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2005: “Yes, you can certainly be trained to want to please. Women have been since time immemorial.”

Ally Gunduz, global business director, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce: “You must acquire a positive attitude and see the best in people. You have to agree to disagree, be flexible and compromise and negotiate. Let the other person feel that they won in some way, yet you can’t let them feel that you in any way you are patronizing them.”

Holly Koenig, vice president, Kellen Company: “Yes, you can be trained. Over and over again. And evaluated for it. Trained could mean a mentor, a supervisor, etc. …it doesn’t mean a person has to be ‘school.'”

Adam T Levine, sales trainer and interior designer liaison for Furniture Marketing Associates: “Yes you can be trained.

“I believe just as you are taught how to be respectful, to be intuitive, honest and how to listen…. you can be trained to encourage open dialog with other people who will in turn make you a better salesperson.  What must you acquire? You must have the compassion and willingness to help other people.”

Warren Shoulberg, editor-in-chief, Home Furnishings News {HFN}: “As above,” [referring to his response to the first question in the post, Focus on Service Personalities, Part 1, “you’ve got to have ‘something’ there to begin with. You can’t teach it from scratch.”

Elaine Taylor-Gordon, principal, FlashForce LLC, agents for the world’s most beautiful fabrics: “It helps to have a desire to please and create harmony. People with this personality are also good facilitators, hosts and events planners. It comes with the territory.” 

To Come

–What would prevent someone from being successful in a service industry or position?

–How would you define a service personality?

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