• Bill Leinweber

  • About Bill Leinweber

    Bill Leinweber's mission is to help businesses and organizations grow by combining efficient processes with great customer and employee experience.

    Bill is the Chief Experience Officer & Owner of Landmark Experience LLC, a consultancy, where he loves to help business leaders walk in their customers' shoes and devise memorable and meaningful experiences for both customers, guests, visitors, employees and business partners. After all, have you ever heard of customer loyalty and business growth without GREAT customer experience?

    Bill's 30 year career spans retail and office products distribution operations in both small, family-owned and global mega-businesses. He has managed customer service operations, sales support, customer on-boarding and business intelligence teams while also serving as an internal consultant and subject matter expert. Bill has helped his past employers improve their customer engagement processes and achieve their goals of customer experience excellence and loyalty.

    Bill loves to talk and speak about customer experience as well, so don't be afraid to ask!

    Bill Leinweber
    Landmark Experience

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Even On Her Birthday, My Mom Is Obsessed With The Weather

My mom weaves her concern about the weather into nearly every conversation these days. She doesn’t like, no, she almost fears the cold and she’s afraid we’re all going to get caught in a blizzard.

Today is mom’s birthday. She’s eighty-three. Mom and dad live in Cleveland and we’re in Cincinnati. I called mom yesterday to wish her a happy birthday. I figured, today,their line would be busy most of the day with my five siblings and other relatives calling-in their birthday wishes from around the country. And all that talking on the phone, while welcomed, would tire mom out. So I got a jump on the greetings and called one day earMomly.

Mom has had two brain surgeries in as many years. She has good days and less than great days. On the call yesterday, she clearly knew who I was (good day!) and I think she knew today would be her birthday but I’m pretty sure she didn’t realize Christmas was only 2 days away, or even what Christmas is. When I said, “Happy birthday, mom. Tomorrow is your birthday,” she said, “Oh well, it’s just another day. Aside from the pain in my shoulder, I don’t feel any older.” On every birthday I can remember, mom has always said, “Funny, I don’t feel any older.”

When I spoke with mom last April, she said, “I’m sure not looking forward to the cold weather.” I said, “I’ve got good news for you mom. It’s only April so it will get warmer soon. You won’t see cold weather for another six months or so.” Yesterday, when she asked what I was doing, I told her I was getting ready to do some customer service training in January. She said, “Oh now, if the weather is bad, don’t feel you have to do that. Just be safe.”

“I’ll be safe, mom, don’t worry.”

I’ve mentioned mom before in this blog and in my public speaking events, not only because I love her so much and admire her but also because I know much of what I learned early on in my life about service and care, I learned from my mom. Mom was all about creating a great experience. She still is.

ser·vice [ súrvəss ] 1.work done for somebody else: work done by somebody for somebody else as a job, duty, punishment, or favor 2.helpful action: an action done to help somebody or as a favor to somebody 3.work for customers: work done for the customers of a store, restaurant, hotel, or similar establishment, often with regard to whether it pleases them or not

care [ ker ] 1.be concerned: to be interested in or concerned about something 2.feel affection and concern: to feel affection or love and concern for somebody 3.tend somebody or something: to tend or supervise somebody or something

Mom extends her helpful actions, her affection and concern, as a joyful duty to anyone within an arm’s reach or within the reach of her voice – even complete strangers and never expecting anything in return. She notices anyone struggling. She acknowledges everyone she sees. Mom puts herself in the other person’s shoes as a matter of habit. She actually cares and enjoys being of some positive service, if she can be.

When I help others solve a problem, become more proactive, improve a process or create a great experience, what I’m really doing is helping mom spread her personal mission. Except for mom, it’s not really even a mission. For mom, it’s just a way of being. The right way of being. It’s the only way of being she knows.

So today, I say thanks mom, for showing me the spirit of service and of care and the value they have creating a positive experience in the world.

And dad, thank you for taking such good care of my mom. I love you both.


What’s the Cost of Voices Unheard? – Part II of II

[This is Part II in a two-part series.]

In my last post, I “came out of the closet” about my childhood stuttering. It’s not like it was a big secret. But most of the people who know me today may not realize I stuttered terribly as a child.

Over time, I came to realize the impact that stuttering had on my life in business, as a manager, a leader, a facilitator, a mentor, a teacher. In short, I like hearing from everyone at the table. I want all voices to be heard. Not merely to be polite. When I’m trying to solve a problem, I want to have as much information as possible so the solution will serve the broadest audience. In turn, there’s a huge benefit to a business and to customer and employee experience when all the voices are heard. But all the voices aren’t always audible so, what to do about it?

On Which Side of the Table Are You?

I’d like to share an experience with you that changed the way I see group interaction. A few years back, I participated in a 2-day management workshop sponsored by our Division President. 20-25 managers gathered from various locations and departments around the division. The workshop facilitator led us through a group exercise where we lined-up around a U-shaped table, with the most extroverted person at one end of the table and the most introverted person at the other end. This would be really difficult to do with a roomful of strangers but thankfully, most of us had worked together a sufficient amount of time. We all stood up and proceeded to move around the table and drop ourselves into place based on our perceptions of where we were in the extro/introversion spectrum.

No Surprise, There Were Surprises

Once we settled into our positions at the table, we all stood there and looked around the room. At the “extrovert” end of the table stood our Division President, an uppercase “A personality;” vocal, bold, aggressive and confident. No surprise to any of us.

At the opposite and “introvert” end of the table stood our Purchasing Manager, a loyal, quiet, and diligent leader who is content to observe, plan and execute her responsibilities with the least possible fanfare. Again, no surprise to any of us.

I stood smack-dab at the half-way point, with the extroverts to my left and the introverts to my right. At my immediate left stood my Customer Service Manager, “one degree” more extroverted than me. My position in the line-up was no surprise to me, although most of my friends and colleagues peg me as more extroverted that I say I am. Half of my success and enjoyment comes from stepping out in front and leading a team, training, speaking to a group. The other half comes from stepping back, observing and formulating strategy and improvements. So it made sense to me that I straddle the extrovert/introvert threshold.

When It Comes To Solving Problems, Is Halfway Around the Room Far Enough?

The big surprise to me is this: Are we hearing the voice of only half the room?

Think about it. You can do the “line-up around the table” exercise with a room full of card-carrying extroverts or a room full of quiet, demure introverts. And yet in any group, it’s possible half to a third of the people in the room may not be comfortable speaking up, and not because of any speech impediment but simply due to their personality.

But surely the introverts are not without great ideas, observations and suggestions. The mere fact that they speak less and listen more might suggest they’re better equipped to arrive at brilliantly simple solutions. I know this to be true from simply talking to front line employees one-on-one. Some of the best ideas for improvement came from simply asking someone who otherwise wouldn’t have volunteered them.

Listen to What You’re Not Hearing

As a business leader, you owe it to yourself and to the business to ensure your teams arrive at the best possible solutions and outcomes. That won’t happen when only half the room is heard. So, what can you do?

  1. Assess
    > How do your managers interact with one another and with their own teams?
    > Do a few people monopolize the discussion and the solutions?
    > Do your managers recognize personality differences and adjust their behavior to fit the situation and the individual?
    > Are changes in your business implemented only to find out later that some aspect was missed or not considered by the group?
  2. Advise
    > If the more introverted team members remain quiet in group meetings, encourage and ask for their feedback but don’t demand it.
    > Circle back. The more introspective among us may not be comfortable with “feedback on demand” in a large group. Give the person a some time to digest the information and then circle back to ask for their thoughts and suggestions.
    > Sometimes the most extroverted need to “zip it!” Remind them when it is time for someone else to speak.
  3. Improve
    > Consider group activities such as the one above that teach your team members about personality differences and that diversity is a good thing.
    > Focus on strengths. Every team member can’t be great at catching the fly ball. But everyone is great at something. Focusing on individual strengths will build confidence in all of your team members.
    > Make sure your reward systems aren’t biased toward the extroverts. When everyone has a chance of being recognized, individual participation will remain higher.

Look Around Your Table

Are you listening to everyone? Are you hearing everyone?

How Stuttering Made Me a Better Human Being – Part I

[This post is dedicated to my awesome “baby brother.” He knows why. He’s also made me a better human being.]

I’m finally going to come out of the closet. Hey, one second. I can actually see you smirking from here. No fair. Hear me out. Don’t jump to conclusions.

Okay, here goes.

I’m a stutterer.

Stutter, stammer, whatever you want to call it, I do that. I’ve stuttered my entire life. No, not just my adult life. My entire flippin life. I’ve stuttered for as long as I can remember. I don’t know why I stutter. I’m not even sure what causes stuttering. I was never sent to speech therapy or anything like that. Surprisingly, I know very little about stuttering other than the fact that King George VI stuttered and stuttering has had a profound impact on my life. It’s made me a better person in some ways but, it hasn’t always been easy.

What? Did I stutter? Actually, yes, I did.

My stuttering isn’t a TOTAL surprise to everyone. I’ve freely confided in people along my adult journey. When I tell people I stutter, I’m always surprised when I hear, “Oh really? I never noticed it.” My first thought is always, you’ve got to be kidding. I notice it all the time. How could you not notice? Maybe they’re just being polite or maybe I do hide it well.

I’m the fourth of six children spanning a nearly twenty-year age gap. My earliest memory is of adults asking the inevitable, “What’s your name little boy?” And then comes my pathetic response, “B-b-b-b-b-b-i-ll L-l-l-l-l-l-ein-w-w-w-w-eb-b-b-b-b-er.” Imagine for a moment what it must feel like not being able to say your own name.

With six kids around it’s beneficial to be expeditious with your speech. If you’ve got something to say, for God’s sake, say it and say it quick. There are five other kids with something to say. So despite the fact that I had a lot to say, I drifted into the background, the stuttering introvert fighting the creative, curious internal extrovert.

“Na, na-na, na, na, na

School was the worst. I’m sure you know how cruel kids can be. Lots of kids can’t draw or toss a ball or kick a field goal but I can’t even freakin’ talk? What a loser. The problem is you look “normal” until you open your mouth and try to speak. The goal every day in elementary school from the moment I got to school until the moment I left school was to NOT get called on to “read aloud.” You know that routine. “Bill Leinweber, please read the next three paragraphs aloud while the rest of the class reads silently.” While the rest of the class laughs at me, is what you mean, teach. Oh God, please no. Don’t make me read aloud. I feel sick to my stomach. I’m going to throw up. I’m ill, I have to leave. Yes, I faked illness just to get out of reading to the class.

For a stutterer, reading the written word is a perilous trap into which you don’t want to step. You can’t ad lib. When speaking in conversation, I can say pail instead of bucket if the b’s trip me up. I can say “rest” rather than “sleep” if s’s give me a hard time. I venture to guess that most stutterers have pretty expansive vocabularies because they’re constantly substituting one word for another difficult-to-say word.

Fat Kids Are My Friends

Not so politically correct but true. Many of the heavy kids in school felt like misfits, sitting on the sidelines, and so did I. That pretty much sucks if you WANT to do things but are too afraid. I understood their plight. I knew how it felt. And I was a small kid so I would sit behind my overweight friends to hide from the teacher. I would do anything to not get called on.

I finally came out of my shell in 12th grade when I was recruited for my high school choir. There was an apparent shortage of baritones but I didn’t care. I love to sing and this was a chance to be part of something where I was accepted. Funny, but I don’t stutter when I sing. Neither does Mel Tillis.

I’m so grateful that my last couple of years in high school were so full of wonderful experiences. Spanish Club, Choir, honors classes – I finally broke free of my imaginary bondage, made scores of new friends and participated in many activities that I otherwise wouldn’t have.  However, when you have a lot to say and can’t speak, inevitably you miss opportunities.

Hey, What Did I Miss?

If I hadn’t stuttered, I would have read morning announcements over the PA system in 3rd grade. Remember those? I would have auditioned for school plays and played a leading role or supporting role or maybe been in the chorus. Truth is I never even tried out. Too scared.

I probably would have been on the Debate Team or some other group out front. Instead, I stayed mostly in the background. I may have discovered and used my leadership skills sooner. But with all the things I didn’t do, with all the things that weren’t happening at that time, I failed to notice then the cool things that WERE happening as a result of my stuttering.

It Wasn’t All Bad

There are actually good things that came out of stuttering. I love making people think, learn, and laugh. What’s better than that? Thinking, learning, laughing – great gifts to give, if you can. I do believe when one sense is diminished, our remaining senses are enhanced. Isn’t that why sight-impaired people can hear really well?  One of the positive results of stuttering is that I listen really, really well. I spent less time talking and a lot more time listening. Seriously, I can literally “name that tune” in 2 or 3 notes. Play the first few notes of a song and I can probably name it.

I notice things that others don’t. Since I never had the confidence to be ON stage, I worked mostly “backstage” on school activities. As a result, I have a unique perspective. When you’re dancing on the stage and under the spotlight, you’re unable to notice that a spotlight is burned out. I do notice the burned out spotlight. Stuttering makes me more aware of the details around me. Over time, you become “detail oriented.” I anticipate “what’s going to happen next” and “what’s needed next” by stepping back and observing.

If one person is trying to get a word in edge-wise (what does edge-wise mean?) in a conversation, I don’t forget that person. In fact, I’m keenly aware of the person trying to jump in and express their thoughts. I understand how they feel. Once there is a break in the discussion, I might say, “Ben, I think you had something to add. What was it?” I don’t want any voice to be excluded in the way that I excluded my own embarrassed, stuttering voice. I want to hear all voices, all opinions, all ideas.

I learned to write. Well, think about it. If you can’t speak, how else can you communicate all that you have to say? You write. I love to write and I love to touch people with the written word.

Tell Me What Hurts

If you remember only one thing, let it be this. The agony for a stutterer isn’t the inability to speak with poise and grace. The real agony for someone who stutters is watching the pain and uncomfortable embarrassment in your eyes as you look and listen, as you squirm in your seat. That’s the most painful part.

At the end of the day, I’m glad I stutter. It made me more aware, sympathetic, understanding and accepting. Stuttering has made me relentless in discovering the strengths in others rather than dwell on the weaknesses. It makes me recognize the misfit, makes me want to offer my hand and hear their voice. Tell me what’s on your mind. I want to hear it.

Today, for me to stand in front of a room full of people and speak or teach or encourage is nothing short of a miracle. Remember, I was the one hiding behind the “fat kid.” The days of “please don’t call on me” are behind me. Frankly, I don’t care if I stutter or not. I want to inspire and build.

Are there unheard voices in your life? Not because you’re not a good listener. But because the other person isn’t comfortable speaking.

What the Heck Does This Have To Do With Customer Experience?

That’s a good question and thanks for wondering. This blog is about customer experience, after all. So stay tuned to my next post. I had to tell you about my stuttering first before I could share how stuttering made me uniquely suited to customer experience and business excellence building.

[Coming Soon: What Stuttering Has To Do With Customer Experience – Part II]

Check Your Intuition At The Door – the small business leg-up on corporate giants

Where ‘o where did my intuition go?

So I was wondering the other day, what happened to my intuition?  And exactly when did I lose it?  Okay, let me back up a bit.  You see, I’m working with a business coach and she was taking our group through an exercise to tap into our intuition.  My experience with that exercise was so profound and resulted in such a vivid revelation that I began to wonder when exactly did I stop using or trusting my intuition.  Apparently, I had totally forgotten how reliable and accurate my intuition had been.

As I started to think back, I suddenly realized that when I was in my twenties, I used my intuition like crazy!  My intuition is what guided me to move back from Massachusetts to my hometown of Cleveland.  At 29, a suggestion from a complete stranger nudged me to accept a job with two partners at their B2B office supply company rather than another position at a competing company for more money.  But it was my intuition that told me to trust what that stranger, my soon to be brother-in-law, told me on the very day I first met him.  Accepting that job turned out to be one of the best decisions of my career.  And when one of the business owners told me that I needed to fire an uncooperative manager who resented me, the outsider who took a position the manager felt should be his, it was my intuition that told me not to fire him.  I knew in my gut that I could win this manager over (which I did) and I knew the business needed his skills and contributions.  The manager went on to be one of the key members of the management team and later told me I was the best boss he’d ever had.  What if I had fired him?

Intuition.  We also call it “gut feeling” or “a hunch.”  If you haven’t already read it, I recommend the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.  In it, he describes the concept of adaptive unconscious and how our brain is actually a tool of rapid cognition.  Our unconscious mind is capable of processing a high volume of sophisticated information very fast – we’re just unaware that our brains are doing it.  And yet, “We live in a world,” as Gladwell states, “that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it.”

But, we’re going to crash and burn!

Years later in the corporate world, I was working as a key participant on a mammoth project.  The project team was gathered around a huge conference table and Geri, the Project Manager, asked each of us what were our biggest concerns and what was keeping us up at night.  When it was my turn, I simply said, “the time line.”  “We can accomplish anything we set out to,” I continued, “but the scope of this project and the time line are out of whack.  We’re going to lose a ton of customers.”  I knew in my gut the business wouldn’t be able to handle the transactional volume.  But Geri wanted specifics.  Why, specifically, was the time line too aggressive?  Exactly what project tracks were too short?  When would things fail and on what date?

Geri pushed for details that I could not give her on the spot.  I might have scrutinized Gantt charts of the time line and spent my evenings pouring over the project plan but I didn’t need to do that.  My adaptive unconscious had already done it, had already processed volumes of data from my past experience.  In the prior 19 years, I had participated in the combination of two small businesses and merged their sales and customer data and processes into one.  I subsequently helped to merge 3 similar-sized divisions of a corporation into one division, combined 22 locations into 5, merged three customer service teams in 6 locations into 1.  Over time, my adaptive unconscious had become an “expert” in assessing project scope.  The project was most certainly doable but, not in the time allotted and not to the level of quality the steering committee and business at large was expecting.  I just knew the project would hit a threshold of critical mass.

That said, I understood Geri’s predicament.  She couldn’t very well walk into an executive steering committee meeting and say, “Ladies and gentlemen of the steering committee, Bill Leinweber ‘has a bad feeling’ about our project time line.  As a result, we’re adjusting it”  They would have asked Geri to, um, step down, if you catch my drift.  Ultimately, three months after it began, the migration project was halted for several months because the business was overwhelmed just as my intuition had told me it would be.  Several project tracks were overhauled and resources redeployed.  If the business had the capability to trust the expertise for which they were paying me, it might have saved several million dollars.   But  large complex corporations aren’t built to work that way.

Mystery Solved

And there, I think, is the clue to what happened to my intuition.  In my twenties, I wasn’t conditioned to be suspicious of it so I trusted it and used it regularly. Most corporate environments would rather you check your intuition at the door in favor of charts, spreadsheets and endless data analysis.  The more data the better, the more research the better but goodness, don’t trust someone’s “gut feeling.”  I’m not saying that data doesn’t have its place. Certainly it does.  But businesses are missing a vast wealth of knowledge and expertise by not cultivating the intuition of their employees.

My partner, Steven, is a great example.  His intuition is alive and well.  He taps into it regularly and, as some people know, has made startling predictions that have come true.  Not coincidentally, Steven has spent more years as an entrepreneur than he has in structured corporate environments.  Could that be why his intuition works so well?  It hasn’t been severely diminished with “Intuition bad, more data good” dogma.  As a result, Steven exercises his intuition regularly and, like any tool or skill that is practiced and conditioned, it’s both reliable and trusted.   Could it also be that women of my mother’s era were gifted with “a woman’s intuition” because so many women of that era were not in an environment that brainwashed them into believing that they should stifle it?

Do you trust your own and your employees intuition?

If you’re a business owner or entrepreneur, your intuition is what led you into your business to begin with.  Oh sure, you had to create your business plan to convince the bank and investors that your idea had merit.  But guess what?  It was your intuition that told you your business could succeed, that your product/service has a need and a niche.  And despite the very best of business cases and presentations, the bankers and investors made their decision about your business using their own intuition even if they didn’t realize it.   You’re paying your employees to bring their intellect, experience and skills to task in their role at your company.  Tap into the intuition of your long-term, most experienced employees.  All the while they’ve been working for you and before then, their adaptive unconscious have been gathering and processing volumes of data.  Next time you’re making a major decision in your business, ask your key employees, “what do you think?”  When they produce a chart, graph or a workbook of spreadsheets out of sheer habit, ask again, “No, what do YOU think?”  You may be surprised by the wealth of intuitive data already in their heads.  And your business will be taking advantage of a resource so many others miss.

Choose to Inspire the Experience

We each have within us the ability to influence, to inspire the experience of another person every time we engage with someone. We choose whether our influence will come from a place of positive or negative energy.  A phrase that I once read that stuck with me –

“Be kinder than necessary;
For everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

So my advice is: Choose to share your positive energy. Choose to Inspire –

Inspire hope.
Inspire confidence.
Inspire questions.
Inspire courage.
Inspire ideas.
Inspire change.
Inspire understanding.
Inspire thought.
Inspire thoughtfulness.
Inspire gratitude.
Inspire reconciliation.
Inspire giving.
Inspire forgiveness.
Inspire talent.
Inspire wonder.
Inspire song.
Inspire encouragement.
Inspire passion.
Inspire perseverance.
Inspire pursuits.
Inspire conversation.
Inspire laughter.
Inspire strength.
Inspire dreams.
Inspire bridges.
Inspire why’s.
Inspire connections.
Inspire color.
Inspire possibilities.

Pick one, or another and Inspire the Experience