• 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
    513-227-9037
    www.LandmarkExperience.com

What Are You Doing to Your Customer’s Memory?

A Drive Down Dogwood Lane

I grew up on a great street in Mentor, Ohio, about 25 miles east of Cleveland. My parents picked a terrific location to raise six kids. Our street was exactly a half-mile long with long straight-a-ways and a couple of serpentine curves. Back then, we used to say it was a “dead end” street. The houses weren’t very fancy by today’s standards, three bedrooms and two baths for eight people.

The cool thing was that our house was fourth from the end of the street so the only people driving past our house were the Martinson’s, the Phelp’s, the Staebler’s, the senior and junior Douglass’s and Mr. Hockenbrach. Mr. H drove pretty fast but otherwise, for a kid on a bike the traffic was practically nonexistent. It was awesome when they re-paved our street into a smooth, asphalt “raceway.” Our lot was one of the few that didn’t border woods or a fence in back. Our backyard was like a meadow, blending seamlessly into the neighbor’s yard on the street behind us. Beyond the cul-de-sac were our elementary and junior high schools, playgrounds, football stadium and a big woods with a pond. There were tons of other kids in the neighborhood of all ages.  At the corner of our backyard was the biggest maple tree around, well over a hundred years old. And you could see it from the end of the street, even from the school yard. I have very fond memories of growing up on Dogwood Lane and I can still remember the smell of the grass, aromas of dinner from open windows, the breeze, and the feeling of safety, although at the time, I didn’t know I felt safe. I just did.

Memory Shock

About six years ago I was visiting my family in Cleveland and decided to take a drive down good ‘ole Dogwood Lane. It was nothing like I remembered. My mind’s eye contained frozen snapshots of time. But on Dogwood Lane, life marched on as it has everywhere. The trees and shrubs had grown unbelievably, to the point where once exposed houses are now totally hidden. The houses no longer looked new and fresh. In fact, some were pretty run down. One driveway had a car up on blocks. Revisiting Dogwood Lane was a shock to my system. My “memory self” was out of alignment with my current “experiencing self.” I regretted taking that drive. Maybe Dogwood Lane was never as great as I remembered.

The reminiscing drive down Dogwood Lane made me realize how different the experience may be from our memory of it. Truth is, there’s the experience and then there’s the memory of the experience and they’re not necessarily the same.

How does this translate to customer experience?

You often hear me say that the best customer experience is memorable and meaningful. Memorable. That’s critical.

Now, I get it. A single customer interaction isn’t going to etch a memory the same as 18 years of growing up on Dogwood Lane. However, THAT a customer remembers the experience at all is as important as WHAT the customer remembers about the experience.

If you have time, here’s a wonderful 15-minute TED talk by Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics, Daniel Kahneman about happiness (“experience”) vs. memory.

WordPress:

Customer Memory In Your Business

Here are 3 things to consider about the customer experience and memory in your business:

1) Design: When you design and shape your customer’s experience, are you asking yourself, “What will the customer remember?” And as part of the design of the experience, are you deliberately creating a memory at all?

Example:

At my local grocery store, they have a little “mini clinic” inside the store. You can get flu shots, have minor injuries checked, and other non-emergency treatments. Today when I walked into the store, there were several very ill patients, heads in their hands, waiting for treatment. This is not particularly something I want to see when I first walk into the store to buy my food! I couldn’t get the image out of my head. Unpleasant memory.

2) The Ending: We’re most likely to remember the very end of the experience and that memory will shade the entire experience. In your customer’s experience, what is the ending like?

Example:

At the end of her voice mail greeting, my colleague Melissa doesn’t say, “Have a nice day.” She doesn’t say “Have a good day.” Melissa says, “I hope you’re having a splendid day.” Now splendid is not a word you probably hear every day, or even every week! But Melissa came up with a way to express her wishes in a unique way that stands out. It’s different and that makes it memorable. So, you’re not  comfortable with the word ‘splendid.’ No problem, come up with something else.

3) Service Recovery: How you handle customer issues when something goes wrong cannot be understated. Whether it’s your customer service department, your sales rep, technical support or other customer-facing staff, the customer will surely remember this “ending” interaction. Here’s a hint: Better to have the memory of the bad experience fade and the customer left with the great memory of how you resolved the issue.

Example:

My colleague’s web hosting company accidentally wiped out his About Me page – and couldn’t recover the content! He had to reconstruct the content and re-load it into his website. Aside from a humble apology, the hosting company gave him a generous credit toward his next renewal which just happened to be later that week. Small cost for the vendor and left the customer with an upbeat memory.

I regularly preach that a distinguishing customer experience doesn’t have to cost a lot. Sometimes by just making the experience different, you make it memorable and better.  Just ask yourself, “When this interaction is over, what will the customer remember?”

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I help business owners improve customer service, create memorable customer experience and engage employees, through evaluation, benchmarking and training. If you have a business problem you’re trying to solve, let’s talk.

Bill Leinweber
Bill@LandmarkExperience.com
(513) 227-9037

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Is Etiquette Dead?

A good receptionist is worth his weight in gold. If you’re one of the businesses that still has a human being answering your main phone line, good for you. What makes a better impression than being greeted by a live human rather than a recording? Of course, the receptionist model doesn’t work if you’re Staples, or the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, or Time Warner Cable. However, it’s great when your business size permits it.

Phone Agent Image

Image courtesy of stock images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The month before the holidays, I placed several calls to a client’s office and was greeted by an enthusiastic voice like this: “Happy holidays. ABC Company, how may I direct your call?” This is pretty typical verbiage but the enthusiasm and attention in her voice told me she enjoys her job. I said, “Well, happy holidays to you as well. I hope you’re having a great day so far.” She replied that it was, in fact a “great day” and proceeded to transfer me to the person I was calling. The receptionist actually left me looking forward to calling back again in the future.  Is that how you and your employees make customers feel?

I’ve made several in-person trips to this client and the same receptionist also greets visitors to their facility. Her polite and friendly affability is not an act. She has the same smile in her voice and friendly demeanor in person as she does on the phone. The receptionist gets me signed-in, explains about their policy that all visitors are escorted by employees at all times and hands me a visitor’s badge. I feel like a welcomed guest and I want to come back again.

A Positive Attitude & Good Etiquette Is Customer Experience Gold

Here’s one definition of etiquette: the rules and conventions governing correct or polite behavior in society in general, or in a specific social or professional group or situation.

In our Delivering Telephone Service Excellence workshop, we talk about etiquette. The word “etiquette” sounds a little snooty to begin with but I think it gets a bum rap. If etiquette in business makes you squirm a little, just bucket it under “strong communication skills.” Etiquette really just means good manners. And it’s situation specific. So the manners you use when talking to your next door neighbor may be a little different from when you answer the phone in customer service or greet visitors in your lobby. Or they may be the same! If you want to see an awesome example of etiquette, just watch Katherine Hepburn’s character, Christina Drayton, in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Even when she’s telling-off her friend, Hillary, Kate does it with stunning finesse.

Does Etiquette Really Matter in the Scheme of Things?

Good etiquette leaves the customer feeling respected, valued and held in esteem. Imagine how you’re greeted when walking into your favorite fine restaurant. You know that feeling. It feels a lot different from when you walk into a fast food joint, doesn’t it? Or, how many times have you been on the phone and heard, “Please hold” – click. Were you even given a choice? Would you rather hear, “No problem,” “Don’t worry about it,” or “I’m glad I can help,” “It’s my pleasure?” Good manners and better word choices do make a difference to your customers. They may not immediately put their finger on it but they will feel the difference.

Here are a couple of truths:

1 – Employees rarely walk into day one of new-hire with perfect etiquette or communication skills.
2 – Providing your customers with a good-mannered experience is pretty inexpensive in the big picture.

Telephone Interactions Are Bigger Opportunities Today

Few employees are actual monsters on the phone. But that doesn’t mean that most employees won’t benefit from a little refresher on how to deliver an excellent experience on the phone (or in person) with customers. Etiquette is but one of the topics in Delivering Telephone Service Excellence – the workshop. A new client recently told me that around 75% of their B2B customer contacts are via email so there is the perception in the business that, due to volume, the phone contacts aren’t as important. Truth is, with all the digital interactions thrust into our lives, most of us crave a little real live human interaction. This means the phone calls are actually MORE important than ever before. The phone interaction is an opportunity to have a real conversation with your customer and to directly influence how the customer feels much more so than can an email, a tweet or a text message. Regardless of phone interaction volume, don’t underestimate the power in leveraging that experience!

I help businesses improve customer service, sales support and employee experience through analysis, feedback and implementation. If you have a business problem you need help with, let’s talk.

Bill Leinweber
Bill@LandmarkExperience.com
(513) 227-9037

Image courtesy of stock images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why Not Leverage What Your Employees Enjoy?

In a recent training I conducted for a technical support team, the questions I asked of participants when we began were, “Why do you do what you do? Why did you accept this position? What do you like aboHands Raisedut your job?” The purpose of these questions in a training context is to be able to tie the training content to what is important to the participants. It answers the participant question, “What’s in it for me?”

The answers were pretty cool and included:

  • I like to help our customers
  • Solving a challenging problem for our customers is very rewarding
  • I like creating a happy outcome
  • Educating our customers is gratifying
  • I enjoy when our customers think of us as a resource and a partner

Keep in mind, I didn’t ask, “Why do your customers buy from you or why do your customers like you?” My questions were solely focused on the employee experience, the experience of these technical support specialists. Once I had their answers, I was able to explain how the training would help them to fulfill their role and help to support the “why” they like doing their jobs.

It Gets Handed Down

The quality of your customer experience is inextricably linked to the quality and enjoyment of your employee experience. Many companies just don’t get this. Now, I’m not saying that you have to spoil, pamper and baby your employees. What I am saying is that if your employees enjoy their workplace and if they enjoy serving your customers, that enjoyment will permeate the customer experience. In other words, customers will FEEL it in their experience. It’s as simple as that. And isn’t it only logical that when we enjoy a task, we complete it just a little bit better, more thoroughly and with more enthusiasm then tasks we don’t enjoy?

Conversely, when you are the customer, you can always tell when the person serving you really doesn’t care or enjoy what they’re doing. The sentiment usually comes across loud and clear!

Translated To Your Team

So why not leverage what your employees enjoy to further enhance their experience and that of your customers? When was the last time you asked your team members why they do what they do and why they like what they do? If employees do their work well AND enjoy their work, then that is the definition of a strength.

  • If employees say they like to communicate with customers – then what can you do to improve and facilitate that communication?
  • If employees say they love to solve customers’ problems because it makes them feel accomplished – then what can you do to make problem-solving easier and faster?
  • If they say they enjoy educating customers because they have a teaching mindset – then what can you do to train and educate your staff to further support their desire to educate your customers?

Some companies focus a lot of energy on “corrective action” and on trying to improve employee’s weaknesses. Instead, take the bulk of that energy and magnify what employees enjoy and do well. Your employees will be more satisfied and loyal and your customers will be too!

I help businesses improve customer service, sales support and employee experience through analysis, feedback and implementation. If you have a business problem you need help with, let’s talk.

Bill Leinweber
Bill@LandmarkExperience.com
(513) 227-9037

Photo courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Does Your Service Leave Customers ‘Holding the Bag?’

The subject handbag on Michele’s arm

My friend, Michele, received a bag as a gift. But not just any bag and not just any gift. It was a Michael Kors handbag received from her husband at Christmas. And it was RED! Michele loved the handbag, she’s crazy about her husband and apparently, the red color is a big deal too. So Michele called me the other day asking for advice because she had a really bad customer experience with Michael Kors. To quote her, she was expecting a good “Landmark Experience” and instead, well it was a landmark alright but not good. Not good at all.

First, my disclaimer. If you whipped out your antonym dictionary and looked for the opposite of “Fashionista,” my picture would be there. Much to my partner’s dismay, I am not a devoted follower of fashion. What I do know is customer experience. I’m an expert on that. So I did have to ask Michele, “Who the hell is Michael Kors?” “Oh, luxury brand fashion designer.” Once I figured that out, we were ready to move on.

Now, back to the red handbag. Here’s the deal in a nutshell. After only several months of owning the red handbag, the inner lining began to fray and then tear. By summer, the lining was torn in 4 places. Michele has purchased a ton of Michael Kors products – shoes, clothes, wallets and other handbags, even her bridesmaids’ gifts. I nearly choked when she told me how much she has spent on Michael Kors. Then again, she had the good sense to marry an attorney so, good for her. The red handbag cost more than several hundred dollars. Michele also owns another Michael Kors handbag and the lining on the first bag is fine after four years of use. For the money her husband spent and for the perceived quality of the brand, the red handbag was not living up to expectations. So off she goes to the Michael Kors Cherry Creek store in Denver.

And here’s where the experience really goes bad. The Michael Kors store associate told Michele that the tears in the lining were “normal wear and tear” (ironic, isn’t it. I never took the “tear” literally before). She proceeded to say that since it was “normal wear and tear,” Michele could take the handbag somewhere to get it repaired at her own expense (even though that is contrary to Michael Kors published policy and voids the 1-year warranty) or she would have to pay for the repair if the bag was sent back to Michael Kors.

Michele was not pleased.

The store associate offered another option. She could exchange the bag for the same style bag in the store, although they had only black and brown because the red was a special, limited edition. But the cost of the bag has since gone up by fifty dollars, so Michele would have to pay the difference to exchange the bag for a color she doesn’t want.

To make matters worse, the store associate was able to find Michele in their “system” but couldn’t see all the purchases that she has made over the past several years. So while Michele’s lifetime customer value was pretty high, they couldn’t see it. All they saw was a very unhappy customer and all they offered her was their “policy.” Well actually, not even that. They weren’t living up to their policy. Here’s what the Michael Kors website says:

HANDBAGS & SMALL LEATHER GOODS

Handbags are protected from the original date of purchase by a one-year limited warranty (proof of purchase required). If the handbag or small leather good proves to be defective in material or workmanship under normal use anytime within the first year, we will repair or replace the item free of charge with same or comparable product. Defective handbags will not be returned to customer.

The variations in color and texture are the prized characteristics of beautiful tanned leather. Over time, the leather will acquire a patina and may also darken due to the oils from your skin and direct sunlight, further enhancing the natural look of your handbag. Please refer to our Product Care Guidelines for further information on caring for your handbag or small leather item.

Conditions and Exclusions:

The warranty does not cover damages arising from dye transference, accidents or misuse, or from any alteration, service or repair performed by any other party other than Michael Kors.

I’m pretty sure Michele didn’t carry around her Ginsu knife collection in her Michael Kors bag, so I’m confident we can say the bag got “normal use.” Yet there was no offer to “repair or replace the item free of charge with same or comparable product” as their policy states. Additionally, the store associate never asked Michele, “What would you like us to do for you?” She never got the store manager involved to see what could be done outside “the policy” to satisfy this (clearly) very loyal customer.

Wow. Does this sound like any way to treat any customer, let alone a luxury brand customer? The disconnect here is that the experience of OWNING a Michael Kors bag is nothing like the experience when quality falls short and service needs to recover. Inconsistency.

Hey out there, listen up. The cost of losing the lifetime value of a customer is way more than the cost of a silly handbag (sorry, Michele, I mean a stunning handbag). It doesn’t matter if you’re peddling your aunt’s secret pizza sauce or making expensive handbags. If your service falls short, then customers just feel duped. They feel like you don’t really care about them – you care only about your money and your policies. And when customers feel like you don’t really care about them, then they start questioning why they were loyal to your brand in the first place. For all your hard work, that takes you back to square one with customers.

Is it time to take a look at your brand experience? Is there consistency between quality of product, service, support, after market, re-orders, brick-and-mortar, online, phone, chat, email? Or do each of these places where your customers show up live in their own little world, disconnected from the promise of your brand and your vision? If you need help figuring that out, let me know.

Bill Leinweber

Landmark Experience

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]

Customer Experience Has An Identity Crisis

An open letter to American City Business Journals, Inc and it’s affiliate, Dayton Business Journal, Publisher, Carol Clark
 
Dear “Biz Journals,”
 
I need your help. You’re killin’ me here. I need your writers and editors to get on board with customer experience terminology. Your Dayton Business Journal ran an article that came through on my email alert with a link titled, “Southwest tops customer service rankings.” The online headline read, “Report: Top 10 airlines for customer service.”
 
Your article cited a new Consumer Reports ranking on the nation’s largest airlines. You kept referring to this report as “customer service” in airline satisfaction but it became clear to me as I read your article that Consumer Reports had surveyed the CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE of airline passengers.
 
The report measured satisfaction on ease of check-in, cabin-crew service, cabin cleanliness, baggage handling, seat comfort and in-flight entertainment. The most frequent complaints, your article stated, were uncomfortable seats and excessive fees.
 
So, what’s the big deal, you say? Customer Service, Customer Experience, what’s the dif? I’ll make a wager that if you asked 10 people, “What do you think of airline customer service,” 9 of them would think you’re talking about service at the other end of an 800 number, not seat comfort. So if we just read your headlines and don’t read the article, we’re being misguided. 
 
Oh sure, airlines provide “non-stop service” to here and there so it’s fair to use service in that context. But Consumer Reports own online article states, “Almost 15,000 readers told us about their experiences on 29,720 domestic flights” and “..opinion of today’s flying experience…” I mean, c’mon, since when are seat comfort and excessive fees considered “customer service?”
 
Why does it matter? It matters because guys like me are out here trying to spread the word with business owners and CEO’s about the importance of customer experience, about weaving continuity throughout customer interactions so that the overall experience is positive, memorable and loyalty-driving. Spreading the good word about customer experience is hard enough without another powerful force out there confusing the issue with word mis-usage. So I need your help in using the correct words, despite what appears to you to be merely a nuance. 
 
So let’s agree that I won’t abbreviate “Biz Journal” any more if you won’t homogenize customer experience into the generic customer service nomenclature.
 
Deal? Thanks. Love ‘ya, mean it. 
 
Your loyal reader,
 
Bill Leinweber
Customer Experience Expert