• 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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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

When Service Failures Collide

My experience last Sunday at Red Lobster reminded me of how service failures can snowball. It was a classic case of breaking one tenet of customer service after another:

Set Accurate Expectations

When you set expectations properly, you give your customer the freedom to make informed decisions. Period. Under promise and over deliver isn’t the cliché it is for no reason. If you over promise and under deliver, you’ve failed the customer experience.

The host at Red Lobster greeted me with pained interest, took our name, handed me a pager and said the wait time would be about 15 minutes. The wait time ended up being 35 minutes. Lucky for us, friends of ours arrived before us and were also waiting for a table. I was able to strike up conversation with our friends and pass the time. That said, I would much prefer the host had accurately stated the wait time. Then I can make an informed decision as to whether or not I wish to wait. Another couple I didn’t know asked me, “What did they tell you the wait time was?” “15 minutes,” I replied. “Yeah, that’s what they told us too. It’s already been 30 minutes, we’re leaving.” The couple left and so did several other guests.

Manage Perceptions

The customer’s perception is their reality so instinctively put yourself in the customer’s shoes and ask yourself, “How does this look? How will our customers perceive this?”

As 25 or so guests waited for available tables, in plain view of all of us were 3 booths and one 4 square sitting empty. We continued to wait and wait and wait and the table and booths continued to be empty of diners. A rumble of undertone passed around the waiting area. Why weren’t they seating anyone at open stations?

I approached the host desk and asked for the manager. When the manager approached, I asked her why guests weren’t being seated at the available booths? She explained that the server handling that section also had a table of 16 and couldn’t handle the additional tables. Wow. Bad planning or lousy contingency plans – or both? Hard to believe that is their Plan B.

Customers don’t care about your drama. Manage it. And manage what customers see and hear.

Harmful Damage Control

If you decide to compensate a customer for a service failure, make sure that comp doesn’t cause further damage.

The Red Lobster Manager offered my guest and I a complimentary appetizer in consideration of our longer than expected wait time. The comp was properly communicated to our waiter and was subtracted from our bill without any intervention from me. However, the appetizer we ordered tasted like it had been sitting under a heat lamp for hours.

Mind the Beginning and the End

Customers typically remember more clearly the very beginning of an experience and the very end. Pay very close attention to how a customer’s journey begins with your product or service and to the last thing they’ll remember.

In a restaurant, the guest arrival, greeting and seating functions are the beginning of your customer’s on site journey. If you botch up this part of the experience, you’re quite possibly sabotaging the rest of the experience. The customer is likely to remember mostly what went wrong in the beginning, regardless of how you tried to recover.

Check for Consistency

Your company may have separate unique brands and trade names. Customers may not be aware that your brands are all part of the same company. Nevertheless, if customer experience inconsistency exits across your brands, your could be setting yourself up to “brand damage” your entire organization.

It may not be known to all that Red Lobster is part of the same restaurant family as Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse. Ironically, this was not my first bad experience at Red Lobster. However, after a year of boycotting the chain, I thought I’d give them another chance to see if things had improved. They haven’t. Yet, I regularly have great experiences at Olive Garden and good experience at Longhorn. So why the inconsistency within the same parent company?

One can only speculate that best practices are not shared, brands are not held to the same standard, head office politics – who knows. At any rate, best in class eludes them.

So, you want to train your employees? Don’t miss these key steps.

Company budgets have been tight these past several years and that typically means businesses have cut back on training. Not always a wise choice. However, if your business has decided to invest in some form of training for your employees in 2012, that’s a positive sign for your company’s growth.

Whether you’re planning to train customer service, sales people, delivery associates or any other group, make sure you include the following key elements in order to increase your success rate and get the most return on your investment:

 In your next training endeavor, here’s what to look for in 5 key areas:

1)      Know Your Audience:

Adult learners are a unique breed. Understand what motivates adult learners and how to ensure the training is effective. Adult learners want to know “what’s in it for them” and how the training is going to help them with their goals. The focus is sometimes weighted too heavily on “here’s why this training is good for our business” rather than “here’s why this training is valuable for you in our business.” Subtle but important difference. Be sure the training starts with a) Here’s what you’re going to learn and b) At the end of this training, you’ll know how to do X. This clearly sets expectations and also establishes responsibility with the adult learner.

2)      Subject Matter Experts Aren’t Trainers by Default:

A PowerPoint and a projector don’t constitute training! The tendency in many companies is to say, “Hey, Bob’s a whiz when it comes to our SmartOrder program. Let’s get Bob to train the new customer service team.” The problem with that approach is this – Knowing how to use the SmartOrder system is one thing. Knowing how to effectively train other people to use it is something different entirely. Why do you think the teachers teaching your kids have to be trained to teach? Teaching is a vocation in and of itself. Bob showing up at your door with a PowerPoint deck is not training! It’s a presentation.

Understand the difference between a subject matter expert and a training professional. A training professional is a subject matter expert about learning. Consider hiring a professional to develop curriculum and to deliver your training.

3)      Plan Ahead:

Be sure to prepare handouts or guides as takeaways for participants. Class participants will typically take notes in class but don’t expect them to know what points are key concepts. Handouts and guides draw attention to the most important concepts so participants aren’t left guessing and the learning is more consistent across your group. A participant manual also gives the student something to review later to brush-up on the material covered through self-study.

A word about application training. Application training is unique – don’t skimp here. Some people learn by seeing, others by doing and still others with a combination of both. If you’re training employees how to use a new computer application, blend presentation training with “computer lab” activities so participants can first “see” and then “do.” If you don’t have a training room outfitted with PC’s, have participants bring their laptops or rent laptops for the training. During the lab activities portion of the training, participants can ask questions while actually performing work in the application. This ensures they’ll retain more of the learning and your program will be much more successful.

4)      Environment and Experience:

The success of your training content is directly tied to the training environment and the training experience for participants. Be sure your training room is comfortable and free of distractions. Have water and healthy snacks to keep participants energy and engagement up. Effective training includes a mixture of elements including clearly stating objectives, communicating what participants will learn, lecture, discussion/activity, debrief and assessment. Variety will fight distraction and boredom. Simple things are important like making sure everyone can see and hear the presentation, especially for larger groups of 15+ participants. Set expectations for how questions will be handled then repeat questions for all to hear. Pause periodically to validate with the class that concepts are understood. And finally, make it fun!

5)      Successful Training Is Not An Event:

The most successful employees have regular training integrated into performance management. Follow up on learning retention rates by implementing training evaluations and refreshers. Don’t make the mistake of having a 1-day training and never following up again. Include an assessment immediately following the training and then again 2-4 weeks later to measure what participants have learned and what they remember. Use assessment results to tweak ongoing training for improvement.

Training and teaching others, helping them grow and make a bigger contribution is some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

If you have comments about this article or questions about a training initiative you’re putting together for your company, please contact Bill Leinweber at 513-227-9037 by email at Bill@LandmarkExperience.com.

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]

Little Billy Leinweber Breaks an Old Habit

Yes I had hair back then and the typewriter weighed more than I did

Nobody likes change. Well, at least very few people I know. Yet, one of the worst things for a business is to stay the same. Sure it’s easier to keep things just as they are and it’s certainly more comfortable. We like routine. Don’t rock the boat, right?

Business leaders, I want you to venture out into your front lines and pick a process or procedure and ask your staff, “Why do we do this? And why is it done in this way?” If you hear anything at all like, “We’ve always done it this way,” then you’ve just stumbled on a huge opportunity. An opportunity to improve and do things better. “We’ve always done it this way” is the worst reason in the world to continue doing something. I know. And just to show you how committed I am, I’m going to stop doing something I’ve done for the past 43 years. I’m going to do something differently.

I learned to type at the age of nine. It was summer school between fourth and fifth grade. I think it was a punishment because I don’t remember volunteering. I just remember I went to summer school and had Living Science (like outdoor biology) and typing class. That was the first and last time I ever went to summer school. Yeah, I can hear you laughing but how many of you have the courage to put a 4th grade photo of yourself on the internet? Anyway, I remember the day the News Herald photographer and reporter came into the class to take the picture. Definitely a slow news day in Mentor, Ohio. The newspaper story begins, “Little Billy Leinweber didn’t even look big enough to reach the typewriter keys…” And for those of you who can’t remember, that big metal object in front of me is called a typewriter. It’s what we used to type letters and envelopes and other documents before computers. You can stop laughing now.

The really cool thing is, by the time computers did become commonplace I already knew how to type and I mean using all my fingers and without looking at the keyboard. And all these years, I thought I was doing it right because “I’ve always done it this way.” Then about a month ago, I read a blog post somewhere and the author was saying, “Anyone who puts 2 spaces between sentences is doing it wrong!” What? Are you kidding? That’s the way I was taught to type 43 years ago. One space between words and two spaces between sentences. What the heck was this guy talking about?

As it turns out, the two-spaces-between-sentences thing was because typewriter characters were monospaced, meaning each letter took up the same amount of space. If you typed two sentences one over the other, the letters in the top row would line up in columns with the letters in the row beneath. A computer produces proportionally spaced characters (unless you use a font like Courier which mimics a typewriter font). With proportional spacing the letter “i” for example takes up only 1/5 the space of the letter “m.” With proportional spacing, there is no longer a need to put two spaces between sentences. Hmmm… I don’t remember getting the newsflash.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to change a habit that you began 43 years ago? Well, it’s not easy but I’m going to do it. I’m going to re-condition myself to type only one space between sentences. Why? To be cool and “with it?” No, because it actually does look better in print and on-screen. It’s more pleasing to read. It’s a better way. Oh sure, I could say the heck with it, I’m going to just keep typing the way I’ve always done it. It would be much easier for me to not change a thing especially because I don’t even have to think about it. My thumbs automatically go tap-tap on the space bar every time I get to the end of a sentence so, it’s going to take some effort. But isn’t it good practice now and then to make a change for the better and not use “We’ve always done it this way” as an excuse to stay comfortable?

Customer experience in your business and your business in general will never be at its absolute best if you continue doing things as you’ve always done them because it’s simply easier. Take a look around your business. Be open. Turn on your peripheral vision. Why do we do this? Why do we do it this way? If the reason is “We’ve always done it this way” then start digging. Is it the best way? Are you willing put forth the effort to make your business better? You CAN do it. Take a hint from Little Billy Leinweber. If he can change something he learned when he was nine, you can make a change too!