Sue Funkhouser describes the impact of a customer service field trip and outlines five steps to design impactful experiences.
Clients usually call me when they want to make a change. One effective tool I use to get people out of their heads, expand their viewpoints and trigger insights are field trips. They provide an opportunity to observe something they may take for granted in a new way. They also create shared memories which unify the team and can be drawn on if, over time, a team’s motivation lessens or perspective narrows.
One of my clients operates high-end Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) in California. With new competitors entering the burgeoning senior services market, and to further differentiate their brand, they decided to focus on elevating their level of service. My team was hired to help them with a hospitality initiative.
We started with one CCRC that has 85% of their resident population in independent living, and the other 15% in assisted living or skilled nursing. When the notion of hospitality was first introduced, the staff did not relate. We heard, “Hospitality doesn’t pertain to us, it is for hotels.”
At its essence, hospitality/customer service is about the experience your customer has with you or your company. Maya Angelo’s famous quote is ever apt: “People don’t remember what you said, they won’t remember what you did, but we will always remember how people you made them feel.”
After chartering a hospitality team with representatives from maintenance, housekeeping, nursing, food service and administration etc., the first order of business was to go on a service field trip. Our purpose was for team members to have an emotional experience of two competing brands, understand the value of customer service and bring back ideas for their community.
We divided the team into five pairs that were to visit two competing establishments. Before heading out, we asked each pair to plan a realistic scenario and gave them a checklist of specific questions about being acknowledged, professionalism, communication, attentiveness, problem-solving and being bid goodbye. For example: Did you feel welcomed? Did you feel important?
One team visited two skin/make-up establishments. An administrative employee reported:
“In one store the person behind the desk said ‘hello’ to us. We asked about a product that could help with dry skin and he pointed to where we could find it in the store. At the other store, the person came out in front of the desk to greet us and then walked with us to the shelf. She asked us several questions to help us pick out the right product. We felt important and tended to. In contrast, in the other store, the person left us to fend for ourselves.
Just yesterday a resident’s family member asked me where the library was. I started to point to where it was and then remembered my experience. I walked her to the library and engaged in a conversation. I want everyone to feel important here.”
Another pair visited athletic clubs and decided that one would be shopping for a membership and the other would just be a friend who was tagging along.
This was their report.
“As soon as I said I wasn’t interested in membership, the employee’s body turned toward my buddy and he no longer had any eye contact with me. As we were walking around the club, I veered off to look around. Other staff saw me but did not acknowledge me. What I remember most is feeling I didn’t matter.”
They then visited a competing athletic club and reported:
“This experience was completely different. We were greeted right away, offered a beverage and I was treated the same as my friend who was looking at membership. When we passed staff in the hallway they nodded or smiled at us. Hands down, if I was looking I would choose this club. It made me wonder if sometimes when I am in task mode if I make people feel like they don’t matter.”
Another pair visited the Apple store. A maintenance employee reported:
“We had made an appointment at the Genius Bar and when we entered the store they let us know they were running behind and would keep us updated. We started playing with some of their new products and just shy of 10 minutes, an employee approached us by name and said it would be about five minutes more, apologized and thanked us for our patience.
Afterward, I realized we do not have a good system in letting our residents know when the work they requested would be completed in their apartments (e.g. fix the garbage disposal, hang a picture, unclog drain etc.). We are constantly prioritizing urgent needs and sometimes the requests like hang a picture go to the bottom of the list. We need to find a better way to communicate with them about when we will get to their request.”
People nodded as people shared their experiences and insights. They were amazed by the impact a 5-10 minute experience had on their feelings and their impression of the brand. It got them thinking about all the interactions they have daily with residents and employees alike.
During the report out, we culled a list of ideas they had from their experiences. Next, we asked individuals to go on an internal field trip of sorts. Not as a customer, but as a team member with new eyes. Where could things be more welcoming or professional? How could communication be improved? How are people greeted?
One idea implemented was an overhaul of the receptionist desk and area to be more visually appealing. Colorful chairs replaced the worn chairs in the elevators. Team members embraced new service standards that increased the level of professionalism of their behavior.
Two years later, these original team members still refer to their experiences in the field. Until we start focusing on something, we are likely not to see it. Yet, once we have become aware of something (e.g. looking for a new car, you see cars everywhere), you are more likely to notice it.
To create a rich learning experience for your teams, below are the five steps I use.
5 Steps to Design Impactful Field Trips
- Hone the strategic purpose
- What challenge or opportunity is your company/team facing?
- How will a new perspective be acted upon within the organization?
- Design the experience
- What experience will help individuals/teams gain a different perspective on the issue at hand?
- Decide if their experience would be better had by individuals, pairs or small groups.
- Select destinations and any parameters which would enrich their experience.
- Shape the learning
- Ask participants to craft real-life scenarios to foster rich interaction with employees.
- Create a check-list that participants that will focus observation.
- Craft questions to be answered immediately after their visit.
- Harvest and deepen the learning
- Provide some parameters for report-out and encourage creativity (e.g. pictures, video, a skit).
- Facilitate the report-out to pull out insights.
- Create a structure for applying ideas
- Have them conduct an internal field trip or visual scan.
- Develop a process for compiling, investigating, proposing ideas to management.
- Build in a mechanism to follow-up on completion of ideas.
In what ways could your team benefit from a new perspective? What field trip could you design to give them a new experience?
Photo credit: Flickr/Fargo Moorhead CVP