Mending Fences

Oh it seems to me, that sorry seems to be the hardest word.

— Elton John

From popes to politicians, powerful executives to professional athletes…the news abounds with opportunities for us to ponder: What makes an apology effective — and what does not?

“When we reflect back on just how many mistakes we’ve made, and feelings we’ve hurt in our lives, you’d think we’d all  be experts at the healing art of apology,” wrote, John Kador in his book, Effective Apology: Mending Fences, Building Bridges, and Restoring Trust. But we are not.

Why does “sorry seem to be the hardest word?”

If [“Big if”] we realize that we are in the wrong, we may be humiliated and want to hide from the harm we’ve caused. The opportunity to apologize soon and sincerely is missed. The original harm festers.

Perhaps the discomfort and tension of the situation may causes us to lash out. “Even if an apology is offered, it may be unrecognizable as such because the embarrassment or anger of the person giving the apology distorts it,” wrote Holly Weeks in the Harvard Management Update.

In his amazing book, On Apology, Dr. Aaron Lazare says: “Apologizing is rarely comfortable or easy, so if you’re going to do it at all, make it count.” While it is hard for people to get an apology right, the experts agree on five essentials of effective apologies:

1. Acknowledge the Harm Begin by ensuring the injured party knows you truly understand what harm was done. Use accurate language that does not minimize the offense, question whether the victim was really hurt, or hide behind clichés. Not clearly describing the harm caused is the most common apology blunder, notes Dr. Lazare.
2. Take Personal Responsibility The challenge is to explain how the offense occurred, without excusing it. One honest assessment may be to say: “There is no excuse.” Dr. Lazare stresses that, “A humble remark is better than a dumb excuse.”
3. Express Remorse After acknowledging the harm, and taking personal responsibility, share your remorse. Do you feel sorry, regret the error, feel ashamed or humiliated? Say so. Sincerely. Whether it was a physical or psychological harm, confirm that your behavior was not acceptable.
4. Make Amends “Whenever possible, the apology should try to make the injured party whole,” says John Kador. There may be nothing tangible to repair. More often hearts and relationships are broken than physical objects. The question “What do you want me to do?” can begin the process of making amends. Then really listen. Feeling truly heard has incredible healing power and can mend wounds that seem irreparable.
5. Keep Your Promises Fulfill all your commitments to make amends. Don’t repeat the harmful behavior. The healing process can continue only if promises are kept.

There is no guarantee that your effective, sincere, genuine apology will be accepted. The injured party may be too hurt to forgive. Dr. Lazare invites us to see apology as “not always a one time request for forgiveness, but often the opening of a negotiation between the parties.” The relationships that matter to us most are built on trust. It can take time—and promises kept—to restore precious trust when it is lost.

Popes, politicians, powerful executives, professional athletes…you and me. All human beings need to learn what it takes to offer to others the “most graceful and profound of all human exchanges…” a true apology.

The Happiness Advantage

img_postcard-cowboy1What if you could improve your productivity by 30% without sacrificing happiness?

We’ve been told that if you have a good work ethic and work really hard, you can be successful and then you will be happy. New discoveries in psychology say this formula is backwards. If you reverse the order of the formula, you end up with greater happiness and greater success rates. Happiness comes first. Success follows. Continue reading “The Happiness Advantage”

Succeeding in Today’s Experience Economy

In their collaborative book, The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage, authors Pine and Gilmore illustrate how the Industrial Economy supplanted Agrarian Economy—which in turn supplanted the Service Economy.

Today, the economic offerings bar is once again, being raised. In this shift into Experience Economy, we find goods and services pose as mere commodities, and are no longer enough.


This is a fundamental shift in the very fabric of the economy,” say Pine and Gilmore. “As traditional goods and services increasingly become commoditized, companies must stage experiences and guide transformations to establish differentiation and generate economic value.”

Experiences are memorable events, engaging each customer in inherently personal ways. Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, tells business leaders:

“Follow the gospel of ‘Experience Marketing’ in all you do. The shrewdest marketers today tell us that selling a ‘product” or ‘service’ is not enough in a crowded marketplace for everything. Every interaction must be reframed as a … Seriously Cool Experience.”

Some service economy exemplars recognized by Pine and Gilmore:

Cerritos Library in Cerritos California uses themed spaces to display and define library’s collection. A stone paved “Main Street” link Shop-like spaces housing services including, City Hall After-hours, the Friends of the Library Store, Local History Room, and Special Collections and Exhibits.
The Geek Squad repairs computers while entertaining patrons with a Dragnet-like theme. Employees arrive in black and white cars attired as “geeks” in black slacks, white shirts and ties, high-water pants, white socks, displaying a badge identifying computer service and repair expertise.
American Girl Dolls and accessories retail offers an extensive “menu” of experiences including tea parties, birthday parties, even slumber parties where your child and friends can enjoy a sleepover in any American Girl store.
Mid-Columbia Hospital in The Dalles Oregon which was recognized by US News and World Report for innovative, customer-focused services. Patients choose room décor, hospital gowns, and health care services. Patients and their families also enjoy great access to an extensive medical library where they can research their illness and treatment options.

How can your organization profit from today’s experience economy? Smart companies are attracting customers and increasing revenues by wrapping high-value experiences around their products and services these key marketing questions:

• Defining “experiences” differentiating from standard products and services?
• How can we perpetually provide unforgettable, inherently personal experiences informing, connecting, engaging our customers, encouraging them to come back for more?
• How can we refresh the experience, assuring our customer will not become bored?
• How will we integrate experience into marketing campaigns?
• How can we recruit, train, and inspire team members to believe themselves to be
performers in real life? Truly believe Theater is not a metaphor rather, a way of doing business.

Pine and Gilmore warn “Those businesses that relegate themselves to the diminishing world of goods and services will be rendered irrelevant. To avoid this fate, you must learn to stage a rich, compelling experience.”

Complaints are GIFTS!

When someone gives you a beautifully wrapped package, you say “thank you.” Likewise, thank customers who complain; their complaint is truly a “gift.”

What gift has the complaining customer given you? It’s easier to see complaints as gifts by considering what could have happened:

• The customer doesn’t complain but takes their business to your completion.
• The customer talks to coworkers, family and friends about your business.
• Posts their complaint on the internet (i.e. eBay, TripAdvisor and YELP …)
• Paces 12’ x 20’ billboard on their lawn telling all passersby about how badly they were treated by your business.
• They could lodge a complaint with their mayor, governor or congressional representative.

Complaining customers truly are bearing gifts. A business wants to receive as many of these gifts as possible. That’s right, more complaints gifts the better.
Unfortunately, setting goals of “customer complaint reduction” cannot increase customer satisfaction.

Head of British Airways (BA) described how his company reduced complaints by making it harder for customers to complain:

“We tried to make it difficult for the complainant by insisting telephone callers write in and by adhering strictly to a rule book that allowed us to tell customers that they were at fault by breaking a BA regulation which they weren’t even aware of.”

More organizations are beginning to realize they need to train every employee to recognize the “gift” of a customer complaint, to know more about complaining customers, backed by a process to resolve complaints quickly.

Seminal research on valuing complaints found in A Complaint is A Gift, by Janelle Barlow and Claus Møller, identified four distinct categories of gift-giving “complainers”:

Voicers, the “most desirable of dissatisfied customers…tell when they had bad experiences.” Voicers interject how to improve services and, “they generally do not go out and tell a bunch of other people about bad service or products.” Ideally, all unhappy customers are converted into Voicers, and resolve their dissatisfaction promptly. Voicers represent 37% of complainers.

14% of complainers are Passives. “A company can provide bad service or products to this group of non-complainers, and they will keep coming back … at least for a while.” Passives are quiet, but undesirable. Avoiding the opportunity to fix the problem, they eventually quit handling with you. You never learn why but, their friends, coworkers, and neighbors certainly hear why.

“The Irates are the most lethal…In many cases, they will not say a word to the service provider or company. But they will tell lots of people about bad service and will stop buying.” Empowered by the internet, Irates represent about 21% of complainers.

Activists represent 28% or complainers, “may be seeking revenge while spreading the word of the company’s bad service to everyone and never again patronizing the company.” (Note: A Voicer, who doesn’t feel treated fairly by the business, may turn Activist … Another reason to value Voicers.)

Often, customers wrap complaint gifts in emotions of frustration, irritation and defensiveness. Learning to see past the emotional wrapping to the important message inside, expedites complaint process. Most unresolved complaints are the result of a process that does not:

• Welcome complaints as gifts.
• Provide training to all employees for complaint recovery.
• Empower everyone in the organization to quickly resolve complaints

Improve products and fix service breakdowns, by valuing complaints.
Encourage customers to complain with a welcoming, positive, FAST process. Resolve one complaint permanently everyday and watch your customer satisfaction boom.

80/20 Rule of the Vital Few

Imagine your overall effectiveness if you reduced your tasks to 20% of your normal work load. Choose the right 20%, your productivity and effectiveness could actually increase!


Vilfredo Pareto, 1843-1923

It’s called the 80/20 Rule.

In 1906, Italian economist and sociologist, composed mathematical formula describing Switzerland’s dis-proportioned income distribution. Pareto observed 20 of the population held 80 percent of the nation’s wealth. Further studies of other countries, in other time periods, produced the dramatic result following the same pattern

—80% to 20%.

80/20 distributions are just as common in industry and economic as nature. Pareto’s Principle,�? the “80/20 Rule,�? and the “Vital Few and Trivial Many Rule” is to economy as Dynergy is to nature. In business, 20% of an organization’s efforts can generate the “trivial many,�? 80% of the results. The manager’s challenge is to be mindful of 80/20 when distinguishing the “vital few�? from the “trivial many.�?

• Managers know 20 percent of the work (the first 10 and last 10 percent) consumes 80 percent of time and resources.
• 20% of service generates 80% of the complaints.
• Only 20% of a meeting produces 80% of its value.
• 20% of your products, projects or customers will generate 80% of your profitability.
• 20% of employees create 80% of the headaches.
• 20% of the customers generate 80% of the revenues, and 20% yield 80% of the profits however, these two groups are not necessarily the same 20%.

The 80/20 Rule increases effective and efficient use of resources. Accurate assessment of the necessary input for desired output brings the vital 20% into focus.

Pareto’s Principle, focus 80 percent of our time and energy on truly important 20 percent of your work. Don’t just “work smart.�? Identify, and focus your resources on, the “vital few.�?

80/20 Rule Examples
from Arthur W. Hafner, of the University of Arizona

• 80% of a manager’s interruptions come from the same 20% of the people.
• 80% of poker stakes will be won by 20% of the players.
• 80% of horse races are won by just 20% of the jockeys.
• 80% of a business’s profits come from 20% of its clients.
• 80% of a problem can be solved by identifying and correcting the right 20% of the issues.
• 80% of advertising results come from 20% of your campaign.
• 80% of an equipment budget comes from 20% of the items.
• 80% of an instructor’s time is taken up by 20% of the students.
• 80% of network traffic stays within the lane while 20% needs to cross the backbone.
• 80% of personal telephone calls are to 20% of the people in our address book.
• 80% of shipments utilize 20% of your inventory.
• 80% of the outfits we wear come from 20% of the clothes in our closets.
• 80% of the traffic in town travels over 20% of the roads.
• 80% of what we produce is generated during 20% of our working hours.
• 80% of your annual sales come from 20% of your sales force.
• 80% of your future business comes from 20% of your customers.
• 80% of your growth comes from 20% of your products.
• 80% of your innovation comes from 20% of your employees or customers.
• 80% of your success comes from 20% of your efforts.
• 80% of your website traffic comes from 20% of your pages

Court Your Customers

Roses are red. Violets are blue.

If you don’t court customers . . . they’ll find someone new.

 Attracting, Delighting, and Retaining Customers Is Like Courtship


heart-be-mineMake a Good First Impression

Like speed dating, there’s plenty of competition for the customers’ attention. You only have a short time to make a good first impression before the “bell rings” and they’re off to see what someone else has to offer.

heart listen

Be Happy to Serve   You choose your attitude.  People with a positive attitude attract customers.  A negative attitude repels your customers (and coworkers!)

Listen   Show how much you care by giving the customer your undivided attention. Listen with your ears, your eyes,  and and your heart.

Be Trustworthy   All relationships are built on trust.  Only make promises that you will keep.  Or—better yet—over deliver on every promise you make.

 candy thank youBe Grateful  Let customers know how much you appreciate the opportunity to serve them. Say “thank you” often in words and action.

 Stay Committed   Serving customers is emotional labor.  Create opportunities to renew your enthusiasm and reenergize your customer fheart sorryocus.

Apologize Soon & Sincerely

When your customer is unhappy, say “I am so sorry” (even when it is not your fault.) Tell your customer what you will personally do right now about their complaints and concerns.

Be Open to Honest Communications

Your customers’ expectations are constantly changing. Make it easy for your customers to tell you what they want, how they feel, what makes them happy—and what does not.


Jeri Mae Rowley,  Speaker~Trainer~Saddle Maker’s Daughter, would be absolutely delighted if you shared this article with others.

Bridging the Service Gap

How to bridge the “service gap” when customers and employees live on opposite sides.

Service Circa 1968’s In my childhood memories, my mother pulls up to the gas station. A man dressed in a crisp uniform jogs to the driver’s window. “Fill ‘er up?” he asks politely. “Regular or Ethel?” That same uniformed service professional efficiently cleans our windows, checks the oil, and briskly walks our payment into the station. He returns with change and a heartfelt “Thank you, mam.”


Montana Department of Transportation Historical Photo.


[Old enough to share this memory, I bet you know the melody to this TV commercial jingle: “You can trust your car, to the man who wears the star— the big, bright Texaco star!”]

Service Circa 1988’s My children’s childhood memories of going to the gas station feature mom hopping out of her into gale force winds, pumping her own gas, cleaning the windows (until the kids got tall enough!), then trudging into the station to pay or paying at the pump.


My children the millennial “self service” generation, grew up in the era of self-service gas stations, empty-your-own-cart and bag-your-own groceries, no-service retail stores, ATM banking, on-line shopping, ticketless travel, self automated phone service, and bus-your-own-table restaurants.

Service Gap 2013

“Baby Boomers”—and the generation of my children, the “Millennials”—have very different definitions and expectations of “quality customer service.” Our vastly different life experiences have led to the “service gap.” Sometimes, when these two generations meet at the opposite side of the checkout counter, the gap can look more like a “chasm.”

“There’s a tremendous culture and value gap,” said William Withers. Communications professor at Wartburg College in Iowa and colleague Patrick Langan, study the generational dynamics of customer service. Boomers, make up a quarter of the population, and 40% of economy. That puts Boomers “in the checkout line and millennials behind the counter.”

Further, when new employees need it most—many businesses simply don’t invest the time or the resources for customer service training, mentoring and support.

Bridging the Gap

How can companies bridge the gap and provide quality service? They must invest in training that opens the dialogue between these two generations. People in their teens and 20s are NOT lazy or indifferent. Boomers are NOT getting grumpier as they age. These two generations are just approaching life from two very different social experiences.

Instead of talking “about” the other generation, begin talking “with” them. The challenge is appreciate—even if we don’t agree— how the world looks from the other side of the “service gap”

Better Way to Buffet

Truly a Balancing Act Lingering in a single line, you serpentine the room; you precariously balance your plate while holding your utensils. Miraculously, you manage to use both hands to transfer your food. Add your hot beverage to the balancing act, warily winding back to your table. Oops, you missed the butter! Buffets are a

Listening with Heart

We hear with our ears. We listen with our hearts. In Chinese, four characters create the active verb “to listen,” ears, eyes, undivided attention, and heart. If one essential element is missing—you aren’t really listening. Some people are hard of hearing. Hearing involves perceiving physical vibration of sound waves on an eardrum. Hearing happens unconsciously,

We’re So Lucky

Do you feel lucky today? With our economy in a deep downturn, we experience a constant barrage of negative news and forecasts. We need stories like my grandfather’s to remind us that small businesses can survive truly hard times.