About Me

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William is an Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in the Department of Business Administration and Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is fascinated by research around how individuals construct and create their social realities, intrigued with the powers of creativity and innovation, and an avid proponent of outstanding service experiences. When not teaching, writing, or researching, he tries to spend time with his family and occasionally paint. He is currently completing his PhD in Management at Saint Mary’s University.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It’s all about H2H – Part 2

In my last post, I suggested that the issue of real service interactions might be either misunderstood or underappreciated by some working in the services industry.

It’s time to discuss how authentic service interactions are misunderstood.

Recently, I had an wonderful dinner at a good restaurant here in Halifax. The food was great, the ambience quite nice. The server was pleasant enough and competent. Order taken, food served, bill presented. However, I couldn’t helped being underwhelmed. It took me a few minutes to realize what it was. The ‘patter’.

The server was using patter, her own version of a standardized script used at each table to welcome us, take an order and perform the functions that make up the interaction.

I expect this at quick service restaurants, have even trained it and performed it myself. But in the context of a fine dining restaurant, I was surprised. The problem was that I didn’t believe my server in the basic questions.

“Was everything ok with my meal?" Did she really want to know if I was enjoying it or just if it met expectations?

“Did we save enough room for dessert?” Who’s ‘we’ and why are you not interested in my desire over my space availability?

Granted, service professionals put up fronts, often referred to as emotional labour in service research. This type of acting helps to shield the person, allowing them to present emotions that they might not necessarily feel, emotions that are more appropriate to the context. For example, when a customer asks their service person “How are you today?”, the common response is “I’m great, thank you!”, whether or not this is truly the case. We script generic responses, the call & answer, to minimize the emotional stress required when we interact with so many customers.

Here is the point of my post. Too many service professionals misunderstand real interactions; they are overly conditioned to act or perform a certain way. Performance trumps authenticity.

It’s that small bit of connection when asked ‘How are you tonight?” that puts greater emphasis on ‘you’ and not ‘how’. Real human interaction requires an investment, a commitment and, yes, even a risk of getting more than you bargain for.

In a consumer world where the degrees of differentiation between products are so very slight, it will be those who can make real connections with other humans that will stand out. Gary Vaynerchuk is calling it the Thank You Economy. I’ll just refer to it as authentic H2H experiences.

Just my two cents… WCM

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Forget P2P or B2B. It’s all about H2H

Having worked and taught in the hospitality industry for coming up to the better part of two decades now, I find the subject of service interactions to be a critical attribute to the overall experience created. Unfortunately, it is often the subject either most misunderstood or underappreciated by service professions.
Let’s take on the underappreciated in this posting.
These past Christmas holidays serve as a good example. How many stores had brilliant displays of beautiful merchandise with clear signage and information. I stood in more than a few of these stores, looking at a piece of merchandise with all of the most obvious body language that screamed out “I’m confused and have a question!!” Except I’m also watching blue shirt (or red shirt or yellow shirt – pick your store here) employees circling the section ready to ‘catch’ a sale but not willing to engage with customers.
To test this observation, I had the excuse of buying a high-end webcam and visited my local big box tech store a few weeks back. Having done my research, I stood in the aisle touching numerous products, picking them up and putting them down. Yup, I was signalling for assistance. No less than six ‘service experts’ passed by without even an enquiry. When finally I was approached, something that felt like being stalked from behind, I was asked if I had made a decision. Closing the sale already? My friend, we just met! At least say hello, comment on the weather, make an obvious but innocuous “Those are some nice cameras you are looking at!” comment. Nope. The ball was in my court.
Ok, I lob back an easy shot. "I’m stuck between these two. Is there a better one that you recommend?” Pause. Longer pause. He proceeds to read the two boxes, reads me the bold points and pronounces they appear to be about the same. Helpful. I thank him, telling him I will continue to look.
A few minutes later, after I pick up the camera I was planning to buy, I encounter the same person at the end of the aisle.
He’s waiting for me.
“If you have more questions, let me know. Can I ring that in for you?” The stench of commission sales comes off of him like overused Polo cologne at a singles bar.
The scenario here seems to be to overwhelm the customer with sales closing techniques as if managers are being taught customer service by Blake (Alex Baldwin’s character) in Glengarry Glen Ross. Somewhere, solving customer problems and building relationships have been replaced by the mantra ‘Always Be Closing”. The human experience has been removed, replaced by the hunt for commissions and the snares of a large customer base.
Don’t confuse my point here. Beyond the lack of product knowledge, I don’t blame this sales person (I cannot call him a service professional). He is simply a product of his environment and the truism that what is measured is managed.
There is also another truism. We buy and do business with people that we like.
But that’s just my two cents…WCM

Thursday, December 23, 2010

When Ideals meet Reality

A decade of teaching. I still have the rose coloured glasses on when it comes to my students. They come in the first day and I’m eager to see who will shine, who will strive. I’ve learned that natural ability is only a small portion of the equation. It takes drive, integrity and the will to succeed.
By the end of a semester, I has undoubtedly seen my fair share of short cuts taken by students, under the name of pressure, or desire for the richest of grades, or that next scholarship. Generally, these instances have to do with the lack of ethical boundaries, or what we call ‘ethics by consequences’ in class. If no one is getting hurt, then the actions, whatever they are, must be ok.
But who is getting hurt. The educational system? Undoubtedly. If the educational community cannot self-police (ah yes, I do mean police) issues of academic misconduct, it erodes the fundamental building blocks of the entire system. The class? Yes, in fact the class is being damaged. Firstly, one of their peers is showing such little regard for their fellow classmates as to flaunt the hard and long work the others put in. Secondly, should they be successful in their misconduct, it not only raises the assignment assessment level but demonstrates that there is more value in purchasing / borrowing / plagiarising than in actually doing the work; the good students immediately understand cost/benefit and will invest resources appropriately.
How about the student – are they hurt? Without a doubt. $600 in tuition for one course plus $100+ for the resources, and they decide to borrow/purchase the knowledge of others instead of collecting what they have paid for. Some already get this and fail to care; others (and this is even worse) do not have any understanding as to the problem of cheating for higher grades. School has been commoditized to such an extent that skill sets have been exchanged for papers in a frame.
It is truly disheartening to have yet another conversation with faculty peers and students about academic misconduct, to read about mass offendes being caught at schools in this province, to have to deal with the issue in my own class on assignments designed to help my students really understand critical concepts. Most often, it is simply insulting; there is an assumption that we, as trained professionals, cannot tell the difference between original and borrowed work. I watch as academics become jaded, cynical about the new crop of students. Unfortunately, it is also understandable (not acceptable, just understandable).
However, regardless of the extent of what my grandparents would call ‘tom-foolery”, each and every semester, there are success stories. Events that recharge my battery and bring hope to the wonders that the next generation are bringing. The student who makes a good first impression that ends up shining by the end of the semester; the meek one who lacks confidence but has desire and achieves authentic success; a student with various learning challenges who not only survives their first university experience but thrives with straight A’s.
So this posting tonight is to thank those who work hard, who choose to earn their stripes, and bring passion to their learning journey. You are often the gems that keep us in this profession, even when we are forced to spend a disproportionate amount of time with negative issues. Know that we would rather be investing in your success.
When faced with obstacles, I often return to the wise words of Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States, when he said,
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”
Press On! Happy Holidays everyone.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Future and other such mental wanderings

Around this time of year, I find myself reflecting on the year past and the year to come. Have I used my time wisely in 2010? Personally, I find this a tough one. Made a significant move, started a new job, relocated the whole family with all the wonderful details that encompass that.
The big cloud hanging over my head: did I make progress on my thesis? And that is a resounding NO. John Lennon said that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans and I, for sure, had a big case of the “life”.
It’s so easy to make excuses. Things were busy. Work was busy. Family was busy. Busy, busy, busy!
Perhaps it’s the reality of watching my peers defend their thesis that brings home the reality that I’m not writing. The rest is just a convenient excuse.
So, 2011 – you are the year. I’m calling you out right now! I will walk the talk I give to students about doing it, getting it done, GRINDING it out.
I want the sunny skies and some relaxing days. But first, my last major project stands in the way. I’m going to beat you, that’s promise.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The 7 Ways to Succeed in University

As the semester winds down and everyone takes a breather after exams, it’s an excellent time to reflect on some of the tips and tricks to succeeding at university. As my good friend always told me, there is no great secret!
1. Read the Course Outline
Every course begins with a course outline. In it, you will find all the gems of wisdom, including readings, assignments, and due dates (more on these below). Your professor has put in hours thinking about their course layout and design.
The easiest way to learn something about your professor is to read the outline. You’ll know what you need to prepare every week for the entire course, when the busy sections will be, and perhaps find ‘low hanging fruit’. Asking questions to your professor about course layout that is clearly in the outline sets a bad tone. However, asking a ‘clarifying’ question, such as ‘Question 1-4 are to be prepared in week 4. Will you be using them as material for class discussion or collecting them?’ immediately shows off your attention to detail. Yup – impression management…
2. Go to Class
Really. No, really!
Yes, professors rarely take attendance. However, material covered in class most often appears on exams. Techniques used to solve problems, approaches for case work, or simply how your professor is looking for an argument to be fully developed all come out in class. Students who attend and actively participate do better and have less stress. Note that this normally works best when you have your reading and prep work done before class; however, attending class unprepared is better than not attending class.
Hints, tips and tricks (not to mention changes in assignments, topics, and due dates!) are also all delivered in class; as it’s the scheduled meeting place, this changes do not need to be announced anywhere else.
3. Listen to your Professor
Professors can’t help but stress certain pieces of material or provide examples that naturally show up on evaluations. They passively tell you how we structure questions, what material to focus on, and which is less important to your immediate success.
Most importantly, we tell you what we expect. If you’re told to submit a 4 page paper on topic XYZ, double spaced with 6 references, it means that a strong paper cannot be accomplished in 1.5 pages (not enough detail) and that 10 pages is too much (don’t pad your work), that some research is required to support your arguments and that you need to leave space to written feedback within your document.
If your prof is clear about their expectations, you should work on meet / exceeding them. Your single spaced, 20 page paper might be the greatest written work ever, but when your prof has 100 papers to grade, you’re just annoying the person grading your work.
4. Complete ALL of the required readings
They’ve been assigned for a reason. Look for this material on exams and as expected referencing within your assignments. More and more, professors are moving away from traditional readings and selecting articles, stories, and other forms of media that provide a base of knowledge that you can then apply in your work. Use the information and demonstrate that you have engaged with the readings as often as you can.
And really, you had to expect some reading…
5. Do ALL of the Assignments & Tests
It never ceases to amaze me the number of students who miss tests or fail to submit assignments. It all adds up – not handing in work is just bad math! I have had students say to me that they didn’t submit that paper worth 15% of their grade because it was still wrong and not ‘up to their standards’. Ok, basic logic says that getting a D+ on a poorly written paper is still better than a zero.
And to deal in advance with the question of ‘Is there anything I can do to bring up my mark?’ typically asked by students with outstanding work, the answer is almost always “Plan better next time’.
If you hand in all of the assignment work at a reasonable level, you pass the course. Worry about perfect later.
6. Treat Due Dates as Non-Negotiable
Write out all of your due dates in one big, semester-length calendar as soon as you receive your course outlines (I told you they were handy!) and then move them all up one week. Yes, you’ll front load your first few weeks, but this is typically the time without many projects and tests. This way, you’ll be early on all of your work, have a built in buffer zone in case ‘life’ happens, and likely have more time available at the end of semester to focus on exam prep.
7. Play Nice with Others
Most courses now include a large group component; to successfully navigate group work, you need to work well with others. Step up as the team leader or group manager. Maintain influence in your group’s direction and progression. Listen and consider other people’s needs, motivations, schedules, etc… Essentially, treat people better than you would want to be treated.The investment in people will be rewarded.
As the new semester begins, I’ll post up some survival skills in time management, classroom management, and other topics!
Good luck and good learning. WCM

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Last Day of the Semester

Ahh, the last day of class has come and gone. It's that time of year just before exams, where the marking is piled higher and deeper (sounds phd-ish) and students are feeling the pressure to either catch up on marks lost or finish their courses with an equally high level of success that they achieved throughout the semester. It is also that time of year when students who otherwise cannot find the the campus or their scheduled classes can locate the office of their professor's office without the aid of GPS or directions.

So, in honour of this transition time, I leave you with this translation of undergraduate questions from http://www.phdcomics.com/. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The ‘academic’ advisor

Like many schools, we here provide the service of academic advising. On it’s face, this would look like dealing with questions about majors, concentrations, electives, and overall direction. I’d even toss in some questions about university process, like ‘who do I talk with about dropping a class?’ or ‘when might I go to have such-and-such paper signed and submitted?’. However, more and more, I’m finding academic advising constitutes questions on what courses to take when going into second semester or which language option should I take? I’ve asked people of my generation if and when they would go in for advising. Generally, the consensus is that advising would only be sought if serious implications were at stake and then only if options could be presented to the prof; less a matter of ‘what’ than ‘what do you think of option a vs. option b.?’ Have we actually not taught a generation to make decisions? Are they this coddled or is it something worse? I’m personally looking forward to the rebound on this trend.
Knock on some wood for me.
What are your thoughts?