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 7, 2011

New Holiday Traditions

Christmas time is full of traditions. If you celebrate the holidays, you likely have your own.

Growing up in my house, we always put the tree up the weekend after my birthday. That was the rule; I’m a December baby & never wanted the two celebrations to overlap. Wrapped presents slowly found their way under the tree. Christmas Eve became the family’s twice annual pilgrimage to church, if only to listen to the choral service. Before bed we were always allowed to open one gift; my mother would use her Jedi-elf skills to magically find those new pyjamas hidden under the tree for each of her three boys. Unwrapped Santa presents waited the next morning for the kids as Mom put together a full breakfast before the full-contact sport of present opening began. It was joyously the same every year. Our family traditions.

Traditions like these give the season a sense of ceremony, and families bond with shared history and stories. But this story isn’t about my traditions; it’s about when I discovered some new ones.

Christmas 1992

The Tree

In 1991, my girlfriend Andrea and I both attended Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. Early that spring, we had decided to move in together, sharing our living space and our lives. That year for the holidays, we returned to our respective family homes in Toronto and celebrated apart. We quickly realized that didn’t work for us. So the next year, we committed to being together. After negotiations, our first Christmas together would be at her family’s home.

Between late fall exams and busy work schedules, we didn’t arrive in Toronto until early Christmas Eve. The first thing I noticed was that there was no tree. I was quickly informed that the tree went up later that afternoon. The tree was already here, of course, waiting in the backyard.

All right, I thought – this is different.

Andrea’s father went out to the backyard with saw in hand, made a fresh cut on the bottom of the tree, popped it in its stand and it was carried into the living room to warm up. You have to let the branches drop, I was told. Have to let it get comfortable.

Over the next hour, the scent of spruce filled the house. Boxes were dug out of their storage homes and laid out on the dining room table, boxes full of family ornaments and tree decorations. When the tree was ‘ready’, the lights were strung and garland wrapped around the tree.

Then it began. Wine & egg nog were poured. Slowly, people started selecting decorations, holding them up and telling stories. “I remember this one – I made it when I was seven.” “Didn’t you make this one for our presents six years ago? Or was it seven?” Over the next hour, the tree filled up with history and glass balls, homemade beaded hangings and memories.

There was no rush, no hurry. Just time together. It was the commencement of the celebration.

Bing. You’re Asleep.

Later that evening, I was presented with my very own stocking. You see, everyone in the family has a stocking made by Andrea’s Mum. Tradition. And not those tight, felty ones either, but crocheted; the stretchy kind that looks just like a sock but is easily manipulated into any shape so as to accommodate an overflow of stocking presents.

I was touched at receiving it. It was a symbol of acceptance. Perhaps moving in with their only daughter was ok, I thought. Needless to say, I was a tad concerned that soon after I had received such a wonderful gift, it had disappeared. When I asked quietly if someone had seen my stocking, I was introduced to a new family saying.

“Don’t ask silly questions at Christmas.”

All right, I thought – this is really different.

The evening was full of food, homemade chilli and fresh bread, and games around the table. There was lots of laughing and silliness with just enough competition to keep everyone on their toes. As the evening wrapped up, Andrea and I retired to the basement; it was agreed upon weeks prior that we would be allowed to share a room. Normal ‘sleep wells’ were passed around. The tree lights were turned out. The house settled down for the night.

As Andrea and I just were beginning to tuck in for our long winter’s rest, a knock came at our bedroom door. As it slowly opened, there stood her father looking quite serious. He starred at me for a long, silent beat. Then, he said the following words to me, words that I will never forget. He said,

“Bing. You’re asleep.”

Pardon, I thought. Looking over to Andrea for clarification, all I found was my girlfriend, head on pillow, eyes closed, it the position of sleep. Great, I thought. I’m going to close my eyes and Dad gets a little revenge.

Eyes closed. Head down. Waiting...

After just a few moments, our room door closed. I opened one eye. Safe. Then the other. All clear. Andrea was going about her bed routine as if nothing had happened. I, of course, noticed two VERY full stockings hung with care at the end our bed. I pointed and was about to ask about this appearance when I was quickly cut off.

“There’s nothing there.” Andrea said. And that was that.

Presents!

Before going to sleep, I asked Andrea, “What time do things start happening in the morning?” Without hesitation, she answered, “7”.

Seven? A.M.? There was no way a house full of adults were going to be up at 7 a.m. to start unwrapping. I let this pass. We’ll see what happens when everyone wakes up, I thought. Go with the flow.

Now I can tell you that I didn’t get woken up by any alarm the next day, but rather a strange, high speed vibration coming across the mattress. I opened my sleep-covered eyes to be greeted by my bedside clock that read 6:52 a.m. As I rolled over, I found Andrea curled up in a ball in the top corner of her bed, knees pulled into her chest, a pillow hugged tightly. She was shaking with pure childhood excitement about Christmas morning, physically quivering enough to send vibrations throughout the whole bed.

As her eyes moved over to me, she quietly whispered, “I was hoping not to wake you up!!”

Then she reached down to the foot of the bed, unclipped her stocking, and held it up in front of her at arm’s length. Looking right at me with the grin of a six year old, she exclaimed, “Presents!”

All right, I thought – the woman I’ve fallen in love with is crazy.

I unclipped my stocking. I held it out, nodding my head up and down in a coffee-deprived haze. “Presents” I said. Best to mimic the natives lest they turn on you, I thought.

At the strike of 7 a.m. she opened our door and we quietly crept up the basement stairs. We were returning to the land of logic, I thought. Her brother, whom I had known for over six years now, was practical and level headed; I’ll sit close to him, I thought. As we reached the top stair, the basement door opened. There, standing at the top of the stairs, arm stretched out with a full stocking in hand and a grin from ear to ear was her brother. “Presents!” he exclaimed. And we were quickly ushered into her parent’s room, everyone piling up on the bed, to start the day opening our stocking together.

I married that wonderfully crazy woman just a couple of years later. Over the years, we have blended our traditions, bringing together the best of both families.

On December 25th, 2011, for the twentieth year in a row, my wife and I will be celebrating Christmas together. My in-laws will have the comfort of our guestroom in Halifax this year; my brother-in-law and his new bride will be here with us as well. At the crack of 7 in the morning, our two young sons will come running into our bedroom, their stocking, handmade by Granny and stuffed by Santa, held high. We will all pile onto our bed to start the day.

I will be holding my stocking, that same stocking from my first crazy Christmas twenty years earlier, at arm’s length. And with a grin, I will exclaim, “Presents!”

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Quiet Blog

Wow. It's been nearly a month since I last posted up my thoughts here. My schedule has been packed lately with teaching, presentations, travel, conferences and a few major writing projects.

Sometimes we fill our plate so full, we try to use all of our time 'doing' things, that we can forget to use our time properly. This has happened to me over the last couple months. So busy doing 101 different things that I've been pushing the truly important things off to one side.

My family has felt the brunt of this. I've been a distracted father, the one who'll be up to read a story just as soon as I finish writing my next thought, a distracted husband who has been busy every evening and weekend on one project or another.

My dissertation has also suffered as I have been gravitating to writing projects, including this blog, that have provided me with quick hits. Writing a doctoral thesis rarely provides instant gratification; it is a marathon project. Instead of putting in the work training for the marathon, I've enjoyed the successful burst of sprint writing.

To this end, I'm adjusting some priorities. I'll still write blog postings when I have a hot idea that I really need to share. However, I won't be hunting for topics for a while. I'll still take on presentations, but only those that either a) move my dissertation research forward or b) are directly related to my current 1-2 topical areas of interest.

If you notice gaps in my posts over the next number of months, this is the reason. I have a few big tasks to knock out of the ballpark and it's time to step up to the plate. I have a few family members that deserve far more attention and it's time to strike a better balance.

To repeat one of my earlier tweets today:
Pixar Wisdom (from 'UP'): "Thanks for the adventure. Now go have a new one. "

This too, in some way, is part of the education of a prof I guess. So, I'll still be around. Just a tad less here for a while. Thanks for understanding! I hope you'll stick with me as new things start happening.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Power of "Thank You"

The other day I came home and found a card on my wife’s desk. Before you think that I was snooping, the corner of her desk is normally where she puts the family mail. When I looked to see who the card was from, I found that it was a thank you note from our new dentist. The office staff had all signed a card thanking my wife for recommending me to the clinic.

A little odd you might think. Isn’t it natural that when one person in a family finds a good service, the rest of the family uses that same service provider? Isn’t it...obvious?

No. It’s not obvious. I have the ability to choose for myself who to go do, and this dentist’s office understands that fact. If my wife and I end up in the same place, our kids will likely go there. If we are happy with the service, we’ll stay, talk about it, even recommend more people.

Our local dentist’s office understands the power of ‘thank you’, of moving away from an assumption of satisfaction, from an email or voice message. They took the time to sign a card and say it personally. They invested a little bit of themselves into the relationship.

Over the last three weeks, I’ve received a few hand-written cards of thanks. I keep each one and display time in my office like Christmas cards. To me, the senders of these cards understand the need to get back to the basics of human relationships. For that, I celebrate their actions and their tokens.

How do you like to be thanked? How important is this human touch in your world? Let me know in the comments. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sharing stories & expanding communities

Back in August, I started to engage in a few conversations about guest blogging.

Having a relatively short blogging history IMHO (under 40 blogs to date), the idea of contributing to another person's blog was exciting. I could think about the messages that I wanted to share in other places, the tone that I wanted to convey and work on different topics.

At the time that I wrote this post, I had been to Shakespeare by the Sea here in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They do a fantastic job putting on outdoor theatre and working with the audience that I was inspired to draw some links between live theatre and customer service (not a huge stretch, I know).

After I wrote and submitted it, I started to think about what it meant to share content on other blogs - taking my material to the home field of other people. It struck me that this type of sharing and engaging was exactly why I jumped into social media. To share my stories with others while I worked through them myself. To interact and engage with both like-minded and other-minded people. And to expand my community in the process. My new community now includes Daniel Sharkov, a 17 year old blogger that's expanded my education about blogging, sharing and the development of an online network.

Without a doubt, I'll be taking up more guest blogging opportunities. It was great fun. I guess I can also continue to be comfortable with my blog title "The Education of a Prof". I'm still learning.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Playtime: Get your creative groove on

At some point in our life, most of us shift towards the literal. Really literal.

Meanings and ideas become consistent. Things are easier to understand. We lose the ability or willingness to hold multiple meanings in our heads at the same point in time. Our interpretations become more static and our experimentation occurs less frequently.

We slowly slide away from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ideal design when he said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Remember when a butter knife was the best screwdriver in the kitchen? Many of us even had that perfect knife/tool at the back of our utensils drawer, the one with the tip that had snapped off. (We’d never put it on the table but it became an even better screwdriver!) Yet at some point, a subtle shift happens inside that compels us to search the entire house for the ‘right’ screwdriver because, for heaven’s sake, the butter knife is a ‘knife’.

Now I like to think of myself as a little creative, but still I find myself falling into this static thinking occasionally.  Luckily, I have a couple of rug rats here who do not suffer from any such debilitating issues of imagination.

In our house, Robin Hood is currently the story of choice. The books are read and the classic Disney animated film, with Robin Hood as a fox, is on high rotation. We even took the boys twice to see Robin Hood performed live by a local Halifax theatre troop.

Naturally, this leads to Robin Hood play from the boys. Imaginary arrows and battles erupt in their playroom. Costumes are donned and characters established. At the drop of a hat, they even break into song about their adventures!

This morning, the playroom was quieter than normal. Then I started to here clicks, followed by a small item bouncing across the floor. Click – tink tink... click – tink tink... Hmmm, time to investigate.

My two young ‘merry men’ had figured out that the car launcher from their Matchbox car racing track could be removed. They had also discovered that the tiny Yield signs from their city centre fit quite well inside the launcher. And they were both in full Robin Hood adventure costumes. Testing out their newly created projectile launcher.

Yes - they built a crossbow.

It was awkward and only pushed the projectile a foot or so. But it worked. And they were super pumped! Merry men indeed.

It’s on my desk right now. Letting them launch things at each other didn’t seem wise. They are off in their playroom building a new imaginary world out of pillows, a bouncy ball, a few fire engines and a monster truck.

I’m left amazed at their creativity. And also curious about why I didn’t think of it first. I guess I need to spend more time in the playroom.

How about you?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Leave it better than we found it

Anyone who is a parent understands that there are days (weeks, months...insert the timeline appropriate to you) where you feel that you are just talking into the air and your kids just aren’t listening. It doesn’t seem that anything you say or do is connecting. It can be frustrating; you never know if you’re making a difference. It’s not dissimilar to the feelings we can have at work with our students or customers. How much of what we are trying to communicate are they getting? It appears sometimes that they aren’t completely engaged – is our message wasted?

Fortunately, we get reminded every now and again about the impact we can have on those around us.

I’ve been away from home travelling on a 4 day trip. The main way that I get updated on the boys is through text messaging from my wife. Sadly, I miss a lot of the little things – their goofy games and imagination, as well as the dramatic intrigue that tends to develop between two brothers. The other afternoon, I received this message.

`Your son is picking up napkins off all the tables, because `Daddy said to leave it better than we found it.”

One simple text and I melted. I felt pride as I read this message, thrilled that my 5 year old could clearly explain why he was helping to clean up tables in the food court at the shopping mall.

As I think of this, I’m struck by two lessons.

First, we need to always be aware of the influence we can have on other people. Sometimes, our messages can have instant reactions; however, often our communications, actions and words have long standing influences that don’t immediately manifest themselves. Trust that those around you are paying attention to both what you say and what you do.

Second, shouldn’t we always be striving to leave things better than we found them? Why shouldn’t we pick up that napkin someone left behind? Sure, it’s not ‘our job’, but if we have the power to make things better with such a minimal action, why shouldn’t we help out. More than objects, wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could leave people feeling better than when we found them through acts of kindness and compassion?

Pure idealism? More than likely.

But when my 5 year old is diligently picking up napkins to leave the food court better than how he found it, I think it’s time to strive for a more idealistic world. Because in that moment, he became the teacher.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sept 11, 2011: Mixed Feelings and Media Myopia

I’m having a very mixed reaction to the last few days.

Ten years ago, I, as with so many other people, heard the news about American Airlines Flight 11 striking the north tower of the World Trade Centre in New York City. I watched on live television as United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower just a few minutes later. The events continued as American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the Pentagon while United Airlines Flight 93 was forced to crash land in a field in Pennsylvania. I can tell you where I was at each of those moments.

On that day, and many that followed, we watched first responders demonstrate incredible acts of heroism, running towards a scene everyone else wanted to be far away from. People outside the affected areas helped the best they could and in whatever way they could; 40 planes were accepted by Halifax International Airport, Vancouver International received over 8,500 diverted passengers while Gander International Airport accepted 39 rerouted planes, causing the population of Gander to swell by over 65% in hours.

Ten years later, the heroes should be celebrated and the dead remembered. Families and communities should come together, stand together, grieve and reflect together. Those who lost their lives were victims of an unimaginable event. Those who stepped up to help were heroic precisely because they jumped forward into action despite the inconceivable events transpiring.

Unimaginable. Inconceivable. The events of 9/11 were so large, so dramatically impactful, that they have become rooted as a chapter in the American story. Tragedy and triumph.

This I understand. Yet mixed feelings have surfaced again. Not around the magnitude of the attack or the tragedy of loss.

Mixed feelings come from the overwhelming rhetoric and coverage around this anniversary. Vice President Biden talked today about ‘a 9/11 generation of warriors’ galvanized around the event to fight back. News organizations like Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, as well as our own CBC, have filled hours with footage of the attacks and follow up interviews with family members speaking 10 years later.

When I woke up this morning, the U.S. East Coast media was into full coverage. At 6:23 a.m. EST.

Why are feelings mixed?

On September 11, 2001, 2,977 victims lost their lives in a tragic, unpredictable, horrific terrorist attack. Lives were senselessly ended and no one saw it coming. Three thousand, six hundred and fifty two days later, all major news networks devoted significant portions of their day to the various ceremonies. President Obama made numerous speeches in New York and Washington. Former Presidents Bush and Clinton spoke in Pennsylvania. At Ground Zero, the name of each victim was read aloud. Ten years later, all attention was brought to bear on one event, one randomly terrible event.

If something could have been done to stop it, to change the course of events, to advert this tragedy, we would all have stepped up, right? There is no way that a civilized society would have let this many people die if there was something in their power to stop it? Of course not.

Before I go to sleep tonight, here are a few other events of note:
  • 2,740 kids died from malaria. Most lacked the simple protection of a mosquito net.
  • 6, 027 people were newly infected with HIV.
  • 9,795 people died from water-related disease because they don’t have access to clean drinking water.
  • 25,000+ died from starvation or hunger-related issues.

All of these deaths occurred today. That’s right – today. The same number of people died yesterday, the day before and each day before.  By rough count, that’s 13,700,275 deaths in the last 12 months around basic food and water needs, as well as a disease few in advanced countries ever encounter.

We know how to clean water and make it safe to drink. We know how to grow food and how to protect people from disease. But we haven’t yet taken action. The numbers continue to rise. Many people are simply unaware. Did you hear the name of one child who died from malaria mentioned on the news today? Me neither. Perhaps there just wasn’t room in the 24 hour news cycle.

‘Tragedy’ is when a disastrous event happens, and 9/11 was indeed a tragedy. When disastrous events continue to happen daily and we do little about it, well, that is simply ‘tragic’.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Purpose determines platform

video

I am a self-confessed 'active' user of social media.

I’m linked in on LinkedIn. My face is booked on Facebook. I was even able to get an early ‘plus’ during the Google+ beta launch last month. According to my analytics from TweetStats.com, I could possibly have a tweet-diction.

As a result, I find that I’m also having a lot of conversations about social media.

People seem curious about what I’m tweeting and why I’m tweeting so much. For me, it has mostly been about building relationships, having conversations and engaging with some very cool people. My enthusiasm about social media tends to seep through just a wee bit as I talk about what I call my ‘successes’: my conversations with top authors in the social media field, the recent invitations to guest blog on other sites, and especially about the day a wicked poster was hand delivered to my office simply because of a quick conversation (thanks @pirie and @kulapartners!).

From these conversations, some people have said that they would like to give social media a whirl. Lately, I’ve been trying to ask them one small question:

‘Why?’

What is it that you want to accomplish through social media? Before you jump into any particular social media platform, take a few minutes to figure out why you want to be there, what you plan to accomplish, and how you plan on contributing. Your reasons, and the outcomes that flow from those reasons, will determine which platform would best suit your purposes.

Let’s take a look at a few scenarios:

  • If you are interested in connecting with people of similar interests, having conversations and perhaps building a community, Twitter is a great platform. I, for one, use Twitter a great deal and plan on having my students use it to engage with their industry community this fall.
  • Perhaps you would like to share video content – in this case, a YouTube account might be your platform of choice.
  • Are you interested in a more secure environment in which you can share longer posts, photos, links and other content behind some controlled filters? Facebook and Google+ are great platforms for this type of activity.
  • What about longer opinions pieces, thoughts or essays that others can read and response to? A blogging platform such as Wordpress or Blogger would be fantastic.
You see, ‘social media’ is a catch-all term; there are dozens of platforms at your fingertips that enable you to engage in various ways. Are you interested in collaborating, conversing, or capturing business? It’s in your best interest to explore as many of these platforms as you can, if only to increase your awareness of the available options. Before you commit to run down the social media highway, take a moment to figure out why you’re running.

Because, at the end of the day, your purpose will determine your platform.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Customer service is how you operate your business.

Most of this week, I’ve been having conversations with people about customer service. Ok, this week it’s been more like debates about what service is and how to treat customers. You see, there seems to be a group of people who think that customer service is all about giving customers free stuff. That’s it, just giving them free stuff.

As if customers really walk out of a store and say, “Honey! You wouldn’t believe the service I just received! They gave me a 10% discount – that’s amazing service!” This isn’t service. It’s pricing. There is NO service going on here at all.

Giving amazing service is about listening to your customers, paying attention to how they behave and what they want, then enacting that as well as communicating it to them. My wife went into our local big box bookstore this week to complete an exchange. She didn’t have a receipt, just the unread book given to her as a gift. It costs the bookstore absolutely nothing for this transaction. Zero. Nevertheless, she needed to fill out forms and answer questions. Why? So that the store felt comfortable that they weren’t being ripped off. The unintended consequence is that store is actually saying they naturally distrust their customers. This is a bad process, clearly showing how tied service is to operations.

If you are in the business of dealing with people, how you interact with them and move them through their experiences with you needs to be viewed as service. This became crystal clear tonight when I took the kids to McDonald's.

Anyone who has been to a newly renovated McDonald's can appreciate the time invested in designing a restaurant that is attractive for both senior and junior clientele. New colours, patterns, and textures scream out, “This is not the fast food restaurant of the 1980’s.” For this they should be congratulated.

But which architectural genius forgot to include a proper queue system? You see, at these new McDonald's, people randomly gather en masse in front of the order counter without any indication of how to line up. Is it one line per cashier? One common line up? Really, it is just a mass of people constructing their own ‘line’ waiting for the next cashier to yell out, ‘I can help the next person in line!”

This is not nuclear physics. We are not splitting atoms.

Yet without an established structure that serves customers through the wait, the order, and the pickup, McDonald's has created disservice. That’s right. Customers stand around confused, bumping into each other, not knowing when to advance or how to pick up their food. The basic food service delivery system fails to acknowledge how customers behave and what they need. At a quick service restaurant, no one wants to feel stupid or awkward. Do the basic operations of your business help customers connect with you or create disharmony?

Service isn’t about the free-bees. It is about listening, paying attention, and doing things that help the customer. Period. If your operations are poorly organized or poorly executed, your service suffers and the relationship you have with your customers break down.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

When policies are put ahead of people.

Whenever you travel around for a couple of weeks, whether on vacation or for business, you have the opportunity to experience many examples of customer service.

I’ve been on the road now for 12 days of a 19 day trip. In that time, I’ve collected some great experiences and examples of customer service. I’ve met the cashier at Wal-Mart who was exceedingly helpful and friendly, the trainee at Tim Hortons who had severe difficulty with the entire ‘pour coffee in cup’ concept, and the very serious salesperson at Brooks Brothers that ended up teaching my 4 year old to whimsically hide in amongst the clothing racks.

While moving around day to day, occasionally, there are moments that truly catch you by complete surprise. One of these happened to me in North Conway, New Hampshire.

Deciding to enjoy the benefits of tax-free shopping for our ever-growing boys, we stopped in at The Children’s Place. We’ve shopped at this retail brand before in Halifax. We knew that we’d find suitable clothes at some great prices in the outlet shop. We always had a reasonably good experience with them.

After picking out about six items, we headed over to pay. Waiting in line, I noticed the lady at the cash register having an odd conversation with both the cashier and the manager. After a few minutes, she promptly turned around, walked up to me as the next in line and handed me a coupon, saying “Well, someone should be able to use it. Enjoy.” Then, she then leaves the store. She doesn’t have a happy air about her.

Ok. Random. Generous. Unexpected.

Of course, now I want to know the whole story. As the cashier starts ringing up my items, I casually inquire about what just happened.

“That was nice of her - why couldn’t she use that coupon?” I ask.

“You have to present that coupon before you pay for your clothes. She had forgotten it in her pocket until after she paid. It’s no good after you pay.”

Apparently, this customer had honestly forgotten about the coupon until just after she paid. This happens sometimes; when you’re trying to herd kids through a shopping experience, you can sometimes even forget your own name. When she realized she’d forgotten about the coupon, she asked the clerk if she could still use it. The cashier promptly quoted the store policy.

Being clever, the customer happily asked to return her items, get a refund and then use her coupon. Simple enough, perhaps even something the cashier might have offered.

Nope. The cashier calls over the manager to explain this customer’s plan. What were the manager’s possible response options?

a)      “Of course. That was an honest oversight. Let me help you over here. We love you as a customer!”

b)      “That was your mistake. Sorry, but refunds are a bunch of paperwork. If we do it for you, we’ll need to do it for everyone.”
Yup, he went with option B. Actually refused the refund and request for help. The manager and the cashier rolled their eyes at that customer as she left, obviously thinking her request crazy and their response righteous. After all, they just protected $10 (or whatever amount it could have possibly have been) in revenue from an unprepared coupon user!

What a lost moment, one in which the staff could have showcased their customer dedication in front of a line up of other clients. Now, we all have a bad taste in our mouths. They might as well post a sign at the cash saying "Our policy is to make you feel wrong."

How many more times do you think that she’ll shop at The Children’s Place? How many people will she tell? How many blogs will her story show up in? Will she tell people on Facebook? Twitter? Yelp? Google+?

These once private events of service neglect are no longer private.

For anyone fanatical about creating awesome customer experiences, this was an opportunity to impress, to excel and to create another customer advocate. In today’s service economy, companies need to educate every single employee about the value of the customer experience.

How do you expect to be treated? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sunshine 101: A Service Primer

The sun has come out today in Halifax. Finally, it's warm and bright.

People seem happier today. They are walking with a bounce in their step and have that extra little smile on their face, as if demonstrating that their internal power source is indeed solar powered. And today, they get to fill up their tanks.

As I was reading some papers out in the sun earlier, soaking up some of nature's happiness, I stopped to reflect on the power of the sun. When these rays shine down upon us, we feel better. Act better. Are ready to tackle projects and jump in with both feet. The sunshine seems to push away our blues and negativity.

I think the same thing happens when we encounter someone with sunshine in themselves, those people with sunny dispositions and positive attitudes around whom we can't help but feel warmed by.

We've all met that extra helpful cashier who seems so genuinely happy to see us that the mere process of paying for groceries became a treat. Or the server at our favourite restaurant who greets us like an old friend, even during the busiest of times.

Personally, I recall a certain toll taker, far my senior in age, who works the Maine Turnpike on the I-95. Eight hours each day, five days every week, her job is to sit in a small booth, all by herself on the busy highway, and collect fees from thousands of passing motorists. Surrounded by people while somewhat isolated. When I happened to reach her booth on that busy morning a few years back, she gave me a warm "Hello there!" as she collect my $10 bill. As I received my change, she looked directly at me, gave me a big smile, and said, "You have yourself a great day hon." Instantly, my day was better because she let her sun shine.

What are your thoughts on sun? Does its warmth make you happier and put you in a better mood?

Perhaps I'll design a service course for my students called "Sunshine 101". Or maybe I'll just spend another hour reading papers on my deck while my tanks fill up.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I have seen the ‘Best-Stop’ & it is good!

If you’ve been following my thoughts over the last few months, you know that I’m a huge fan of amazing customer service. Customers should be THE primary focus of your business. Service providers must listen and respond authentically; your business must truly give a crap about each and every person who you have the potential of interacting with.

I believe that the humanization of commerce is the next era in business development.

Of course, the humanization of business isn’t just about amazing face to face service. That would be far too simplistic for business success. Every part of our business needs to think ‘customer first’. Key parts of this include the physical structure, infrastructure and design. 

I’ve just returned from a decent size road trip with my family (two adults, two kids under six years old) of 3400+ km over four days, During that trip, I repeatedly encountered parts of the service equation that are most essential to road warriors. The rest stop.clip_image001

Over the last four years, the province of Ontario has invested in the construction of new, modern and standardized service centres called “ONroute”. As the leased properties of older service centres along both Highways 401 & 400 have come up, the Ontario government has been replacing the old, eclectic, out-dated service centres with standardized modern facilities.

These are the services designed into each of the stations:
  • Parking lots that are consistent and simple to navigate
  • Gas pumps with hoses designed to reach both sides of your car (no more waiting in line for the pump on the correct side)
  • Environmentally friendly buildings, utilizing water free urinals, low consumption toilets and the coolest touchless hand dryers I’ve seen in a long time!
  • Designated rest and exercise areas of pets; no more trying to walk Fido around the old tiny grass perimeters
  • A design that allows for natural lighting to be provided to 75% of all areas
You might wonder why I would be so excited about service centres. Here’s why. Millions of tourists travel the highways of Ontario every year. Millions of tourists require fuel, food and facilities during their trip. Service centres can be staffed with the nicest people under heaven, but if the bathroom is dirty and broken down, every stop becomes a disgusting experience, a punishment for participating in the necessary and predictable exchange of food and fluids.

Now, in Ontario, the infrastructure has become clean, fresh and modern. I actually looked forward to making a stop just so that I could marvel at all the thought put into these facilities. After travelling through three other provinces to return home, I think other provinces could learn a huge lesson here. Investment in facilities sends a clear message to your customers: we want your travel dollars, appreciate your needs on the road, and are willing to service you to the very best of our abilities.

The government of Ontario listened to their customers. Then they actually did something about it. Well done!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Understanding Value from the Customer's Chair

In my last blog post about the airline industry, I spoke about the low cost pricing strategy currently used by many airline companies. These companies are trying to ‘create’ value. In essence, they have stripped bare every single service as a separate consumable. The logic here is to provide consumers with freedom of choice. You can pick this service but not that service - everything is a la carté

When you fly with most airlines, you pay separately for:
  • The flight
  • Your checked baggage
  • Your choice of seat
  • Possible flight changes
  • Food
  • Select beverages

Here’s the fundamental problem with this pricing structure: it completely fails to consider HOW value is created and WHO creates it.

Customers determine value. A product or service has no value until it is assigned by the customer. Me.

Value is determined through a combination of a) the quality of the product or service, b) the responsiveness of the service provider in every single interaction, and c) the ability of the product or service to solve my problem.

Low quality products have little value. Those items that you bought at the dollar store over the weekend have a low quality. They might have solved your immediate problem, but if/when they break, you won’t be crying about it. Responsiveness (listening) builds value; when the barista at the coffee house remembers my coffee and preps it when I walk in the coffee house, I become a loyal customer. Finally, products / services have to solve problems. Every single company needs to understand that they are in the problem-solving business.

When you choose to segment your offerings into separate items, in some cases you are actually making it harder for your customers to deal with you. You are punishing them instead of rewarding them.

How about this – all flyers get one checked bag free. Always. On every route. If they show up to the check-in counter without a checked bag, you instantly give them a $20 voucher that can be applied to their next flight. Fully transferable and always redeemable. Let customers use as many of them together as they like! This would be seen as a massive bonus, a victory instead of a punishment.

Charge people once, then pile on all of the products and services that give greater quality, that show me you’re listening, and that solve my problems.

Porter Airlines has figured this out. Porter is a regional airline that has chosen very specific routes to maximize passengers and minimize costs. They use the same planes on most/all of their routes. Very efficient. When you purchase a ticket to fly on Porter, you get the flight, two carry-on bags, one checked bag, in-flight snacks and beverage (both non-alcoholic and alcoholic) all included. Everything you need to get from, say, Toronto to Boston is included. No additional fees, no extra costs. This also means that each time you see a Porter staff member, their only role is to make sure your travel is smooth and to thank you for flying Porter Airlines.

Businesses have the opportunity to create offerings, but customers always determine the value. Every single time business makes it harder or put the work back on the customer, the value of the offering suffers.

Value is a perception, not an equation.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Observations on Customer Service from 40,000 ft

Take Off

Just recently, I returned from a trip to Hawaii. It was quite a fantastic trip, one that I hope to be able to do again...soon =).

Yet, anyone who has travelled can appreciate that moving two adults and two kids from the east coast of Canada to the beauties of Honolulu has a number of challenges. Timing, food, activities, entertainment, and the necessary naps all need to be thought out in advance. When spending close to 15 hours in transit each way, there are more than enough details and situations to keep us busy.

Our airline, Continental Airlines, decided that our journey needed a little more action. As someone who studies and teaches customer service for a living, here are a few of my observations, captured under “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”.
The Good

The ‘good’ was shown in two standout moments of service.

The first came during our flight home on the red eye. The flight attendant was passing by offering drinks. I, of course, had a sleeping 4 year old nested on top of me and could not move. When she asked if I would like something, I jokingly said that I’d love a glass of wine but my wallet was buried under a 40 lb sack of potatoes. Without blinking, she placed a bottle of red and a glass on my table with a note that I should just come find her when I was freed. What awesome heads up service and a demonstration of trust!

The second moment came during our last leg of the trip home. Again, the flight attendant (seriously, these front line gems really do make all the difference!) had a ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ attitude and an in-your-face charm that created a relaxed and fun trip. Her landing script: “We’re putting this plane down in Halifax so your seats need to be in the upright position. For those of you that are confused about this, you push that little silver button on your arm rest then lean forward. If you are sitting in the most uncomfortable position possible, you got it right.” She was a shining example of the character found with SouthWest or WestJet.

Observations: Your front line people are the face, brand, and voice of your company. When they treat customers as real people through active listening, appropriate responses and authentic interactions, they exponentially magnify value.

The Bad

The ‘bad’ stemmed from a combination of miscommunication and horrible service recovery.

About a week before our trip, I was having challenges with the airline’s website, so I (gasp) called their service centre to ask about baggage sizes and fees. Over the phone, I was told that the first bag from Canada to Hawaii was free; I still have the notes and confirmed the details twice. I called because we didn’t need any hiccups at the airport.

When we arrived, the self check-in system (see below for the ‘ugly’) was trying to charge us $25 per bag. Looking for help, we found two agents talking at the front counter but they kept pushing us back to the self-service kiosks before they would speak with us. After some tension, we explained about the telephone call. The response: they just pointed to the fee sign. “But I was speaking with someone from your company?!” I said. Another point of the finger to the posted fees. Finally, a supervisor jumped in to move things along. Two things happened: A) The information that was passing along by the agent to the supervisor about my phone call was referred to as my ‘claim’, right in front of me (read: you’re lying), and B) we were told multiple times how wrong we were before they finally waived the fees.

Observations: The customer may not always be right, but the customer is always the customer. Even if I was horribly wrong, your role is to take care of me and make things right. Rubbing salt in the wound means you lose.

Side note to all airlines currently charging for luggage: If I can check one bag for no charge on a 3 hour flight to the Caribbean, I should be able to check one bag for no charge on a 12+ hour flight to Hawaii. They are both international. Seriously – get over this flawed business plan. Better yet, charge me $25 more for the ticket and give everyone, everywhere their first checked bag free. This instantly raises the value of your service; people willingly pay for greater value.

The Ugly

Like most airlines today, Continental has self-service kiosks. Frequent travellers know the procedures and can navigate this system quickly. However, other travellers need more assistance, so they need to use the staffed service counter. Sure, self-service kiosks can create efficiencies and reduce wages. But if they are your only source of service, it is a prime point for bottlenecks.

At the Honolulu International Airport, Continental Airlines has 10 self-service kiosks. Yup - ten. On the day we were departing, eight were functional, and the line up to use these machines was nearly out of the airport. This is because many leisure travellers are also infrequent travellers who require more time to navigate the self-service processes.

Here’s the kicker: As I waited in line for nearly 40 minutes, I counted seven Continental staff members working behind the self-service kiosks helping passengers get their boarding passes, weight and check luggage, and have various travel questions answered.

If you have seven staff members monitoring eight self-service kiosks, you can no longer call it self-service. Period. Full stop. End of story. Bring in an additional person, staff every functioning station, and label it correctly: customer service.

Observations: Every time you dehumanize contact with your customers under the name of efficiency, you erode the value. And each time you dehumanize an interaction, you will need to infuse the human touch at another point.

Landing

Continental Airlines isn’t the only company missing a service focus. But they are the one that I spend 30+ hours engaged and interacting with, encountering dozens of staff members. Some individuals were absolutely wonderful. But the underlying focus on people seemed absent.

Service industries need to shake off business processes designed for the industrial age. Luggage can be transported efficiently through an airport. People have needs, emotions and perceptions; handle them with the care they deserve.

In today’s business environment, especially in any service industry, putting processes in front of people will be the quickest path to failure.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Don’t forget the ‘social’ in social media

Back in my early days at university, I knew a guy on a quest. He would go out every weekend to the clubs. He was brutally honest about his end game – he wanted to ‘pick up’. (One day my kids might read this; I’d rather explain the concept of ‘pick up’ over some of the other terms.) His technique was always the same: walk up to his first potential target, make introductions, ask if she was interested in his ‘sale’, duck, control the damage, move on to the next girl. 

When asked why he used such an incredibly aggressive approach, he would always reply that if he asked enough people, he would generally find one person who would say yes. To him - this meant success.

"Let's try listening!"

However, the metrics of his actions were always lost on him. Horrible success rate! Terrible conversion! Too much talking and absolutely no listening.

But much more important: How many people did he leave insulted and offended in his wake? And how many of these people talked to others about him? His reputation as a weasel (sometimes ridiculously classified as a ‘player’) was solidified quickly and lasted an incredibly long time.

In the social environment, he was less interested in engagement and more interested in closing the deal…a deal…ANY deal!

This story jumped into my head today as I was scanning my twitter feeds. I noticed a bunch of tweets directed right to me from people I have not yet spoken to or engaged with. Many of them wanted me to go to their Facebook page, their webpage, read their business model, or look at their Amazon book.

I’ve just met them in a social media universe, and there is nothing social happening. Twitter and other such online tools are social in nature. Whether you’re communicating, collaborating or putting out multimedia, it’s all primarily social. You share with me, I share with you. We get to know each other over time. Within our first 50 tweets, the odds that I’ll look at your twitpic of a rain puddle or a cute puppy are exponentially higher than the chances I’ll like anything on your FB page.

I’m relatively new to the twitterverse (@williamcmurray), having been there about 5 months. I have 300+ followers, made 1700 total tweets with an average of 11 a day, and I’m following nearly 500 people. However, following some early advice from Scott Stratten (@unmarketing), I’m maintaining a reply / retweet percentage of over 70%. Seven out of every 10 tweets I make are either engaging in a conversation with someone or sharing content that I think is cool. My community is slowly growing at a manageable pace, equal to the amount of time I spend engaging.

To my friends in social media, both today and tomorrow, let’s make a pact. We’ll keep listening, continue to engage, commit to interacting with each other, and agree to stay real. And no, you won’t need to sign up for my newsletter to do that.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

6 Things To Do When Exams Are Done


For university students, nearing the end of your exam period in April evokes the same feelings as an eight year old on Christmas Eve. Visions of sugar plums and a semester full of course notes dance through the air.

Euphoria that this day has once again finally, magically arrived!
Go celebrate! Enjoy yourself - you've earned it.You are justified to let loose after your exams, embracing the feeling that all of your work has finally come to an end. For many, this means four months without textbooks, assignments or classes.

Yet, this time is a perfect period for preparation. Yup. It’s a wise idea to tie up a few loose ends before you leave your school for the summer and lay the ground for success next year.

Think about it – at this moment, you are keenly focused on your educational path, immersed in both the details of your program of study and the processes of your school. This is the ideal moment to put some plans into place for the coming semester so that you do not come back in the fall cold and ill-prepared.
To help, here’s a quick to-do list, tasks that you should consider before you being your summer adventures:
  • Check your academic progress
It will likely be a few weeks before you receive your final grades from the winter semester; however, you should have a fair idea of how you’ve performed based on feedback throughout the semester. Are you reaching your goals from a GPA perspective? Are your overall study skills improving? Review the last year both from a numbers (grades) and process (learning outcomes and habits) perspective. List out your key successes and areas to improve next year.
  • Review your degree course check list
Most degree programs have a very specific list of required courses to be completed in order to earn the degree. Some of these courses are offered quite regularly while others are available only on an irregular basis, requiring some deft planning skills. Completing an undergraduate degree with a single major is fairly straight forward, but many students miss out on the opportunity to double major or earn both a major and a minor because they start planning too late in the process. Whatever your goal, why not get the greatest value out of your time at school?
  • Pick your courses now
Ninety nine percent of all schools have released their course schedule for the 2011/12 academic year. Many have already opened up course registration! Take this time to pick out at least some of your courses for the upcoming year and either sign up now or, if your school has yet to open registration, make a clear note of the first possible dates to register. It’s always better to be the first person signed up for the courses you want than to be scrambling in August to get into courses you have little interest in.
  • Seek the assistance of an advisor
The best part of this time of year is that everyone is still on campus and easily accessible. Faculty are marking exams and submitting grades; the registrar's office is bustling and financial services has few line ups. It is an excellent opportunity to take in a couple of meetings, get questions answered, and sort out issues.
  • Review available bursaries and scholarships for the coming year
If you have a reasonably strong academic record, you must (repeat – MUST) take a moment to review all of the available bursaries and scholarships at your school. There is all sorts of money available in a variety of forms to all sorts of people. Are you an athlete? There’s money for that. Have you volunteered a significant amount of time? There’s a bursary to celebrate your work. Perhaps you or your parents have belonged to the Eastern Sisterhood of the Pine Tree Quilters? I bet there’s a scholarship of $500 just waiting for you to apply for. The critical issue here is that many scholarships and bursaries go unused every year simply because no one applies; if you think you are somewhat qualified, get your application in.
  • Make decisions on living arrangements for the fall
Arrange for residence or sign that lease before you leave for the summer break. Line up people that you are interested in living with. Nothing starts the fall semester off better than meeting up with your chosen roommates in an apartment/house of your preference. Leave the desperate, last minute room hunting for those that didn’t prepare.
Congratulations on making it to the end of another term!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

5 Simple Tips to Help Prepare for Exams


April is always an interesting time of year.

As I look out my window, the sun has climbed over the horizon to brighten another beautiful spring day. Birds are singing as they gather around the feeders for their first meal of the day. The first tiny buds are developing on the trees; signs of life are everywhere.

Unfortunately, many students won’t have the pleasure of enjoying this sight today. Heads are still on pillows after long nights of studying. It is, after all, exam season.

As a student myself for 14 years of post-secondary education, having taken far more than my fair share of exams, I’ve learned a few tricks and tips. Mostly, planning is key!
  1. Understand the exam you will be writing. Will it be multiple choice or short answers? Calculations or essay questions? This will fundamentally change how you will need to prepare for you test. Some question styles allow you to be familiar with concepts while others require that you have clear, concise definitions and examples ready.
  2. Review the course outline and notes from your first class. During the first class, your instructor discussed the goals and desired outcomes of the course. Most exams are written to test against desired skill sets and outcomes; you can easily forget the ‘purpose’ of the course after 13 busy weeks of course work. Start at the beginning.
  3. Understand your course and instructor. Subject matter is important, of course. However, the person crafting the exam will have certain styles and preferences that you can pick up on. Note that if it’s a large, common exam for many instructors teaching the same course, you should to try to gather this information ahead of time.
  4. Take care of your body and mind. Granted that during exam periods, a lot of studying will take place. It is during this time that you must pay special attention to your diet and sleep habits. Caffeine-fuelled all-nighters might seem like a bright idea, but you can hardly do this for a whole exam period. Sleep and nutrition keep you calmer and help you focus. Plus, you’ll avoid the energy spikes and crashes that inevitably come with CWC (cramming with coffee).
  5. Schedule everything. Yes, everything in your exam period should be scheduled, including study time, eating, and sleeping. A schedule will boost your confidence that you have sufficient space to prepare for your exams. This is not the time to take on those extra work shifts or catch up on visits with family and friends; they can all wait until you are finished your exams. Stay focused.
Finally, relax a bit. Exams are meant to test your knowledge on subject material and allow you to demonstrate new skills. Faculty (for the most part) write exams as a way to examine your knowledge, not to trick you.

Remember that everyone is invested in your success!

Monday, March 14, 2011

It’s a Matter of Trust

We have a new member of the household. Her name is Luna, a kitten about 1 year old. She’s been a part of the family now for a couple of months, figuring out the dynamics and finding all of the good spots to hide. Hiding spots are good when there are two young, very active boys always in search of the cat ‘to play’ with. Understandably, Luna has taken more to my wife and I; we tend to leave her space and live at her own pace.P1060126

Recently, Luna has built up enough trust to nest on my shoulders. She’ll relax in a perfectly balanced position as I go about my normal routines working on the computer, making coffee and wandering from room to room. Gentle, consistent movements that she can predict and few expectations that she’ll stay; she’s up when she wants and gets off when she feels it’s time to depart.

Of course, my sons see this and continually ask why Luna won’t ride on their shoulders. I’ve caught them more than a few times heaving her up on their backs with instructions like “Sit down Luna”; often these commands come with a vice-like grip, holding her in place momentarily. Yesterday, that resulted in someone getting a nice scratch down one arm (taken without complaint, but with the comment “Luna, that wasn’t very nice." as the cat ran away).

They’re confused as to why I can successfully get her to ride on my shoulders while they can’t. They’re confused when I tell them that I don’t put her there; she comes on her own. She wants to be close and cuddle, but on her terms, not mine.

Many of our relationships are like this, especially in the service industry. When we can find it, we always prefer to do business with people that we trust. When I eat out, I want to trust that my server is really listening to me. In a hotel, I want to trust that my room assignment meets my needs. The sweet lady at the coffee counter on campus knows that I like a large, single cream with two cups because I'll be walking across campus.

Trust takes time to build, a commitment to slow, incremental steps of consistent behaviour that create a comfortable, predictable environment. Safe, but not in the boring fashion – rather the safety that comes from knowing someone has your best interests in mind and is looking out for you.

Building up a trusting relationship takes time and intention. There are no shortcuts. It cannot be transferred from someone else. And trust, just like your reputation, can be quickly damaged. When building a trusting relationship, consider:
  1. Moving slowly – jumping into action, demonstrating too much intensity, or jumping to the end of the interaction (such as trying to close way too soon!) will not build a foundation of trust. It’s not about you – it’s about building trust
  2. Being fluid – be aware of changes happening, whether it’s with the people you are dealing with or the context you are working within. Cookie cutter responses used in changing, fluid situations do not demonstrate authenticity. Remember that it’s not about you – it’s about building trust.
  3. Showing patience – sometimes relationships make progress, while other times they slide backwards. Invest time being with people, talking to them and demonstrating that you will be consistent in how you deal with them. (It’s not about you – it’s about building trust.)
  4. Investing time – trust comes from establishing a historical base of actions that meet or go beyond our expectations. Sure, an initial WOW moment is great for getting attention. But remember that flames make a fire pretty, while the coals are what gives it real heat. Coals take time to develop and are much tougher to extinguish. It's not about you - I think you've heard this before.
Somehow, we forget that our business relationships are just that – relationships. The pressures of the quick sale, of increasing today's business levels, of upselling and cold calling have shifted our focus away from the basic building blocks of human interactions. Building trust is one of those blocks.

These are tough concepts for my boys right now. They are hardly fluid, rarely move slowly, and patience is measured in seconds around here.

Luckily, Luna knows some pretty good hiding spots.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Power of Two Pennies in Communication

There is a coin that lives on my desk. It's a very special coin.

More than a few years ago, when I worked in a different place, decisions were being made about an upcoming 'big' event. I was reasonably new back then - the kind of new where you might understand some of the political dynamics but really fail to appreciate historical context. And because it was more than a few years ago, I was a tad greener about organizational realities than I am now.

This 'big' event was the naming of a new facility, one that I watched grow from conception through construction. People around me were grumping about what it was going to be named; I too was on the grump band wagon. It seemed to me only fair that those involved with its design and development should have a share in the naming process.

The announcement came down one afternoon that the facility was going to be named after the patroness of the region, much in the same way many other buildings and centres had been in the past. To me, this was just a bunch of people selling out to political pressure and I was none too pleased. I could have just let it go. I could have continued to grump about it. I could have learned more before speaking. Nope, not me.

I wrote an email. A permanent, on the record, saved in the files kind of email addressed right to THE person in charge of the decision. As the organizational chart went, it was directed to my boss's boss's boss, the very same person who took the risk of hiring me in the first place just a couple years earlier.

Long paragraphs were crafted about the need to be our own organization, not caving to pressures outside of our four walls. I wrote of pride and honour, and questioned the wisdom of the decision at more than a couple of levels. With misplaced confidence, I ended my note with 'Just my two cents." and hit send. Essentially, my note was a “what not to do" in the digital age. Luckily, I was smart enough to keep the email address to only one person.

Just a few days later, my phone rang. Being neck deep in teaching and students, I wasn't thinking much about the email I had sent a short while prior. On the other end of the phone call was the person in charge, asking if I had time to chat; he would come to me. It's amazing how quickly you can retrieve and reread information when panic strikes, and I consumed my past prose with fresh eyes.

I was doomed. This was bad – really bad.

He joined me in my office, coming in with a calm, patient demeanour. No beating around the bush today, he got right to it; he told me that he was here about my email.

“Thank you” he said. I paused, taken off guard slightly. He appreciated that I took the time to express my feelings in a passionate and thoughtful way; it was refreshing, he said. Without notes or cards, he walked me point by point through my email, agreeing in some places and disagreeing in others. At the end of the day, he said, facilities are named because of money. Our patroness had pledged 10 times the next largest financial commitment, an amount that put us over the required investment; however, her estate didn’t wish the specific dollar amounts released. The exact amount they gave was not to be the news story.

At the end of our chat, he paused and reached into his pocket. He said that he’d been travelling a lot lately. From his pocket, he handed me a coin. “Do you know what this is?” he asked. I looked the coin over. “It’s a tuppence.” I answered after reading the coin, having not actually seen one before. He nodded. “That’s right – two cents. You gave me your two cents. I’m returning the favour.”

An agreement was struck that day. Should I ever feel the need to express myself about an issue, I need only include the tuppence with my comments as a way of signalling their importance. He would in turn return the coin to me after we had the chance to speak about it face to face.

I’m no longer with that company, but I still have that mentor. And I still have the tuppence. It lives on my desk to remind me of the responsibility that comes with using your voice, along with the importance of using it with intention, with conviction and with compassion. It symbolizes the effort involved in listening to others and valuing their input, especially when they disagree with you. It’s a simple tool that encourages and celebrates civil, honest discourse and promotes critical thought while protecting and respecting people.

I think we need more tuppences in circulation.

But that’s just my two cents.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Short time is hard time

An open letter to university / college students:

Final exams begin in six weeks or so. Perhaps it's a great stressor that final exams are coming up. Maybe it's the 'or so' part.

My experience in teaching tells me that this is crunch time for many students; a time to reflect on their performance in the last six weeks and six months. It is a time to pull up socks and engage with material. A time to jump into the game.

The weather is changing - spring is in the air. No wait. Employment is in the air! Jobs and money, work and reward.

Yes, it is time to successfully finish one journey and move on to another. If you are in a position at school that brings your success into question, consider the following:

  1. Time management - Everything you need to know about success in your courses is contained in your course outline. Read it again. Put every single date into your calendar.
  2. A calendar - If you do not maintain a calendar, do this NOW. Not in 5 days, not in 5 hours - NOW. Plan every single thing that you must do over the next 7 weeks, then work backwards so that it gets done. Daunting I know, but it must get done. (If you're not willing to build yourself a calendar, flip over to that blog on self-esteem. At least you'll feel better.)
  3. Working hard - Yes, you'll need to put in some hours reading, writing and studying. Good news is that you still have time to turn things around. Bad news, you'll likely need to sacrifice some of the other activities in your past activity list.
  4. Get help - Every student questioning their status right now should book an appointment with a faculty member to assess performance and get suggestions on improvement. Trying to succeed in school without feedback is like trying to get to the Olympics without a coach. Could happen, but not likely.

Six to seven weeks left. Keep it simple and straight forward.

But that's just my two cents.
WCM