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.

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.