Inspiring Growth: Not Demanding It!

I have been on the road a lot lately, thanks to a combination of consulting, speaking, and the launch of my new book, The Airbnb Way. (Speaking of that book, we are sponsoring a 4 day, 3 night trip to San Francisco with a tour of Airbnb HQ. There is no purchase necessary so enter here and share the link with friends through Dec 16th*.)

One of the benefits of my hectic schedule is the sheer number of businesses and leaders with whom I get to interact. The other day I overheard one of those leaders (I will not name them) say to a team member, “How many times do I have to tell you THAT is not the way we serve our customers?” I averted the impulse to respond, “How do you think that treatment of a team member will help them serve your customers?” Fortunately, I resisted the urge to parallel their behavior and instead decided to coach them in private and use their well-intentioned yet misguided management behavior as a springboard for this week’s post.

From my vantage point, that leader’s behavior is emblematic of a tendency to want to expedite results through edict as opposed to inspiration. Rather than posing questions to the employee about the behaviors that failed to deliver the optimal customer experience, this leader used a punitive and negativistic tone to verbally sanction the team member in the hope that would positively change the team member’s behavior. In my opinion, the lack of clear guidance on what was expected (coupled with sharp disapproval) served to increase, as opposed to decreasing, the probability that the team member would act similarly in the future.

Over my career, I have come to believe that delivering consistently outstanding and branded customer experiences is a daunting task. Unlike manufacturing (where raw materials coming in the door are fairly uniform), customers show-up in all shapes, sizes, and with diverse backgrounds and needs states.

While leaders seek to offer cultural elements (mission, vision, values) and processes to guide uniformity of experiences with the goal of delivering a branded customer experience, every team member must be capable of improvising to address the uniqueness of the customer before them. Those improvisational skills are developed through approximation, trial and error, persistence, and patience. They also require an encouraging and supportive environment in order to flourish.

Please don’t get me wrong, there are certain character-related behaviors (being verbally abusive to a customer, lying, stealing, etc.) that warrant swift and strong sanctions, but most service delivery opportunities do not. Instead, they require a “Socratic” coaching approach with questions designed to help your team build resourcefulness. Effectiveness requires using questions like:

“What else could you have done to deliver our desired outcome?”

“How might the customer have felt, given that you took that action?”

“If you were that customer, what might you have wanted to have heard or have had done for you in that moment?”

When I coached the leader about his comments, I deployed that inquiry-based approach and was heartened when I saw him go back to his team member to do the same.

I am convinced that most people want to make the lives of those they serve better. When they fall short, those individuals often need help to develop a specific skill or the confidence to believe they will find better options if they persist. Customer experience excellence is a core competency, not an instantly attainable destination. Great leaders help develop that competency in their team members by navigating the nuances and complexities of human experience delivery.

I would love to speak with you about your process for inspiring customer experience growth in your teams. Simply reach out to me here.


Learn more about The Airbnb Way Book Trip Giveway:

*NO PURCHASE OR PAYMENT NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. Open to legal residents of the 48 contiguous U.S. / D.C., age 21+. Void outside the 48 U.S./D.C. and where prohibited. Sweepstakes starts at 12:00:01 AM ET on 10/16/19; ends at 11:59:59 PM ET on 12/16/19. Total ARV of Grand Prize: $4,500. Odds of winning depend upon the number of eligible entries received. There is a limit of one entry per person. For full Official Rules, click here. Sponsor: The Michelli Experience. Airbnb is a prize provider only.

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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