Performance Support and Customer Service – lessons from the road trip

This weekend I took a road trip. It was just a four hour drive, but it was long enough to recognize a few examples of how performance support plays out in our everyday lives. In fact, it was surprising how much performance support “assisted” in improving the customer experience at so many businesses along the way.

photo of a license plate with the word Roadtrip as the license number

Lessons learned on the roadtrip

So, here’s what I noticed:

May I take your order? …right now

Most places seem to have taught their workers to greet the customer. “Hello, may I take your order?” is fairly popular at McDonalds and Chick-fil-a. In fact, that’s pretty much all you can do at the drive through window. However, walking inside a McDonalds at 11 p.m. that has few customers doesn’t mean that you (the worker) keep cleaning for one minute and then come ask me if I’d like to order. Clearly some workers are trained on how to respond, but perhaps need reminding of the urgency of their response. Ironically, this was also the McDonalds where the worker decided to put our food right amongst some of the cleaning supplies he had placed on the counter. Yikes.

At Bob Evans we had an awesome experienced waitress. Got us right when we sat down, quickly brought out food, informed us quickly of any delays (the carrots were late which is so minor I can’t even believe it), and didn’t try to engage us in any conversation beyond what was necessary. But, did so with a big smile.

Smart Customers – or making us feel that way

Valvoline seems to have this down. They immediately engage you in a series of questions and decisions as you are sitting in your car during the oil change (awesome). If you aren’t sure, they take the time to explain the pros/cons of the option. Often they whip out a convenient little chart to help you (and them) compare and contrast the choices. Doesn’t this make you feel smart? It makes me feel informed. Plus, unlike typical IT help, they don’t seem to have that glint in their eye. You know – the “You are an idiot, but I will use my amazing brain to explain this to you anyway” expression.

On the other hand, at a gas station in New Jersey, the guy pumping the gas started off on a good foot by telling us gas was cheaper down the road. Kind of nice, right? Except he followed it up with a long tirade about how he hated the boss and so he was telling customers to go elsewhere. Perhaps he needed a few more reminders that this wasn’t the appropriate way to interact with customers even though he may have been right.

No skimping on the ice cream

At Chick-fil-a it was clear there had been problems in the past or perhaps just a little problem with proportions.

graphic of three different sizes of ice cream cones

Ice cream cone sizes

The ice cream machine (wish I had a picture) had three clear pictures of a small, medium and large size cone. The graphic was placed right in back of where the ice cream comes swishing out into the cone. So, any customer or worker can clearly see if the size matches the intended target. Brilliant, right? It ensures that both the customer and the worker know that what was paid for is received. No manual, no measuring, no delay. Note: A lot of ice cream stores have the different cup sizes out for everyone, but we all know that it also matters how much is above the top of the cup line. (-: At least those of us who are ice cream devourers.

Involving the customer – collaborating or making us do some of the work?

Can you believe Valvoline put me to work? It was so subtle, but really brilliant. They asked me a question – “Would you like to stay in the car while we do the oil change?” Sure! Who wants to sit in those smelly little waiting rooms with old chairs, magazines that the entire world has touched trying to figure out what to read or do sitting amongst strangers? So, I sit in the car. But, I can’t just multi-task that well. They involve me in their work. I instigate a series of actions – turn on the car, left blinker, right blinker, lights, hit the brakes, turn off the car, pop the hood, etc.

photo of a Valvoline oil change station

Valvoline – pay attention to their customer service combined with performance support

Wow. So, my actions actually speed up the process while ensuring they can work on checking other items on their checklist. Plus, the lead worker yells out requests for more information on the items he is going through on the computer monitor which is essentially an online performance support checklist.

At each point I am aware of what they have done, what is right, what is wrong, and what needs to be addressed. It forces me to be involved, but as a result of my involvement I feel pretty aware of the state of my car when I leave the station.

Book learnin vs. Implementin

Ok, so a lot of us have had a lot of training over the years. Plus, grad school and beyond. Yet, most experienced workers can agree that there is a lot more to implementing than what is so carefully crafted together in all that training. It takes some emotional intelligence. It takes experience – the school of hard knocks. It is clear that some people just get some things and others don’t.

However, I think a lot of the franchise businesses have figured this out. They offer training, get semi-skilled people most of the time and provide support to them along the way.

In fact, I think the fast food joints do a better job of providing performance support to their employees than most of the organizations that hire and “support” knowledge workers. There were examples of checklists, job aids,  and performance support tools abounding at the fast food, oil change stations, and restaurants we stopped at during our trip. When the workers used the tools combined with their experience and personality, they got it right and I was a satisfied customer.

Those of us who teach the importance of performance tools are often the worst offenders at implementing them ourselves. It kind of clarifies why sometimes we don’t have a great reputation in our organizations. After all, if we don’t have performance support for ourselves, it is a bit hard to offer great customer service. Perhaps we can smile our way through part of it, but to truly perform in a way that helps a customer at their point of need will take more.

Perhaps our learning organizations need to take a road trip?

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