What is your purple goldfish?

Thanks to @barrymoltz, I just read the @9INCHMarketing ebook: “In Search of Your Purple Goldfish*,” by Stan Phelps. It is brief (only 38 pages), and it is worth the read.

Unlike my "Puking Baby Policy", the concept of a Purple Goldfish is something that CAN be proceduralized. In fact, that is a key ingredient. A Purple Goldfish is something every customer gets...
I won’t try to give you the entire concept (read the book, and add your ideas to the Purple Goldfish Project!), but in essence, the “purple goldfish” is something above and beyond that you consistently give to your customer that sets you apart. Think of Southwest (your bags fly free), the "baker's dozen," the warm cookies you get every time you check into a DoubleTree hotel, or for those of you who have ordered from Zappos, their VIP upgrade with free overnight shipping after your 2nd order.
Phelps contends there is no such thing as ‘meeting expectations,’ in customer service anymore. We either fail to meet expectations, or we exceed them. Meeting them is a thing of the past and it is NOT ENOUGH.

Read the eBook, (see some ideas starting on page 28) and think about what your purple goldfish are. Here are some ideas from some Campus Advantage properties to get you started:
  1. Move-ins… Having cold water and snacks in the apartments for people as they are moving in. Having a dedicated staff member during the move-ins whose job is simply to hand out ice pops on a hot day.
  2. Door to door package delivery… instead of making residents come to the front desk, we deliver packages to them at their room or apartment
  3. Milk & cookie carts during finals week.
  4. Every team member, from CA to porter to GM provides a friendly greeting 100% of the time to any person we encounter on a property, prospect or resident.
  5. Concierge booklet at the front desk with everything from pizza delivery numbers to who to call if you are struggling in your physics class.

These are just a few to get you started… ask yourself, what will stand out? What will people tell stories about?

What else are you doing that qualifies as a “purple goldfish?” What else SHOULD you be doing that will make you stand out?


Do you have a puking baby policy?

My family is sick. The stomach bug has hit. Hard. It started Friday with Grace, my 3.5 year old, then hit my wife and 1.5 year old (Lydia) today. Today, I left work early to take the girls to the doctor.

I have been trying to find a part to fix my lawn sprinkler system, but the place that carries them is a commercial outlet that primarily serves contractors and isn't open on the weekends. Since it is a Tuesday, and I had left work early, I decided to stop by with the girls on the way to the doctor. I showed up at DBC Irrigation Supply with both girls in tow. Grace was crying, and I held Lydia in one arm as I waited for the staff member to find the replacement solenoid valve I was looking for.

Just as the staff member came back to the counter with the replacement part, Lydia started to throw up on me. It started small, then turned into something out of the exorcist.  Thankfully, my shirt caught pretty much all of it, and the floor was spared. This is where my customer service story starts.

Immediately, 2 different employees came toward me with towels to help clean Lydia (and me) off. Another one went to wet some paper towels. Then, yet another employee asked my shirt size and went into a back room, returning with a T-Shirt.

I left with my solenoid, but more importantly, I left as a raving fan and evangelist for DBC Irrigation Supply.

So, what's the customer service takeaway here? Most of you won't have vomiting children in your place of business on a regular basis (I hope). This type of customer service is different.

Today, I experienced a type of customer service that can't be proceduralized. This was an industrial outlet, and I can almost guarantee I was the first person who ever walked into this supply warehouse and had a baby puke all over him... yet the employees responded with more initiative and empowerment than I would expect in many high class establishments.

This is a type of customer service that can't be planned for. You can't create a puking baby policy. This type of customer service requires employees who are empowered to make decisions on the fly that reflect your core values, your ethos as a company.

Have you trained your employees to do whatever it takes to serve customers? Do they feel empowered to give away a tshirt?

At Campus Advantage, we have a philosophy that empowers each of our employees, whether they are student staff or corporate team members to do whatever it takes to serve our customers well.

Get together with your team today and discuss your Puking Baby Policy.

PS... If you are ever in need of irrigation supplies, you know where to go.


How to make angry customers happy

In a previous post, I shared my negative experience with ATT after they initially refused to work with my dad, who has Parkinson's. This one obviously hit close to home (I was MAD), so I blogged, tweeted and facebooked about it... as I mentioned in that post, I became "that guy."

This is a long-overdue follow-up to my original post, with how ATT made the situation right.

So, what does it take to make an angry customer happy? What does it take to make an angry customer turn into a fan? ATT succeeded in making this happen.

In this post, I'll share what ATT did to turn this situation into a positive one, what I believe they could have done to avoid it in the first place, and what we can all take from this situation.

After my dad having no luck at the ATT store, and receiving no help by calling ATT's customer service, my social media campaign began. I started by Facebooking about it. I was just venting at that point, but I was joined by many friends who had less than stellar opinions of ATT. Within a very short amount of time, a dozen of my Facebook friends had commented about how bad they thought ATT was.

I then wrote my blog post about the situation and sent it to @ATTCustomerCare.

After I sent my previous post to @ATTCustomerCare and @ATTtina, I received a direct message followed by a phone call within hours from @ATTtina, a customer service manager in Baton Rouge. She immediately identified an existing policy at ATT that provides exceptions for disabilities. She emailed me with the form, and followed up to ensure that my dad's situation was taken care of. They provided an exception for him (existing policy for disabilities), including not only activating his service on the new phone, but providing free 411 and voice dialing for him.

So, what can we take from this?

1) Ensure you have the training & communition in place to prevent misinformation in the first place.
2) Empower your front line people to find solutions and satisfy customers.
3) You will have slip-ups. Be willing to clean up the mess and work to fix it, like @ATTTina did for me

ATT, you probably could have avoided this with better broad-level training on existing policies, but at the end of the day, you made this angry customer happy. Thanks!

Stopping to thinking about the big picture. Strategic vs Tactical

About 7 years ago, I was running my own business operating, providing consulting services in the student housing world, and providing speaking and training services focused on student housing and student leadership.

I wanted to find ways to expand my reach, and increase my impact in the world, but had no idea how it would happen. Within a few short months, I my business in as part of Campus Advantage, one of my consulting clients.

7 insane and exciting years later, we still operate, we are the largest provider of student housing consulting services, and I have had the chance to reach out to thousands of people through my speaking. Through our student housing, we have served over 100,000 students. We have over 900 employees and 30,000 residents.

The reason I include that narrative in this post is that I have realized lately more than ever, that my role has been shifting from the tactical to the strategic. When it was just me working from a home office in Aurora, CO, I was a one man show. There was certainly strategic aspects to what I was doing, but my hours were filled with tactical moves. I was operating the inner workings of the machine.

7 years later, I am forcing myself to focus much more on the strategic, bigger picture. It's not easy. On a daily, almost hourly basis, I find myself asking "is this what I should be focused on?" I sometimes find myself "slipping" away from the big picture, and out of habit, I begin to get involved in details and tactical initiatives. At times, this is necessary, but the lesson I am learning is to raise a flag every time this happens, and ask myself a few questions:

  1. Is this absolutely necessary for me to do? We have an amazing team of people, each of whom come armed with different talents, skills and abilities. I am not a one man operation anymore. If I am unnecessarily spending time doing something that distracts from areas I should be focused on, it detracts from the entire team... the entire company.
  2. How does what I am doing now related to our Mission, Vision & Purpose? I have my primary areas of focus written on my giant whiteboard in my office. Each of these fall under our company mission, vision and purpose:

    PURPOSE: Our purpose is to serve and inspire our employees and residents to achieve their full potential.

    Mission: We are on a mission to lead the world in creating financially successful communities that excel in providing rewarding living, learning, and career experiences.

    Vision: We envision a world where more people are leading successful and enriched lives.
  3. What have I done in the Strategic Realm today? The reality is, I have plenty of "tactical" things that must be done on a daily basis, but if I allow it to reduce the effectiveness of strategic thinking and big picture initiatives, the returns are diminished.
  4. Is this on my "do not do" list? In addition to my "to do list", I have taken the advice of Mike Peter, our CEO and created my Do NOT Do list. These are areas that I know I tend to engage in that are not a part of my primary areas of focus.
Whether your role is focused on the tactical, the strategic, or a combination of both, take some time today to analyze how you are spending your time and resources. Where do you want to be? Will what you are doing RIGHT NOW get you there?


Are you joining the Customer Service Conversation?

UPDATE: AT&T did a fantastic job responding to my issue after I used Twitter. Will post a new entry with details soon.

This weekend, I became the upset customer.

The one who believes your company has bad customer service and is going to tell the world about it.

Yeah. I became that guy.

Here's the story...

My dad has Parkinson's disease. As it relates to the issue at hand, part of the effect of the disease for him is that he has difficulties with a phone that has small keys, due to his tremors and also he has some cognitive challenges with new and complex tasks. It's part of Parkinson's, a degenerative, neurological disease.

He previously owned a PDA with a similar interface to my AT&T Windows Mobile based phone, and having a large screened phone that would sync his schedule and contacts with Outlook is exactly what he needs as a part of the suite of tools he uses to live with Parkinson's.

One problem. ATT says that if you have a smartphone, you must buy a data plan. Even if you don't need one (which he does not). Financially for AT&T, I would understand if it applied only to customers signing a contract on a phone that was being subsidized via said contract, (ie, "sign for 2 years and get a $500 phone for $50") but for those who already own a device or pay retail for it, this policy is simply bad customer service.

The point of this post isn't just to vent about AT&T. What I want to point out here is that this conversation could be (and probably is) happening about your company. There might be a policy in your organization that doesn't make sense. There may be a staff member who is poorly representing your services. You might have a legitimate or perceived (just as important) problem going on right now! Do you know about these conversations?

I posted a little rant about this issue on Facebook, and received a number of replies about how bad the customer service at AT&T is. I wonder how many of these people actually shared their concerns with someone at AT&T. I wonder how many of their concerns were actually heard by someone who could do something about it? (Edit: I did call AT&T with no luck other than a policy being recited to me with no explanation. I also reached out on Twitter.. will keep you posted).

Conversations about your customer service are happening every day. They are occuring internally and externally. They are happening on the phone, face to face, and online. In student housing, I would argue that these conversations are happening even more frequently due to not only the nature of our tightly knit student population and the communities we build, but also the fact that students are one of the most vocal groups in the online social media world.

So, regardless of whether you are in student housing or elsewhere, what are you doing to join the conversation?

Here are a few tips for ways to join the customer service conversation:

1) Ask questions. Whether done formally using survey tools, or informally as a question consistently added to every customer interaction, ask your customers to tell you what you can do better, and what they think of your customer service.

2) Create mechanisms across the organization for your team to communicate customer concerns and issues to those who can do something about it. Ensure your team not only understands you have an open door policy, but that they are empowered to take steps to improve customer service.

3) Join the conversation online. Any company needs to be strategic about establishing a social media presence, and even more strategic in how they approach their online social media strategy. Regardless of the method you choose, whether it's a very hands on approach like @comcastcares, or a less resource intensive presence in the social media world, you need to be there and at the very least, be aware of what is being said about your company.

4) Commit to doing something about it, and letting customers know that a) they are heard, and b) what they say carries value. Sometimes that is all it takes.

Join the conversation!


Bed Bug Resources for Student Housing Operators

"Goodnight, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite." ~ unknown
This phrase never meant much to me until I entered the world of student housing and found out what a nightmare bedbugs can really be. Bed bugs are a real problem, and can quickly escalate to a major crisis. Contrary to common belief, this issue can and does affect anyone. Bed buds are not restricted to "nasty, filthy unkempt buildings" (or residents). Bed bugs are brought in on individuals and belongings and can cause a problem anywhere.

This post will provide a repository of information, tips, links and resources for education, prevention and response to bed bugs in student housing. Please reply to this post with resources you would recommend and tips you have. I will compile these and continue to edit this post. (I have a plethora of resources I will add, but figured I'd throw it out there first to see what you all would want to share!)

Response Protocol (I may break this into different posts shortly)
Thanks to Steve Johnson at Central Washington University for allowing me to share the following information that he has compiled:

Topic – Bedbugs and the Procedures To Prevent Infestation and/or Eliminate Infestation

Protocol for new bedbug infestations

The discovery of bedbugs should lead to a concisely orchestrated effort as follows.

Student Housing Resources for H1N1 (Swine Flu)

As an operator of around 30,000 beds of student housing, we @campusadvantage are very aware of the potential impact of Novel H1N1 Flu or Swine Flu on college and university campuses around the country. Student residential environments are particularly susceptable, due both to the proximity of living arrangements and the fact that H1N1 seems to be hitting young people particularly hard, unlike regular seasonal flu, which tends to impact the very young and the elderly. According to this blog post, the CDC has actually recommended that those under the age of 24 get vaccinated.

We have been preparing since Swine Flu first hit the headlines in April, and have been anticipating the surge we are already seeing as students return to school. Our focus is now on both prevention and response, as we have 6 cases thus far.

In this post, I will attempt to bring together as many resources as possible to assist other student housing operators in continuing to prepare and provide effective response and education to residents and parents.

Please reply to this post if you have any additions, suggestions or comments. I would also be happy to share other information such as the letters we have sent out to residents at the community where we have identified confirmed cases.

H1N1 Higher Education

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