I am the first to admit, that I am not a public performer, and yet it doesn’t take to be an Oscar trophy holder to recognise that nowadays excellence in customer service is more than just a scripted process in which anyone can learning by memorising the steps and procedures after one day training. A great customer services needs people with emotional skills with attitude. This trend is not purely driven by the supply side, but also by the demand: you and I respond much better to people who can show empathy, are good story tellers and have a great smile.
I was watching Mentor on Bloomberg and following the conversation between the Jamba Juice CEO James D. White and Drybar CEO Michael Landau. As James entered first time into the Drybar salon, Michael was explaining to him how the business operates. James has an incredible experience in business having worked for Coca-Cola, Gillette and Safeway stores with expertise in brand management and marketing. Michael was reporting in a happy, passionate but measured demeanour how they struggle to cope with demand. The design of the salon limits the number of seats to eight which is not nearly enough to satisfy all those who want to buy their service. The key aspect of Drybar’s business is to offer to their customers a great experience, which is not only about having the hair done well, but make them feel as if they go to a bar where you order your service off a style menu. It’s all about the experience
Michael said they hire people carefully to make sure the best experience is created. He explained to James that the recruitment process is more like casting. Those who are hired have to have the right attitude. James acknowledged the comment and said that at Jamba Juice the staff is selected based on the idea that they are performing in front of an audience and they have to feel comfortable in that role and be good at that. The staff needs to have the right energy level.
This simple exchange of experience suddenly made me realise, that in fact this is what we want from any service, not just those that have an obvious artistic element. This is what Howard Schultz noticed when he studied thousands of coffee bars in Milan, Italy when he was really intrigued not only by the professional knowledge of the bar owners, but by their chatty, familiar and almost theatrical relationship with their customers.
We talk a lot about knowledge and competency when we evaluate a person, but we do recognise later that the ability to work in a team is important. Somebody once said that there are three questions you really need to answer when you face a job interview: can you do the job, do you want to do the job, and can you work with the team (or can the team work with you). I think this should be extended to include your clients: can they work with you?
Performance is about the ability to create a positive emotion that unlocks motives, passions and readiness to connect. This is not only about closing a monetary transaction, but an emotional deal too. It is a healing process. When your customer has a positive experience, the stress level just goes down by a notch and for that, he or she is ready to do business with you and come back at another time.
Knowledge is not enough. Performance needs to be added into the mix. This is a bit tricky, because performance cannot be learned by reading a manual. It is attached gradually through life experience. It depends on the environment you lived in when you grew up, the people in your entourage and your cultural fabric.
The Four-Hour Body is not the most brilliant writing by any standard, but sure is entertaining and captivating at times. Tim Ferris will shake your assumptions at least in once, if you have the patience to read the whole book. He put his body and his will power to the test and in the process he learned quite a bit through personal research or through talking to experts from around the world.
I am sceptical about many of his methods. He is young and some of his experiments need time to prove if they are right with bodies that don’t benefit from the regenerative powers of youth. His tendency to exaggerate it is downright dangerous – do not try this at home. However, he has a point: you have to force issues to make progress, and you have to ignore the dominant beliefs that hold us stuck in an inconvenient position and dare to try something different. I like one of his quotes: “Motion is created by the destruction of balance”- Leonardo da Vinci.
I was about to decide I read enough about dieting when my attention was captured by this chapter: Ultra-endurance: Going from 5K to 50K in 12 Weeks (well there are other chapters that are attention grabbers there, such as 15-minute Female Orgasm, Sex-machine and Doubling Sperm Count). I read a few pages where he describes the painful training required to reach the capacity to run 50K. Running 400m sprints and doing weight training are tough mental tests, because you need to have the will power to smash the dislike of body pain in anticipation, before the massive pain occurs. This is the biggest barrier that you must overcome before getting to see how capable you are. I recall the story of someone who visited a mountainous region in Mexico where villagers could run even at very old age without running out of breath. He almost died trying to run a hill and a valley at the beginning in his attempt to keep up with a local. But then they told him he will need to do this for a few weeks and he will be alright. He did it and he could not believe how easy the running became for him and how fantastic was the feeling of freedom that he felt in his new physical shape.
The science of sports has been taken to dizzying heights. Around the world sport training scientific centres prepare their athletes for Olympic and pushing the performance barriers higher and higher. When you read The Four-Hour Body and go through all those scientific details you are at times intimidated (or at least I was) by the depth of specialised knowledge accumulated over the years. It is quite amazing. It is striking how much we know about chemistry, mechanics and biology of the body, robotics, and genetics with spill-over developments in prosthetics, health and performance management. All of this is well documented, tested, measured for everyone to see.
Why is it that similar efforts are not done in other areas of human performance such as learning, creativity or writing? Is it possible to do writing performance improvement similar to Tim Ferris’s method of training for 50K running? Why not? Say, write in short bursts every day, for 12 weeks and then write a book in one go. Has anyone done research on improving creative performance in a systematic way in such form that can be used by average person? There is no Four-Hour Mind book or equivalent out there.
The difference between sports and intellectual endeavours is that sports are a popular business that pays the winners handsomely. It is a huge social entertaining enterprise that has been with humanity since the beginning of its time. Writing is a solitary journey in which only a few excel. The difference between sports and science is demonstrated by this: on Sky News you have half an hour Sportsline four times a day and no science news programs. This is a big blind spot in the way we set out our priorities.