Monthly Archives: February 2012

Service by Numbers

The restaurant world is filled with various idioms.  I’m sure everyone has heard them; phrases like “Can I tempt you with our hot peanut fudge quadruple scoop sundae?” delivered by the server in a rushed, robotic manner.  As diners, we can almost anticipate them we hear them so often.  But that may be about to change.


Last week, I read an article in The Globe and Mail newspaper that examined the latest service trend in the restaurant industry.  Restaurants, the ultimate service business, are recognizing that they need to move beyond scripts to stay competitive.  With so many restaurants to choose from, quality of service can be a distinguishing factor.  As an Applebee’s executive so eloquently put it, “Food is easy to copy, a building is easy to copy, but it’s not easy to copy our people”.


So what are they doing instead?  Teaching human observation skills.  Or, in other words, asking servers to pay attention to their clientele.  Some examples?  “Customers who arrive early and well-dressed are likely on the way to the theatre and need fast service” and “chatty tables are more likely to respond to suggestive food and beverage selling”, among others.  Similar insights could be applied to the retail industry as a whole.


As a consumer, I can attest that what I find to be “good service” is never scripted.  It’s real human interaction that is timely, and relevant.  It’s when I feel the salesperson is speaking to me, and not saying something because they were told to in an attempt to upsell.  If scripts are not the answer, is teaching observation skills the new magic bullet?


Personally, I think that good servers already do this intuitively.  And I think that’s why part of me remains skeptical about this new trend.  I am fully behind the idea of investing in one’s employees, but I wonder, is good service something that can be taught at all?  Sure, you can teach someone the mechanics of painting, but can you teach them to produce art?  It may be a case of “you’ve got it or you don’t”.  Many businesses believe they can hire any warm body and train them.  What’s the result?  Poor performance.  High turnover.  The feeling that anyone can work retail, and the resulting undervaluing of retail employees.


I propose retail businesses adopt a new approach:  hire the right people – the ones with a talent for service – and invest to keep them there.  The right people will do an amazing job, and if you treat them well, and pay them well, they will stay.  Some level of training is always required, but starting from the right place is a smarter return on investment.  So start by hiring the right people.  You’d be well served.


Is truly “good service” something that can be taught?  How do you invest in your employees?



Fear of Falling

Raise your hand if you aim for failure in all of your endeavours.




Somehow, I thought that would be the reaction I got. Who stands up and declares that they love nothing more than to crash and burn when they try something new? No one enjoys putting their best foot forward only to be pushed back five steps because they weren’t prepared or didn’t have what they needed to get the job done. It’s all about doing a job and doing it well and succeeding at everything, right?

But here’s the problem: that’s actually not possible. The Law of Averages says that some people are going to fail and some are going to succeed. Nature is all about balance. So that means that some people, regardless of how equipped and knowledgeable and skilled they are, will fail at their attempts to start a small business. It has to happen. It’s awful and no one likes to see it, but can you envision a world where every business that started stayed open? Talk about supply outweighing demand!

So how do entrepreneurs do it? How do you make that commitment and put effort into bringing your dreams into reality, while knowing the whole time that there is a rather large chance that your reality will come crashing down around you? I know what you’re thinking – that some people are just lucky and that is what makes them successful. They hit the market at the right place at the right time and were triumphant where others had found defeat. Here’s my proof that this is not the case: five names. Biz Stone, Jawed Karim, Akio Morita, Harland David Sanders, and Bill Gates. All five are entrepreneurs who suffered major setbacks in their first attempts to start an enterprise. But now, because they refused to give up and instead started over with more experience and more determination, we have Twitter, YouTube, Sony, KFC, and the biggest software company in the world.

This may sound clichéd, but the key to being a successful entrepreneur comes down to personality and values. The most successful entrepreneurs in the world will all tell you the same thing: they weren’t afraid to fail. They went into every venture determined to make a go of it, with the attitude that failure was not an option. And then when it all went to pieces and the doors closed behind them, they would learn from it and pick up those pieces and try again. But they were all so determined to find success that they pushed through what would keep most of us from even trying. And believe it or not, this is a trait that you can learn for yourself. Sure, it feels awful to be pushed back and there may be some tears and venting and depression and sadness. But after your pity party ends, you’ll have a drink and take a shower and get back out on the field. Because that’s the way that the game is played in the world of start-up businesses.

Do you recover from failure easily, or do you find yourself defeated when things don’t go the way you had hoped?


“There is an ancient saying that the sense of a vessel is not in its shell but in the void. So it is with this room. It is for those who come here to fill the void with what they find in their center of stillness.”

I recently was on a ten minute break and ran into a co-worker who was standing in the hallway rubbing their forehead, trying to massage away their stress and control the blood pressure that was increasing by the second.  I looked at them and said “Wooohssaa”.  My co-worker looked back at me like I was crazy and asked me to repeat myself.  “Woosah — calm down, take a minute, breathe.” Or at least that what it meant on Bad Boys 2. If it was in a Will Smith movie, it must be true.

In the everyday hustle and bustle of life, we are constantly trying to find a way to get off the hamster wheel to breathe, even if it is only for a second.  Your day starts at 6am, you get yourself and your family ready for the day, and you go to work prepared to face whatever happens. You spend hours being pulled in sixteen different directions by twenty-four different people, with deadlines to meet and meetings to be had and clients that want it all and they want it yesterday. And then you have lunch and repeat it all again in the afternoon.  You may put in forty hours that week, or you may put in ninety hours that week.  Who knows?  One thing is for sure – the rat race that may be great for your career is definitely not so great for your health.

Doctors and health officials highly recommend that we decrease stress in our lives. Stress puts us at risk for heart problems, mental health issues, digestive disorders, lowered immune systems – it all ties together with your state of mind. But mediation and relaxation – even just a few minutes a day – has been proven to increase your ability to fight off illness and increase your endorphins. Endorphins are those invisible neurotransmitters that tell your brain that you’re happy. The more endorphins you produce, the happier and less stressed you’ll be in the future. In other words, actively working to reduce your current stress levels will cause you to experience less stress later on. And less stress means happier employees. Studies have shown that employees who keep stress to a minimum take less sick time, have increased productivity, and statistically have fewer errors in their work.

Many corporations have started to notice the benefits of stress-free employees. Apple, Google, Nike, and HBO are just a few of the mega-conglomerates who are encouraging their workers to take life easier and pace themselves. These companies have done everything from relaxing their dress codes, to encouraging job sharing, to opening entertainment rooms and letting their workers take an hour here and there for some TV time. Some have even added mediation and relaxation rooms to their office space, complete with mediation consultants who will work with the employees on stress-reducing techniques. You only need to look at what these corporations are producing – both in terms of product and profit – to see the results.

There is so much information out there about the benefits of having relaxed and calm employees in the workplace and how this can benefit to both our companies and workers. So why are so many of us still stressed out to the point that we’re missing out on our personal lives because we can’t step back from the office?  My advice: Lock yourself in a bathroom stall for 5 minutes and Woosahhh. Trust me – you will feel much better.

What does your company do to promote relaxation and de-stressing in the workplace?


Being a cell phone user for more than 25 years, you can imagine the confusion with which I’ve dealt as it relates to the ever-changing offerings that have been presented to me.  It’s not so much about the phones, but rather the things that can be done with them.

My first reaction?  I want my life to be simple.  Don’t complicate my lifeline.  I just want to make a damned phone call.

In the last fifteen years, however, I have witnessed a remarkable redefining of what phones “do”.  And I’ve been challenged to figure out why they’re still called “phones”.  They’re not phones.  They’re not just “smart”.  They are laptops.  They are fully functioning laptops that happen to have the capacity to make and receive calls.  Since every laptop and pad is now capable of making calls, effectively offering precisely the same functions as their much smaller cousins – I would assert that for the sake of continuity – they be placed in the same family, renamed “really, really, really big phones”.

So now the question I have is “What the hell I do with it?”.  What apps do I download?  What apps will improve my quality of life?

And so the hunt starts.  First, I look to see what’s out there.  I have 416,000 apps available for download.

Of those 416,000 choices, 1,200 are apps that are designed to “manage my apps”.  Really?   And of those 416,000 apps, there isn’t a single “App app” that tells me what apps I should get?

And so, hesitant as I was (and remain) about downloading more “stuff” to my phone, I took the leap.  I would dip my toe into the pool.  I would now learn how to Apply myself.  But I would NOT be at the mercy of Angry Birds.  I would grab one sensible app, and be done with it.

A calendar device.  That’s what I downloaded.  And I liked it.  It synced with the rest of my life, gave me a heads up on impending meetings, let me organize my time by providing plenty of notice for project due dates.  Awesome.

But that’s as far as I’ll go as it relates to downlo…  okay, there’s a pretty cool music player that I could use, but that’s it.  Other than those two, I have no need for distracting programs that will do nothing but make my life more diffi…  Okay.  There’s a pretty sweet swiping keyboard that makes things a little simpler.  And there’s a map device that could come in pretty handy.  But that’s it.

And Score Mobile – a great utility for checking my football scores at a glance.  And a guitar tuner.  And a couple of news site apps.  And an app that makes my phone sound like a light saber when I move it around.  Oh!  And a wicked little thing that – when I put my phone over my mouth – it makes it look like I’m talking.  And the “emptying beer app”… that’s a must.

The ashtray, this paddle game and the remote control and the lamp and that’s all I need.

Having been a user of cell phones when they were “phones”, I was entirely reluctant to delve into the world where my primary tool for communication becomes a Playstation.  But the truth is they’re pretty amazing devices now; holding more memory than did the primary computer aboard any Apollo mission.

There are some idiotic applications out there.  No question.  Having a Wiggles Songs alarm app isn’t going to make you a more productive individual.  There are, however, some awfully useful tools that were developed specifically with the intention of simplifying your life.  Or maybe even enriching it.  Maybe.

I took too long to recognize the value of these utilities, and didn’t understand that they could, in fact, make my professional life a little simpler.  And to those I mocked for downloading this stuff before I did?

There’s an appology for that.

What apps do you use?  Have they simplified your life, or provided yet another distraction?

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