“I Am Delighted”

Several months ago, I stopped in to grab breakfast at a local McDonalds.  I don’t do fast food much (other than Chick-fil-A to get a chicken salad sandwich).  I could not help but notice the passionate worker who handed the food trays to customers.  She was an older woman, small-framed, and sprightly.  As she handed the tray to each customer, she would say, “I am delighted.”  That’s it.  “I am delighted.”  I thought this was odd because, she did not say, “I am delighted to serve you” or “I am delighted you chose McDonald’s.”  She just said, “I am delighted” and left it hanging out there like a dangling modifier with nowhere to land.

It didn’t make much sense to me why she used such an incomplete phrase, unless she was merely communicating her overall emotional state.   But hey, if she was delighted, she was clearly the only employee there who was.

Last week, same McDonald’s – I drove through the drive through.  The lady taking my order said, “I am delighted.  May I take your order?”  I figured the delighted lady from my previous visit months ago had been moved to taking orders at the drive through.  When I pulled around, I was surprised to see a younger, more robust woman.  Apparently, she had joined the delighted revival since my last visit.   She took my payment.  I said a quick thank you, to which she said, “I am delighted.”   The phrase still sounded kind of awkward to me.  “Delighted about what?” I wondered.

At the second window, I picked up my oatmeal or bacon-egg-and-cheese biscuit with hash browns – I can remember which exactly.  Before I could say a word, the even younger teenager, said to me, “Here you go.  I am delighted.”  Very weird.

Maybe it’s possible the older lady who began saying, “I am delighted” is really delighted.  Maybe she has an inner light that keeps her delighted.  Maybe that is what she means when she says “I am delighted.”  Maybe her delight is contagious because several months ago, no one else in that McDonald’s was delighted and now they all seem to be delighted.  Maybe I’m not quite as skeptical as I used to be about the impact of one person’s positive energy on an entire organization.

What Lean and Six Sigma CAN’T Do

By now, you have probably realized that I am a process innovation nut.  I must have a mutated gene, for I see everything in life as a process – a series of steps marching to a rhythm and flow toward some objective.  Tools such as Lean and Six Sigma serve as lenses through which I view my surroundings.  When I go to a restaurant, I calculate the number of steps taken by the waiter.  Then determine which of those are value-adding and value-robbing.  I spend dinner time trying to figure out a more efficient pattern and route the waiter could take to maximize his or her table turns.

In recent months, I’ve noticed, my experiences do not always fall so neatly into my highly pragmatic internal classification and problem-solving framework.  I battle with questions like – Why are the chicks at Chik-fil-A so freaking friendly?  Why does Apple call their tech support the “Genius Bar” and Best Buy calls theirs “Geek Squad”?  Why is Disney World the “happiest place on earth” and the Denbigh Wal-Mart the eighth level of Hell?

Several months ago, I was introduced to Jake Poore and Integrated Loyalty Systems. Jake preaches a new process gospel – the excellent customer experience.  (I am trying to reconcile his concepts with the Lean and Six Sigma concepts into a nice, neat little philosophical package.)  Jake espouses two tools useful in evaluating the customer experience.  1) The Customer Compass – understanding the Needs, Emotions, Stereotypes, and Wishes of the customer (Get it!?  N-E-S-W, like on a compass).  2) The Touchpoint Map – dissecting the customer experience in light of the customer’s compass.  These add a dimension to process improvement that Lean and Six Sigma totally neglect.  Jake’s system addresses feelings, a topic I am not generally comfortable discussing.  I am, however, learning to place more and more significance, not just on how processes benefit the consumer intellectually, but how those processes make the consumer feel.  And research shows that we make purchases based on how and what we feel.

Lean and Six Sigma guide us in assembling the nuts and bolts of our business.  They identify the operational details, parsing waste from value.  But, they don’t force us to emotionally connect to with our customers.  While we invest a ton of resources in gaining efficiency, how much do we invest in creating relationship-based loyalty?  I would propose that if process innovation, improvement, and control form the foundation of the “house of quality,” then the customer’s experience is the lawn, front door, exterior, furniture, widows, and kitchen sink.

Pimp My Pup and Other Important Concepts

My daughter’s “Invention Convention” is this week.  Her assignment – to conceptualize an invention, explain how it might work, and build a prototype.  Being  an inventor myself, I was really excited to watch how her mind works.  She invented the “Paw Wash.”  I encouraged her to name it “Pimp My Pup” and then had to explain to her what a pimp was.  She told me that “Pimp My Pup” was inappropriate.  What could I say to that?  Fast-forwarding to the point I’m trying to make, she (without any input from me) outlined the key elements in successfully developing a product or service.

  1. “A Clean Dog is a Happy Dog” – Who doesn’t want man’s best friend to be happy?  Intuitively she connected with pet owners.  She put forth a solid, concise call to action. Reading between the lines, she said to would-be consumers of the Paw Wash, “If you do not keep your pet clean, it will not be happy and you will not be a responsible pet owner.”  She was able to put herself inside the mind of the consumer, anticipate the need, and draw upon the emotion that often guides our decision-making.
  2. “Before and After” – On the left side of her display, entitled, “Before,” is a photo of a dirty, muddy, and shivering little pooch.  The photo on the right highlights a bright white, poofy fur-ball whose caption is “After.” The before-and-after illustration sets the stage for a clearly defined representation of what the invention is intended to accomplish.  Simply put, it sets a clear, unambiguous standard for success.  Being able to define the meaning of success early on in a project sends a clear message to our team – “This is where we are going. This is our VISION.”
  3. The Process.  In order to create the value outlined in our vision and deliver the promised results, we must have a plan, or process, on how to get there.  My 12 year old protégé created the plan on how to go from “dirty dog with a guilt-ridden owner” to “a happy dog and self-assured owner.” That plan was nothing more than a step-by-step process that any reasonable, competent user could understand and follow.  Having a clearly lit path is mission critical to flawless execution.

Whether the goal is to engineer a new product or re-engineer a new process, certain elements must be in place to ensure a successful implementation.  1) Understand what the customer really wants.  2) Define meaningful success.  3) Execute a plan that will deliver the desired results.  Extracting these simple lessons from a pseudo-science project reminds me why I love what I do and why I am such a such a hit at parties.