The subtitle of The Milkshake Moment (Overcoming Stupid Systems, Pointless Policies, and Muddled Management to Realize Real Growth) caught my attention and evoked a smirk. Certainly in the last 10 years I had worked for a company or two that had some pointless policies, some muddled management and some downright stupid systems. Figuring that a free loaned book was worth at least a glance, I checked it out and set to reading that very night.
Steven S Little begins by recounting a disappointing experience at a hotel after a long day of travel where a simple request for a milkshake was left unfulfilled. After calling room service and requesting a milkshake the author was informed that milkshakes weren't on the menu, though ice cream and milk were certainly available as individual items... you get the point.
Long ago yours truly had a summer job as a waiter at a beachfront bar on the East Coast. The manager told all of us on staff one day during a training session that "We do not serve Iced Tea!" Okay. Customers kept requesting iced tea and this was the reason the question had been raised during our meeting. We all knew iced tea was not on the menu, but that never stopped customers from requesting off-menu items from time to time. I dutifully accepted this mandate to refuse iced tea to our customers which was consistently met with disappointment and often some confusion on the face of our customers.
There came a day when our manager met his match. I can't say I don't recount this tale with a bit of wonder, not only because asking for iced tea, or a milkshake, could be so simple to fulfill, but because the manager had worked so hard to refuse the request. Surely it would have taken less energy to relent, to simply make the iced tea, make the guest happy (and..hint,hint....keep my gratuity closer to 20% than 5%!). The guest I mention here was a family man, wife and child present. It was a hot, sunny, somewhat windy day.
"I'd like an iced tea" he asked me.
"I'm sorry, we don't have iced tea" I replied.
"You have hot tea on the menu, and you have ice, right?"
"Yes, I'm sorry sir. The manager says we can't serve iced tea."
"Why don't you go ask the manager if he can explain to me why I can't get an iced tea at a restaurant that serves both tea and ice?"
I have to admit that I was quite curious how Ralph (not his real name) was going to react to this guy. After explaining the plight of this customer to Ralph and intimating that I had detected a thinly veiled civility in his request to speak with the manager Ralph went to the sunny deck to uphold his policy. He returned to tell me to "place some damned ice in a glass and pour tea on top!"
In a sense this event was a Milkshake Moment for me because I realized just how silly this policy of Ralph's was, and how much time and effort was wasted denying a request that wasn't time intensive at all. Why was this rule in place? One can only guess. I felt stupid for upholding Ralph's rule in the first place, but relieved at the same time that I could probably avoid a difficult situation in the future simply by thinking "Does this make sense?"
I tell you all of this so that you know how much weight Steven S Little's book holds for someone who experienced a Milkshake Moment from an employee perspective, certainly at various times in life from a customer perspective, and a few years later when I had secured my first management assignment the realization that crazy little policies like this can come about when a manager feels a strong psychological needs to hold their ground. I now believe that in many situations managers can create policies that are intended to protect their personal space, their boundaries, their sense of control and power. We are, after all human, and basic psychological tendencies to create a comfort zone for oneself could easily translate to an ill-conceived policy of personal space protection.
In Chapter 8 (yes I'm skipping around for expediency) Little writes a little bit about how managers should be conscious of how our actions as are judged externally, not internally. We need to be very careful about how are actions, policies and products are judged by the public since this is the ultimate measure of our success in satisfying the customer's needs. Here we find a little story about a restaurant manager that refused to move some tables around to accommodate Steven and his party.
Chapter 9 quickly follows by showing us a flip-side example of good management, a bar manager who takes it upon herself to put effort into her relationships with her customers and to make their experience memorable. I briefly worked for a restarateur who preached that our customer's experience with us should be "Restorative", that each customer should leave having been restored to a better version of themselves, refreshed and delighted. I really like that idea. That's exactly how I would like to feel when I leave a restaurant, or when I order a Milkshake from hotel room service, or iced tea from a sunburned waiter. I'm not sure I ever heard the concept of Customer Satisfaction encapsulated so eloquently as I did from this owner.
Though the examples from Chapters 8 and 9 I mention here showcase individual managers at the front lines the lessons learned here should be applied throughout all levels of organizations seeking to succeed by satisfying their customers. The simple equation is that a happy client creates value for your brand, leads to revenue and creates the blueprint for success you'll need to repeat as often as possible to compete in an increasingly competitive marketplace. In many ways observing the simplest path to a happy customer and creating postive Milkshake Moments is easy if you observe your customers reactions and listen to their comments.
Here's a link to Steven S Little's website if you're interested in his ideas on Growth.