Part 2- Chapters 2-5: Peter Marino presents an updated sales skill manual for retail salespeople and managers in retail furniture stores.
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The Countless and Endless Moments of Truth
By now, the reader must have grasped I side with those who view Karl Albrecht as the guru of customer service. Without him, I could not have written this book. Unlike Newton, I am the pygmy that stands on the shoulders of a giant or the wren that, hidden within the feathers of an eagle, soars at the height of eagles.
Among the terms I employ in this book is one that Karl Albrecht borrowed from a former president of one of the Scandinavian airlines: the moments of truth. First applied to bull fighting, here, those words refer to the countless and endless moments of truth buying customers experience whenever they interact with organizations. Karl Albrecht defines a moment of truth as, “Any episode in which the customer comes into contact with the organization and gets an impression of its service.” No one person within the organization, no matter his or her job description, encounters all those episodes. Nor can anyone in the company record how many of those episodes occur each day, each week, each month, each year. How well those episodes are handled determines an organization’s customer service. With that in mind, organizations would be wise not to send out letters asking for its customers’ feedback on how well they were served. Since the moments of truth are countless and endless, an organization would have to send out countless and endless letters each year.
Furthermore, organizations would be wise to focus much more on preventing the mishandling of the moments of truth than on correcting them once they have been mishandled. A government study in the 1980’s found that approximately six percent of customers who feel they were handles poorly by someone within a business organization bother to voice their complaints to the offending organization. That being the case, even if an organization had the best trained and educated customer service department, at best that department would be able to exercise its skills on approximately six percent of hurt customers. What CEO, with only a meager knowledge of percentages, would dare to rely entirely on a well trained and educated cadre of customer service experts who, at best, can only function as experts at scraping burnt toast? My mother was an expert at scraping burnt toast. With a husband that shoveled coal and four children, all of whom depended on her entirely to wash their clothes, cook their meals, and keep the house clean – without benefit of a washing machine, a dryer, a dish washer, a vacuum cleaner, and an adjustable toaster – of course she became an expert at scraping toast. But what excuse do those CEO’s have for becoming experts at scraping burnt toast? Has there been an increase in “burnt” customers? Foolish CEO’s have the same remedy: Increase the number of skilled customer service personnel. Such an attitude is sheer madness. No company has enough personnel to go around correcting customer service problems. On the other hand, every company has a much more effective means of preventing customer service problems. That means is total customer service. All a company needs to do to see that means is to open its corporate eyes.
How right Edward R. Morrow was to write: “The obscure we see eventually see. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer.” The thesis of this book is that it needn’t take longer.
Rapport: A State or a Process?
On the day I discovered there are two kinds of processes, and did so entirely on my own, without benefit of anyone else’s research, I experienced what every proverbial blind pig must feel when it stumbles on to an acorn. Blind or not, that discovery was monumental for me.
In the opening paragraph of Chapter Two of her book, Influencing with Integrity, Management Skills for Communication & Negotiation, Genie Z. Laborde asks the following question: “You thought rapport was a state, Right? No, it’s a process.”
While I do not agree with her answer, I do acknowledge it was her question that got me to focus on rapport as a process. Shortly after that, I discovered there are two kinds of processes.
The first kind of process is the kind that takes place every time something tangible and concrete like a chair or a written report is produced. No sooner is the chair or report produced than the process that produced it is no loner required for its to remain in existence. Thus, a written report can be stored away indefinitely without the process that produced having to be continued. Not so with intangible and abstract words like rapport, respect, honor, and other such abstract words. As soon as the process that won such abstractions ceases, they can disappear faster than a lizard’s tongue. Were I a marriage counselor, I would stress the process required to maintain a marriage.
I further reasoned that an organization’s customer service was one of those intangibles linked to the countless and endless moments of truth that require continual the organization’s teamwork No one person, no matter his or her job description, can handle those moments of truth alone. Total customer service is not a chair or a series of chairs, each one of which, once manufactured, is a fait accompli, a done deal no longer requiring the process that brought it into existence. Customer service relies on the ongoing rapport between an organization and its buying customers. Is rapport a state? Of course, it is, but it is a volatile state. Each time either an internal customer, an external customer, or an internal-external customer does something to disturb, irritate, anger, or disappoint the buying customer, the rapport that individual won suddenly vanishes. Clearly, rapport is both a state and a process.
My mother understood the kind of process that must be kept up if it is to stay in existence. When I was six years old, she told me the story about three individuals – Fire, Water, and Honor – who spent a marvelous year together. At the end of the year, fire turned to Water (l’Acqua) and asked how she could find fire (il Fuoco) now that she was about to lose him. “That’s easy,” Fire replied: “Look for smoke. Trace it down. There you’ll find me, Fire.” Fire then asked Water how he could find her, now that he was about to lose her. “Just as easy,” she replied: “Find any green plant with deep roots and dig down deeply to its roots. There you will find me, Water.” Fire and Water then asked Honor (l’Onore) how they could find him now that they were about to lose him. “Ah, my friends,” Honor replied, “Once you lose me, I am almost impossible to find again.”
What Genie Z. Laborde missed was that rapport is a state all right, but it is a volatile state: no sooner does it come into being than it requires all the fine things that brought it into being. And what are all those fine things? They are the continuation of the fine total customer service that brings it into being.
If I am right, an organization’s customer service is a living, breathing organism, much like us, an organism endlessly buffeted by the countless and endless moments of truth.
If I am right, that living organism called total customer service goes through endless metamorphoses each day, each week, each month, and each year. Total customer service must be as volatile as the philosopher Bergson’s ‘elan vital,’ that vital thrust that never ceases to create countless and endless volatile states that are immediately replaced by other such states, thereby demonstrating that it is its process that is king and its states, its subjects. So, Genie, I owe all this to you, my Lady. It was you who taught me that rapport is a process.
How that living organism we call total customer service must smile at the letters some organizations send to their customers to find out how good the organization’s customer service is. Such letters, in my opinion, are a mere exercise in futility.
What every organization can learn from this chapter is implied in the Latin dictum, “non progredi est regredi.” (Not to go forward is to go backward.) Total customer service is likened to the act of canoeing upstream. At times, when the currents are at their fastest, moving that paddle barely keeps the canoe in situ. But, woe to the one who ceases to paddle. It is then those countless and endless bubbles of rushing, churning water, those countless and endless moments of truth, can capsize the canoe and send canoe and paddler rolling downstream.
In the next chapter, we will be analyzing, linguistically, one of the reasons why the word rapport has long been a stumbling block.
Rapport’s Linguistic Journey
Our English word rapport kept the same spelling as the French word rapport from which it derived. In turn, Rapport would seem to have derived from two Latin verbs, ‘apportare’ ‘reportare.’ I have not been able to find the logical Latin offspring of those two verbs – ‘readportatum.’ One thing is certain. The letters ‘ap’ in ‘apportare,’ can only have come from the prefix ‘ad’ that assimilated to ‘ap’ when placed before the verb, ‘portare.’ The ‘re’ in ‘reportare’ somehow lost the ‘e.’ Once that ‘e’ was lost, the ‘r’ alone was affixed to the verb ‘apportare.’ In that way, the French must have arrived at the word ‘rapport.” Thus, the original prefix, ‘ad,’ although assimilated as ‘ap,’ retained its original ,meaning of ‘t’ or ‘towards.’ However, the original ‘re’ lost its meaning of ‘again.” In other words, the combination of ‘reapportare, ’actual or assumed, lost its reiterative meaning in its French form. Only the idea of moving to or toward actually remains in the word rapport. The idea of a going to and fro was lost. Lost or not, rapport undoubtedly once contained the idea of going to and from, back and forth, as repeatedly as was necessary. Therefore, rapport implies a never ending process. That is what Genie Z. Laborde missed. Her doctorate is in psychology, not Latin. Her degree permitted her to perceive what I had missed – a process. Her insistence that rapport is only a process and not a state, caused me to focus on rapport’s process. It was then I discovered the two kinds of processes: one process not having to be sustained, the other having to be sustained. All that was rest for me to do was to trace the word rapport’s linguistic history.
Once I realized that rapport is just one more kind of human relationship, Martin Buber came to my rescue. He writes that all relationships are mutual. In their relationship with customers, the rapport internal customers develop with the buying customer, directly or indirectly, is mutual. Both the buying customer and the internal customer can cause the volatile state in rapport to vanish. Internal customers cannot control what the customer does to cause the rapport to vanish; they can control what they do to cause the rapport to vanish. Therefore, organizations must insist on the proper training and education of interpersonal communication skills for all those in the organization, not just the managers, even though some of those skills pertain almost exclusively to managers.
The endless process required to sustain an organization’s customer service explains why total customer service is an endless journey. It is only as endless journey that customer service appears in the organization’s mission statement. That is the reason why a mission statement has no date line.
Nor does it matter whether rapport is lost in its coming or in its going, that is, by something the internal customer, the external customer, or the buying customer said or did, didn’t say or didn’t do. Meanwhile, it behooves internal and external customers to handle each moment of truth with the greatest tact and respect. Each time an internal customer or an external customer drops the ball, that is, mishandles a moment of truth, not only can the rapport with the customer be lost, but it can also be irretrievably lost.
One last thing before we end this chapter. It the end, it matters not if the rapport affects the buying customer directly or indirectly. In either case, the buying customer will always hold the organization responsible. Customers don’t give a hoot about who dropped the moment of truth. All they know is that they came into contact with the organization and were left with a poor impression of it.
Is there any wonder I refer to rapport as the ‘magic of rapport?”
In the next chapter, we will discuss what causes rapport to remain and what causes it to vanish.
To Be Continued Next Week.
Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Scores of his articles are posted to the "Sales Skill Index" on furninfo.com. He is available for in-store training, and speaking.
View all articles by Peter A. Marino