Why My First Book Will Soon Be Hard to Find

I've kept some news under wraps for awhile. 

It concerns my first book, Service Failure. I didn't want to distract from the launch of my latest book, The Service Culture Handbook, so I've kept it quiet for a bit.

Now I'm ready to share.

Service Failure has gone out of print and I've reacquired the rights from the publisher, AMACOM. Frankly, I'm ecstatic! 

Here's what it means, why I'm so happy, and how this might benefit you.


What It Means

Out of print means that the publisher won't be printing any more copies of the book. AMACOM has also taken down the e-book from websites like Amazon's Kindle Store.

This means the only copies still available are new paperback copies that are still in inventory at retailers like Amazon plus used copies that are sold through various channels. You can also get the book on Audible.

Reacquiring the rights means I now own the rights to publish the book.

People don't realize this, but when you get a book deal like I did with a publisher, you sign over the rights to publish the book. This is the publisher's way of protecting their investment so you don't try to publish the same book somewhere else and introduce a competing product. In return, the publisher helps turn the manuscript into a finished product, secures distribution, and pays the author a royalty on sales.

Now that I own the rights, I can republish the book.


Why I'm Happy

AMACOM knowingly allowed Service Failure to become an interactive experience. 

The book was set to be released in November, 2012. Six weeks earlier, I received my advance shipment of author's copies and discovered a binding problem that caused the pages to fall out. 

AMACOM had the printer fix the issue and reprint the book, but the horse was already out of the barn. It had already shipped copies of the defective books to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. 

Even worse, AMACOM refused to make any effort to get the defective books back and replace them. The official explanation was it was cost-prohibitive.

This put me in a difficult position.

My name was on the book. It was my reputation on the line. And, because AMACOM owned the publishing rights, there was very little I could do about it.

Fast forward to 2016, four years after the book was published, and Amazon was still fulfilling orders with defective books. In fact, the defect rate was increasing to as high as 50 percent!

I finally had the leverage I needed to take action. After a brief negotiation through my agent, AMACOM agreed to give back the book rights.


How This Can Benefit You

Now that the book is mine again, I get a do-over.

That means I can republish the book with some new research and updated examples. If you own a copy of Service Failure, I'm going to get you a copy of the new book when if and when it comes out. (Details to be worked out...)

I can also give the book a new title.

Service Failure has a negative connotation. It might appeal to an individual buyer, but it's not the kind of book you buy and hand out to your management team because that would send a poor message. That clearly hurt sales.

A new title will make the book much easier to share.

So I have a question for you now. The original title was: Service Failure: The Real Reasons Employees Struggle with Customer Service and What You Can Do About It.

What do you think the new title should be?

How To Get Coworkers to Step-up Their Service

A question I often receive from customer service professionals is "How do I get my coworkers to improve their service?

It can be frustrating to feel like you are giving it your all while colleague settle for mediocrity (or worse).

Getting your peers to change is tricky. Approach a colleague the wrong way and you risk harming the relationship. Do nothing at all and things will likely stay the same.

That doesn't mean you are powerless. Here are three strategies you can try.

Image source: BigStockPhoto

Image source: BigStockPhoto

Be the Model

"Who was it?!" the woman demanded. "Who is making us look bad?!"

I was facilitating a customer service workshop and was sharing the results of a secret shopping test I had conducted the night before. Four out of five employees I had shopped didn't use any of the company's service standards in my interaction.

This particular employee was incensed. She wanted to know who it was because she felt embarrassed to get such a poor report.

Sadly, she was one of the four people who I had visited who performed poorly. She didn't recognize me because she was too busy chatting with a coworker when I had been her customer the night before.

If you want your coworkers to improve, start by taking a long, hard, figurative look in the mirror.

You can't expect your colleagues to step up their collective game if you aren't doing the same thing. This means you need to be the model of outstanding customer service.

Aside from giving you more credibility with your peers, it’s inspiring to others when they see someone else going the extra mile. It creates subtle but powerful positive peer pressure for them to serve at a higher level.


Identify Shared Challenges

High performing teams work together to solve problems.

For example, a Tier 2 technical support team handled issues that were beyond the scope of expertise for the Tier 1 team. One problem was Tier 1 reps often unnecessarily transferred calls to the Tier 2 team that they should have resolved on their own.

Rather than build silos and cast blame, members of both teams met to identify the top reasons calls were transferred and then mark which ones could be prevented. A Tier 2 rep then put together a job aid that showed Tier 1 reps how to handle those issues on their own.

This approach solved a problem, but it also fostered a sense of teamwork between members of both teams.

Another opportunity is to share common issues with your boss.

Many employees assume that bosses are apathetic toward poor service if they don't take any action to correct it. My research indicates there might be another reason: most employees don’t pass along customer complaints!

The idea isn't to tattle on your coworkers. 

The point is to tell your boss about the top customer complaints you hear, along with some ideas or suggestions for improvement. It might be a policy that customers don't like or a common product defect.

Whatever it is, sharing customer insight with your boss may give him or her needed information to enlist the entire team in taking action.


Ask For Advice

One customer service professional, we'll call him David, wrote to me and explained that he was 26 and had just a few years of experience. He explained that he was the youngest person on his team, and most of his peers were 40 years old or older.

My suggestion to David was to approach his more experienced colleagues and ask them for advice on handling a particular customer service challenge.

Why? Two reasons.

First, asking a coworker for advice is a sign of respect. It shows them you value their wisdom and experience. And that respect makes them more likely to respect you back.

Second, it's human nature that we are our own most credible source of information. If I ask you for a suggestion on handling a particular situation, you'll probably give me a good answer but you'll also be more likely to remember to take your own advice the next time.



In many of the organizations I wrote about in The Service Culture Handbook, leaders cultivate a culture of positive peer pressure. 

Coworkers recognize each other for great performance. They cover for each other without question, which creates a social need for reciprocity (I've got your back, you've got mine). Veteran employees guide new hires to help them succeed too.

You can do your part by trying some of the techniques outlined above. Here's one more bonus technique:

Take a moment to recognize a coworker for doing something well.

Chances are, they'll appreciate you letting them know their contributions are valued. They'll be more likely to do it again. And, there's a chance they'll be a bit more receptive when you have some constructive feedback to share!

Lessons from The Overlook: Know Your Financials

Note: Lessons from The Overlook is a monthly update on lessons learned from owning a vacation rental property in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. It's a hands-on opportunity to apply some of the techniques I advise my clients to use. You can find past updates here.

Many customer service leaders tell me they struggle with financials.

Things like margin, variable costs, and fixed costs are a mystery. Capital expense doesn't making any sense at all. Cost centers are confounding.

This makes it difficult to ask for money. 

You might want to invest in new technology, hire more staff, or boost wages to improve retention. Knowing the cost isn't enough. Fluffy platitudes about investing in service won't get you there, either. 

You need to convince executives there's a financial benefit to spending that money. 

I can relate. My wife, Sally, and I wanted to turn the garage at our vacation rental property into a game room. But first, we had to run the numbers.

Photo credit: Jeff Toister

Photo credit: Jeff Toister

Why We Wanted a Game Room

We thought it would be a great addition for our guests.

An analysis of similar vacation homes in the area revealed that guests generally looked for a few benefits:

  • A well-equipped kitchen
  • Expansive views
  • A spa
  • A deck
  • Walking distance to town

Our property, The Overlook, already has all of those features except for walking distance to town. Pretty difficult to change that one.

A few rentals had a game room, which many guests called out as an added benefit, though not the primary reason they booked. Most game rooms had a pool table in a kitschy room that looked like somebody's basement from the 80s. 

We thought we could do better.

The Overlook has a detached single car garage. Guests don't expect to park in a garage, so we thought we could make better use of the space. Our vision was to finish off the garage and put in a ping pong table. 

Truth be told, we also really wanted a ping pong table to enjoy ourselves. 


Running the Numbers

First, it's important to know exactly how much adding a game room would cost. 

We had a few contractors come out to give us estimates. It wasn't pretty. The garage needed a new roof, a new side door, and new windows. The roll-up garage door was unsightly. The floor wasn't level. 

Total price tag, including a ping pong table, was $16,500.

Now that we knew the cost, we had to calculate the return. What would we gain financially from having a game room.

We talked to our property manager. She told us that in her experience, game rooms were nice added features, but it would be difficult to justify a rate increase on that alone. 

This actually jibed with our earlier analysis that guests liked game rooms, but it wasn't a primary factor when booking a rental.

If we couldn't get a rate increase, could we get more bookings? 

There are two factors that might drive this:

  • The game room could be a tie-breaker between two similar properties
  • Guests might be more likely to return if they enjoyed the game room

We didn't have a lot of data here, having only owned The Overlook since last October. So we took a guess.

The Overlook was already booked most weekends during the busy winter season. A game room couldn't improve upon that. But perhaps we could gain two extra rentals during the summer. 

Here's how that works out:

  • Rate: $325 for two nights, $275 for each additional night. 
  • Average stay: 2.5 nights 
  • Total gain: $975

Would you spend $16,500 to gain $975 per year? Wait, the math gets worse.

Our nightly rate includes the cleaning fee. We also have to pay our management company and some other miscellaneous fees. That means our take on the $975 is really about $500.

Here's our payback calculation:

$16,500 ÷ $500 = 33

This means it will take us 33 years for the game room to pay off. Suddenly, that game room seems like a terrible business decision.


Apply This Lesson to Your Business

Let's step through what we did to run the numbers. You can apply the same lesson to an investment you want to make in your own business.

Step 1: Identify the costs. Know exactly what you're getting into. For instance, if you want to add staff, the cost isn't just their wage. It's the cost of employment taxes, benefits, equipment, etc. Costs are almost always underestimated.

Step 2: Identify the financial benefits. Do your homework to get an accurate estimate.  Many leaders make the mistake of making up numbers without doing their research. Those estimates are almost always too optimistic. For The Overlook, we analyzed the competition and talked to our experienced property manager who oversees more than 40 properties. 

Step 3: Calculate Your Return. The easiest way to do this is to divide the cost by the gain. This will tell you the amount of time it will take for that investment to pay off. Hint: executives usually want to see unplanned investments payoff within the current fiscal year.



There's one more lesson you can take from our game room example.

You can often find money in the budget for a project that the business owner or a key executive passionately believes in, even if the financial return isn't there. This means you need to do more than just run the numbers. 

You need to get your executive emotionally committed.

In our case, we imagined epic ping pong battles with family and friends. We wanted to put barn doors on the garage that opened wide in the summer to let in the cool mountain air. Perhaps a couple of bar stools for guests to sit on while waiting for the next game.

It was a terrible investment, but we really, really wanted a ping pong table. So yeah, we did it.

Garage before

Garage before

Garage after

Garage after

An Inside Look at Amazon's Fulfillment Center Operations

Do you ever wonder how Amazon orders arrive so fast with near-perfect accuracy?

The company's operational excellent is the backbone of Amazon's reputation for outstanding customer service. I recently toured Amazon's ONT2 fulfillment center in San Bernardino, CA to get an inside look at exactly how the company does it.

Here's a quick profile of this particular facility:

  • Specializes in small and medium-sized items
  • It's the size of 28 football fields
  • Employs more than 2,500 people full-time
  • 14 million products are shipped from here
  • Amazon's oldest fulfillment center in California

The center is called ONT2 after the nearest airport (Ontario, or ONT) with the 2 designating this as the second center in the area.

The tour revealed cutting-edge technology seamlessly blended with smart logistical management. There was even a genius operational practice that was completely counterintuitive.

Pictures weren't allowed inside, but I took good notes on the process required to pick, pack, and ship your order to you.

Photo credit: Jeff Toister

Photo credit: Jeff Toister

The Pick Process

This is where the items you order are selected from inventory, or picked, and sent via a conveyor belt to a packing station. 

The process is initially quite counterintuitive. Inventory items are stored in seemingly random locations. One inventory bin might contain a stuffed animal, a video game, a protein shake, and a few other mismatched items. Amazon actually does call this "random stow."

Amazon puts items in all these random locations so they can assign individual pickers to tight areas. This minimizes time spent wandering around the warehouse. It also ensures that each picker has roughly the same amount of work.

Computers make this process possible. Pickers are routed by computer to maximize efficiency. (More advanced warehouses eliminate the walking entirely and have robots carry shelves of products to the pickers!)

The pickers in ONT2 push around carts with tote bins and carry around hand-held scanners. The scanner tells the picker what to pick next and where to find it. A series of three bar-code scans ensures pickers select the correct item:

  1. Scan a bar code on the tote bin.
  2. Scan a bar code on the shelf where the item is located.
  3. Scan a bar code on the item itself.

The picker can't continue until these three scans are accurately completely. Once they are, the picker's handheld scanner directs the picker to the next item which may or may not be part of the same order.


The Pack Process

Once filled, pickers load their totes onto conveyor belts. The belts whisk the totes to packing stations where orders are packed for shipping.

Stations are separated into single-item orders and orders with multiple items.

For single-item orders, packers are prompted by computer to select the correct size box and pack the item. A series of scans ensures the correct item goes in the correct box. 

For orders with multiple items, packers first sort items from a tote onto a cart with multiple shelves so the items from each order are grouped together. An order might have items delivered via multiple tote bins if it contains items picked by different people. The computer and scanning process keeps everything organized.

Here, I was amazed at the speed at which packers operated. They selected items, assembled boxes (which are stored flat), put in protective filler, and taped each box shut in a matter of seconds. 


The Ship Process

Orders are routed from packing stations down a conveyor belt to something called a SLAM machine. 

SLAM stands for:

  1. Scan
  2. Label
  3. Apply
  4. Manifest

The machine scans boxes one at a time. A shipping label is then generated and applied.

The boxes are weighed as they travel down this line and the weights are compared to the expected weight for each shipment. If the weight is off, the box is automatically pushed off the shipping line into a quality control station for inspection.

I was lucky enough to see part of Amazon's rigorous quality control methods on display. Operators detected a problem with the SLAM machine where labels were being misapplied. They immediately shut down the entire line and attempted to fix the problem. 

The operators quickly isolated the issue to one of two label applicators on the line, so the disabled to problem applicator until a technician could arrive and restarted the line.

From there, boxes are automatically routed by destination and carrier (USPS, UPS, etc.). The boxes travel along conveyor belts until they reach a warehouse bay door where workers load the boxes into waiting trucks.


Take Your Own Tour

Cameras aren't allowed in the fulfillment center, but I did find a news story that showed behind-the-scenes video of this process.

Amazon currently offers tours of six facilities. Check here to find a center near you and book a tour!

What Maslow's Hierarchy Says About Customer Service Employees

We've all felt beaten up by a customer.

It's part of the job. A customer is angry, maybe even unfair. Intellectually, we know they're complaining about the product, the problem, or the situation.

The attack still feels personal.

Years of pithy advice tells us to "not take it personally." That's an instinctive impossibility. We're wired to take it personally.

What happens next is interesting. Some people are able to recover, overcome the instinct, and serve the customer with a smile. Others get defensive or angry, and service quality declines rapidly for that customer and perhaps the next customer, too.

If you manage customer service employees, or you serve customers on the frontline, it's important to understand the psychology behind this. 

Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs gives us a clear explanation.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs

In a paper written in 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed what's now famously known as Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs.

It ranked our basic needs as humans in priority order:

  1. Physiological
  2. Safety
  3. Love and belonging
  4. Esteem
  5. Self-actualization

The idea was you had to meet highest priority needs before you could concentrate on the next highest priority.

So you'd be willing to risk your physical safety (priority #2) if you had unmet physiological needs such as food, water, or air.

Serving that angry customer is the lowest priority for humans, sitting at #5, self-actualization. According to Maslow's Hierarchy, we can only commit to doing this if our higher priority needs are being met.


Meeting Higher Priority Needs First

In my book, Service Failure, I shared a story about Paul. 

He was working in a nightclub's office when he received a call from an angry customer. The customer had apparently been contacted by his credit card company about a fraudulent charge and he assumed that someone at the nightclub had stolen his credit card number.

Here's an excerpt:

At first Paul tried his best to be helpful, but he quickly realized the man just wanted to vent. The customer's repeated accusations, "Your server stole my credit card number" and "You guys need to be more careful," soon wore thin. As Paul explained, "I could feel my blood pressure going up. I could feel my face get flush. I felt like, 'Don't accuse my coworker of doing something that you don't know that they did.' There are a million ways that credit card numbers get stolen. It was so frustrating to me."

Paul found it difficult to serve this customer because his #4 need, esteem, was being challenged. The desire to be awesome at customer service (self-actualization) took a back seat to a strong desire to avoid further insult.

It's even worse in other companies.

Paul actually liked his coworkers and felt a need to stand up for the server he felt was falsely accused. This suggests his #3 need, love and belonging, was being met in the workplace. Paul felt a part of the team.

But what if he didn't?

I encountered one of these employees on a recent trip to the pet store. This particular chain is infamous for constantly rearranging merchandise, so you can't find what you're looking for from one visit to the next.

An employee was helping me locate a certain brand of dog food when she started to vent. "I guess they [the pet chain's management] just want you to wander around so you'll shop more," she said. 

Notice the use of the word, "They." 

She didn't feel part of the team. Her sense of identity, at least at work, wasn't strongly attached to her employer. She clearly felt embarrassed and frustrated by a corporate policy and took steps to distance herself from it.

How could she possibly provide great customer service when she didn't care?


Take Action

Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs helps explain the old adage, "Happy employees lead to happy customers."

Many leaders make the mistake of using incentives and gimmicky programs to motivate their employees. Research shows employees don't actually have a motivation problem. The real issue is de-motivation.

Employees want to do a great job, but many feel they can't. 

Customer service leaders can do several things to overcome this challenge, foster a sense of team unity, and fulfill employees' need for love and belonging:

  1. Create a customer service vision that provides a unifying purpose.
  2. Make it easier for employees to achieve the vision.
  3. Work together as a team to solve common problems.

You can take action too if you're an individual contributor.

While writing The Service Culture Handbook, I discovered many companies with customer-focused cultures have a peer recognition program. Coworkers recognize each other for delivering outstanding service that aligns with the company's vision.

You can do this even if you don't have a formal program.

Take a moment to recognize your coworkers for their efforts. Go out of your way to build positive and supportive workplace relationships. This will help make your organization a better place to work and it will become even easier to serve your customers.