How A Brown Bear Reminded Me About Great Customer Service

I met a friend of mine in Mammoth this last November where we both had decided to try our hand at some colder weather camping. During the first evening of our adventure we had spent our mandatory hours around the campfire catching up, then decided to call it a night around midnight. The great sleep (it always seems better in the woods) lasted until 3am when we were woken up by something investigating our camp.

We were sleeping in the shelled bed of my truck in lieu of our tents as it was getting pretty chilly during the evenings. Popping open the back of the shell revealed a six-foot male bear sitting on top of my cooler. Headlamps and noise (from INSIDE the shell, naturally) seemed only to encourage him to continue treating my cooler as both a soccer ball and a chew toy.

We had correctly packed our stores in bear proof containers, and as he continued to aggressively gnaw on my cooler, I understood how necessary that rule is. My cooler is a Yeti Tundra 75, which is rated bear proof when locked as well as latched. Honestly, I had locked it more to avoid an angry ranger than a bear as I had camped for years without any serious run-ins. My cooler was packed to the max and weighed in at 100+ pounds, which I watched the bear pick up with one paw and toss around with little effort.

Then, after briefly acknowledging our presence with a snort and a stare, he then smartly chewed off all of the latches knowing that this generally opens coolers. I got suspicious that this bear regularly worked coolers in the area. Still not getting what he wanted, he attempted to claw the lid open while chewing on the pad locks. After another 5 minutes, he moved on to investigate lesser coolers and trash elsewhere in the woods.

Returning to Reno after the weekend, I attempted to find new latches which amazingly were really the only substantial damage to the cooler (completely destroyed, chewed in half). I called Yeti and explained my story to an energetic Scott J. in the customer service department. I simply wanted to know where in town to find the parts to put my cooler back together.

What I got from Scott was a shipment of new T-Rex latches, instructions on installation (harder than it seems, but not by much), Yeti hats, stickers, bottle openers and patches all shipped directly to my door and free of charge. I sent them the photo of my cooler with a large paw print and scuffs on it for their Yeti wall of fame within their corporate offices.

I like to find amazing customer service in strange places, as well as acknowledging it as often as possible. Finding great public relations in un-expected areas proves that it should be possible everywhere, and how important it is to keep customers loyal. Will I buy Yeti again, from a local retailer? You bet. To achieve this positive customer service loop, we need to find the right people for the job and get out of their way. Thank you, Scott, for a fantastic experience and the refresher course in customer service.

Management Feedback:  Apple Listens

 

I’ve written before that feedback into your systems is critical to ensure development and improvement.  Last week I participated again in a feedback loop that I find both amazing in its usage and the perfect example of how to use this critical communication tool.  I’ve been asked to do what Apple calls “Reverse Briefings” for Apple a couple of times, and each time I do them I am surprised how well vetted they are and incredibly useful.

In short, Apple reaches out to some of their clients at regional stores and asks them to come onsite and brief their employees on how Apple can help us better.  They want us to convey a deeper dive into what our business is, how we operate, what our goals are and how we utilize Apple products to achieve those goals.  These briefings are done before the store opens and involves most of the sales staff and management in that regional area.

First, this is an amazing outreach campaign from Apple, so many companies get large and tend to forget about their customers.  Exposing management and sales teams to the core local companies that you service while conducting busy, successful operations can be daunting.  Apple’s carving out of the time to do just that shows that you can be smart about knowing your clients while growing to a global leader in computing.

Secondly, Apple’s usage of that data does not just stop with helping those that perform the briefings.  After each event Apple spent the next couple of days talking up our company to anyone that comes through their doors and seems like a good fit.  Given the number of people that come into an Apple store daily and enlisting their usually upbeat employees as pitch personnel could have amazing long term value.

Lastly, this briefing gives me an advanced look at some of the Apple services that could assist my company.  Over my last two events at the store I have found two Apple offerings that have helped me decide a new mobile management strategy and how we can get outside help from Apple employees.

The lessons to learn from these events are numerous, namely:

  • Don’t become too big to care about your daily walk in traffic. If your competition cares more your working from behind
  • Involve sales and management from your local vendors when possible to help you succeed
  • Getting good word of mouth from a dedicated sales team that sees a lot of customers has enormous value
  • Get a look behind the curtain at your vendors whenever possible, finding ways to work better together or perhaps places where things have fallen apart always improves your ROI (time or money)
  • Building relationships with vendors is always a good idea, in both small and large ways

If you have had a similar experience with any company, or the opposite, I would love to hear from you.  Write me back and as always:  Hire good people, empower them to be the best they can be, and spend your time clearing the way for them.

Stop Staring at Your Obstacles

My regular readers know I do a lot of bike riding, and often use my time on a bike to outline my blogs in my mind.  Summer is here and I’m mountain biking more this year, and this last week I fell into a great canyon with my bike and thought about a subject that seemed perfect for this week.

Road and mountain biking are very different, but some things about riding a bike hold true across both platforms.  One thing I try to point out when helping new riders is the fact that your bike will always go where your head is aimed, steering is not ultimately done with the arms.  Look where you need to with your eyes, but steering a bike is done with your head and shoulders.

Case in point:  One technique I love working on with new mountain riders is while on very narrow bike paths (single tracks) look down the path with your eyes, but if there is a cliff that you must avoid on either side, tilt your head the opposite direction.

Adjusting the angle of your head even subtly while looking down the path with your eyes will help riders avoid pitfalls.  I use this trick on every mountain ride I’m on, if I need to avoid falling off the path to the left side, I pivot my head as if I’m looking at the right side of the path.  I can keep my eyes on the path but my bike will instinctively steer to the right side of the track.

How do we avoid pitfalls that are right in front of us?  It seems counter-intuitive, but if you want to avoid a rock in the path of your bike, stop looking at it.  Looking directly at an obstacle while on your bike locks both your eyes and your head on that obstruction, your bike will follow and more times than not your running over it.

Instead, focus your eyes on the clear path around the obstacle.  Instinctively your bike will find the clear path and your ride will be much more enjoyable.  This is a small trick but it’s so effective for navigating tight mountain rides.

Lastly, riding while looking at what is directly in front of your tire will get you in trouble.  Not knowing what is ten or twenty feet in front of you means that you cannot adjust your speed or gearing correctly.  Ultimately you will hit things that you should have seen coming but you were not looking far enough ahead.

Tying these ideals into a management philosophy seems pretty smart.  Namely:

 

  • Always tilt your head in the direction you want to go. Keep your vision where you need to and don’t lose sight of the important things coming up, but keep your team always moving in the direction you want to go.

 

  • When the next stage has an obstacle, don’t stare at it. Instead, look at your options and focus on the clearest path around it.  The obstacle will remain, but putting all your energy into getting around it is a better use of your teams’ efforts than slamming into it.

 

  • Stop looking at only next week for your work projects. Instead, concentrate on looking as far down the road as you can.  Navigate to the clear paths that will get you where you want to be a year from now.

 

Proper focus, direction and understanding of what steers you on a bike or in life makes both tasks more enjoyable and productive.

It’s Time To Step Away From Your Computer For A While

Being technical people we fill our days with devices, screens, apps, calendars and keyboards.  Guilty of this myself I want to talk about letting go of the technology in our lives, if at least for only a brief period.
Basing your life and work in the technical world is a choice, although it’s an easy argument to say that the choice is fading.  Not having a smart phone or home internet connection has become unthinkable to some, including myself, and it would certainly hamper most individuals ability to get things done in the modern world.  Rather than rail on the current state of technology in our lives, I would advocate for just stepping away from the technical world when possible.
For the last 6 years some friends and I have hosted an event in the Walker River basin, neatly tucked away on the western edge of Nevada.  The idea of the event is to get together with a group of friends, regular or future, eat great food and laugh while competing in a series of events that humble us all.  The events include trap shooting, horseshoes, calf roping, desert golf and darts, all done over the course of one Saturday every May.
We charge for the event, but all the money goes back into the prizes, food and cash winnings.  Because of the logistics of scorekeeping, feeding and paying out winners for 50 or so people, we (the hosts) can not completely leave the technical world completely (spreadsheets abound).  However, all that is expected of the participants is to have fun while meeting some new people and enjoying great food.  Many will win some money or a side prize, but honestly this event is about getting away from our daily lives.  During this event this last May, I could not help but thinking that most of the attendees had usurped cell phones or computers in lieu of smoked meats, desert air and Nevada rain.
These sorts of events re-energizing.  Not worrying about gritty technical details or the corporate bottom line of any mistake I may make allows me to reflect on how important these corporate things actually are when I return to my daily grind.  I realize we have all heard that we have to get away to be more productive, but if any of my readers want to spend a weekend in May experimenting with this philosophy, write me back.  Cell phone optional but leave the charger at home.

Perfection is Great, Stop Trying to Achieve It and Let Mistakes Happen

I talked about hunting and metrics in my last blog and stressed the importance calibrating your metrics correctly. I have also drifted somewhat away from one of my central ideals promoted by this blog. Namely, as a manager of people your primary focus should be hiring the best people possible and then clearing the way for them to be who they are, essentially getting out of their way. Today I’m going to circle around and bring these ideals together.

During my hunting trip I felt I should hit everything I shoot at, not out of vanity but because I have trained to hit flying birds for years via clay sports. When I fell far short of that goal in a real world situation it took a complete retooling from my friends to put my metrics in perspective. I strived to hit every bird in my practice rounds, and had achieved that goal on several occasions. In practice, perfection is an ideal goal. Hone your skills to be as sharp as possible and prepare yourself for as many real world situations as possible. This is what school is for. Be prepared to completely re-tool your metrics when you are out of the practice sessions and into life.

In the real world, stop trying to be perfect and start finding the places where your best efforts make a big difference. When I stopped worrying about my leads (the distance between what I was shooting at when the game would get there) and started realizing I was in great country with friends, my gun swing relaxed and I started hitting birds. In managing people realize the bigger goals of your department and the company as a whole and encourage every member of your team towards those goals. Clearing the way for them to be focused on the larger tasks should be your goal and will be the greatest benefit to your team.

You should also expect mistakes along the way, both yours and your teams. Never let your team put you in a bad position, and if they do look at yourself first for not being clear. Furthermore never let your team be put in a bad position by not assisting them when mistakes happen. Trust is critical in this relationship, if your not fostering it then your loosing it. Foster it by being honest and following through on what you promise, none of which requires perfection but does depend you being genuine.

My hunting team consisted of friends and some Brittany Spaniels that are amazing to work with. Great at finding birds the dogs were the perfect partners, giving us a direction and greatly improving the probability of a successful hunt. Each of the dogs new exactly what the overall idea of the day was and worked to ensure we were all successful. We cleared their way by getting them in the right country, getting them around obstacles (fences, etc) and helping when they got hurt (sore pads, falls, cuts, all of which happened).

The friends helped in all the other way, being much more experienced hunters than I am. Hunting locations, tips, and proper preparation were all ensured and reinforced by this group, essentially clearing the way for me to be my best. On top of helping me succeed, the friendship and great experiences ensure that I want to continue returning to “work” and hunt with this group as often as possible.

With all the preparation, proper team placement and usage, investment and training my success rate was very low for my expectations, which bordered around perfection. When I realized myself that the overall goal really was learning a new sport and loving what I was doing, success came easy. It should be this effortless for the people your managing as well.

Hunting for Better Management Part II

As I mentioned in my last blog, I found the experience of my first hunt invigorating and founded in good management rules. Some of the reasons the management of projects and people are similar to hunting I’ve listed are:

Gather all the information you can
Test everything before you do anything
Trust the people that are smarter than you
Problems will happen, stay calm and work it through
Metrics still count, but be sure to define them

I talked to as many hunters as I knew about what to expect during this hunt. I got a lot of the same advice, and sometimes I got some advice that was a gem. Pay attention to everyone you respect in the field your venturing into, listen to the similarities in their stories as this will reinforce what you should know. Also listen to the differences as these will contain some hidden elements that you probably were not expecting.

Everyone told me it would be two days of intense hiking, and they were right. I was told it would be frustrating by everyone, and when it was, I was relieved that I alone did not experience it this way (more on this below). But one hunter told me to avoid the traditional backpacks and vests as I will sweat badly in them during intense hiking. Instead, if I was purchasing equipment for the hunt, but a system that gives you maximum flexibility for the clothing you were going to wear. When I found one, an odd looking bags with suspenders system (Bucks Bags Ultimate Chukar system if your curious) I took his advice to heart and found it to be a perfect solution to the problem of hard hiking in cold weather.

Next came testing. I wore my boots, clothes and even my new bag system while shoveling snow in my driveway. This allowed me to work up a sweat in cold weather and understand what layers were correct while breaking in my boots and ensure I could move around freely in the bag system. It also greatly slowed my shoveling as each neighbor had to ask what in the world I was wearing. I also wore different parts of it hiking on some trails around my house, all the while getting more comfortable with the equipment and more confidence in it’s usage.

I found the hydration system in the bag system (built in) leaked, and needed some tightening. Using it in the field for the first time would have ensured I ran out of water and probably soaked some of my clothes, never good in cold weather hiking. I also managed to figure out perfect reasons for every pocket in the system (food, compass, camera, shot shells etc).

Getting to our destination required complete faith in the hunters I was with, and they where amazing. Not enough can be said about local knowledge and years of practice. Everything from the advice they gave to the dogs they brought was perfect and I cannot thank them enough for the knowledge and time they freely shared.

The biggest problem we had was not hitting the birds that we should have, however, the situation was perfect for other large failures. Urban Mayer recently wrote in his book Above The Line, E+R=O, where E= event, R= response and O= outcome. Easy enough, but he writes that R is the only thing we have ANY control over, events will happen, and outcomes may be on slightly influenced by your response, hence your response to an event is the only thing we truly control. I have trust that any event would have been responded to by the cooler heads we had with us, and trust in your team is paramount to success on or off the hunt. It’s due to great planning and practice that no larger failures cropped up during our trip.

Lastly, as for metrics, if your taking on a new venture be sure to adjust and understand the metrics of success or failure. In the end I hit two birds, took nineteen shots and over the two day hunt saw 120-130 birds. I’ve shot sporting clays for years, both for fun and competitively. Hitting two out of nineteen birds would be a dismal failure in my normal clay sports course. However, as it turns out many first time hunters never hit a bird and some never even see birds until several hunts later. Metrics re-defined, calibrated and I now consider those numbers a success.

The real reason this was a great trip was the fun and friendship that we all shared. Birds were shot, drinks were had and gear was tested. I cannot thank the group of guys that took me out on this hunt enough for keeping me safe and putting me on a great spot for birds. I’ve found an amazing Nevada small town I never new existed, and and incredible group of guys to find more birds and towns with. With the next hunt already planned, its the joy of being with great people that I look most forward too. Yes I want to hit birds and learn better technics, and I will, with the help a great group of friends.

Hunting for Better Management

Hi everyone, sorry for the long delay. As my last blog revealed I’m dealing with some family matters that made blogging difficult. For that same reason I’ve decided to start doing things that are not in my normal wheelhouse, and one I’m sharing in this blog.

Being born in Nevada (not Las Vegas) increases the odds that you will be a hunter, you know hunters, have seen hunting or own some piece of camouflage clothing that is not just a fashion statement. I missed this in my upbringing, and was raised around weapons but never hunted more than rabbits on a family friends ranch as a child.

As I got older I got offers to hunt birds or deer, but as I had never taken the mandatory hunter safety class I was relegated to tagging along or just not going. When the offer was made again a couple of weeks ago I signed up to take the safety course and finally try out this rural Nevada rite of passage. I promise to write on the Hunter Safety Course in an upcoming blog, it’s too rich in material to exclude.

My hunting experience was fantastic, although probably not for all the reasons that it should be, and all of it reminded me of working with people and situations properly. From a management point of view I would always recommend getting away and clearing your mind. Being in a wilderness with no cell phone coverage or laptop access is by far the most effective reset tool I have experienced. Vacations are nice, but checking your phone from time to time to check in inevitably happens. A forced unplug is by far more refreshing and relaxing.

If you ever want to test the boundaries of good management, do so with firearms and the possibility of grave harm if systems fail. Trusting in your team of other hunters, proper planning and calm heads when things go wrong all become more critical when the nearest point of contact/survival is two hours away on a very bad road. What follows is a couple of the ways I found hunting reinforces good management in the civilized world.

Gather all the information you can
Test everything before you do anything
Trust the people that are smarter than you
Problems will happen, stay calm and work it through
Metrics still count, but be sure to define them

I’m going to talk about each of these points in my next blog, which I promise to release in a day or two.

How My Mom Taught Me to Make Perfect Over Easy Eggs:

I truly love cooking with my wife Renea, it’s a great thing we can do together and in the end enjoy what we have done with a great glass of wine. With 50(ish) cooking classes between both of us we found early on that we liked working together in most ways, especially cooking. When my wife became a sous chef I was not surprised, she’s talented (much more than I) and lives with what she loves.

What is surprising about my wife is that she hates eggs. She will eat eggs with breakfast but only if their done to within an inch of being destroyed. Preparing eggs is another matter, yolks and my wife do not mix, sometimes when they do cross paths my wife comes within another inch of losing last nights dinner. My wife is very olfactory so smells and texture mean as much to her as taste, and eggs are her kryptonite.

I love eating eggs and I learned from my grandfather when I was very young that the runnier they are the better. Breakfast for me is a couple of eggs and some salty breakfast meat all running together in a salty yolk soup. Soaked up with some potatoes and toast and my day is ready to be conquered. I catch my wife sitting further away from me on occasion while we enjoy a breakfast out on some weekend mornings, attempting to make the distance seem less obvious while she avoids looking at my plate. I love her more for the attempt.

Another surprise in my cooking journey is that I never learned how to make over easy or over medium eggs, so I usually hack it out to less than stellar results. I’ve tried methods that I thought made sense, but I’m always overcooking them or breaking them or some other cooking disaster that leaves them edible but looking like a decent egg that exploded into a scramble somewhere along the way.

A month ago, we found out that my mom had stage 4 brain and lung cancer. Always healthy and self sufficient we were surprised that at 72 she was diagnosed with a death sentence. After a brief stay at the hospital she bravely decided that hospice was the best fit for her and she came home. During hospice our family stayed with her day and night to help her through tough times and laugh with her during the really good moments we had left.

Mornings were part of my shift at my mothers house and I found out quickly that she loved her eggs over easy and she had to have bacon. Being my mothers son was my first lesson in cooking eggs. Having a wife that knows food so much better than I, the refrigerator was stocked with foods for every meal and seasonings that my mother had possibly never heard of, but I could not claim that I did not have everything necessary to provide eggs and bacon for my mothers remaining mornings.

Most mornings my mother could not get out of her bed, so I alone stood before a 1972 electric stove with a carton eggs, beautiful peppered bacon and time. I started by cooking the bacon first and using a small portion of the grease for the eggs. I tried a couple different non-stick pans my mother owned and alternated between cracking them directly into the hot pan or putting the eggs in a ramekin and seasoning before the pan. I tried no grease and just butter in the pan (the eventual winner).

As it turned out, I only had 3 weeks of practice before I would be left without my most difficult critic about how I cooked our eggs. Truth be told, my mother was really never much of a cook. I was raised with pasta, T.V. dinners, Taco Bell and Top Ramen. But in those three weeks I learned more about my mother, her bravery and how to make life choices while being strong in the face of overwhelming odds than I have in my other 49 years.

I also learned how to cook over easy eggs, learning it in the way my mother wanted it. Trying over and over, constantly failing, refining and trying again. Most importantly my mother and I learned it together while laughing over most of my attempts. My mother never really showed me a thing about eggs but she did what good mothers do, she let me fail and encouraged me try again tomorrow while laughing with me about the latest attempt.

My mother died 6 days ago in the early morning before I could make her eggs. A couple of days prior I had buttered a medium hot pan (not high heat), cracked a single egg (she was never very hungry in the final stages) in a ramekin and seasoned it (always do this, easier to place the egg where you want it and season it perfectly). When I gently flipped the egg for the briefest of moments and then returned it to its cooking side, it slid out humbly and perfectly cooked. I stood over it for a moment and smiled before preparing my own two eggs, which I accidentally drowned in seasoning due to a loose top on a Mrs. Dash seasoning bottle and my own excitement.

My eggs were horrible as I could not fish out all of the seasoning. My mothers egg sided with bacon was perfect, and she told me so. My lesson complete I now add perfect eggs to my resume. I also add witnessing a great mom teach her son life lessons even while struggling for her own life. Every future egg I make or eat will be with her in my mind and heart while once again I am reminded that it was not the egg that counted, it was the journey together. I love you Mom.

Whatever you’re doing, you can do it better.   Learn that well.

I’ve spent a large part of my vacation reading email and getting busy work done. That’s fine, but not an optimal way to ensure a vacation recharge. Alternatively I’ve gone to Sun River Oregon (if you never have been, it is amazing for a family resort) and have done a lot of bike riding. Both of these things that I did on this vacation combined to remind me of why my vacations are so important.

Sun River, for those of you that have never been, is a large resort in Central Oregon that caters to families and bike riding. A massive pine tree infused refuge built around miles of paved bike paths, tennis courts, kayaking on the Deschutes River, spa and 4 impeccable golf courses. It also is central to some of the best fly-fishing and guide services around the state.

I’ve always enjoyed fly-fishing and did a lot of it about 5 years ago. When I started I was smart enough to understand that years of spin fishing with my grandfather when I was young did not prepare me to take on this difficult sport, and so I took a year of lessons and on river guidance. I figured that I should learn good lessons rather than teach myself several bad ones, then spend more time and money unlearning them before experiencing the correct way to do it. I consider myself a reasonably good angler and decided to try my skills in Sun River.

Lesson one came early (7am to be specific) when I told my guide that I had a reasonably good roll cast. I should have known that having any fly-fishing experience in a resort town meant that I was unique to my guide who was used to helping people that just decided that they were on vacation and wanted to give fly-fishing a shot. My guide was happy that he would be fishing with someone that understood what a roll cast was and claimed to have performed one.

Roll casting is a unique type of cast that is used when you want to move a fly line upstream but do not want to or cannot use a traditional cast with the fly rod and line several feet behind you (think backed up against trees). However, I explain it better than I do it, and the lesson I learned that day was that if you are attempting to do something that you think you understand reasonably well there is always someone who can do it better and they genuinely want to help you.

My guide spotted problems in my roll cast early and we worked for the first hour getting my technique tuned up in the crooked river. Accepting instruction and admitting that you can learn a better skill is paramount to growth in business and play, particularly when you’re paying for it. Letting my guide (“The Hook” fly guides, highly recommended) improve my skill resulted in a dozen fish caught and one of the best vacation memories I have had in years.

Don’t be afraid of learning new things, and accept that people can be found that are better than you and are willing to help you achieve your best in what you do. It will make both work and play more productive and much more fun.

I’m Taking My Own Advice, I’m Stopping This Writing and Leaving on Vacation:

A couple of blogs ago I talked about how important I feel it is to take vacations and recharge. I’m just letting my readers know that over the next three weeks I will be traveling around and not blogging, don’t panic.

I have not taken a real vacation in years and have managed to carve out 3 weeks for just my wife and I to travel, visit spas and recalibrate. If I find time to blog while I’m away I will, but I’m not worried that all of my readers will disappear in my absence. Hopefully some new ones will find my previous posts while I’m away.

I will be working on several ideas for future blog post as well as continuing my journey in the technical world with a new camera that so far has amazed me with its capabilities. So the future of this site promises more blogs and a lot of my own photos. Up till now I’ve used death to stock photos websites and the amazing talents of a long time friend/photographer Lars Nicholson. If you want to see what a truly good photographer does with portrait photography and other venues, visit http://www.imagesbycornerstone.com

If my previous blogs were on point, my staff will not only forget about my absence but also most likely prosper by getting more done without me. Surrounding myself with strong employees and empowering them has many advantages and I’m about to reap one of them. If the team is strong enough they will not need to communicate with me while I’m away, and yet why would I ask that? Am I hoping to not be informed while I’m away? Remember, you built a good crew now respect them enough to allow them the power to determine if you need to be contacted regarding something important.

As I write this I’m on a plane to Las Vegas (not my vacation, yet) and I will leave you all with this parting, frequent thought from my blog. Find good people, encourage them to be better and show them service and leadership, and then get out of their way. For the next couple weeks I will be out of their way completely and I could not be more confident that my work world and sanity is in good hands. I will also get out of your way now and let you comment on this or any other of my blogs.