Carpools and Customer Service

Posted on May 5, 2014

Several years ago I was leading a division of our company and one of our major goals during this time, a project we ended up spending years on, was to move our Headquarters back downtown.  It was really hard work and we chased a lot of opportunities before finally finding the right solution.  The night of our success at home, I shared that we had finally figured it out, my wife responded to this celebratory moment with “Great!  Now you can help out with the carpool!”   Now this is not atypical for my wife, she ensures that I never get too full of myself.  She once responded to our CEO when he praised me to her on how important I was to our business with, “Well that is great, because this afternoon he is really important to cleaning our pool!”  Now, I would love to tell you that I responded to her carpool comment with an enthusiastic “awesome”, that I realized what a great balance this would bring to my life being able to spend a few extra moments with my kids every day, but that is not the case.  My initial reaction was self- centered, focused on how this would upset my schedule and it generally seemed like a pain.  Thankfully, the error of my ways was illuminated for me.

So I took a different tact and asked myself “What if I made it fun, what if my goal was to put a smile on their face as they left my car and that was the last thing they remembered as they walked into school?”  At the time, the kids where in elementary school and on the verge of middle school and the passenger list would also include the children of one of my best friends.  So now we were talking about 4 impressionable children, all who were very important to me, that I could impact.  My perspective changed from one of being annoyed to a realization that this is actually really important.  If they leave my car happy vs. just getting to school, over time it will change them, day by day.  So I started by creating mix tapes that included songs from my youth.  The kids learned “So Lonely” by the Police, “Blinded me with Science” whenever there was a science test, “Happy Trails” by Van Halen when it was time to get out of the car and “Don’t worry, be happy” whenever I sensed stress in the car.  I often created a theme song for whenever we picked up our friend’s children. We would open all of the windows and blare “2001 a Space Odyssey” or “I don’t like Mondays” (a personal favorite whenever they were grumpy) while we waited in the driveway.  If you were sitting next to our car at a stop light you would inevitably see me and four kids dancing and making stupid 1980′s faces while we drove to school (trust me, several folks that I know in town were at those stop lights and they would ask, “what in the world were you doing?”)  Sometimes they were a little too grumpy and I was the only one dancing.

The impact was tremendous, just this week one of the passengers turned 16 and my daughter made him a mix tape of 16 of the songs we played in carpool.  It had created a lasting impression and they still smile when I play those songs in the car even though now they are on the verge of college and now I am definitely the only one dancing.

So, what does this have to do with Customer Service and frankly about life?  A lot, here are the lessons that I think apply to us:

  1. Sometimes our greatest successes are at the edge of our greatest mistakes.  What a blessing I would have missed if I had stayed with my initial impression.  My wife is an amazing person and mother and I am thankful for her “illumination”.
  2. “What if?” is one of the most powerful questions we can ask ourselves, personally and professionally.  WE SHOULD MAKE THIS A HABIT.
  3. What if we treated every interaction with another individual, internally, externally or at home as an opportunity to have a lasting impact?  The fact is, this is the truth whether you acknowledge it or not.
  4. What if our customers left those interactions (meetings, phone and conference calls, etc.) happy, smiling?  Over time, day by day, the impact to our business would be overwhelming.  We will create a lasting impression on our industry and make the world a better place.
  5. This opportunity exists at every level and in every aspect of our business.  We have to be excellent in our vocation and out work our competition but it needs to be fun and ultimately we should be grateful for the opportunity to have a shot at positively influencing someone’s day.  Our associates, our partners, our customers, tenant’s in our buildings, ultimately they choose to do business with people they like and trust and sometimes excellent customer service is simply making people happy.

Personally, I don’t always do a great job at this, but the days that I get it right are tremendous.  So today, create a mix tape for yourself on your drive into work or for carpool.  Leave your car with a smile, it will change how you face the day.   I still have many of those mix tapes in my CD player and sometimes I still dance in my car as I drive the same route into the office as I did 5 years ago.  The truth is, it changed me as much as it impacted the kids….and I really miss having them in the car.

Written by Paul Ellis
Group President of CNL Commercial Real Estate