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Monday, 26 October 2009

Apprentice week 5 analysis, RWA: "The Relationship is the Customer"

"The most important thing in life is sincerity—if you can fake that, you've got it made." ~ Comedian George Burns

Summary: Today's post reviews episode 5 of The Apprentice Australia and offers a Real-World Application (RWA) on building great relationships with customers.

Review of episode 5: Sydney Marriott hotel

The task was to run a floor of 5-star suites at the Sydney Harbour Marriott hotel, catering to the hotel chain's highest-profile and most exclusive guests.

To be brief: when it comes to customer service a few candidates on this week's episode "got it" and a few simply...didn't.

Consider the following exerpt from a brilliant article entitled The Relationship is the Customer by Charlie Green, posted on his Trusted Matters blog:

The customer is not the transaction. Nor is the customer the discounted present value of all future transactions. The customer is also not just the buying individual, and not just the firm.

Motives matter. If the motives are entirely about the seller, there can be no true customer focus.

Customer focus will always be bogus if it is merely a means to the seller's end. The comedian George Burns famously said, "The most important thing in life is sincerity—if you can fake that, you've got it made."

Business is in danger of no longer getting the joke.

Customer focus should be about the customer. The point should not be winning competitive battles, but increasing the collaborative relationship with customers themselves. The point should be the customer relationship.

The relationship is the customer.

In it for the customer

The two whose behaviour most clearly aligned with the customer service and relationship-building philosophy described above were Morello and Gavin. We saw each of them connecting with the guests in an authentic and warm fashion, going above and beyond the call with some unusual requests and pretty outrageous/drunken behaviour...and doing it with a smile and good grace. Mr Bouris highlighted Morello's exemplary service in the Boardroom, telling him there was nothing to say because he essentially did everything right. I'd argue Gavin was not far behind.

I don't put Sam in this category because - credit where credit's due - he hustled to put things right, yet my impression was that he was engaged in firefighting and I saw little genuine warmth and connection. Simply put: his heart wasn't in it. Similarly MaryAnn was very task-focused and wanted to get things right but from what we were shown on the episode her role didn't seem to provide her with many chances to connect with customers.

To discuss the development conversation that would have needed to happen with John is a lengthy post in itself. I'm frankly at a loss to understand the mechanics underlying his failure to step up this week and unfortunately for him it was no surprise on to see him fired on this week's performance.

In it to win it

In contrast to Morello and Gavin, Carmen and Sabrina really didn't get it. Carmen was more focused on barking orders and making curt demands of her fellow team members then she was on dealing with the clients in an engaging way. In her post-episode video diary she seems once again to exhibit little awareness of her how her manner comes across to others. She laughed off the key role she had as front desk/concierge as merely playing "yes, sir/no, sir" which doesn't sound to me like relationship-building.

In fact Carmen was frankly destructive of her relationships with her own fellow team members by setting them up early to fail and take the blame for delays and customer dissatisfaction. In the preview of next week's episode we're shown how this trend continues. In the absence of developmental work, she can do little else...which makes for interesting fireworks and "good" TV but a toxic team environment.

In the Boardroom this week Sabrina was in the firing line and only narrowly escaped. I seriously doubt that she's learned the lessons that she needed to, however.

So intent was her focus on looking good and doing the right thing that she failed utterly in the role of concierge: it took her 2.5 hours to make a restaurant suggestion and then it was for one that was closed that day; she messed up all the room service orders; in dealing with the "anniversary couple" she completely missing the irate husband's body language and suggesting he join the Marriott Rewards program(?!).

Most of all she seemed to laugh off all the errors she made, smiling relentlessly on the hope that would get her through and then - the gravest sin of all - described the customers as "high maintenance". Unfortunately for her, she remains blinkered by her own narcissism which translated in this instance into an attitude that seemed to say, "how dare they fail to appreciate how well we are doing our jobs!"

In all the above, Sabrina focused on her own agenda and ignored the fundamental truth of customer service: the relationship is the customer.

Real-World Application: The Relationship is the Customer

Is the focus in your organization on building relationships, or just getting an "increased share of the customer wallet"?

Do your people do a great job with a warm smile because they want to, or have they mastered the art of "faking sincerity"?

And if you're uncomfortable thinking about these questions, would you like to change things for the better?

Developing the quality of internal relationships can often be instrumental to the way your client-facing staff members perform their roles. As the face of your organization, they are both your calling card and your best source of vital client feedback.

To learn more about how tmc can help you to improve the quality of relationships at your organization, contact tmc.

Note: For those of you outside Australia who wish to view the episodes of The Apprentice Australia that I'm discussing in this series of posts, you can find them on YouTube here. Meanwhile if you're in Australia you can see not only the episodes to date but also post-episode video diaries on the Nine website here.

Related previous posts:
Analysis of episode 1, RWA: Foundation & Force
Preview of episode 2, RWA: Conflict Management
Apprentice week 2 analysis, RWA: Giving/Receiving Feedback using Head & Heart
Apprentice week 3 analysis, RWAs: Team Leadership and Setting a Team Culture
Apprentice week 4 analysis, RWA: Coaching for high performance

Photo credits: Sydney Harbour Marriott photo from Marriott hotels, Sabrina photo is from

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