Hire the right team, and then empower them to do whatever it takes.

Service excellence is more than just being polite or being ready to offer the unsatisfied customer a discount. Join Donna Kirby and Janet Pilcher this week as they conclude their conversation about the value of service excellence. Donna Kirby reveals her top 3 tactics for applying customer service excellence within your organization and how to treat your organization like a living room.

This episode addresses questions, such as:

  • How can leaders build a culture around service?
  • What 3 tactics does Donna Kirby recommend for applying service excellence in your organization?
  • How are the employee experience and customer experience intertwined?
Episode Transcript


[Intro music plays in the background.]

Janet Pilcher: Thank you for joining today’s Accelerate Your Performance podcast, and thank you for having a desire to be your best at work and helping your organization achieve success. This podcast focuses on tactical actions to improve workplace culture, and these tactics align to our Nine Principles for Organizational Excellence.

I’m here with Donna Kirby, Vice President of the Blue Wahoos, Pensacola Blue Wahoos, a Double-A baseball team affiliated with the Minnesota Twins. Donna has joined me on the last two episodes as we focused on a culture around service, one of our Nine Principles for Organizational Excellence.


Janet Pilcher: We’re going to conclude our conversation today with Donna, and with Donna giving us some pointers on how to apply service excellence tactics to our organizations. I’m looking forward to listening to what you advise us to do.

Donna Kirby: Great.

Janet Pilcher: I’m going to learn from it and apply them myself, Donna—

Donna Kirby: Thank you.

Janet Pilcher: —because again I always, always learn from you.

Donna Kirby: Thank you.

Janet Pilcher: So I’m so pleased to have you on the show today. So let’s just start. We’ll focus on three tactics.

Donna Kirby: Mmmhmm.

Janet Pilcher: So we’ll just take kind of one at a time.

Donna Kirby: Right.

Janet Pilcher: And so let’s just start. If you were talking about one tactic that you would recommend for us to apply to create a great service to our customers, to people that we work with, you know, what, what would that be?

Donna Kirby: Right. Number one, with a bullet, hire the right people. Hire the right people, hire for success, right? We go through, at the Blue Wahoos, every year we go through our job fairs, and we see an awful lot of faces that come through, but very, very few are going to live the standards and going to live what we need them to. We look for that X factor in that employee who really believes and will live the customer service excellence that we put out there.

So we’ll ask them behaviorally based questions. “Tell us about a time when you didn’t get along with a coworker. How did you handle that situation? What was the outcome?” We’ll ask them, you know, “what’s the big challenge that you feel that you have in your life and how are you working to improve that?” And things like that. So you’re finding the right people. We have very few spots that come open—

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Donna Kirby: —during the off season, which is, you know, good for us. That’s great because we have a lot of institutional knowledge that comes back to us, but we want to make sure that the people that we’re hiring will also serve those returning employees well.

We’ll buddy them up. The new folks that come on board who are selected will be paired with a returning person to show them what right looks like.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, that’s great.

Donna Kirby: It’s, you know, one thing to talk through it, you know, during a job interview or anything like that. But when you’re actually at the game and you’ve got a question about, “hey, how do I answer this fan who had this question?” or “what’s the answer to this?” They have a person they can go to. If I’m not available, they’ve got their buddy that they can go to.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah. You know, so just as I’m thinking through, so if you are asking one of your questions and, you know, can you give us an example of like what a good answer would be and maybe one that’s not such a good answer?

Donna Kirby: Right, absolutely. So a good answer, and I’ve heard this recently, was the question about “can you tell me a time when you didn’t get along with a co-worker, right?” And the good answer was that, you know, “we just weren’t getting along. There wasn’t anything wrong with her. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything wrong, but we just felt that tension together. We actually sat down, talked through it, realized that it was a communication issue, resolved that, ‘okay, I’m going to let you know when we’ve got this shipment of pallets coming in,’ because I was falling down and not letting her know. That was causing frustration on her part. From that moment on, we began working together really well and still learning and developing, but at least we came to some sort of resolution.” That was an actual interview answer. I thought, “wow, that’s a great answer.”

Janet Pilcher: It really is.

Donna Kirby: We need you teaching people how to do that, right? Because nine times out of ten, it’s communication anyway. So she hit the nail on the head when she said that, right? An example of a bad answer, and unfortunately we’ve heard this too, is tell us about a time when you haven’t gotten along with somebody: “I just quit. I didn’t want to be there, right?”

So that, I mean, that’s not the person that you want kind of diving in. It’s not all wine and roses at the games, but we want to have somebody who’s going to work through that and get it back to wine and roses for the fan experience so that we’re promoting, you know, that we’re the best in customer service, so we want that always to be the forefront of our staff.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, and, you know, we think about customer service as fan experience, which we’ve talked about. And also, it’s working with their teammates, right?

Donna Kirby: Right, right, absolutely.

Janet Pilcher: You know, and having that ability, because they work very closely with each other sometimes under some stressful situations.

Donna Kirby: Very stressful, right? And we’re here long hours, right? We’ll come in at maybe 8.30 and then not leave until 11 o’clock at night on a game day, right?

Janet Pilcher: Mmmhmm.

Donna Kirby: So you’re there a lot. Oftentimes during the season, we see our co-workers more than we see our actual family members. Game day staff will come in later, of course, but they’re also working very closely together. We just ended a 10 game stretch—

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Donna Kirby: —of games, right? And then followed by a nine game stretch. So that’s a lot of time together. If they’re not communicating, they’re not working together, things can start becoming tense and nobody wins from that. No—

Janet Pilcher: That’s rght.

Donna Kirby: —the fans aren’t winning, you know, the employees aren’t enjoying themselves. And we want that. We want everybody to come to work and want to be there.

Janet Pilcher: Absolutely.

Donna Kirby: Mmmhmm.

Janet Pilcher: So hiring the right person, hiring the right people.

Donna Kirby: Right?

Janet Pilcher: You know, so sometimes, and we’ve talked about that on our episodes here, and sometimes we’ve talked about making sure they’re in the right seats.

Donna Kirby: Right, exactly.

Janet Pilcher: So is that part of hiring the right person, too?

Donna Kirby: It absolutely is, right. We’ve had that too, where we’ve hired the right person, they’ve got the personality, they’re dedicated, they believe in every single one of the standards that we had them sign off on. And I’ll start them as an usher and they just freeze and they don’t know,” oh gosh, I’ve got to welcome them and help them down”. I think they get nervous. I really do, but we still want them on the team, right? So sometimes then I’ll move them to a security role. Let’s try in security and that’s much more their suit, right?

Or vice versa, right? We might have somebody who just exudes personality on the security team, and we want that person to be, you know, overseeing a section and taking care of the fans and so we’ll make some switches. So finding the right spot, it lowers anxiety for the person—

Janet Pilcher: Right.

Donna Kirby: —for the staff member, right? And it creates a better atmosphere for everybody involved, the staff member and fans alike.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, I think that’s right. You know, that’s one of the things I’ve learned over my years as a leader is sometimes people apply for a position,

Donna Kirby: Mmmhmm

Janet Pilcher: they’ve got great skills and they come in and, you know, they do good work, but they’re having some complications in that job, but you can see their talents and you can just shift them just a little bit. You just really begin to see them blossom.

Donna Kirby: Absolutely

Janet Pilcher: You know, that’s what I’m like. As I see that as a leader, when I see that occur, you know, that those are some of the greatest moments that I remember as a leader.

Donna Kirby: Absolutely. It’s a catalyst for success. It really is because you don’t want to, what’s the saying, you don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Janet Pilcher: Right.

Donna Kirby: That person’s not succeeding in that particular role, but you believe in them—

Janet Pilcher: Yes.

Donna Kirby: —and they’ve shown such promise, let’s find the right role for them and then everybody wins.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, that’s a highly committed leader. Appreciate that you do that for sure.

Donna Kirby: Thank you.

Janet Pilcher: A number of people who you’ve led appreciate that you’ve done that for them.

Donna Kirby: Thank you.

Janet Pilcher: So what’s the second tactic, Donna?

Donna Kirby: So the second tactic, and we talked about this on the last episode, was that reward and recognition, right? So you’ve got your staff. This is the staff we want. This is the staff that we believe in. We want to keep them motivated, and so we set goals for them. So kind of a neat thing is midway through the year, if they’ve hit a certain criteria for the fan experience, we’ll give them a gift card at the All-Star break, right? And say, “thank you so much for a successful first half of the season.”

We haven’t, we have not not hit it yet, right? So because everybody is so dedicated to providing that experience. So the reward and recognition comes into play through things like that, a gift card when, you know, a certain criteria are met. But every single game will take employees up onto the dugout and celebrate great things that they’ve done.

Either we’ve had a fan write in on a survey and said, “oh my gosh, you have to know what Trinicia did for me. My husband spilled his entire meal and she ran up and replaced it and made sure he was okay and didn’t scrape his knee,” you know, so they’ll give us specifics. And so I’ll celebrate that in front of everybody so that they know, number one, what Trinicia did, she should be, you know, applauded for that. But number two, how easy it is to do, you know, to be able to be recognized for doing the right thing.

And that is really truly taking care of the guests to our living room. We talk about that and I try to present that to the staff that “think of this as your living room.” Our stadium is your living room and you’re having friends over, right? And I always tell them, too, that the stadium is concrete and steel and once they show up for work, it becomes life, right? And they take it very seriously, right? And that reward and recognition is all part of that. They are bought in. They’re owners of the team.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, and you can tell.

[Music fades in]

anet Pilcher: This October, we are sharing success by the seaside at Destination High Performance, Pensacola. We invite you to our home on sunny Pensacola Beach, Florida, where we look forward to sharing strategies that are the foundation of a continuously improving organization. Join us October 29th and 30th to network and learn from highly successful and motivated leaders from around the nation as they share their stories. Topics include engaging and retaining the best employees, building a culture around service, and reaching goals. For more information or to register, please visit studereducation.com/events.

[Music fades out]

Janet Pilcher: So one of the things that you just said, I think I heard, Donna, make sure I’m right with this—

Donna Kirby: Right.

Janet Pilcher: —is you have some organizational goals, like when you were talking about you give the gift card if we hit a certain target.

Donna Kirby: Right.

Janet Pilcher: So that’s a target for your whole team, right?

Donna Kirby: The whole team, right. Yeah, it’s individual, well it’s actually organizationally driven, but then also departmentally driven. So there are two metrics that we use to make sure that we are driving the fan experience the way that we want to. The first is the net promoter score. The net promoter score is a simple equation of what percentage of fans are promoting you minus what percentage of fans are detractors of you. So the promoters are out there saying “when you go to Pensacola, if you do nothing else, make sure you go to a Blue Wahoos game, right? “ Those are the people who really truly believe in you, right?

The detractors are the people who are saying don’t waste your time, don’t waste your money, it’s not worth it, go find something else to do or just stay home, right? So to put it into kind of benchmark it for our conversation here, Disney, the Ritz Carlton, Amazon, all trend right around the mid-60s, maybe up to 68 or something like for their net promoter score. We closed last season in an 87.6.

Janet Pilcher: Wow.

Donna Kirby: So that is one way to tell us that what we’re doing is driving that fan experience, right?

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Donna Kirby: I remember like we talked about in a previous episode was that it’s much more than just survey results. It is truly the fan experience when you bring it to life, right?

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Donna Kirby: So that net promoter score is one metric that we use. The second is the fan satisfaction score, and that’s by department. So on a scale of one to ten, tell us how was your ticket taker’s friendliness? How was your usher’s greeting? How about the food? Did you enjoy the variety on the menu? How about the wait time at the concession stand?

So each of the departmental leaders will get the feedback the next day when we come back in and review the results and figure out where do we need to tweak. Now we’ll reply back to anybody who has given us an above average or lower. And then it sounds counterintuitive to say above average, you would think that’s good, right? But we’re presenting ourselves as a world-class experience. So above average is still average, right?

Janet Pilcher: Yeah yeah.

Donna Kirby: So that’s not good enough. So we’ll reach out to those fans and say, “Glad that you had an above average experience, you know, that things were okay, but we want it to be more than okay. What can we do to ‘wow’ you?” And we get that feedback and we’ll implement it wherever we can and however we can to drive them.

Janet Pilcher: That’s great. So it’s just total attention to,

Donna Kirby: Absolutely.

Janet Pilcher: I mean, and really with the individuals you just talked about, like they’re almost at the place of really totally enjoying their experience.

Donna Kirby: Right.

Janet Pilcher: So we just want to get them to that next level.

Donna Kirby: They’re, you know, and I’m glad to say this, there are very few detractors. We get them, we’re going to get them all the time. I think the percentage is 8% of any grouping is never going to be satisfied. And that’s, we kind of take that with a little pin in it and that’s good to know. But we always keep an eye on that, right? So we’ll get, I think on the last survey results, I think it was 4% of the people rated us a 6 or a lower on a scale of 1 to 10. And those are the detractors, right? It’s really the 7s and the 8s where we feel like we’ve got a lot of opportunity. There are a lot of potential to convert a 7 or an 8 just to a 9.

Janet Pilcher: Just a 9, yeah.

Donna Kirby: You know, a 9 is somebody who’s going to really believe in our product and that’s what we truly want.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, that’s great. Great strategy.

Donna Kirby: Thank you. Yeah, it’s not us just saying let’s get a better grade, you know, it’s not that. It’s truly taking that feedback and saying, “hey, they’re telling us we’re not doing something right or we’re missing the ball somewhere. What can we learn from this fan to drive them to a better place?”

Janet Pilcher: And it’s changing our behavior to get to that.

Donna Kirby: Right.

Janet Pilcher: That’s great. So what’s a last tactic for us? The third tactic?

Donna Kirby: The third tactic, almost, you know, it seems funny to say this, but we empower the employees, right? And the example I’m going to use is what I’m talking about is funny, but we empower the employees, like I said, it’s their living room. They’re having guests over. They’re empowered to do whatever it takes to make sure that that fan is having a great time. Are there going to be situations that come up sometimes where they need to step out and we need to bring in, you know, escalated, I’ll go talk to the fan or, you know, we do have situations where we have to have the police involved, unfortunately, sometimes, but we try to avoid that. But it starts with the employee, they are empowered to make any decisions.

And what I was laughing about, Janet, is we instituted a policy back, I want to say it was five years ago by now, where every employee has access to a petty cash bag, right? The fan’s upset about something, their ice cream, this is a story that happened. He came to the game with his grandson, right? Got the food, the ice cream cone that they ordered just kept melting, right?

Janet Pilcher: [laughs]

Donna Kirby: And whatever reason it was, that pushed him over the edge. He was not having it, not hearing anything about it, didn’t want anything to do with the Blue Wahoos. “I’m leaving, I’m never coming back again,” because it was a Sunday afternoon game, it was just one of these things I think it—

Janet Pilcher: He just had it.

Donna Kirby: —hit that point, right? And so the usher over that gentleman’s section came to me and I said, “absolutely, you know what, let’s go talk to him. And what we want to do is pay him for all of his trouble for being here.” We bought his ticket, his food, even gave him gas money for his trouble with coming down to the to the stadium, right? And that all came out of this, you know, allotment that we put out there that’s available to every single employee to have that service recovery, right?

Well, the reason I was laughing is when we first instituted this policy, I thought, oh boy, we’re going to be, you know, you know, replenishing this every other game and what the heck, the first four seasons we never touched it once—

Janet Pilcher: Wow.

Donna Kirby: —not once. That’s testimony to our staff, our game day staff, for taking care of situations in real time and recovering those fans and still driving a wonderful fan experience.

Janet Pilcher: Great story.

Donna Kirby: So empowering the staff and knowing that they feel that they have the ability to fix something is truly important.

Janet Pilcher: Well, and you trusted them to do that and so therefore they’re giving back tenfold, right?

Donna Kirby: Right.

Janet Pilcher: And they’re going to make sure they protect that.

Donna Kirby: Right, absolutely.

Janet Pilcher: That resource that you have trusted them with.

Donna Kirby: Right. Well, and it’s, I think it also speaks to their taking care of the situation. The very last resort is going into that and, you know, we don’t want to give the cash away, not because of the cash—

Janet Pilcher: Right.

Donna Kirby: —but because that person is still upset. We don’t want anybody leaving upset, right? And so that’s the only deterrent is because we don’t want to dip into that bag because it’s a thing we haven’t been able to handle.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, it’s the message—

Donna Kirby: Yes.

Janet Pilcher: —that you’re sending that they’re going to really try to do everything they possibly can.

Donna Kirby: Absolutely. So we’ll give them a card, a business card and say, “please come back again and give us another shot to show you what right looks like. We’d love it if you gave us that opportunity,” and you know what? They always do.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, well, I’ll tell you, you know, it’s, as you think about just listening to those three tactics, you know, really hiring the right people and really investing in your employees in ways that are going to help them know that you’re opening the ball stadium as a living room, right, to the people that that’s who they’re serving and really that’s the guest.

People are the guests coming into their living room and trusting them to take care of their own, own and have that responsibility.

Donna Kirby: Right.

Janet Pilcher: What lucky, what lucky employees you have at the Blue Wahoos and how lucky we are to have you and the Blue Wahoos as part of our community.

Donna Kirby: Thank you so much. I feel very fortunate that I get to work where I do and that I get to work for them and they’ll always say, they’ll introduce me to a family member or something ,“I work for Donna,” and I’ll correct them every single time. “No, we work together” or “I work for you.” You know, that’s really what it comes down to and thank you for saying that.

Janet Pilcher: Absolutely.

Donna Kirby: It’s a wonderful group there.

Janet Pilcher: Well, and I started the first episode with, you know, when I really think about when I’m in a situation and I need to work on customer service or service excellence, I ask myself, “what would Donna Kirby do?”

Donna Kirby: [laughs]

Janet Pilcher: And I think you can all see there’s a reason for that.

Donna Kirby: Thank you.

Janet Pilcher: Thank you for what you’ve shared with us.

Donna Kirby: Absolutely.

Janet Pilcher: And just for spending the time with me and our team and- and our people who listen to us every week. I know they can learn from you and just really appreciate the time, Donna.

Donna Kirby: Thank you so much. It’s been my absolute pleasure. I’ve been looking forward to this.



[Outro music plays in the background.]

Janet Pilcher: Donna’s going to be with us at our Pensacola conference October 29th and 30th on the beautiful Pensacola beach—

Donna Kirby: Love it.

Janet Pilcher: —at our Hilton property out there. So you’ll get to meet Donna in person there.

Donna Kirby: Thank you.

Janet Pilcher: So as you go into this week, select one of the tactics or more than one or a combination of what Donna’s taught us today and try it and then reflect on what difference that makes to you and what difference it makes to those that you serve.

Just again, so glad to have Donna with us and thank you for tuning in to Accelerate Your Performance. I look forward to connecting with you next week as we continue to focus on the Nine Principles for Organizational Excellence so that we can be our best at work. Have a great week.

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