The customer experience comes first, even before finances.

Service Excellence differentiates your organization from others in your industry. Great leaders place importance on how to become the best service provider for what they do. Donna Kirby returns this week to discuss why prioritizing service excellence is necessary for success and what core drivers keep her focused on service excellence.

This episode addresses questions, such as:

  • Why is it important to focus on service excellence?
  • How does customer experience drive finance?
  • What keeps 96% of Blue Wahoo’s employees returning there for work year after year?


We will continue the conversation with Donna Kirby in episode #42 by revealing 3 tactics you can use to build a culture around service.

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 so excited to host a second of three episodes with Donna Kirby, a vice president of the Blue Wahoos, a Double-A baseball team affiliated with the Minnesota Twins. Last week we learned about Donna’s career path that led her to be a vice president of the Blue Wahoos. Today we’re going to focus on why service excellence is important and what we can do to be the best service provider.


Janet Pilcher: Donna, I’m so pleased to have you on our show again.

Donna Kirby: Thank you.

Janet Pilcher: I just want to continue to learn from you, and now we’re going to dig down into really talking about why service, why serving our customers is really important. And on the next episode, we’ll talk a little bit about some tactical things that we can do—

Donna Kirby: Sure

Janet Pilcher: —and that you could teach others to do.

Donna Kirby: Absolutely.

Janet Pilcher: So why do you think service excellence is important to any organization just in general?

Donna Kirby: It differentiates you from your competition. So having that excellence, having that corner on the market that is just, even if it’s just a slight notch above your competition, the consumers that are out there are choosing where they want to spend their time and their money.

Janet Pilcher: Mmmhmm.

Donna Kirby: So if you’re providing a product that outshines anybody else who is in the running, then they’re going to choose you, and that’s going to lead you to success. Word of mouth spreads.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Donna Kirby: So people that go to a great organization are going to talk about that. I think the ratio is for every positive interaction, they’ll tell six friends about their positive interaction, and those six friends will have another and tell their six friends so it kind of, you know, exponentially increases from there, so.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, and you know I think it’s, we’re finding that more and more. I’m becoming much- more passionate about when we do work with organizations, it’s really trying to focus on customers or the service they provide. You know, one of the things that, and I don’t know, maybe not as much in the Wahoos, but I noticed last week you talked about “customer” and then you said “fan experience.”

Donna Kirby: Mmmhmm.

Janet Pilcher: So you moved out of the word “customer.” I get caught up sometimes with people saying, you know, in education or healthcare or work that we do, they’re not, we’re not serving customers. And so I’m like, “well, then what word do we use?” Do you ever get that at all?

Donna Kirby: We do get that, and we get that a lot from newer staff members. It truly is the fan experience, right? So a good example of this is I’ll have somebody come up to say, come up to me after a baseball game the next morning and say, “what were our survey results from last night?” And I’ll say, “you want to know about our fan experience? We’ll talk about that. Let’s go over the numbers, right?” So survey results are numbers on a paper, but the fan experience is really taking those numbers and putting them into 3D.

Janet Pilcher: Aw, yeah.

Donna Kirby: What are the people telling us? That’s our report card, right?

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Donna Kirby: And if we start thinking of it in any other way than “it’s the fan experience,” then we’re going to start backsliding a little bit because numbers can become very static and very uninteresting. And the fan experience really drives the memories that we were talking about last episode.

Janet Pilcher: I love that. You know, it’s interesting. For us, we- we use surveys in the work that we do, and um, and they’re hard. They’re hard for people to look at sometimes, the results.

Donna Kirby: Sure.

Janet Pilcher: But I just love, you just gave me something to really think about in our own practice, because we tend to look at a survey results rollout process.

Donna Kirby: Mmmhmm.

Janet Pilcher: But I’m going to really think through, how do we use better words?

Donna Kirby: Right.

Janet Pilcher: Because we want people to use those surveys to improve because we’re interested in the fans.

Donna Kirby: Right.

Janet Pilcher: That’s what I hear you say. Is that right, Donna?

Donna Kirby: It’s absolutely right. Yeah, and it’s from a few different angles, right? Your survey results are a reflection of what that fan’s experience was, right? But then also, when I’m sharing those numbers with my Game Day staff in our pre-game meetings that we have, I’ll talk about that fan experience based on what the numbers were that were coming in last night, because I want them thinking about, “it’s not just survey results, it is a fan experience, and I’m in control of that. I’m in the front lines doing that, right?” So we talk about it in very specific ways, and fan experience is one of those.

Janet Pilcher: Oh, that’s great. And so do you look at those survey results on a daily basis? Do you all?

Donna Kirby: Around the clock. [laughs]

Janet Pilcher: Around the clock. [laughs]

Donna Kirby: Literally, there’s an app on my phone. I’m probably sharing too much information here, but the very last thing I’ll do before I go to bed is look at our survey results from the night that we just played the baseball game. We send them out in the seventh inning very intentionally for that. I’ll go back and I’ll pull the emails of the fans who have scanned in and who have come to the games, send it out during the seventh inning, and then immediately begin monitoring the feedback that we get.

If there’s any mission-critical information that we get back in real time, I will look up where that fan is seated and go to them right then.

Janet Pilcher: Oh wow.

Donna Kirby: Because you want to take care of it. I don’t want anybody leaving our games angry. I want them to be able to voice their frustration or whatever the incident was with me so I can recover it at that point.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Donna Kirby: Better than having them leave. Even when they leave, we do have a standard that the fans are replied to within 24 hours, and it’s much quicker than that. My staff really gets on it very, very quickly.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Donna Kirby: But if we can do it in real time and have a face-to-face conversation with the fan, I’d much prefer that.

Janet Pilcher: Yes, absolutely. And then they come back the next day happy.

Donna Kirby: Right.

Janet Pilcher: And they’re not grouchy. [laughs]

Donna Kirby: Right, not grouchy. It’s really, it’s really even more than that. It’s more than just winning them over. They’re actually advocates for you at that point because they see the level of service that was offered to them and “wow, they really do read those things.” We get that comment all the time. “You guys really read these surveys.” We absolutely thrive on that.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, that’s great, Donna. That’s great.

Donna Kirby: Thank you.

Janet Pilcher: Thanks for sharing that information.

Donna Kirby: Absolutely.

Janet Pilcher: You’ve given me something to think about.

Donna Kirby: Oh, good.

[Music fades in]

Janet 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 what are the core drivers that make you a great leader? Because I really think you are with your team. I see it when I’m at the games. And it’s being that great leader with service excellence. So what are those core drivers for you?

Donna Kirby: Well, one that is really big with me is you have to lead from truth. You have to, you know, anybody, and I’m not just saying people who report to you or anything like that, anybody can sniff out a fraud in a half a second, right? So you have to lead from a place of truth. The minute I don’t believe in what I’m doing, I need to find somebody else to take over for my role, right?

But I’m coming to my staff and sharing with them the wins that we’ve had as well as the losses. I’m praising my staff and I’m using truth to do that, but I’m also using truth whenever I have to have those difficult conversations and disciplinary actions and it happens, you know. Fortunately, it’s not that often, but as long as I’m remaining true to myself and my core leadership that goes well with the staff, they believe in me. They know that my desires and my wishes for them are true and they’ll follow me that way.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Donna Kirby: And they believe that I believe in them.

Janet Pilcher: Yes. And so your core driver is what I hear, you know, one of the things we’ve been focusing on is trust. Sometimes I get the feedback or we get feedback about, I’ll ask, what are the two things that are, you know, the most negative parts of your organization and people will say “communication and trust,” right?

What are the things we need to work on? And so what I hear you say is, you know, trust is really important and that trust is really built on the way or the way that you build those relationships with your employees.

Donna Kirby: It absolutely is. And fortunately, we’re lucky at the Blue Wahoos, we have a 96% returning staff rate year over year. That’s been the average.

Janet Pilcher: That’s incredible.

Donna Kirby: Thank you. Yeah, it’s, you know, we’re very lucky. It’s, you know, it’s a fun place to go to work, number one, but they do feel truly valued and appreciated and they know that I’ve got their back, right? And I think it comes into play too that, you know, I’ll recognize the staff for doing a great job, but when I have to recognize, when I’m recognizing them, it’s in front of the whole group, right?

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Donna Kirby: But when that disciplinary conversation is coming in, it is never going to be in front of the whole group. If they’re pulled aside, we’ll have a conversation. I’ll tie it back to our standards of behavior that we operate from and say, “you know, by your Action X, whatever it was, you violated this standard, and that’s something you signed on and something that’s fundamental to our success. This is why this isn’t going to work for us,” and it’ll go on file. But fortunately, those conversations are the exception to the rule.

Janet Pilcher: Absolutely. Because you built a good positive workforce—

Donna Kirby:. Right.

Janet Pilcher: —and build relationships with people.

Donna Kirby: Right.

Janet Pilcher: And I see that recognition. I love when you recognize the employees on top of the first or third, you know, third base dugouts. They really, really like that.

Donna Kirby: They love it. And I think it’s really neat. We’ve got a healthy competition between our, in our stadium operations setup, we’ve got our ushers and our clean crew and our security. Security is kind of hard to get very much feedback on, on the surveys because they’re a little bit, you know, just stepping back and watching things. The ushers and the cleaning crew are much more interactive with the fans. So what I think is funny is when I’ll be sharing the results from the surveys from the previous night and they all lean in and the ushers want to beat the cleaning crew and the cleaning crew wants to beat the ushers and it’s a healthy, friendly competition, right?

All based on that reward and recognition though. And, you know, I’ll share what a fan has written in and said about them or oftentimes I’ll be pulled aside on a concourse and somebody will want to share with me something that, that fan saw.

Janet Pilcher: I love it.

Donna Kirby: So I share it with the whole staff and they get a kick out of it.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Donna Kirby: And then it creates that halo effect too because other people are saying, “wait a minute, I can do that.”

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Donna Kirby: You know, “Bob did that. I know- I know how to replace the soda that was spilled. That’s easy. I could do that.”

Janet Pilcher: That’s great.

Donna Kirby: Yeah.

Janet Pilcher: You know, and as we kind of wrap up today, one of the things that, that has really, you know, been, been on my mind, we do organizational assessments, and so we’ll have like 25 items of what, what highest needs are for an organization. And unfortunately, what I’ve seen over the past year is customer service, service excellence, you know, what you’re talking about with that fan experience doesn’t always come up at the top of what organizations need.

Donna Kirby: Right.

Janet Pilcher: And, you know, I want to tell them, you know, you wrote this as a differentiator.

Donna Kirby: Right.

Janet Pilcher: You know, what would you say to people who are rating that at the, at that lower level?

Donna Kirby: They’re falling into a pit and the pit is they’re putting finances before the experience of their customers. Right.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Donna Kirby: So they’re, and I just think it’s ingrained in so many organizations and I think it’s just coming up through, you know, their careers that finances in often, oftentimes in places, the number one focus, “Hey, we’ve got to hit these numbers. We’ve got to hit these budget goals.” I’m not saying that budgets aren’t important. Obviously, we need to remain fiscally solvent to be able to be here. But the customer’s experience has to be there in order for those finances to follow. I think it’s backwards.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Donna Kirby: I think it’s absolutely backwards—

Janet Pilcher: Makes sense.

Donna Kirby: —where if you’re not putting your focus and your emphasis on that person coming back to your business and talking about your business and glowing about your business, the finances are going to suffer anyway.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah. I think that’s, I think that’s great advice and a great recommendation. And I think you all will see, you know, throughout the course of our conversations and you look back over the, the episodes that we’ve gone through, you know, you’ll see Donna really talking about some of the core tactics and alignment of tools to the Nine Principles.

Donna Kirby: Right.

Janet Pilcher: You’ll just, you know, as you go, as if we were to go back and really look at some of the episodes, standards of behavior, you know, really the relationship building, the trust building, you see Donna just really executing to those and as a great leader.

So next week, we’re going to spend a little bit more time talking about some tactical things that you can learn from her to increase your service excellence within your organizations and really help the people who rely on you have what Donna calls that great fan experience.

Donna Kirby: [laughs]


[Outro music plays in the background.]

So thank you for tuning in to Accelerate Your Performance. As you go into this week, think of one or two actions you can apply to provide excellent service. Think about some of the recommendations that Donna provided today. I look forward to our last session with Donna Kirby, where she continues to dive deeper into the service excellence topic. Have a great day.

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