Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Stanislavsky Method in Customer Service

Fall often brings reminiscing, at least for me, about cooler mornings and warm weekday afternoons in a classroom.  In my high school years, I was fascinated with acting and drama, so it’s no surprise that I thought back to those classes after getting the kids onto their respective buses this morning.  Happily, I remembered learning The Stanislavksy System (or Method)…and realized that it influenced my approach to customer service. (Cool, huh!?)

For those of you who never aspired to act, the Stanislavsky Method (known more commonly these days as “Method Acting”), was a huge departure from the 19th century approach to bringing characters to life on stage. Instead of the big, broad movements and exaggerated speech that had been the norm up to the turn of the century, Constantin Stanislavsky believed that a more natural-looking performance would be more believable and just as entertaining.  At its heart, his Method stressed that the actor must first be believed, an accomplishment even more important than being heard or understood.  He must have been on to something, since his Method is being taught in acting schools around the world today.

So, you’re asking, “What the heck does all this acting stuff have to do with Customer Service?”  I’ll answer your question with a question of my own.  Have you ever had to act your way through a customer service interaction?  Have you had to pretend to care, or hold your tongue because the guest in front of you was being unreasonable, or try to keep from laughing because the situation was so absurd?  Yes?  I thought so.  The Stanislavsky Method, applied to these situations, would be immensely helpful.

Here’s how the Method works:

  1. Ask the “Magic If.”  “If I were insert name or description of person here, what would I do?  This is helpful because it allows you to step outside yourself for a moment and find a different perspective for handling the situation.  You could put yourself in the guest’s shoes, channel your boss, a mentor, or your mom to find the right point of view with which to approach the situation.  (WWJD also applies in this step, but from a slightly different perspective.)
  2. Re-think how you move and talk.  This step could make or break your interaction with an upset guest. Letting your own negative emotions show can quickly escalate an already unpleasant situation.  Take a moment to check your body language, facial control, and tone of voice.  If you look and sound annoyed or inconvenienced, the guest will pick up those vibes and react accordingly.  Make a conscious effort to project positivity, confidence, and empathy.  The rest of the steps will support this effort.
  3. Observation; be a people watcher.  Actors are always looking for a way to get into the thought processes of their characters.  One way to accomplish this is to observe real people in their natural habitat and learn about different behaviors, interactions, and personalities.  There are multiple ways this powerful tool can be of help to those who deal with customers every day.  First, even without a guest in front of you, if you are paying attention, you can spot people who are on the cusp of an issue (people looking around for help, confused facial expressions, guarded body language) and sometimes avert disaster before it develops.  Additionally, while you are interacting with someone, paying attention to how they hold themselves and respond to you and others around them can be a powerful guide to handling them more appropriately.  Plus, you can learn from the examples others have provided in their customer service conversations and adapt their more successful strategies for yourself.
  4. Ask “What’s my motivation?”  Surely you’ve heard aspiring actor characters in pop culture asking this question of an acting coach or director.  It’s a great question for actors to ask, because understanding the reasons behind someone’s actions helps an actor get more deeply into the head of the character. The same is true for customer service.  If you understand WHY the guest is angry or frustrated or laughing hysterically, it’s easier for you to resolve the situation to that guest’s satisfaction.  Without an understanding of the motivation behind a behavior, you will have difficulty convincing the guest that you really care about their issue, and you’re taking shots in the dark to hit the right solution.
  5. Emotional memory.  If you’ve ever wondered how someone can cry on cue, this Method step may be the answer.  Clearly, actors sometimes have to transmit emotions that they may not actually feel. To display the appropriate emotion (whether you’re feeling it or not), channel a time when you did feel the emotion in question. Dredge up that memory and let the replay loop in your mind’s eye. You’ll start to feel it again, and it will show up in your expression, posture, gestures, and tone.  In customer service, use a memory of being helpful, in charge and successful.  Or, if you prefer, find a memory of poor service and “wear” that to empathize with your guest, then bring him back with you to a level playing field where you can work with one another to solve the dilemma you are now facing together.

Acting and customer service don’t have a lot in common at first glance, but the Method proves that there are effective steps to find the right approach almost any situation in which you need to convince someone that you are who you claim to be.  These steps, whether put together in this order or applied one at a time as needed, will help you to become a better, more empathetic advocate for your guests.  They will appreciate the time and energy you put into it, and you will grow from the experiences.  It’s a Win/Win!  (And how often does THAT happen in the casino industry?)

6 Tips for a Better Plan for 2015

It’s time to wrap up your plans for 2015.  Do you, like me, leave out something that has an impact on your spending patterns or your operations and you find yourself either adjusting or going without all year?  Or, is there the possibility that your capital won’t be approved and you’ll have to spend P&L dollars on maintaining something that should have been replaced? (I’m looking at you, card embosser…)

Obviously you’re going to submit and obtain approval before getting your plan and budget’s final incarnations.  You may, however be able to mitigate some of the pain that comes from surprises in the new year.  Try these tips for better planning.

Tip 1: Take a hard look at this year

For this exercise, you’ll have to be ruthless.  It may even be a bit painful, but it is essential to a successful planning process.  From a budget perspective, it is imperative to understand where your dollars were spent well and where they were not. From a business or marketing plan perspective, you need to know where there’s room for improvement and which things are working for you today.

What did you plan that didn’t work out in 2014?  Were there things you didn’t have the funds for despite your best intentions? How could you have improved cash flow, yield, labor, data, events, etc.?  What goals or strategies did you employ that just did not give you the results you anticipated?  What processes or events or promotions met, or even better, exceeded your expectations and should be incorporated in to your plans for next year?

Take what you learn from this exercise to build a framework for the upcoming year.  Avoid being accused of insanity by proactively deciding NOT to repeat the things you did in 2014 and expecting a different result in 2015.

Tip 2: Get the interested parties together and hash things out

Sit down with the rest of your department and those departments whose budgets and plans are interdependent with yours and talk things through.  If your host team needs resources or new tools to identify or maintain contact with your players of opportunity, who better to ask about what they think?  If Food & Beverage wants to place steakhouse ads in the local newspaper, doesn’t marketing need to know that?  If Entertainment is planning a series of comedy shows, if the hotel is doing renovations, if slots is replacing a third of your machines…you see where this is going, right?  You can’t plan or budget in a vacuum and have the result be something you can actually stick to for an entire year.  Have a “big ole” meeting, have everyone put their ideas and plans on the table, and figure out how it all affects the other departments’ plans and cash flow.

Tip 2: Look at others’ plans for opportunities

Take what you’ve learned from the big meeting and determine what provides you with opportunities.  Is there going to be a big hotel refurbishment in your future?  Ask what they’re doing with items that can be re-purposed: some of the items could even be useful in a player giveaway or promotion, or you could have a big tag sale and drive revenue on a traditionally slow weekend after the renovation is done.  Is the slot department replacing under-performing machines?  What opportunities are there for events or promotions related to the arrival of the new machines?  Could you invite your best and most loyal players to cut a ribbon to open them up for play?  Surely there are lots of things in your peers’ plans that could provide you a chance to make a splash.  Learn about them now and incorporate them into your plans.

Tip 3: Dream realistically

Every department head has a wish list.  Brainstorm everything you’d like to have, see, or do; then cull the list by priority without regard to expense.  Then, rank according to priority with a note about how much it costs, so you can come up with a realistic scenario.  Obviously, not everything on a wish list is going to come to pass, so while you’re spending time with your friends from the other departments, ask about their wish lists and see if there are some synergies that can be leveraged to help the entire property.  Is IT buying any new computers next year?  Let them know about your technology wish list so they can spec your equipment for a combined order with a bigger discount.

Tip 5: Expect the unexpected

Clearly, some of the things you plan for will come to pass just as you envisioned them.  Others, however, will morph into something you hadn’t anticipated.  Spend the time now planning for contingencies and you will be better prepared for the unknown when it occurs.  Might you have to choose between two of your pet projects because the revenue projections were too high?  Sure.  Could you find yourself in need of a technology solution due to a hiring freeze or lack of qualified job applicants? Absolutely.  Is there the possibility that a competitor will launch a campaign or promotion to which you will have to adjust?  You betcha!

Any (or all) of these events will be easier to handle in the heat of the moment if you have spent some time preparing for them in advance.  Happily, there is no better time to plan than while you are already planning.  Look at some of the things you may have eliminated in your early planning process and decide whether any of them could readily be put on a back burner to be deployed in case of a major shift in your market or competitive set.

Tip 5: Get buy-in from the stakeholders

This is a 360-degree exercise, but totally worth the time and energy you invest in it.  Once you’ve got a first draft submitted, ensuring that your plans are in alignment with those of your boss, the department, the property and your employees will go a long way to assuring that those plans  and strategies are successful in the end.  Have a meeting with your team(s) and share the vision with them.  Ask them for ideas or suggestions to streamline their daily tasks or processes.  (It’s a good idea to do this periodically even when you AREN’T planning for the year ahead, by the way.)

This brings the process full circle and provides you with an opportunity to verify that your plans and budgets are on the right track to help you and the property achieve all you hope to in the year ahead.

 

Did we leave out an indispensable step you can’t plan without?  Please share for the edification of all our readers.