Guest post by Jeremy Scrivens
I was asked to help a transport company in Melbourne, Fastest Freight (FF), who were in trouble and hadn’t made a decent profit for six months. The CEO had lined up his best customers for me to talk to about all the bad things they didn’t like about the company.
I went and saw their best customer, Alan, and he said ‘I have been waiting to talk with you, I have two pages of issues I have with the company’. I said to Alan ‘Before listening to these problems, could I start with one question?’
I said to Alan ‘Tell me about a time when you experienced outrageously great service from the transport company. A time when you thought – if only it could be like this all the time?’ Alan thought I was mad and off topic but I was gently persistent and after a while he told me this story:
‘It was about a year ago. Just before 5PM I got a call from my customer in Bendigo. We supply them with spare parts for their production run, delivered every Monday morning by FF. Their production line had broken down and they needed the spare parts tomorrow, in order to fix the problem before Monday’s production run. Alan said to himself ‘There is no way that FF will come to the party; they will have knocked off for the night but I will give them a try.’
So Alan rang the transporter and a voice answered ‘G’day this is Bob here, how can I help you?’ Alan said ‘Who are you?’ and Bob replied ‘I am one of the semi drivers here – how can I help?’
Alan explained the issue and Bob said ‘No worries mate, I am going back home to Bendigo tonight with an empty trailer, I can swing by and pick up the load; we can worry about the paperwork later.’
So Bob did just that. He swung by Alan’s depot and not only picked up the load but jumped onto a forklift because Alan’s forkies had gone home. Not only that, but Bob offered to take the load to Alan’s customer that night. So Bob drove the load to the customer’s depot in Bendigo and again jumped on a forklift. Alan’s customer was delighted. So was Alan.
As Alan was telling this positive story, I observed that his whole demeanour changed. His face lit up and he became animated. I asked him ‘how good was that story?’ and he replied ‘the best’.
I then said ‘Alan, what I have just done is ask you an Appreciative Inquiry question – looking for a positive deviation, rather than a problem. If somehow this positive experience could become the norm, what is possible?’ Alan replied, ‘If this were possible, then I wouldn’t need to play off four transport companies against each other – I would award FF the work’.
We never got to talk about the two pages of problems Alan had prepared for our conversation. Instead we gathered more positive stories from key customers and pulled an FF team together to rebuild the core customer process to extend the best experiences to become the norm.
Six months later, FF returned to making profits and Alan awarded them all his work.
The Moral of the Story
Trying to fix problems by looking for what is broken or not working can disengage people. However, seeking out the positives, identifying what works and building on your strengths will go a long way in establishing yourself or your business as an industry leader.
If you’d like to learn more about Appreciative Inquiry and how this can help you lead more effectively, click here to watch a video where Jeremy explains the topic further.
Jeremy Scrivens is the Managing Director of The Emotional Economy. He has 30 years’ experience working with small, medium and large enterprises and is focused on aligning organisations for growth and abundance.