Friday, February 19, 2010


Oh, my gosh! Had I known how many people would contact me about the lack of customer service in this world, I would have written this series long ago!
Is customer service dead?

I think not! There's even a "Dummie" book on the subject, Customer Service for Dummies?

Customer service will never be dead as long as their is a desire by the public to be appreciated for their business. I'm talking about all businesses, whether for goods and/or services, or even a business like the Dept. of Motor Vehicles (notorious for the lack of service and cooperation of any kind).
And speaking of the Dept. of Motor Vehicles, and I've had experience with these departments in Texas, New Mexico, and now in California. I have to say one thing about this particular governmental department, no matter which of these states your in, it is exactly the kind of experience that you can have at Starbucks, it is the same every time you go there!

So lets give Starbucks a break (for a moment), and consider customer service at the DMV:

Visualize, if you will, the DVM: You pull up to a building that used to house a supermarket. You walk in, and there are posted instructions in several different areas, in both English and Spanish. Good, so far. There is a well worn Formica counter in front of you, and an oddly placed stand that dispenses "numbers" (a queue in jolly old England) similar to the one at Baskin-Robbin. There is no one behind the counter, but you can see the "bull pen", a plethora of mostly empty desks, with the exception of the handful of employees, who all happen to be on the telephone.

Now, I don't know about you, but anytime that I've needed another document, or an important question answered, I have never had one of the employees leave the front counter and go back to their desk and telephone anyone on my behalf. I estimate that I've licensed no less than ten cars in three different states, and I can't for the life of me figure out who in the heck these people are talking to.

Do you?

What I do know is that if they're talking on the telephone, then they're not at the front counter helping the people who have taken "a number". I would rather have my wisdom teeth extracted than register a car, in any state!

Photo, above: Ouch!


Photo, above: The "Express License Dept.", Dept of Motor Vehicles, NYC.

I wonder, what kind of customer service training these employee's have had? Or, do they have so many more rights than their employer, that the employer doesn't even have the right to enforce a customer service policy? I don't know the answer to this, but as a California business owner, I haven't one right if a disgruntled employee files a claim of any kind. That's for another series!

For those of you engaged in the workforce, public or private, when you've given good service, and it is appreciated by the recipient, is there a sense of satisfaction for having put yourself out there? For me, absolutely. It is almost as gratifying as the financial reward.

But a funny thing happens when I give good customer service, the financial rewards come more frequently. If anyone can refute that, then bring it on!


Here is some of the email from this weeks post's:

Received 2/18/10, from one of the mega-producing real estate brokers, in Dallas, TX comes this story of customer service gone awry, and this time it was at the GAP (I've already said that Starbucks may get a break from me today!):

"Regarding your Design Guy comments about Customer Service... thank you for railing against those who know nothing about good service and its importance.. It's rampant.. today I was in the Gap and waiting in line to check out with another person. Ahead of us was an off duty employee purchasing something who was getting so much attention from the two employees checking customers out... it was unbelievable... they were joking, gabbing, on and on amongst the three of them with no regard whatsoever for the real customers behind her waiting to pay real money for the purchases... it was shocking... I really wanted to say something but my desire to just get out of there was stronger... And worse, one of the idiots was the manager!! Where's she getting her training? So, tell me about soapboxes... I'm right up there with you.
Take care and keep writing.. you're really quite good at it!

Photo, above: A new Gap Ad...maybe they should spend a little time with their employees explaining what this thoughtful message means!

And this received 2/19/10:

By the way..."when these girls were gabbing uncontrollably, there was no eye contact with the other customers waiting, and the talk was loud and obnoxious...they were even yelling at her on her way out of the was absolutely appalling!"

Photos, above: Some fashion ideas for getting rude salespeople to make eye contact with you.


GAP, Inc could have a huge influence on the world in the area of customer service, just look at these stats:

GAP operates 3,167 stores in United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Ireland and Japan. The company also operates its stores in Asia, Europe and the Middle East through franchise agreements. GAP is headquartered in San Francisco, California, the U.S and employs 15,000 people.

The GAP's revenue in 2009 was down 7.8%* below 2008 results (*Business Week 2/19/10)

How about it GAP, Inc want to invest in a little customer service training? Why don't you give it a whirl?


Today's helpful hints from the Design Guy:

To reduce a high incidence of computer key-board damage, consider supplying this new style Aeron desk chair to your employees:


Enough said (for the moment).


To my readers:

Thank you for your emails and feedback on the Customer Service series of articles. I agree the time is now to turn this problem around, and articles like these, and with the interest that you've all expressed, I think we can turn it around, one employee at a time!

Thank you,


Good Night Moon

Wednesday, February 17, 2010



Expectations for Customer Service (and Life)!

I want to address the concept of a “customer having the same experience” every time they visit a Starbucks store, and let’s look at the components of that experience as it relates to our expectations.

Now, I think expectations are resentments waiting to happen.

How so?

Well first it means that I given up on allowing an experience to 'just happen'. I’ve decided in advance of the happening, how it should be. And, rarely do things 'happen' the way that I thought that they should have happened. Then, when this expectation isn’t fulfilled, I’m disappointed, or even sometimes resentful.
Here’s an example:

Your kid gets ready to leave home for college; the school assigned him/her a roommate, based on whatever or however they do such a thing. Prior to the kid’s arrival on campus, they receive from the school contact information on the person that they’ve been assigned to, in hopes that the two will make contact with one another prior to their arrival on campus, and perhaps even find some common interests or goals.

Move in day arrives, your kid walks into the dorm room and sees the other kid standing there, and they immediately begin to size the other one up. If one kid is dressed with designer labels on their clothing, and the other kid is more natural, earthy, they will immediately judge each other as being different from one another. If they have different body shapes or “looks” accents, or skin color, then more judgments.

Without uttering a word, these students will size the other up, and think that they somehow know the other person, even if just a little, or even assume something specific about what the other person is like.

Okay, so what, then?

The designer label kid is probably going to be judged by the earthy kid, as shallow, materialistic, preppy, and rich, sorority girl, a snob, etc…

The earthy kid might judge as brainy or a dropout, uncaring about the finer things in life, poor, lazy, even a druggy, etc…

For these two to get along, they will have to first exhibit tolerance and an appreciation for the fact that they’re different from each other, but are alike in some ways. They must find the areas of interest or likeness that they share in common, or they have little chance of surviving as roommates for an entire semester.

To do this, they have to get rid of any expectations of one another; they have to be open to finding the areas of commonality that are more important to them than the way things appear or look.

It’s very possible to do this if they can drop their expectations. They will have to listen carefully to one another, and use this 'sense' to really ‘see’ what the other is about.

Here’s a personal example:

I belong to a group where most of the guys are professionals and are gainfully employed. For the most part, the group is well mannered, well spoken, dressed somewhat conservatively, and we have few if any tattooed members…except for one member (there’s always that one!)! I have sat in that room week after week, year after year, sometimes catching myself focusing on the tattooed one.

Never listening to what he says, but focusing on my own preconceived judgments of people who would tattoo themselves, along with expectations I would have of that type of person. In this instance, I have no preconceived expectations of this person doing anything right, or well. I expect him to speak poorly, dress like a gang banger (which he does), drive a motorcycle, come from the wrong side of the tracks, wear his ball cap backwards (which he does), and a few other traits. He’s also a body builder, so if he’s a gang banger, then he must be a ‘bad’ one, so I wanted to, and did, stay clear of him before and after meetings. At some point at one of our meetings, unavoidably we ended up talking briefly. Whatever he said, or didn’t say, created some interest in me about this guy, enough so that the next time I heard him talk in one of the meetings, I listened. And over a period of time, I’ve heard some areas of commonality.

Turns out, he’s not a gang banger at all, though he dresses like one. He was raised in Beverly Hills, graduated from Beverly Hills High School (the school crest, shown below right, is inscribed "Today well Lived"), his father was a successful producer who retired and moved his family to the beach. The guy doesn’t drive a low-rider truck as I would have presumed, but a new BMW. He has been a successful entrepreneur in his twenties and hasn’t worked since. Now in his early 40’s, he’s back in college finishing his degree. He’s very well spoken, has excellent manners, and sports a near full body tattoo. Now that is about as incongruous to my preconceived ideas about a tattooed person as I can think of.

Somehow, I heard this guy when he spoke to me that evening. I was somehow open to hearing him. Sure I kept my prejudgment of him near the surface of my thoughts the first time we talked, but I had to have put them far enough way to allow something to happen…to allow me to listen to what this fellow had to say.

Since then, we’ve had coffee after meetings, and have had some really fun and meaningful conversations. When I walk into a coffee shop or retail store with the tattooed one, I can’t help but snicker at those who seem to immediately judge him for the way he looks, and me for being with him!

Wow! What a great thing to be able to see. I feel like I’ve got a new pair of glasses with which to see!

The skill in both of these examples is listening. Really listening to what the other person was saying. Listening allowed me to put away forever my preconceived idea of who this person was. Had I not been able to listen to this man, I wouldn’t be able to count this man as one of my friends today.

‘So what’s the point?’ you ask. “How does this tie-in to Starbucks Customer Service Policy”?

I thought you’d never ask! Thank you!

When I walk into a Starbucks, I do have an expectation of how that experience is going to be, and I have to admit, that experience is about the same one that they’re counting on: The transaction is quick and efficient; the Latte tastes the same every time; I say, “thank you”, and the barista says, “no problem.”

But I’m not happy with that experience! I want my business to be appreciated! I want the barista to thank me! Yes, he/she should thank me! I want to say “you’re welcome,” just once.

But it’s not going to happen the way I want it too. I’m the customer, but that’s not the way their employees are trained. They’re trained to do it a certain way, and manners have nothing to do with it.

So what gives? Accept this shoddy service, this lack of appreciation for my business? Absolutely not! At the price that I pay for a cup of Starbucks coffee, as compared to what I used to pay for a cup of coffee pre-Starbucks, I expect more.

If I put .75 cents into a vending machine for a cup of coffee, I don’t have any expectation for this ‘cup of Joe’, other than that it contains the ingredients and tastes halfway decent. I don’t even expect the machine to say “no problem.”

Now, see my point? And, yes, that is a Starbucks coffee vending machine you see, above. Am I so far off now?
So what can Starbucks expect? I believe they can ‘expect’ a continued decrease in their business. They’ve closed stores, scaled back plans for opening new stores, and who knows what else is on the radar for them. Further, they’ve opened the door both regionally and nationally for their competition from the likes of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf or Peet’s Coffee & Tea (both California based coffee chain stores), or for anybody else that can ‘build a better mouse trap.’ Their competitors here in California aren’t competing with them for a lower price per cup of coffee, or with a better location, or even a different or better flavor of coffee; they’re doing it with good old customer service, and they say ‘thank you’ when they hand you your cup of coffee.

There has never been a substitute for customer service, and there never will be. As long as companies, retailers, and service sector industries continue to miss this important business component, there will always be room at the top.


To my Dear Anonymous Reader responding to the Customer Service: Part I Article

Thank you for responding to my article, I really appreciate it. Customer testimonies weren't used for this article, because it's my opinion of the coffee shop that lacks customer service, and it's my belief that it can be done better. I'm the owner of retail stores, and in today's business environment if we didn't excel at customer service we'd absolutely be out of business. Why is our business growing in this economy? Is it because my company's Internet website is the biggest, fastest, contains the broadest selection, and the cheapest prices? NO. "Today's" way of doing business isn't the reason for our growth, and none of those attributes of "current" successful businesses in this web based world have anything to do with our success. It's customer service. Pure and simple. There is no substitute for it, and there never will be.

Regarding my mentors you said, "they are not cutting edge Sellers...a dying breed", I beg to differ. Neiman Marcus is one of the most successful high-end retailers on this planet; likewise, Ebby Halliday Realtors is among the largest independently owned real estate company's in the world. Both of these 'mentors' are very easy to check out, and I encourage you to do so.

Lastly, you ask, "But what is good about cusotmer service these days?"
Everything about receivng and giving good customer service is rewarding to both the customer and the giver. People are working harder and making less, and care about how and where they spend their hard earned money. I know that I would be a lot more likely to give up my hard earned cash to someone who offered me good customer service than to someone who didn't. I do see your points, and I thank you for sharing.



Please join me for CUSTOMER SERVICE: Part III

Good Night Moon

Monday, February 15, 2010

CUSTOMER SERVICE: PART I of … however many it takes to make a point!

Nothing upsets me more than to feel like I haven't received even marginal customer service.

QUESTION: Which is Worse? Receiving no customer service, or bad customer service?

ANSWER: To me, they're one in the same.

Today's post is an official soapbox of the Design Guy. There is no excuse for the lack of, or a replacement for, common decency and manners, which are the basic blocks from which one builds customer service.

And please do not say, “This is California, we don’t say ‘Yes Sir’ and ‘Yes Mam’.

Because I'll say to that, bull shit!

Let’s start with the basics:

Here's what Wikipedia says about customer service: Customer service is the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase.

According to Jamier L. Scott, “Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.

Customer service should be provided by a person (e.g., sales and service representative). It says a person; not a computer, not a list of questions, and not an email.

In the book Rules to Break and Laws to Follow, it says that "customers have memories. They will remember you, whether you remember them or not." Further, "Customer trust can be destroyed at once by a major service problem, or it can be undermined one day at a time, with a thousand small demonstrations of incompetence."

From the point of view of an overall sales process, customer service plays an important role in an organization's ability to generate income and revenue. From that perspective, customer service should be included as part of an overall approach to systematic improvement.

I'm one of the most fortunate salesman in the world having been afforded the opportunity to train under some of the worlds most famous salesman/saleswoman. First I benefited from the extraordinary sales training at the venerable Neiman Marcus department store upon graduating from college and entering the Executive Training Program established by retail great, Stanley Marcus (affectionately known as Mr. Stanley).

The next, was my mentor in Real Estate, Ebby Halliday, owner of the largest independently owned real estate company in the world, also based in Dallas ( If there was a Mr. Stanley in real estate, it would have been in the form of Miss Ebby. I'm so proud to be espousing what I learned from these two great sales people.

I was told this early on in my retail career: A customer who has a good, or even great experience with your store, may or may not tell anyone about it. But, a customer who has a bad experience with your store will tell everyone they know. Nothing has more true than that, as I've watched myself do that very thing.

Take this example as an experiment and see for yourself: Watch your own discussions about customer service, taking note of how often you're in a conversation where your relating bad customer service experience, versus that of a good customer service experience.

Customer service stories are like an evening news broadcast or a morning papers headlines, good thing don't attract viewership or readership; but tragedy, loss, scandal, do.

It's the same for business, good things are rarely made mention of; but be certain that the bad things will be shared.

One often hears that the quality and level of customer service has decreased, or is non-existent in recent years, and if so, it has be attributed to a lack of support or understanding at the executive and middle management levels of a corporation and/or a customer service policy.

Here's a real life example:

I'm was at a Starbucks in Santa Fe, NM, and I ordered a Latte. I wait. And I wait.

I walked over to the counter and saw that there was a drink sitting there.

"Is this my latte?" I asked the barista.

He looked up from a steaming pitcher of milk, and furrowed his brow. Without making eye contact with me he said, "I called your name."

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't hear you," I said, and picked up my drink.

Then I said, "Thank you."

There was no response from the barista, and still no eye contact.

"Humm," I muttered to myself.

"Excuse me, I said thank you," I repeated still standing in front of him.

He looked up from behind the machine, loooked towards me, but not at me, and almost inaudibly said, "No problem."

I stood there, staring at him for a moment, and then asked him, "Why would you say that?"

"Say what?" he asked, clearly irritated, his eyes finally locking onto mine.

"No problem," I answered. "Why would you say 'no problem' when I said 'thank you'?"

"What? What should I say?" he asked.

"You're welcome," I answered him.

"Why would I say that?" he asked.

"Because it's polite."

I left the store, resisting the urge to shake my head in disgust.

What I should have said was this:

I’m a customer and I’m patronizing the business where you work. My doing business with your store pays your salary, and keeps the doors open, thereby insuring that you have a place to work. Therefore, it’s incumbent on you, as an employee of this business, to thank me for my business. You should have said “thank you” to me upon serving my drink. At the very least you should have said “you’re welcome” when I said “thank you.”

I would finish my diatribe by asking him, "Got it?"


Do you know what this guy would say about eye contact...


And if I could get to the Starbucks manager for that store, I would finish the paragraph above with, "Is there any question as to this lesson in ‘Business Customer Service 101’?"


Here's a question for you, my readers:
QUESTION: Now, from where does this problem stem? The parents?

ANSWER: Yes, at the very least.

But, since I’m talking business here, I won’t focus on the “P-Units” (as my daughter refers to us as her parents)…but only for the moment!

The problem with the barrista lies with his boss. A Chinese proverb holds that, "A fish rots from the head down." So if the store is the fish, then the boss is the head of the fish, and the fish rots down to the barrista.

I can understand a kid not knowing basic rules of etiquette if he's had bores for parents on the manners front.

What I cannot accept is a manager not properly training an employee. That’s right, the problem lies with the manager, and there’s no excuse for him.

The manager will whine: “It’s hard to get good employees!”

To which I say: Deal with it. If it’s hard to get good employees, then train your own. As my mentor said to me once, “grow your own (employees).” I get that.

But I had to ask her, "How do I grow my own?”

PHOTO: Texas Real Estate legend, Ebby Halliday

Here are some ways that I "grow my own": I have sales meetings every week. All employees are required to be there, from the Designers and Sales Associates to the Delivery Team; they’re all present. The sales meeting is designed to assure that every employee hears the same thing. Each person is cross-trained in order to ensure that our customer's experience the same level of care and service that they experienced on the sales floor, all the way through their experience with our delivery department.

We discuss proper greetings to customers, acknowledgement of the customer’s presence in our stores, respect for the customer’s personal space while they’re in our store, how to listen to the customer’s request, and how to properly deal with a customer who calls on the telephone while we’re dealing with a customer who is physically in the store. And, we teach them how to properly thank the customer sincerely for their business, and then to follow up with a hand written thank you note to the customer after the sale.

We teach about product quality and construction to all of our employees. If a sales meeting is focused on a recent market buy, we show photos of the furniture that were purchased, the fabric, and the finish. We pass the actual fabric sample around for everyone to touch. We discuss the styling, the fabric content, and the price, for both the furniture and the fabric. Some fabrics cost as much as $650/per yard, so it’s important that everyone know this and why, especially the delivery crew, as they’re the ones who will be handling it. Our delivery crews are taught to understand their importance to the entire selling process, and are always included in the sales meeting.

So, am I asking too much of our employees?

Absolutely, not!

Everything written above (and much more that isn’t) is basic to my concept of “Management 101”, and should be included in every training manual on the planet in one form or another.


To learn more about Ebby Halliday, read her new book, Ebby Halliday, The First Lady of Real Estate.

It's her autobiography, recently penned by this 98 year old dynamo, who still drives herself to the office everyday!

I love this lady!


As I researched customer service, I Googled "Starbucks Customer Service Training", and got pages of sites. As I went through at least 25 sites, not one of the customer service articles, either by Starbucks or some other entity, featured customer service as it refers to politeness and proper handling of customers. Most sites focused on Starbucks training of barista's, not as in proper etiquette, but in proper preparation of the drinks.

Not one of the sites focused on how to teach employees or barsita's to remain cool under pressure in high traffic times or locations, and there wasn't a word on any of the listings about good old manners. Not a single word!

So here's what I learned about Starbucks customer service training for their employees: Their main focus is to give the customer the exact same experience each time that customer is in the store. So, if you get some punk kids with no manners running one of their stores, then you can be ensured of having the same lousy experience every time you visit that store.

What a brilliant plan!


Join me for, "Customer Service, Part II," coming soon!

Good night moon e can fix this! And, it starts with me, and you. Please j me for the next article on Customer Service,night moon

Tuesday, February 2, 2010



The Loro Piana Super Yacht Regatta ( is scheduled for June 8-12, 2010, in Porto Cervo, Sardinia. Daily racing events are organized by Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (

The Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, pictured at day and at dusk with the super yachts moored during the 2009 regatta.


Yacht owners and the racing glitterati ensconce themselves in the fabulous Hotel Calla di Volpe.
Rates during racing season, Euro 750-1,000/per day, per person.

In the 2009 Loro Paina Super Yacht Regatta, Pier Luigi "Pigi" Loro Piana captained his yacht, the 84ft. My Song. Pigi and his 25-member crew, were all decked-out in Loro Piana's chic high-tech storm proof sportswear. My Song won 2 of the 4 day events.
The overall event was won by Gliss.

All by the Italian photographer Carlo Borlenghi, who followed the yacht's on their 30 mile race course through the islands of Maddalena archipelago in the Straits of Bonifacio between Corsica and Sardinia.


The yacht, Gliss, the overall winner of the 2009 Loro Piana Super Yacht Regatta. In case your interested in this winning "boat", Gliss accommodates 7 guests in 4 cabins and is on the market for Euro 14.5 million. Contact Toby Maclaurin of Ocean Independence (


Soft, warm, delicate, a cashmere bed coverlet alone is enough to give any space, be it in a villa or a yacht, a final touch of elegance. Until a few years ago, no one would ever have dreamt of using cashmere in interior decor, much less aboard a yacht. But then Loro Piana launched its Interiors division.
"The idea to use our fabrics in interiors goes back a long way because we used to use it to upholster our sofas at home, " explains Pier Luigi Loro Piana, President of the family firm. "And so almost by chance, I began thinking that maybe our fabrics were actually suitable for domestic use and that there was an opening in the interiors market for this type of product. Silk and linen were already widely used, but not wool and cashmere."
"We use the same materials -- fine wool and cashmere -- to give fabrics for sofas, armchairs and curtains that same felling of softness," explains Pier Luigi. "It's certainly surprising for anyone who's never seen a cashmere-upholstered sofa.
Some people think that they're going to ruin it but cashmere fibers are very tough and wonderful to the touch. From my point of view, the world of interior design has to offer optimum quality and not be about showing off. Cost doesn't interest us. we focus on uncompromising quality because that's genuine luxury."
The Interiors division "Started off as a feasibility study as part of my son Franco's degree thesis," says Pier Luigi. "The analysis confirmed our ideas were good." we like working with our retailers, architects and designers so that we can experiment and everything possible with our materials. We often create colors using a customer's sample, even if it isn't part of our color range. The advantage we have is that we have control of the raw material and production so we can develop special tough, stain-resistant, water-repellent materials."

The 43-metre yacht, Rubican. Discrete, natural colors, together with the use of exquisite materials, all manufactured by the renowned Italian label Loro Piana. The leather walls of the stairwell, curtains, the carpeting, the upholstery are all crafted from noble materials and fibers to ensure maximum resistance, as well as the utmost in comfort, lightness and softness.

Moving into the nautical segment was very much the next step. "Wool is very much the seafarer's material of choice -- it's always been used for sweaters and bed covers. But cashmere is actually even better suited to yachts because it doesn't get damp. I always have a light (cashmere) coverlet on my bed aboard every summer. And as far as I'm concerned that coverlet really furnishes the cabin: because simplicity is synonymous with elegance."
"We did our research and came up with materials designed for people with beach houses. For instance, we did a linen and cashmere design (blend): it doesn't crease, it's as tough as lien and as soft as cashmere." Progress, and all focused on spoiling clients and lavishing them with tactile sensations. Even when they're simply relaxing on a sofa.


Loro Piana's motto has its that true luxury is "knowing, not showing," i.e. dressing for your self, not to impress others. It's "an inner satisfaction that comes from an aesthetic, intellectual, tactile pleasure, stemming form tradition, research and genuine quality."
What could be better than that?

Perhaps the Baby Cashmere (trademarked) eye mask, neck pillow, and throw, shown above!
See the entire Loro Piana Interiors Collection at Cabana Home, Santa Barbara.
Visit: 111 Santa Barbara Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Telephone: 805.962.0200
Good Night Moon