On Saturday night, Mrs. PinkBlog and I — along with two-thirds of our progeny — decided to go out for pizza. We chose a place about three miles from our house called Il Canale, which a friend (an Italian journalist posted in the States) had raved about.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. But moments after walking in, I saw this sign, featuring the smiling face of owner Giuseppe Farruggio:

As it turned out, the restaurant was outstanding and we had no need to call Signore Farruggio. But his offer left me wondering.

Why doesn’t Jeff Smisek give out his phone number on those videos that United Airlines plays before each flight? Or Patrick Donahoe on a placard in every American post office? Or the manager of your local grocery store on its shopping carts? Or, uh, authors on their book jackets?

It’s easy to proclaim, “I’m accountable.” It’s tougher to say, “Call my cell.”

34 Responses to “Call my cell”

  1. Seth Godin says:

    One issue, Dan, might be asymmetry. In the case of a local restaurant, the chance of being overwhelmed by dumb calls is tiny (no longer, though, since you put his number on your site!)

    On an airline, the chances that Jeff is actually going to answer the phone are zero–too many inbound, too few minutes in the day. Nordstrom has famously had its execs answer their own phones for years… but if they published the number, not so likely.

    The web is this astonishing megaphone, but it leads to real problems of asymmetry.

  2. Dan Pink Dan Pink says:

    Seth –

    Great point. Asymmetry is an issue when it comes to the Smiseks of the world. But I’ll bet there are (at least partial) solutions.

    One is to narrow the proposition. For instance, maybe Smisek is available by phone one hour a week for such things. He wouldn’t be able to answer very many calls — but at least he’d get a taste. Several big city mayors have been doing this sort of thing, in person, for years. Or perhaps Smisek spends one week a year taking customer calls. It’s hard to imagine that this would make United’s service any worse.

    ANother is to push the proposition downward. Instead of Smisek, how about several Smisek lieutenants — a real UAL person whose photo, name, and number appear in that intro video? Or instead of the Postmaster General, how about the manager of that local branch?

    There’s a really intriguing empirical question here, too. If someone puts her name on the line in the way that Farruggio is, how many calls actually come in? And what portion of them are crazy cranks rather than people with legit complaints? It’d be fascinating to find out.

    -d

  3. Corbette Doyle says:

    Related question: how many actually call the 1-800 # for obnoxious and/or dangerous truck drivers?

    Another question: did Il Canale become great because they welcomed customer complaints–or did theynpostbthe offer once they reached the desired level of excellence?

    PS great job at PLUS

  4. On a much smaller scale, because I am in a B2B business, but as CEO, I give my cell phone number out to all of my clients. Further, I let them know they have it and why I give it to them. I want them to know that if something goes wrong or they have a question, they can reach someone direction that will get their issue resolved no questions asked. They won’t have to ping pong around to find the right person.

    It’s accountability, customer service, and peace of mind all rolled into one.

  5. re: Seth & Dan

    Asymmetry is a good start, but I don’t think it’s the complete picture. If at the top of the hierarchy of these very profitable companies had an interest in the consumer, they would make time for it.

    I remember during my undergrad that the President of the University used to hold open forums monthly (!) where students could come and voice their concerns (or complements). Sometimes there would be a dozen or so students and other times, there’d be a hundred students.
    ~

    It is an interesting question (kind of calls Farruggio gets). As Seth alluded to, the internet is a giant megaphone, but it also allows for anonymity (posting nasty comments on Yelp, etc.). There’s also the shadowy sense that you’re complaining to a “faceless” person. Writing about a poor establishment (on the internet) is much different than SPEAKING to the OWNER!

    I would hazard a guess that Farruggio doesn’t get more than one or two complaints a month (if that). In fact, I would even bet that he gets as many, if not more, congratulatory voicemails.

    With Gratitude,

    Jeremiah

  6. Kevin Pashuk says:

    Dan,

    Perhaps Signore Farruggio might appreciate hearing about your great experience as well?

    There’s a certain elegance about being able to know your opinion actually matters. In the case of the restaurant, the cell phone works well.

    As for the scalability of the solution -Finding ways to get excutives in touch with the front line is critical to success. Perhaps Mr. Smisek cannot answer the inbound phone, but perhaps he should dress down and fly coach on United for his next flight. While he can’t change his name, going in as anonymously as possible might be eye opening for him.

    In the software development world there is a term attributed to Microsoft called “Eating your own dog food”. If a company, or IT department doesn’t use the same tools/products it is demanding/encouraging its customers to use, it creates a serious disconnect. I (and many others have expanded on this concept in our blogs).

    I’d be very interested in your experience regarding the number of organizations that have such a policy in place – putting senior people in the place of the customer.

  7. I like this idea and have seen it used in a few small hotels. It has scalability issues as Seth notes, but you’ve offered some good variations Dan.

    While I get the inherent appeal of an owner putting his/her cellphone number out there, customer service should be handled in real-time by those on-site. Shouldn’t a customer be talking to the manager on duty about an underwhelming pizza rather than calling the owner to manage the situation?

    Maybe an alternative approach would be using a catalytic mechanism ala Jim Collins: “If we have been unable to deliver anything less than 100% satisfaction, simply pay us the amount you believe appropriate for the value you have received. No questions asked.”

  8. Steve says:

    Dan, I think you’re brilliant. Drive! is one of those books that revolutionize thought and transform behavior. I’d love to tell you in person. I’d also love to spread your word on my site with something a little special… maybe a 5-minute Q&A I could write about? Have 6 minutes (one for compliments, five for interview)? May I have your cell? :)

    (I’m gunna like you even if your answer is no.)

  9. Goran Gozo says:

    Daniel, great questions in the comments.
    How many calls actually come in and what portion are legit complaints vs cranks.
    Well, we have his phone number…
    Give him a call and ask ;)
    Looking forward to a blog post about it.

    Another guy answering his own phone for a couple of hours once in a while is Jason Fried from 37 Signals.

    Then again, it’s not about giving out your phone number.
    “If a consumer has a lousy telephone experience with a hotel reservations agent, his impulse will be to hate the service from every person he interacts with when he finally arrives at the hotel. The only solution? It’s not expensive carpeting, lower rates or a better mattress. The only solution is a warm, personal interaction between an authentic and caring individual and your disgruntled customer.”
    From page 98 in Seth Godin’s book All Marketers Are Liars

    - Goran Gozo

  10. Tom Catalini says:

    An idea to scale this idea (and it’s just as scary as putting your cell number out there).

    Have all calls go to voicemail, then package them up into a podcast and post them on iTunes. The CEO (and anyone else!) can listen in on the feedback.

    If that’s too open/unfiltered, then someone can edit it or run a podcast show around it. Having the complaints — AND COMPLIMENTS — dealt with in an open forum seems to be part of the promise to the customer. And I think even the CEO would find time to tune into that show…

    -Tom

  11. Dorsey Terry says:

    Well, as I think you were hinting at in the last lines of your article, I think a lot of big companies want to appear (for branding purposes) that they are 100% open to receiving feedback at any and all times. However, the reality of this statement is often far from the truth. They want to mine the benefits in the eyes of the customer of a company who is trustworthy, reliable, and listens, but without doing any of the leg work to back up this claim.

    Even though Farruggio probably wouldnt be able to keep up this exact practice were he the owner of a much larger company, his attitude would persist, and Im sure he would find some modified way to maintain a connection with his customers and their feedback.

  12. I get that the cell is the more personal interaction but to piggy back on Tom’s idea, we already have oodles of places to provide feedback…foursquare, yelp, trip advisor, twitter, etc.

    I get these aren’t exactly the same but what if companies invited people to more openly to post to these spaces? Then instead of leaving them stay on these 3rd party sites, aggregate them on your site, have a running twitter feed in your restaurant.

    I’m thrilled when companies tweet back to my inquiries. While the cellphone offers a more personal contact, twitter allows for some added value. You can still respond to individuals, but we can see how you as a company/person respond as well.

  13. Kristin says:

    Love this topic! I have found myself in a similar discussion, though in the realm of education, both K-12 and higher ed. I am communications director in a small school district, where our middle school principal goes to great length to share his mobile number. It’s on his business cards and on his e-mail signature file, and the office secretaries are instructed to give it out to anyone who is trying to get in touch with him. The guy has 20+ years experience as a principal, and he’s been doing this since the advent of pocket cell phones. Parents, as you can imagine, absolutely love it.

    But as for the issue of scalability…I also previously worked in institutional communications at a large land grant university with 30,000 students, give or take. A senior VP has developed a remarkable reputation for being extraordinarily hands on. He remembers the names AND faces of hundreds of the new freshman each year (possibly thousands, though I’m sure at least hundreds). He remembers their home towns, their high school passions and all kinds of silly (yet invaluable) details that can make a college freshman feel welcome and, to a large extent, accepted. The point of this, however, is that this same gentleman does the parent orientation speech, week after week, to thousands of parents of incoming freshmen. And at every session (probably 20 or more each summer), he gives parents his cell phone number and tells them to call him any time, for any reason.

    While I’m quite sure nearly all of the calls go to his voicemail, I’m just as certain that he “handles” every call very promptly, either by returning it himself or by dispatching the message on to any of his capable lieutenants.

    While I’m sure there are plenty of crazies out there waiting to give CEOs and the like a piece of their mind, I also know that the parents of college freshmen can be a frighteningly demanding crowd. He’s done this for 15 years or more, and in doing so he has, if nothing else, developed an admirable reputation for himself and for his institution as being a place that cares about students and their families.

    Cell phone or not, I’m with Jeremiah. Someone who genuinely values his or her consumer’s experience makes time to sincerely listen to the consumer.

  14. Dort says:

    The company, I’m contracted to, uses JD Power surveys…half of them come back anonymous and half of them sign their names. They have my cell…they know where I live…yet they still sign anonymous. Why? Because just like me…most of them don’t really won’t me to know that they complained. Maybe it’s that people approval thing that some have going on.
    I wouldn’t ever call this restaurant owner if I had a NOT perfect response. I might if I had a really excellent (above normal) treatment by employees. But never if I had a mediocre experience. It would have to be “food poisoning” before I called…and even then, I’d have my lawyer call. : ) I just wouldn’t go back. There are plenty of restaurants. There isn’t that many airlines and post offices don’t have competition in letter delivery.
    In my case of anonymous-signed surveys, I assume that the truth is the signer wanted a deeper relationship with me than what I was able to give. They wanted recognition of who they were to me because I’ve noticed the ones that do sign…..they have that relationship.

  15. GREAT post, Dan! The issue here isn’t WHO answers the calls, it’s that your restaurant owner found a way to demonstrate in a tangible way to his customers that the quality of their experience really MATTERED to him – enough to inconvenience his own cell. It’s not necessary for the CEO of United Airlines to provide his own, but it is CRITICAL that he and the organization convey to their customers that the quality of their experience REALLY MATTERS to him and the organization. That’s where the disconnect is…bad service has become so acceptable and commonplace (the larger the organization, the more likely size will be the excuse) that consumers assume any message from the organization regarding service quality is insincere.

  16. TL says:

    One solution in large corporations is to insist that every middle manager and above spends time answering (or at least listening in on) customer service calls each month. Having done this myself 4 hours a month for a certain former credit card company I can attest that it makes a significant difference to how we percieved what it was like for the customers to be on the receiving end.
    Coupled with this, of course, was the company’s commitment to excellent customer service and a culture of employee pride in that level of service. If the employees feel like they are working for “just another company”, the customers will always like they are doing business with “just another company” however hard the PR guys play with the smoke and mirror tricks.

  17. Bob McNeel says:

    Seth,

    It turns out that people don’t actually call as often as you might expect. We are a software company (www.rhino3d.com) with hundreds of thousands of users. All our direct phone numbers and e-mail addresses are on our web site.

    True, they are not posted next to the front door, but they not hard to find. My details are also on the bottom of the support page. “If nothing else works, e-mail or call me directly anytime… —Bob McNeel”

    My number is only answered by me, so if I’m out of the office it is usually forwarded to my cell.

    On average I get 2 to 3 calls per week from someone that really does need some help and only one or two “dumb” calls per year.

    I always encourage business owners to chat with their customers. They are usually very delightful people.

  18. Gary Minor says:

    All of the talk about cell phone numbers is interesting, yet there is a larger point afoot. THIS is how THIS CEO reflects his ownership and accountability. It is only one way to do it. What have you done or experienced from others in your life, that also creates a high level of ownership and accountability with regard to service or other aspects of your business?

  19. Mike Brice says:

    I flew Delta last night – DTW to SLC. Plane had two gate changes in 30 minutes and arrived an hour late causing many people to miss their connections and spend the night in SLC. Now I live in SLC, so it wasn’t that disruptive for my travels, but for the others, it was very disruptive. I don’t think there is an airline CEO who wants to explain why a plane arriving from Mexico at 6:56 p.m. was scheduled to leave at 7:15 p.m. when there is no way it could be deplaned, go through customs and boarded in 19 minutes. But maybe if a CEO received a call like that a few times a week, the schedulers would pay closer attention or maybe work someplace else.

  20. Mark Christensen says:

    Great post and discussion, one element that didn’t receive much attention in the post so far is the message that is sent to the employees of the organization where the boss is asking for direct feedback on the customer experience. It speaks to employees in at least 2 ways:

    #1 Customer satisfaction and support is supported from the top down

    #2 Holds employees accountable for making customer service a top priority. It would be interesting to know if the boss empowers those employees to do what it takes to drive positive customer experiences?!

    Mark

  21. Marshall Sutherland says:

    I notice that on their web page, he also makes that same statement and lists his number. (see the “about the owner” page)

  22. Mark says:

    Whether CEO’s can offer personal accountability or not might be beside the point. The point is that FAR MORE people could offer greater accountability. I’ve seen a very busy cardiologist offer his personal cell phone to patients. His patients know he cares about them as people — and they love the heck out him and recommend him to everyone they know.

  23. Sean Trainor says:

    Dan
    I wanted to call you and discuss this blog post but I couldn’t find your cell number on your contact page. http://www.danpink.com/contact.
    You do however, provide email addresses for yourself, Julia Fleischaker at Riverhead Books, and Steve Sobel at the Washington Speakers Bureau.
    Best wishes
    Sean

  24. Budman says:

    I am a school administrator who leads 22 campuses in a large suburban school district in Texas…I give my cell phone no. Out at the beginning of the year to all campus staff and implore them to call me if i can assist them…students and parents next

  25. YvesHanoulle says:

    As a change agent, I have been publishing my contact data for years. And I give free-life time support on everything I do.
    Yes people could take advantage and use all the time I have.
    In reality this does not happen. I help the people that do contact me. They feel good about it. Sometimes I get new work out of that, most times I do not and that is fine.
    It’s all about offering the best job you can.
    I think that if employees know that their boss phone number is displayed, they will go the extra mile to satisfy the customer as they understand that is what their boss wants.

  26. Sedrico says:

    Hi Seth and Dan.

    I like this cell phone thing. I think too many times we market ourselves in non personal packages.

    Our President here in South Africa: Jacob Zuma has a hotline like this. It had a lot of media when it was launched but come to think of it it faded away….

    So Seth how can something like this approach be kept alive in a media Campaign?

    Sedrico (South Africa: So cool I have heard both of you speak through the Global Leadership Summit of the last two years)

  27. Tom McCrary says:

    Why not focus on the closest person empowered to make it right – the local manager, the owner, the regional manager – whoever in the organization who is in a position to be responsive. Channels to the President/CEO are important – along with empowering your people to make a difference for their customers.

  28. Dan, This is the Internet, not a local restaurant. Please obscure at least part or all of this man’s cell number. Even though it’s just an image and uncrawlable by spambots, it’s still a bad idea to post this. If he has to change his number due to harassment, you won’t look good in this situation. Also, it may discourage this fine proprietor from posting his personal number again. A little Photoshop express keeps everyone safe. -Christine

  29. Dan Pink Dan Pink says:

    Christine –

    I see what you’re saying. But Farruggio, it turns out, also includes his mobile number on his own site.

    - Dan

  30. Tom Heck says:

    I just called the number and sure enough, Giuseppe Farruggio answered the phone. I told Mr. Farruggio about this post on danpink.com and this was the first he’d heard of it. Mr. Farruggio told me he’s had this phone number for a year and a half and has received a total of 8 calls – - 6 were from customers offering compliments and 2 people provided constructive criticism. He’s been in the restaurant business for 32 years and said he finds it extremely valuable to get feedback directly from the customer. I shared that I live in North Carolina but grew up in the DC area and plan to visit his restaurant on my next trip to the area. And Dan, Mr. Farruggio says he will check out your site.

  31. Deb Mongiardo says:

    The concept of accountability is not entirely a lost art. My son’s high school is working on a yearlong effort (and possible paradigm shift!) they call ‘GRIT’. GRIT is their effort to focus students and faculty on what is Good, Real, Important, and True. Unsure if this is their own initiative, or patterned after another. As his mom, I am hopeful that it shapes him into the kind of man might be like Mr. Farruggio – and one of his heroes – Harry Truman.

  32. Mary Lee says:

    I attended a training by Zingermann’s in Ann Arbor (I highly recommend it to anyone who serves the public – http://www.zingtrain.com). I’m not at all affiliated with the company, I’m just sold on their approach.

    They have a policy whereby every line employee is empowered to ‘make it right’ when a customer complains. It isn’t that the CEO doesn’t want to be bothered; in fact, all complaints are logged and examined for how to avoid future problems. Part of the procedure is to thank the customer for helping them improve. Empowered employees are motivated to provide the best possible customer experience.

    Imagine how much better would it be to fly, for instance, if that were true of ticket agents and ground crew?

  33. Randy says:

    Sorry Dan, but again I find the intent great and the execution not to my taste.

    A sign that says “I need your help!” … the first impression is that there’s trouble, an emergency. When I find out he just means he’d like feedback I feel duped… very much like when AAA called me and left a message stating “This is AAA, there’s an urgent matter we need to discuss with your promptly, but we’re prohibited by leaving personal details on the phone.”

    Well I was hook lined and sinkered and I called and they wanted me to renew my membership. And wouldn’t you believe they had absolutely no record of that call when I went all the way up to the President to complain about that?

    So my question is… why does he need the sign? Can’t every single wait staffer state, as a matter of ritual, that our owner asks you personally ask to see him if there’s any issue you’d like him to know about, and if you prefer to do that later (or here’s not here…) I’d be happy to give you his phone number.

    This is just another instance where there is an an attempt for personal communication using an impersonal method (the phone).

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