The 2017 National Customer Service Conference in Atlanta, GA was even bigger, better and bolder than last year’s event.  The organizing team, spearheaded by our very own Wes Tindal, really outdid themselves.  The conference boasted a strong line-up of keynote speakers, a total of 24 breakout presentations, book signings, meet & greets, plenty of networking opportunities, inspired food and drink offerings and, despite the ongoing renovation efforts, a centrally located downtown hotel with excellent accommodations.  Though the schedule was chock-a- block, I still managed to squeeze in a trolley tour, a visit to the World of Coca-Cola and dinner with Wes, Holly and Jarvis at Pittypat’s Porch for some good company and down home southern cookin’!  For those of you who could not attend, below are some of the things I learned, as well as some of my thoughts and impressions -

Mark Moraitakis of Chick-fil- A, in addition to providing a compelling company history, shared with us a “Recipe for Service” which he described as a mixture of “just right” moments in hospitality, the art of reading the customer, the core 4 (create eye contact, share a smile, speak with enthusiasm, make it personal) and 2nd mile behaviors.  This last one piqued my interest. Its based on Matthew 5:41, “Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two”.  It’s a biblical “above and beyond” that helps Chick-fil- A franchise owners stand head and shoulders above their competitors.

Jeff Tobe, author of Coloring Outside the Lines is quite possibly the fastest storyteller that I have ever heard.  He had not one, but two stories with which to regale us.  The first was The Gorilla Story (you can google it!); the moral – break gorilla thinking!  The 2nd was set against the backdrop of an impassable river and was a complicated tale of love, pursuit and perseverance - or some might say of need, greed and a feckless Ms A – or was that Mr A? I bought the book and would be glad to lend it!

Erin Blecha of the NBA’s ATL Hawks organization took us through the SMILE Squad team member short-course.  Erin definitely made us work for our honorary titles, but it was so worth it!  How’s this for a brand promise?  “To entertain and unite the city of Atlanta through basketball”.  Awesome!

Post-banquet on Tuesday night, Christoff Weihman of ASPIRE Enterprises helped us channel our energies and tap into the all-important powers of connection to light up the ballroom. “The place was lit!”  (Be sure to check out more about the 2017 All-Star Service Award recipients on the National site.)

Stephanie Leese Emerich facilitated the first breakout I attended. One of the points that really resonated with me was when she talked about the language of service. With the example of “Here ya go!” vs. “Enjoy this latte!” she demonstrated how word choice can have such a strong impact on the customer’s perception of not only the product (in this case a fancy coffee), but also of the service being provided. Mahalo, Stephanie, for speaking my language!

I had the honor of moderating the session for Arjun Sen, who discussed the importance of building long-term relationships with your customers. Arjun has a wonderfully dry, self-deprecating sense of humor which was very much on display as he recounted the ups and downs of his professional career.  “Do good karma, and karma will do good to you.”  He encouraged us all to adopt this philosophy and to “see the big picture, learn the facts and act from the heart” and then top that off with some leaky bucket research to ensure that you are retaining those hard won customers.

Kellie Sigh offered a crash-course in personality types.  I appreciated her approach in relating both the pros and cons of the analytical, amiable, expressive and driver types, as well as her reminder that these should not be considered “fixed” but may shift depending on the given scenario. When someone is angry or upset and directing all of that negativity toward you, Kellie recommended that we channel our inner Michelle Obama as we offer service or assistance - “When they go low, we go high.”

I was captivated by David Brownlee, who proved to be a charismatic facilitator (It must have been the “SoCal” in him, resonating with the “SoCal” in me!).  David shared the incredible life-changing (and certainly life-affirming) incident in a Nicaraguan taxi that set him on his current path of training and business coaching. His story, energy, positivity and the music he got us all up and dancin’ to (once a DJ, always a DJ) was inspirational.

Chris Privoznik and Mari Pat Varga left us all smiling and I have the happy face pin to prove it!  This dynamic duo taught us how by activating change (Say + Do = Get!) and operationalizing your values, you can create a “signature service culture.”  CJ and Mari Pat will be pleased to learn that I have just about mastered my “signature move.”

I had heard good things about the “yoga session” facilitated by Dafina Lovelace and was pleased to find it offered that and so much more.  Her session was all about turning stress into success. Some of the practices that she suggested to help you accomplish that included: yoga, meditation, positive affirmations, visualization, journaling, self-care on the road and using your body to change your mind. Dafina had such a calming presence.  I liked how she even addressed taking the stress out of trying to maintain a “perfect” yoga practice by recommending the healthier “kaizen” approach – one of “continuous improvement.” Love, love, loved it!

It’s during conferences like these that I wish I could somehow be in more than one place at a time.  There was just too much good content for one person to experience.  And besides all of that, the conference was a great place to reconnect with those individuals whom I met last year, to make some new acquaintances this time around (BTW – Allison Tanis of National is as nice in person as she is via email!) and, believe it or not, to take advantage of a much-needed opportunity to recharge.  As always, Bill and Diane Crutcher served as a source of inspiration. They are so kind and genuine. It wouldn’t be an NCSA conference without one, the other, or both of the Crutchers touching our hearts with a story, a kind word or a thoughtful piece of advice.

Best conference EVER!