2006-04-13

Apprentice Week 07: The Ultimate in Customer Service

I think NBC is out to get me. They don't seem to realize that they are not the most important organization in my life right now. They seem to think they can show two new Apprentice episodes in one day, and that I will watch them both, take notes, and report on them.

Okay, so they're right. I'm still going to privately swear at them.

The tasks are getting harder, and the teams are getting better. Anymore, the losing team is still quite successful. Disastrous performances are disappearing. Small errors make the difference between success and failure. Both teams were good this week. But they were different enough for a clear winner to emerge.

Below is the update for Week 7. Look for the Week 8 update tomorrow.
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Contents:

  1. Lessons Learned
  2. Main Theme
  3. The Task
  4. Team Approaches
  5. Boardroom
  6. Final Thoughts


Lessons Learned:

  • Always qualify your customer. In detail.
  • Pay attention to what the judges want. The judges are the most important people in the room.
  • Loyalty counts. Stick up for people you believe in.

Main theme

I worked for Ultimate Electronics in 1995. During the four week training program, they made us regularly recite the 12 Commandments of Customer Service from memory. At least I think there were 12. It was a long time ago, and itÂ’s unlikely my audience worked there and would know other wise so I'm sticking with 12.

Number 4 on the list was, "Never assume you know the solution to a customer's problem until you ask a minimum of four questions."

The idea was that you have to understand not only what a customer says they want, but also what they want to do with a product, who else will use it, what preferences they have, etc. By asking a lot of questions, you can begin to put together the solution that best meets that customer's need.

Synergy Project Manager Michael spent 45 minutes with ACE Hardware executives to understand what they wanted, and how they did business. Synergy won.

Gold Rush Project Manager Lenny did not prepare to meet with the executives, spent just 10 minutes with them, and asked very few questions. Gold Rush lost.

The Task

Donald Trump brought the team to one of the buildings he is renovating to introduce them to the next task. In the live construction zone, we see all the eager candidates and everyone else don their protective hardhats. Except, of course, for The Don, whose "hair" must be made from Kevlar to avoid the OSHA violation.

Their task is to work with ACE Hardware's New Faces for Helpful Places campaign. This program renovates places in communities throughout the country that help make it a better place to live. The best part about the program, however, has got to be the picture of Trump and Bill Rancic promoting a contest.

Trump announced this weeks sponsorship, um, I mean, "Project" in his stilted Trump English. "A great company is ACE Hardware." He gave each team a recreation room at a Queens, NY, Boys and Girls club. Their job is to renovate it, and turn it in to a space kids will want to use. Two executives from ACE Hardware and one from the Boys and Girls Club would choose the winner based on three criteria:

  1. Creativity
  2. Functionality
  3. Appeal to the kids

For more details on the task, see the official dossier.

Team Approaches

Before meeting with the executives from ACE, Gold Rush went to work brainstorming. After their brief meeting, they narrowed their choices for a theme down to music or dance. Lenny quickly decided on music, and they were off and running.

Synergy adopted a different pace. They met with the ACE executives for almost an hour and grilled them about what they wanted the room to be, and how the New Faces for Helpful Places program worked. Then, under Michael's leadership they brainstormed some more and thought about everything. Three or Four times. Michael was not decisive and obsessed over every decision. Gold Rush was already shopping for their room while Synergy was still working through the concepts.

Synergy came up with a collection of activity areas, with different areas designed to appeal to different kids. They had a music area, a board game area, a video game area, and others. They incorporated the program logo and the ACE colors. They tried to meet the diverse needs of the kids. Time spent with the ACE and Club executives early on paid off, and they won.

Gold Rush lost because they didn't ask enough questions of the executives. They didn't understand their needs. Gold Rush put together a nice room, but its theme was too narrow. The music theme lacked the universal appeal of Synergy's multi-user activity space.

Boardroom

Trump fired Lenny because he missed the mark on the project. During the board room discussion, Lenny acknowledged that he didn't deliver what the executives wanted, but he didn't really care. He actually said, "I'm not trying to please the judges."

In a competition, you have two choices. You can try to win. Or you can compete for the spirit of it. If you are a trying to win, and I think Lenny did want to win, you have to appeal the judges. Lenny missed that point.

During the boardroom, Carolyn pointed out that with only expensive musical instruments in the room, it would be very difficult for a non-profit to maintain. And the room was usable only for those who wanted to play music or watch other kids play. Lenny did not think these were important concerns, and blew them off. Had he spent more time qualifying his customer, things might have been different.

This firing was so clear cut, Trump didn't give the Lenny opportunity to bring anyone back into the board room; he fired Lenny from the group meeting.

Final Thoughts

  • This week opens in the Suite with Leslie crying over Bryce's departure. She felt she had lost a friend. Gold Rush's loss in the Arby's task was a tough one. The team did well, just not well enough. There is a lot more crying this year than in the past, however.
  • Lee is an interesting candidate. He is one of my picks for the final four.

    He was the only member of Gold Rush who supported Lenny in the boardroom. He helped Lenny prepare for the boardroom the night before. They worked on strategy, word, choice, and appealing to Trump.

    During the board room, Lee stood up for Lenny, explaining that Lenny was his friend, and felt Lenny had a lot of potential. He defended Lenny in an articulate manner, even when things looked bad for Lenny.

    Trump asked Lenny who he would take into the board room, and Lenny cited Lee and Charmaine. Trump asked Lee if he felt betrayed that Lenny would take him into the boardroom. Lee explained that he didn't; he saw it as an opportunity to defend his friend.

    Lenny didn't get the chance to bring anyone back, so it became a moot point. After Trump fired, Lenny though, he made of point of telling Lee that he really admired Lee's loyalty to Lenny.


  • Michael almost lost the task for Synergy. He was so concerned and focused with hitting the exact right idea that he almost didn't execute. His indecisiveness delayed the team and cost them critical shopping hours. His continued second guessing of his own decisions in things like paint color killed his team morale. The team worked hard, though, and executed on Michael's vision well.


  • Synergy's prize this week was to help a girl with a rare form of brain cancer pick out toys on a shopping spree at Toys R Us, though the Make A Wish foundation. Trump stopped by and kept telling the girl to go get more toys.

1 comment:

Maria Palma said...

Cromely,

I'm a big fan of The Apprentice myself and a little bummed I missed this episode as it covers a topic near and dear to my heart.

I've featured your blog at my customer service blog. Thanks!