The Butterfly Effect

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I recently read an article about a phenomenon called the Butterfly Effect. The premise of this “chaos theory” is that small variations of the initial condition may produce large variations in the long term behavior of a system. The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere in California which ultimately causes a tornado to appear in Kansas. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different.

So, you are probably asking, what does that have to do with Customer Service? Well, let’s explore the concept. Customer surveys constantly confirm that the top reason customers leave a business and vow to never return is because of the attitude of an employee. Whether it is a rude attitude or just one of indifference, we have all walked out the door or hung-up the phone saying, “I will never go back!”



So, what caused the employee to treat a customer with indifference? We can follow the path back to the hiring decision – perhaps the right “type” employee was not hired. We can discuss the effectiveness of the training – perhaps the employee was not given the right amount of training. But, I believe the top reason that employees treat customers with indifference is that their manager treats them with indifference. It is often not a conscience decision, but many of us fail to consider the effect that we have on the people around us. We fail to realize that we may be the butterfly that creates a tornado of bad service at the frontlines.

So what can we do to ensure that our Butterfly Effect is positive instead of negative? Here are some basic concepts to consider:

1. How does your mood affect your words? Did something happen in your personal life or in the last meeting that is affecting the attitude that you have with employees right now? Remember when that employee knocked on the door in the afternoon, right after that budget meeting where everything seemed to go wrong? How did it affect your response? Of course, everyone has a bad day, but it is important that we not let it effect the way we interact with others – especially those that work for us.



2. How many times have we said the following about our boss, “Today is not a good day to talk to Bill – he seems to be having a bad day?” The “buzz” of his bad day actually spreads through the organization. For some it is a “look” or negative comments. For me it is a quietness and withdrawal. I remember several years back with an employee gently knocked on the door to ask if I was alright. I lied and said sure, why do you ask? She said that she knew something was wrong when I walked by because I did not stop to say something goofy. She said, “We always know when you are having a bad day because you become very quiet.” The reality is that positive attitudes spread – but so do bad ones. What are your employees saying about your moods?

3. Remember that someone is watching you – and if you are in a position of leadership, a LOT of people are watching you. Your conversations with customers, your body language – even your comments after a customer hangs-up or leaves the store – your employees are all keying off your behavior. Model good customer service and your employees will to. I think back to the laid back style of one of the first managers I worked for at the Sonic Drive-in while in high-school. Roy Moore set the tone for customer service by the fun and crazy way that he managed our team. You can also set the tone by your actions.

4. Do something nice for someone today. Small gestures are noticed and seem to create other gestures of positive service. If you have not watched the movie “Pay It Forward” rent it tonight and see how one small act can lead to many. Just a quick remark of “great job” can make a difference in how a person feels about themselves. Don’t wait until the quarterly review session to tell an employee that you appreciate their attitude with customers. Point out their positive actions as they occur. Encourage everyone in your company to do the same. Many small gestures equal very positive tornados!



You are thinking about now, these ideas are really not anything new; and your right. But, consider using this moment to re-establish your commitment to be positive as a leader. Your employees will notice the difference in you and your customers will notice a difference in your employees.

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