Screw it! Or, Service is the Small Things.

If you know me, then you know I’m constantly fixated on the little things that should give businesses an edge. Wherever I am I want to think deeply about the nature of the organization and find the areas we can attack to get a leg up on our competition. Not every area of a market is one in which you want to compete head-to-head, so you pick your spots. The fronts you always fight on are the same everywhere: cleanliness, marketing, operations, etc…


And, of course, “Customer Service” always seems to be one of those areas that companies want to improve. I cringe when I hear “we really want to focus on customer service this year” as this is often the hallmark of the bureaucrat. The type that only cares about metrics of things like hold times and ever more manuals and binders. Piling rules on top of rules, salting the earth so nothing can ever grow again. 

It’s not that customer service is an ignoble pursuit, or a futile one. It’s that it is often completely misunderstood. The same mistakes occur again and again and precious few realize it and go a different path. The most common mistakes?

  1. Rigid adherence to scripture- The people actually charged with providing service are rarely taught how to think. They are taught what to repeat: company dogma. Dogma never explains the philosophical underpinnings for policies, or at least the realities that created them, it just says “we can’t do that.” 
  2. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it – Sure, you’re sorry that you can’t waive this fee, or return their money, or honor this deal, but are you empathizing? Often times people know the answer before they ask, but they want you to soothe their feelings. Saying “sorry” and meaning “sorry” are two very different things.
  3. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” – Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance” is a great example of what we should be teaching in a service industry. Not ALL situations are the same. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do for someone, focus on what you can do for them. Don’t be a bureaucrat. Be a person with a brain and a desire to solve problems.

The other day I was asked by a team member if we’d put a few screws in a wall for a Resident that wanted to hang some pictures but lacked a drill to do so himself. Now, we’ve been building-the-Hoover-Dam-busy of late, but this would only take a few moments. I’m glad we didn’t reflexively tell the Resident “no” as that would have been just an awful waste of an opportunity. I’m glad for moments like this because they clarify what we’re about and what we’re not. It’s a reminder to teach what we believe.


If you take away anything from this post I hope it’s this:

Hire smart, motivated people. Then teach them HOW to think about your business the same way YOU think about it. Let them do what needs doing.

Rinse & repeat as needed.

That’s it. Free thinking, capable individuals who know the mission will always outperform robotic “representatives” droning out “I’m sorry” for a misapplied policy.


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