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Doing the ordinary will make you extraordinary

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If you want to know how to dominate your market, don't buy another book by a multimillionaire who is bored and decided seeing his/her face and name on a glossy cover would offer inner peace. Don't subscribe to another slick newsletter that you know you don't have time to read. And, whatever you do, don't listen to another four-part audiocassette series which promises to divulge the "silver-bullet, show-stopper, drop-dead" marketing idea.

Let me save you a lot of time and money. Here it is: Just do what you promise. That's it.

Almost 80 percent of the U.S. economy is now service-oriented. That means most of us are going to work each day to serve each other. Almost sounds Biblical.

So, what do you think of the service? Well, I'm not too impressed. I am so unimpressed, I think your organization could distinguish itself from your competitors by just doing the ordinary, expected stuff.

Let me be specific.

I recently called a rental car company to dispute a charge for gasoline charged to my credit card after I returned a car with a full tank. The first person I talked to told me I had contacted the wrong department. The right department person told me I was talking to the wrong person. The right person told me there was nothing she could do. No service. I'm disgusted.

Let's talk about the grocery store. I had about 40 items in my cart and I noticed that only two, of the 15 lines, were open. Each line had about five people waiting for check out. I looked at the elevated booth where the ever-vigilant store manager was supposed to be surveying his fiefdom. No manager. No additional help. No service. I'm disgusted.

How about the car wash? The price is now getting up to the cost of a weekend at Canyon Ranch. I order the magna cum laude of washes. At the end of the process someone opened the door so I would drive off quickly to make room for the automotive oblations waiting behind me, I noticed there were rivulets coursing out of every body joint, the tires were wiped off with Millennium Falcon speed and the windows still had the nose prints of my dog.

But, what really tests my deodorant is the response of the service professionals when I point out my disappointment. I get, "Sorry, that the best we can do," "Our computers were down earlier today," or "I didn't have anything to do with this."

If you want to corner market share, it seems to me it is really pretty simple.

First, hire people who are not suffering from CLSS (chronic lemon-sucking syndrome). Service professionals who give everyone the nonverbal message, "I have better things to do than listen to your complaint" should be terminated. I know the labor pool is shallow, but that is no excuse for rudeness. The critical issue is you may want to cut back on volume to offer quality.

Second, empower front-line employees to immediately try to satisfy the customer. Kind of scary, right? Well, the majority of your staff can make as good, or bad, a decision as you. Think of the benefits of repeat business once your customers know they are not going to get the runaround. This has been the hallmark of Nordstrom, the department store success in outstanding customer service.

Third, make customer service the top of your organizational chart. If everyone in the organization knows the customer is the ultimate decision-maker about your success or failure, attitudes may change. The question "What will this mean for customer service?" should constantly be asked when policy decisions are made.

Finally, require all senior management to work, at least two weeks a year, in positions which require face-to-face customer service to find out what their decisions mean to the person paying the freight. If they balk, fire them. A customer-service centered organization cannot afford anyone at the top who won't work at the bottom.

See, it really isn't that extraordinary. The phone is answered quickly by a pleasant person who can make the decision. The store manager remains intent that no one should have to wait more than five minutes to check out. And the car wash just wash cars and then dry them so they look like the picture in the waiting room.

Now really, wouldn't that be extraordinary?

(Dr. Cal LeMon solves organizational problems with customized training and consulting. His company, The Executive Edge, can be contacted via SBJ e-mail at

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