The key words here are do whatever it takes. Doing whatever it takes to satisfy the customer can be a difficult bridge to cross in the journey to delivering what Tom Peters calls WOW! Service. Doing whatever it takes to satisfy he customer is a way of thinking and has to be ingrained in the mind and hearts of every employee. What that does is that it helps create the mental attitude that says, look, we are here for the customer. This mental conditioning is very important for it enables people in the company see everything from what Peter Drucker calls ”the outside-in” perspective: from the point of view of the customer. Staff in this mental mode can do wonders. To make it happen the management, the board of directors inclusive, must create the enabling environment that says focusing on the customer is okay. Management must empower people with information and eliminate all bureaucratic bottlenecks to enable people bend backwards to satisfy the customer.
In the book The Pursuit of WOW! Tom Peters did what he said had previously not been done in publishing history by having the pictures of his service heroes and heroines printed in the book. One of such pictures was that of Virginia Azuela, the housekeeper of the 54th floor of the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco. The beef in the story was that Ms. Azuela had authority to spend up to $2,000 ($2,000 in 1994 money) to fix any customer’s problem without further sign off from above. Ms Azuela is indirectly the CEO of the 54th floor of Ritz Carlton. That is the stuff the empowerment to do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer is made of. Any wonder the Ritz Carlton was the first service company to win the coveted Malcolm Baldridge National Award for Quality.
It does not matter whether you work in the private sector or the public sector, you can do wonders for the customer if you are really keen about the customer. If you think working in a government ministry or agency is a catastrophic impediment to delivering excellent service you are making a huge mistake. In his book The Fred Factor: How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary, Mark Sanborn gives a captivating account of Fred Shea, a staff of U.S. Postal Service, who was responsible for delivering postal mails in the Denver area called Washington Park. ”Let’s face it”, John Maxwell, the author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, wrote in the foreword of The Fred Factor, ”if a guy named Fred, who has a less-than glamorous job working for the U.S. Postal Service, can serve his customers with exceptional service and commitment, what opportunities wait you and me to help others and, in the process, achieve deeper personal satisfaction”. Fred’s story began when Mark Sanborn, a professional speaker relocated to Denver. Mark recounted that Fred came to introduce himself and get acquainted, and welcome him to the area. Having not encountered a postal man that was so proud and passionate about his job, Mark was naturally astounded. On learning that Mark was a professional speaker that travelled quite frequently, Fred quickly suggested that in that case he would hold Mark’s mails until he was sure Mark was home before delivering them. Somewhat taken aback, Mark not wanting to inconvenience the man indicated that it was really not necessary, that Fred should just drop the mails in the mail box. Fred would not take any of that. He informed Mark that he could become a victim of burglary as mails building up in a box could signal to burglars that the house occupant was not home. To break the deadlock, Fred suggested that he would put mails in the box so long as it would lock, and put the rest between the front screen door and the main door so long as the place was not congested with mails. Any mail that could not fit in, Fred suggested he would hold them until Mark was back. That way no one would notice the mails. Mark concluded ”I started using my experiences with Fred as illustrations in speeches and seminars that I presented across the United States.” No matter the industry they came from, everybody wanted to hear about Fred, the author said.
What an amazing story! Fred has gone on to inspire thousands of people all over the US, including teachers, nurses, ambulance drivers, and the like. I could not help but reflect deeply after I first read the highly inspirational book. Contrast Fred’s attitude with my personal experience with a post office I had to do business with some years back. On a trip to Canada in August 2008 to attend Toastmasters International Annual Convention at Calgary I’d ordered some CDs from Maximum Advantage. I was promised four weeks lead time before delivery but by October I’d still not reveived the CDs so I sent email to the CEO, who personally took my order. There was a flurry of emails and in one of the last mails the company wrote ”We’ll go to the post office here and see about attempts to start a trace of this package using the customs code. Please keep me apprised via email as we will resolve this problem in whatever manner you wish.” Right on target: Do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer. To cut a long story short, when my wife furtitously stopped by the local Post Office, the parcel was found gathering dust. The lady on duty casually said ”the owner had not come for it”. No apology was tendered. I got the parcel some 61 days after it was posted. It was with the postal agency for 58 days gathering dust.
I remember visiting a big publishing company some years back while thinking about writing my first book and when I got there it was raining and nobody offered me an umbrella. The people at the gate checked my identity and gave me the visitors’ notebook to complete and bade me good luck as I braced the rain, from the gate-house to the main office, some twenty meters away. Is umbrella important during a rain storm? Should a company have one for its customers and visitors? What is the role of the gate people in welcoming visitors to the company? If you were at your home and saw a visitor under the rain, wouldn’t you rush out to meet her with an umbrella? So what is different?
I was tickled and thrilled when I read in the March 2010 edition of T + D Magazine that if you go to Chicafil when it is rainning somebody will run and meet you with and umbrella. Dan T. Cathy, Chickafil CEO talked about that with pride. Most banks I know do the umbrella thing but there is no consistency. Sometimes it is just a favour from the gateman or securityman and not closely monitored as an integral part of the service strategy. When a company and its people develop the Do Whatever It Takes To Satisfy The Customer mentality, things start to happen. People start seeing little things like rain as important, the umbrella becomes important, answering mails become important, being courteous becomes important, being polite on the phone becomes important, everything becomes important, the customer becomes important, not just in the printed mission statement hanging on the wall or in the annual report. The customer becomes the center of the company’s universe. Do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer must be ingrained in the hearts and minds of staff of the company as an integral part of the service experience otherwise staff are going to be lackadaisical about it as I witnessed at one Three Star Hotel in Lagos on February 14, 2011, St. Valentine’s Day. There was a downpour and guests were soaked and there was no umbrella in sight.